Weekend accommodationism

God help us.  Michael Ruse, touting his new book Science and Spirituality, has begun publishing a series of essays at BioLogos called “Accommodationist and Proud of It”.

Part I is an extended whine on Ruse’s mistreatment by people like Richard Dawkins, P. Z. Myers, and me.  He’s still harping on the moniker that P.Z. hung on him: “clueless gobshite.” (Ruse must have mentioned this a dozen times in the last year–see here and here for example). I won’t go as far as P.Z.  The clueless gobshitery is not incessant—it’s evident mainly when Ruse is discussing science and faith, which is only about 65% of the time.  Like this time. From his essay:

And yet, I am excoriated at every turn. Why? Simply, because I am an “Accommodationist.” I think that some kind of intellectual meeting is possible with religious believers, including Christian religious believers. As it happens, I believe that in America it is tremendously important politically to bring evolutionists together with people of religious commitment, but I absolutely and completely would not argue for a position that I thought wrong because it was politically expedient to do so. I would not say that emotion plays no role in my position. It does indeed. That helps me to take a stand that I think right against folk with whom I would much rather be a friend than a scorned enemy. But I think one can make a sound case for the position I have taken and still accept strongly today. In this essay, I try to explain what I believe and why I believe it. Why I am an “Accommodationist,” whatever that might mean, and proud of it.

Please understand: this piece I am writing now is not so much a response as a reaction. What I mean by this is that I don’t want to whine about being mistreated or misunderstood or whatever.

If he doesn’t want to whine, why is he always doing it?

Part II deals with his “Christian Childhood.” And, unfortunately, there will be more parts.  BioLogos loves this kind of stuff.

Speaking of going downhill, the Center for Inquiry, whose stated mission is “to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values,” seems to have one foot on Templeton Avenue.  Its latest production is a particularly poorly written and edited piece (e.g., “the thir d argument against the march of organized atheism is it’s tendency toward an angry, uncompassionate line of attack”), called “The problems with the atheistic view of the world,” by Michael De Dora, Jr.  De Dora, executive director of the New York CfI, is described as a “public voice for science, reason, and secular values,” as well as an erstwhile newswriter and editor at FOXNews.com and CUNY.  You couldn’t document either of these qualifications from this essay.

De Dora is apparently an atheist, but his post is a masterpiece of extended concern trolling. Here are his “arguments,” if you can call them that (see an earlier dissection on Butterflies and Wheels):

1. This is the first argument against atheism. It is not a philosophy or a worldview, it is a lack of a specific religious belief, and that isn’t enough to carry us forward in any meaningful way.

Is that a problem?  And, really, isn’t it “carrying us forward” to sweep away false beliefs that hold us back?

2. This brings us to the second argumen t: [sic] atheists tend to view religion as either the problem, or the cause of the problem, even when other problems are apparent. But while theism is a problem, it is not the problem, and while atheism might be correct, atheism is not the answer. As the philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has noted, the larger predicament we face is uncritical adherence to ideology — a problem that spans more than just religion (5).

True.  Nonetheless, religion is the biggest and most pervasive (and dangerous) source of “uncritical adherence to ideology.”  And not all atheists devote all of their time to attacking faith.  Many of us also deal with other types of unreason: homeopathy, climate-change denial, and the like.  Would De Dora just have us go after “irrational ideologies” in general without mentioning religion?

3. The thir d argument [sic] aginst the march of organized atheism is it’s [sic] tendency toward an angry, uncompassionate line of attack. . . However, there is something to hearing these men [Dawkins and Hitchens] speak, and reading certain of their writing, that sends the message they have a short temper for religious belief (and the occasional believer). This attitude has trickled down, as well: for their followers, too often pride has led to arrogance — and not arrogance about the specific position on religion, but general intellectual arrogance at that.

Yes, the old arrogance argument again.  It’s not what we say, but our tone.  We’re arrogant and uncompromising.  When you can’t address the argument, attack the tone. Sheesh!  If anyone is arrogant, it’s the believers who are certain, in the face of all evidence, that a loving and beneficent God’s in his heaven, Jesus is his messenger, and if we’re good, one day we’ll disport ourselves with Ceiling Cat.  I wonder what De Dora would say about the advocates of civil rights in the ’60s.  Did they have a “short temper” for segregation?  Do advocates of gay rights have a “short temper” for homophobia? I remember, again back in the 60s, when people told freedom riders and other “uncivil” activists that they were hurting their cause by their in-your-face tactics.  That was garbage.

Here’s Dan Dennett’s take on “incivility” in an interview with Julian Baggini in The Philosopher’s Magazine:

“I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.”

Back to De Dora:

4. This brings us to the fourth argument: this view of the world divides people rather than bringing them together. This is a symptom of the atheist tendency to see the world through religion.

Doesn’t De Dora recognize that advocating any cause that isn’t universally popular will divide people?  How about civil rights, or gender equality?  How about opposing the Catholic Church’s attitude toward AIDS, condoms, and homosexuality? Oh dear—so divisive!  Does De Dora, like his colleague Mooney, thinks we should shut up in the interest of universal harmony?

5.  The fifth argument against using “atheist” is that atheists already face is that people have the tendency to see the atheist approach as “against” and not “for.” Of course, one cannot debunk or be against anything without really being for something. We are seemingly only able to critique if we have something to weigh the critiqued belief against. When Hitchens rips apart a religious idea, he is surely tearing something down — but he is doing so because he values evidence, reason, critical thinking, science, democracy, and more. The term atheism doesn’t tell others the reasons for critique.

This is weird. De Dora starts out by saying that his article is about “arguments against atheism,” but here he seems to be attacking only the term “atheism.” Personally, I don’t think that when we criticize it’s incumbent on us to suggest a replacement.  Isn’t it enough to decry the systematic cover-up of child abuse by the Catholic Church without having to outline what kind of church it should become?  When we go after astrology, do we have to suggest other ways for people to read their future? Steve Gould once published an essay (which I can’t locate) arguing that it’s worthwhile in itself to get rid of nonsense. He’s absolutely right.

And besides, many atheists are concerned with positive accomplishments.  Most of us recognize that faith fulfills certain needs that might be met in other ways. In The End of Faith, Sam Harris talked about non-God-based replacements for spiritual needs, like meditation.  In his 2009 book Living with Darwin, Philip Kitcher outlined ways that secular communities might be organized to meet the need for  “community” that religion currently satisfies.  But until this happens, and despite the clueless gobshitery of people like De Dora, we’ll keep fighting the grip of religious irrationality on our world.

What has happened to the Center for Inquiry?  First Mooney, now this?  Has the CfI made a conscious decision that the best way to “foster a secular society” and promote “reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values” is to criticize atheists and cuddle up to the faithful?

The talks and writings of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are the best thing that’s happened to atheism in decades.  These guys have publicly raised the question, “Have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion?”  And people have listened, as witnessed by the millions of books sold and thousands of people turning out for debates and lectures. And yes, some people have even changed their minds.

83 Comments

  1. NewEnglandBob
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    In one area, Michael Ruse is correct. He is NOT a clueless gobshite. He is a clued-in gobshite.

    I read the article by De Dora, Jr. yesterday and I commented there about how wrong his accommodation is, as have many of the other comments including a wonderfully written one by Ophelia Benson, with more on her own blog.

  2. Posted March 20, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    “This is the first argument against atheism. It is not a philosophy or a worldview, it is a lack of a specific religious belief, and that isn’t enough to carry us forward in any meaningful way.”

    Why can’t atheism be a worldview, a view of logic and reason and non-religious compassion. It is a worldview based on a lack of religious beliefs or superstition or astrology or alchemy. I consider my atheism fundamental to my opinions and personality and, therefore, a basic building block of my world view.

    The problem central to so many accommodationists is that they allow the theists to define us. Why should we allow anyone to tell us what are and what we aren’t. Screw that! I don’t allow other atheists to tell me who I am, so why in the hell would I allow them to do it.

    If they demand that belief in prayer wheels, the rapture, rain sticks, the sacrifice of goats and divining their future through innovative uses of chicken guts can live entwined with atomic theory, evolution and modern medicine, so be it. But don’t drag me into it when I am less than willing.

    I demand the right to define myself and my life.

    The Blessed Atheist Bible Study @ http://blessedatheist.com/

    • Jonn Mero
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Atheism isn’t a world-view, but that doesn’t mean atheists haven’t got a world-view, – one that is more realistic and humble as to our -humans’ – position in this world.
      And one that is filled with real wonders, based on observation, study, and making sense of all around us. And taking delight in being alive and able to take responsibility for own actions and own well-being.
      And real consideration for all around us.
      Recognise yourself?
      And isn’t that more satisfying than relying on dreaming about some fictive entity who supposedly provide very conditional ‘happiness’??

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 20, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

        Of course atheism is a world-view, the view that there are no supernatural phenomena. The idea that it is a reaction on theism is correct, but it can be based in the basic reductionism of science. (Whether or not contingency forces other pathways, as sometimes in biology.)

        So for all practical purposes one can be a general reductionist, (or skeptic for that matter), and specifically atheist. But I prefer the even more general term naturalist.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted March 20, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

          Or, reading later comments, materialist or scientific realist. (Materialist is the most precise, of course.)

  3. bric
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I think ‘worldview’ describes very nicely my view of atheism. I take Wittgenstein’s first proposition in the Tractatus perfectly literally:

    The world is all that is the case (Die welt ist alles, was der Fall ist)

    (and yes I know he didn’t intend it to be a materialist manifesto)

    Incidentally I can’t help feeling that D J Grothe’s recent departure from the CfI was also significant.

  4. Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Why can’t atheism be a worldview, a view of logic and reason and non-religious compassion.

    The problem is endemic to the word itself: the simplest face-value definition of “atheist” is “not believing in gods”. Yes, the “New Atheist” movement is also extolling general scientific skepticism, secular ethics, etc. as positive virtues, but I think the etymological weight of the term is hard to overcome. That’s why a lot of people resolve it by adopting other labels like “humanist”. I predict we will continue to suffer from this “branding” problem, even internally. No, I don’t know what to do about it.

    And I don’t understand this at all:

    It is a worldview based on a lack of religious beliefs or superstition or astrology or alchemy. I consider my atheism fundamental to my opinions and personality and, therefore, a basic building block of my world view.

    How do you base a worldview on a lack of something? My worldview is based on the conviction that logical inference based on empirical evidence should be the paramount determinant of belief — the falsity of religion, astrology, alchemy etc. is an outcome of that, not the starting point.

    • Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      On the other hand, just like I assume I’m not a brain in a jar hooked up to a world simulator, I also assume there is no God that is misleading my senses (or messing with our scientific experiments). I might be wrong about either, or maybe even both, but until I find evidence of the contrary, it’s a pretty good working hypothesis for me.

      I suppose you could say that this is more than just atheism, though. It’s a world view close to “scientific realism”, and atheism is only a part of it.

      • mk
        Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        Exactly right. Atheism is only a part of it. Looking at the world around us and making decisions based on reason and the scientific method actually means so much more.

    • artikcat
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      I also feel the ‘label” “atheist” will never shake off its negative connations, which, whether we like it or not has been historically equated with unprincipled. Take for example the presidents: how many have acknowledged openly their atheism?: Lincolns’ agnosticism is arguable. Now how is this right:”the conviction that logical inference based on empirical evidence should be the paramount determinant of belief”. You meant something else?

      • Posted March 20, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        That seems to be directed at me, but I’m afraid I don’t at all comprehend the question you’re asking. Come again?

        • artikcat
          Posted March 20, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

          the question was to clarify your comment :’My worldview is based on the conviction that logical inference based on empirical evidence should be the paramount determinant of belief’ You cant believe what you know, thats knowledge… si?

          • Posted March 20, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

            Semantics. One definition of belief is the state of asserting a proposition (in whatever domain, for whatever reason), with knowledge being defined as justified true belief. On this view, knowledge is a subset of belief. That happens (at present) to be my preferred usage; others are free to cut the epistemological cake elsewise.

            • artikcat
              Posted March 20, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

              Semantics. Exactly.Sorry if I intruded in your peronal domain of semantics preferences. I will be more careful when someone tells me: ” I believe in your DNA”.

  5. Hamilton Jacobi
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Gould’s comments on debunking as positive science were in The Mismeasure of Man.

  6. Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Sounds like a little heresy within the Church of Atheism. Maybe an excommunication is in order; that will teach him to fall in line!

    • steve
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      If it were actually a church we’d be burning him at the stake, flying planes into buildings or strapping bombs to ourselves and killing innocent civilians.

      Boring as it sounds, we restrict ourselves to attacking his ideas.

  7. Sili
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Buh-bye Point of Inquiry.

    (Petty? Who, me?)

    • Badger3k
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      I just listen to it for Price and Stollznow. Luckily they have identified the host so I can delete the Mooney episodes. It still shows up as a subscriber, of course. Maybe I can unsubscribe and just check in every few months and see if there is anything worthwhile on.

      • Michael K Gray
        Posted March 20, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

        My hope that Karen will be a massive balance against Mr. Christ. Money has been born out so far…

  8. JHJEFFERY
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    “As the philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has noted, the larger predicament we face is uncritical adherence to ideology — a problem that spans more than just religion (5).”

    I think this is true but reflection will reveal that religion is the most artificial of all tribal dogmatisms. And I think the philosopher meant dogma, not just ideology. Tribalism is built in to the human brain and we divide ourselves into tribes in many different ways. Territorial is of course strong. Gender, race, football teams, etc.

    But religion is not geographical or racial, but may be seen as a form of aculturation. It is this artificiality, along with its dogmatic nature,that makes religion so toxic.

    • Notagod
      Posted March 21, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      Tribalism is built in to the human brain and we divide ourselves into tribes in many different ways. Territorial is of course strong. Gender, race, football teams, etc.

      Although I agree that tribalism is built into the brain (although it is difficult to be sure how much of it is built in or a result of societal pressure)it is also malleable because the brain is malleable. With at times some difficulty (but none the less successfully) we can control our sexual urges which are likely stronger then our urge to form tribal groups. We are where we are mainly due to evolution but that doesn’t mean we can’t choose to do better than random selection. The examples that you list are things that I would like to see de-emphasized with regard to their importance within society.

      • Jonn Mero
        Posted March 21, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        With at times some difficulty (but none the less successfully) we can control our sexual urges which are likely stronger then our urge to form tribal groups.

        Not if you’re a muslim you can!
        Which is why muslim women must dress like .
        Daleks

        • Notagod
          Posted March 21, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

          can => can’t, of course but, very funny. Thanks!

          • Jonn Mero
            Posted March 21, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

            That would be a double negative, and it is not as if they can control their urges.
            Ugh, too late at night for that!

            • Notagod
              Posted March 21, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

              Humm…correct indeed, got me :)

  9. Tyro
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Am I being naive when I wonder how an organization like CFI can spend so much time attacking atheists when the great majority of it members and executives are probably atheists? What are they thinking?

    • Jonn Mero
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      I think the problem many, although luke-warm, believers have with us is that we atheist have become assertive, and that by using rational arguments their superstition becomes evident for all who cares to give it some thought.
      And that of course is to them like being run over by a mental steamroller. They feel ridiculed, for a bloody good reason, – they are ridiculous.

      And it is also encouraging to see that the accommodationists are being nailed to the wall.

  10. Posted March 20, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Ok, here is a “rookie” question: didn’t the Michigan State e-coli (sp) experiment show that evolutionary change is non deterministic and therefore the idea that humans were some sort of “intended consequence” of creation IS incompatible with established science?

    Or, am I missing something elementary or am I misreading the consequences of the Michigan State experiment?

  11. souper genyus
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Nicely done, Dr. Coyne. Although I am a humanist and think that ultimately tolerance and civilty is a good thing, some people border on being politically correct, which is something I reject wholeheartedly as a secular humanist. Being tolerant does not mean we cannot be critical, and the CfI should know this (Paul Kurtz has said it time and time again).

    • souper genyus
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      *civility

    • Posted March 20, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      But Kurtz contributed a commendatory comment to De Dora’s post.

      • souper genyus
        Posted March 20, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        But Kurtz contributed a commendatory comment to De Dora’s post.

        I doubt the actual Paul Kurtz would be listed as a guest on the CfI website (he’s the chair emeritus of the organization) or sign in under “PAUL kURTZ”.

        It’d be best to go to Kurtz to see what he has to say about this topic. In an article titled “The ‘True Unbeliever’” published in the CSH magazine Free Inquiry, Kurtz says the following.

        The New Atheists, in my view, have made an important contribution to the contemporary cultural scene because they have opened religious claims to public examination—for religion often was considered immune to criticism. Moreover, most atheists that I know are decent and compassionate folk. What I object to are the militant atheists who are narrow-minded about religious persons and will have nothing to do with agnostics, skeptics, or those who are indifferent to religion, dismissing them as cowardly.

        [...]

        [A]theism has not had a fair hearing in contemporary society, where believers have dominated the public square. Dawkins and the other New Atheists are to be congratulated for their efforts to redress this imbalance.

        http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=kurtz_fi_30_1

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted March 20, 2010 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

          That is still backwards.

          It is militant atheists that are labeled thusly by others. That epithet doesn’t mean that atheists dismiss other views as cowardly. And I doubt that this happens often. One can suspect that the description mirrors the labelers conception of these groups.

          The most incisive analysis of accommodationism isn’t that it wants to play nicely with religion because it is afraid of conflict but that it has “faith in faith”. In fact these people is willing to take a conflict with atheists for their beliefs. And the most incisive analysis of accommodationism consequences is that it doesn’t work.

          Now you can say that such an analysis results in a dismissal as easily as the purported dismissal. But instead these groups are identified as belonging to believers, and are no easier or harder to dismiss than other beliefs.

          The trouble with Kurtz analysis is obvious when one goes to the source. He is dismissing hard atheists as “fundamentalists” and “militant atheists” on the strawman that evidence wouldn’t move their position. Which is as assbackwards as De Dora, which in Deen’s words “seems to get his description of what “atheism” is supposed to mean from opponents of atheism, not from the atheists themselves.”

          No, I don’t really understand why, either. Especially as this was supposed to “support adherents of that [nonreligious] lifestance.”

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

            This got lost at the end: “CfI isn’t particularly cowardly, it just suck generally.”

            Also, I now see on closer reading that Kurtz does a hat trick by basing an argumentum ad nazium on a double strawman, that stalinism was atheist. (That stalinism was atheist isn’t even historically true, as it had a long period of cooperation with eastern orthodox post-semitism starting with Stalin reviving it during WWII. You can as well say that stalinism was a church founder.)

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

              Now it is me that are confused – I blame Kurtz. :-~ Acting atheist doesn’t mean that you have an atheist agenda, and no political party ever had or likely can have. The only nation that declared atheism is AFAIU Albania way back, and it was communist at the time.

          • Michael K Gray
            Posted March 20, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

            To my mind, Kurtz on theism is a bit like Joe Nickell on the paranormal, viz: someone who has analysed several gazillion trials without *ever* noting a *single* positive result, yet seems to be unwilling to ever suggest “enough is enough”, we have shown this notion to be false. No, their very careers & fame rely upon keeping those doors of credulity open.
            What else would they do, apart from retire?

          • souper genyus
            Posted March 21, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

            I still think you think that Kurtz is attacking atheism. He’s not, he’s distinguishing between atheists that are critical of religion (which he applauds) from atheists that are dogmatic about their atheism (which he denounces). The article I cited was actually a response to accomodationalist claims.

            • Posted March 22, 2010 at 5:04 am | Permalink

              @souper genyus: and I think you’ll find that pretty much all atheists complete agree that you shouldn’t be dogmatic about atheism. But that’s the whole point: where are all these dogmatic atheists? Where does Paul Kurtz run into so many of them that he feels he needs to devote a whole article on them? I’m not saying they don’t exist, mind you, but I have yet to find one among the popular atheist activists.

            • Jonn Mero
              Posted March 22, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink

              How the hell is it possible to be a dogmatic atheist?

              From The Free Dictionary by Farlex:

              1. Relating to, characteristic of, or resulting from dogma.
              2. Characterized by an authoritative, arrogant assertion of unproved or unprovable principles. See Synonyms at dictatorial.

              On that basis, when there’s no dogma, all left is that someone is very aggressively against theism.
              Which is another wording for being pissed off with religion, which again can be very understandable if excessively exposed to the drivel by moaning morons.

            • Jonn Mero
              Posted March 22, 2010 at 8:48 am | Permalink

              The definition from The Free Dictionary by Farlex is of course a definition of dogmatic, which ends with See Synonyms at dictatorial.

    • Jonn Mero
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t civility being confused with subservience?
      They can spew as much poison as they wish about our views, but we shall be polite when we address their superstition.
      The unpleasant reality is starting to dawn upon them at last!

      • souper genyus
        Posted March 20, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that was my point basically. We need not kowtow to someone’s superstitions in order to be civil and tolerant. We should be critical of religion, especially the aspects that are most dangerous. I don’t think anyone would disagree with the assertion that the New Atheists, such as Dawkins and Hitchens, have been blunt and direct, but I believe they didn’t cross the line in anything they have done. If they were criticizing anything other than religion, they wouldn’t be thought “militant” or rude, just honest.

        • Jonn Mero
          Posted March 21, 2010 at 5:40 am | Permalink

          Thumbs up!

  12. Thanny
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Focusing on a clinical definition of “atheist” is just ridiculous. It’s obviously a shorthand label for rationalism in general, even if some atheists do more poorly than others in this respect. I recall a regular in alt.atheism who believed in extraterrestrial UFO’s. More notably, we have Bill Maher doing his best dumb-like-a-creationist impression whenever he talks about food or medicine.

    So why use “atheist” instead of “rationalist” or “secularist”? This seems to be what Sam Harris was arguing for a short while back, but he was wrong, for the simple reason that theism is the dominant form of irrationality in existence today.

    I look forward to the day that “atheist” is an obsolete term, as “abolitionist” is today. However, just as the latter term was very relevant in the century before last, “atheist” is very relevant today.

    • artikcat
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Can you lump the terms in same categories? . Abolitionist is “outdated”, but only after a civil war. On the other . e.g.: hand: “racist” is still alive, and before that being called thta, they called themselves ‘confederates’.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

      That is interesting. I have compartmentalized my skepticism and materialism as regards critiquing irrationality of various kinds. In practice it means being an atheist in most of those dealings, because as you say it is the most prevalent (and socially damaging) irrationality out there.

      I didn’t get around to see that it is also a convenient label.

  13. Badger3k
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I like the response to the “what do you replace it with” argument along the lines of “well, I stopped smoking, but I’ve replaced it with crystal meth. When you are cured of cancer, do you go out and get another disease to take its place.

    As for De Dora – he contributes to FOXnews. Nuff said.

    Re: Massimo – in the latest “Rationally Speaking” podcast, he gets a little incoherent on “Accomodationism”. One thing he says is that scientists have no response to the “Last Thursdayism” claim. How frakking stupid are you? Of course I have a response – “Show me your evidence.” But, asking for evidence from believers must be a no-no, and to be roundly discouraged, or something. Why do some arguments always leave out the “evidence” part?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

      Massimo would have a point if not most scientists are realists, which of course is based on parsimony but it is enough. You need evidence to go against, as noted.

      He may be more convinced to see a philosophic argument from a scientist. And I have seen one, by Deutsch in his “The Fabric of Reality”. (Besides physics, Deutsch likes philosophy. Dunno why, though. :-o)

      The interface with his argument, which is on solipsism, is that Last Thursdayism is a complicated form of solipsism. Just move last thursday to now and you, and you create your own universe as you think.

      Deutsch argument, as I remember it, is that the solipsist has to agree that he can see rules that he has thought up. So his brain has order.

      Moreover, it contains a massive ‘outer region’ which is the equivalent of a universe of order. So it is mostly ordered and thus amenable to scientific study.

      Thus this dominant region is real, because solipsism declares ‘self’ as (the only) reality. And so solipsism self-destructs.

      As most or all philosophical arguments it involves nutty hand waving, but at least it ends funny. :-D I’m sure Massimo would be pleased to know about it.

  14. Posted March 20, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure this is really evidence that CFI is “on Templeton Avenue.” The article mostly just looks badly written.

    The title is dumb because it suggests that there is such a thing as the atheist approach to the world, when atheism is just non-belief in God, meaning there can’t be an atheist approach to anything any more than there can be a non-Leprechaunist approach. But the text suggests De Dora understands this, since he says atheism “is not a philosophy or a worldview, it is a lack of a specific religious belief.” This suggests De Dora knows what he’s talking about, he just isn’t very good at expressing it.

    The clearest indicator of how confused the text is something Coyne points out, the inconsistent statements of De Dora’s thesis. He says he has five arguments, but the first is said to be an argument against “atheism” (the idea), the third is against the “march of organized atheism” (a social phenomenon), the fourth is about “this view of the world” (another idea, but what idea isn’t clear from the preceding text what idea the “this” refers to), and the fifth argument is against “‘atheism’” (the word).

    I actually think some of the thoughts in the article aren’t crazy. For example, unlike Chris Mooney, De Dora doesn’t seem to think politeness has to mean not expressing certain ideas. Unfortunately, none of the ideas in De Dora’s article are discussed in enough detail to make the discussion worthwhile.

    I can only hope that in a couple of days De Dora will replace the article with a different one saying something like, “Sorry about that, I pounded out that article over lunch during a very busy workweek because I really wanted a new article up online. Re-reading it, I realize I did a terrible job of saying what I wanted to say. What I really meant was…” and then go with a re-written article from there.

    • Posted March 20, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      I actually think some of the thoughts in the article aren’t crazy.

      As I’ve already said at Butterflies&Wheels, he could have had a constructive discussion at his blog about how atheism needs to be more than just be against religion, we also need to be for something. But by making it about the “New Atheists” instead, he’s actually making the same mistake himself: he’s positioning himself against “New Atheism”, instead of focusing on what he is actually in favor of.

      • Jonn Mero
        Posted March 20, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        Atheism definitely stands for something; a rational world-view based on scientific principles, on sensible moral codes, and the choice of freedom FROM religion.

        • Posted March 20, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

          I agree completely, in practice most atheists I have ever heard of have this view. I think De Dora missed the opportunity to write about such views, but chose to attack the New Atheists instead.

          Which leads me to another point that I’ve made elsewhere: De Dora seems to get his description of what “atheism” is supposed to mean from opponents of atheism, not from the atheists themselves. I don’t really understand why, though.

    • Jonn Mero
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Or just ‘I was pissed out of my mind when I wrote that shite?’

      • Posted March 20, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        John, I agree atheism goes well with those things, but why say it “stands for” them, anymore than non-belief in fairies or extraterrestrial visitation stands for them.

        As for whether De Dora was “pissed out of his mind,” my guess is that if you can make executive director of anything, you’re more likely to be writing under the influence of too little time/too little sleep/too much caffeine than alcohol. But the drunk hypothesis is funny to imagine.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted March 20, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

          It stands for them in the same way that non-belief in fairies stands for them. “Theism” here is but a rather imprecise label for (mainly) supernatural phenomena.

  15. Jonn Mero
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    he talks and writings of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are the best thing that’s happened to atheism in decades. These guys have publicly raised the question, “Have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion?” And people have listened, as witnessed by the millions of books sold and thousands of people turning out for debates and lectures. And yes, some people have even changed their minds.

    I think a certain Dr. Jerry Coyne is fitting beautifully into the rank of the Atheist Horsemen with his more assertive tenor!
    Good on ya, mate!

    • Michael K Gray
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

      Coyne is a member of the grown-ups on this planet.

      • Jonn Mero
        Posted March 21, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        4. This brings us to the fourth argument: this view of the world divides people rather than bringing them together. This is a symptom of the atheist religious tendency to see the world through religion.

        Fixed.
        Another thing is that monotheistic religions generally seems better suited as a tool for rulers to keep their ‘objects’ under the yoke as a fictive hierarchy is naturalised in that the rulers are god’s representatives on earth.
        A notion still alive in Thailand and the UK, although in the latter not with any draconian penalties for insulting the royals, unlike in Thailand.
        The previous pope, that Polish git, told the same to the rebellious poor in Nicaragua some years ago, that they should obey their leaders.
        He never had the same message for the Polish people.

        • Jonn Mero
          Posted March 21, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

          Ugh, landed somehow in the wrong place, and without strikethrough as wanted. Bugger!
          Should have been a response to 25.

  16. Kamaka
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    “New Atheist” does stand for something positive and good for humankind.

    It is about standing up to the religious bullies and letting them know they are, from now on, being called out on their make-believe, holier-than-thou false assertions.

    It is about telling them they are rude and insulting by claiming humanity needs a supernatural supervisor to behave ethically.

    It is about telling them their mythology grants them no moral high ground, and in fact, leads them to bigotry and violence.

  17. Screechy Monkey
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    In other accommodationist news this weekend, Bloggingheads.tv is hosting a “Science Saturday” diavlogue with noted scientist — oops, I mean philosopher — Jerry Fodor.

  18. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    That is still backwards.

    It is militant atheists that are labeled thusly by others. That epithet doesn’t mean that atheists dismiss other views as cowardly. And I doubt that this happens often. One can suspect that the description mirrors the labelers conception of these groups.

    The most incisive analysis of accommodationism isn’t that it wants to play nicely with religion because it is afraid of conflict but that it has “faith in faith”. In fact these people is willing to take a conflict with atheists for their beliefs. And the most incisive analysis of accommodationism consequences is that it doesn’t work.

    Now you can say that such an analysis results in a dismissal as easily as the purported dismissal. But instead these groups are identified as belonging to believers, and are no easier or harder to dismiss than other beliefs.

    The trouble with Kurtz analysis is obvious when one goes to the source. He is dismissing hard atheists as “fundamentalists” and “militant atheists” on the strawman that evidence wouldn’t move their position. Which is as backwards as De Dora, which in Deen’s words “seems to get his description of what “atheism” is supposed to mean from opponents of atheism, not from the atheists themselves.”

    No, I don’t really understand why, either. Especially as this was supposed to “support adherents of that [nonreligious] lifestance.” CfI isn’t particularly cowardly, it just suck generally.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      Oops. Never mind, that was meant as response to “souper genyus” above.

  19. Jason A.
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Ahh, accomodationism:

    “So glad you said so, so diplomatic
    Glad you hinted at your views

    Your tone has never worked for me
    And your word are elementary
    But I’m suddenly faced with the things I erase
    And it’s harder each time to go along this way

    There is no lesson here
    And nothing’s ever clear
    So we do as we planned and we’ll go hand in hand
    But the truth is a thing that I just can’t say”

    - The Truth by Tub Ring

  20. Michael K Gray
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    This whole tedious business is why I now refer to myself as a rabid anti-theist behaviour, not merely atheist w.r.t. to beliefs.
    Accomodationists are actively and willfully aiding and abetting the religious extremists. They seem to understand this in a way, but put their consciences in a locked box for the sake of making themselves feel wanted and important.
    Bugger taking that deliberate road to hell.

  21. bric
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    Appeals to etymology are rarely useful, or convincing. After all, we had believed that ‘God’ had something to do with religion . . .
    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2010/03/9th_circuit_upholds_pledge_of.php

  22. Posted March 21, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Ruse:

    And yet, I am excoriated at every turn. Why? Simply, because I am an “Accommodationist.”

    No no no, that’s quite wrong. The accommodationism would be a reason to disagree with him, but not by itself a reason to excoriate him. Honest accommodationists who don’t fling ordure at their critics and who respond to counter-arguments don’t get excoriated. Disputed, yes, excoriated, no. Ruse gets excoriated mostly because he’s so farking rude.

  23. Stewart
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I can think of only one possible argument against atheism: evidence of a deity. In the absence of that, there really isn’t much to discuss, is there?

  24. Ken Pidcock
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I found the De Dora piece annoying and baffling. Although I’m an accommodationist, (if a student expresses concerns about conflicts between science and faith, I’ll point them to BioLogos in a second), I recognize it as a political compromise, not a worthy guide for living.

    I’m not too worried about CFI. There’s an old humanist inclination to being contrary, and this is just another opportunity.

    • Notagod
      Posted March 21, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      So do you accommodate christians that pass laws and/or won’t vote for a political candidate because the candidate is an atheist?

      I suppose that given a balanced society I might be willing to accommodate, but now, in the current societal structure in the United States with the christians constantly demanding more – no way!

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted March 21, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        Simple answer. No. I take accommodation to be what Eugenie Scott does. I know she catches a lot of flak in these parts but, trust me, biology teachers in hostile districts are grateful.

  25. ChicagoMolly
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    4. This brings us to the fourth argument: this view of the world divides people rather than bringing them together. This is a symptom of the atheist tendency to see the world through religion.

    Aww, come on now. Why are there Chrisians? Because 2000 years back some Jews split off from the family to follow one of the apocalyptic preachers who were running around the countryside. Why are there Protestants? Because after the Catholic church became a bigass institution some people found they couldn’t resolve internally any issues they might have with the Pope so they split off on their own. Why are there so many Protestants? Well, see previous answer. Why have the Shi’a and Sunni been at each other’s throats for centuries? Because Muhammed didn’t leave plans for a clear line of succession when he rode off on his flying horsey and everybody tried to jump into the swivel chair at once.

    Yeah, the history of religion is just hugs and backrubs and warm cocoa. We atheists just want to spoil it for everybody.

  26. Posted March 22, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    I happen to agree with De Dora that arrogance is a problem that sometimes affects the atheism movement. For example: The leader of our city’s local atheism group, who is also an influential member of AAI who helped give Maher the RD Award, sent an e-mail to our mailing list linking to the recent study on atheism and IQ with the subject line “Something to shove in the theists’ faces”. Come on, that’s just being a dick. And I’m not one for mandating civility or trying avoid accusations of being “strident” (as a visit to my blog will make clear for any who doubt me on this).

    However, it is truly bizarre to take the observation that the elements of the atheism movement sometimes fall prey to unfounded arrogance, and somehow extend it to a critique of any kind of atheism movement. This is a problem we need to fix with our movement, not a reason to throw in the towel altogether..

    • Jonn Mero
      Posted March 23, 2010 at 1:09 am | Permalink

      Ah, but how good it feels to take a piss at the smug godbots, – occasionally.
      And the arrogance argument is rather passé when people can’t see that what they perceive as arrogance is simply that the arguments are devastating to the foundations of religions, exposing the lies and the deceit they are built on.

  27. Posted March 22, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    First of all, I think I think Whyevolutionistrue is concern-trolling about concern trolling.

    De Dora’s criticism of atheism applies quite well when considering people such as Christopher Hitchens and Bill Maher. These two don’t so much promote and embrace reason as much as they attack and malign religion. I think there is an important difference there worthy of keeping in mind. Whyevolutionistrue seems to think that any criticism of religion from an atheist, must necessarily promote reason. I think he’s wrong. If I had the time, I’d refer you to examples, but I would point you to the “Rational Response Squad” message boards for starters.

    It is human nature to bond more readily with someone who shares a hatred for an “other”, than to someone whom we share a similar interest. It’s an ugly part of human nature and I think we need to pay vigilant attention to that human tendency. Hitchens gathers follower to the “atheist cause” primarily by stimulating their disgust. If De Dora’s criticism of atheism as “divisive” needs and example, surely Hitchens provides it in spades. Whyevolutionistrue would have us believe that atheism must *necessarily* be divisive because “advocating any cause that isn’t universally popular will divide people?” — come on, talk about concern trolling. Yes, of course, anytime you have more than one opinion on a subject, you have divided people.

    The real concern here is I think: are atheist alienating people unnecesarily? I agree with De Dora in this case. Yes, I believe there is a large portion of people in the atheist movement that are driven more by a disgust for “other”, than by excitement for including the “other”, and that this is worth being concerned about (fyi: I’m not generally a fan of De Dora, but I defend good points when I think they are defensible).

    Compare and contrast Hitchens and Tyson. Both arguing for reason, one divides few to unites many in a positive spirit, the other unites a few in a shared ridicule and disgust of others:

    Neil Degrasse Tyson:

    Christopher Hitchens:

    • Jonn Mero
      Posted March 23, 2010 at 12:57 am | Permalink

      You sure use a hell of a lot of words to say nothing of interest, Riley!

      • Riley
        Posted March 23, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        Ironic isn’t it?

    • Posted March 23, 2010 at 3:43 am | Permalink

      So what does that make your comment? Concern-trolling about concern-trolling over concern-trolls?

      • Riley
        Posted March 23, 2010 at 7:59 am | Permalink

        Is it possible to accuse someone of “concern trolling”, without being a concern troll yourself?

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted March 23, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      Tyson cares about what *might* work, (but hasn’t had any impact in tne last 3,500 years), and Hitchens cares about what is true in relation to theism.
      I know which side I’m on.

  28. Riley
    Posted March 23, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    The criticisms raised by whyevolutionistrue are full of hyperbola and straw men. For example:

    In response to the below:
    “the larger predicament we face is uncritical adherence to ideology — a problem that spans more than just religion [...] The approach must be more comprehensive.”

    whyevolutionistrue writes:
    “Would De Dora just have us go after ‘irrational ideologies’ in general without mentioning religion?”

    No. And De Dora states so *explicitely*. De Dora’s argument, stated clearly, is for a more ‘comprehensive’ approach.

    The nature of the attacks now being leveled against De Dora and CFI, are in fact ironically, examples of the problems which he identifies. This knee-jerk community that thinks in terms of black and white and seems more united by the label “atheist” than by a commitment to reason. Sam harris endured similar attacks from this community when he suggested in “The Problem with Atheism” that we shouldn’t use the term “Atheist”. The attacks were far worse, and similarly irrational, when Sam suggested that we should seriously examine the power of meditation as a means for humans achieve different states of consciousness.

    Because of this article “The Problems With the Atheistic Approach to the World” atheists are now likening CFI to the Templeton Foundation? this is mindless.

    Should we also now bemoan Carl Sagan as a “concern troll”, call his writing “clueless gobshite” and liken his approach to dealing with the problem of religion to that of the Templeton Foundation’s because in his book: “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” he shared a similar set of concerns about the tone and a general lack of compassion in the skeptic community?


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] City Branch of the Center for Inquiry. Jerry Coyne has claimed the article as evidence that CFI “seems to have one foot on Templeton Avenue,” and when I saw the title I expected dumb misrepresentations of what atheism is, but on a closer [...]

  2. [...] added a tip of the hat to Jerry Coyne and his article on accommodationism. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)How to ally with atheistsAtheist Meme of the Day: [...]

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