Josh Rosenau’s strange attitude toward evidence

Over at Thoughts from Kansas, Josh Rosenau vigorously disputes a post by Ophelia Benson on the success of Gnu Atheism.  The topic at issue was Americans’ declining church attendance coupled with their continuing tendency to exaggerate to pollsters how often they go to church. Benson suggests that some of this effect might be due to Gnu Atheists success at eroding the respectability of being religious.

What’s Rosenau’s beef? That he sees no evidence for this Gnu Effect:

The problem for me is that, despite all of the claims that gnu atheism has done this and is doing that, no actual evidence has (ever, to my knowledge) been advanced that gnu atheism has had any effect whatsoever on public perceptions of religion.

Well, yes, there are no formal surveys about the effect of Gnus on popular perception of religion.  But it’s curious for Rosenau to criticize this claim on the basis of a lack of evidence, when for several years he’s been claiming that accommodationism weans people from creationism much more easily than does vociferous atheism—on the basis of even less evidence!  In fact, the only thing Rosenau has ever offered in support of accommodationism is a study showing that people tend to trust experts more when those experts share more of their cultural values.  In offering this as evidence for the superior efficacy of accommodationism, Rosenau was taken apart not only by his commenters, but also by Jason Rosenhouse in a long and critical post. Jason has no hard data either, but does say this:

In defense of the New Atheist strategy of creating tension and making atheism visible we have a body of research on advertising that shows that repetition and ubiquity are essential for mainstreaming an idea. We have the historical examples of social movements that changed the zeitgeist by ignoring the people urging caution, and by working around the people whose value systems put them in opposition to their goals. We know that hostility towards atheists was at a fever pitch well before the NA’s arrived on the scene, a time during which accommodationist arguments were common but vocal atheism was not. And we have the all-important verdict of common sense, which says that you don’t mainstream your view by getting down on your knees and pleading with people to treat you nicely.

Are there any data bearing on this?  Well, mostly anecdotes, which is why many of us Gnus won’t argue that there’s only one good way to bring the faithful to Darwin. But let’s look at the anecdotes.  Here’s what we have supporting each side:

1.  On the accommodationist side:  The Anecdote of Tom Johnson, which has been discredited.

2.  On the Gnu side: dozens and dozens of public assertions that Gnu Atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens helped wean people not only from religion, but from creationism.  Check out “Converts’ Corner” at Richard Dawkins’s website, for instance, which has 23 pages of such testimony.  I myself have gotten several dozen similar letters, a few of which I’ve published here.

So where are all those public assertions of the faithful that they resisted accepting the theory of evolution because of those horribly strident Gnu Atheists, but then became converts to evolution when accommodationists came to town?  Maybe there are a few such claims, but I haven’t seen any.  And there’s certainly no accommodationist equivalent of Converts’ Corner!

Rosenau demands the highest standard of evidence from Gnus to support their tactics, but feels that bald and unsupported assertion suffices to support his own. In this way he resembles the creationists he battles so arduously.  Regarding those creationists, Herbert Spencer once said this:

Like the majority of men who are born to a given belief, they demand the most rigorous proof of any adverse belief, but assume that their own needs none.

But Rosenau goes further:  he not only sees no evidence that Gnus have helped erode the respectability of religion, but sees no decline at all in that respectability, Gnu-induced or not:

Absent some sort of evidence that religion is less intellectually respectable now than it was 10 years ago, this first step in Ophelia’s logical chain fails, and the conclusions go with it. And the paragraph above suggests that intellectual respectability has not been necessary or sufficient for its social desirability in America’s past, so the second link strikes me as dubious and unproven as well.

Well, I don’t have the statistics at hand, but I suspect there’s plenty of evidence for this.  One is the decline of church attendance in America and the increase in the number of Americans who characterize themselves as nonbelievers.  There are the bus campaigns, which didn’t exist a few years ago.  There is the fact that all of the Gnu books have been best sellers, while counter-books by people like John Haught and David Berlinski have sunk without a trace. There is the growth of secular, humanist, and skeptical societies, both in society at large and on university campuses.  I suspect that if you surveyed the number of colleges who had such societies a decade ago, and compared that to what we have today, you’d see a striking increase.  Perhaps somebody can supply this information.

Now whether the Gnus have contributed to this trend is a different matter, but surely there’s evidence for an increased respectability attached to being agnostic and atheist.  Can you imagine bus-slogan campaigns 25 years ago? Or a President who asserts the rights of non-believers in his inaugural address?

And if we do find evidence for the decline in the respectability attendant on being religious?  What would Josh say then? He gives a clue:

Maybe the evidence is there. If it is, I don’t know what it shows.

I don’t know what it shows?  We’re talking about evidence in favor of a thesis!  It must show something!

He goes on:

. . . I’m saying I don’t know, and I tend not to trust people who confidently assert empirically measurable facts without actually offering data to support the claim.

Josh, two words: pot, kettle.

50 Comments

  1. Posted December 25, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just been pointing out (on Josh’s post) that his post itself is evidence that gnu atheism has an effect.

    It’s pretty absurd to imply that gnu atheism is just inert, when there are all these blog posts and articles and books and tweets and Facebook updates that talk about NOTHING ELSE.

    • KP
      Posted December 25, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      Just over the hill from you in central WA, you’ll find fundamentalism that compares to anything in the “bible belt.” Even here I’ve seen, in just 8 years, a shift in atheists being more outspoken. And the fundamentalists ARE taking atheism seriously. A couple of times, church groups have shown the Hitchens/Wilson “Collision” movie, to great ruffling of feathers… There IS an impact whether Rosenau wants to believe it or not.

  2. sherkat
    Posted December 25, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    There is strong evidence that the pushback against religion is having an impact on public opinion. In 1977, data from the General Social Survey show that over 59% of Americans believed that I should be fired from my job as a college professor because I view religion as negative. In 1988 that declined to 52%. Yet, in the 1990s there was a strong dip in intolerance towards atheists, and this has continued through the latest survey in 2008–where only 36% of Americans think I should be fired. It’ll never go below 30%, because 30% of Americans are fundamentalists who would purge all of science from schools and turn universities into bible colleges. But, what that means is that almost everyone else has seen the light….

  3. daveau
    Posted December 25, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I was indifferently agnostic until I read Douglas Adams and Richard Dawkins. Now it’s “where’s your evidence?”

  4. Andy Dufresne
    Posted December 25, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Let’s say Rosenau’s hunch is 100% correct: gnu atheism is completely ineffective at convincing people, and in fact does “push away” people. It would still be honest. Gnus are honestly advocating for what we feel is true and important. Accommodationism, on the other hand, is fundamentally dishonest.I say the score is 1-0, Gnus.

    The accommodationists’ focus on what is likely to convince people and what isn’t is sort of a half-canard, anyway. As the Rosenhouse quote implies, it’s the mainstreaming of atheism and secular values that is also important. The effect of gnu atheism is quite palpable when you consider that, if prominent gnus didn’t exist, nobody would be out there in the MSM making these arguments. New atheism is a cultural thing to which people can respond. People have to think about it, and just that act of getting people to think about these arguments is useful. (Note that accommodationists really don’t ask anyone to think, hence the moniker: they accommodate, rather than challenge.)

    I was present for one of Hitchens’ debates with Douglas Wilson. It was at a religious college, and the audience looked to be about 75-25% in Wilson’s favor. But by the end I could tell that, while Hitch may not have de-converted any of these Christian kids, lots of them were thinking—I mean you could visually tell by their expressions that they were mulling over Hitch’s arguments. Probably some of them had never heard an atheist make his/her case with the kind of passion-leavened-with-perspicacity that is so quintessentially Christopher. Were they convinced? Likely not (though a couple of them may have been for all I know). But they’d been challenged by someone who wasn’t interested in respecting their beliefs. And I think a lot of them appreciated it a lot more than Rosenau might assume.

    • Posted December 26, 2010 at 2:00 am | Permalink

      One good thing about the honest approach: it respects the listener (just not his/her belief) instead of treating him/her like a fool. And lots of people can tell the difference.

    • Posted December 26, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Personally, I’m always glad when a debate between an atheist and a theist draws an audience that’s mostly religious – whether that occurs naturally, or it’s because of theists deliberately stacking the deck – and Andy’s comment shows why. It means there are more people there that we can reach! Gnu Atheism still enjoys a target-rich environment, so to speak.

    • Badger3k
      Posted December 26, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      You notice that none of the accomodationist arguments actually address the honesty issue? It just seems to be the elephant in the room that isn’t talked about. I wonder why…

    • Posted December 26, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      Many of those young people are probably getting their first real exposure to the idea that maybe supernaturalism shouldn’t simply be taken for granted. What a powerful idea, for someone that has been deliberately sheltered from it from an entire lifetime.

      When I was growing up in t6he midwest you could easily go a whole childhood and through high school without anything other than taking god for granted.

      Of course minds aren’t changed overnight but if they are really thinking about the problem, I think eventually they’ll have to arrive at the right answer. It would be fun to get contact information voluntarily from audience members and follow up at periodic intervals. I would expect a positive impact, why the hell wouldn’t you.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 27, 2010 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      Accommodationists agree with mainstream neutral atheists that religion isn’t intellectually respectable. Instead of an honest treatment of religious groups accommodationists suggest that these should be provided placebo, “sugar and saccarine [sic]” inert and inactive pills without any factual knowledge, to prevent existential depression and feelings of intellectual inadequacy.

      This raises the same ethical questions that surround placebo elsewhere even in the case they _would_ work:

      “In many medical studies, even people who take “fake” treatments, such as sugar pills with no active ingredients, can still feel better. These are the puzzling “placebo effects”. They are common, diverse and powerful and they raise an interesting ethical question – can doctors justifiably prescribe placebos to their patients? The standard answer is no. Doing so patronises the patient, undermines their trust, and violates the principles of informed consent. It compromises the relationship between doctor and patient. At worst, it could do harm.” [My bold.]

      This analogy, always risky business, nevertheless fits the bill to a tee. [Because one could even argue that state support of science means informed consent on provided factual knowledge derived from intellectual pursuit. The doctor-patient bit may be a tad elitist - so is science. :-D] Thus we would do well by accepting the morals of a profession as old as religion; and, I may add, much more well tested. Note that this ethics applies whether accommodationism works or not.

      If accommodationists were snake oil peddlers they would be tar-and-feathered and ousted out of town. If they were medical experts they would be facing professional banning. Today we are supposed to even listen to these guys!? Uh huh.

      • Posted December 27, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        An interesting aspect of the Placebo Effect is that it may be related to the Doctor’s reporting improvement rather than the patient experiencing improvement.

        See also http://www.skepdic.com/placebo.html for some discussion of the reasons for reports of placebo effects.

  5. Posted December 25, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Historically, it’s not the moderate views that prepare the way for the extremist ones, but the other way around. See eg. feminism, socialism, Christianity (originally a millenarist movement), and hundreds of others.

  6. Posted December 25, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Gnus have helped open up the conversation for purposes of cultural expediency. The value also comes from the courage to challenge consensus views in a theistically saturated society. To provide amplification for an often repressed voice is a qualitative data contribution — regardless of belief-changing outcomes. And don’t tell me you, dear Josh, would one want to reduce the qualitative to its quantitative essence.

  7. Sigmund
    Posted December 25, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    The only evidence thus far provided by Rosenau’s side has been “Exhibit A” – the ‘Piltdown Man’ of accomodationism.
    I would also advise any of you that listen to their arguments about the Gnu’s effects on fundamentalists to be careful of a sly bait and switch tactic that is invariably used. This involves pointing out that the arguments of the outspoken or gnu atheists are not very successful at converting fundamentalists away from their religious beliefs. They then suggest that the Gnus methods are therefore wrong and should be avoided in favor of the accomodationist softly, softly approach. They never try to address the obvious question unless rally pushed – does the accomodationist approach work with fundamentalists? – the answer to that is No – nothing works well with fundamentalists. They will admit this if pushed but you really have to drag the answer out of them.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted December 25, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      Excellent point. I happen to be quite fond of accommodationism, including Josh Rosenau’s – I think it helps to build consensus against creationism – but the assertion that it is undermined by frank atheism is absurd. What’s the claim here? That religious moderates are going to become creationists to spite Jerry Coyne? That they’re going to accede to fundamentalists because it serves those people right? Give me a break.

  8. Karmakin
    Posted December 25, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I suspect the larger impact of the Gnu Atheists isn’t so much people picking up Dawkins out of the blue, realizing he’s right and changing their minds like that, although that probably happens from time to time.

    What I think it is, writings such as those of the Gnu Atheists are read by existing Atheists and lead to a more proud, and dare I say happy view of their own atheism, which makes them more vocal and confident in their local spheres. And this is where the real change is happening.

    It’s also why religious leaders are terrified of atheistic/rational/non-belief community building. The more we can offer social and emotional alternatives to religion, the less power they’ll have.

    Or in short, when it’s all put together it’s the community building that has had the biggest impact. My biggest beef with the Acoomodationalists, is of course they tepid behavior towards community building .

    • KP
      Posted December 25, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

      I agree, I think the biggest impact is on other atheists. I’ve been an atheist for a long time — pretty much since I became a competent biology student in high school. Although I was never really “accomodationist,” I didn’t say much about it out loud. The more prolific atheism has become, the more comfortable I’ve been openly engaging people in the weaknesses of religion, especially creationism. I’ve noticed that since I started doing this on my Facebook page, my atheist friends have been more comfortable being “out” too.

      • Posted December 26, 2010 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        The more prolific atheism has become, the more comfortable I’ve been openly engaging people in the weaknesses of religion, especially creationism.

        That suggests another Helpful consequence of gnu atheism: the more open and outspoken atheism is, the more everyone else gets used to it, and thus the less shocking and wounding any one atheist is likely to be. This means that we get to feel less inhibited and dishonest. Since I think atheism is ultimately not shocking or wounding, I think that’s a good thing.

    • Dean Buchanan
      Posted December 25, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

      I agree, but do not underestimate the power of an unbowed minority.
      Don’t ask, don’t tell was just overturned…as an example.

  9. Insightful Ape
    Posted December 25, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Whether the New Atheists have contributed to the phenomenon or not is hard to judge. I won’t go out on a limb and make a positive assertion one way or the other.
    But to say there is no secularization is plain false. That is clear from trends on Religious Identification Survey. The percentage of people without a religious affiliation is highest among those below 30. And this is only to be expected: these trends were apparent in other industrialized nations decades ago.

  10. Debater Mouse
    Posted December 25, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Roseneau seems to have misinterpreted Benson’s post. I read her point as: There is a taboo on admitting being non-religious in America since being religious is conceptually tied to being good; this taboo is reflected in the answers to poll questions; gnu atheism aims to break the taboo—it “helps” by showing there is a respectable population which is unashamed of being non-religious. As more come out as non-religious, the pressure to misrepresent your own beliefs diminishes.

    I didn’t read anything more than that. Benson’s not even making any claims, per se. I am a little perplexed by Rosenau’s response; he’s rebutting a non-argument.

    • Posted December 25, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      Well I did two posts (close together) on the subject, and in the second one I said a little more than “gnu atheism aims to break the taboo” (I said that in the first one). My point in the second one was that religion is becoming less alluring as social camouflage because it’s becoming less intellectually respectable, thanks to pressure from the gnu atheists. A smallish claim.

    • MadScientist
      Posted December 26, 2010 at 12:36 am | Permalink

      Rosenau seems to miss the point frequently.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted December 26, 2010 at 4:38 am | Permalink

        He is being paid to do so.

  11. Dean Buchanan
    Posted December 25, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Go gnu’s!!!

    For example:
    Just this evening, I responded (all) to a typical ‘war on christmas’ chain e-mail. I got a lot of responses of ‘thank you!’. I had a brief exchange with the poster (and kicked his butt by the way). Then, more “thank you’s” and LOL’s. I do not really enjoy arguing with people, but we must take a stand.

    Sorry Josh, you are just plain wrong. We gnu’s are doing better on the ground. I will bet that we gnu’s are all seeing it.

    • Posted December 26, 2010 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      I like the arguing, although not usually the hurt feelings that sometimes result. But there’s no avoiding this if we are going to stand up for reason.

      • Posted December 26, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        And the more “normal” atheism becomes, the less likely hurt feelings become.

    • Posted December 26, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Right on! I love it when that happens, when you take a chance and call out lies in a chain email and get some supportive responses back.

  12. Luke
    Posted December 26, 2010 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    I’m with the student organization, UMD Freethought at the University of Maryland. I believe we *had* a similar group on campus a decade ago, but I can definitely say that membership and enthusiasm has skyrocketed since then. In addition, I think the religious groups on campus actually tend to be more interested in discussing the relevant issues with us atheists. I would attribute all this to the success of the Gnus.

  13. MadScientist
    Posted December 26, 2010 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    On the one hand there are all those “I hated your book but I couldn’t ignore everything you wrote and I’m godless now” letters. I’m still waiting for the accommodationists to publish their “thanks you your weak-kneed two-faced tactics, I’m not godless” letters. I’ve seen people assert that they have such letters, but never any evidence that the claims are true (but I’ve heard many people claim there is this Jesus guy). The stories about the accommodationist successes are usually followed up by a “but then they read Dawkins and turned back to god because those GNU Ateists are so strident” claim.

    Religion still has a choke hold in many places: wrong religion? No job for you. I think one contribution of the GNU Atheists is to say “that’s OK, there are other people out there and you don’t have to be afraid of the unspoken social threats”. I wouldn’t attempt to attribute any numbers deconverted by GNU Atheists except for the letters that people receive – which will undoubtedly be an underrepresentation of the deconverted.

    • Posted December 26, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      I think one contribution of the GNU Atheists is to say “that’s OK, there are other people out there and you don’t have to be afraid of the unspoken social threats”.

      Exactly, and another is to say “plus there is some social cost the other way now: the cost of looking somewhat credulous.” The unspoken social threats are more competitive now, because of the gnu atheists.

      That could be a definition of gnu atheism: a new social threat. “Drop the goddy thing right now or we’ll make it hot for you!”

      • Posted December 26, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        Drop the goddy thing right now or we’ll make it hot for you!

        LOL! I love that!

    • Rieux
      Posted December 27, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Okay, I’m comfortable with the term “Gnu Atheism” to mock “New Atheism.” But “GNU Atheism”? GNU, as in “GNU’s Not Unix,” the free software, mass collaboration project? No, no, no. Not the same thing.

      • TheBlackCat
        Posted December 28, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Gnu is also the name for a species of antelope.

  14. Aj
    Posted December 26, 2010 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    Can anyone provide hard evidence (of the type Josh Rosenau demands for views that dissent from his) that the actions of the civil rights movement ever actually improved civil rights? Or that the gay rights movement has done anything to increase the acceptance of homosexuality?

    I am curious what that (non-anecdotal) evidence could be.

    After all slavery had already been abolished a century earlier and penalties for homosexuality already lessened prior to either of these political movements really getting going. So a naysayer could always claim that it is nothing more than accidental correlation between the continuing improvement and the actions of dedicated political movements fighting for these groups.

    • Posted December 26, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      Seriously? Is the state of education so pathetic these days that somebody can publicly admit to being completely ignorant of the Civil Rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s?

      Go to Wikipedia. Read about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Read about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Read about the march on Washington, about what went on in Birmingham, about Ms. Rosa Parks, about favorite pastimes at lunch counters. If you still have any doubt, read what Dr. King wrote while in jail in Birmingham.

      Your questions are as transparently clueless as ones asking for evidence that the Church was the driving force behind the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the Conquistadors. After all, Jesus once waxed poetic about some cheesemakers, so a naysayer could always claim that what he heard was anything but bagpipes.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted December 26, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        Ben Goren,

        All of the things you mention about the Civil Rights Movement are simply anecdotes. Where is the hard evidence (the sociological studies published in peer-reviewed journals, for example) that the Civil Rights Movement actually changed anyone’s mind for the better?

        At least, that’s the meaning I got from Aj’s comment.

      • Aj
        Posted December 26, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        …and how, oh most sagacious one, did my post admit to me being completely ignorant of the (American) civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s? I would say I’m (broadly) aware of some events and personalities from the period and even enjoy referencing Letter from Birmingham Jail whenever someone tries to claim MLK for the accommodationists.

        My transparently clueless question was is it possible to directly prove an effect from the civil rights movement, in a similar way to what is asked for in support of the Gnu atheist position? I believe that these movements did drive change, but I am unsure how one goes about demonstrating this in the face of a flat denial, that these outcomes would have happened anyway.

        Might I presume that you felt that, yes, it is possible to provide this evidence and that this fact is so obvious it’s unnecessary to actually answer except to tell me to go read Wikipedia? I hate to have to tell you, but Wikipedia doesn’t seem to help much.

        I assume that there are people with a better understanding than me who can say, yes (here’s how we can), no (here’s why we can’t), or maybe (here’s when we will).

        …and really, “Cheers”?

        • Posted December 26, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          Civil rights have made leaps forward when people became the hapless victims of the cruel inequality of the state and then publicly fought back, people such as Rosa Parks, Mildred Loving, and Tyron Garner. But they needed the strong support built up over the years by the movement to ensure that it would be clear who the oppressors were in their cases and to ensure that the politicians and judges in office were sympathetic to the larger cause.

          You can see what happened to people in the same situation prior to the various civil rights movements in many cases. Check out Pace v Alabama and Bowers v Hardwick for starters. Also, look back to 1993 when Bill Clinton tried to turn a rotten egg, the law mandating gays, lesbians, and bisexuals could not disclose their identity or talk about who they love or their family in the armed forces, into a less aggressive law (DADT) and failed, and compare that mess to what just happened this year after significant amounts of activism and lawsuits on multiple fronts against the oppression.

      • Posted December 26, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        Jeez, Ben, fix your irony meter!

    • Posted December 26, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      I’d assume that, to find evidence of the kind that Josh Rosenau is asking for, you’d have to do a survey showing that X% of people changed their minds as a direct result of hearing and/or reading the Gnu Atheists. But I don’t think there is such evidence, because I don’t think that’s how the atheist movement or any progressive social movement works.

      Rather, the atheist movement should have as its goal to normalize and mainstream atheism, to reach the point where advocacy of godlessness is seen as familiar and common. This way, the next generation grows up seeing this position as normal and acceptable, and supports it in greater numbers than their forebears. In other words, social change works best as a process of generational turnover, rather than of mass individual persuasion (although individual persuasion does happen on occasion). That’s how the GLBT rights movement has made its greatest strides, and I suspect the same will happen with atheists.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 26, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        Exactly, and thanks! (I can even throw in a “cheers”. (O.o))

        [Modifiers I will put here is:

        Firstly, actual statistics of education. This is known to move people from religion on a population, not generation, basis.

        Secondly, theories of religious attendance such as Paul & Zimmerman. Here democracy and absence of disempowerment drives populations out of religion, effects which _may_ include non-generational movement.]

        Note that this, while making accommodationist critique ineffectual, doesn’t prevent probing the question. (Since we think this on relatively sound basis, but actually don’t know.)

        Nor does it leave the accommodationists off the hook. If they insist on such statistics and it being vital, where is their’s!? Inquiring minds want to know.

    • Posted December 27, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      I ran across another example of how the movement was necessary in the NY Times article Who Killed the Disneyland Dream? In 1956, Disneyland had no Black employees and was being pressured by activists about this all the way up to 1963!

  15. Tulse
    Posted December 26, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Let me get this straight: We need extensive hard evidence to show that Gnu Atheism will shift public opinion in the long run, but the accommodationists don’t need squat to continually clutch their pearls over how terrible Gnu Atheism is for the cause of science.

    What wankers.

    • Andy Dufresne
      Posted December 26, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the hypocrisy is draw-dropping.

      The accommodationists see their argument as self-evident, a matter of common sense that requires little-if-any empirical justification. They scoff when asked for empirical justification because to them it’s like saying “Is it healthier to eat Twinkies all day, every day, or should one have a balanced and nutritious diet?” We don’t need to commission a multi-million dollar study for that one, they’d argue. Sure, Mooney will point to a study in which people were reluctant to change their minds when confronted with the truth—but at the end of the day, if you listen closely to what he says, such evidence is neither here nor there because, he feels, we all instinctively recognize that “Nobody has their mind changed by being ridiculed.” Phil Plait will ask his audience to raise their hands if they’ve ever been convinced they were wrong by someone calling them an idiot—he gets no hands raised, and to him, that settles it: Being nice and accommodating is more effective than being honest and possibly confrontational. Duh (he might declare).

      The problem is it’s not all common sense. A lot of this is counter-intuitive. “Be unfailingly polite to people and they’ll be receptive to your message” seems like common sense, but it doesn’t account for the fact that people appreciate being dealt with honestly; people appreciate being challenged (as I tried to explain in comment #4, last paragraph). The reality is, being confrontational and rigorously honest with your audience/interlocutor does not necessarily entail insults and ridicule. The accommodationists act like insults and ridicule are somehow inextricable from honesty and confrontation.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted December 26, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    First, wow on the helpful statistics on the width and depth of religious lying!

    Second, despite Sigmund noting the frequent “bait and switch tactic” of accommodationists, and Penfold noting the monetary motivations of Rosenau, I can’t read anything more out of his piece than an accommodationist brain on religion. Rosenaus writes as if Benson said something she didn’t, not even bothering with raising the obligatory strawman but making something up out of whole cloth as it were.

    What was said was that gnus points out that religious belief is not altogether intellectually respectable. To reply that this has been so for a long time doesn’t invalidate what gnus are doing. In fact what gnu atheism is about goes to the point that it is, and should be, obvious that it isn’t intellectually respectable.

    And if the intellectual disrepute of religion, and its concomitant “intellectual” out of wedlock child theology, is so publicly obvious, what is effing accommodationism then about?

    Rosenau implies that accommodationism isn’t trying to make religion intellectually respectable since this is a moot point. But that it is trying to make intellectuality disrespected, since intellectualism is what “fundamentalists” and “liberal and moderate theologians” have problems with!

    … yeah, I don’t get that either. Rosenau’s, more generally the accommodationists, religiously born and attended cognitive dissonance has taken them a full turn, from promoting Enlightenment to promoting its enemies.

  17. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted December 27, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    In a reply, Rosenau vigorously disputes that he was vigorously disputing in the first place. I think nitpicking about being nitpicking is a splendid way to dig a deeper hole, but apparently Rosenau thinks otherwise.

    The argument offered is that accommodationists are specialists on “how to sway the undecided middle”. This argument feels vaguely recognizable – hey, that is what gnus have being telling accommodationists what gnus are about *the whole time*.

    Not that it helps Rosenau in his lack of evidence. (He still plugs his evidence article that Rosenhouse skewered as a disagreement. Well, duh!)

    Other than that I don’t see anything worth answering specifically to. Rosenau is, as I hypothesized earlier, in cognitive dissonance about rejecting the idea that gnus approach can work. His comments is just a worm twisting round the hook of statistics unborn (and anecdote supporting gnus).

    • Josh in California
      Posted December 28, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      The argument offered is that accommodationists are specialists on “how to sway the undecided middle”.

      Because the best way to get someone to pick a side is to tell them they can have it both ways, right?

      I suspect that the only thing accomodationists produce with any frequency are wishy-washy, poorly informed theistic evolutionists.

  18. anonyousgayexmuslim
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    1st – Josh is a muslim.

    2nd – He slips this in on his blog coeertly with posts linking to the writings fo Dr. Nadia El-Awady. Dr. Nadia El-Awady has some homophobic viewpoints. Her ‘science journalism’ is cited by several conversion therapy organizations, conservapedia, and Islamist websites. Just check out her essay “Homosexuality in a Changing World: Are We Being Misinformed?”

    This essay by the president of the World Federation of Science Journalists directly quotes from NARTH documents. Narth is the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality – you know – one of the groups behind ‘conversion therapy’. And given Dr. El-Awady’s support for the idea that being gay is just a choice – Narth quotes her writings as well. So congratulations WFSJ – your president is a major player in the conversion therapy scene.

    http://www.narth.com/docs/muslim.html

    http://tinyurl.com/79ybj8y (a link to a pdf of Dr. El-Awady’s pro-conversion therapy piece)


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Jerry Coyne also responds to Josh. Related postsHelp is on the way [...]

  2. [...] Coyne was having a tiff with an accomodationist type, again, and he pondered whether anyone could show any impact of the GNU Atheism on public opinion–has it become more respectable to be an atheist? You can’t really pinpoint dates for things regarding the current uprising against religious hegemony, but the defeat of  Bush the elder was partly motivated by people standing up to the religious right. Above I present four representative years at ten year intervals charting the proportion of Americans in the General Social Surveys who thought that people who were anti-religious should not be allowed to teach in a college or university. While Americans are quite intolerant, there is a strong dip in anti-atheist sentiment after 1988.  After that, it is pretty stable through the 2000s at around 37%. That’s pretty good, given that about 30% of Americans are raving fundamentalists who think that people who don’t accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior should not be allowed to vote or be employed in any public office. That isn’t going to change. So, what this means is that almost EVERYBODY who isn’t a fundy respects the right to be irreligious. [...]

  3. [...] Atheism”: what effect is it having? Josh Rosenau claims “not much”; Jerry Coyne calls “hogwash”. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)10 December 09: 4 FGood Peoria Journal Star [...]

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