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.