In their attempt to marginalize atheists, accommodationists are homing in on a common strategy, which includes these claims:
1. There is more than one way of finding out the truth about the universe. Science is one way, religion another. Ergo Jesus. Example: Marilynne Robinson’s post, “Religion, science and the ultimate nature of reality.”
2. If you think that empirical evidence and reason is the sole arbiter of what’s true, you’re guilty of scientism. This makes scientists just as religious as fundamentalists. Ergo Jesus. Example here.
3. And, by the way, science itself makes mistakes. Scientists are human and some of their claims are unreliable. Also, science continually replaces old ideas with new ones, so scientific “truth” is unstable. Ergo Jesus. Rod Dreher of the Templeton Foundation has recently taken this tack (see here and here).
4. Science and religion contribute fruitfully to each other. Ergo Jesus. See anything written by the Templeton Foundation, Krista Tippett, or John Polkinghorne. This “fruitful interaction hypothesis”—never mind that many of the same people see science and religion as having distinct and nonoverlapping domains—is the basis of HuffPo’s dreadful new “Religion and Science” section.
5. Most important, those New Atheists are just so mean and shrill that they contribute nothing, nay, can contribute nothing, to the “dialogue” between science and faith. Indeed, their relentless negativity and incivility alienates the faithful, making them flee from science back to the arms of Jesus. Thus it’s advisable to simply omit the atheist viewpoint from debates and panels. This appears to be the strategy of organizations like the National Center for Science Education (whose “faith project” consists almost entirely of accommodationist posts and “recommended readings”), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Templeton Foundation, the World Science Festival, and bloggers like Chris Mooney and Josh Rosenau.
The last claim has just been made by Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project, an attempt to get clergy to sign a statement saying that there is no conflict between science and their faith. I’ve written about Zimmerman’s views before, criticizing his philosophical accommodationism and view of American religion as a largely liberal enterprise, and characterizing the Letter Project as “harmless at worst” (actually, I suspect it’s useful, but nowhere near as useful as its advocates claim). But I wouldn’t consider this an uncivil attack. Nevertheless, in his latest defense of the Project, Zimmerman goes after New Atheists in general:
Oddly enough, although these Clergy Letter Project members are often among the first to fight for all forms of creationism to be removed from our public schools and for evolution to be taught, they have also been relentlessly attacked by “New Atheists.” The crux of these attacks seems to take two forms. In the first, clergy members are ridiculed simply for having religious faith. In the second, supposedly intelligent people pretend they are unable to distinguish these clergy members from the fundamentalists with whom they share very little theologically and they are then tarred with the brush of unthinking literalism.
Well, I’m not aware of these “relentless attacks” (a Mooneyism if there ever was one) on members of the Clergy Letter Project, nor have I participated in them. (My online dictionary defines “relentless” as “obsessively constant, incessant”.) Perhaps Dr. Zimmerman can point us to some of them (he implies that they’re not rare)—that is, attacks not on faith, but on “Clergy Letter Project members.” Yes, some of us have ridiculed believers in general (or even in particular; viz. the Pope), and have drawn parallels between fundamentalists and more liberal believers who nevertheless still accept superstition. But do those critiques constitute “relentless attacks” on Clergy Letter Project members? Like many accommodationists, Zimmerman seems unable to distinguish between frank criticism and vicious, rabid aggression.
Nor do they want to make this distinction, because if they did they might have to actually address the New Atheists’ substantive arguments against religion. The most important of these is this: “What’s the evidence for the stuff that you claim is true?”