Eric MacDonald on accommodationism

As usual, Eric takes a subject on which I’ve already posted and does a much better job than I did.  I’d like to attribute this to the fact that he was an Anglican priest for many years, and thus knows a lot more about religion than do I, but I’m forced to conclude that he’s also a deeper thinker.  But that’s okay, because I—and all of us—can benefit from reading him.  And, after all, I’m a biologist whose knowledge of religion and philosophy was acquired on the side.

Yesterday I posted about an accommodationist article by Peter Kirkwood that included a video of a pretty dreadful defense of science/faith compatibility by Anglican clergyman Chris Mulherin.  Eric has taken the same piece and, in his post “Science and religion again!“, which is—as usual for Eric—long but thoughtful, he dismantles Kirkwood’s and Mulherin’s accommodationism. I’ll leave you read it for yourself (what else is there to do on a gray Sunday morning?), but here are a few tidbits:

Kirkwood’s claim, however, that the new atheist belief that science and religion are at loggerheads is belied by “what many other theologians, philosophers and  scientists tell us,” is not actually borne out by the evidence, for, while it goes without saying that most theologians are in some sense believers, most top ranking scientists and philosophers are not religious believers, and do not see the relationship between science and religion as one of complementary ways of discerning truth. Indeed, the greatest problem that religious believers have is accommodating different religions, with their very different core beliefs, into a single discipline of which acknowledged truth is the outcome. This is what Philip Kitcher calls the symmetry argument, and it is important to note that, while religion may be studied comparatively, comparative religion is nowhere near showing that different religious traditions are dealing with the same “truths”. Religions make incompatible and opposing claims, and so cannot be thought, without further evidence, as providing truth or knowledge at all. Whether they still have a valid cultural role, or are merely impediments to progress, is another and different question, and not one that either Kirkwood or Mulherin address.

. . . But this [Mulherin’s claim that the popularity of New Atheism is due to vested interested like media sensationalism] simply has to be wrong. The reason for the popularity of the new atheism is that religion is increasingly showing itself unable to cope with the modern world. Practically everywhere you look nowadays we see religion retrenching rapidly, trying to stave off the corrosive effects of science. And Mulherin has not given us a single reason to think otherwise. Indeed, he has demonstrated, in the course of the video, that  religion and science are incompatible.

By denying that science provides a basis for a world view, he has simply misunderstood the impact of science, and the meaning of science. For science is not only about mechanism, as Mulherin supposes. Just as the idea of creation gave earlier peoples a grasp on their place in the world, so science provides a new appreciation of our place in the order of things. Carl Sagan used to account for the new world view by emphasising two things: (i) the microscopic role that human life plays in the vast immensity of the universe; and (ii) the fact that, insignificant on the cosmic scale as we are, human intelligence has at last reached the point where it has gained an insight into the very nature of things. And what we learn when we put those two points together is the fact that we are, as it were, orphans in a cosmic storm, but we are intelligent orphans, and must put our intelligence to work in producing a world view which is consistent with what we have come to know about ourselves and our place in the universe.

I’m thinking of removing my avuncular adjective “Uncle” from Karl Giberson (it was always meant as a compliment), and applying it to Eric.  “Uncle Eric” has a nice ring, and, unlike Karl, he’s an atheist.


  1. saguhh00
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Meanwhile, Ken Ham is building a park attraction of Noah’s Ark with dinosaurs and fire-breathing dragons.

    Yes, fire-breathing dragons!

    • B.R.
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      And even worse, A Beka Books has home-school
      “textbooks” perpetrating this myth to “explain” away dinosaurs and dragon myths to kids.

    • andreschuiteman
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      Fire-breathing dragons? So they admit that it’s just a fairy tale now?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 13, 2012 at 12:07 am | Permalink

        Do you mind? Fire-breathing dragons are a venerable tradition so they must be true. Terry Pratchett gives a very plausible account of their physiology in some of his Discworld books. And they’re *much* more fun than talking snakes.

  2. Kevin
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    and must put our intelligence to work in producing a world view which is consistent with what we have come to know about ourselves and our place in the universe

    Why must we? It looks like someone may have forgotten the is-ought problem.

    • Thanny
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      There is no is-ought problem. It’s a fallacy to say that you cannot derive ought from is. It fails on two levels:

      1) First principles. Only creatures with big brains think about the idea that something ought to be a certain way. Those big brains are extant physical objects. That is, brains are, and they conceive oughts. There’s simply no other place an ‘ought’ can come from than an ‘is’.

      2) Definition failure. Everyone who thinks you can’t derive ought from is acknowledges that introducing a goal changes everything. With a goal, there’s a simple path from is to ought – what you ought to do to accomplish that goal. What none of these people seem to realize is that the very concept of ‘ought’ is incoherent without a goal. No one has ever constructed a thought involving the concept of ‘ought’ without having a goal in mind. It may be fuzzy, inconsistent, and even not consciously articulated, but it’s always there.

      You ought not commit murder [in order to be able to sleep at night, or be regarded highly by one’s peers, or avoid going to jail, and so forth]. You ought not steal [in order to set an example for others who might steal from you, or avoid going to jail, or avoid feeling guilty, and so on].

      In the partial sentence you quoted, the obvious goal is to foster a society that is better to live in, where ‘better’ is something that may be difficult to precisely define but would be obvious to any normal person who experienced it and its counterfactual.

      • Posted August 12, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        Yes, a goal provides a simple bridge from is to ought. But the selection of the goal A over goal B (or even of goal A over goal not-A) is merely the same problem in disguise. The taking of a goal as axiomatic is equivalent to the taking of an axiomatic definition of “ought”.

        While you may consider “to foster a society that is better to live in” an obvious premise, it’s an implicit one, not given in the original position. Furthermore, the implicit hides another implicit assumption in the word “better”. This requires taking a set of options, and creating a ordering relationship on the set of options such that “A is better than B” — which effectively is where you jump from is to ought. Your “would be obvious to any normal person” tends to be a bit of a warning sign, for those with a background in math. The word “obvious” seems most often to indicate the mathematician is trying to pull a fast one at a hard spot, which may not actually be justified.

        Mathematically, such a set-and-relationship combination are referred to as a poset or “partially ordered set”. Given standard ZF axioms (or equivalent other foundation) and the existence of the set of options, the existence of a set of posets on the set of choices can be shown constructively. (If playing with infinite options, you may also need Zorn’s Lemma.) However, if the set has more than one element, there’s more than one poset possible — leaving open the question, which sense of “ought”/”better” you’re using.

        This can be answered — but has to be done as an axiom.

        Your first point is less wrong; yes, oughts come from the set of is-choices. However, the question of the bridge is “how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it” as Hume put it. Oughts are derived from Is, but with an additional axiomatic premise required, to establish the nature of the new (ordering) relation.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted August 12, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        I agree, one can think of goals as constraint problems such as deriving local minima. The only difference between the process of “is” and the topology of “ought” is then that the latter topologies is a subset of the possible topologies of the former.

        The idea of measures to find the constraint is the same as using a scaffold geometry, it isn’t really inherent to the problem. The problem of course is that the religious wants to abstract away these systems to an inherent quality, when all the quality there is is derived – you use different methods to solve a constraint problem.

        There are all sorts of “inherent quality” systems that appears on similar grounds, for example feedback systems and phase changing systems. But where are the philosophers who claim that “you can’t derive a feedback system from a network system” or “you can’t make water phases out of simple molecules”?

        It’s all baloney, what I can see. The real problem is that some constraint systems are necessarily emergent and relative, for example morals. You can’t derive morals from molecules. (In an ironic parallel to “you from goo” woo – you can’t derive religious morals from the concept of gods.)

        • Posted August 13, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

          While “ought” can be modeled by a topological space in well-behaved cases, I suspect there are cases where a poset that is not a topological space may be required, due to the union requirement for a topology.

          Or in English: morality has to deal with the possibility that it may be impossible to have your cake AND eat it, too.

          Aside from that, however, the is-ought problem then becomes which of the possible topologies one is using, and where the search xenith/nadir are located.

    • Posted August 12, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      Well, Kevin, the argument is certainly telescoped, but since it seems to me that we need to have some view of things which contributes to a meaningful life, we must take what we know to be true and produce a world view which is consistent with that.

      I do think, contrary to Thanny, however, that Hume’s point about is and ought is largely true. While it is possible to derive ought from is in simple cases, since reasons for action can be derived from simple statements of fact, substative moral implications cannot be simply derived from factual descriptions of the world.

      • Vaal
        Posted August 12, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

        Eric and abb3w,

        I think Thanny is on the right track and that Hume’s problem is not insoluble (after all, Hume didn’t present it as a law – but rather pointed out that anyone moving from “is” statements to “ought” statements owes us an explanation of how they are doing this).

        I find the value theory of Desirism to be quite compelling on this issue, in which desires are identified as central to value (many may use the term “goal” for “desire,” but I think “desire” offers more precision). That is: something has “value” only insofar as it is such as to fulfill some desire. End. Of Story. “Intrinsic” value (meant here to mean something having value intrinsically or in of itself, objectively independent of any being’s desires) does not exist and makes no sense.

        So ANYTHING that is of value (and hence any thing or action that we are going to ever think of as “good”) is going to have value as it relates to fulfilling desires.

        Desires provide the only reasons-for-actions that exist. And morality, “ought,” concerns actions. Therefore any “ought,” prudential or moral, will provide reasons for action only insofar as “ought” is a claim about fulfilling desires. Hence “X is good” will be a real world “is” statement describing the RELATIONSHIP between an “X” and it’s tendency to fulfill a desire(s) or not.
        All ought statements will have a truth value (true or not) with means value/moral claims can be objective – not simply opinion as we can be right or wrong when we make ought statements.

        From this we can understand that for any value statement to make sense we can recognize it as an “is” statement: “X is good” expresses: “X IS such as to fulfill the desire(s) in question.”

        So as an example: “This is a good hammer” or “you ought to use this hammer” equate to “This hammer is such as to fulfill the desire(s) in question” (e.g. hammering that type of nail) or “using this hammer will be such as to fulfill the desire(s) in question.” (e.g. hammering those types of nails in).

        There is no magical, transcendent “ought” world to bridge to. It’s all in the “is” with “ought” being a subsection of “is” statements – the ones that relate to value statements.


      • Vaal
        Posted August 12, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

        As for abb3w’s concern about simply moving the problem to the “goal” (choice of desire)…this is indeed the issue, but it’s where things get cool (I think).

        Because desires are malleable and we can influence them (or, many important ones are) we can therefore ask the question “which desires ought we encourage, and which desires ought we discourage?”

        Well, since the ONLY way anything is ever valuable or provides reason for action is by it’s ability to fulfill desires, we can evaluate desires themselves for their tendency to fulfill or thwart other desires. A “good” desire would be one that has the tendency of fulfilling more and stronger desires, a “bad” desire would be one that tends to thwart other desires.

        And when you evaluate which desires we have reasons to promote or discourage, we are right into the realm reserved for ethics/morals (which is the subsection of “is” statements in which desires themselves are the objects of evaluation).

        Example: Is rape objectively wrong? Remember this is not act utilitarianism. Rather, here it is the DESIRE we are evaluating as primary, not the action. The desire to rape is an inherently desire-thwarting desire – it’s forcing someone to have sex against their desire. Now, Imagine a knob you could turn to increase the number and strength of “desires to rape” in a society.
        As you turn up that desire to rape you get some rising combination of: rape victims having their desires thwarted by having sex forced upon them by rapists AND insofar as someone has the desire to rape but is not able to rape, that desire thwarting is increasing as well.

        Now turn the knob down – you get less people desiring to rape (hence less thwarting of rape victim’s desires) and fewer incidents of people with a thwarted desire to rape. Thwarted desires go down all around.

        What is a “good” type of desire to replace this with? How about: The desire to have sex with someone only when the other party desires it as well.

        The claim that this desire (for sex to be consensual) will result in less desire thwarting and more desire fulfilling (after all, by design it is desire-fulfilling on each side) is an OBJECTIVE claim: it’s true or false and if it’s true someone denying it will be objectively wrong. And it’s in principle open to scientific scrutiny for gaining confidence in the answer.

        So people in a society have reasons-for-action concerning which desires they ought to promote, and which they ought to discourage. And they are objective fact claims all in the realm of “is” with no magical “ought” realm one needs to find a magic bridge toward.

        (BTW, on this view Sam Harris is on the right track, insofar as moral claims have objective truth values. And also that being “real claims about the real world, just like science aims to describe the real world, we can not expect that all such descriptions will be obvious or easily calculated. Reality has never owed us easy answers – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t possible answers. The problem with Harris is he has only identified “the well being of conscious creatures” as the object of moral scrutiny, which even he admits seems frustratingly imprecise, awaiting perhaps better precision some day. I think identifying value with “desire” does exactly this: it is more precise and answers a number of issues that Harris has had to struggle with. But to get into those would take even more screen pixels…)

        That’s one possible approach, anyway…



        • Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

          FWIW, where you slip in the ordering relationship in this argument is at “fulfilling more and stronger desires”. This isn’t so much “cool”, as merely yet another bridge… and one that’s not paying attention to when/where/how the bridge’s construction occurs. (Most of the rest seems to consist of inferring additional “ought” premises from the initial “ought” bridge, which is unremarkable.)

          I also suspect your particular method has severe problems with Gödelian inconsistency, or at least with Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem.

          At the very least, it’s trivial to show it’s not the only such basis. One can equally derive from “is” a basis which has that a “good” desire would be one that tends to thwart other desires, and a “bad” desire would be one that has the tendency of fulfilling more and stronger desires. It merely seems sadistically sociopathic, but that’s not an intrinsic philosophical drawback.

          That said, I’d agree Hume’s Is-Ought Problem isn’t “insolvable”. However, as with Zorn’s Lemma under ZF (independent of the Axiom of Choice), you can’t resolve the nature of which “ought” will be used merely from the “is” axioms. The solution is simple: you need an axiom, to define the basis of which of the possible ought-ordering relationships over the is-choices you’re referring to. Depending on which axiom is used, the sense of “ought” changes.

          • Vaal
            Posted August 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            This thread is dead I’m sure but – thanks for the reply. What you say may be true, but I don’t see the argument for it thus far. For instance:

            “At the very least, it’s trivial to show it’s not the only such basis. One can equally derive from “is” a basis which has that a “good” desire would be one that tends to thwart other desires, and a “bad” desire would be one that has the tendency of fulfilling more and stronger desires. It merely seems sadistically sociopathic, but that’s not an intrinsic philosophical drawback.”

            Of that I’m quite skeptical.

            The concept of value being the relationship between a desire and a state of affairs that fulfills the desire is not merely picked out of the air, easily replaced by any other axiom. It explains our experience – how it is things seem to take on “value” to us, and
            it is consonant with, and derives from, how we explain conscious human behavior. To explain people’s deliberate actions, we appeal to his beliefs/desires/intentions.
            Take away his desires and the agent no longer has his reasons-for-action.
            And in the moral sphere “ought” only makes sense if it entails reasons for actions.

            You don’t even have to call it “good” or “moral” but simply ask the question “what reasons for actions do we have?”

            It seems the only reasons come from the tendency of “X” to fulfill desires – otherwise how can it be a reason for action?

            Similarly, when evaluating in a society “which desires do we have more reason to encourage – e.g. which ought we encourage?”
            how can the logic suddenly change to, as you suggest, to desire-thwarting-desires providing greater reasons for action? And how will this negative theory of yours fit as well with normal moral talk and will it explain just as much?

            I don’t see how. But I’m all ears. (If you can do it in plain English. If you are going to invoke abstruse mathematics I’ll have to bow out with my skepticism uninhibited).



            • Posted August 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

              I think by “The concept of value being the relationship between a desire and a state of affairs that fulfills the desire”, you’re again implicitly slipping in an is-ought bridge — to wit, that what is a human desire is “better” than what is not. Or in other words, you presume human desire is automatically good. Such philosophical carelessness gives me a desire toward homicide… providing a handy counter-example.

              Your remark that “Take away his desires and the agent no longer has his reasons-for-action” seems to confuse proximate and ultimate reasons. (See back from January.) In so far as we’re talking about choices, that seems again to presume that the reasons (or perhaps “motives) for choices are “good”… and we’re looking at the same bridge from yet another angle, motivating me back toward homicidal mania. =)

              The question you seem to be raising is that when I go and construct the set of possible ordering relationships, there do seem to be some elements (ordering relationships) which have some correspondence to the concept of ordering from “human desire”. But that simply assumes the conclusion — not to mention the inconsistent nature of human desire. There is no a priori necessity for chosing one such order over the other. It might be that ordering relationships of human desire only comes close to being the actual “good”; or, that human desires are a perfect predictor of “bad” instead of “good” (say, due to the inherently sinful nature of mankind, played up rather more than most fundies would bother).

              So, yes, “human desire” gives one such ordering relationship. However, there’s no philosophical necessity that it uniquely and exactly define “ought”-ness; the choice could instead be made from the desires of a dolphin, which might involve a lot more swimming, sushi, and rape.

              As to how this fits with ordinary moral talk? Well, this isn’t so much a “theory” of morality, as a linguistic framework for discussing it. The constructed set of ordering relationships gives every possible basis for morality – meaning it includes not just yours, but any other philosophical basis that might be mostly similar yet have points of disagreement. The morality-by-negation is simply an extreme case — the most distant possible from your own, measured by degree of disagreement. (It’s merely the easiest example to construct.)

              As I said, you simply need an axiom, to define the basis of which of the possible ought-ordering relationships over the is-choices you’re referring to.

  3. Tim
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    …a gray Sunday morning…

    Sitting under a ceiling fan in my living room, coated with sweat and waiting to cool down from a morning bike ride enough to take a shower (so I’ll not still be sweating when I get out), I miss gray Sunday mornings in Chicago.

  4. Dave
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Mulherin’s claim has to be wrong? Right now in the United States more people than ever favor gay marriage. Anti-abortion sentiments are also at historic highs (barely). The former can only be due to a rejection of religious dogma, but what about the latter? It could be a sign that religiosity is as strong as ever in the U.S., and yet religion is changing its character. This directly contradicts the premise of new atheism: as Hitch put it so wonderfully, that religion poisons everything. People are giving up dogma, but not religion.

    Religion adapts. Just like every other institution. Would a 1st century Christian even recognize, for example, Barack Obama as belonging to the same religion? But Obama is Christian, despite the protestations of the right (and, weirdly, sometimes the left).

    I’m not sure about the “new” atheism anymore. A couple of years ago it was great — energizing, refreshing… our “we’re here, get used to it” moment. Let’s just say the thrill is gone. I still have my Christian friends and family, and they’re (at worst) as good as I am. Call it accommodationism, I’d rather get along with them.

    Sorry bout the long comment.

    • Posted August 12, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      You say, “It could be a sign that religiosity is as strong as ever in the U.S., and yet religion is changing its character.” I suppose it could be, but that doesn’t mean it is. So your conclusion is based on conjecture. I would disagree that “religion is as strong as ever in the U.S.” and there are a number of polls which would back me up.

      • Dave
        Posted August 12, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        No, you’re right, it doesn’t mean it is. But it does eliminate some possibilities. Such as the simplistic view that 1st century religious dogma primarily drives Christian opinion on social issues. It doesn’t.

        I did go too far in saying that religiosity is as strong as ever in the U.S., but I still think it’s fair to say that it’s thriving.

        Not a response to you, just something I forgot to add to my first post: my view is that we should fight for religious liberty instead of against religion. Religious liberty neuters the power of dogma.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted August 12, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

          I think many New Atheists do both. Religious freedom is agreeable to all, unless you are theocratic, so it get voiced too.

          The difference is that the accommodationist “just religious freedom” is – been there, done that. It didn’t work. New atheism correlates (partly) with an increase in atheism and a marked decrease in religiosity in the youngest generation of the US demography.

          As I understand it, NA is also a reaction to the fundamentalist “christian science” creationism that grew so strong during the heyday of accommodationism.

    • Tim
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      I fail to see how rising anti-abortion sentiments support the idea that “people are giving up dogma, but not religion.” How does that follow?

      • Dave
        Posted August 12, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        By itself, it doesn’t. My point was that the growing support for gay marriage is largely independent from a loss in religious belief in the U.S. That is, that the largely religious pop. of the U.S. is thinking in something other than strictly Christian dogma to decide the issues.

        • Tim
          Posted August 12, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

          I see. I don’t see that these two examples provide convincing support for your suggestion, however. Both issues are too entangled with other things to draw any meaningful conclusions.
          I would speculate that anti-gay prejudice is merely rationalized by appeals to religious dogma, though admittedly the dogma helps to perpetuate the prejudice – they’re mutually reinforcing.

          In the US, with the exception of the Catholic church, the origins of anti-abortion sentiment are political, not religious. Of course, the Christian right has, in an entirely ex post facto manner, succeeded in casting the anti-abortion position in terms of religious dogma – and the dogma sustains it now in the minds of the fundamentalist/evangelical rank and file. But it serves political purposes is is largely perpetuated for political purposes, even when it is carried to insane extremes (e.g., Read the Sanctity of Life bill that 62 other Republicans co-sponsored that define personhood as beginning with fertilization!)

      • Posted August 12, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think you can measure religion using any guage but religion itself. Indicators like opposition to abortion or gay marriage are inexact because other factors drive those views as well as religion. Religion – for reasons that have been well-plumbed here – is almost randomly connected to most ethical issues, other than near-univeral humanist/Enlightenment values like opposition to murder.

        If you read only the New Testament and were told that this is the basis of Christianity, what would you expect Christians to say about the death penalty, gun control, (male) genital cutting or retributive justice? Then look at what they do say.

        • Dave
          Posted August 12, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

          I can’t make a conclusive argument just based on some (to me) compelling polling data. I think that’s agreeing with your first paragraph.

          I’m thrilled with the idea that people’s values are determined by something more complex than their religious inheritances. I wish more atheists believed that way.

          What I’ve noticed is — if you look at the heart and soul of new atheism, it’s eloquent, it’s beautiful, it’s energizing… and it’s wrong. It’s an illogical and un-empirical view of how religion actually works on a personal basis. That’s the point of my counterexample.

          I agree with Tim’s point earlier today, also, that dogma and innate prejudice are mutually reinforcing. But is dogma exclusively a religious problem? Wait until atheists are the majority, then let’s see if they don’t come up with their own dogmas. I actually think your example of the new testament’s views on liberalism (strongly in favor, unless you ask a Republican) shows that the religious are more complicated philosophically than atheists sometimes give them credit for. Already too long (again). This is a really complex and ambiguous discussion; wish we could be having it over a beer instead of over the internet. Thanks for your reply.

  5. Posted August 12, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I think one of the reasons you can’t say science and religion are simply different (perhaps complementary) ways for discerning truth is that, as mych as it is a method for discerning truth, science is also the way we define truth.

    We recognize something as truth because it’s been tested and verified.

    In what ways dies religion test and verify its claims?

    Religion and science both produce hypotheses. Only science bothers to verify or reject them.

    • Posted August 12, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Christ on a cracker. Please ignore the misspellings.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted August 12, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        Cat got your keyboard?

    • Gordon Hill
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      “We recognize something as truth because it’s been tested and verified.” and the consequent uncertainty as acceptable.

      There is a great deal in science that is disputed among scientists. Biologists speak of species even though there is disagreement as to what constitutes a species.

      Religion even more vaguely characterized. While the core of religion is meaning, the meaning of living an appropriate life, one does not need to be religious to do so… one does not even need to see their life as having meaning. It’s a choice based on one’s perception.

      That said, accommodationism–one who adapts to or compromises with an opposing view–is toxic, but not a prerequisite for being a religious person;e.g., the humanists, atheists, ethical culturists, and UUs who practice religion and, not only fully accept science, including its uncertainties, but in many cases are leading scientific contributors.

  6. Posted August 12, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Our problem with EMD is that he is superficially open but just as narrow minded and closed off to commentators who do not support his little group’s views on his blog.

    We have seen him, reactively shut don’t and delete commentators with pointed questions more than a few times.

    Yes, atheists can be just as dogmatic.

    • Tim
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Really? You’re commenting on this web site now – do you have anything substantive to say?

      substantive: having a firm basis in reality and therefore important, meaningful, or considerable

      • Posted August 12, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that EMD’s behavior is erratic as regards freedom of speech and his moderation of his blog. Beware.

        • Tim
          Posted August 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

          It is his blog. Your freedom of speech is not trammeled by Eric McDonald moderating comments in his own blog. Of course, you could start your own blog and exercise total freedom of speech. Naturally, almost everyone else on the planet will exercise their right to ignore you.

          • Posted August 12, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

            Hahaha! Great last sentence.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted August 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

          That’s enough out of you on this topic, kevinkindsongs. The comments are for discussing the issue, not dissing a writer whom I happen to respect.

    • Tulse
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      You all apparently are legion, given your penchant for the first-person plural.

      • Posted August 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        Hmm… didn’t we have a previous commenter who referred to themself in the plural and moaned about Eric blocking them for misbehaviour? (Or am I conflating two ninnies?)


        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted August 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          You’re right, Ant, it was sleeprunning.

          Could be a sock puppet, but I can’t see any connection between the two.

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted August 12, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

            To save time, it starts at comment #24.

          • Posted August 12, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for your google-fu (bing-fu?) in any case.


    • Posted August 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      “Yes, atheists can be just as dogmatic.”
      Did anyone say we can’t? But it only takes one to prove that statement. It would be wildly fallacious if anyone were to confuse that with a generalisation that “All atheists” or even “Many atheists” are “always” or even “often” as dogmatic as, for example, the Church that claims a “teaching magisterium” of dogma about the nature of the universe from which no deviation by believers is allowed.

      • Vaal
        Posted August 13, 2012 at 12:30 am | Permalink

        Well put!


      • Posted August 22, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

        As happens, there’s some empirical data on the question, from the Hunsberger and Altemeyer “Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America’s Nonbelievers” — which, as happens, measured such attitudes using the DOG scale of dogmatism. (See the book for technical details on the scale and the study; I’m sweeping some experimental uncertainties under the carpet.)

        In the general population, the ordinary unorganized type of atheist tends on average to be marginally more dogmatic than average agnostics, but marginally less so than religiously inactive believers, and with modestly active, regular churchgoing, and fundamentalist believers tending progressively more dogmatic. The sort of atheist who actually joins an organization, however, tended to be more dogmatic than that — averaging marginally less than regular churchgoers, and much less than fundamentalists, but notably more so than the modestly active (2-3 times monthly) or unobservant believers.

        In short: the typical atheist tends to be incredibly non-dogmatic, but the typical group-joining atheist empirically appears on a par with the typical every-Sunday churchgoer… of the NON-fundamentalist variety.

  7. Neunder
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    There’s a new accomodationist book out by Cambridge U. Press:

    Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist, by ROBERT J. ASHER

    Here’s a review:

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