On "Accommodationism" and Templeton

By Chris Mooney | July 12, 2010 11:08 am

I’m on a couple of podcasts recently talking about the clash within atheism between “New Atheists” and people like me.

First, I was on the “Reasonable Doubts” podcast discussing this topic for a good half hour or so. You can listen here. Many things came up, including the Templeton Foundation and the problem of online incivility. A few brief comments:

* On the Templeton Foundation, I’ve already had my say, and in a post that has been very interestingly ignored, reporter Dan Jones does a far better job than me at explaining why it is doesn’t make sense to discount views just because they may have received Templeton support. On an intellectual level, I think Dan really deserves an answer from those who dismiss Templeton funding and those who receive it in a blanket way. (Note: My post defending Templeton has not been prominently answered either, at least that I have seen.)

* I also am tired of the label “accommodationist.” It seems to imply that there is something weak about my view, as if I’m all ready to just cave to some common enemy. On the contrary, I think that I’m being tolerant and pragmatic.

There’s an added point here, which is that while some strong atheists may not like the “New Atheist” label, there doesn’t seem any consensus here–Vic Stenger has put it in the title of his book! However, I’m not sure any alleged “accommodationists” like or embrace the “accommodationist” label.

I was also recently on “Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub,” where many similar themes came up. The relevant links, again, are here and here.

As for “Point of Inquiry,” I’m not sure yet how it is going to handle this very heated subject, or if it will do so on one of my own shows. We’ll see.

Comments (107)

  1. To me, “accommodation” would be bad, and it would be a bad word, (in relation to the creationism-evolution issue, my primary are of concern) if it meant something like or related to either of the following:

    1) Origins are given over to non scientific explanations. This applies to origin of the universe and origin of life, as well as origin (‘rise’) of any given species or adaptation. those are natural event with natural explanations, the latter falling under the purview of evolutionary biology and ancillary studies in physics, geology, etc. A version of evolutionary theory that says “well, god started it but then…” is not acceptable.

    2) Non-natural explanations are intertwined with natural ones for selected (or any) evolutionary processes. For example, “evolution is how the scientists say it is, but with the occasional guiding hand of god” or “evolution is how scientists say it is, but for humans, god is involved, as least now and the” and so on.

    (Yes, number 2 includes everything, and 1 is a subset of 2, but most specific expectations are identifiable in this way.)

    Science is science, religion is religion. The two are compatible in certain contexts and for certain people, but they are not reconcilable. Compatibility and reconcilability are different. Where compatibility is sought, it is primarily the responsibility of the religious individual to make the necessary changes. I have no problem with religious people trying to reconcile religion with evolution, but I’m sure it is not possible unless any necessary compromise rests entirely on their end.

    Otherwise, I’m totally happy to accommodate people.

    I’m not sure what I feel about the terms. I agree that “accomodationist” has a negative sound. “New Atheist” seems to have a particular meaning or history that I’m not sure it has. What, for instance, is an “Old Atheist.”

  2. gillt

    “New Atheist Comment Machine” Chris Mooney

    “I also am tired of the label “accommodationist.” Chris Mooney

    Seems hypocritical, but I’m one of the former, so…

  3. Last time I attended a skeptic’s society event, it was sponsored by the Templeton found. and I heard many people muttering under their breath: “Templeton? I’ve lost respect for Michael Shermer.” But, isn’t being reasonable instead of dogmatic just what we’re going for here? Doesn’t that involve having an open mind and joining the conversation? To my knowledge, Templeton does nothing to influence the research of their grantees, so what’s the problem?

    We should be more concerned about who’s funding our political campaigns than whose funding Michael Shermer–I guarantee you, he’s not budging a bit!

  4. I find “accommodationist” a very strange term, just because you have to be in a position of power to accommodate or not accommodate. To the religious vast majority in the US, I think it would just be amusing to listen to atheists debating the wisdom of “accommodating” them. On the other hand, anybody can be a pragmatist, whether they’re in the weaker or the stronger position.

  5. Hitch

    Let me go to Templeton first. A lot has been said, but I still find the reaction of Jon Haidt and Michael Schermer compared to Sean Carroll’s response to Harold Kroto revealing.

    Scientific question one: Do variable correlate?

    Variable 1: Gets funding from Templeton
    Variable 2: Is inclined to defend Templeton

    Variable 3: Has done work that is close or fits Templeton’s stated goals
    Variable 4: Later receives Templeton support

    Anyone can read Jon Haidt on the “New Atheists” on Edge. Hmm does he fit the profile of someone who is willing to otherize “New Atheists”? An independent observer would have to say yes. Check for example Marc Hauser’s reaction.

    As it stands, research and journalism and blogging that is more likely aligned with Templeton’s goals is indeed more likely funded. That doesn’t require any strings attached or control of the outcome. In fact every now and them funding something that has a contrary outcome helps deflect criticism of bias (see the prayer study).

    If an opinion gets funded by a source and the opinion still speaks critically of the source this is more credible than if they correlate and in fact one would have to find that that it is uncorrelated.

    However just from a glance at what gets support. Terry Eagleton is another case, it is hard to claim that the support is neutral. Had Terry Eagleton defended the New Atheists do we think he would have been supported? But noone cries foul over mock name calling like Ditchkins. That apparently furthers dialogue.

    Now let’s see:
    Gets funding: Haidt, Schermer, Mooney, Rosenbaum, Dreher
    Gets no funding: Kroto, Carroll

    How let’s look at scientists who have openly attacked New Atheists and look at their field of study:

    *) David Sloan Wilson: Evolutionary Religious Studies
    *) Joe Henrich: Evolution of Religious Beliefs, Rituals, and Institutions

    How about books and articles that encourage more religious sensitivity:

    *) Elaine Howard Ecklund: Religion among Academic Scientists

    Noone however asks about the background anymore. Ecklund is evangelical for example, and the critique of her minimizing wedge issues in academia and her endorsement of religious sensitivity by academics has received little scrutiny.

    What is the issue? Topics that are in favor of the agenda get funding more likely than other topics. This is a selection bias and a confirmation bias.

    Conversely, authors who promote ideas that please the Templeton agenda seem to have had a better chance to acquire funding from Templeton later on. This again is an incentive bias.

    One does not have to influence the research work itself to influence. All one needs to do is create a funding gradient.

    We would not look favorably on an institution that said that they were looking to promote republican values in academia and assume that this would not introduce biases, even if indirectly through the people that will get funding and hence have an easier time justifying their case in a tenure process.

    A final word on Rosenbaum. If I have to pick a label, it’d be agnostic. Rosenbaum has written a rather poorly researched piece. Misunderstanding what atheism is, what agnosticism is and how science relates to these. But the article is a thinly veiled attack at New Atheism.

    I personally have no problem with honest critique and well researched articles. That Rosenbaum article is some of his worst work, and it does not speak well to the influence of Templeton funding. Heck there would be ways to write well-argued critiques. In fact I could write one that is much more piercing and relevant that what Rosenbaum has done. He’d first have to read Huxley, Ingersoll, Russell and yes even Hitchens and Dawkins to argue his case. And rather than cite most of them once he peddles in stereotypes.

    But the problem is that indeed this peddling in stereotypes can now attract funding. It dilutes the journalistic quality and it dilutes science. And it helps maintain stereotypes and fault lines rather than honest discourse. And it biases towards opinions of a certain kind in an increasingly competitive academic funding climate.

    My reaction on “accommodationism” later.

  6. GM

    I also am tired of the label “accommodationist.” It seems to imply that there is something weak about my view, as if I’m all ready to just cave to some common enemy. On the contrary, I think that I’m being tolerant and pragmatic.

    Well, the fact is that there is a lot that can be called “weak” about your view. As I have explained before, so far I have all the reasons to think that the primary motivation behind accommodationism is fear of confrontation. Because you, and others, are smart enough to understand the difference between the philosophical and theological incompatibility of science and religion (it goes both ways – you can not believe in God and claim that this is compatible with a scientific worldview as it goes totally against every core principle of scientific discourse, and there a number of completely irresolvable conflict between core doctrines of Christianity and current scientific theories) and the practical matter of whether one can human being hold two contradictory views in the same time (of course one can, if he doesn’t give too much thought to them or manages to suppress the cognitive dissonance or actively deludes himself that there is no contradiction). If that’s not being weak, then what is it?

  7. Chris Mooney

    @6. It has nothing to do with fear of confrontation. It has to do with whether confrontation works. Very different, everything to do with pragmatism, nothing to do with weakness.

  8. GM

    The problem is that you have yet to show that non-confronation works.

  9. Hitch

    On “accommodationism”. I dislike the word. But it’s part of polarization. I have always understood that religious people would react very negatively to outspoken disbelief. That is nothing new.

    In fact even this internal bickering is nothing new. I forgot who first brought this up but I think the analogy is very pertinent. In second wave feminism outspoken feminists were branded angry, aggressive, not helping, loud, shrill. Feminazi was reserved for the most extreme cases. Negative branding abound. But this was not just by men, it was also by women, some of whom argued that a more pragmatic, calm, quiet approach would be better.

    I think it is fair to say that women’s rights would not have gotten as far as they have gotten if it wasn’t for the outspoken ones. And it would have gotten further if it wasn’t for Phyllis Schlafly.

    Atheism has a very bad image and it didn’t just acquire that bad image with the books of the new atheists. In fact atheism had the bad image despite the fact that we were nice, quiet, conciliatory and did not make a lot of noise of criticism or opinions. The Minnesota study of distrust of social groups is shocking. Unbelievers are truly the last stigmatized group that isn’t even recognized as stigmatized. We at least recognize that gays, muslims, african americans suffer from negative stereotyping and unjustified distrust.

    But it’s far and between that we see even calm and gentle atheists being described in positive terms. We do not hear about the holocaust altruism studies that showed that lack of religiosity positively correlated with willingness to help persecuted jews. We do not hear how secular countries have high charitable giving. Even atheists who think up pragmatic strategies do not emphasize approaches to lift the image of atheism, but rather participate in putting a part of atheism down, the “bad” kind called “New Atheism”. Is that a pragmatic strategy or perhaps we should focus on having a factual discussion, of removing the unfair stereotypes, of speaking our mind the the right to do so?

    I fear I just have to say that being quiet and pragmatic has shown to not work over the last 50 years. That does not mean I endorse being rude, being unfair, being negative. But we also have to be clear about the labeling.

    It is instructive to read David Sloan Wilson’s piece on the New Atheists. In his conclusion he makes the case why they are bad, wrong, irrelevant. But he actually picks a quite of Hitchens to make him appear as wanting war on Muslims, when read in context, he actually calls for opposition to violent militant radical Islamists. He finds no quote in Dawkins or Hitchens main book to criticize but has to go to obscure secondary sources to find fault. He blames Dawkins for an opinion he actually is not the originator of, but citing a child psychologist. And so forth.

    The problem here is that we do not have a fair and factual internal discourse. Extreme quotes, out of context discussions and stereotyping are rampant and that even from distinguished academics such as Wilson and Eagleton (what Eagleton’s actual beliefs are is hard to extract, so I’ll count him as undeclared). And they reinforce those counter-reactions from believers from whom one might imagine such a response .

    So why do self-declared atheists fight dirty? That is a very real question and concern. And it is as real a concern as wondering if it’s OK for a professor to discuss an email of an 18 year old.

    But we no longer discuss cases, we discuss the worst and extremize. “Accommodationist” is an extremized label. And there are real attempts to make “New Atheists” appear extreme.

    I think we should reject all this labeling and have more factual discussions. That, I think is far more pragmatic and helpful, than stereotyping either side.

    And the more atheists recognize that talking about the positive atheists have to bring to the table rather than about the negative that some other atheist has done, and give that visibility, the more we actually do that’s helpful.

  10. Chris Mooney

    Hitch,
    I want to thank you for thoughtful comments since you’ve been here. I’ve had to delete a lot of comments and ban a lot of people in the past few days, but yours have been on the bright side.

  11. Chris Mooney

    And, I am really sorry that it required vetting all comments here to get back to a kind of dialogue that I consider civil, rational, and worthwhile.

    But I’m glad I did it, I have to say.

    I do apologize to those legitimate commenters who don’t like having their posts held and are being essentially punished due to the bad actors. With Discover, we’re looking into a better way, but for now, this is all we can do.

  12. GM

    9. Hitch Says:
    July 12th, 2010 at 2:09 pm
    But we no longer discuss cases, we discuss the worst and extremize. “Accommodationist” is an extremized label. And there are real attempts to make “New Atheists” appear extreme.
    I think we should reject all this labeling and have more factual discussions. That, I think is far more pragmatic and helpful, than stereotyping either side.

    I agree wholeheartedly. However, more “factual discussions” (what scientists do) and “framing” (what the, for lack of better term, the “accommodationists” want us to do) are quite different things. Thus the disagreement.

    And the more atheists recognize that talking about the positive atheists have to bring to the table rather than about the negative that some other atheist has done, and give that visibility, the more we actually do that’s helpful.

    You are contradicting your statement above with this. “Positive” and “negative” are relative terms, and it is going to hurt the cause if we’re aiming to portray science or atheism as “positive” for this is not a defining characteristic of either. The core principle of scientific thinking is that knowing what’s true and what’ s not matters. Sadly, this view is not shared by significant portions of society, and this is what we’re trying to change. There is nothing “positive” or “negative” about objective truth, and obscuring this position with fairly irrelevant things such as charity activity in secular countries is not a good strategy IMO.

  13. Hitch

    Eww, “bright”! Just kidding. I try to stay factual. I think that’s the best we can do. Harsh criticism is as good as a compliment if it is grounded in an attempt to be honest and grounded in what is actually going on.

    I am very concerned about the wave of negative stereotyping overall but specifically of New Atheism. I think it is very harmful.

    After all if we believe some critics, Sam Harris wants to bomb Muslims, Richard Dawkins wants to remove all children from religious parents and calls everybody who doesn’t agree with him Nazi-appeaser, and Hitchens just wants war on all religious people and mocks Mother Theresa for no good reason. PZ wants to rape people with rusty knifes and so forth. If one believes any of these things, well yes, they are extreme, nasty and rejectable. Unfortunately if one gives them a fair reading one gets a very different picture. If one looks at the whole body of work, there is lots of stuff to agree to (and disagree too as well). And certainly they are nowhere near as nasty as they are made out to be by some of their critics. But they’ve been quote-mined to make them look bad. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything each says, but too often people get hung up by words rather than the broader aim of a piece. How many people remember what the main point of Dawkins “Chamberlain” article was and how critical a role the mentioning of Chamberlain had to the main thrust of the article (check it on Edge)? I’d dare wager most people have forgotten, and the meme, amplified into “accommodationism” has exploded and charges of reductio ad hitlerum abound.

    We no longer disagree on points, we make cartoon images out of minor things and discuss those.

    I for one think we need outspoken atheism, and outspoke defense of science against intrusion of non-scientific components. Those are theoretically separate issues, but in reality they are of course related. But if we do not speak, the conservative christian revival of the 80s will get its way. They already staff school boards of education and push changes in text books after all. The SCOTUS routinely splits 5-4 on critical issues. An atheist still cannot get elected without overcoming huge stigmas. I think we need to look where the real problems are, and they are hardly internal to atheism.

  14. Hitch

    @GM: Let me clarify:

    Atheists have an unfair negative image. On almost all social dimensions we compete, do better, and if we do worse it is not culturally universal.

    Reporting any of that will be “positive” in the sense of correcting an unfounded negative image.

    However if we keep dissecting each others words and call subgroups bad or negative, we actually amplify the stereotype. I’m not against honest criticism, but frankly that is not what I by and large see. I see lots of negative stereotyping.

    Heck I have criticism for Dawkins, for example I do not like how he discusses agnosticism in his book. But doing the “omgz Dawkins dissed agnostics” is “negative” and “here is my disagreement to this point on this basis” is “positive”. The latter does not demonize Dawkins but engages in a discussion. That in my mind is “positive”.

    Perhaps I have not been clear in the use of the words positive and negative. I do not want to bias the discussion at all. Just pointing to the facts and having a level-headed discussion is “positive” enough.

  15. @Hitch: I agree, creating a ‘funding gradient’ and deciding what kind of work gets supported furthers the Templeton agenda, but is it also furthering other agendas that would gain less traction without the funding (aka skeptics society)?

    We may not look favorably on their mission statement, but why should that prevent us from taking a piece of the funding pie for the New Atheist/skeptics contingent in a discussion that’s going to happen anyway…shouldn’t we try to get as much of their funding as possible? Could be going to someone else…

    [Caveat: if I ever saw objective evidence that Templeton is influencing their grantees work, I would change my position.]

  16. Greg Laden wrote (@ 1)

    Science is science, religion is religion. The two are compatible in certain contexts and for certain people, but they are not reconcilable. Compatibility and reconcilability are different. Where compatibility is sought, it is primarily the responsibility of the religious individual to make the necessary changes. I have no problem with religious people trying to reconcile religion with evolution, but I’m sure it is not possible unless any necessary compromise rests entirely on their end.
    Otherwise, I’m totally happy to accommodate people.

    I have a different horse in this race since I am also interested in philosophical clarity and not just scientific supremacy and what bothers me is when domains of knowledge that are properly investigated through rigorous philosophy are ceded to theistic religion as long as it promises not to interfere with science.

    Ethics should be studied as rigorously as any subject and responsible public discourse should not defer to the presumptions of authority of religious leaders but question their legitimacy or, at least, question their legitimacy to pronounce on ethics without using common reason but by appeals to their Scriptures or other arbitrary traditions.

    Religious institutions and leaders are power players, period. They have both informal and formal political, social, and cultural power over many people. If you think a particular powerful and influential group or set of leaders does genuinely guide people well in matters of truth and practice, then by all means, encourage people in their support of those leaders or groups.

    But just because many people feel allegiances to certain leaders and group identities does not mean that those groups or leaders deserve that allegiance or in the long run benefit from it. And, in particular, if those allegiances are significant barriers to people’s clarity of thought in philosophical matters and in very real practical ethical issues, there should be some guts among those with public platforms to say that falsehoods and bad codes of conduct should be discouraged.

    It may not be pragmatic in a short run, but challenging political figures with monopolies on certain kinds of power never is. But if we are to be people who are advancing the cause of both truth and justice, we need to stand up against those who claim authority without having a true legitimacy to do so.

    And this extends beyond standing up for true scientific legitimacy against frauds. It also means standing up for rigorous reason and the demand for reasons in all areas of inquiry and personal practice.

  17. Tulse

    Greg said:

    “accommodation” would be bad […] if it meant something like […]:
    1) Origins are given over to non scientific explanations. […] A version of evolutionary theory that says “well, god started it but then…” is not acceptable.
    2) Non-natural explanations are intertwined with natural ones for selected (or any) evolutionary processes.

    But certainly in practice accommodation involves precisely these things, since in practice the goal of accommodationism seems primarily to get Christians to move from creationism to theistic evolution (unlike those nasty New Atheists who demand their evolution be entirely free of gods, and thus are so off-putting to believers). The entire thrust of the NCSE “faith outreach” seems to involve exactly this approach. This is why many New Atheists think that this approach is so misguided and ultimately harmful in the long term, precisely because it tolerates points 1 and 2.

  18. Hitch

    @Casey: Let’s say people do as you suggest. And let’s say some are even successful. Let’s assume 70% of support reinforces Templeton’s mission, and 30% is critical of it. Would that still be a bias and a win for Templeton’s agenda? Do you think that people critical of Templeton’s agenda would in fact be funded on an equal level and that being part of the hypothetical 30% did not contribute to apologizing the bias?

    Or is the intellectually honest position to point out that there is an inherent conflict of interest here? And point out that many critics of New Atheism have been funded and I know of no evidence that a critic of Templeton has ever been funded. Lots of work that Templeton funds that I am aware of supports their stated agenda.

    Your standard for bias is not the right one. Overt influence is not a sufficient condition for bias. The observability of bias is the condition and it can happen without overt influence. If I have more time I may try to do a meta-study on what has been supported so far. But right now I do not have the time. I think it is very fair though to say that the evidence is not in favor of Templeton given the data I have already stated above.

  19. Nicholas Lawrence

    The label ‘new’ atheists is silly. Dawkins (for example) says nothing, in content or tone, that (for example) Lucretius, Hume, Ingersoll, Mark Twain, Mencken, and my personal hero Richard Robinson (An Atheist’s Values, OUP, 1964) have not already said. (With the possible exception of Dawkins’ interesting argument that a hypothetical supernatural creator must be more complex than the universe it hypothetically creates.) The only novelty is that The God Delusion sold better than Robinson.
    ‘Accommodationist’ is a just reproach. It is impossible for science and ‘religion’ to be compatible, because there is, for the purposes of this debate, no such thing as ‘religion’. There are at least five big religions, mutually fundamentally incompatible, and within each of the big religions there are incompatible factions. Before Templeton offers any ‘debate’ with science, let it fund research to determine (for example) whether in the beginning YHWH created heaven and earth, or in the beginning were two worlds, Muspelheim and Niflheim. In fact, theologians have no tools to choose between these hypotheses (and, of course, countless other creation myths), because all the big religions are all just made up, without evidence, and, more importantly, without agreed procedure for refutation. (Now that they have, mostly, stopped killing ‘heretics’.)
    Stephen Gould was mistaken in conceding to any of the religions any magisterium at all. None of the religions can tell us anything about morality, as Plato proved in the famous Euthyphro dialogue. At most, the self-styled ‘sacred’ texts tell historians the moral prejudices of the patriarchs who wrote them.
    None of the religions have any method for reaching a consensus about what Templeton misleadingly calls the ‘Big Questions’. I’ll be (agreeably) surprised if there is a scientific consensus about the detailed origin of this universe in my lifetime. But scientists, unlike theologians, have agreed methods for showing that a particular hypothesis (eg ‘steady state’) is mistaken.
    I completely agree that is unhelpful to be rude to individual believers. But responsible atheists are right to be contemptuous of the nonsense at the heart of all the big religions. Personally, I wouldn’t even concede that the ragbag anthology misleadingly called ‘the’ bible contains much good poetry – though Job is a good read if you want a reminder of just how nasty – and depressingly human – a god Moses & co invented.

  20. J. J. Ramsey

    Hitch: “It is instructive to read David Sloan Wilson’s piece on the New Atheists.”

    Not really. It tells you about a receiver of Templeton money. Wilson by himself is not a representative sample.

    We’ve been through this before.

    “In his conclusion he makes the case why they are bad, wrong, irrelevant. But he actually picks a quite of Hitchens to make him appear as wanting war on Muslims, when read in context, he actually calls for opposition to violent militant radical Islamists.”

    I’ll mostly grant you this one, but I’m leery of presuming that a man who is radically right-wing enough to say that Michael Moore “makes a perfectly good brownshirt [fascist]” or describes the “Democrat Party” as “a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Israeli lobby” is really the sort of person who can be trusted to carefully distinguish between everyday Muslims and Islamic terrorists, especially when other radical right-wingers (e.g., the BNP) are not so careful.

    “He blames Dawkins for an opinion he actually is not the originator of, but citing a child psychologist. And so forth.”

    You mean Dawkins’ views on how bringing up children in a religion is “child abuse,” even going so far as to say that labeling them as Christian or Muslim or Hindu is abuse? Doesn’t matter if he originated the idea or not. He promotes it now.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that Dawkins “calls everybody who doesn’t agree with him Nazi-appeaser.” I have seen it pointed out that his “Chamberlain” bit is an argumentum ad Naziium, and pointed out by a guy who neither gets Templeton money nor tends to get much involved in the Internet battles over “New Atheism.”

    Hitch: “PZ wants to rape people with rusty knifes and so forth.”

    Even if you get rid of the hyperbole, PZ still condoned a rape “joke” aimed at mere accommodationists, even though he condemned similar language aimed at Bill Donahue, who was whitewashing the Catholic child rape scandal.

    The New Atheists don’t need Templeton sponsors to get flak. They’ve done it to themselves.

  21. Kirth Gersen

    “I am very concerned about the wave of negative stereotyping overall but specifically of New Atheism. I think it is very harmful.”

    I’m forced to agree. I’m increasingly hearing criticism of the “New Atheists” being applied to ALL atheists — criticism which originated not from theists, but from comments made by well-meaning members of the unfortunately-named “accomodationist” side.

    Although accommodation can be a very, very good strategy when dealing with individuals, on a group level, I’m increasingly seeing it backfire by providing “evidence” of the “obvious truth” that “all atheists are mean-spirited people who have no morals.” Indeed, this observation is what is rapidly hardening my stance away from being more broadly accommodation-minded.

    I have no problem with constructively criticizing a poorly-thought-out tactic or boneheaded stunt. Indeed, that sort of thing is indispensible. But when we make large blog posts specifically, and publically, attacking one another, we need to remain aware that all points made in those posts will be misrepresented to further marginalize and blacken the reputations of all atheists of any stance.

  22. Hitch

    Dawkins makes an argument about child abuse. I think one should respond in a level headed manner and not try to demonize him or the topic. I think we should be able to have a factual discussion about the impact of early child exposure to certain ideas. This is a video proud parents uploaded of a 2-year old muslima:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGFjkfKoECc

    (For context, Hinduism is polytheistic, and most Muslims consider Christianity to be polytheistic too because of the trinity. Clearly the child does not understand all this, but she is perfectly capable of reciting the dogmatic value judgments.)

    Is this child abuse? My view is that I cannot say that it is not, but I recognize the difficulty in the matter.

    We need a space to discuss these difficult topics and this kind of sniping and demonizing is not helping at all.

  23. PZ wants to rape people with rusty knifes and so forth.

    This is a straw man. PZ does call religious people morons, painting them with a very broad brush. He refers to religion as superstition and darkness. Maybe that’s his opinion, but it’s a very inflammatory way to state it. He does a number of other inflammatory things.

    Your “can’t we all just get along, let’s emphasize the positive about atheists” with atheists sugar-coats the reality, that some (in particular PZ and many of those who comment on his blog) really do behave in a rude, condescending, and uncalled-for manner. There’s not going to be constructive dialog when he does that to the religious, and when his comments on this blog are full of gloating over having caught Chris in a mistake.

    There’s a deeper point. As far as I can tell, the defining point of what gets called “New Atheism” as opposed to just plain-old atheism of the type Chris subscribes to is one of (a) thinking all religious people are dumb, or at the very least mislead, deluded, and compartmentalizing, or (b) thinking that being religious is incompatible with fully accepting a scientific world view. In (b), part of the problem is what a scientific world-view is; many (most?) scientists believe that a scientific world-view states that nature can be understood, and that the process of science is the best way to understand it. Some, however, including New Atheists, seem to insist that the scientific worldview is that science is the only valid kind of knowledge there is.

    When people refer to the “God hypothesis” or the different creation stories as hypotheses, they are insisting on treating theology as science. Theology is not science. That’s why you don’t find theologians in science departments in Universities; they’re over grouped with those who study humanities. Yes, lots of religions have made (wrong) predictions and statements about the natural world, and, yes, lots and lots of religious people today believe wrong things about the natural world because of their religion. But that’s not all that religion is, and it’s not even the core of what religion is when you consider the religion of the modern world– the religion practiced by those of us who fully accept science and yet are theists. I know it’s more fun to argue with the fundamentalists, because they’re so obviously wrong and it’s easy to put them down, but too many of those who are New Atheists seem to have such a facile idea about what religion is that they then feel justified in their scathing rudeness, in insisting that religion is but nonsense at the heart.

    Saying that you can be civil to individual believers while maintaining that religion is nonsense at their heart sounds to a theist much like somebody saying “some of my friends are black!” or “you understand when I criticize women, I don’t mean you personally.”

    Just because you don’t understand something, or just because you don’t believe something, does not make it nonsense. I personally found “Autum of the Patriarch” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez to be completely impenetrable… but there are enough people who understand literature a lot better than I who think that it has some value that I’m willing to cede that it’s my own abilities and nature that makes that book useless to me, not that it is objectively worthless nonsense.

  24. Hans Peter

    I also think “accommodationist” is an innappropriate label that harkens to an under addressed disconnect between some in the skeptical community and the human condition. This disconnect regards the limits of human ability to embrace or find fulfillment in reason. Some have it, others (regretably) don’t.

    Consider the delight that simply oozes out of Richard Feynmann when he gets on a role talking about what, to many, would be a mundane aspect of thermodynamics. Or consider the awe another famous Richard possesses when he talks about selfish genes. But, as much as that delight and awe comes across to me, I don’t have to go far down the list of people I met in my life that would not get that delight and awe no matter how exhuberent I was in explaining my emotions. Sure, I think the world would be a better place if we all thought skeptically, as weighing the consequences from our beliefs is always a good idea, I am just not convinced we all are physically (or psychologically) capable of doing this. This is similar, though not related, to why some people are good at maths, others drawing, others both. If you find more personal pleasure in being rational about an issue, you will be more rational about that issue. If you find extreme personal pleasure in unsubstantiated faith regarding an issue, you will give into to that. If you don’t see the beauty in pursuing topics rationally, you find beauty elsewhere. But, not to make a false dichotomy of this, there is a large range of attitudes that could be called “accomodationalist” which try to fuse rational and faith based arguements about a given issue or with society at large. But what Chris is trying to do does not fall into this camp. If anything, he is trying to get the more aptly titled “accomodationalists” (a label that may apply to some members of the Templeton Foundation I’m sure) to lean more towards the skeptical community on certain, pressing issues.

    The nature vs nurther arguments as to why some are rational, others not, and others not is complex and issue dependant, and certainly, Chris’ engagement with the people that find themselves deeply “on the fence” despite themselves (e.g. “accomodationalists”) is something that the skeptic movement can only benefit from.

    I agree Chris is being tolerant and pragmatic: tolerant in acknowleding the difficulty some people have in adopting rational views regarding aspects that have been dear to them for some time; pragmatic in realising that if someone has 95 mostly harmless belief and 5 harmfull ones, best to start with the harmfull ones and worry about the mostly harmless ones later.

    This addresses more directly this disconnect between some in the skeptical community and the human condition I opened this post with. No matter how many rational arguments we develop, the chances that 100% of society will be 100% rational about 100% of the issues (at least in the short term) are slim, if not “miraculous”. There are some faith issues that do not affect anyone but the person believing in them, and resemble personally held fantasies. There are other faith elements that are extremely harmful to society, and need to be addressed now. Global warming denialism, alternative medicine profiteering, anti-vaccination misinformation, creationism in the classroom pandering or other issues in which a lack of rational thinking in society is causing clear, disasterous effects in the near to short term need to be dealt with directly first. The notion that the skeptic movement could protect the world by getting them to stop believing in their gods overnight, and eliminate all physiological and cultural causes of irrational thinking, is unpragmatic. It would take a lot of faith in order think otherwise.

  25. Jennifer B. Phillips

    A couple of questions for Chris:

    1. I admit I have not read Victor Stenger’s book yet, but based on the excerpts and reviews I have read, he appears to be using a slightly different definition for ‘New Atheism’ than that which was popularized in ‘Unscientific America’. As such, is it really a fair comparison?
    2. Since neither type of atheists in this discussion seem to particularly appreciate the labels that have been bestowed by the other team, is there a way to proceed with better, different labels? Or no labels? Sheril, I recall, has expressed a dislike for labeling things. How would she choose to describe the defining characteristics of these various and sundry atheists?
    Thank you.

  26. DarronS

    I have a personal take on this. When I was in my 20s (long ago) I enrolled in an evangelical Christian college in Dallas, TX. I was seeking answers to life, the universe and everything, so took a class called “God’s Eternal Plan.” One of my friends, an atheist, challenged me to read Darwin’s books. I recall his words quite well. “Any belief system that will not withstand rational scrutiny is not worth believing,” and “If you have not read ‘The Descent of Man’ you are arguing from ignorance.” These seemed like reasonable statements to me, so I picked up a copy of “The Descent of Man” on the way home from his apartment.

    As I read the book I realized Darwin had figured out the questions that puzzled me. I realized science held the answers to my questions, so quit the evangelical college. I have been studying science since then.

    I’m not really sure what this says about accommodation verses New Atheists, but my friend was definitely not using accommodation on me. He directly confronted my beliefs and challenged me to think for myself. It worked in my case.

    Perhaps we should realize that no one method will work in every case, and there is room in the debate for both accommodation and direct confrontation.

  27. Jon

    …what bothers *me* is when domains of knowledge that are properly investigated through rigorous philosophy are ceded to theistic religion as long as it promises not to interfere with science.

    My dream philosophy panel would involve Charles Taylor, Jurgen Habermas, Daniel Dennett, and just for kicks, PZ Myers:

    Taylor:

    We know that Newton had oversimplifying ideas. Although the mystery has been pushed further out, it’s not just the mystery of how it all began that is important here, but there’s also of course the absolutely untouched yet mystery of how we–intelligent beings–arose out of all of this. Today, the equivalent of the Newtonian mind are people in genetics.

    Habermas to Taylor:

    Our common human reason is working in religious traditions, as well as in any other cultural enterprise, including science. So there is no difference on net.

    However, if it comes to lumping together Kantianism and Utilitarianism, whatever kind of Hegelianism, and so on with religious doctrines, then I would say there are differences in kind between reasons. One way to put it is that—I will use, so to say, “secular”—we have to talk about it in the next step—in the usual, conventional sense that Chuck is trying to circumvent by introducing “official” language.

    Anyhow, secular reasons, if they are relating to a context of assumptions—relating to, let’s say, a philosophical or whatever approach, which is distinguished from any kind of religious tradition by the fact that it doesn’t require membership—it is important that, for any kind of religious reasons, you are appealing to membership in a particular or corresponding religious community because of one thing: namely, only if you are a member and can speak first-person about a religious community you can share a specific kind of experience.

    To put it bluntly, the most important experience—and I’m not ranking it, please—is coming out from participating in cultic practices, in cultic practices in which no Kantian or Utilitarian has to participate in order to make a good Kantian or Utilitarian argument.

    Daniel Dennett to Taylor and Habermas:

    [Both you guys are tainted by those German philosophers like Kant, Hegel and Dilthy who take free will and mind much too seriously.] “The Germans divide learning into Naturwissenschaften, the natural sciences, and Geisteswissenschaften, the sciences of mind, meaning, and culture, but this sharp divide — cousin to CP Snow’s Two Cultures ( 1963 ) — is threatened by the prospect that an engineering perspective will spread from biology up through the human sciences and arts.” [Then, finally the British Empiricists like Hume and Russell will reign supreme!! Hee he he.]

    PZ Myers to Charles Taylor:

    [Your philosophy is nothing but] “lies and empty noise”!

    It’s interesting that Habermas and Dennett (and Myers, although he sometimes borders on anti-intellectual) have such different approaches to religion, and has not at all the dismissive attitude that Dennett or Myers has. Although Habermas is a card carrying philosophical descendant of the Enlightenment, he completely respects Taylor, and grants him some important concessions. Meanwhile, political scientist Alan Wolf (interestingly, using Kant as the cornerstone of his book) is calling Dennett and his new atheist cohort “illiberal” instead of being the promulgators of the Enlightenment they would contend they are.

  28. Jon

    (That was responding to Camels With Hammers in 16.)

  29. Jon

    “New Atheists” is a fair label, considering what’s brought the movement about: A fundamentalist US administration, terrorist attacks, the Internet as an enabling medium, and a spate of books that aren’t quoting the older generation’s Camus or Sartre but Darwin instead.

    There was a lot of proto-New Atheism in figures like Bertrand Russell and A J Ayer, but back then there was no explosion of books and blogs on the subject, and none of the historical factors that launched the present movement…

    By the way, this is the Wired article that coined the phrase (it makes perfect sense that an Internet-focused magazine would be the one to do so):

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html

  30. Chris Mooney

    @29 agree with Jon completely. The “New” Atheism is new not because it argues against the existence of God (that is old), but because it is a publishing phenomenon and a political and social movement that happened in a particular time and place, for particular reasons. We need labels for these kinds of things. I haven’t heard a better one.

  31. 17 Tulse: I don’t think so. I think the NCSE does not have “an approach.” It has a set of goals related to education in schools, and a set off strategies (organized in a meta strategy) that hits a lot of bases. They are not, and should not be (given their function and goal) a bastion of some sort of philosophical purity.

  32. GM

    23. Rob Knop Says:
    July 12th, 2010 at 5:47 pm
    There’s a deeper point. As far as I can tell, the defining point of what gets called “New Atheism” as opposed to just plain-old atheism of the type Chris subscribes to is one of (a) thinking all religious people are dumb, or at the very least mislead, deluded, and compartmentalizing, or (b) thinking that being religious is incompatible with fully accepting a scientific world view. In (b), part of the problem is what a scientific world-view is; many (most?) scientists believe that a scientific world-view states that nature can be understood, and that the process of science is the best way to understand it. Some, however, including New Atheists, seem to insist that the scientific worldview is that science is the only valid kind of knowledge there is.

    On a): the position of “New Atheists” is not that religious people are dumb, in fact they often are very sophisticated about the ways they justify what they believe in (on average they are dumber, yes, but that’s because of the sheer number of Bible Belters amongst them). The problem “New Atheists” have with religious people is that religious peopel are wrong about what they believe.

    Where the rift between “accomodationists” and “New Atheists” arises is the position of the former that it is somehow uncivil and impolite to tell people that they are wrong. Something that never ceases to amaze me – how are you going to get people to understand that they are wrong if you never tell them that they are? It makes absolutely no sense.

    Now I am on record also saying that stupid people will never become smarter if they are never told that they are stupid and are allowed to continue thinking they are smart, so maybe this gets confused by people as saying that religious people are all dumb, but they are really two separate problems.

    On b). The scientific world view indeed contains the basic proposition that the world around us can be understood. Note that there is no need for the word “natural” in front. Historically, science arose from people trying to build accurate cosmological models of the universe, and those were very tightly linked to the religious beliefs of the time. It has been only fairly recently that science started being confused with technology, building fancy gadgets, etc. and due to this the cosmological aspect of science, which very much includes the question whether God exists or not, got taken away from it in the mid of many people. But this is not a reason for these questions to be somehow off-limits to science.

    What you leave it and badly misinterpret is the exclusivity if science as a way of deriving objective knowledge. What we call the scientific method is really nothing more than proper reasoning applied to evidence. Saying that scientists can’t claim an authority on knowledge because “there are other ways of knowing” is equivalent to saying that poor reasoning is perfectly OK, or that it is OK to apply otherwise relatively proper reasoning on bad or no data. Historically, the latter approach hasn’t produced anything of meaning. so it is reasonable to dismiss it.

    When people refer to the “God hypothesis” or the different creation stories as hypotheses, they are insisting on treating theology as science. Theology is not science

    Yes, theology isn’t science. No, this does not mean that the “God hyopthesis” is not a scientific question. Astrology isn’t science either, it is quite complicated, it has a long history of dominating educated people’s minds over the centuries, etc. Yet science has a lot to say about the validity of the “astrology hypothesis”. It is the same with God. That God is unfalsifiable does not mean that the question is off limits to science. You can not prove God does not exist, but you can prove that he does.

  33. Hitch

    Labels per say are just that. What is loaded and ascribed to them is what makes them tick. Victor Stenger tries to own the label in positive ways, but as said there is a concerted effort to load it with negative content.

    This is not altogether new either. African Americans, LBGT, Women’s rights movement all had to wrestle for the meaning of labels, from the n-word, through gay, through feminism as positive or negative label.

    Atheism too has gone a long way from dictionary definitions of “evil” “godless” “wicked” to more neutral but still incorrect “belief in no god”. Believers still write our dictionaries.

    Branding is part of the struggle. If one cannot find a label that is uncontested, there is something going on, something to defend, and someone to try to silence and exclude.

    It is not value-free to come out and say that one is a new atheist, or supports outspoken atheism. It comes with an extra stigma, reaffirmed by a few commenters here.

    As for it being “new”, I’m not actually convinced. Is it any newer than atheism during the French revolution, atheism during the American revolution, the atheism of Ingersoll who perhaps was the Hitchens of his time? And while in demagoguery Dawkins has been mocked into comparison of Huxley as a pair of attack dogs, they indeed have quite a bit in common on a broader level.

    But yes, there is a historic difference as well. No time is the same and this is a new time. Extremist religiosity is increasing. It is shocking to know how the public opinion of science has decreased in the last 50 years and how the attempts to actively undermine it has drastically increased the last 20.

    But we don’t fight labels that try to undermine science such as “scientism” with the same vigor as we fight the real or imagined missteps of individual bloggers who broadly are on the same, right side of the larger issue.

    And rather than praising Dawkins for his long-standing efforts to promote science, he is demonized on short quotes and select passages, on daring to vocalize a position.

    “Accommodationist” could be a positive label too. To accommodate is nice. But it is how the word is loaded that makes it undesirable. Not symmetrically the same, but similar in mechanism “New Atheist”.

    As for similar internal dichotomies, we find them in other groups who fight stigma as well.

    The thing about enlightenment, it is the old tug-of-war. Are “New Atheists” intolerant fundamentalists or not? Ultimately holding any position with a degree of conviction makes one open to charges of fundamentalism and intolerance. To large extent this is what is going on here.

    But in reality it is much more a misunderstanding of enlightenment. To paraphrase Voltaire (incorrectly) and Paine (correctly) it is the right to speak freely and without fear, even, in fact especially, when the opinion is not welcome. It is not deferential tolerance. Enlightenment is not a uniform system of cultural agreement. It is pluralistic toleration in the presence of vigorous disagreement and argument. Enlightenment is exactly the world where a Christopher and a Peter Hitchens can exist and strongly disagree with each other. But more critically enlightenment is the rejection of the divine as authority over matters of humans, but a replacement of argument and critique of humans to make law and understand. This is what Kant wrote and this is by no means far from what Hitchens ask for. (And yes, I actually don’t consider Kant’s views to be the most descriptive of enlightenment, but it’s not completely bad either.)

    As a final point: Secular. This word too has been conflated. Secularism as it emerged in enlightenment is not the rejection of gods. It is the removal of divine authority from the state and replacing it by decisions and arguments of people (Locke etc). A secular state is not an atheist state, it is a state where all arguments can be heard and coexist (and shockingly even atheist arguments can be heard!). It is the very invention of democratic religious and nonreligious pluralism. It is exactly what Jefferson and Madison so brilliantly envisioned: Freedom of religion and from religion and an unbreachable separation of church and state.

    It always strikes me when religious people frame secular as the opponent. Because if they knew what they are saying they at the same time actually oppose the religious pluralism and toleration that made the USA. But of course what they really want is an unenlightened state, a pan-theisistic state where good citizens are those who agree to live “under God” even if it’s a different one for each and those who don’t need not apply or can be subjected to blasphemy laws or other discriminations.

    Ultimately enlightened liberalism is the open marketplace of ideas. So why should atheists not be vigorous participants and put out their ideas in any way each finds appropriate? Why should they concede or be deferential when other participants in the same marketplace do not offer the same?

    No the true iliberalism is to ask people to move in one pace, with one strategy, with one approach, to ask people to not speak their mind and advocate for what they think is right and true.

    And iliberalism in a discourse society is demagoguery, when rather than engage the idea, we smear the character. And that is, to bring it back after a long detour, why I oppose how New Atheists are labeled and characterized. All too often they are not engaged on their ideas, but on a caricature, a mined quote, a tendentious read of their ideas.

    This is exactly because people do not want to engage in the argument, do not want the facts considered, do not want a topic breached. Then it is better to attack the character than the topic.

    And distortion of ideas is the main real danger in a discourse society where we no longer argue about points but about images, strawmen, substitutes and distractions. A discourse society where not the best idea, but the strongest appeal to emotion (negative usually) wins.

    And if one is supposed to be angry, upset, scared or offended by (old or new) atheists, well the argument of the value of opinions need not be considered.

  34. GM

    31. Greg Laden Says:
    July 12th, 2010 at 9:51 pm
    17 Tulse: I don’t think so. I think the NCSE does not have “an approach.” It has a set of goals related to education in schools, and a set off strategies (organized in a meta strategy) that hits a lot of bases. They are not, and should not be (given their function and goal) a bastion of some sort of philosophical purity

    A lot of the issues here and certainly a lot of the argument over strategy arises from the lack of clear definition of what we mean by scientific literacy. Chris Mooney likes to cite polls saying that Americans respect and value science and I like to point out that Americans don’t even know what science is and what they really respect is technology and the cool gadgets it produces. The same polls define scientific literacy as the ability to give a yes/no answer (apparently even making it multiple choice is deemed to hard/complicated) to some questions about basic scientific facts.

    But being able to answer these questions (and, of course, a lot of people can’t do even that) doesn’t make you scientifically literate, what does is understanding of and the ability to apply the scientific methodology, i.e. thinking like a scientist.

    Simply getting creationism out of schools gets us nowhere near where we have to be on that and as long as people’s, (i.e. children’s as it way too late for that in most cases after certain age) religious beliefs are not actively challenged in school and in the public conversation, we will never get there

  35. Nicholas Lawrence

    @Chris Mooney #30

    The “New” Atheism is new not because it argues against the existence of God (that is old), but because it is a publishing phenomenon and a political and social movement that happened in a particular time and place, for particular reasons.

    I think you are mistaken. One book (Dawkins) which is still selling very well, one which sold fairly well (Hitchens), one entertaining little rant (Sam Harris), one scholarly and (alas) little read tome (Daniel Dennett), and one blog (Pharyngula) publishing unusually clear refutations of religion-backed nonsense (and in my opinion too many rude, repetitive, and unhelpful comments). That is a ‘publishing phenomenon’? A ‘political and social movement’? I do not understand this at all. Could you explain further? ‘A particular time’? Well, maybe. But if so, it is daft to call it ‘new’, because it won’t be new in 2100 (if there are still humans alive then). ‘A particular place’? Where, exactly? And what reasons?

  36. Ender

    “Where the rift between “accomodationists” and “New Atheists” arises is the position of the former that it is somehow uncivil and impolite to tell people that they are wrong. Something that never ceases to amaze me – how are you going to get people to understand that they are wrong if you never tell them that they are? It makes absolutely no sense.”

    This here is key to your confusion. While there may be some ‘accommodationists’ who would argue that it is rude to tell someone that they are wrong most actually argue that there are ways to tell people that they are wrong without being rude.

    For example I could have said “Don’t be a fucking idiot, accomodationists don’t think telling someone they’re wrong is rude, you must know that by now, stop lying.”
    Would that have been a better approach?

  37. Hitch

    That’s case in point too though. How often does Richard Dawkins call someone an idiot? Yet he certainly is well within the pack of that supposed group. We no longer consider individuals but group then and then make one responsible for the words of another.

    For me Ditchkins is a prime example of this intentional conflation. Of course Dawkins and Hitchens are different people with different rhetorical styles, yet in mockery they get conflated and treated as the same.

    The second problem is that one person’s legitimate criticism is another person’s rudeness. Take the child abuse story. Dawkins citing Humphrey clearly does not mean it as rude but an actual important topic of discussion. Many simply go up the wall because he dared to indicate that there may be a problem and consider it extremely offensive that believers are linked to child abusers.

    It is not merely a matter of rude vs non-rude. It’s a matter of taboos. Religion being the prime machine of historical taboos with one of the biggest one being an inocculation from irreverent criticism.

    I think it’s OK to critique individuals on specific points they make or styles they exhibit. I think it’s problematic to generalize what one person does onto another person or a group because that move can very easily stereotype. This goes for both labels.

    Also in response we can choose what we want to carry on and amplify.

    We can go: “I cannot believe how rude he was again” or one can say “He had a valid point here and tried to do that, but I would have said it differently”. There is a lot of plain amplifying the negative going on, when ever there one can find more constructive responses. For example I know of quite a few instances where I completely agree with PZs main thrust, but I just would have said it differently. I can choose how I deal with that. I can make it all about how aweful PZ is. Or I can have a level headed differentiated view on it, agree with what he is saying and recognizing that he has a different style that is not right for me.

    But we see a lot of throwing out ideas and observations on matters of style. That serves to interfere and stifle ideas, rather than change the tone.

  38. Simply getting creationism out of schools gets us nowhere near where

    It would be incorrect to assume that this is anyone’s primary goal. But, if you are about to die of cancer unless aggressive treatment works, and you also would like nice abs, you will focus on the cancer. The creationist movement has been very effective in distracting the efforts of science education practitioners and promoters by keeping the pressure up.

  39. Ender

    Your first point Hitch was against conflation and grouping of people, and I agree entirely, most of the time when I find myself disagreeing with someone it’s because they’ve failed to distinguish specifically who they are speaking about and their criticism is only true for a small subset of those who they are speaking about.

    Assuming you’re responding to me though, you appear to be doing the same, you say:

    “But we see a lot of throwing out ideas and observations on matters of style. That serves to interfere and stifle ideas, rather than change the tone.”

    As a statement of fact I can’t disagree, I haven’t seen this myself, but you say you have and I have no reason not to believe you, and it’s true that it will stifle the debate.

    But as a response to me it seems to be lumping me in with a whole load of people with whom I would not agree, merely because I was posting about ‘accomodationism’ in a positive manner.

    You also say “For me Ditchkins is a prime example of this intentional conflation” – emphasis added.

    Are you suggesting that people are deliberately conflating Dawkins and Hitchens even though they know that they are different, rather than because they believe them to be similar (enough for their comparison).
    Do you have any reason to believe this apart from the fact that you disagree with them? I consider all general claims that the ‘enemy’ is doing something deliberately wrong to gain advantage to be completely suspect unless you have specific reason to believe so – this is no criticism of you, everyone tends to see ulterior motives in that sort of situation, but it is not a logically justified position. People often reach different conclusions from different starting points, and it is an overreach to work back from their conclusions, substitute in your own starting points (Dawkins and Hitchens are sufficiently different that this criticism cannot be applied to both of them) and then assume duplicitousness on their part.

    To your other points (Criticising religion is taboo therefore rude and this must be acceptable otherwise it is immune from the criticism it needs, we must take this rudeness on a case by case basis and then decide what to amplify – complaints or a better way of saying) – it’s true that some religious people will consider any criticism of religion offensive – but that does not justify us going “well fuck it let’s just be as rude as we want, some of them get offended over anything”* – consider it like this: criticising someone’s Mother.
    Yes no matter how you phrase your criticism it is likely to offend, but if you say “I’ve noticed that sometimes your Mother gets angry at the junior officers and is more harsh than really justified in her punishments” will offend less (and have a higher chance of being heard) than “Your Mother is an overemotional bitch who takes it out on those below her”
    Some people seem almost scared of nuance, they feel that the latter is ‘truer’ than the former. That’s exactly the opposite of the truth, the first is a nuanced and accurate summation of events – the latter a tendentious and offensive swipe at the character of the Mother, based on your opinion of those events.

    I agree with the latter of the two questions – amplifying is not helping – doing it better would be – but at the same time if we don’t criticise it we can’t oppose it, and we can’t criticise it without repeating it.

    *Which is not anything I’m accusing anyone in particular of. It would however be my reaction if someone annoying appeared to take anything I said as offensive.

  40. Ender

    p.s. take what you can from that post, it was not as well laid out as I would have liked, serves me right for writing it while multitasking pretending to work and reading blogs.
    p.p.s. gubbermint overlords please do not fire me, this is work, you just don’t understand computers.

  41. Jon

    Hitch: it is the right to speak freely and without fear, even, in fact especially, when the opinion is not welcome.

    I prefer Kant’s “Sapere aude” (dare to know, or dare to discern, or dare to use your own reason) as the signature phrase of the Enlightenment, although being empowered to speak truth to power without fear is part of it.

    One of the problems with taking “speaking out” as the most important thing we should cherish, is what do we speak out about? For instance, you might start to get into identity politics. As a marginalized group, you say things that express yourself and feel satisfying. But as Arthur Schlessinger complained in the early 90’s (the heyday of aggressively outspoken, self-declared marginalized groups on college campuses) you can fracture the larger civic culture, overemphasizing the things that divide you instead of bring you together.

    This is the irony, that a movement self-declaredly dedicated to reason like the New Atheists could potentially make reason in the public square much more difficult to acheive. But hey, if it feels good, express yourself, right? It’s much more fun than listening and having a real dialog.

    But we see a lot of throwing out ideas and observations on matters of style. That serves to interfere and stifle ideas, rather than change the tone.

    My argument is that the style and the ideas are linked. If you believe that science will have the last word on all things having to do with Geisteswissenschaften (see my Dennett quote above), and that things like individual conscience and free will are not of primary importance, and what’s of primary importance is what material biology dictates, then you might tend to give the automony of other minds short shrift, and be incurious about them except in a clinical way. (And as I understand it, this is part of Alan Wolfe’s argument against Dennett in his *Future of Liberalism*.) That doesn’t mean that you can’t hold biology as of primary importance and still be in the liberal tradition, just that you can understand why someone holding those ideas could be illiberal.

    Also illiberalism *can* be partly a matter of style. As Damon Linker comments in this TNR piece from a few years ago:

    “Why Dawkins refuses to take this idea to its logical conclusion–to say that raising a child in a religious tradition, like other forms of child abuse, should be considered a crime punishable by the state–is a mystery, for it follows directly from the character of his atheism. And not just his. Over the past four years, several prominent atheists have made similarly inflammatory claims in a series of best-selling books.”

    http://www.tnr.com/article/atheisms-wrong-turn

    So urgent arguments that religion is “child abuse” (and if you’re a human being, there is no way to make an argument of child abuse in less than an urgent “style”) I think pretty much characterizes ones views as illiberal, because you’re pretty much assuming such abusers don’t merit any dialog, except with psychiatric clinicians and law enforcement officials. Having a dialog with religion about its being child abuse is like opening a dialog with “when did you stop beating your wife?” That doesn’t sound like a recipe for enlightenment to me, even if you insist with a straight face that this is a substantial question and I’m just complaining about your style.

    So anyway, the disposition behind New Atheism, with its combination of tendencies toward identity politics, illiberal-leaning views, and the making of red meat arguments via blog snippets, does not bode well for a sober understanding of, say, the assumptions behind prominent philosophers like Taylor (a Roman Catholic), Habermas (a German Kantian), and Dennett (a New Atheist) holding such remarkably different views. I think if you were actually interested in reason, you would be interested in what their differences are, and want to get a clear sense of what the merits of their different assumptions are. But that would mean understanding your opponents and shelving for second certain passions that New Atheists are intensely committed to–too bad a truly rigorous and thoughtful philosophical reason isn’t a part of those passions.

  42. Chris Mooney

    Hitch,
    I haven’t seen Dawkins call anyone an “idiot.” However, talking about religion as “delusion” surely doesn’t make believers very happy. And as we discuss in Unscientific America, Dawkins does refer in The God Delusion to “the weakness of the religious mind.” It’s not using the word idiot, but…

  43. Hitch

    Ender: Some clarifications:

    *) “But we see a lot of throwing” I mean we as the abstract we, as in a generic observer. You are welcome to disagree with me assuming that “we” observe it. I’m not going to be tempted to dig up examples, of which there are plenty. In fact you can find some in the comments above, though not yours specifically.

    *) Ditchkins. It is intentional in the sense that the two people are merged into one signifier and then the argument proceeds to use it as an identity. Terry Eagleton is professor in literary criticism spending all his life studying that words and rhetorical phrases mean. It is a very fair assumption to say that he did this intentionally. In fact it would do his wit injustice to assume that he did not! But the merging of the identities to mock is fully intentional in the rhetoric of Eagleton and it is independent of whether we agree or disagree with his arguments. My criticism of Eagleton actually goes much deeper but I do not think that the point here is to write a detailed review of Eagleton. But yes broadly I would charge him with negatively stereotyping both man. He likes mocking people. He in the review of Hitch-22 called Hitchens Hypocritchens. Hitchens can take it, but who do “we” criticize for nastiness and mockery? But let me not digress in critiquing Eagleton. I’d have to write at least three book reviews to make my case fairly and completely. For this purpose the case was the people conflate identities to attribute things to. I think Ditchkins is a clear example if it. New Atheists is another.

    *) I do not see a conflict between what you say about offensive phrasing and what I said, but I would disagree on this: “we can’t criticise it without repeating it”. I think that’s a fallacy. Take Eagleton. He launches an extensive critique of Hitchens and Dawkins without citing them! Now of course this is one of my main criticism of how he approaches it. But to be more serious. “Those idiots want to teach Schlafly instead of Jefferson” can happily be responded to with “I agree that it’s a problem that teaching Schalfly instead of Jefferson is a problem”. One can choose to make a fuzz about the “framing” that one disagrees with. Even if there is an issue how about “I agree, but I don’t like how an ad hominem is included to make the case”. Nothing repeated, the positive affirmed, the negative acknowledged but not demonized.

    I think ultimately the differences are very small but we make a big fuzz about them. For me focusing on the substance, the bigger picture always outways how something is said. I can agree to the substance and not the style or the other way around. But extensive argument about style miss the point that there simply is no way to get people in lock-step about style in a free and open society. And if we constantly critique people on style whose substance we actually agree with we give emphasis to the wrong thing.

    But frankly I think quite a bit of disagreement is on substance, but fighting over style is what it comes out at. People don’t mind Dawkins because he is rude (he hardly is) but because he says thinks they do not want to hear. But rather than people saying that they disagree with his substance it is easier to just paint him as rude and aggressive.

  44. Kirth Gersen

    “But as Arthur Schlessinger complained in the early 90’s (the heyday of aggressively outspoken, self-declared marginalized groups on college campuses) you can fracture the larger civic culture, overemphasizing the things that divide you instead of bring you together.”

    Exactly! For example, one can demonize anyone who speaks out honestly about nonbelief as a “New Atheist” who is therefore rude, bombastic, unthinking, unhelpful, unreasonable, cruel, and mean — whether or not these accusations have merit in a particular case.

  45. Hitch

    Chris, that goes back to the very point I made earlier. Taboo. Much has been made of the word delusion. It’s been amplified too! We don’t go all upset when someone says: “The dutch were delusional if they thought they’d win over spain!” We use the word delusional all the time. But because it is fitting to be upset it has been turned into a big thing with Dawkins.

    As said, to say that belief is unfounded itself is an insult. One can easily make that insult worse by using degrees of qualifying how one things about the nature of it being unfounded.

    But it is my point. People got hung up by the title and by a subtitle rather than by the bigger picture and the substance. The real question is, is Dawkins wrong to indicate that the concept of a deity may be a delusional concept? Or even if you disagree, is it wrong to hold and articulate that view?

    My stance on this is quite simple. He is perfectly fine to articulate his views and I do not seem it as vulgar to phrase them as he does. I understand completely that things he say are perceived as offensive.

    But that is the nature of outspoken atheism. Spinoza, Freud, Feuerbach, Ingersoll, Huxley, Russell. All offensive people. Russell so offensive that he couldn’t teach in NY. Ingersoll so offensive that, despite being on of the premiere public intellectuals of his time he could not achieve higher office. Mark Twain’s polemics hidden and forgotten. Thomas Paine persecuted even though having been the beacon of American independence and popular enlightenment.

    Rather than contemplate that culture, we try to get people to not express their views. This can and will not work.

    Finally yes, one can criticize specific formulations. In almost anybody. I do not know anybody who writes any prose that is beyond critique, that covers all cases, that makes everything perfectly clear. And in fact in order to make a case it is often useful to state a case more strongly and then relativise then state it nuanced and try to give it more body.

    How would a book sound titled “The god assumption” or a subtitle “How religion in some specific instances may have had not just positive outcomes”. To be hung up be rhetoric like this is to throw out Orwell, Twain, Paine and any other great mind that managed to draw attention to the crux of their concern.

    To me that is what was so out of tune in Wilson’s critique of Dawkins’ book. He compared a popular access book to a research monograph. These are just standards that make no sense and things are not judged for what they are.

    And as said Eagleton’s conflations, exaggerations and ad hominems are “humorous” while Hitchens rhetorical tropes are “offensive and aggressive”.

    If the standard is indeed to play style police, why is that not applied to all sides?

    If you actually listen to Hitchens, it’s clear that he actually is quite happy with religious pluralism, he is quite happy to coexist, but he is not happy at all to allow clerical interference and he is not happy to abide to demands to not speak his mind.

    But people do not really listen to what his bigger picture views are because a subtitle is too much.

    Same for Dawkins. Endless blog wars over Chamberlain, when people completely forgot what he actually defended. Context is lost, bigger picture means very little, and emotional upset trumps some level heads.

    The real question would for example have been, shall we concede the possibility of a creator at the big bang or in the primordial soup? My own answer is no at least in the second case and also no in the first, simply because there is active scientific work in the area. What if we find a conclusive way to show how single-cell organisms emerged under given conditions. Where do we shift the creation hypothesis then? As for the big bang, we still do not know details about the big bang, if it really was a creative moment or just a transitional singularity, or if it was a singularity at all. We do not know if general relativity broke down or if it even applies in these extreme conditions and there is active research going on. If we find good evidence that there was no big bang in the classical sense or that GR can persist through singularities like this, what then with the creator hypothesis.

    Dawkins concern was very real and worth debating. Rather we debated style.

    And if “the weakness of the religious mind” is too much we have to be angry with many atheists. Just for fun, how about Einstein: “Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds”. So you say Einstein said that smart people face violent opposition by idiots? Are we not clearly overdoing this?

  46. How can you politely call belief in god a delusion? There’s really no way to do it that most believers won’t find offensive.

    Maybe that’s the way to characterize New Atheism vs Accommodationism. The NAs have decided to be vocal and blunt (which will get called rude), but has the advantage of being totally honest. Meanwhile, the Acomms might agree with the NAs, but want to avoid getting labeled rude, so end up lobbying believers to adopt more liberal theologies.

  47. Tulse

    Chris wrote: “I haven’t seen Dawkins call anyone an “idiot.” However, talking about religion as “delusion” surely doesn’t make believers very happy. ”

    Chris, there are religious individuals who get offended at any questioning of their beliefs, however mild. Look at the outcry over the “Atheist Bus” ads, which stated the gentlest of atheist positions. Judging the appropriateness of a message by whether it causes offence is an extremely poor metric.

  48. As someone who very much falls in the New Atheist camp and has criticized so-called accomodationists on many occasions… I must say, I don’t actually completely disagree with Chris here. I’ve never been particularly comfortable with the term, since it does seem to have some mild pejorative overtones. (FWIW, I agree with those who think Chris is being a bit hypocritical given some of his past comments about the “New Atheist comment machine”, etc., but to dismiss his point on that basis alone is a tu quoque fallacy, so I will not mention it again)

    Problem is, I haven’t heard a good alternative suggestion (and Chris does not make one here). The accomodationist position is a relatively well-defined position on how to approach the science/faith conflict, and as such we kind of need some kind of handle to refer to it. If someone would suggest to me a less offensive label, I for one would be happy to employ it.

    I kind of feel the same about the New Atheist appellation, BTW. It has some problems (what’s “New” about using your noggin to recognize that faith is epistemologically useless?), but there is a definite social phenomenon taking place right now involving books, blogs, and general public profile, and we need some kind of name to refer to it. Finding the term “Bright” to be horribly clunky and self-aggrandizing, and seeing no other alternatives, I have embraced the New Atheist label as the only clearly-understood phrase to refer to this social phenomenon.

    So seriously. I fall firmly in the other camp, but if there is a preferred term for referring to accomodationism, I would be quite willing to use it (while I am criticizing it :p ). I have studiously avoided the term “faitheist”, as amusing as I find it, because I don’t feel it adds anything to the debate; and I will do the same with “accomodationist” if someone can provide me with an equally succinct term that sums up the position and will be clearly understood to most people familiar with the debate.

  49. Jon

    The NAs have decided to be vocal and blunt (which will get called rude), but has the advantage of being totally honest.

    Maybe “honest,” but how well informed? Half the time they don’t know as much about what they’re talking about as they think they do. But that’s ok, because they’re talking about religion, so by definition nothing to understand, right?

  50. GM

    38. Greg Laden Says:
    July 13th, 2010 at 8:32 am
    Simply getting creationism out of schools gets us nowhere near where
    It would be incorrect to assume that this is anyone’s primary goal. But, if you are about to die of cancer unless aggressive treatment works, and you also would like nice abs, you will focus on the cancer. The creationist movement has been very effective in distracting the efforts of science education practitioners and promoters by keeping the pressure up.

    A more accurate analogy would be that if you have a cancer, you would want to get some more serious treatment than painkillers

  51. Hitch

    That is an interesting point. How much religion does one need to understand before one can oppose it? To the same token, how much Marxist thought does one have to have read to be allowed to vote or not vote Marxist?

    See it’s a clear fallacy. It’s appeal to inverse-authority. And it’s again obviously selectively applied. We don’t ask how D’Souza, Prothero or Rosenbaum are particularly qualified to talk about atheism. They are never asked to cite user studies or books that discuss the influence of secular values to society. And they are fine to judge not only the New Atheists but claim to understand its context.

    There is a persistent asymmetry here. A certain group of people are charged with an array of road blocks.

    They are too outspoken, too rude, address irrelevant or unimportant topics, are ill informed etc etc.

    But we do not hold everybody to these standards, just that one specific group. That’s what the core of the negative stereotype I reject is all about. This is not honest discourse at all. It’s an array of fallacies to deflect and devalue what they actually say.

    Let’s take the specific example of positive aspects of religion. Critics like Wilson like to ride that point. But why does he then not cite the very relevant work of the positive aspects of secularism? Again, asymmetry applied. But that’s A-OK. We don’t have to hold others to the standard that we claim to hold the New Atheists to. I guess.

    But all this is part of the backlash against outspoken atheism. The goal is quite clear. But the Genie back into the bottle, or at least discredit it as best as possible. No fallacy is too obvious to try. That believers would approve of that I can see.

    But why atheists would participate in this is beyond me.

  52. Jon

    Yes, as we all know Hitch, religion is equivalent to Marxism. Who cares how much religion influenced society’s institutions, arts, public figures, or how much of the world’s population follows a religion, or for how many generations they have? All of it is as spurious and unimportant as some obscure Stalinist tract. No need to understand it to write books bashing it.

  53. Hitch

    You understood full well that you can replace Marxism with conservatism or any -ism above and that I did not compare religion to marxism. But anything to distract from the case I actually made.

    “No need to understand it to write books bashing it.”

    That’s a one-line review of Eagleton’s lecture/book, Prothero’s chapter on atheism and Rosenbaum’s article. But we don’t apply our principles symmetrically.

  54. Nullius in Verba

    “How can you politely call belief in god a delusion? There’s really no way to do it that most believers won’t find offensive.”

    Do religions not call belief in the gods and goddesses of other religions a delusion?

    “These are nothing but names which ye have devised,- ye and your fathers,- for which Allah has sent down no authority (whatever). They follow nothing but conjecture and what the souls desire!- Even though there has already come to them Guidance from their Lord!” Koran 53:23.

    Do believers find that offensive?

  55. Jon

    We don’t ask how D’Souza, Prothero or Rosenbaum are particularly qualified to talk about atheism.

    Well we should. If they write books with poor assumptions and bad arguments, because poorly researched and not informed, then they should be called out for that.

  56. Nicholas Lawrence

    This discussion appears to be wandering a bit away from (some of) Chris Mooney’s points, namely that he doesn’t like being called an ‘accommodationist’, but (I think) is happy to use the label ‘new atheist’. I suggest that there is a broad spectrum in both camps. Therefore, a single label for either is unlikely to find universal favour. ‘New’ is demonstrably incorrect.
    The ‘accommodationist’ camp includes ‘wet’ ‘timid’ and ‘equivocal’ at the plainly undesirable end, and ‘cautious’ ‘diffident’ and ‘scrupulously polite’ at the other.
    Dawkins (and Mark Twain) on the other hand are (their detractors say) offensive, hectoring, or rude. More positively, they are direct, explicit, and combative.
    No doubt others can do better, but if I have to choose one label for each camp, I’ll go for ‘diffident’ and ‘combative’.

  57. Chris Mooney

    “diffident”?–heck no.

  58. Hitch

    Why do we need labels and why do we need the division? I find it not helpful but maybe I’m missing something. Why do the “New Atheists” need to be “other” to “those still to be acceptably labeled”.

  59. We need the labels and divisions because different groups are advocating very different approaches to science outreach. Obviously, “New Atheists” is a silly label since Dawkins himself pointed out the arguments for atheism haven’t changed much since the 19th century. I’ve also thought the “accommodationist” label is borderline Godwin (although the name sure did stick fast–maybe those scientists learned how to frame things after all).

    Therefore, I propose we replace the term “New Atheists” with “Openly Vocal Atheist Legion (OVAL)”, and “accommodationists” with “Closeted Union of Bridgebuilding Engineers (CUBE)”.

    I just don’t think those OVALs and CUBEs will ever get along though…

  60. Hitch

    “New” or “old” atheism on its face has nothing to do with science outreach though. Scientists have a higher chance of being atheists, but that’s about the only conflation point. Hitchens for example is no scientist and one wouldn’t find him being the right person of doing science outreach.

    Atheists are likely to promote a scientific method to replace metaphysics as source for judgments, but that is a forward mapping only and a bijection is not necessary.

    Certainly one can do perfectly great science outreach without mentioning atheism once. To say that a deity is not a required hypothesis hardly counts as atheism. That’s just honesty about the scientific content.

    I guess I’m still confused why there is even a dispute about difference in science outreach.

  61. Hitch

    Having thought about all this some more, it really seems to me that multiple dimensions get collapsed here.

    Let me try to pull this apart a little. What is going on? Well for one we have a renewed push to undermine science and science education. ID, climategate, stem cell, also waves of superstition and pseudo-science such as the anti-vacc issue. All these have immediate real-life consequences in some way, either stifling research or harming people.

    Then there is the need for science education generally and ways to make it appealing and accessible.

    Then there is the issue that unbelievers politically and socially are in an atrocious position.

    The respective needs for these different aspects is very different. For me general science education is a topic that has nothing to do with atheism at all. Frankly I think that many so-called New Atheists agree. Looking at the books of Dawkins there really is just one that is about atheism, the rest is about science education in exactly the style that I think virtually everybody agrees is quite good.

    But then there the other two issues, the political battle over science. And the struggle for lifting unbelief out of social stigma.

    Here is where the real trouble comes from because there are two currents that counteract. On the political struggle over science we indeed need and want allies and converts. Some of the best work for example in the Dover case was from allies and not just straight up atheists (Dawkins says this too).

    However the struggle to fight the stigma is a separate matter. Now given that quite a few New Atheists are also scientists there is a conflation in roles. But it’s not universal. I think it’s fair to say that Hitchens and Harris are not arguing the science problem per se, but really argue the socio-political question.

    The problem is that one can see that each requires a very different strategy. Let me argue the stigma struggle. As the Minnesota study has shown, the image of atheists is atrocious, and that was true before the New Atheists. Decades of nice quiet atheists winning nobel prices and being musicians has done very little to lift or improve the stereotype.

    The New Atheists 4 books can be read as books that fall into this struggle. Clearly there is a push for more visibility. Dawkins explicitly stated the goal of conciousness raising etc. While I resist labeling I sympathize with that goal. Clearly what has happened the last 50 years has not had the effect that we need, despite people working on nice, persuasive routes rather than on visible routes. I think we’ll need to wait and see but anecdotally the New Atheism has actually helped people come out, has helped people deconvert and it has helped create visibility for atheists. Yes it has also created a strong negative reaction from believers who are clearly not used to having outspoken even irreverent atheists in the public sphere.

    Now where I see the friction is in this mix with science outreach.

    Yes atheism needs to be visible and it organizing, making aware etc is very important (banners, bus campaigns etc all good). But at the same time there is a struggle over science going on and there we need allies.

    The further problem is of course that detractors have no problem conflating these things too. People do not separate Dawkins the science educator from Dawkins the atheists who talks about child abuse. Of course he really should be separated like that, but alas.

    Same for PZ or Coyne. They have this double role and people will not separate it.

    Other movements of stigmatized groups it seems to me did not have this issue (unless I miss something). Feminism just had to work their cause, there was no second political battle that interfered. Gay rights the same. Civil rights, same.

    So it seems to me we have a rather special problem here. And perhaps the battle over strategy is really much more a battle over which side of those two political concerns is emphasized. The one that talks about lifting disbelief out of the shadows or the one that is concerned with winning hearts and minds for science.

    Another problem is that I see those who are critical of the “coming out” often conflate their own position with active detractors of visible atheism, even if it is perfectly well-behaved. So rather than have sympathy for the political need one gets additional internal animosity, and in fact external detractors get extra political leverage from part of the inside group.

    I think that dynamics rather well explains the reaction and labeling of accommodationism vs New Atheism.

    My own reaction is actually one of just letting things flow and making sure that we explain rather than let demagoguery win. I think we need open and visible and outspoke and at time angry atheists. And we need diplomats and bridge builders. I do not think that it helps to antagonize these roles or their respective function and frankly I think many even supposedly firmly on the far end of this internal divide disagree with this at all.

    But there is quite a bit of fear, irrational assumptions and mixed goals happening. I think it might be helpful to unravel this, rather than contemplate labels and solidifying camps without going after the respective goals that are really out there to consider.

    Unfortunately I think we are in a cultural squeeze. We cannot really wait on the stigma side, given that the SCOTUS gets more conservative and Church/State issues more often divide 5/4 now than before.

    And we cannot wait on the science education side, given how that is a field of well-funded and ongoing pushes by conservative groups.

    So I fear we really have to do both, come out and be assertive on the social/political front, and also be effective and find many allies on the science education front.

  62. GM

    61. Hitch Says:
    July 14th, 2010 at 1:11 am
    The respective needs for these different aspects is very different. For me general science education is a topic that has nothing to do with atheism at all. Frankly I think that many so-called New Atheists agree. Looking at the books of Dawkins there really is just one that is about atheism, the rest is about science education in exactly the style that I think virtually everybody agrees is quite good.

    I can’t agree here. Religion is incompatible with scientific thinking, and if you don’t educated kids into scientific thinking, then you haven’t achieved much and they are still essentially scientifically illiterate (even if they know a little bit of facts). Most religious people working in science are scientifically illiterate in that sense, and many non-religious ones fall in that category too.

    Undermining religion (and every kind of superstitious irrational belief out there) is absolutely essential for proper science education.

  63. Hitch

    Well just on evidence that’s not quite true. Some really good science has come from believers. I would agree that critical thinking, evaluation of evidence and other aspects of the scientific method are very important, clearly some people can reconcile that with supernatural beliefs. Given the data it is also quite evident that detailed competence in the scientific method encourages disbelief in those best educated, but that seems to be a byproduct because it’s by no means universal.

    I would accept an inverse proposition. I.e. that religious beliefs can interfere with science education and make itself incompatible. Frankly for me that’s exactly where the friction comes from.

  64. Chris Mooney

    I can’t believe GM would want to tell a Nobel Laureate who’s also a Methodist, like William Phillips, that he is “scientifically illiterate” in any sense of the term

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/06/21/science-and-religion-dialogue-at-the-aaas/
    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1997/phillips-autobio.html

  65. Hitch

    Chris, I’m sure he didn’t mean it this way. That’s kind of what I mean when we emphasize internal conflict. He stated a view and one can give an alternative view and explain it.

    I happen to think, not knowing GMs answer that conceptually we are in virtual agreement.

    I think you and GM are actually really close conceptually too, but of course one can always split the difference.

  66. GM

    64. Chris Mooney Says:
    July 14th, 2010 at 7:56 am
    I can’t believe GM would want to tell a Nobel Laureate who’s also a Methodist, like William Phillips, that he is “scientifically illiterate” in any sense of the term
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/06/21/science-and-religion-dialogue-at-the-aaas/
    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1997/phillips-autobio.html

    The argument from authority has never been a particularly good one, and I am not saying that one can not make very significant contributions to the advancement of science while being religious, quite the opposite. But the methodological incompatibility is a fact, a fact which you refuse to admit.

  67. So I know there is zero chance of anybody adopting these synthetic and admittedly somewhat awkward terms, but I have a suggestion: Tacticalist (nee accomodationist) and Strategicalist (nee New Atheist). I believe this captures both sides in a respectful and neutral manner, and also sets up the dichotomy quite cleanly. Click the link for my rationale.

  68. Ender

    “But the methodological incompatibility is a fact, a fact which you refuse to admit.”

    A fact, eh?

    Take a hypothetical religious scientist – you did not narrow your field down to any type of religious scientist so I can pick any I choose – I choose Joseph.

    Joseph believes that God created the universe, and that God created rules that He intended us to discover and understand. Joseph is a physicist, but could have been any type of scientist before his love of high energy particles drew him to the primary science.

    What ‘fact’ of methodological incompatibility exists?

    Your scope is too wide, your comment inclusive of those for whom it is not true, as is the case with all unqualified claims that “religion” and “science” are incompatible.

  69. Many of the comments here either state or seem to imply that “accomidationists” like Chris believe the same thing about those who are religious — i.e. that they are deluded — and that the only difference is that the accomidationists don’t want to be rude about it. The New Atheists claim, then, that the difference is that they’re being honest.

    That is, however, an *assumption* about what atheists like Chris believe, and I don’t know if it’s correct. I don’t know what Chris believes, but it’s entirely possible to be an atheist — believe that there is no God, and you’re wrong if you think there is a god — without thinking that those who disagree with you must have some serious flaw in their reasoning. I suspect this kind of position is rare. In politics, it’s very common (in my observation) to believe that any thinking rational person will come to the same conclusions that you have. Certainly growing up in Berkeley there was a common perception that any thnking, rational, non-evil, non-deluded person would be quite far to the political left. There’s no question that there are places where people think the same thing about those on the political right.

    But it’s *possible* to believe that those who are rational, reasonable, non-deluded, thinking people come to different conclusions than you have. Few atheists, even of the “new” stripe, will say that science has proven that God doesn’t exist. Yes, science has disproven many of the specific claims of many religions, and if God were a scientific theory it would be rational to just dismiss it. But religion is, again, not science. And, so, it is possible that one be an atheist, but still internally maintain respect for the non-compartmentalizing reasonable rational person to be a theist– just as it’s possible to be theist and believe that it’s possible for a non-evil, moral, ethical person to be an atheist. Too often we hear theists proclaiming that those who are “godless” must be evil, and assuming that those theists who don’t proclaim it are merely being polite and perhaps dishonest. The New Atheists here seem to think that atheists who don’t proclaim theists to be deluded are merely being polite and perhaps dishonest, but that is almost certainly unfair to atheists out there who not only respect the people, but respect the theological position of theists.

  70. Re: Tacticalist vs. Strategist, in comment 67, that also implies that the difference between accomidationists and New Atheists is how far their thinking. Your blog post says that the tacticalists think that it’s not feasable right now or perhaps even ever to remove faith. Yet, again, that assumes that all accomidationists are ultimately as anti-religion as the new atheists, but merely are either taking a short-term approach, or are simply trying to be practical about how much they have to accomplish.

    It doesn’t have to be that way.

    I’m a Christian, but unlike the loudest Christians, I don’t think that everybody should be Christian. It sure as hell would make the world a simpler place if everybody where the same kind of liberal Christian as me (i.e. an evolution accepting, big-bang accepting, Jesus-taught-in-parables-duh-so-the-Bible-can-have-meaning-even-if-its-legends, religious faith evolves as humanity learns more about itself and the Universe type of Christian). But that’s not my goal. I don’t think that is even a good goal. There is value brought from the diversity of world faiths. Not just in theology, but also in art, community, etc. The world would be a poorer place without the art, music, culture inspired by (say) Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism. Theology would be much weaker if everybody just accepted it without thought, without challenge coming from agnostics and atheists.

    In short, while my own religious faith is that of a Christian, I don’t think that those of other faiths are wrong per se. I would say that, yes, those who insist that there is no God and can be no god are “wrong”, in my view, but I also recognize that my view may not be objectively correct. I don’t think that those who believe there is no God are deluded, misled, ignorant of the truth, or anything like that. Nor do I think that Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Wiccans, and such are wrong, deluded, misled, or on the wrong path. The world is a better place for the diversity.

    Yes, many of those — certainly the loudest — of religious faiths seem to think that their faith is the One True Way and that anybody of another faith is Wrong. But that’s not everybody of faith. I suspect if you polled clergy of mainline protestant churches, you’d find out that a lot of them accept that those of all different faiths are seeing God from different angles, as it were, and there is a quest for truth in all of them. By the same token, I strongly suspect that even though the atheists who believe that anybody who is truly reasonable and rational will come to the conclusion that there is no God are the loudest, there are atheists out there who accept that reasonable, rational people will come to different conclusions about religion. As such, applying a label to atheists who don’t want to be rude to the religious that implies that they’re just being polite to people who are wrong is unfair to the position of more broad-minded atheists. (It’s also tactically foolish to give them a label that essentially says ‘get long with the wrong people’.)

  71. GM: “A more accurate analogy would be that if you have a cancer, you would want to get some more serious treatment than painkillers”

    That may be a more accurate analogy for something, but not for what I was saying.

    In fact, this does not need an analogy. The NCSE is overwhelmed with the fight against creationism. This is a purposeful strategy on the part of the creationists . If the creationists dried up and blew away tomorrow morning, it is true that for a while the NCSE might not know what to do with itself, but eventually it would get down to the business of improving science education, rather than just fighting against science education being totally ruined.

  72. Hitch

    Science and religion are incompatible insofar as religion goes to make claims that science provides an alternative answer for and the scientific method used to come to that answer was sound.

    If things don’t interfere or are randomly aligned, there is far less of a problem, some may say no problem. Only if there is a contradiction, there is a problem. To paraphrase Hawking, in that case science wins.

    If religions make no claims to anything that can ever be scientific there is nothing left to interfere of course. That’s the fantasy of non-overlapping magisteria.

    But one can easily see that this answer is unsatisfactory for a certain category of religious beliefs, namely those that deal with religion and claims to truths. If religion provides truths but its claims should come second to scientific discoveries if they overlap, it goes against that claim. Believers who try to counter this have invented labels like “scientism” to claim that this is an untenable view.

    I think most here would agree in some sense with Hawking. That is not the question. The question is how to get people to embrace science. The real answer to this is as complex as the multiplicity and variety of belief structures that one can find out there.

    The second question is: How to do skepticism/disbelief/randomotherlabel. The answers to that may be similar or different.

  73. GM

    Hitch @ 72:

    It’s not really about making claims on specific things, although this is part of the problem too. It is about believing things on faith vs. using proper reasoning applied on objective facts to understand the world. Those are completely incompatible.

    The reason why I have this highly controversial view that if you that being a working scientist and writing books trying to persuade people that God exists is equivalent to research misconduct is because if the same kind of reasoning was applied to something less significant in the lab, that’s what would happen to that person and it has happened historically – people have often come up with the “I was sure I was right so there was no point doing experiments” answer during investigations of fabricated results.

    It is precisely the same thing with God, and all the miracles described in whatever holy book you happen to believe in. By believing things on faith, you are essentially saying “Evidence doesn’t matter” and it doesn’t matter whether the hypothesis in question if falsifiable or not (many people will try to persuade you that because the God hypothesis is unfalsifiable, it is off limits to science, that’s nonsense). If you say “Evidence doesn’t matter”, you have broken the most fundamental principles of science, for which you get fired if it s about anything else other than the grandest claim one can make about the universe – that it was created by God and all the rest….

  74. Ender

    So you’re saying that they are compatible?

  75. It is about believing things on faith vs. using proper reasoning applied on objective facts to understand the world. Those are completely incompatible.

    So you do not believe anything, anything at all, that cannot be defended via objective scientific facts followed by the kind of reasoning used in science? Nothing that you think or feel in your life, nothing about the way you approach your day, your year, and so forth, is based on anything other than falsifiable hypotheses that have been supported by evidence?

    Your statement here is the grandest mistake made by the strongest of atheists. Yes, there are other ways of knowing than just scientific. That’s why, for instance, Universities have departments other than science departments.

  76. Hitch

    GM, here is how I think about this. Yes on matters scientific I agree with you. Human life is however not all scientific. We pick cars, food, clothes, mates, sports teams, favorite scientist all on judgments that are not purely scientific. In fact largely not.

    Why vanilla may be preferred over strawberry flavor is not a matter of science, it’s a matter of taste, of affect, of emotion. Maybe eventually we will understand our emotional lives scientifically but we are a very far stretch from it and certainly I wouldn’t argue for abandoning all positive affect just to wait until we understand it.

    That is why it is important to consider points of friction. I agree with you on matters scientific. If credulity is promoted instead of evidence and inquiry there is indeed a problem and I would agree that it is important for science but also for other topics to overcome that. Imagine if important policy decisions were driven by evidence and inquiry? I think that would be very beneficial. So yes, I’m definitely for advocating for critical thinking and inquiry.

  77. GM

    76. Hitch Says:
    July 15th, 2010 at 9:42 am
    GM, here is how I think about this. Yes on matters scientific I agree with you. Human life is however not all scientific. We pick cars, food, clothes, mates, sports teams, favorite scientist all on judgments that are not purely scientific. In fact largely not.

    We are not talking about that. We are talking about the God hypothesis. Something very different.

  78. Jon

    We are talking about the God hypothesis. Something very different.

    Maybe some people don’t think of it as scientifically as you do, GM. There are other things in life other than the scientific method, for instance, off the top of my head, tradition, appeals to aesthetic sense, moral sense, social pressures, lifestyle choices, the need for order, having a sense of the transcendent, looking for purpose in life.. The scientific method may be helpful to you on these things, but maybe the same isn’t true for the next guy.

  79. GM

    Jon @ 78:

    You still aren’t addressing my point and talking about something irrelevant instead.

    The only assumption I am making is that it matters what is true and my suspicion/hope is that we agree on that. If you claim that it doesn’t matter what is true, I refuse to have a discussion with you. If you accept this premise, then so far I am right and nobody has shown otherwise.

    You last post was almost attacking the premise that it matters what’s true though

  80. Jon

    And as for scientists, before you say a scientist is saying “evidence doesn’t matter”, you have to look at what they’ve written. They could be a scrupulous methodological naturalist (as Chris discussed in the podcast), but not a metaphysical one.

  81. GM

    80. Jon Says:
    July 15th, 2010 at 11:29 am
    And as for scientists, before you say a scientist is saying “evidence doesn’t matter”, you have to look at what they’ve written. They could be a scrupulous methodological naturalist (as Chris discussed in the podcast), but not a metaphysical one.

    The old metaphysical vs methodological naturalist canard does not pass. The point is that believing things without any evidence backing them up, just on blind faith, is totally anti-scientific. The list of such things religious people believe in includes not only God, but a long list of a lot less “methaphysical” things

  82. Jon

    Some of those factors are important from the point of view of knowing the audience you are trying to persuade (as I said I was just talking off the top of my head), and some of them involve real arguments that have been made for religion (of course if you’re not interested in those arguments, I am wasting my time).

    What’s you’re criteria for deciding what’s true, just the scientific method? If so, how do you establish the truth or falsity of this question: In Neitchze’s *Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music* he discusses the Dionysian and Apollonian forces in culture. Say my hypothesis is that the Apollonian spirit is salutary in close to all cases, and in only in isolated cases is the Dionysian salutary. True or false, and how do you establish that? If you say you can’t, is that the same as saying they don’t matter? Or the things Neitchze is talking about don’t exist?

  83. Jon

    Also, there are different concepts of God other than fundamentalist ones–for instance, you have Spinoza’s God, you have Aristotle’s God, Alfred North Whitehead’s God, even Kant’s God–these are all metaphysical Gods, or in the sense of that they’re physical, you have to get into the details to find out how, and they don’t “interfere” with the world in the way you’d think. Are these all useless and talking about nothing? After all, these philosophers didn’t use the scientific method to arrive at their beliefs.

  84. Hitch

    One can reject metaphysics without discussing the details of all metaphysical conceptions. In fact that is the only sensible rejection of metaphysics.

    If something is useful it can be shown epistemologically because utility has naturalistic implications.

    You are basically bringing an appeal to authority argument here. Ideas are not right simply because some revered people held them. If you claim utility, you have to show it, but I argue that automatically means that the question is not purely metaphysical. In short, metaphysical inocculation to criticism while claiming utility does not work.

  85. GM

    83. Jon Says:
    July 15th, 2010 at 12:58 pm
    Also, there are different concepts of God other than fundamentalist ones–for instance, you have Spinoza’s God, you have Aristotle’s God, Alfred North Whitehead’s God, even Kant’s God–these are all metaphysical Gods, or in the sense of that they’re physical, you have to get into the details to find out how, and they don’t “interfere” with the world in the way you’d think. Are these all useless and talking about nothing? After all, these philosophers didn’t use the scientific method to arrive at their beliefs.

    A God that does nothing is the same as no God. It is compatible with the scientific facts, and it is an unfalsifiable hypothesis, but still, there is no reason to believe in his existence as there is no evidence for his existence

    A belief in God that actively interferes is not only based on no evidence, but it contradicts it, so it is totally anti-science.

    Collins and Miller believe in the latter, BTW

    P.S. Thanks for the editing option to whoever introduced it :)

  86. Perplexed in Peoria

    @85 GM says: A God that does nothing is the same as no God. …
    You are setting up a false dichotomy, GM. Many believers hold that while God does nothing in this universe, He is watching, and will punish or reward us in “the afterlife”. Yes, as you point out, there is no evidence for this belief, and no way of falsifying it. But it is very, very different from “no God”. If correct, that is. It is only indistinguishable from “no God” if there is in fact no God. Beg the question much, GM?

    Other believers think that God *does* interfere in this universe, but that instances of His interventions are what a mathematician might call “a set of measure zero”. Again, it is practically impossible to test or falsify this belief. Now, you are probably justified if you were to claim that there is no scientific evidence supporting this belief. But that is, once again, not particularly convincing to someone who thinks that she is one of the measure zero Elect. And she is not really being anti-science if she thinks that naturalism still rules on a set of measure one.

    Believing in a Deity without scientific evidence is actually far less delusional than believing that you have a scientific proof of the non-existence of a Deity. It is even less delusional than the claim that scientific evidence *by itself* strongly suggests God’s non-existence. I’ll admit that if you add some philosophical assumptions into the argument, then the evidence tends to run against the “God Hypothesis”. But those necessary philosophical assumptions turn out to be very difficult to rigorously justify.

  87. Jon

    Hitch: One can reject metaphysics without discussing the details of all metaphysical conceptions. In fact that is the only sensible rejection of metaphysics.

    My argument is that saying there is nothing besides the apparent or detectably physical *is* a metaphysical argument.

    You are basically bringing an appeal to authority argument here. Ideas are not right simply because some revered people held them.

    I’m not saying they’re always “right”, at all, but I think there *is* something to be gained from studying old ideas, in part because they are what our present institutions are built on. We’re in dialog with the past whether we like it or not. To quote Newton, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

    Also I’d point out that a big difference between the sciences and the humanities is that the humanities relies on a canon of texts (and the commentaries that talk about them, and with each other). Is the choice of these texts and the assertion that they’re important an “argument from authority”? I guess in a sense. But you could also look at it as a kind of cultural operating system, where if you want to understand something, you go back to the fundamentals, which usually have been usefully discussed in some sort of locus classicus. Are they “true”? I’m no conservative, but I guess I’d be with Edmund Burke in saying we shouldn’t just throw them away and disrespect the cultural heritage we have, which can show us useful things even when it might be wrong in certain ways. In any case, its wise to approach things thoughtfully and not just go off half cocked Bill O’Reilly style…

    For instance, here’s one of those locuses: upthread, someone mentioned Plato’s Euthyphro. I disagree with the commenter, and I think I also disagree with Plato, but that’s beside the point. Euthyphro has cultural cachet for a reason. No one has to establish that it’s scientifically valid. It’s a cultural landmark that helped build human institutions. Does that mean it’s “true”? No, as I said, I think Plato makes some assumptions in it I disagree with (he made Euthyphro a weak defender of his position, I think). But I do think it’s possible (probably even necessary) to establish valid thinking–informed, well thought out “truths”–outside of the scientific method…

    I’ve posted it before here, Isaiah Berlin has a good essay on the difference between the sciences and the humanities that’s useful. Toward the end of this piece, I think he does pretty well laying out the arguments for what at least one kind of non-scientific thinking brings to the table:

    http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/published_works/ac/divorce.pdf

  88. dannyno

    Rob Knop @ 70 said:
    “I’m a Christian, but unlike the loudest Christians, I don’t think that everybody should be Christian. It sure as hell would make the world a simpler place if everybody where the same kind of liberal Christian as me ”

    You wouldn’t be much of a liberal Christian if you did, but I find this sort of thing deeply curious.

    I’d point out that “I don’t think that everybody should be Christian” is not equivalent to “everybody should be a liberal Christian like me.” The world may or may not be simpler if everyone was a liberal Christian, but if everyone was Christian, there would still be a great deal of variety about, including violent disputes.

    There’s also an ambiguity in “should be Christian”: “should” might be a matter of legal or social compulsion, or a matter of reasoned expectation, or of moral exhortation.

    Diversity is indeed valuable, because it helps to ensure the appearance of new ideas, even if only through the combination of different ideas. So there is good reason to desire diversity rather than a monolithic culture. I agree with you (slightly different point), that “The world would be a poorer place without the art, music, culture inspired by (say) Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism. ” When the Taliban started blowing up Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, I’m sure there weren’t many of even the most stringent atheists who were unmoved.

    However, since you are a liberal Christian, you presumably think that being a liberal Christian is a good thing to be. I presume you would say that there are good reasons to be a liberal Christian. Well, here you are trying to put forward such good reasons, so perhaps we can take that as read. So, you presumably think that being an illiberal Christian is not such a good thing to be, and that the arguments put forward by “the loudest Christians” are not good arguments. Yours are better, aren’t they?

    As a liberal, you won’t be saying: “ban illiberal Christians”, or anything like that, but you would be prepared to defend your liberal position against anti-liberals. And furthermore, you would presumably do so even if your illiberal opponents recited a list of great artworks created by illiberal Christians or inspired by illiberal Christianity.

    What I find curious is that you don’t seem to have quite realised what you’re saying.

    As an atheist, I think I’m right. In other words, I think there are good reasons for rejecting belief in God (I would put it like that). And I think those reasons are better than the reasons people give for believing in God. Like you, I don’t think the world would be an automatically better place if everyone were like me. But I’d quite like it if there were more people like me, and I enjoy trying to persuade people that my position is the right one. I don’t think in doing so I am being illiberal or somehow seeking the cultural extinction of religious artistic artefacts.

    You know, quite a lot of art was created in response to the Russian Revolution and later the USSR, from various perspectives. Some of it was to a greater or lesser extent supportive of the Russian Revolution and/or the USSR (I make a distinction), and some of it was to a greater or lesser extent in opposition. There is much of value, which I would regret losing if it all vanished tomorrow, on either side. But I wouldn’t feel the same regret at wiping Stalin’s reign from history, even if that meant that Orwell didn’t write Animal Farm.

    I quite like Lincoln Cathedral here in the UK. Specifically I like the little imp hidden up in the roof. If Lincoln Cathedral burned down, I’d be quite sad about that. But at the same time, I don’t feel quite the same about imagining a world in which Lincoln Cathedral never got built, and the imp was never carved, because Lincoln through some historical marvel became a centre of rationalist freethinking in the middle ages.

    Similarly, you “accept” evolution. I shall take it that means that you think there are good reasons to think that evolution is a correct account of the development of life on this planet, and that those who think evolution is not correct are mistaken. You clearly haven’t allowed any worries about the aesthetic influence of the story of Genesis to get in the way. Or perhaps you think we should keep a few creationists about the place, on reservations or something, just so that the Noah’s ark industry is kept going? Perhaps we should set aside a few schools where creationism is taught as fact, to maintain that all-important diversity?

    No?

    Dan

  89. dannyno

    Rob Knop, still @ 70, said:

    Then, sorry to drivel one at such length, but its what I do, you say:

    “I don’t think that those of other faiths are wrong per se. I would say that, yes, those who insist that there is no God and can be no god are “wrong”, in my view, but I also recognize that my view may not be objectively correct.”

    I find this curious too. Not because of your recognition of fallibility, which is a good thing, but because you seem to be suggesting that a recognition of fallibility precludes thinking that other people, who disagree with you, are wrong. Tolerance can come from recognition of fallibility, and is to be encouraged. But merely maintaining a point of view, ie. that you have good reasons for your beliefs which are better than the reasons (however good on their own terms) offered by others are insufficient to justify their beliefs (if they are, this might not always be so), is not intolerant.

    I don’t know what “Wrong” in quotes adds to your remarks. Why don’t you say: “In my opinion, atheists and Hindus are wrong. But I wouldn’t claim to be certain of that.” When I, as an atheist, say “In my opinion, theists are mistaken”, I don’t mean to imply that there is no room for error in my opinion. But it is my opinion, and I think I’m right.

    To pick up your next point. In saying I think that “theists are mistaken”, I don’t also mean to imply that all theists are “deluded, misled, or ignorant” (though some may be any or all of those things). Is the world a better place for people being mistaken? Depends what they’re mistaken about. If they’re mistaken about justice vs injustice, or terrorism vs peaceful struggle, or fascism vs liberalism, then perhaps the world isn’t a better place. But disagreeing about theism vs atheism might not be so important. If quite often is important though, because of the cultural/political struggles it arouses.

    As for this:

    “I strongly suspect that even though the atheists who believe that anybody who is truly reasonable and rational will come to the conclusion that there is no God are the loudest, there are atheists out there who accept that reasonable, rational people will come to different conclusions about religion”

    Well, there are clearly are atheists who think that theists are necessarily unreasonable or irrational (some theists clearly are!). I’m not one of them. I accept that it is possible for rational people to disagree. However, I still think my position is best, and I’m prepared to argue for that. I don’t think that accepting the possibility of rational disagreement means that I cannot think that those who rationally disagree with me are nevertheless mistaken.
    Not in the same way that someone who gets a sum wrong is mistaken, perhaps, but still mistaken.

    And furthermore, I don’t think that saying that you think someone is mistaken, and explaining why you think that, is “rude”.

    My point, in case it’s not obvious, is that there is space between “all theists are idiots” and “nobody is wrong” for reasonable argument about what is and what is not true, and it’s not the end of civilisation to want to be right and to want other people to be right.

    Dan

  90. dannyno

    And finally,

    Rob Knopp @ 75 said, in response to someone else:

    “So you do not believe anything, anything at all, that cannot be defended via objective scientific facts followed by the kind of reasoning used in science? Nothing that you think or feel in your life, nothing about the way you approach your day, your year, and so forth, is based on anything other than falsifiable hypotheses that have been supported by evidence?
    Your statement here is the grandest mistake made by the strongest of atheists. Yes, there are other ways of knowing than just scientific. That’s why, for instance, Universities have departments other than science departments.”

    It’s an easy goal, that. I don’t think there are very many people who would say that nothing that can’t be scientifically proven should be entertained, even if they carelessly allow it look like that’s what they think.

    Quite obviously you cannot get through your day by behaving like an experimental physicist. Indeed, it would be unreasonable to behave like that.

    But what that doesn’t mean is that “there are other ways of knowing”. What is means is that we just don’t need certain knowledge to get us through our day. We don’t need to “know” we’re in love to be in love. We don’t need to “know” what temperature water boils at to make ourselves a cup of tea (somebody did, somewhere along the line, but we don’t).

    What other departments do Universities have? History, law, literature, music, theology etc. If any of these fields have a claim to knowledge, how do they establish it? Well, they may not employ the methods of experimental physics, but they certainly need to employ standards of rational enquiry. History may not be able to prove its knowledge like chemistry can, but it still needs to use the tools of reason. I don’t think there are “other ways of knowing”. There are other things we want to know. And if we want to know them, we have to use the best tools available. And those are always the tools of rational enquiry best suited to the field.

    Dan

  91. Dan — I think that liberal Christianity is the best religion *for me*. I don’t think it’s the best religion for everybody. My friends who hold other religions — I don’t think that they’re wrong. That’s the thing about religion — it’s not science, and it’s possible for multiple seemingly conflicting ideas to all be right, in their own way. One might draw an analogy to quantum mechanics; I might say that the electron has state (spin +z), and you might say it has state (1/sqrt(2))(spin +x) + (1/sqrt(2))(spin -x), and we can both be right, even though our two ideas don’t contain the same information. (Not a great analogy, since my state implies yours, but yours doesn’t imply mine… ah, well, it’s just an analogy.)

    I don’t think that liberal Christianity has a monopoly on the “truth”.

    I do think that liberal Christianity is objectively superior to fundamentalist Christianity, because fundamentalist Christianity holds tenents that are known to be false– the age of the Universe, evolution, etc. (It’s also just bad theology to try to read the Bible literally, in my view– that is, it’s not just bad for scientific reasons.)

    So, this is why I don’t say that those of other faiths are wrong, or even that I believe they’re wrong, but admit that I might be mistaken. Even that is too strong a statement for me. And I suspect you won’t like this, because the atheist position is that those who have different views of God *are* wrong… but that’s not always the theist position.

    As for “other ways of knowing” — the scientific method is not how we have derived everything that we call knowledge. Nor is “rationality” and “reason” synonymous with science, although too often in these debates it is used as if it were. This doesn’t mean that some of the methods of science can’t be applied to nearly any field — but science isn’t the be-all and end-all of human intellectual effort. What decides the great masters of music or art? Not science. And, yet, scholars find something worth studying in what they did beyond psychology or social science trying to figure out why certain works of art resonated with certain societies.

    Reason, and logic, can apply even in realms that science does not address. Consider the aforementioned art, music, and literature — or ethics.

    And, yes, faith is a way of knowing. You don’t think it’s a valid one, and that’s fine, but you go much too far when you seem to think that science is really the only way of knowing.

  92. Hitch

    Jon, you argue:

    “My argument is that saying there is nothing besides the apparent or detectably physical *is* a metaphysical argument.”

    Well yes, but I for one do not argue this. A typical scientific position is not that the only thing that exists is detectable physics, but that we cannot say anything about what falls into that domain.

    This is the removal of metaphysics and the maintenance of epistemology. One does not need metaphysics if one removes universalizing onthological claims of this specific type.

    I’m not going to defend any other position because it’s not a position I hold.

    “I’m not saying they’re always “right”, at all, but I think there *is* something to be gained from studying old ideas, in part because they are what our present institutions are built on. We’re in dialog with the past whether we like it or not. To quote Newton, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.””

    You reinstantiate the appeal for authority. Let me repeat, Newton advocated alchemy. His alchemy shoulders are nothing to stand upon and Newton quite clearly was no giant of alchemy.

    As for the difference of science and humanities, well I don’t particularly like the split, but I never argued there is nothing but science (whatever that would mean). I argued that your claims to the utility of metaphysics doesn’t hold when you also insist that metaphysics is not in the realm of scientific testing.

    I have already given the position with respect to as yet un-/under-explained aspect of human life, such as affect and emotions, as an example myself. I don’t think I need to argue against my own position.

  93. GM

    91. Rob Knop Says:
    July 15th, 2010 at 10:53 pm
    As for “other ways of knowing” — the scientific method is not how we have derived everything that we call knowledge. Nor is “rationality” and “reason” synonymous with science, although too often in these debates it is used as if it were

    It is so obvious why this is a fallacious statement (not the statement itself, but the implications) that I don’t know why we have to go over this again.

    Let me start with an example – I have had this discussion with my mathematician friends and they often talk about the role of “intuition” in how they conceive their ideas. Most of them share your views on science and reason. But what they don’t mention is that after that “inspirational spark” they spend the majority of their time constructing solid, logically sound proofs of their claims, and if the proof they publish somehow has logical holes in it (it’s not that hard to allow such things to creep in in a 100-page proof), it gets retracted.

    Now math does not exactly belong to science proper, but similar things happen in science too, and the point I am making is that yes, a lot of things in science have not been derived through proper reasoning and analysis of the evidence, but no, nothing that contradicts proper reasoning and the available evidence is allowed to stand.

    This is not the case with religion, where if something contradicts proper reasoning and is not supported by evidence, elaborate schemes to explain why it is still true are constructed, or even worse, the belief in it is proclaimed as a virtue, because having “faith” is good for you

  94. GM — math is a great example. Lots of stuff is created in math that doesn’t have evidence for its existence. In math, you start from certain postulates within the framework of the system you are working in. You then work out the consequences of those postulates — and they can be enormously complicated to work them out.

    Where this differs from science, though, is that you don’t then go and perform experiments to decide if your postulates and your conclusions are correct. There’s no testing against the natural world. It’s an extremely useful scholastic discipline that is *not* science, and is not subject to the evidence requirements of science.

    A particle theorist colleague of mine when asked about his opinion of String Theory — the rest of us asking were experimentalists who don’t really understand String Theory — responded that in his opinion at the time, String Theory was good math, but not yet good science. One could get into a long debate about this, of course, but the situation is still really the same. String Theory is enormously complicated, and perhaps one day will point us to a working theory of quantum gravity. But, at the moment, it doesn’t have any testable consequences, nor does it completely explain anything in the natural world. That’s what makes it math, rather than science, right now. Riemannian Geometry is math, not science. When it was developed, there was no sense that it might eventually be a key lynchpin in the description of Gravity– that’s the difference from String Theory, where suggestive things in it show us where it could be a description of the natural world. But Riemannian Geometry exists itself without being subject to the rules of evidence for science.

  95. Hitch

    Just a mild caveat on Math. Math doesn’t really work from postulates, rather many mathematical postulates are naturalistically grounded. Integers are not some random invention but come straight from the practice of counting object. Mathematics is very often concerned with attempts to model what we see. We see things that appear continuous, we need a mode, hence real numbers. We have curved objects hence we develop geometries of curved objects. We realize that rubber bands despite their flexibility have certain fixed properties, hence topology and so forth. Amazingly little math has absolutely no grounding in reality. If for example partial differential equations didn’t give observable results we would be worried about the physics and the math.

    If a computation using Riemanian geometry would give the wrong curvature of a real-life smooth object (or the trajectory of space flight for example) it is an issue for mathematics. Hence yes it is in a rather direct sense subject to rules of evidence.

    It’s a oft-promoted myth that mathematics is an abstract science. I think that is a very misunderstandable notion.

  96. Htich — that’s not quite right. It’s possible to get things wrong, in math, yes. But the math does not have to correspond to reality.

    Consider the 11-dimensional Cabali-Yau structures in String Theory. It’s still valid math (and subject to being verified, checked for errors, etc., according to mathematical logic) even if it doesn’t correspond to anything that can ever be realized in nature.

    As another example, it’s entirely possible to do proper mathematical calculations and derivations and draw conclusions about the shapes of ellipses given the inverse-square law of Newton’s Gravity, even though they will not give the answer that you get when you measure the orbit of Mercury. It’s still completely valid math, it just isn’t the right mathematical model for our Universe.

    Math is not the same thing as science.

  97. Hitch

    Clearly you missed my point. First off you give no coherent definition of “science”. And second I never said that they are the same thing, given that I have no coherent definition to work with.

    However I gave clear examples how indeed math can be subject to evidence and be seeded by natural phenomena. Nothing you say contradicts that at all.

  98. Hitch — you were asserting that math is tested against real-world observational results. I gave examples where it is valid math, but they are either not testable against real-world observational results, or where they give results that are at odds with what is observed in the real world.

    Science is the process of attempting to understand the natural world by building models and testing predictions of those models against observations or experiments performed on the natural world.

    Math *can* be seeded by and subject to evidence in the natural world, but it does not have to be.

  99. Hitch

    Rob, I cannot argue with you when you claim I hold a position I never held.

    Let me explain: Our exchange started off with: “Riemannian Geometry exists itself without being subject to the rules of evidence for science.” To which I reacted: “If a computation using Riemanian geometry would give the wrong curvature of a real-life smooth object (or the trajectory of space flight for example) it is an issue for mathematics. Hence yes it is in a rather direct sense subject to rules of evidence.” Now you come back: “Math *can* be seeded by and subject to evidence in the natural world, but it does not have to be.” which is exactly the point I made. But instead you claim I supposedly hold a more extreme position as you claim that I hold the totalizing position: “you were asserting that math is tested against real-world observational results” which I never held and in fact do not hold. If you read my original response carefully you will find ample evidence for that.
    The flaw is your use of the word “math” as monolith.

    I’m not going to argue in defense of a position I never held and don’t hold.

  100. Jon

    Hitch: You reinstantiate the appeal for authority.

    I think it’s more along the lines of not wanting to have every generation to reinvent the wheel, but whatever.

    Hitch: I argued that your claims to the utility of metaphysics doesn’t hold when you also insist that metaphysics is not in the realm of scientific testing.

    OK, I have here a quote from a neuroscientist doing brain scans on religious practitioners, then I have a few points to make afterward:

    Late night television comedian David Letterman occasionally does a sketch called “Is This Anything?,” where he and sidekick Paul Schaffer jokingly debate whether some bizarre stage performance is “nothing” or “something.” By analogy, neuroscience has confirmed that mystically oriented practices are “something.” However, as in the comedy sketch, “nothing” isn’t really an option.

    We can currently evaluate comparatively mundane aspects of mystically oriented practices. Are practitioners subsequently less distracted or anxious? Does a given practice increase antibody titers, or decrease inflammation? Are practitioners better at spatial reasoning or math? Such things are measurable. Some such findings may prove useful to society, but will likely not take a side in the worldview debates.

    There are more deeply philosophical reasons why neuroscience will stay out of metaphysics. For instance, neuroscience may never solve the age-old philosophical puzzle of how primal our subjective experience is. This is my second disagreement with Brooks. He says, “God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at [mystical] moments, the unknowable total of all there is.” I am sure that some people have these deeply meaningful experiences. However, it is pointless for neuroscience to update a term (God) that in conventional parlance refers to the ultimate power that rules the universe.

    First, it seems like it’s challenging to determine what the collected data means. I, for one, am not even convinced that the mind is even completely contained in the organ called the brain. You’ve got other nerves, endocrine system, etc. How do you even know that a brain event completely corresponds to what’s happening in a salutary religious subjective experience? You don’t.

    Relatedly, these experiences seem quite complex and someone has to decide how they’re going to measure them. Someone has to set the parameters of the experiment. Do I trust say, Daniel Dennett, or someone like him, to set these parameters in a way that will richly describe what is happening? Apparently, Dennett doesn’t even appreciate what Berlin talks in the second part of the essay I linked to above (see his quote on Naturwissenschaften above), why would I think that he’d take pains to study human beings in a carefully chosen way?

    And related to this last point, why assume that the naturalistic way of explaining phenomenon coming out of the experiment will be a satisfactory one? Something can have explanatory power, and even gain currency, but also be too simplistic, even impoverished. (This issue has actually been a major focus of Charles Taylor’s career by the way.) So conceivably a metaphysical explanation could better, more useful if you will, than a naturalistic one, even though the naturalistic one might *appear* more utilitarian.

    Actually, this last part ties into what’s being discussed in the comments above. Naturalistic explanations of phenomena, like math, are human creations. Nature always gets the last word and often knocks down our models, because the models are our constructions and are only as good as we make them (see Berlin’s discussion of Vico in the essay I linked to above).

    I think this is where I come in with my argument for traditional philosophical/political liberalism. Criticism of fundamentalists and true wackos aside, I generally resist the idea that scientific types should come in and “police” people who hold metaphysical and religious beliefs. Science people often don’t know as much as they think they do, and if there are any bright lines that liberalism draws, a big one is peoples’ right to individual conscience. And not respecting that not only blurs those bright lines, but also can create a backlash which is bad for everyone. Isn’t there something more constructive for intelligent types like New Atheists to do?

  101. Jon

    Googling around for that Taylor/naturalism link above I came across this interesting Charles Taylor interview:

    BEN ROGERS: What drew you to philosophy?

    CHARLES TAYLOR: I guess I just got angry. I studied history at McGill University, in Montreal, and then I came to Balliol, Oxford, to do PPE and I thought it was going to be mainly politics. But it was the fag end of a kind of post-positivist era in which—unluckily for me—there were two very tired dons who were fed up with the subject, and who gave lectures sub-sub-sub-Hume in a bored tone of voice. I thought: this can’t be what it’s all about, so I began to move around and get into other reading. I read Merleau-Ponty, and I took off from there. It was kind of reactive.

    AC GRAYLING: Your acceptance of those [religious] views must have been prepared by some sort of antecedent mindset. It was surprising that you didn’t choose the Voltairian.

    CT I don’t understand it now; I certainly didn’t understand it then. I guess I have a more coherent story now—that there is some very profound level of human life and human potential transformation which the Voltairians had no clue about. When I read Hume or Gibbon now, I’m very beguiled by the style and so on, but then I think: how can you so totally miss the point of what you’re discussing? Take Hume on miracles: he really seems to think that the human approach to the world is that of a detached observer counting up the likelihood of the evidence—which, of course, is true of his epistemology too.

    AG But isn’t it possible that when you are planting a garden, so to speak, you have to do some clearance work first? To deploy a good argument against the rationality of faith or belief in miracles might be part of the clearing. Then there comes the planting, and the very rich tradition of what you might call realistic thought since antiquity has been more or less ignored because it hasn’t been the majority position in history. That’s a much less discussed resort for thinking about the sources of the good and about ethics, and you’re dismissing it. But thinking that Gibbon and Hume are giving us the whole story and not just part of it misses the big point.

    CT You see them as ground-clearers. Who are the planters?

    AG Well, we could begin with Aristotle and we could trudge on through Stoic ethics. There’s a very profound tradition of humanistic ethics. Why doesn’t that catch your imagination?

    CT It does, but I see it as a very different universe from Hume. For instance, Aristotle has an understanding of us as embodied minds, embodied agencies that Hume has been “Cartesianised” away from. In other words, the Humean idea that I could object to faith with my understanding, with some inner intensive mentoring, is un-Aristotelian and un-Stoic.

  102. OK… then I don’t see why you contradicted me in the first place. My original point was that there are “other ways of knowing” — forms of knowledge that are not scientific knowledge. I gave math as an example. You objected to that, saying that it’s a myth that math is an abstract science. So I give some examples where math does not depend on verification by comparison with the natural world. Now you tell me that you don’t have a position that disagrees with that.

    So… I guess I don’t see the problem here. You do admit that there are forms of knowledge that are not scientific? That science isn’t all there is? That there are in fact other ways of knowing?

  103. …and, by the way, if Riemannian Geometry gives the wrong answer for the trajectory of something through space, and it can be proven that the geometrical calculations were done correctly, it’s not a problem for math at all. It’s a pointer that that mathematical structure is no longer the right model for the system we’re trying to model. Riemannian Geometry can continue to exist as a mathematical structure even if different structures are needed to model the world.

  104. Hitch

    Jon I think this:

    “I generally resist the idea that scientific types should come in and “police” people who hold metaphysical and religious beliefs. Science people often don’t know as much as they think they do, and if there are any bright lines that liberalism draws, a big one is peoples’ right to individual conscience. And not respecting that not only blurs those bright lines, but also can create a backlash which is bad for everyone. Isn’t there something more constructive for intelligent types like New Atheists to do?”

    Perfectly encodes your position and I dare say your prejudice. I don’t see any policing. I see people have opposing positions and expressing them. That isn’t policing. You are fine to believe in metaphysics, but y0u cannot demand to be free from criticism or mockery.

    The only way to be say a Huxleyan agnostic can defend his position is to criticism metaphysics. There is nothing “better” to do, on the one hand critique metaphysics on the other hand proceed to produce good outcomes through epistemology. That you don’t like that is your problem and many believer don’t like it. I think you have exactly carved out why there is such as resistance to New Atheism. People don’t like their position.

    As for reinventing the wheel, it’s another mischaracterization. Skeptical and critical inquiry gives a method of looking at the invented wheel and make it better, and discard wheels that don’t work well, are obsolete or never worked.

    We praise tradition, but noone even knows the wheel anymore. Should one wear a hat, have a beard, wear head scarf, be circumcised, uncircumcised? Eat pork or not? Fish? Cows?

    See many of these things may have had very good reasons in its time. Dogma is to stick with an old idea without reflection, inquiry is to have ideas up for improvement.

    Far from reinventing the wheel we can actually be constructive in keeping the good and improving the rest. This is why the method of inquiry is superior.

    As for the aesthetic attack on epistemology to rescue metaphysics. Well aesthetics is a human condition, it is not metaphysical. But because we like to claim beautiful emotions to be transendent, we invent metaphysics.

    But yes metaphysics is old and I would take Aristotle as a starting point for an epistemic/aesthetic view. This idea that we need authority to arrive at a solid view is an authoritarian flaw that I kind of reject.

  105. Jon

    OK 105 comments on this thread (which is now off the front page) is enough. This will be my last post.

    I don’t see any policing.

    I think you forget what you yourself have said. You said that we should have a discussion of whether or not religion is child abuse. If that’s not policing, I don’t know what is.

    You are fine to believe in metaphysics, but y0u cannot demand to be free from criticism or mockery.

    I am with you on the criticism part. But not entirely on the mockery part (which as I wrote above, often comes from a place of ignorance about religion). Mockery *can* be part of a good reasoned discussion, especially about important, and especially about life or death issues, but it gets to be quite different when you’re aiming to socially ostracize and isolate holders of certain ideas from polite society. In these cases, as Alan Wolfe argues (singling out Sam Harris for criticism on this count) you start to drift away from the liberal tradition.

    Skeptical and critical inquiry gives a method of looking at the invented wheel and make it better, and discard wheels that don’t work well, are obsolete or never worked.

    You’re misunderstanding what I’m saying. I’m not saying there should be no criticism. I’m saying the genre of metaphysics deserves to be part of the canon, because it has formed the world we live in, even if you disagree with it. If nothing else, it’s a rich enough genre to have done some important work in history. Alan Wolfe quotes “man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.” (And as I said above, I have respect for the Burkean view that we should be careful before we just drop kick ideas that have persisted for centuries.)

    But because we like to claim beautiful emotions to be transendent, we invent metaphysics.

    Again, that is a metaphysical position, saying basically that anyone that doesn’t buy that metaphysical naturalism are sissies who want to “feel good.” There’s a lot more involved in that discussion than simply shouting down your opponent.

  106. dannyno

    Rob Knop @ 91:

    Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first.

    “I don’t think that liberal Christianity has a monopoly on the “truth”.”

    Is “truth”-with-magic-quotes different to truth-without-magic-quotes?

    I agree that liberal Christianity doesn’t have “a monopoly” on truth. That won’t surprise you. But I would also say that atheism doesn’t have “a monopoly” on truth. Because we are all fallible. I just think I’m right; I don’t claim to know for a fact that I’m right. That just means I’m prepared to defend an argument, it doesn’t mean I think I have a monopoly on truth.

    “I do think that liberal Christianity is objectively superior to fundamentalist Christianity, because fundamentalist Christianity holds tenents that are known to be false– the age of the Universe, evolution, etc. (It’s also just bad theology to try to read the Bible literally, in my view– that is, it’s not just bad for scientific reasons.)”

    Sure. And of course nobody does read the Bible literally, even if they think they do. You don’t get literalists so much as inerrantists. But anyway, let’s keep in mind your point about certain religious beliefs being known to be false.

    So although you are saying that other religions are not wrong, from your point of view, you are nevertheless prepared to say that particular beliefs are wrong, if they contradict the findings of science.

    That seems important, since you also say that “religion is not science”. Well, I guess it isn’t, per se. But you recognise that particular religious beliefs could fall foul of science, even if in general terms you’re not prepared to say that the generality of a particular religion is wrong.

    In that context, I was interested in this remark:

    “That’s the thing about religion — it’s not science, and it’s possible for multiple seemingly conflicting ideas to all be right, in their own way.”

    To me, that rings logical bells rather than specifically scientific ones – principle of contradiction for example. Contradictory statements cannot be truth at the same time and in the same respect. I would say that applies to religion too. Jesus cannot be the son of God and also not the son of God, for example. But as you’ve written it, it’s ambiguous. You *could* have come straight out and claimed that, in religion, contradictory ideas could all be right. I think that would be illogical. But you didn’t quite say that. You said “seemingly conflicting” (is “conflicting” synonymous with “contradictory”? I feel not.), and you said “in their own way.” So you actually seem to be saying that the contradictions are only apparent, and could be resolved somehow, not that the contradictions are real yet simultaneously all true. In which case, I don’t think you’ve said anything interesting or helpful.

    As for “other ways of knowing”, to be honest I think the phrase is ambiguous. It might mean “other ways of obtaining knowledge” or “other ways of talking about knowledge”. I don’t think I was explicit in my previous posts, though I’d hoped it was implicit, that I agree with you that science and reason are not synonymous. I would say that science – meaning perhaps the experimental sciences – uses certain tools of thought in order to test ideas, root out error, and try to establish knowledge. Other subjects use some of the same tools, but may use others. I agree with you that “science isn’t the be-all and end-all of human intellectual effort”, and that not everything we know is known because of specifically scientific method.

    But I don’t think your comments are clear enough. For example:

    “What decides the great masters of music or art? Not science. And, yet, scholars find something worth studying in what they did beyond psychology or social science trying to figure out why certain works of art resonated with certain societies.”

    Scholars do indeed find Bach or Da vinci or Shakespeare worthy of study. And I agree that science doesn’t have a way to establish that such people are indeed “great masters”. To the extent that the list of “great masters” can be defended objectively, you’d have to use the tools of literary or artistic analysis. But what is the “other way of knowing” here? We all have subjective aesthetic appreciation. But I wouldn’t describe my love of a particular painting or piece of music as “knowledge” – other than self-knowledge.

    But your point is misdirected. The argument, such as it is, is not that science is the only thing worth having. There aren’t many – if any – people who would take that view. There might be more people prepared to argue that science is the only way to achieve knowledge – but I’m not one of them. I might say that the most certain knowledge we have is generated by the highest quality scientific research, but that’s not quite the same thing. As I’ve said, I think history and literature and so forth are capable of discovering knowledge. But I don’t think the way they do it is outside reason. If you don’t use reason, then you won’t approach knowledge, whatever your field. Knowledge is not revealed.

    You say:

    “yes, faith is a way of knowing. You don’t think it’s a valid one, and that’s fine, but you go much too far when you seem to think that science is really the only way of knowing.”

    As I say, “way of knowing” is ambiguous. When you say “faith” is such a way, I wonder what you mean. Is it a body of knowledge, or is it a method of gaining or testing knowledge? Or both? I’ve said “knowledge is not revealed”, perhaps faith is knowledge you would say is gained by revelation? Or not? Anyway, I hope I’m now clear that I don’t think science is the be all and end all.

    You said, and I agree, that reason and logic apply outside of science. Do they apply in faith?

    I think that question has bite, because you say

    “I think that liberal Christianity is the best religion *for me*. I don’t think it’s the best religion for everybody.”

    You’ve said that reason and logic apply outside of science, and you’ve said that faith is a “way of knowing”. If your liberal Christianity is reasonable and logical, as you imply, and if it also constitutes knowledge, then I wonder if it is really so easy for you to say that it is “best” (does that mean “true”, or is it just an aesthetic preference?) for you but not for everybody? That is, if your faith is a form of knowledge/way of knowing? If it’s really knowledge, and not just self-knowledge or a personal preference, then it must be true for everyone, mustn’t it?

    Now, orthodox Jews can consistently say that their faith is best for them but not for others. No problem there, because of the nature of their beliefs.

    You identify as Christian, not just as a theist. A theist might say that every religion has a core of theist truth. But it’s hard to see how a Christian can be quite so accommodating. As I pointed out, Jesus cannot have been both God’s son and not God’s son. I presume you as a Christian believe at least that?

    Now, you might say that others have their own way to truth, or some such.

    But that’s difficult, theologically, surely? A Christian, I take it, believes that God sent his only son to earth to be crucified to death. I presume that is what you think. I presume you believe in a God.

    So are we to take it that the God in which you believe suffered, through the crucifixion of his only son, in order to demonstrate love and forgiveness, but it doesn’t really matter if you think that Jesus didn’t die on the cross and wasn’t God’s son.

    That just doesn’t seem credible. God sacrificed his only son, taking on the sins of the world, but if you want to dedicate yourself to achieving Nirvana, then that’s right as well. I don’t think you can consistently take the position you claim to take.

    Dan

  107. Hitch

    Alright I’ll just respond then and try to keep it in a style for closing the discussion. Here goes:

    “I think you forget what you yourself have said. You said that we should have a discussion of whether or not religion is child abuse. If that’s not policing, I don’t know what is.”

    I never said “we should have a discussion about child abuse”. I said it is a legitimate discussion what constitutes child abuse and it should be OK to discuss it. That itself implies nothing about policy or implementation, let alone policing. What I am advocating is that we can discuss difficult topics without people throwing temper tantrums and assume the intention is to send everybody to jail. It’s radicalizing the discussion before it was even had.

    But yes, I see this a lot. People jump to fatalicing conclusions. Just because Dawkins raises the issue does not automatically mean that parents will be policed any more than they are policed now. Just like the discussion of slapping children never meant that all parents should go to jail who have slapped their child. But we no longer have those discussions without some infused drama.

    On mockery, who will be the judge when mockery is OK and when it isn’t? No need to answer, but it’s the core of what you try to delineate. Also note that there is a huge difference between mocking and demeaning. Mocking an idea is not the same as demeaning a person. I am against the latter. But if an idea cannot withstand mocking it may well not be a good idea.

    “I’m saying the genre of metaphysics deserves to be part of the canon, because it has formed the world we live in, even if you disagree with it.”

    To me that’s a non-nonsensical statement. The atomic bomb has shaped the world we live in. That doesn’t mean that we have to consider nuclear bombing of civilians to be “canonical” (whatever that means in this context). If you are trying to say that history informs us how we got here, well yes, but that is no defense of metaphysics.

    “Again, that is a metaphysical position, saying basically that anyone that doesn’t buy that metaphysical naturalism are sissies who want to “feel good.” There’s a lot more involved in that discussion than simply shouting down your opponent.”

    Well I didn’t put it that way and I don’t like it characterized that way. How else are we going to have the discussion why people want to believe that they are attention of deities that their planet is the center of the universe etc etc, if saying this implies a “shouting down”. I’m sorry but this is an appeal to emotion that is untenable and goes back to the point about mocking. But even more, to say that people invent things to feel good about themselves does by no means even need to imply (or wanting to imply!) that people who hold it are “sissies”. I certainly do not hold this. We are all human and that’s OK.

    That showing vulnerability, errors, misconceptions is judged badly is a flaw of our society, not a flaw in the argument. Heck I am full of all those things. But we again want to be or give the impression of being pristine. And when that is criticized we “shout down”. I think it misunderstands the argument when phrased in those terms.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »