Archive for October 18th, 2010

A Mad Tea Party

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 18, 2010 5:38 pm

And we’re not in Wonderland…

Elections should not be a popularity contest of reality television-like, over-the-top, nonsensical personalities. Political decisions must be based on real issues affecting our families, our lives, our collective future. Over at Southern Fried Science, David explains why scientists need to be interested and engaged in politics:

The Tea Party movement is anti-science. They believe global warming to be a hoax. They believe that evolution isn’t real. They are against stem cell research. They are against science-based regulation.

In our political system, decisions are made by those who show up. The outcome of the 2010 midterm election will affect United States science policy. Regardless of your views on government spending, people who care about science policy should reject the Tea Party.

Exactly. Now go read his terrific post and make sure you vote! Because I fear we’re falling down a dangerous rabbit hole where nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics and Science

John Shook: The God Debates

By Chris Mooney | October 18, 2010 5:23 pm

John ShookI need to do a better job of posting Point of Inquiry episodes other than those that I myself host. So here’s the latest: Bob Price interviewing philosopher John Shook about debating the existence of God with believers. Here’s the write up:

Our guest is philosopher and author John Shook, discussing his experiences debating religious believers and whether such debates are a good idea.

Some say no, that such spectacles merely serve believers by making it look like atheists take them more seriously than they deserve. Others say yes, because debates provide a precious opportunity to introduce believers to atheistic arguments they might otherwise never hear.

Price and Shook compare notes about debating superstar apologist William Lane Craig, discuss interesting insights on Presuppositionalism and Postmodernism, and talk about Dr. Shook’s new book, The God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers (and Everyone in Between), an introduction to major issues in the philosophy of religion, as well as debate topics old and new.

I’m listening now and like one of Shook’s sound bites: He said secular debaters should be “loud, proud, and prepared.” Indeed….listen to the full show here.

Fallout from Accommodation/Confrontation Debate Continues

By Chris Mooney | October 18, 2010 2:35 pm

We’re getting more and more media attention to the goings on at the Council for Secular Humanism meeting of the weekend before last. Here’s Sharon Smickle of

We often wink, nod and speak in code — noting, for example, that Delaware’s GOP-endorsed senate candidate Christine O’Donnell has said she believes evolution is a myth. But few would stand up publicly to oppose the religious teachings that instruct a vast segment of America to agree with her.

And increasingly we are segmented into news and information pods where we can shut out any voices that threaten our views.

Myers and his New Atheist crowd would like their voices to penetrate your pods and rattle your beliefs. In a sense, they are political movement pushing to fill what they see as a vacuum in America.

Fat chance of that movement going very far in this country.

I agree about the pods part. I question whether the message of New Atheism can get into others’ pods when the gatekeepers of the pods just spin New Atheism as aggressive and abrasive, and demonize it.

Indeed, I tried to make the point in Los Angeles that confrontation, supposing that’s your strategy, isn’t even direct confrontation in the end. Due to the aforementioned pod effect, much of the criticism of religion is going to be channeled through a hostile messenger in our current media environment, if it is discussed at all.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Religion

More Confrontation/Accommodation Exchanges: Our Old, New Reply to Sam Harris

By Chris Mooney | October 18, 2010 9:22 am

Moral LandscapeLast year, I replied to Sam Harris’s online critique of Unscientific America. More recently, I heard from two separate people that a similar critique appears in his new book, The Moral Landscape.

It’s the anthropocene: Stuff gets around.

I haven’t read the new book yet, but I leafed through it over the weekend and found the two pages or so that discuss us. It’s essentially the same critique we answered before, and in a way that to my mind still reads as well composed and representative of what I think.

So rather than writing a new response–or trying to quote directly from a book I don’t have in hand yet–let me give an example of what Harris said before, and how we responded. For instance, Harris wrote the following:

While it is invariably advertised as an expression of “respect” for people of faith, this accommodationism is nothing more than naked condescension, motivated by fear. Mooney and Kirshenbaum assure us that people will choose religion over science, no matter how good a case is made against religion. In certain contexts, this fear is probably warranted. I wouldn’t be eager to spell out the irrationality of Islam while standing in the Great Mosque in Mecca. But let’s be honest about how Mooney and Kirshenbaum view public discourse in the United States: watch what you say, or the Christian mob will burn down the library of Alexandria all over again.

And I replied:

There is a bit of bravado here. The point is not to watch what you say, but to understand the context in which you are trying to communicate—and to recognize that most Americans are not going to be dragged all the way from fundamentalism to atheism thanks to the force of reasoned arguments. No matter how much we may wish it, it just isn’t going to happen. Giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way is the only common sense approach if you want to change minds, or change the culture. In this sense, what is derided as “accommodationism” is actually an extremely important position between two poles on the intellectual spectrum, a position where many people will want to reside–right or wrong.

There was plenty more in this vein. You can read Harris’s original critique here, and our longer response here.


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