Posts Tagged ‘accommodationism’

Yet another science-vs.-religion post

Mano Singham’s “New Atheist” vs. Accommodationist article is worth a read, no matter which side you’re on.

While the headline “The New War Between Science and Religion” seems overblown, the article itself is much more restrained and  certainly (given that it’s a “New Atheist” writing it) less fear-mongering than the headline sounds.

Personally, I take the opposite of the “plague on both their houses” approach — I think that both those who favor respect for religion and those who favor strident contempt both have valid points to make, and both deserve a place at the table.

The mere existence of religious scientists doesn’t mean religion isn’t silly (anyone can be wrong, especially when their judgment is clouded), but it does mean that a deep understanding of science can, in fact, co-exist with a belief in a supernatural realm that science can’t prove, disprove or even study.

My “myth” take

So, the freethinking community is all abuzz over the case of a father who wants to ban a science textbook because it refers to the Biblical creation tale as “myth.”  Once again, it’s “accommodationists” vs. “militant” types, with most of the players familiar to those who follow such tiffs.

PZ has already weighed in, of course, as as Massimo Pigliucci (toward whom I confess a bias that may or may not be influenced by the fact that I once had dinner with him). And while I certainly don’t advocate giving an inch to creationists who are guaranteed to try to take a mile in response, I do have to admit that I think there’s something approaching a valid point.

A passage in a science textbook that explicitly calls a major religion’s teaching a “myth” is tangentially related to science at best, and at worst it’s a gratuitous slap that’s both rude and tactically unwise. Is the Bible’s creation story a myth? Of course it is. Is it polite to remind Christians that it’s a myth (especially when a significant minority of them don’t accept that)? I’d say no.

Catholics don’t refer to Jews and Protestants as “people who are going to hell” in polite conversation, even though that’s what Catholic doctrine says. And non-Catholics don’t politely refer to Catholics as “people whose donations have probably supported pedophilia coverups,” even though that’s an accurate description.

(pic via Living With Mormons)

Atheists and gays, redux

Atheist Revolution has some interesting points about what we atheists can learn from the gay-rights movement, about the value of standing up, coming out and being counted — or at least not ignored.

I think we can also learn a bit from some of the negative aspects of that history — conflict over “outings,” disputes between those who just want to get along and those who demand the respect they deserve, etc.

I think there’s a place for “strident” or “militant” atheists, or just people who get called that for nothing more than stating what they believe in. And I think there’s a place for accommodationists, for people who go out of their way to be friendly to believers, and even open to hearing about their beliefs.

Why? Because for one thing, it helps dispel the stereotype of atheists as being all one type of person (just as “straight-acting” gays help dispel stereotypes of gays). For another, if we want believers to be tolerant and accepting of those who are different from us, then it’s pretty hypocritical of us if we don’t accept and tolerate different attitudes and approaches from those within our own ranks.

(pic via Skepacabra)

Skeptical schism?


In “Atheism itself isn’t a movement” Ophelia Benson talks about the so-called “schism” between what she calls “movement atheists” (think “New Atheists”) and what she calls “plain atheists” — people who don’t want their nonbelief to define them, or make them part of some activist-type group, and who (in Benson’s view) would prefer for the “movement atheists” to just pipe down and stop making life harder for atheists by stirring up the believers.

As she puts it, “I deeply sympathise, but I also think that plain atheists should to some extent put up with it. We don’t actually want to dragoon them into “the movement” but we would like to be able to talk freely without even other atheists telling us to pipe down.”

Some folks have tried to paint this as some new “schism” among atheists, but as Benson herself points out, it’s just the ordinary difference of opinion you find among any sufficiently large group of people who are like-minded but not clones of each other.

In this blog, and in my own life, I tend much more strongly toward the “accommodationist” view, emphasizing that we share the world with religious people (some of whom are idiots, bigots or even terrorists), and we should try to be nice to people when we can. But by the same token, if you can make an effort to be polite and respectful to even the most strident religionists, why not make an effort to do the same for your fellow atheists?

(pic via SodaHead)

Making accommodations


Answering the Accommodationists isn’t really etiquette-oriented (it’s mainly a discussion of how far the promoters of evolution education should go in reaching out to religious types who might want to ban it). But it does tie in to the subject of this blog, which involves deciding just how far to accommodate oneself to the reality of a world where most people are religious, and even some of the nicest ones have a deep-seated prejudice against atheists. Here’s a particularly relevant passage:

“The accommodationist strategy implicitly validates the very prejudice it seeks to counter: that faith is superior to science and should win out if the two conflict. This would be like a person who lived during the suffragist era conceding the anti-feminist argument that women are intellectually inferior to men, but arguing that they should get to vote anyway, because after all, we don’t make men pass intelligence tests to vote, do we?”

That last bit strikes me as interesting, and probably wrong. Was nobody in those days making an argument along those lines? Really?

IIRC, lots of abolitionists (and Abe Lincoln, who wasn’t exactly an abolitionist, but was close) believed whites were superior to people of other races, but simply felt that slavery was cruel. Lots of people think lab rats have the same rights as humans, but I doubt those people think lab rats are equally as capable as humans. And surely nobody thinks everyone with a right to vote is intelligent enough to vote sensibly. I’d bet money that there were suffragists (perhaps even suffragettes) who were happy to concede that men were more intelligent.

But I’m getting off track here. Perhaps the anti-accommodationists are as well, and/or the accommodationists.

One group is focused tightly on the teaching of evolution (properly) in schools, and happy to distance themselves from, or even write off entirely, atheists (especially the more militant ones). Ignore Dawkins and his ilk, they say — we’re not all like them, and lots of us are religious. Belief in God and Jesus and even the Bible (interpreted the right way) isn’t threatened one bit by modern science.

The other group is fighting to promote understanding and acceptance of atheism, and perfectly willing to alienate the devoutly religious by stating baldly that such a worldview is starkly incompatible with a reality-based view (including, but not limited to, the fact that we evolved from apes and that our ape ancestors evolved from much more primitive forms, etc.).

One problem with this schism, a problem that plays right into the hands of creationists, is that it creates the impression that the accommodationists are lying, that they’re hiding the incompatibility of science and religion as part of a devious plot to lure impressionable youth into the “science” camp.

Creationists can claim that the accommodationists’ real objection to Dawkins et al isn’t that they’re strident or alienating, but that they’re giving away the secret. Perhaps there’s a bit of psychological projection going on here — creationists assuming that their enemies practice the same strategies and tactics as themselves.

Certainly there are religious movements (including some very large, very mainstream ones) that cloak the sillier and nastier aspects of their worldview behind innocent-seeming platitudes, and wait until new converts are firmly hooked before getting into the nitty-gritty details of what their theology really states and implies.

But I’m getting off track again. Overall, I have to say my gut feeling is that we should at least show respect (whether we feel it or not) for diverse views (no matter how silly), and surely the world is big enough not only for both religion and atheism, but for accommodationism and anti-accommodationism, and for even those who are certain they’re right to admit that there’s at least a slight possibility that they might be wrong.

After all, if creationists and other Christians want to complain about the “dogmatism” of some atheists, why don’t the rest of us agree to drop the dogmatism — and suggest the Christians do the same?

(Creationism cartoon via Pharyngula)