A multiplicity of strategies is better than infighting when addressing creationism and related problems

I have always thought, naively and probably incorrectly, that what defined Accommodationist is what they think, not how they argue. At the same time, I have always thought that what defined a “New Atheist” is how we argued, and not what we think.

When I say “always thought” I mean for the last four years max, and when I say “naively and probably incorrectly” I might be only kidding.

The “new” part of “New Atheism” to me has always been this: You are willing to get up into some dude’s face to make your argument because religion, with its centuries of experience in being on the scene for every aspect of everyone’s life every minute of every day, is already there in the face making its argument. The new atheist response to being told to quiet down is to point out that being told to quiet down (or be more civil or follow certain rules) is step one (or two) in a series of steps that the established religio-normative culture routinely uses to end the argument and let things get back to what they think is normal. So instead of compromising on how the rhetoric is produced, you go in harder and sharper and become Argumentative, Aggressive, and Generally Dickish.

In case you’ve not noticed, there is a renewed and much enlivened discussion on the blogosphere regarding this issue and you should have a look at it.

Jerry Coyne of Why Evolution is True produced an open letter with the option of commenters signing on. The letter is to the National Center for Science Education and the British Center for Science Education identifying “misguided attacks by people like Josh Rosenau, Roger Stanyard, and Nick Matzke” … attacks on atheism. PZ Myers indicated that he agreed with the idea that the National Center for Science Education has “lost its way” in their seeming need “to coddle religious believers because they need them to support science.” And the drama continues from there.

Here is a carnival of posts addressing this issue or helping to contextualize it, in order of posting date. We start with a shocker from Chris Mooney in which he supports New Atheism, which is here because it is referred to by later posts, and work our way through the discussion.

21 April 2011 Psych Evidence that Supports New Atheism (The Intersection)

In general, I believe what we know about human psychology runs contrary to the New Atheist approach and strategy. However,… here’s a study that suggest at least one aspect of their approach may work. … making it more widely known that you’re actually there-as “out” atheists try to do

22 April 2011 Too few people know that they know an atheist (Josh Rosenau, Thoughts from Kansas)

I actually think Chris is being too nice to New Atheism here, which is rather remarkable. As I’ve said before, it’s hardly surprising that making a group more visible is a better way to build public acceptance than being less visible, and I support efforts to increase atheism’s visibility. But New Atheism is hardly the only way for atheists – or nontheists more generally – to get the word out that they’re here and want to be taken seriously.

22 April 2011 The Support of New Atheism (Almost Diamonds)

Enter the New Atheists. Enter the loud-mouthed confrontationalists who aren’t going to see people behave that way without doing their best to make it quite clear that this behavior in unacceptable. Enter the support team, the cheering squad, the clearers of obstacles. Enter the people who, as PZ Myers’ described his role last year at CONvergence, get angry for those of who aren’t allowed to.

23 April 2011 A bright spot at The Chronicle and an open letter (Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True blog)

The official policy of your organizations–certainly of the NCSE–is apparently to cozy up to religion. You have “faith projects,” you constantly tell us to shut up about religion, and you even espouse a kind of theology which claims that faith and science are compatible. Clearly you are going to continue with these activities, for you’ve done nothing to change them in the face of criticism. And your employees, past and present, will continue to heap invective on New Atheists and tar people like Richard Dawkins with undeserved opprobrium.

24 April 2011 Jerry Coyne’s open letter (Pharyngula)

I really feel that the NCSE has lost its way on this issue. I want to support the NCSE, but it has become increasingly hard to do. I have heard these arguments over and over again that they have to coddle religious believers because they need them to support science. They don’t.

25 April 2011 Watch those assumptions (Ophelia Benson)

… it’s pretty clear that what Rosenau is doing here is simply assuming that “New Atheism” means “atheism that is rude and aggressive and strident and mean.” That is one assumption too many.

25 April 2011 Jerry Coyne has another go at the NCSE and BCSE (British Center for Science Education)

If Atheist scientists really want to drive undecidedc Christians, into the YEC camp then this, surely is the correct way to go about it. Seems that according to some, science=Atheism and that’s that.

April 26, 2011 The BCSE blows up (Pharyngula)

That open letter to the NCSE by Jerry Coyne really seems to have set the cat among the pigeons — it’s an amazing flurry of ruffled feathers. I don’t see how there’s any hope of reconciliation, either, as long as the apologists for religion continue to be as obtuse as they have been.

26 April 2011 Why I’ve avoided commenting on Nisbet’s ‘Climate Shift’ report (David Roberts, Grist)

…[i]t argued that, contrary to what most people think, pro-climate-bill forces spent more than their opponents, media coverage of climate science has been generally fair, and Al Gore is just as responsible as Republicans for politicizing the subject of climate change. …

26 April 2011 Argumentative, Aggressive, and Generally Dickish (Almost Diamonds)

What to remember when you’ve said that confrontational atheists have made it harder for you to make progress on your shared goals, and some atheist has gotten (eek, gasp, shock, horror, blah, blah, blah) rude with you. This is particularly true for the endless argument over promoting science.

26 April 2011 Be really nice to the people who are telling you to hush (Ophelia Benson)

Stephanie Z has an excellent comment on Josh Rosenau’s post about how I’m totally wrong about what he means by “the New Atheism.”

27 April 2011 Definitions (Ophelia Benson)

The question is, how do we decide what “new atheism” is? What is new atheism, who gets to decide, how do we know? … The answer turns out to be that we simply define it as that which we dislike. Easy. Circular, but easy.

28 April 2011 Taking it Downhill (Almost Diamonds)

…All these pesky crusaders, who just won’t shut up, who won’t just go with the flow for a bit so things can get done, so the people with the keys to the kingdom will give us just a little bit more. Ugh! What is to be done with people so rude, so demanding, so mean?!?…A gatekeeper’s job is to keep people out, not to let them in.

29 April 2011 True Equivalence (Almost Diamonds)

… false equivalence is the only reason to compare “New Atheist” communications to fundamentalist positions. Confronting religion head on is no more “mean,” “distorting,” or “prejudicial” toward the religious than mainstream religious messaging is toward atheists. Need examples? …

01 May 2011 Punching “New Atheists” (Almost Diamonds)

… there is nothing like a brawl among secularists to get people to sit up and pay attention. Sounds good, right? All press is good press and all that? Well, that depends on your goals …

As is often the case, Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds has threaded the conversation into a series of connected posts. There is a lot more written about this topic on each cited blog, so if you visit one post be sure to look up and down stream to see what is there. Josh Rosenau’s writings are under-represented here for reasons of linkosity effects, so do glance through his stuff.

I am a “New Atheist” and not an accommodationist. I have a long history of fighting accommodationists, but it is also true that some New Atheists dislike me presumably because they notice me working, frequently, with the NCSE. Some of this has to do with reading comprehension (Larry Moran, the old curmudgeon whom we all know and love, has yet to read past the first sentence in a paragraph, as far as I can tell), and also, don’t mistake invective slung from the usual misanthropic delusional sociopaths that populate the more confused quarters of the Internet for something other than the self serving drek it is. But the fact that I’ve taken it in the neck from both sides does not change my point of view that multiple strategies are needed to even stay in, let alone win, this fight. The point should not be for you to hear your own shrill voice or your own soothing voice, as the case may be. It should be to find success in keeping creationism out of schools, religion out of government, and allowing non believers to not have to walk on eggs, of the easter variety or otherwise.

While atheism seems to have recently gained some ground, no camp in the game of evolution vs. creationism can claim that they know how that fight should be carried out. Why do I say that? Because no one has shown any real success. The same percentage of people in the US and many other countries oppose or resist evolution today as 20 or 30 years ago. Accommodating the religious has not worked, strident atheism has not worked. What has worked is winning court cases, and that success, while important, has not won the minds (or hearts) of the people, just a few judges. Which is good, but not good enough.

I mentioned before that my definition of accommodationism is about content and not form. Let me explain. There are a lot of areas where people who study evolution, or are atheists (speaking here of parallel but separate conditions, not necessarily connected) can give allowances to the “other side.” A policy regarding teaching evolution may be to equivocate on or even ignore issues regarding the origin of life on Earth, or issues regarding human evolution. Let the religious people have their god at the moment of creation, and let their god guide the history of humans in their transformation from ape to us. For everything else, science. That is, to me, true accommodationism. It is also vile and unacceptable. The counter argument to such rubbish needs to be loud and clear, and if that means aggressive and dickish, then so be it.

Another accommodating policy might be to keep your mouth shut when you find yourself embedded in a religious presumptive context. Atheists experience these things all the time, but especially around the religious holidays. If you have a problem with alcohol or need group therapy for some reason, it may be difficult for you to find a support group that does not engage in constant reference to god or spirituality or some such thing. Accommodation, in this case, equals silence. Silence is bad.

I am certain that a number of people in this debate that are labeled Accommodationists do not have any intention of giving away any part of the store with respect to evolution (such as origins or the human species). I’m also pretty sure that their interest in working with religious groups is misguided and a waste of time in most cases, maybe all cases. And, I’m pretty sure that their desire to tell the strident and in-your-face atheists to shut up is a waste of energy.

And in the end, they are all wrong to be engaged in this debate about how to debate. Multiple strategies work better than single narrowly defined strategies. Write a letter to the editor but be ready to yield the protest sign. Maybe even a little civil disobedience. Join a union but be prepared to quit your job, if the issue of the day is very important.

You know the good cop/bad cop routine? In that approach, each cop expresses his or her dislike for the other cop to the suspect. This is a ruse. They actually like each other, and they may actually take turns being good cop vs. bad cop. (To the extent these things actually happen … I’m using a fictional metaphor here.) When the NCSE gets a coalition going with some religious group, New Atheists should not run after them shouting that they are doing it wrong. They should, rather, smile to themselves and say “Well, maybe it will work …. we’ll talk about it later in private and share our thoughts on that.” When PZ Myers writes a strident and aggressive blog post about some yahoo insisting that textbooks in the local school district be labeled with anti-evolution disclaimers, the “Accommodationists” (they don’t call themselves that) should not run after them tsk-tsking (somehow I imagine the accommodationists tsking and the new atheists screaming). Rather, they should say to themselves “Glad he’s doing that, because he’s so good at it. We’ll have to talk about these tactics some time over a beer, exchange ideas and thoughts about how to win this fight we area all on the same side in.”

When colleagues on the same side of your fight but with a different approach do something that makes you hold your nose, consider the possibility that you should just hold your nose and keep on with your own part of the fight, rather than stopping your productive engagement of the style you chose and pouncing on them so they also have to stop their productive engagement. Be ecumenical, as it were. They are, and it makes them stronger. We aren’t and it makes us weaker. Duh.

One problem with the call for multiple approaches is that to New Atheists, it will sound like they are being told to shut up. If that is one’s philosophy, then one might want to ask if one’s philosophy is the tail wagging the dog. Just sayin’

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74 thoughts on “A multiplicity of strategies is better than infighting when addressing creationism and related problems

  1. “When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” I like having a whole host of tools available to deal with accomodationalists and theists. The more completely with which to dismantle them. 🙂

    Great post Greg!

  2. One problem with the call for multiple approaches is that to New Atheists, it will sound like they are being told to shut up.

    They ARE being told to shut up. Often, by several accommodationists.

  3. I’m following this discussion a bit with the curiosity of an outsider. In the USA, so much more of your social life, of your identity seems to be centred around the notion of religion/church/atheism. Living in a country that has two official churches, this seems surprisingly strange to me.
    I am fully aware of the problems we have like a growing number of facilities being run by the churches, keeping up the pressure to at least stay an official paying member of the churches, but in everyday personal life, it is verymuch a non-issue.
    For example, I take my kid to a catholic play-group once a week. People there know that I’m an atheist and they don’t care. They don’t prosletyze. From time to time I have interesting discussions with my theist friends, but seriously, of a lot of my friends I couldn’t even tell you what their religious views are. You just don’t presuppose “christian” as the default position and as long as people are keeping their religion their private matter I rather chose my allies on different topics according to their position on that topic, not hiding or “betraying” what I believe, nor saying “all or nothing” and then going for nothing.
    If, in your eyes, that makes me acomodationist, so it be.

  4. What am I missing when I see self-contradiction in this post?

    … each cop expresses his or her dislike for the other cop to the suspect.


    … New Atheists should not run after them shouting that they are doing it wrong.

    How else to tell the usual suspects we don’t like each other?

    One problem with the call for multiple approaches is that to New Atheists, it will sound like they are being told to shut up.

    Is this an example of “expressing dislike”? Because it sounds very similar to what Myers, Coyne, et al have been saying. What Nisbet, Mooney, “Tom Johnson” & Co have said, that’s what comes across as “shut up”.

    And howcum Ophelia Benson didn’t make it into the carnival?

  5. New England Bob: But who is telling whom to shut up about what? It more useful to consider these details than to ignore them and use shutuposity as a membership card to a particular group.

  6. Pierce, good question.

    How else to tell the usual suspects we don’t like each other?

    If the point is to tell the usual suspects that we don’t like each other, then we’re doing fine. In fact, we’re doing spectacularly wonderful. But unless telling them that we don’t like each other has a use, it is not a good thing.

    The good cop tells the suspect that he (the good cop) does not like the bad cop and what he is doing, and that he (the good cop) can help the suspect. Then the bad cop comes in the room and expresses resentment over the good cop’s goodness and leans harder on the suspect. Then the bad cop leaves and the good cop comes to the aid of the suspect who breaks down and signs a confession.

    Then the good cop and the bad cop go get donuts.

    That is a strategy. There is no analogous strategy in the present debate. There’s just people making sure everyone else knows who is in what camp and who to like and dislike while in the mean time there is a kid reading a bible at his lab station in my wife’s biology class.

    Ophelia should have made it into the carnival, but I was working out from a particular stream of links. Thanks for the link. Expect to see something added.

  7. Then the good cop and the bad cop go get donuts.

    That is a strategy.

    Yum. I like strategy – especially the kind with raspberry jam filling!

    The situation as it stands leads me to three not-entirely-mutually-incompatible hypotheses:

    1) The Evil Darwinist Conspiracy, knowing that The End Is Near, has not bothered to concoct an endgame plan.

    2) There is such a plan, but you and I are such lowly minions that we have not been let in on the details.

    3) Plotting even further ahead, the Dark Masterminds are already engaging in factional strife over who shall rule during the Tribulation.

    Additional scenarios are always welcome (except for the ones with that weird lemony stuff – blehh).

  8. Accommodating the religious has not worked, strident atheism has not worked.

    Hey, strident atheism has barely got started. Give it a chance, eh?

  9. Nemo, that is a good point. But, in reference to the specific question of dealing with what happens in public high schools, strident atheism’s effects are necessarily going to be indirect … though maybe measurable and important.

    In fact, this whole conversation should probably be rephrased in terms of how interactions have been carried out and developed between teachers in classrooms, school boards, administrators, and outsiders like all of us trying to have our say.

  10. Good cop and bad cop are working over the same suspect, which makes feigned dislike a tactic. They have the same goals. A closer example is probably a homicide detective in a bad neighborhood, and a narcotics officer. Both want to reduce crime, but the homicide detective needs the community to feel comfortable enough to report crime to him, to assist his investigations. The narcotics officer is out to arrest drug dealers, but they’ll often be members of the bad neighborhood with friends and family who’ll grow a little more suspicious of the police. The narcotics officer makes the homicide detectives job harder, so the homicide detective stops being forthcoming with drug evidence he comes across, and the two end up with a genuine dislike for the other.

    As a 20-something college grad in Massachusetts, my social circle is disproportionately atheistic and “reasonable” believers. The Christians I know believe in evolution and don’t hate homosexuals. Going to school creationism was only ever brought up to be dismissed as unscientific. In that environment, if a friend feels comfortable enough to approach me about religious doubts, that’s my best chance of advancing atheism. Similarly, living a humble, moral life may dispel a theist acquaintance’s prejudice. Within my social network, being openly atheistic, but accommodating and non-argumentative is effective.

    Of course, for those of you with direct connections to fundamentalists, quiet (lack-of) faith is more likely to be ignored or scorned. Strident, passionate, well reasoned arguments are more effective. Defending assaults on science are crucial. So we each work on our own social network, but you need more voices to keep hammering home that atheism is right, and I need those around me to feel comfortable approaching an atheist to discuss religion. We’re fighting the same war, but each side can end up making the other sides battle a little harder.

    I think you’re spot on that both strategies have their place, and it’s a mistake to reject or try to stop either. Just because one strategy works well in your particular battle, doesn’t mean it works in every social network, for every person. We need mutual support, not a unified tactic for every situation.

  11. Paul, my analogy was meant to make a simpler point, but yours does a nice job making a more nuanced point.

    I lived for years in Massachusetts and had a similar experience. Here in Minnesota it is quite different. The context is very important here and as you point out it varies a great deal geographically and in other ways.

  12. I am an atheist, but some of my friends and family are believers who are strong supporters of science and separation of church and state. None of us would waste any time trying to convert any of us to think like any other of us.

    According to some, this makes me (and my friend John Wilkins and others) accommodationists. Boo hoo, too bad, so what? The definition (as much as there is one) is too broad and makes little sense.

  13. This clear division defined by two labels, IMO, has done far more damage to the discussion than anything within the discussion itself. Like the traditional 19th century definition of distinct races, there’s greater diversity within than between, and trying to find labels simply creates two giant straw men rather than clarifying the contexts.

    If I had a gun to my head, I’d say I’m more accommodationist than New Atheist. But none of the definitions I’ve seen for the term come close to how I feel, especially the one above. While I’ve seen a couple of example individuals who might demonstrate these particular defining characteristics, those accused of accommodationism vary in their views and behaviours.

    Likewise, while there are plenty of examples of bigots amongst the New Atheists, I’ve also seen a few examples of people who have succeeded in achieving their goals with directed aggression, in ways I simply can’t see as having a negative consequence. Not many, mind, but enough so I don’t think there’s a simple catagorisation we can apply to New Atheism that makes them all confrontationlists begging for a scrap.

    Scatter gun approaches are all well and good…until they become a lazy way to avoid objectively evaluating the efficacy of communication. Which has, unfortunately, been the outcome. I’ve seen very, very few well researched, properly evaluated explorations of outreach and communication amongst atheists. I do feel the term ‘accommodationist’ is misapplied, if anything, as there is a frequent argument amongst many who describe themselves under the New Atheist banner that we should accommodate all approaches of communication. Conversely, many so-called accommodationists seem to request that communication be used so it is effective in changing minds, which means not accommodating the ‘anything goes’ approach.

    tl;dr – There’s a spectrum of approaches. Some suck. We should use science to argue those that work, rather than going with our gut.

  14. People turn to religion when times are bad. The great promise of christianity is that Jesus will protect you against “the evil one” in this life today.

    The most effective thing to get people off religion is universal health-care. A reliable social safety-net. Anything, in fact, that makes their lives objectively better. Safer, cleaner, more secure for themselves and their children. Peace and Justice.

    It’s *fear* that causes religion. And television is a big part of it. If I had my way, I’d ban every show featuring gristly murders and general lawlessness.

    People with an investment in religion *actively* oppose social betterment. They want to make people “rely on God”, and *knowingly* work to achieve that end.

    Target *that*. Forget about argument. It’s not religion that makes things shitty – it’s the other way around.

  15. The problem with “Argumentative, Aggressive, and Generally Dickish” is that it is firstly not some novel strategy but plainly that one can get away with it now and it is in vogue, edgy, and cool, while before, many “new atheists” would have been nothing else but “good Christians”. This relates to much of “new atheism” being rather religious; about belonging and having an enemy and all that. The second problem is, with such an attitude, not surprisingly many arguments that are thrown around are plainly so bad that they backfire. For example, “new atheists” think they are all scientific while actually mostly fucking up the science, examples of that here:
    I have pissed of people insulting their stupid gods since I was a little kid, but I am an “old atheist” nonetheless. This gives me some immunity against becoming one of the many “new religious”.

  16. You know, it seems like the “accomodationists” spend more time attacking “gnus” for being outspoken and uncompromising, and trying to convince them to be quiet and fall in line because they’re “hurting the cause”, than they do actually advocating for scientific integrity and secular society. Whereas I can’t remember the last time I heard a “gnu” attacking accomodationists for anything other than the fratricidal behavior described above. In fact, I hear a lot of “gnus” argue that we need a diversity of voices in the movement and that accomodationists are welcome to advocate in the way that feels most effective, comfortable, and honest FOR THEM. Whereas the “accomodationists” practically DEFINE themselves by the insistence that the “gnu” approach is illegitimate.

    It seems like one would have to work very, very hard to not recognize the asymmetry here.

  17. @Azkyroth – It’s funny, isn’t it, that my sense of the debate is the exact opposite to yours. I suspect it means that we both tend to read a range of stuff from the people we already agree with, while only getting around to reading the posts that attack and criticise from the other side. Confirmation bias.

    I would, though, suggest that the term accommodationist will have to be dropped before the combined strategy can work (especially its use by anyone who doesn’t know its history).

  18. One problem with the call for multiple approaches is that to New Atheists, it will sound like they are being told to shut up.

    The bigger problem, in my opinion, is that the accommodationist strategy is exclusive of the confrontational one (not the other way round, though) – so while New Atheists could well live with a multi-pronged approach, the accommodationist strategy is completely undercut unless a considerably majority of atheists agree to it. “Welcome, friend! Please come in, have a seat at the table. Don’t mind my twin brother – he’ll keep hitting you with a stick, but it’s just because we couldn’t agree on an attitude toward you.”

    Therefore, the Accommodationists’ attacks on the New Atheists aren’t going to stop – but I completely agree that the New Atheists should simply ignore them and not engage in the useless infighting. The hallmark of the Josh Rosenau school of accommodationisms is the attempt to be precisely 50 % part of the solution and 50 % part of the problem – or, in sum, zero. And that’s about precisely the value of their criticism of New Atheism.

  19. Whereas I can’t remember the last time I heard a “gnu” attacking accomodationists for anything other than the fratricidal behavior described above.

    So, could we now please all get out of the sandbox now?
    The very fact that those terms are used as insults shows that this isn’t something remotely resembling a rational debate about approaches.
    I have had that word “accomodationist” thrown at me as an insult simply for stating that not all catholics heed the pope and that, apart from the religion, they can be quite reasonable and actually progressive people.

  20. I am with Becky, in the sense that “Accommodationist” is an insulting term and also inaccurate. Inaccurate in the sense that they don’t seem to be very accommodating to those who use a different strategy. They also have this attitude that the gnu’s just don’t know what they are doing, and that anecdotal evidence is sufficient to crow that the gnu’s are doing it wrong. Unable to hold myself and my gnu compadres up to a proper mirror, I am not able to say what the gnu’s are exactly doing wrong. “Dicks” are everywhere. among gnu’s, accommodationists, theists, creationists, theistic evolutionists; and I don’t think it does much good for everyone to point out how everybody else is being a dick.

    What I find odd, is that in this debate over tactics, most of the people who are engaged are scientists. There are sciences that address the issue of communications and social issues. I think that Mr. Framing has the idea right of using science to determine strategies, but he used an approach of developing a hypothesis and then finding all sorts of data that support his hypothesis. He didn’t come up with a way of testing a “null hypothesis,” nor did he examine the alternate hypotheses. He took “Framing” and ran with it as if it were the truth, and dismissed the naysayers outright rather than re-examining his own idea. That is science “doing it rong.” That he augmented his idea by attacking New Atheists certainly didn’t help his cause. I am not going to blame him for starting this whole argument several years ago, but he certainly made the New Atheists a big target if they hadn’t already been.

    I think that there is research to be done in social pyschology and sociology to show how different modes of communicating science viz atheism will make a difference. I think that nothing should be said by organizations such as NCSE, BCSE, the NAS (and the organizations whose functions are to advance science education) with regard to the intersections of atheism/agnosticism and science. Officially. The conversations are entirely appropriate outside the bounds of official declarations.

    With social psychology there is an incredible amount of information that demonstrates that communications are in the “ear of the beholder” and that facts transmitted by all the modes of communication are perceived in different ways by the receivers. The transmitter can do all they want to try to clarify the message so that there is no mistake in meaning, but they can’t control how the message is received.

    What the OP does here is to recognize that there is no one way to advance the understanding of science among the general public. They have their own sets of perceptual filters that will take a plain statement and turn it on its ear to mean something. When Dover’s school district was being told that it needed to teach evolution as science, all they heard was that scientists were against Jesus and that it was a time to “stand up for Him.” Did a reasoned approach work on them? No. It took a court case to change their ways. Would “Framing” have worked? It hadn’t been tried, so there is no way to be sure of it.

    There has been little positive change in the acceptance of evolution as science in the United States, and there has been a lot of blaming going around. What we should be doing is truly examining the reasons rather than jumping on a strategy and telling everyone else that they have to use the same strategy or it will muck up the works.

    Communication has been falsely called a “two-way street.” At Quiche Moraine I once claimed that it is an intersection. It seems now that we have a seven-way intersection with no traffic lights, and the Ford drivers blaming the Chevy drivers for blocking it; while the Honda, Toyota and Subaru and Chevy drivers all chiming in, but traffic isn’t moving. There is a lot of bumping into each other with no clear direction.

    This is a problem to solve, and it can probably be best resolved with the use of science. I am sure that Greg, you are onto something here. The question is, can we proceed as we are or should we engage in research to guide the issue?

    I think that we can look at Symbolic Interactionist social psychology to get a fresh start.

  21. Actually, Sascha, if you read the links, the problem with “Argumentative, Aggressive, and Generally Dickish” is that it’s a double-standard, and there’s nothing that gives you immunity against engaging in it except keeping the insults to yourself.

  22. Somebody, Azkyroth and Becky Whosiwhatsit. 2011. An empirical study using multiple survey techniques of actions and attitudes associated with “gnus” and “accommodationists” in the early 20th century. Journal of stuff somebody should write, Vol. 1. Issue 1. Pp 0-10.

  23. Mike H: “There are sciences that address the issue of communications and social issues.”

    You’re on target; I’d suggest Albert Bandura and Social Cognitive Theory are also useful for this discussion:


    “People gain understanding of causal relationships and expand their knowledge by operating symbolically on the wealth of information derived from personal and vicarious experiences. They generate solutions to problems, evaluate their likely outcomes, and pick suitable options without having to go through a laborious behavioral search. Through the medium of symbols people can communicate with others at any distance in time and space. However, in keeping with the interactional perspective, social cognitive theory devotes much attention to the social origins of thought and the mechanisms through which social factors exert their influence on cognitive functioning.” (p.267)

    “There is another aspect of symbolic modeling that magnifies its psychological and social impact. During the course of their daily lives, people have direct contact with only a small sector of the physical and social environment. They work in the same setting, travel the same routes, visit the same places, and see the same set of friends and associates. Consequently, their conceptions of social reality are greatly influenced by vicarious experiencesâ??by what they see, hear, and readâ?? without direct experiential correctives. To a large extent, people act on their images of reality. The more peopleâ??s images of reality depend upon the mediaâ??s symbolic environment, the greater is its social impact (S. Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976).” (p.271)

    “Adoptive behavior is also partly governed by self-evaluative reactions to oneâ??s own behavior. People adopt what they value but resist innovations that violate their social and moral standards or that conflict with their self-conception. The more compatible an innovation is with prevailing social norms and value systems, the greater its adoptability (Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971). However, we saw earlier that self-evaluative sanctions do not operate in isolation from the pressures of social influence. People are often led to behave in otherwise personally devalued ways by strategies that circumvent negative self-reactions.” (p. 290)

    This last bit is especially relevant to any conversation between an atheist and a religious believer (and their respective cohorts), about their respective beliefs– people resist innovations (including ideas) that violate their value systems, and their positive beliefs about themselves. They will engage in all sorts of cognitive contortions to maintain a) their current worldview/ conceptual framework, and b)positive self-evaluations.

    Whether one seeks to be accomodationist or not (polite? deferential? tolerant?), the core distinction between an atheistic worldview and a religious one (whether there exist metaphysical entities or not), produces a fundamental conflict in value systems. One cannot express support for either view, without immediately, necessarily, threatening the opposing worldview, and so threatening the positive self-evaluations of the adherents of the other viewpoint.

    In response that sort of threat to one’s basic conceptual schema, the most common reaction is retrenchment, and efforts to undermine the credibility of the opposing view. We do this to feel better about ourselves, and to reinforce our standing within our social group.

    In historical and cultural terms, atheism and science as a worldview must be seen as the innovations; religious affiliation and practice has been part of human society for much longer. Accordingly, the social forces working against the adoption of atheism and scientific thinking will have the uppper hand– holding on to religious beliefs is the status quo for most of the world, atheism and science are the challenges to that staus quo.

  24. One point that has to be emphasized– it is illegal and unconstitutional to teach *any* religion or religious viewpoint (including atheism)in a United States public school. So, frankly, I don’t see how NCSE can continue to function if it doesn’t show that it is neutral on the subject of religion. Creationists already claim that “Darwinism” is just an alternative religion, so it shouldn’t be taught in public schools. If the NCSE affliliates openly with atheists, the creos will consider that the smoking gun.

    If Jerry Coyne or PZ Myers or Larry Moran want to start an aggressively atheist special interest group, as long as they don’t break the law, I say go for it. If more people felt it was okay to say what they *really* believe about religion, the number of “converts” to atheism would be huge. But manipulating a special-purpose organization like NCSE to carry the message is self-defeating.

  25. hoary puccoon, “neutral” means supporting faith initiatives while doing nothing to support atheism–and having a number of your mouthpieces openly disavowing atheist messaging on the same topic–in what universe? “Neutral” does not mean status quo. It means treating both sides the same.

  26. Mike M: Thanks for the insightful comments.

    “This clear division defined by two labels, IMO, has done far more damage to the discussion than anything within the discussion itself.”

    That may be. Defining the damage level of the labeling vs. of the discussion may be splitting hairs for the intellectually lazy but you have a point … 🙂

    “there’s greater diversity within than between, and trying to find labels simply creates two giant straw men rather than clarifying the contexts.”

    Exactly. Well, probably.

    You make several good points. I’m not advocating a scattergun approach or an approach which assumes that if there is someone doing it, that it is valid. I would also add that there is more than one objective, and within that, there is more than one way to prioritize the objectives.

    For instance, if the larger scale objective is preserving good science curriculum, then one must carefully look at what many “accomodationists” are doing. At some point, you have to do something like what the NCSE did years ago (and maintains), making a list of not-anti-evolution religious organization (religions, churches, etc.) to “accomodate” the concerns of many religious people who erroneously think that their own religion prohibits them from thinking freely about science.

    If the larger scale objective is secular society, then one might want to take a few more hits with the local school board (or the Australian equivalent) but focus on certain cases being brought into the court system, or at least, the public arena. Keeping it secular involves going after praying coaches and all sorts of other problems outside the science classroom. Science curriculum is indirectly but only indirectly affected.

    Within the context of either objective, one sometimes prioritizes by measurable results (changing the percentage of Minnesota life science teachers who teach creationism in their classrooms, for instance) but at other times one needs to energize and involve the base (e.g. apocalypse barbecues and boob quake celebrations).

    “There’s a spectrum of approaches. Some suck. We should use science to argue those that work, rather than going with our gut.”

    Science, and also, the rough equivalent of engineering. There are people … professionals … who do this, who help develop strategy for getting things done in a social or political arena. I assume that the NCSE has expertise in this area. I’m thinking the “New Atheists” as a group don’t but perhaps some organizations that are “New Atheist”-esque do. I doubt that as a community we don’t have enough. But we can look elsewhere for this sort of thing. Political parties, unions, NGO’s representing social change or environmental issues do have this expertise.

    There will be some discussion of this at the upcoming SkepchiCON in Minneapolis. I’m very happy that Desiree Schell will be swinging by to engage us in this sort of professionalization.

  27. As far as I’m concerned, this is very simple. So simple I can’t understand what is supposed to be controversial. I am an atheist. That means, by definition, I believe that all religions are false, and that religious beliefs lack evidentiary support. Therefore, if you are religious, and you ask me what I think, I honestly have to say that I believe your religion is false. That’s the whole point.

    You will presumably tell me that you believe your religion is true and that I am mistaken. In fact, you might very well, as a perfect stranger, knock on my door unannounced and try to convert me to your belief. That’s supposed to be okay. But it’s supposedly rude for me to tell you what I believe.

    Pish tosh. If saying, “Religion is false” makes you a New Atheist, I can’t imagine what other kind of atheist there could be.

  28. New atheism is about treating religious beliefs as equal to any other opinion. This means no longer putting up with some special respect for religion.

    Accommodationists still retain this old respect for religion, hence the conflict with the goals of new atheists.

  29. Egbert, accomodationists may simply be trying to work with religious groups for common political goals.

  30. Egbert, accomodationists may simply be trying to work with religious groups for common political goals.

    This is not how the term is normally used. Unless you consider New Atheists to be accomodationist. No matter how much of an unreasoning, nuance-ignoring zealot accomodationists try to paint Dawkins to be, he has always been open to working with religious groups for common political goals.

  31. Bessy, that’s a blurry line. I agree that it’s the impetus. Political realities, however, generally dictate at least some respect for religious privilege.

  32. @Egbert
    You know this attitude might be a little part of the problem we’re talking about here? The “super-atheists vs. not-really-real-atheists” attitude might make you seem a little bit arrogant.
    The people you call accomodationist might just hold some respect for people in general, or might think that fighting for good schools with religious groups might be a tiny bit more important than bickering about whether god exists ALL THE TIME.
    That doesn’t mean hiding that they’re atheists (that’s a pretty hard thing to do if you enter an alliance as an atheist group anyway), it might just mean that it’s not the main issue.

  33. Greg,

    I read your posting. Every sentence.

    I didn’t see you adequately address one of the most important issues in this debate so please allow me to ask a question for clarification.

    As you know, scientific organizations such as the National Academies, AAAS, and NCSE, all claim that science and religion are compatible. They say that science cannot address supernatural claims because it is constrained by methodological naturalism. They promote the idea that religion and science are separate, valid, ways of knowing. This leads to a version of NOMA that they claim is philosophically justified.

    Many scientists and philosophers disagree with this definition of science. They think that science does conflict with religion and they don’t accept the restrictions that the scientific organizations place on science. They don’t see why you can’t use science to examine all claims of religion, including supernatural claims.

    Do you think the scientific organizations are correct or do you think there are other, equally valid, ways of defining science?

  34. I don’t know a single atheist, Gnu or otherwise, that doesn’t have religions friends and isn’t willing to work with them on all kinds of issues. I certainly do.

    What gets my goat is when fellow atheists tell me that religion is an alternate and valid way of knowing that does not conflict with science.

    That’s carrying accommodationism too far and it’s not necessary to defend religion in that way. Religious people will, of course, believe that science and religion are perfectly compatible but there’s no reason for all atheists to believe that. How can I support a scientific organization when their official policy on compatibility is something I don’t accept?

    Wouldn’t it be better if they remained neutral on the issue of compatibility?

  35. Larry, I can’t speak for Greg, but I think the issue is a pointless purity test for both sides. It describes attitudes and positions so far from those found outside the academy (outside being where the actual battles are going on) as to be pointless. All the discussion of it does is provide one more opportunity for two sides (“Science can’t cover everything.” versus “We don’t carve out exemptions for any other kind of supernaturalism.”) to talk past each other on a topic where they’re in almost perfect agreement.

  36. I read your posting. Every sentence.

    Wonderful! This is like the time I put the five dollar bill in my advisers copy of the final draft of my thesis! Only you found yours a lot faster than he did.

    Do you think the scientific organizations are correct or do you think there are other, equally valid, ways of defining science?

    I think that the position that there are “two ways of knowing” and that science can’t address religion are slightly different questions.

    Regarding the idea that there are two ways of knowing, I don’t see how that is even remotely justified. In fact, many would say that religion is a way of knowing that applies to everything in one way or another. I would argue that science is a way of knowing that applies to everything in one way or another. I think both are valid testable statements and the former is demonstrably wrong and the latter demonstrably correct.

    There are not “two ways of knowing.” There is the enterprise of “knowing” and science is the way to go. There are other things you can do along the lines of expression and creative activities (which can be studied by science), of course. But those aren’t related to “knowing the natural world” etc.

    Regarding the applicability of science, science can in fact address religion because most religions make numerous claims that can be tested. They tend to be falsified. Often, when this comes up, the claims are retracted or it is stated that the claims were not the important part of the religion, but one can usually tease out the belief that the claims are in fact important to religious people by violating the rules that are associated with them.

    There is a small corner that religion often retreats into where science has a hard time reaching. It is a corner where tautology lives and it is protected by a Praetorian guard of sophistry and long winded arguments that appeal to the authority of history or the sociology of religion. Science can’t disprove anything there any more than it can disprove that while the Easter Bunny does not exist, it does exist, in a way, in the minds of five year olds hunting for easter eggs.

    As a New Atheist who thinks everything I just said is likely correct, I’m willing to let the “these things can exist side by side” argument alone not because I think religion and science can stand side by side as ways of explaining the world, but rather, because I recognize that there are people who are religious and they have a place at the table, a right to vote, etc. etc. so we have to get along. I don’t require them to hang their religion at the door before they come in to sit at the same table, but I do ask that while we are sitting at that table explaining nature or working out science curriculum etc. that they keep their religion entirely out of the conversation.

    There is a difference between intellectual, academic, and explanatory compatibility and socio-political compatibility. The former is unacceptable tripe, the latter is a worthy objective at the present time.

    Thanks for asking that question.

  37. What gets my goat is when fellow atheists tell me that religion is an alternate and valid way of knowing that does not conflict with science.

    That’s carrying accommodationism too far and it’s not necessary to defend religion in that way.

    I agree.

    Religious people will, of course, believe that science and religion are perfectly compatible

    Which is fine and they can do that, though I don’t know how, and I don’t need to know the details and whatever they come up with needs to be left out of publicly funded activity areas especially schools.

    How can I support a scientific organization when their official policy on compatibility is something I don’t accept?

    Wouldn’t it be better if they remained neutral on the issue of compatibility?

    I think the NCSE policy is more one of socio-political compatibility, and at the same time, I know from personal experience that when certain things need to happen it is only the NCSE that comes to the plate to do them, which is why I work with them and support them.

    I cringe whenever I have to deal with the US National Academy of Science. They do some good stuff but theirs is a policy much like you describe regarding intellectual compatibility and I don’t agree with it at all. The NAS is big and does lots of things, so it is possible to some extent to take some things and leave others, but it is annoying.

    On my blog, you’ll see me passing along NCSE information all the time. The NAS sends me about a fifth as much information and I pass on almost none of it, for this reason.

  38. Stephanie Z @29. Has the NCSE actually supported “faith initiatives”? Have you heard or read that anyone at the NCSE said any particular religious belief was right and the conviction there is no god is wrong? If so, NCSE is certainly in the wrong. But I’ve never read or heard anything like that from NCSE.

    There is a big difference between encouraging ministers and other religious believers to acknowledge publicly the reality of evolution, and supporting their actual religious beliefs.

  39. Hoary P: “it is illegal and unconstitutional to teach *any* religion or religious viewpoint (including atheism)in a United States public school. So, frankly, I don’t see how NCSE can continue to function if it doesn’t show that it is neutral on the subject of religion. Creationists already claim that “Darwinism” is just an alternative religion, so it shouldn’t be taught in public schools. If the NCSE affliliates openly with atheists, the creos will consider that the smoking gun.”

    There are a few things that are wrong with this statement, but it serves well to exemplify some of the definitional blurring that religious adherents often employ.

    It is not illegal to teach about religious viewpoints in public schools. Most avoid it, but it is perfectly acceptable to have classes in comparative religious studies. It is, on the other hand, unconsitutional for public school teachers to express views that suggest one religious view is true, while others are false. That would be a government employee, on the government (taxpayer) dime, espousing support for a particular faith (let’s ignore for the moment that government employees in all sorts of settings, including public schools, violate the separation of church and state wantonly every day).

    Here’s the rub– to teach about any and all religions, and atheism, as subjects of study, on an equal footing with each other, is to convey equal status amongst them. This is, by definition, an affront to the sensibilities of believers of all stripes. So public schools avoid the subject, by and large.

    Of course, public schools are putatively secular institutions. So why should they be concerned about creationists finding a ‘smoking gun’ of secular intent in the curriculuum? Because the debate has been distorted, so that someone might say things like:

    “*any* religion or religious viewpoint (including atheism)”

    Atheism is not a religious viewpoint. It is the view that religious beliefs are bogus. Calling it a religious viewpoint is essentially the same claim that science is simply another kind of faith, or a religion, as you noted.

    This is a hoary bit of slippery semantics that creationists have employed to convince courts and legislatures to allow religious dogma into schools, on the grounds that secular science is conceptually and constitutionally indistinguishable from superstition.

    I don’t think we have to indulge that conceit.

  40. @Greg: Splitting hairs is what I do. 😉 I’m forever in need of a haircut.

    I couldn’t agree more with the rest of your post. Diverse approaches are useful, but only as far as they don’t compromise your own goals or others. However, I’d go one step further – while some groups do have priorities that differ to others, I also think there are diverse shared goals that potentially conflict. I’m quite sure a lot of so-labeled New Atheists are keen on civil rights, and want to march with banners to tell the world who they are. The place for such activism and its benefits (as I understand it) can take years to understand well…which is why, as you said, turning to experts on it is absolutely necessary.

    Conversely, the same individuals also would like people to learn science without religious conflict. How do the processes that best accomplish this work with banner waving and name-calling? Should one goal be sacrificed for the other, or are there ways to get both?

    This is fertile ground for exploration. For people who value rational thought and scientific values, the natural step (in my mind) would indeed be to ‘engineer’ effective communication strategies, rather than rely on personal anecdotes and gut feelings.

    Jealous about hearing from Des. 🙂 She’s definitely one of my favourite speakers.

  41. @Stephanie: Thanks for advertising the link. Most appreciated.

    And thanks also for making the point I made so clear. On the surface, the war which is presented between two apparent groups seems to be about science communication. Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers both turn their blogs on evolution into soapboxes on atheism. Josh Rosenau does them same with his blog which (on the surface) seems to be mostly the thoughts of an academic in the field of evolutionary biology. These are evidently people who are concerned about science education, if nothing else. It is certainly a lot more complicated once you dig into the topic, hence why there are so many views, opinions and goals that clumping them under two camps is ludicrous.

    You also seem to think I was solely talking about science communication. Maybe that’s my mistake in not being clear enough (yes, the irony!) – rather, it’s more an issue of science OF communication. Using those values of logic, rationality and understanding how people come to false conclusions due to their own biases to make better communication decisions.

    There are a few example of this occurring. And yes, two guesses on where you’ll find them (not to say you’ll need them). But there could be a hell of a lot more.

  42. Mike, you had a decent post going, mocking the idea that there are two distinct camps, until you decided to turn it into a rant about New Atheists not listening to the science on communication. It’s kind of hard to fight generalizations when you’re generalizing yourself without irony.

  43. A little more data may help focus this discussion.

    Josh’s blog is named “Thoughts from Kansas” and to me that’s a reference to the creo-evo debate. He does, in fact, work for the National Center for Science Education. He is very much involved in science communication and the evolution-creationism ‘debate.’

    When PZ isn’t busy on his blog kicking the ass of the Catholic League or working in the classroom or on his blog with developmental biology, he is giving talks and stuff. Way more than half the time he’s doing that where I’ve been present (or even co-presenting) the conversation has been about science communication and in particular science education. PZ is also involved with teacher training programs and the MNCSE, a statewide mini-mirror of the NCSE. Last time I saw Genie Scott in person it was in a room with about five people and one or two of them was PZ.

    Coyne, through his blog and his book of the same name, is a key contributer to the issue of science communication and in particular the teaching of evolution.

    For my part, I have done a lot of teacher-training work in both evolution as well as race and racism in the classroom, I’m an active member of MNCSE, and regularly communicate information produced by the NCSE and other organizations (Texas Freedom Network, for example) and work with teachers on the evo-creo problem.

    If you got a room full of blogging, visible “New Atheists” and science-communication related “Accommodationists” and surveyed and cataloged the range of activities regarding science teaching and science communication and the evo-creo fight, then asked the accommodationists to leave and re-survey, there would not be a big difference. At the same time, if you watched the same New Atheists at work with teachers, in classrooms, working with standards committees, testifying before schoolboards, you would not be observing the consumption of live sailors and their boat by a large squid-like recently awakened horrific monster with an unpronounceable name. Usually.

  44. Mike [45] sorry, your comment was inexplicably trapped for a while there. Someday we’ll have a comment management system that works.

    You should come out to CONvergence. Its only halfway around the world!

  45. @Greg – Believe me, it’s on the cards. I will make it one day, I promise. 🙂

    Your point there is an extremely valid one. While atheism isn’t the same as sci-com, they are certainly joined at the hip. On one hand, you’ll find a lot of these communnicators demolishing logical fallacies and asking for good evidence beyond sentiments and a need to placate emotional needs. The very next, there are emotional pleas and spurious beliefs when challenged on how best to make social changes.

    It is certainly something to consider that there is a difference in how people communicate personally and how they advocate it online as well.

  46. Oldie but goodie:

    from: (http://machineslikeus.com/news/alleged-arrogance-atheists-5-rhetoric-politics-and-religion)

    “In a response on the Machines Like Us website as to whether my three assertions:

    1.There is no more credible evidence to believe in god, heaven, hell, and the afterlife than there is for fairies, Santa Claus, wizards, Elohim, Satan, Xenu, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, and unicorns.

    2.Science and religion are incompatible worldviews.

    3.The world would be better off without any religion or beliefs in the supernatural.

    constituted rudeness or arrogance, a commenter kaath said that:

    –‘The three points you make above are not rude as points of view when stated in that way. However, in my experience they are 1) factually incorrect or 2) unfalsifiable. Further, they are often rephrased in antagonistic or sarcastic ways.

    This last item has been noted even by other atheists on this siteâ??the idea being that if what you really want is a serious and reasonable debate you use serious, reasonable words. That is not what happens here a goodly amount of the time.

    A number of the folks who post on the site either as bloggers or as commentators resort to sarcasm to make fun of the religionist.’–

    I think that this is what everything essentially boils down to. Many religious people feel that their beliefs should not be made fun of even in the public sphere.

    Is the request to not make fun of religion a reasonable one? My response is no. Religious beliefs have no special status and should be treated just like any other beliefs. When it comes to the public sphere, I agree totally with author Salman Rushdie who, in opposing an attempt by the British government to pass legislation for a ban on incitement to “hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds,” reflected on an aspect of his own education.

    –‘At Cambridge University I was taught a laudable method of argument: you never personalize, but you have absolutely no respect for people’s opinions. You are never rude to the person, but you can be savagely rude about what the person thinks. That seems to me a crucial distinction: You cannot ring-fence their ideas. The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.’–

    To see why the appeal that religious beliefs deserve special treatment in debate is invalid, compare religion to politics. One is warned that in social gatherings one should avoid the topics of politics and religion, because people hold strongly entrenched views on both and thus discussions have the potential to blow up into angry confrontations. But although both topics are considered sensitive and even explosive, when we compare public discussions in the world of politics with those in the world of religion, we immediately see that the call for respectful treatment of religious beliefs for what it is: special pleading for ideas that cannot withstand critical scrutiny.”

    In other words, less hand wringing about the sensibilities of religious adherents would do a world of good for advancing the cause of science education and atheism.

    It does nothing to advance science education, secularism or atheism to fret over tone. Religious adherents place little such constraint on themselves and their kindred.

    If anything, in a dispute over ideas, allowing religious adherents to set the bounds of discussion, and even define the terms used in debate, is to concede the match before taking the field.

  47. So, basically, you’re saying the accommodationists should learn to be as accommodating to New Atheists as they are to Christians.

  48. Deen: “basically, you’re saying the accommodationists should learn to be as accommodating to New Atheists as they are to Christians.”

    If someone sees themselves as an ‘accomodationist atheist’, more power to them, but I don’t see too many religious adherents giving up their faith because ‘that atheist was so darn nice and polite’.

    I don’t think atheists should be accomodating to theistic views. People should say what they think.

    Being an atheist means you think prayer to a deity is a fruitless delusion, at best. At worst, it serves as the basis for genocide, while offering the illusory comfort of following divine will. False hope of justice in an afterlife is no boon to human society. Assurances that loved ones are never truly lost to death, and that there is a ‘plan’ to all things, even unspeakable evil, causes real harm to all of us, doubly so to believers.

    I think we should have the courage of our convictions to say this, unqualified, unvarnished, as often as it needs to be said, until theism goes away. That may be millenia, it may be never.

    Finding room for theists, accomodating them in this sense, is an insult to anyone who values science and reason.

  49. Deen, if accommodation is a communication strategy and those supporting it have something they think needs to be communicated to “New Atheists,” I don’t see how it makes sense to do anything else.

  50. In fact, it does. I was apparently experience brain fatigue by that far down the list. I believe one of the Prometheus Books titles counts as well. It isn’t equal or proportional treatment, but it isn’t as bad as I thought it was.

  51. 🙂 I do agree with you that it’s not proportional. I think they could find more books that see science and religion as antithetical.

  52. @Deen: While there might well be examples of people who feel that you should always be universally nice to everybody in all contexts, I’ve seen few arguments from so-called accommodationists that claims this so. I’ve been accused of it a number of times, in spite of clearly stating that use of aggressive language can easily have its place.

    What it always comes down to is knowing you audience and knowing what effect you want. If you’re just wanting to vent and get angry, and wish by that for stupid faith-heads to stop and think about what they’re doing and change their ridiculous ways, you shouldn’t be surprised if you have limited success.

    Yet in displaying aggressive language, it’s not hard to presume New Atheists might well respond well to it. Many claim that’s how they saw they were being ‘ridiculous’ was to be ridiculed. Yet, perhaps not surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to be the case. What’s good for the goose ain’t for the gander, apparently.

    Lastly, while a lot of people might recall a single moment of epiphany where they feel they spontaneously saw the light (so to speak), in reality changing epistemology is a longer process. A single conversation might not change a mind, but it will contribute to those who are capable of finding reason. Little bits help along the way, especially if the process starts early enough. So, no, it’s highly unlikely ‘speaking nicely’ to a Christian will suddenly make them drop their faith. But with enough processes in place, over time, some could find a community of atheists who inspire them enough, and make them feel secure enough, to move on from their old faithful community.

  53. You’re not getting the point, whatever it is that you see as evidence could just as easily be seen as evidence for any other supernatural being, it’s just jumping to crazy unsupported conclusions.

    So your lack of knowledge and inability to comprehend simple statements in the bible somehow converts to be MY ignorance. I’ll stop responding after you stop spewing stupidity in every single comment.

  54. @ Greg –

    Am glad you spoke out on this, and I must say, that yours have been among the most insightful comments from a “New Atheist” that I have read. As you know, this has been a ridiculous tempest in the teapot for several years now, ever since Jerry Coyne opted to attack the “accomodationist” tactics of NCSE, AAAS, and then, publicly admonish the World Science Festival – and its creators, physicist Brian Greene and his wife journalist Tracy Day – for receiving financial support from the John Templeton Foundation and organizing a panel discussion on the relationship between science and faith (Coyne concluded erroneously that the Templeton Foundation had supported the science faith panel. I know this since I spoke to Greene during the 2009 festival.).

    I think it would be especially helpful for some of the other prominent New Atheists to try toning down their rhetoric against their “accomodationist” critics. On several of their blogs, I have read posters accusing some of these critics – including myself, Nick Matzke, Roger Stanyard and Dale Husband, among others – as those in dire need of mental health treatment.

    I also believe some prominent New Atheists need to remind their supporters that legal cases like Kitzmiller vs. Dover – where the substantial legal and scientific resources of NCSE were employed successfully – have been far more instrumental in fighting creationism than consistently playing “bad cop” against irrational religious fanatics who reject science (As an aside, I will note that a noted “accomodationist” like Ken Miller has said that those who espouse faiths hostile to science should reject them; I am sure that some might attribute such an observation to Richard Dawkins, not to Ken Miller.). There are some New Atheist supporters who are convinced that P Z Myers and Richard Dawkins have been far more important in fighting creationism than Ken Miller, Genie Scott and NCSE, but such convictions are not supported by facts, especially with regards to the legal history of creationism here in the United States.

  55. @Raelenerto615,
    I’m not very clear on what you are stating. If the bible is simple in it’s sentences, why are there so many divisions within christianity? I’ve read the bible cover to cover twice and it lacks rigorous testing for the statements contained within. This is not a literacy problem if that is what your links were geared towards stating.

  56. @ Stephanie Z –

    I wouldn’t feel the need to “go after one side” were it not for certain attitudes and behaviors that I see all too common from that side; ones which I noted earlier this morning. I think we can have reasonable disagreements without accusing someone of being in dire need of mental health treatment, which I have read all too often from certain zealous New Atheist posters elsewhere online.

  57. @ Jeff Sherry –

    Thanks for proving my point and that entry was written by some rabid New Atheist acolytes of several prominent New Atheist bloggers. I pointed it out to Massimo Pigliucci once, and he just laughed it off, telling me “Congratulations, you’re famous.” Another frequent blogger, Dale Husband, regards that as a juvenile kindergarten exercise that ought to be removed.

  58. @ Jeff Sherry –

    I am certain that if Greg Laden thought that Rational Wiki entry on me was an issue, then he wouldn’t allow me to post here. Moreover, he was the first one to wish me a happy birthday back in January at Facebook.

  59. @ Stephanie Z –

    An interesting post, but I disagree with some of your observations, but respectfully, with this being the most noteable:

    “This is the point where I tell you to drop the word ‘but’ from your vocabulary. Atheists, even highly annoying ones (whichever set that may be for you), have made major accomplishments in the past couple of decades. Best-selling books, wide blog readerships, social mobilization for political action, communities that support out atheists and those who have left religious communities, successful events at the regional to international level, cogent social criticism, historical scholarship, increased visibility of abuses of power despite a hobbled press.”

    I think your point isn’t exclusive to atheists. For example, I can cite similar success by a noted agnostic, astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson, or by another physicist who is quite sympathetic to faith; Brian Greene. If one were to use popularity as an important criterion, then I think it could be argued persuasively that both Tyson and Greene have been far more popular than virtually every atheist, with the possible exception of Dawkins.

  60. @ Stephanie Z –

    If you can post that addendum (@ 72) there then I think you’d find me virtually in agreement with what you posted.

  61. JK@62 kwokked:

    I think it would be especially helpful for some of the other prominent New Atheists to try toning down their rhetoric against their “accomodationist” critics. On several of their blogs, I have read posters accusing some of these critics – including myself, Nick Matzke, Roger Stanyard and Dale Husband, among others – as those in dire need of mental health treatment.

    And I think it would also be helpful for many of those labelled accomodationists to tone down their rhetoric.

    See what I did there? It’s all the same, and if both ‘sides’ don’t agree that they should do the same, it will continue to be polarized as it is now. There is actually, as noted in other posts here, a range…spectrum if you will, of opinions on the best strategy.

    I personally, find the majority of those labelled as ‘new atheists’ to be somewhat in the middle of the spectrum, i.e. those who prefer a louder, more aggressive stance for themselves, but acknowledge that there is room for other, less aggressive and dare I say, accommodating, views. Even PZ falls into this category, and you can find many instances of him saying so.

    Here’s the rub, though. Many, or at least the loudest, or those saying that religion and science can exist quite happily together, go significantly beyond that into realms that Greg has pointed out above are quite fallacious. In addition, those same people suddenly stop espousing their friendly inviting views when confronted, even by distant proxy of a blog post on some else’s website, with views that are different than theirs.

    As with many things, it’s the hypocrisy that makes it so hard to resist tearing into them. And Kwok, you are clearly one of the worst in both the dishonest and hypocritical camps.

    I don’t agree with much of Laden and others blog, but at least they are (seemingly to me, at least) consistent and lacking in hypocrisy.

  62. no single issue (with few exoetpicns) should cause you to vote FOR somebody. While I can think of single issues that would preclude me from voting for somebody, I’ve been unable to come up with any single issue that would get my vote. I’m curious, what are your few exoetpicns?My take on them, though, is that what’s really desired is a political atmosphere wherein potential candidates for public office are not deterred by a perceived need to toe the mainstream line vis-e0-vis religion (or at least visible religious observance).I agree. It’s a shame that religion has any impact on a candidate’s electability, and ideally things such as religion, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc would cease being an issue. And the only issue would be a candidate’s platform.It’s the sort of poisonous “damn the issues–attack the candidate” atmosphere that (at least in the US) seems to permeate our political landscape that tends to dissuade well-qualified citizens from entering the arena in the first place.I agree, politics has become an adversarial occupation. Fortunately, in many locales and at the lower levels of elected office (school boards, community governance, etc.), the question of religiosity seldom if ever comes up, so enticing freethinkers to consider running for offices such as these is a start.I think that depends on what part of the country you live in. for example, here in northern VA it’s not as bad as it is in GA where I grew up.Again, voters should vote for the best-qualified candidate–based on multiple real issues and not solely (preferably not ever) on religious affiliation alone, but the first step has to be to get our fellow skeptics–perhaps even ourselves–to run.I would add one more caveat, that being that we get our fellow skeptics to run, assuming they are in all other respects qualified. For example, there are some people who are members of the various free-thought groups here in DC that I could not see myself supporting, including Lee and his views on all of humanity being evil by virtue of our population size

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