Questionable Motives

September 23, 2011

Why is there still confusion between what’s personal and professional?

Over at Wintery Knight, I came across a post about doctors being forced to act “like atheists.” Heaven forbid, of course. Naturally, I wanted to find out what this terrible imposition might be so I read the post about a doctor dispensing theological advice and commented. As night follows day, so too does moderation and deletion of my thoughtful comments occur by another cowardly intellectually bankrupt religious blogger (not that I’m biased). What are these delicate people – and I’ve come across many – so afraid of with a comment critical of their conclusions? That the sky will fall? It can’t be because of loss of audience: the hit counters reveal that the controversial comments I make increases the number of visitors, increases the number of pages viewed on the site, lengthens the time people spend there, and increases the number of comments made about the topic. I take the time and make the effort to comment because I think bloggers willing to espouse an opinion that interests me should be treated to mine… especially if it is contrary because the reasons will be (or, at least, should be) interesting to consider even if they are found inadequate or insufficient to change anyone’s mind. It seems a fair exchange in the public square. But editing and deleting my comments undermines any possibility for an exchange to occur, turning the site into a love-in of groupthink rather than promoting honest discussion about controversial opinions.

But honesty is always the preferred casualty when confronting faith-based beliefs with criticism because maintaining faith-based beliefs is contrary to maintaining intellectual honesty that has to account for the criticism. The honest answer to some faith-based belief is, “I don’t know,” rather than an assumption of the truth of the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But this kind of honesty directly undermines the the legitimacy of any claim to some divine authority if it can be legitimately questioned and that’s why criticism and doubt are seen by so many religious bloggers to be ‘attacks against’ rather than ‘inquiries into’ faith-based claims. Because of this, faith of the religious kind naturally evolves into a garrison mentality because it is built on something that is need of constant shoring up of whatever cherry-picked defenses can be used. Consistency and accountability are dislocated from faith and this is necessary for the faith to survive. That is why at its root religious faith-based beliefs have no capability to be engage in honest dialogue by its supporters when it comes to inquiring into the faith-based beliefs of individuals; the beliefs can only be maintained by a willingness to first be intellectually dishonest, to reject the honest “I don’t know” and substitute the dishonest faith claim as if it were likely true, likely probably, likely correct, likely accurate… without any substantive reasons based in reality to tip the balance to that likely possibility. This is the intellectual dishonesty in practice.

To change gears for a moment (but I shall return to the entrenched loyalty to intellectual dishonesty by faith-based believers), let me now turn to issues of personal expressions carried out in professional settings and why this is a confused problem that isn’t going to go away any time soon.

Like I explained in my comment to Wintery Knight, let’s take a moment to consider police officer Bob empowered to enforce the law. Do any of us really want Officer Bob to use the professional powers of his office to promote his personal beliefs? I don’t think so; I think it is entirely reasonable to expect Officer Bob to act professionally while discharging his duties and obligations to enforce the law. While acting as that professional he will be subject to the code of conduct and ethical requirements demanded by that profession… and we should expect no less. But if Officer Bob decides to step beyond this line established by his professional obligations  and under which he is empowered to discharge his duties while acting in his professional capacities then he is open to professional censure. This is not unreasonable for Officer Bob any more than it is for a pharmacist or fire fighter or judge or soldier or doctor or teacher or any other profession who oversteps their professional boundaries into the private.

When a judge decides to use the court bench to favour personal beliefs (like the new appointee to Chief Justice of South Africa’s Supreme Court, who has a long and misogynistic history of doing just that) that are contrary to one’s professional obligations of impartiality (justice through the courts is supposed to be blind), then professional censure is only proper. When a teacher enters into a personal relationship with a student, then the professional boundary has been crossed and censure is only proper. When a doctor uses his professional standing to promote theological treatment (or non treatment for theological rather than medical reasons) at that medical office or hospital or clinic, then censure is only proper. It is the crossing of the line between what is professional while acting in that professional capacity and what is personal in a personal setting that should be acted upon. That is where the infraction has taken place and is need of professional censure.

I have found that many people become rather confused about what is being censured and seem to have great difficulty understanding that the personal aspect itself is not (necessarily) at issue. Quite often the personal aspect that has motivated the crossing of the line is religious, so the issue of non professional behaviour becomes distorted into a faux criticism of some personal religious behaviour… as if the stand alone behaviour under censure was about religion. This causes a lot of unnecessary confusion about what the problem actually is: crossing the professional/personal line and why that crossing requires professional censure when done in a professional setting; instead we have opinions like those expressed in Wintery Knight that mistakenly confuses the issue to be one of religious expression under attack by the secular state.That’s why I commented, to clarify this issue.

Now we return to the inherent intellectual dishonesty of supporting faith-based beliefs: because my comment was deleted there as well as at sites of other religious defenders who seem hell-bent on pretending their faith is under attack from the godless whenever religious behaviour is censured, I think they are misrepresenting the issue intentionally. Someone pushes the delete button. The issue of non professional behaviour in a professional setting is intentionally and dishonestly presented by these button pushers as the state arbitrarily trying to censure the religious… as if government agents are attempting to turn professionals into – gasp! – atheists. This is not only dishonest and intentionally so but downright ludicrous in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And defending this garrison mentality over religious expression takes away from this issue that is causing so much confusion elsewhere.

Government is far too often brimming with those willing and able to abuse their public offices to promote tolerance and respect and accommodation for religious behaviour in secular settings, and are rewarded with political gain for their supposed sensitivity and politically correctness for doing so.  Many in government and its bureaucracy are also are quite confused about this issue; they not only start inserting allowances for accommodating personal preferences in professional settings that are professionally inappropriate, but attempt to legislate this confusion into quasi-judicial kangaroo courts under the banner of human rights commissions and tribunals to enforce it and financially punish anyone daring to criticize this state-sponsored abuse publicly.

But governments are not alone in this abuse: professional oversight bodies themselves confuse where the professional obligations end and the personal expression begins, insisting that certain professionals must live under its codes of conduct and ethics all the time… even into their private lives and hold an individual’s professional recognition hostage to this end.

As you can see, the confusion is endemic and it is not clarified when religious defenders attempt to co-opt what is an important issue desperate for public exposure, debate, and change to be corralled into serving only in religion’s defense. The removal of this confusion is in defense of all, for all, by all.

September 20, 2011

What is the role of science (and supporters of science) in politics and how is the media failing us?

Filed under: accommodation,Politics,Science — tildeb @ 9:49 am

There is all kinds of stupid being peddled in political debates masquerading as scientific debate. From Rick Santorum’s idiocy to Sarah Palin’s creeping creationism, from Perry’s prayer day to Bachman’s anti- stem cell ignorance,  science is under attack by Republican ignoramuses who represent leadership for great swaths of truly ignorant people – people who believe that a good dose of faith-based belief has equal footing with knowledge, supported by the confused who think accommodating the two incompatible methods of inquiry somehow promotes respect for science. That’s delusional.

Paul Nurse, who shared the Nobel prize for medicine in 2001, is president of the Royal Society and past president of Rockefeller University, New York, wades into the fray with this article warning us of this anti-science agenda by politicians. He writes,

One problem is treating scientific discussion as if it were political debate. When some politicians try to sway public opinion, they employ the tricks of the debating chamber: cherry-picking data, ignoring the consensus opinions of experts, adept use of a sneer or a misplaced comparison, reliance on the power of rhetoric rather than argument. They can often get away with this because the media rely too much on confrontational debate in place of reasoned discussion. It is essential, in public issues, to separate science from politics and ideology. Get the science right first, then discuss the political implications.

We need to emphasise why the scientific process is such a reliable generator of knowledgewith its respect for evidence, for scepticism, for consistency of approach, for the constant testing of ideas. Everyone should know and understand why the processes that lead to astronomy are more reliable than those that lead to astrology. We need to be vigilant about what is being said in the public arena. We need to be vigilant about what politicians are publicising about science and take them on when necessary. At elections, scientists should ensure that science is on the agenda and nonsense is exposed. If that nonsense is extreme enough then the response should be very public.

His conclusion is a rather sobering and important counter point to those people – scientists and non scientists alike – in the accommodationst (NOMA) camp:

It is time to reject political movements that reject science and take us back into the dark rather than forward into a more enlightened future.

I don’t think Nurse goes nearly far enough to simply reject the political movements that support ignorance in the name of faith-based beliefs; I think we need sustained criticism for anyone who pretends that there is some way to accommodate science and contrary faith-based beliefs in whatever form and wherever they appear. We need to hammer home the point that supporting those who refuse to respect the methodology of science on behalf of some faith-based belief does not attract scientific allies. It undermines respect for the method of science itself and has the effect of mitigating its contrary conclusions in the service of ignorance.

Accommodationism, plain and simple, IS anti-science.

September 13, 2011

Why is the creationist movement so dangerous?

Because it is anti-intellectualism writ large. It most often an anti-science, anti-evolution stance (even when it pretends to be compatible) and it is infecting half of the governing parties of the US to the extent that someone who recognizes evolution and global warming as built on scientific foundations commits political suicide in the Republican party. Nearly 70% of Republicans reject evolution. So how does this reflect anti-intellectualism and anti-science to believe in creationism?

Too often too many of us buy into a notion that this difference of opinion between – let’s pick one particular science-based position – evolution and creationism means a difference in where we place our beliefs: with one side claiming some form of belief in an active, intervening creator – one who intervened and created humans either directly or intervened at some historical moment to instil into humans qualities which links the specialness of being human to our divine Designer – and the other side presented as exercising the same kind of belief in science – that all life on earth today descended from common ancestors subject to natural selection over a great deal of time. But this framing is a false dichotomy – one that favours the notion that everyone is a similar kind of believer differing only where we place our faith-based beliefs: in god or science . This, of course, is simply not true.

Faith-based belief lies entirely on the one side that false divide, one that favours the POOF!ism (or POOF!-insertion) of an intervening diety. On the other side of this divide are not those who apply the same kind of faith-based belief whatsoever; people who respect evolution are those who respect science. They respect that inquiry into the nature of the universe means to inquire into it using a method that provides us with testable, practical knowledge about it, knowledge that works reliably and consistently well for everyone everywhere all the time. That’s not faith. That’s not a faith-based belief. That’s a method that uses reality. Because this inquiry relies on reality to arbitrate what’s true in nature, it is not a faith-based belief that relies on something supernatural to arbitrate what is and is not true by the authority of god… in whatever form that message may seem to appear (scripture and revelation). Confidence in the results of the scientific method is not – in any way, shape, form, or fashion – a similar kind of faith-based belief that presumes the truth of an untestable conclusion as a premise but rather a method of inquiry that follows the evidence wherever it may lead and that reveals only what’s true from testing in that reality.

These two positions are not similar, nor do they produce equality of confidence. They are neither compatible methods of inquiry nor mutually supportive ways of knowing. They stand diametrically opposed when in conflict – like they do between belief in creationism versus confidence in the mutually supportive and overlapping causal evidence of evolution (the micro/macro qualification introduced by theists is scientifically incoherent) and are uneasy allies only when faith-based beliefs align with what’s true in reality, although many organizations responsible for promoting good science will claim that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Although technically true if no conflict is present, the position is untenable when it is. Only creationism that places intervention in such a way to not stand in conflict with the irrefutable evidence for evolution seems at first glance to be compatible, but on closer inspection reveals a decisive incompatibly, namely, the difference between evolution properly understood as a mindless, agency-less natural process versus one that is guided in some way – presumably with purpose and intention – by some mind with agency. The two are not compatible descriptions of evolution at all, any more than it would be if someone were to insist that gravity or erosion is guided by mindful agency when no evidence is available to support these claims about these process in reality.

There is no middle ground to be found here that is mutually supportive; one position is either true in nature or it is not. With no way to test the faith-based claim that there really, really, really is agency, there is no way to avoid a fundamental conflict over whether evolution is a natural or an unnatural, supernatural process; whether evolution is a mindless, unguided, purposeless process or a mindful, guided, purposeful process. Evolution in reality cannot be both. Theistic evolutionists would argue it’s possible, but only when the language becomes so befuddling that no one knows what anyone is actually describing. Metaphysics plays a central obfuscating role in this regard. Clarity, however, is the first but by no means the last casualty in this rearguard action by the faithiests.

Creationism, then, is one expression of a faith-based belief that stands contrary to science. There are no scientific results that support it. Those who say there really, really, really are results that can only be ‘explained’ by inserting a supernatural agency (followed closely by the assumption that this divine mind just so happens to favour Jesus’ over Thor’s as the inevitable result by a vast margin) do so only by grossly misrepresenting data, exaggerating both what is known and unknown by ruling out any role for plausibility, and even outright lying by presuming they can speak as if informed on what they cannot by their own admission know… keeping in sight the same sense of the term ‘know’ as they do of the influence of gravity and erosion.

Yet there are scientists who support creationism, so surely there must be something scientific to their belief. Nope. When their theistic evolutionary beliefs are examined, we find they believe for entirely the same reason as anyone else: as a faith-based faith.

So why is creationism so dangerous?

It is dangerous because it is politicized to bring benefit to those politicians who elevate faith-based beliefs over and above the findings of science if they just so happen to be contrary and incompatible to the faith-based claim. This means that respect for science as a method of inquiry and respect for why science’s findings inspire a higher level of confidence when something is true for everyone everywhere all the time are held as a value to be lower than, and secondary to, faith-based beliefs that have no such requirements. When this trust in faith-based beliefs plays out in other political areas where the results from scientific inquiry is incontrovertible but contrary to some faith-based belief, guess which side these politicians will support? Faith over science… what is believed to be true over and above what is true in reality. And this is exactly what we see in the political considerations from climate science; the results show anthropomorphic global warming leading to significant effects in climate refuted by many of the pious not on the basis of good science where 98 out of every 100 climate scientists concur, but by the faithful elevating the 2 scientists who disagree on theistic grounds to be an equivalent ‘side’ of some imaginary ‘debate’. But the debate is not in the scientific community (other than very normal, highly typical, quibbles); it is between those who respect faith-based beliefs as the primary revelation of what is true in nature and those who have confidence that reality arbitrates what’s true in reality. When leadership hopefuls don’t really care about reality, then surely the vast majority of citizens being asked to vote will judge this lack of caring to be a significant liability. It is a liability in every other area of life, so that should offer us a clue if we aren’t sure.

This incompatibility between faith-based beliefs and science cannot inform wise public policies when we have conflict between them. And because those who support faith-based beliefs cannot even agree among themselves what is true in nature, I see no reason to think that anything will or even might change should such people get into public office intent as they are on serving first and foremost those reality-deniers who put them there. Not only will science be relegated to a supportive role of faith-based beliefs, which I think is bad enough, but to the shock of no one except the colossally stupid I think we find it inevitable that we will have public conflict between those who support competing faith-based beliefs. How can those who view faith-based beliefs as equivalent to what’s true in reality not make faith positions part of our political discourse? How can they not use the state to influence policies that will tend to favour one set of faith-based beliefs over another? Even those who hold faith-based beliefs superior to what’s true in reality really have almost as much to lose as those who respect science by supporting a winning faith-based politician. This is where accommodationism leads, where belief in the compatibility between science and religion will take us: into the political and into public office and into the public domain and all its institutions. We already see this on the Supreme Court of the US, its military, its public education in ongoing battle with ‘teach the controversy’ and ‘academic freedom’ to teach Oogity Boogity as some kind of alternative yet compatible science.

The danger of the creationist movement is to replace our quest to know about reality backed up by what’s true in reality with the assumption we already have the ability to answer all the questions we might have through faith, and can then safely ignore – like we are doing with AGW’s causal link to climate change – reality’s role in telling us we are wrong in our beliefs. Nothing good can come from this delusional trust of Oogity Boogity, and that’s why it’s dangerous to have any confidence in those who are so willing to reject reality and present themselves as the champions of what is indistinguishable from a collective of ignorance.

August 17, 2011

What’s in a good editorial?

Filed under: accommodation,faith-based beliefs,reality,Religion,Science — tildeb @ 7:14 pm

Nothing but good reasoning, as far as I can tell, based on respecting what is true in reality.

Compared to the last post here on QM, this one I’m posting (taken from an editorial of the St. Louis JewishLight) may give you hope that you are not one of the few who can actually think without having to draw upon some supernatural agencies to make sense of the natural universe.

Now sit back and enjoy the parts I have extracted or head over and read the whole thing yourself. You’ll be glad you did:

There are millions of Americans who want to kill science, including some who have announced they are running for President of our dear nation.  And this is not in any way a good thing.

These Americans of course don’t see it that way.  They’ll gladly drive to work, use their smartphones and watch their TVs (physics), take their medicine and cure their ills (chemistry and biology), tend to their lawns and landscaping (botany).  They are fully able and willing to accept those benefits of science that endlessly improve their own lives.

But when the identical method of scientific discovery is applied to subjects that they deem to conflict with their religious beliefs – creationism, age of the earth, climate change (the latter because in their view, God could not possibly have made an earth susceptible to destruction by humans, or alternately, that God put the world here for humans to exploit it to our advantage) – they’ll put a bullet to the head of science as fast as you can say “carbon credits.”

This attempt at assassination cannot fairly be labeled as an assault by atheists against religion.

Refreshing, eh?

How about this paragraph:

When creationists say they don’t “believe in” evolution, they are spewing an oxymoron and polluting the rhetorical environment. Evolution isn’t something you believe or not believe – it is a way to describe well-researched phenomena in the most plausible way possible. Those who oppose the teaching of evolutionary science, or insist on teaching a belief system (i.e., creationism), alongside science, see it differently, and wrongly.

I’m in love.

And this:

But therein lies the rub: There is absolutely nothing different about the basic research methodology in earth and climate science than applies to other scientific fields and endeavors. If you destroy science in one area, you are destroying it in all.

You mean relying on the method of science in this bit of life but not that bit is actually hypocritical? Gee… whodathunk?

From a comment received yesterday, I was asked, “But why do they (atheists) use so much energy in being anti-God (tildeb: that’s what criticizing woo earns you as a label… I have no good reason to think such a critter is real yet that makes me anti-what-isn’t-real. If you figure it out, let me know)? Seems like a waste of time. If I don’t believe in something (like the Easter Bunny) I just move on. If someone else does, it is their business. Atheists aren’t any more arrogant than “Saved Christians.” They’re all a crushing bore.”

Fortunately, my answer seems to find an echo – okay, an echo that is actually a much better enunciated and coherent answer, to be honest – in St. Louis, home of my beloved Rams:

Ignore this controversy at your personal and national peril.  If you are comfortable with America becoming a nation of Luddites, then by all means, embrace the attacks on evolutionary and climate science (tildeb: and I would include any faith-based belief system that is contrary to respecting what is true).  But in our case, we think being smart about science is hip, cool and quite frankly, essential to America’s continued leadership role in the world.

Exactly right.

(h/t SC)

May 22, 2011

How can real scientists pretend that accommodationism between science and religion has any integrity?

Filed under: accommodation,Religion,Science — tildeb @ 3:23 pm

Natalie Angier writes that she has a god problem. Although that may be true, it’s not quite the subject she tackles in this brilliant article: her problem is understanding how scientists can on the one hand complain about scientific literacy and respect for such science as evolution yet on the other one pretend accommodationism that privileges religious belief from the same kind of critical thinking that informs good science are compatible positions… except in terms of concerns about access to grant money… if one wishes to promote the kind of thinking that leads to appreciating our best science. Like evolution.

For a small taste of her writing style, try this, but I know you’ll want to read and enjoy her entire piece:

Consider the very different treatments accorded two questions presented to Cornell University’s “Ask an Astronomer” Web site. To the query, “Do most astronomers believe in God, based on the available evidence?” the astronomer Dave Rothstein replies that, in his opinion, “modern science leaves plenty of room for the existence of God . . . places where people who do believe in God can fit their beliefs in the scientific framework without creating any contradictions.” He cites the Big Bang as offering solace to those who want to believe in a Genesis equivalent and the probabilistic realms of quantum mechanics as raising the possibility of “God intervening every time a measurement occurs” before concluding that, ultimately, science can never prove or disprove the existence of a god, and religious belief doesn’t—and shouldn’t—”have anything to do with scientific reasoning.”

How much less velveteen is the response to the reader asking whether astronomers believe in astrology. “No, astronomers do not believe in astrology,” snarls Dave Kornreich. “It is considered to be a ludicrous scam. There is no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence to the contrary.” Dr. Kornreich ends his dismissal with the assertion that in science “one does not need a reason not to believe in something.” Skepticism is “the default position” and “one requires proof if one is to be convinced of something’s existence.”

In other words, for horoscope fans, the burden of proof is entirely on them, the poor gullible gits; while for the multitudes who believe that, in one way or another, a divine intelligence guides the path of every leaping lepton, there is no demand for evidence, no skepticism to surmount, no need to worry. You, the religious believer, may well find subtle support for your faith in recent discoveries—that is, if you’re willing to upgrade your metaphors and definitions as the latest data demand, seek out new niches of ignorance or ambiguity to fill with the goose down of faith, and accept that, certain passages of the Old Testament notwithstanding, the world is very old, not everything in nature was made in a week, and (can you turn up the mike here, please?) Evolution Happens.

April 29, 2011

Why is the NCSE wrong to accommodate creationism?

Russell Blackford quite reasonably points out that When it comes to science education, public school systems in the United States and other liberal democracies generally have the secular goal of teaching students well-established findings, those that are generally accepted by working scientists.

But this isn’t reasonable enough for the NCSE (National Center for Science Education) when it comes to evolutionary biology. Unlike its treatment of all other scientific topics, when it comes to evolution in public education, they feel we must deal more delicately with the religiously inclined. They feel we should be more respectful dealing with christians even though many hold different views about how creation has actually taken place. They feel it wise to avoid dealing with the fact that most of them are wrong, can be proven wrong, and should, at least implicitly, be demonstrated to be wrong. Holding to some form of creationism – it is merely a matter of degree and not kind between Young Earth Creationsim and theistic evolution – avoids the fact that nothing in biology makes sense in light of creationism.

If the Pooh Bahs over at the NCSE wish to respect the notion in policy that parts of the bible remain divinely written or inspired, then is a matter of honesty to admit that the organization, as Coyne argues, is taking itself out of the ambit of empiricism and reason. You’re making a purely subjective decision based on revelation.

This is why the issue is important for the integrity of science education as a whole and the National Center for Science Education in particular to realize that’s why science organizations that endorse some brands of theology, while decrying others, are making a serious mistake. As Jerry Coyne points out in his open letter to the NCSE (motivated by repeated negative articles posted at The Chronicle of Higher Education , let the science of evolution speak for itself.

When this policy is altered to accommodate the kind of theology that presumably (there is little evidence of efficacy) allows for some kind of wider public acceptance for some kind of evolution, then the NCSE is choosing to support a theology that is favourable and good to its aim. Note this is not done for geology and plate tectonics, vulcanism and geography in spite of providing strong evidence against the christian doctrine of a great Flood. No special allowance is made for those who believe the tenets of astrology in the curriculum for astronomy. Alchemists don’t get special consideration and accommodation in chemistry. The subject of physics is not enhanced by pretending that it doesn’t interfere with belief in immaterial things. Yet when it comes to creationism and evolutionary biology, suddenly the wise people at the NCSE think special consideration for christian religious beliefs is necessary and thus warranted. That’s bizarre and, I think, highly counter productive for an organization concerned about educating our youth about science. As Coyne quite rightly points out, who are they (the NCSE) to decide what is “good” theology? What they mean by “good”, of course, is not “theology that gives us a more accurate sense of the divine,” (as stated in their policy) but “theology that best comports with our desire to sell evolution to the public.”

And I think Coyne’s conclusion – supported directly as it is by such people as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers and many other highly reputable scientists in evolutionary biology – is worth serious consideration because it raises an issue that I think many at the NCSE fail to understand:

First, your repeated and strong accusations that, by criticizing religion, atheists are alienating our pro-evolution allies (liberal Christians), has precisely the same alienating effect on your allies: scientists who are atheists. Second, your assertion that only you have the requisite communication skills to promote evolution is belied by the observation that you have, by your own ham-handed communications, alienated many people who are on the side of good science and evolution. You have lost your natural allies. And this is not just speculation, for those allies were us, and we’re telling you so.

April 28, 2011

What’s the problem with religious accommodation and why does it so annoy gnus?

Filed under: accommodation,Atheism,Criticism,Gnu Atheism — tildeb @ 9:45 am

Taken in parts directly from author Paul W. , comment#29, over at Butterflies and Wheels and an excellent overview of the issue why gnu atheists are so deeply annoyed at the accommodationist stance taken up and promoted by other atheists:

Gnu atheists think more people ought to regularly speak up critically about bad religious ideas, and that those bad religious ideas are common to “liberal” religion as well as, e.g., fundamentalism.

The reasons why gnus think there’s too little forthright criticism and accommodationists think there’s too much vary considerably.

Accommodationists typically think some or all of the following, in some mix:

0. Distinctively religious beliefs aren’t all false, or aren’t all inconsistent with science, or aren’t so importantly false as to be worth objecting to.

1. In terms of its effects on human well being, religion isn’t a bad thing overall. A lot of religion (e.g., fundamentalism) is bad, but a lot of religion (e.g., theologically moderate or liberal Christianity) is actually good for the world, on the whole, promoting civilized conceptions of morality, or at worst harmless. If we dispensed with religion, or just diminished the mindshare of religion across the board, we’d lose a lot of good along with the bad.

2. Liberal religion is our friend, because liberal religious people are our main allies in the fight against conservative religion. If we talk people out of being liberally religious, that won’t help anything much, and may hurt because it will weaken institutions that we should be strengthening, or leaving as they are. Liberal religion is a crucial part of the solution to the problem of bad religion.

3. You can argue against the worst sorts of religion effectively without arguing against the best sorts. Fundamentalism is he problem, not religion, and critiques of religion should generally focus on distinctive features of bad religion. We should argue against theological conservatism, as liberals, more often than we should argue against religion, as atheists.

4. Even to the extent that it might be advantageous to undermine religion across the board, it is strategically unwise to attempt to do so. It will mostly alienate potential allies and generate backlash, doing more harm than good. It is better to be very “civil,” and only gently criticize religion, and mostly focus criticism on especially bad religion. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Gnus, in contrast, tend to think at least some of the following to a greater extent than accommodationists:

0. Distinctively religious beliefs are generally false, are generally inconsistent with science, and are false enough to be worth objecting to, out of a more or less free-floating commitment to truth.

1. In terms of its effects on human well-being, religion is a bad thing overall. Some religion (e.g., very theologically liberal religion) isn’t especially harmful in its direct effects on people, and sometimes is even good, but most religion is a net negative, and religion as a whole could be dispensed with, and that would be a generally good thing, with lots of pluses and relatively few minuses.

2. Liberal religion is our friend in some senses, and not in others. On average, if we talk liberally religious people out of being liberally religious, that will be a good thing because they’ll be even better allies against religion, including especially conservative religion.

3. You can’t argue effectively against bad religion effectively without arguing against religion fairly broadly, because the most important features of bad religion—belief in God and souls and divinely or supernaturally inspired morality—are common to almost all religion. Once you grant those mistaken premises, or fail to challenge them, you’ve mostly given away the store, and are reduced to making the kind of lame-ass arguments that liberal religious people use so ineffectively against conservatively religious people. (E.g., justifying certain ways of picking and choosing religious beliefs—rather than explaining why it’s all a load of bollocks, for which there are much better more basic, and correct arguments.)

The root problem isn’t fundamentalism, but central premises of almost all religion, which are themselves stupid and dangerous ideas, acquiesence to which enables fundamentalism—and basic nonfundamentalist orthodoxy, which is a bigger problem than outright fundamentalism.

4. Criticizing religion does generate backlash and alienate some people, but fears of backlash are overrated, and it is important to challenge religious privilege and especially to shift the Overton window of public opinion. Being too afraid of short-term backlash—and too pessimistic about major shifts of popular opinion about religion—is a recipe for perpetuating religion’s privileged position and dominance. It is demonstrably untrue that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar—successful social movements generally require a spectrum of opinion, including relatively “extreme” views. Excessive moderation is a recipe for stasis, and you need both reformists and “radicals,” who more or less play good cop / bad cop.

What accommodationists say that sets gnus off is usually a criticism of gnus that implies that we’re wrong to be as “radical” as we are, and that we should sit down and shut up, or do something else instead, because our anti-religious fight

1) isn’t worth fighting in principle, because religion’s not so bad, or

2) isn’t winnable, to any particularly useful extent, so isn’t worth fighting in practice, or

3) isn’t winnable by our overt, backlash-generating means, so we should all be nice moderates like the accommodationists instead of being noisy troublemakers who undermine sound, centrist political triangulation strategy.

We generally think all those things are false, and get really tired of hearing them from people who don’t seriously address the issues of fact, of worthwhile goals, or of effective political strategy.

Every time we hear strategic advice that amounts to “you catch more flies with honey” by somebody telling us what to do, who is apparently entirely ignorant of Overton window strategies, it pisses us off.

We get really, really sick of people telling us what to do without addressing our very good reasons for doing what we’re doing, and actually showing that their reasons are better than our reasons.

One thing that does frequently bring deep emotions into play is the sense that accommodationists frequently advise us what to do as though they think we’re simplistic strategically naive zealots, as opposed to thoughtful people with well-thought-out positions, good arguments, and an arguably excellent strategic rationale that is almost never even mentioned, much less properly addressed, by people who proffer an “obviously better” strategy toward apparently different goals.

Until accommodationists are willing to talk very, very seriously about Overton issues, we’re going to dismiss their strategic advice as the shallow, platitudinous crap that we think it is. As long as they act like we don’t even have a strategy, and criticize us for not going along with theirs, we’re going to be seriously annoyed when they tell us to do what they want us to do, instead of what we’re doing.

Talking about us as though we’re simply strategically naive and gratuitously confrontational is straw-manning us, and we are sick as shit of it. Its been going on nonstop for years, and doesn’t show any sign of stopping.

We do understand accommodationist arguments. Of course we do. We always have. It isn’t exactly rocket science. (Or even passable political science.) And we’ve always had good reasons for disagreeing with them, which are almost universally ignored by accommodationists, who continue to talk past us, and talk systematically misleading cartoonish smack about us.

That’s just seriously annoying, isn’t? Should we not be annoyed by that?

April 16, 2011

Why is mainstream moderate religious belief poisonous (updated)?

From a previous thread come these comments:

From misunderstoodranter:

“I am not an atheist because ‘other’ people are atheists – I am an atheist because I decided I was.”

From Zero1Ghost comes this reply:

“this implies that believers are theists because they are engaged in group think. i think this notion is partially true. they are afraid not to believe in God yet they live their lives like there isn’t one and the “church” has no impact on their lives aside from where they get married, baptize their children, and where their funeral is held.”

This is a very typical characterization of the mainstream religious believer from those theists who do not see what pernicious and ongoing effect the tireless promotion of religious ideology has on their society… motivated solely by religious ideology. These same theists tend to individualize religious belief as if it were a simple choice made only on the personal level so take any criticism about religion per se as inconsequential and often misguided. From this attribution, these theists then generally fail to account for how their own preferences for empowering their personal religious beliefs in any public way support the insertion of religious ideology into the lives and business of everyone else. This is a purposeful disconnect done with the intention of deflecting criticism from the issue of religious motivation to an issue of individual actions that may or may not be considered misguided. In this way, these theists never have to deal with the growing problem religious ideology brings to the whole population as they stand idly by while this happens… but are sure to call atheists and others who complain too loudly names. Forget that these same theists offer their tacit support of the inserted religious ideology into the public domain while deflecting criticism to be too ‘militant’ and ‘strident’ and ‘fundamentalist’ to be accurate. No siree: complainers of religious insertion into the public domain are just as extreme as those other religious folk. And you don’t want to be one of those people! You’re too reasonable to be such an extremist. And yet the religiously motivated intrusion continues unabated seeking preferential treatment by means of law.

In the United States, for example, I wonder if most religious believers appreciate just how common, conniving, and downright underhanded are those who attempt to cross the state/church wall of separation to insert theology where it doesn’t belong: specifically in science class. I have trouble finding anyone who supports this insertion directly, who supports those who work against the First Amendment; instead I am overwhelmed by those who pretend such insertions are only attempted by religious extremists and fundamentalists and so we can safely trust governments to withstand their misguided assaults. They are wrong.

So let’s consider the facts: in 2011 we have seven states considering nine bills to do just this.

The National Center for Science Education offers us what they call the Antievolution Legislative Scorecard here. It lists each bill and quotes the bill’s aims. This is creationism in action. This is religious ideology actively being recruited to achieve a specific outcome. Its motivation is to undermine the teaching of evolution as if there were some other legitimate science theories kicking about in biology when there are none. This is pure religious belief common to most religious believers who assume the role of creator somewhere in humanity’s history masquerading as some kind of alternative science. And every year creationism rears its ugly little head and people work tirelessly to alter science textbooks, alter school curriculum, alter education legislation with one aim in mind: replace real science with religious belief in the public domain… or at least make room for religious beliefs about creationism in the curriculum. So can we blame only religious extremists? Well, it is not being carried out by religious extremists. It is not being carried out by fundamentalists. It is being done by politicians who stand to gain public favour by undermining the teaching of science in the name of religious belief.

There’s the rub.

It is the wider public made up of religious moderates and liberals, apologists and accommodationists, who are to blame for this travesty… including the NCSE itself that states “[t]he Bible is a record of one particular people’s developing moral relationship with God, and enshrines timeless ideals about the integrity of creation […]! Without the support of so many religious accommodationist of all stripes- tacit or actual – no politician would dare undermine the First and expect to curry public favour. For that to happen, the mainstream must accept the promotion of religious ideology in the public domain as legitimate.  And that’s why every religious believer must be challenged who dares to suggest that their religious beliefs beyond the merely personal are either innocuous or good. They’re not. They are just as likely to be poisonous.

January 5, 2011

Chris Mooney is at it again: isn’t ‘spirituality’ really another word for ‘religion’?

The piece (Chris Mooney’s article in Playboy) is about scientists who aren’t religious, but are spiritual, in an atheistic sort of way. An excerpt:

But can scientists who say they are awestruck by nature and moved by their research really relate to more traditional religious experiences, a la those reported by saints? Aren’t “awe” and “wonder” nondescript notions that add emotional embroidery to the brute facts of the universe? Perhaps not. Feelings of awe, wonder and mystery recur in the context of human quests for deeper understanding or revelation. In his 1917 work The Idea of the Holy, German theologian Rudolph Otto singled out a sense of awe as a key characteristic of our encounters with what he termed the “numinous”–an overwhelming power or presence beyond ourselves.

Science can unleash this feeling too. Just sit in a darkened room and look at nebulae pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, as University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank describes doing in his book The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate. “Scientists are not the only ones who catch their collective breath before these pictures,” he writes. “The momentary hush and the gasp that follow are involuntary.”

Mooney is one of those authors (who is funded in part by being a Fellow the Templeton Foundation) to vainly search for ways to force science and religion to be compatible ways of knowing. He claims to be all about communication by bashing gnu atheists, making up stories about them, posting these lies on his blog at Discover, banning people who dare criticize him, and pretending that it is the atheists who inhibit this ‘natural’ fit. For years he complained about framing, that a failure to frame religion and its active interference in gaining and applying knowledge while promoting superstition and ignorance in their place was detrimental to promoting science. I hold Mooney and his ego in contempt.

Now he’s switched gears a bit and is on what I call the Spirituality Bandwagon: that religion is really a substitute word for what it should be… spirituality. Because what we call spirituality can be shared by both atheist and believer, Mooney wants to re-FRAME the natural incompatibility between faith-based beliefs and knowledge as one of a common spirituality expressed in these different but compatible ways. But are they?

From Jerry Coyne about what science and religion really offer each other:

1. Religion gains but one thing from science: an increasing knowledge about the universe that makes mockery of religious doctrine, forcing the faithful to revise their dogma while claiming that it was consistent with science all along.

2. Science has nothing to gain from religion, which is simply an annoyance that distracts us from our job.

This is an excellent post by Ken on the state of NOMA today with a bang-on cartoon by jesusandmo over at Open Parachute.

Meanwhile, back at Whyevolutionistrue, Coyne comments about Mooney’s article and gets to the heart of the matter:

What a smarmy and intellectually dishonest piece of accommodationist tripe, relying as it does on conflating two completely disparate notions of “spirituality”!  Can we agree, then, that when we get all emotional about a piece of music or a novel or a nebula, or experience wonder at the products of natural selection—that we give these emotions a name different from “sprituality”?  That just confuses the diverse meanings of the term (which was Mooney’s intent) and gives ammunition to acoommodationists.

PZ Myers joins in and is also bang on with his criticism of Mooney and his ilk:

Well, spirituality is all about the believers. It’s a slimy game relying on the fact that apologists love to dodge criticisms of religion, the body of concrete, specific, institutionalized beliefs about the supernatural, by retreating to the tactical vagueness of “faith” or “spirituality”, whatever the hell they are.

You can’t expect us to simply respect foolish ideas. We tolerate them, but people like Mooney go further and demand that we respect nonsense, and that’s not going to happen, and shouldn’t happen.

And trying to coopt an honest scientific appreciation of the wonders of the universe as support for religion is a dishonest attempt to prop up bogus superstitions with an appeal to emotions — any emotions. If a scientist isn’t a passionless robot, Mooney wants to be able to pretend they’re on the side of religious dogma. That rankles. Love of science is not equatable to clinging to ignorance, although Chris Mooney is straining to make it so.

November 5, 2010

How should we write about gnu atheists?

Filed under: accommodation,Bias,New Atheists,Religion,Skepticim — tildeb @ 11:38 pm

Well, there are the standard canards. One of my favourites and perhaps the most common is the one that puts forth the proposition that non belief is another kind of religious belief, albeit of the fundamentalist and dogmatic kind. And those who believe in it are the militant, strident, and arrogant atheists who dare not only to question the god hypothesis but who reach a conclusion of non belief as the evidence now stands. It seems to be a nice way to balance the whack jobs on both sides while appearing reasonable. Of course, it’s no such thing: it is the religious equivalent of racial apartheid: separate but equal. That’s what accommodation is all about.

So what are the rules to denigrate atheists successfully? Is there some kind of accommodation-friendly argumentative path to follow that would allow otherwise reasonable people to pretend that the god hypothesis is really a problem for atheists rather than the faithful, an approach that seems reasonable enough to fool the majority of people who would prefer to dismiss atheists without having to really think about the issues and questions they raise?

From Salty Current comes this satisfying guide to all those who wish to write and complain about the New Atheists. I have extracted a few paragraphs as a teaser but the short guide is a fast an enjoyable read.

Gnu atheists should be presented as uncivil, strident, aggressive, arrogant proselytizers and rigid fundamentalists. Don’t worry about finding concrete examples to support these generalizations. If you absolutely must quote from a gnu, keep it short and divorced from the complex background and context which would only confuse the reader. You’re firmly within the consensus, so you’re on solid ground. At the same time, whenever possible – as when discussing large-scale surveys showing declining rates of belief – present nonbelievers as merely having “doubts” about God. This is perfectly consistent.

Similarly, gnu atheism shouldn’t be presented as an intellectual position. Repeatedly emphasize their hostility to organized religion as the source of their disbelief. It helps if you acknowledge that there are some legitimate reasons for this hostility – shows you to be fair and balanced while leaving aside those pesky ontological matters.

You’re also safe presenting gnu atheists as cold, hyper-rational, solitary automatons who lack an appreciation of beauty or sense of wonder. Pay no attention to those who are artists, writers, or musicians, or to any of their works describing the wonder of scientific understanding and the sense of cosmic connectedness that follows from this deeper empirical knowledge. Leave aside the enormous spectrum of atheist writing on any number of ethical issues. And no need to discuss gnu atheists as people with families, friends, and communities. There’s nothing dishonest about this. You’re writing about that one dimension that is the guiding focus of their lives: rejecting religion.

Enjoy the entire guide and comments here.

(h/t to WEIT)

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