Chris Mooney - Accommodationism and the Psychology of Belief

May 9, 2011

Special Guest Host: Ronald A. Lindsay 

In this special episode, Chris Mooney changes places and becomes the interviewee—and then finds himself facing some probing questions from CFI president and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay. This frank interview is all substance and no fluff as Mooney is asked to defend accommodationism and his Templeton Foundation fellowship. The tough questions elicit vigorous replies as Mooney restates his belief that some of the New Atheists are adopting the wrong tactics in criticizing religion.

In the second part of the interview, Mooney discusses his recent work on the psychology of belief in general, emphasizing how our commitments and our values shape our reasoning and our processing of information.

Ronald A. Lindsay is a bioethicist, lawyer, and President and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. For many years he practiced law in Washington, DC, and was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and American University, where he taught jurisprudence and philosophy courses.

As well as a usual host of Point of Inquiry, Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs.

Note: This episode was recorded on board the 2011 CFI Greek Islands Cruise on which Mooney was a speaker.

Comments from the CFI Forums

If you would like to leave a comment about this episode of Point of Inquiry please visit the related thread on the CFI discussion forums

Fascinating.

I thought Mooney sounded a bit…scornful at times. A bit dismissive. A bit certain of his own conclusions.

Posted on May 11, 2011 at 11:33am by Ophelia Benson Comment #1

When Mooney says that he thinks that we should go through pastors and other trusted agents to enact hard change, it seems he thinks that PZ, Dawkins, and the other ‘New Atheists’ think that’s a bad idea. But I’ve never heard them say that. In fact, I’ve heard the opposite. If that’s the tactical and strategic approach he wants to take, then he should go ahead.

But where does he get the idea that only one approach should be used?

Mooney, go ahead and try the soft sell approach. I’m sure that it’ll be useful with some people. But where do you get the gall to say that everyone else has to stop any other approach and only try what you’re comfortable with?

Pharyngula is full of people who say that PZ’s confrontational approach was important to their deconversion. The Atheist Experience’s forums are full of people who needed to hear Dillahunty to think about their religion a different way.

Go ahead with your approach, but please don’t pretend you have justification in saying that it’s the only valid approach.

Posted on May 11, 2011 at 1:22pm by LawnBoy Comment #2

The main reason for the decline of religious belief in Europe is because the main European religions so fully discredited themselves during the 20th century by lining up so completely to sanctify their respective nationalism on both/all sides leading up to and during the conflagrations of two world wars. Religions in the USA did the same, but here the people did not experience the abject destruction experienced by those in Europe - Americans could continue to feel “righteous” about their WW military interventions. Less so with Vietnam, but that was quickly reinterpreted so as to shield the respect and dignity of its ideological cheerleaders. In European society, the respect and dignity of the nationalistic cheerleaders (including esp. those who claimed to know “God’s will” was backing them) was mortally wounded by the destructiveness of the wars.

Europeans are more likely than Americans to “believe” in evolution not because they are more secular, but rather because the deeply blood&soil; mystical trends of 19th and early 20th century religion itself had been teaching various forms of “evolution” for nearly a century (not Darwinian natural selection, but evolution nonetheless.) This was not the case in the USA, where strongly Calvinist-tinged theology tended to set strong barriers between God and Nature, rather than stress God-as-expressed-through-nature, the key element of European “Natural Theology.”

Modern citizens of the world are suspicious of the claims of “scientists” to summary Truth about the universe we live in is not because of hostility toward experimental empirical inquiry per se, but because we have witnessed over and over and over again how quickly and easily “scientists” line up at the trough of military and corporate money with very little or no thought whatsoever about the consequences of their work.

If we saw the New Atheists, CFI and such folks as offended by and concerned to publicly expose, embarrass, condemn and ostracize the thousands of physicists, chemists, biologists, computer programmers, technologists and such whose whole careers are built on slurp from those troughs as they apparently are offended by the biology teacher who also happens to hold some religiously compatible beliefs about what was before the Big Bang, then the anti-accommodationist view would have a lot more integrity and be a lot more convincing.

Posted on May 11, 2011 at 2:10pm by dliecht Comment #3

Modern citizens of the world are suspicious of the claims of “scientists” to summary Truth about the universe we live in is not because of hostility toward experimental empirical inquiry per se, but because we have witnessed over and over and over again how quickly and easily “scientists” line up at the trough of military and corporate money with very little or no thought whatsoever about the consequences of their work.

I’m not even sure that’s it’s worth responding to you, but I’m doing it anyway.  This is a nonsense explanation of things.  People question scientists when scientists question their beliefs.  People believe scientists in exactly the issues that aren’t challenging their beliefs.  So, people will dismiss global warming science or evolution because they hate the consequences (or perceived consequences), but they’ll gladly accept the latest medical research.  There was a study I saw a while ago (in skeptic magazine, I think) where they asked people about scientific issues.  They found that people tended to “shop around” for experts on contentious issues.  If scientists aren’t telling them what they find convenient to believe, then they look elsewhere and disparage the science and the scientists.

Besides, if “Modern citizens of the world are suspicious of the claims of scientists because…” then you have another issue of explaining why Americans, rather than Europeans, dismiss evolution.  What?  Are Americans more aware of the duplicity of scientists?  Does America have a much larger history of scientist’ duplicity?  You actually sound like someone who’s about to start complaining about “big pharma” and “Western Medicine”.

If we saw the New Atheists, CFI and such folks as offended by and concerned to publicly expose, embarrass, condemn and ostracize the thousands of physicists, chemists, biologists, computer programmers, technologists and such whose whole careers are built on slurp from those troughs as they apparently are offended by the biology teacher who also happens to hold some religiously compatible beliefs about what was before the Big Bang, then the anti-accommodationist view would have a lot more integrity and be a lot more convincing.

What nonsense.  But, maybe you’re thinking about some unspoken anti-Western Medicine viewpoint that you have.

As far as the podcast, Mooney at one time said that scientists like Newton studied the universe because they believed they were exploring God’s handiwork.  I’ve never believed that scientists actually believed that.  Even in the middle-ages, I think they used that explanation to fend-off their anti-scientific critics and bring some religious approval onto their hobbies.  People like Newton studied the universe because they were curious about the universe.  Keep in mind that these scientists worked in a period of history where authors would dedicate their books to God or the Pope as a way to avoid censorship.  Sometimes, they were advocating viewpoints that were diametrically opposed to teachings of the church, and this was their way of smoothing things over, rather than draw the ire of the church.

Posted on May 11, 2011 at 5:31pm by tinyfrog Comment #4

Tinyfrog, you need to learn to read what is actually written, without immediately interpolating all of your own assumptions and prejudices. What I wrote has nothing whatsoever to do with non-Western Medicine - a rather bizarre leap on your part. When I say modern citizens of the world, if I have any group of people in mind at all it is a highly educated, culturally sophisticated, reflective and articulate bunch - people among whom Chris Mooney is a man in good company. Seeing what science and technology has actually wrought in this world, they find it all but comical that people get up in the name of science to lecture others on the proper construction of meaning and morality. Of course science, medicine and technology have brought us good things, things we like and would be poorer without. That is a given. But to point out that those things that threaten our species with concrete extinction potential (environmental pollution, nuclear weapons, biohazards of various kinds) are all very directly related not to what religionists have done but to what scientists and technologists have done (largely at our behest, but that is beside the point) does not commit one to life in a cave. It only shows that science and technology also are very human - all too human - enterprises whose practitioners also work mainly on the basis of self-interest, with same limits of vision shared by every other human, largely in response to short term gratifications and incentives, and motivated by the same kinds of nationalistic prejudices that motivate everyone else. No one is saying scientists and technologists are collectively any worse people morally than, say, drug store clerks - but only that there is no evidence either that they are any better, certainly not that their adherence to their profession creates any moral improvement among them at all (ask any Dean of Sciences how little that is the case!) and that they delude themselves mightily when they think otherwise. Of course modern world citizens (see above to remind yourself of whom I speak here) have a high respect for experimentally attained empirical knowledge. Such respect is what makes them who they are. But they will put to the same scrutiny such claims as they arise that science and technology is what will get us out of the mess that science and technology itself (again, at our behest, but that is beside the point here) largely created in the first place. If you can’t see that, Tinyfrog, if you again want to respond with “that’s nonsense,” I can only wish you the best of life in your Tinyfrog bubble world.

Posted on May 11, 2011 at 6:19pm by dliecht Comment #5

I found this interview fascinating in exactly the opposite view of other posters. I seemed to hear the interviewer ignoring the central point of what Chris and other “accomodationists” have. He seemed totally unwilling to entertain the idea that people in general do not respond in rational ways when it comes to strongly held beliefs, and that there is research to show this. It was like a homeopath demanding a skeptic provide a major study on “this” brand of nothing, for “this” exact condition, and claiming that in the absence of the study, there is no problem with homeopathy.

The skeptical movement is growing and consolidating and feeling stronger and more confident, and meanwhile, the scientific literacy of other US is going down, and woo and altmed are increasing.  I’m not sure the current approach doesn’t need some tweaking, and I think that’s what Chris is suggesting. Current tactics are not seeming to have much effect, so let’s look at other tactics.

As an “accomodationist”...and I prefer the term “gradualist”...I share the views other atheists have about religion, but my goal when I discuss issues of science with believers is not de-conversion. That is simply not realistic unless the person is already questioning his faith. My goal is an increase in science knowledge and skepticism which in my experience is far more corrosive to faith than ridicule or frontal assault. I myself was a believer until I became fascinated with science. As I read more and more and found more and more conflicts with creationism, I began to question faith itself. I went through a period of being a Christian evolutionist, then a Theistic evolutionist, then realized that I was only hanging onto my now very weak faith out of habit. During the time when I was still a believer but beginning to question,  the “strong atheists” I met tended to push me back toward belief, make me defensive in exactly the way the research is telling us. You cannot argue someone out of a position they weren’t argued into in the first place.

Too often this debate is polarized. I do not think atheists should shut up or hide their disbelief, but they should recognize how the human mind will react to it, and not be surprised and offended when the people they talk to get defensive. And accomodationists should realize that there are times when people are questioning their beliefs and need a shot in the arm by a Dawkins or a Dennet.

I think the skeptical movement spends too much time looking for heretics and not enough on welcoming those who are questioning and interested but wondering if they will fit in.

Posted on May 11, 2011 at 6:26pm by Jansob Comment #6

As far as the podcast, Mooney at one time said that scientists like Newton studied the universe because they believed they were exploring God’s handiwork.  I’ve never believed that scientists actually believed that.  Even in the middle-ages, I think they used that explanation to fend-off their anti-scientific critics and bring some religious approval onto their hobbies.  People like Newton studied the universe because they were curious about the universe.  Keep in mind that these scientists worked in a period of history where authors would dedicate their books to God or the Pope as a way to avoid censorship.  Sometimes, they were advocating viewpoints that were diametrically opposed to teachings of the church, and this was their way of smoothing things over, rather than draw the ire of the church.

tinyfrog, I think this is a serious candidate for the most ignorant comment that I have ever read in the Internet! If you wish to pontificate about the history of science then it pays to learn something about the subject before you open your mouth. By anybody’s standards Newton would count as a religious fanatic in any age. Religion was the main driving force behind all of his diverse activities and above all his science whose secrets he had, according to his own utterances, been selected by God to reveal.

Posted on May 12, 2011 at 4:28am by Thony C Comment #7

Thanks very much to Chris and Ron for this contentious and enlightening conversation. I’m glad to get a lot of these issues out on the table for CFI to deal with and for PoI to air. I’ve always felt that a ‘big tent’ approach to CFI’s issues was best, one that embraced differing approaches to these trenchant and difficult problems. To that end, I thought both Chris and Ron made interesting and valuable points.

A few observations of my own:

(1) This is a minor point. Re. the question as to whether it was their religious views that caused Galileo and Newton to search for knowledge, I think claims on either side of that issue oversimplify. Sure, what they were looking for was to an extent underwritten by their views about God. However one should also not forget that what they did, and in particular what Galileo did, was in opposition to some Church teaching and in opposition to the centuries-old tradition that one found truth only in scripture and not in investigations of the natural world. One might say that both Galileo and Newton’s personal investigations were more in the spirit of the Protestant reformation, seated as it was in the notion that each person could judge scripture for him or herself, than in the teachings of the Catholic church. But that said, their lives’ work involved at least an implicit rejection of scriptural tradition.

As for Newton, he seems to have held heretical religious views; and anyone capable of writing,

I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phenomena, and I frame no hypotheses; for whatever is not deduced from the phenomena is to be called a hypothesis, and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy.

... has a different agenda than one thought of as typically religious, even though he may have himself been deeply so in other contexts.

(Here I’m bracketing the background point that much of modern atheism gets its punch from the rejection of the argument from design, for which we have to thank Darwin and the late 19th century).

(2) Chris made the point very well that reason itself is weak. As Hume said, it’s slave to the passions. The concern here is that we not take the lesson that reason is therefore useless. It bears repeating that although reason is not the panacea it’s sometimes made out to be, it has its place, and it needs to be preserved. (I’m sure Chris would accept this point). Though it’s true that we are often, even usually, mislead by pre-existing emotional baggage on issues, we can also work to mitigate that baggage in ourselves. The scientific process, using repeated experimentation and peer review, is designed for just that purpose.

(3) It may be very difficult or impossible to change beliefs by rational persuasion, but there is a long literature about how to persuade. It’s called “marketing”. The best book I know on this topic is by psychology professor Robert Cialdini, in a book called Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion. I think everyone involved in CFI should be aware of its contents. To take one of his examples, if you want to influence someone, it helps to be overtly nice to them. This is a classic marketing strategy (the “loss leader”), but also used by religions around the world to gain converts. There are other reasons than sheer good will to engage in charity work.

(4) One question that remained unasked in the conversation is whether the New Atheists are really so popular because of their supposed role in converting people to atheism, or rather if their popularity stems from their ability to preach to the choir. My view is more the latter, and both strategies are essential in any sociopolitical enterprise. Some political speeches, some politicians and pundits, perfect a moderate message to try to appeal to the wavering middle, or event wavering opponents. Then Chris’s approach is right. But other politicians and pundits are very good at ‘motivating the base’, as they say. And the base is essential. It’s from the base that you get volunteers, donations, people on street corners, etc. You need people who are skilled at making these folks feel welcome and necessary, and a message seen as milquetoast won’t do for that. One thing that struck me, watching videos from Dawkins’s barnstorming across the US South several years ago, is how his message was met by such (one wants to say) rapturous adulation by his audiences. It was emotional rather than rational, but after all, that’s the point, right? And I think it’s also why Chris’s very well reasoned and documented pushback on New Atheism is so virulently disliked by many within the movement: because the New Atheists are so skilled at doing an emotional service to the movement itself.

So while the New Atheist message isn’t so good at converting committed Christians, that’s really not it’s best purpose. It’s best purpose is at unifying the base.

That said, it’s clearly been the case that some Christians have been converted by their message. Dawkins has a Converts’ Corner full of them. It may be a drop in the bucket, but it should at least be mentioned.

In summary, I think both sides in this long debate have made good points. On the one hand, organizations like CFI should make better use of classic marketing strategies rather than naïvely assume that the average Joe or Jane is likely to be swayed by rational argumentation, much less scorn. On the other hand, in order for the movement to be successful it must be adroit in preaching to its own choir with messages of solidarity, strength and support, most particularly as the movement remains small, and in places where it may even feel embattled.

Posted on May 12, 2011 at 7:00am by dougsmith Comment #8

You quote two commonly repeated lines that I think we must acknowledge and then purge from the rhetoric on this topic:

He seemed totally unwilling to entertain the idea that people in general do not respond in rational ways when it comes to strongly held beliefs… You cannot argue someone out of a position they weren’t argued into in the first place.

I believe the first sentence comes out of studies like John Haidt’s on moral motivations (though there are likely others…I am not in a “citing” mood this morning.)  And the second one is a trope that is blithely tossed off as wisdom that cannot be questioned.  Really?  Tell me what beliefs someone arrives at via means other than reason.  I dare you.  :-) 
Those two quoted sentences are essentially a euphemism for saying that “People who have been conditioned to act defensively, react defensively when they perceive they are being “attacked.”  There ARE rational roots to conditioned behavior, and you can not “de-program” a conditioned response by trying to sidle up next to it and say, “It’s OK to continue that response.”  Pointing out the flaws in those conditioned responses, and providing alternative explanations, is all we can do.  Confronting reactionary, defensive behaviors (by many methods, including yours and including those who would mock or ridicule) is the way to let the world at large know that the taboo of discussing and questioning “faith” assertions is broken and an invalid argument.

Let us drop the euphemism about “strongly held beliefs” being arrived at through processes other than reason (which I roll up to include personal experience, observation, trust of authority, and repetitive conditioning.)

Being willing to express and defend “science knowledge and skepticism,” in the face of religious demands to do otherwise, is the sum total of the argument made by atheists who would snicker your euphemistic self-branding as a “gradualist.”  If you are compromising scientific method and evidence to accommodate a religious person’s assertions of persecution, or “alternative ways of knowing,” or to placate their ASSERTIONS that science and religion are compatible (as methods of analyzing how the world works) you are an accommodationist.  If you attack other atheists who will not kowtow to demands of the religious that we not question their assertions, and demand that they join us on the field of inquiry to discuss and analyze those assertions, you’re an accommodationist.

I think I may have just come up with a new comedy bit, (with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy): 

“If you <insert behavior here>, you just might be an accommodationist.”
If you avoid asking piercing, falsifiable, testable questions about a topic because someone says “Oooooh….I’d rather you not question my faith”.... you might be an accommodationist.
You might be an accommodationist if you take money from an organization that asserts there is compatibility between science and religion, and works to avoid questioning that assertion.

Posted on May 12, 2011 at 8:14am by Robert Schneider Comment #9

Ok, here we go again with this stuff.

First of all, the things Chris Mooney asserts as fact run contrary to my own annecdotes of a confrontational style of attack against false beliefs (including religion). It doesn’t always work, but you still do change minds and I’ve changed a lot in my life… not online in particular, but my friends and family and work colleagues. Even when I haven’t won, I count it as doing some good in opening that persons eyes to the fact that their religion is not only disrespected by some people (something I never saw growing up), but they have REASON for it. I usually tell from visual signs of embarrassment that they can at least see where I am coming from.

My number one problem with the accomodationalists is that they are part of the problem when it comes to protecting the respect that religion has. In my upbringing religion enjoyed universal respect and nobody ever questioned it and if even some atheists are afraid to question it then what do you expect to achieve? You’re not going at the root of the problem. If accomodationalists like to pretent you can’t change minds in a direct way, then where are they getting this assumption that going the long way round is going to result in more success?

In the end, it’s going to come down to percentages.. I think maybe both approaches DO work, but to varying degrees and the accomodationalist approach selling out it’s principles which alone is inexcusable for me. But they aren’t “selling out” if they already have an affection for religion or spirituality nonsense like Chris Mooney does. I’m just getting sick of the accomodationalists saying that the way I do it is doing more harm than good or that we only convert the people who are already half way there. It’s arrogant. I know the die-hard religious folk who I could not convert certainly wouldn’t have taken an interest in science either.

I was stunned when I heard Chris Mooney applied to Templeton. It’s hard to take his intellectual honesty seriously when I suspect he is doing what he is doing to win the Templeton prize, thus becoming a millionaire. How CAN you take him seriously when there is a plausible motive that he is chasing a carrot on a stick?

Templeton is there to SUPPORT religion and protect it in the modern era of science. I doubt Chris Mooney even wants to convert anyone out of religion since he appears to do what he can to encourage some version of Oprah-like religion or spritiuality. In the words of P.Z. - it makes me want to puke.

Posted on May 12, 2011 at 3:00pm by kennykjc Comment #10

I vote for Ron Lindsay to host every show.
His sense of balance and being able to cut through rhetoric was perfect.
Maybe someone can put what Ron Lindsay did into words better than I, but basically Ron is everything I want to hear in an interviewer.
He knows how to keep on track, how to allow the interviewee just enough rope to hang themselves, and when to stop and just move on.

I thought Chris Mooney was completely lost in this interview.
One moment Chris was backed into such a small corner that the situation reminded of me of a famous guitar player:

Here’s what Ron and Chris said:
Ron: We don’t know what Galileo may or may not have done had he been in a different culture, but I’m not sure that means we have to concede to religion an important role in scientific discoveries
Chris: [pause] The fact is that it was a motivating factor for the early modern scientists

And this strikes me as a parallel interview
Spinal Tap interviewer: But why don’t you just make 10 louder and make 10 be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel: [pause] These go to 11

Posted on May 12, 2011 at 6:32pm by FurryMoses Comment #11

Really?  Tell me what beliefs someone arrives at via means other than reason.  I dare you. 

Um, is this s trick question? How many children sit down and rationally decide to accept their parents’ religious beliefs? I’d venture to say not many. They accept these beliefs not because they rationally examine them, but because it’s a part of their identity as part of the family and community.

If you’re right, then we’re all wasting our time. A simple flyer explaining why religious faith is unreasonable should be all it takes. As beliefs are arrived at only through reason, people will simply process the information and arrive at the right answer. Why did no one else think of this?

Posted on May 12, 2011 at 8:48pm by Jansob Comment #12

Ron asks Mooney if he has any evidence for his assertions on the negative effects of gnu atheism on science popularisation.

Mooney says he doesn’t, it would be difficult and expensive to get. Okay…

Then Ron asks if it is just a hunch.

Mooney procedes to do a complete 180 and claim that its more than a hunch because he has all sorts of knowledge and evidence pointing to it being true.

lolwat?

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 12:44am by Bruce Gorton Comment #13

This is quite depressing. Like religions, the skeptical movement now has schisms, heretics, and factions. Skeptics who want to reach out to people who are our allies on 90% of the science issues are being insulted and called names because they are not pure enough. Those of you who are former Christians may recognize a strong whiff of Calvinism in the air.

I’ll continue to educate those around me on science and teach skeptical thinking (which I think in the long run is corrosive to faith)...but I won’t really stay connected with the “movement” if it becomes synonymous with evangelical atheism.

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 5:24am by Jansob Comment #14

Really?  Tell me what beliefs someone arrives at via means other than reason.  I dare you. 

Um, is this s trick question? How many children sit down and rationally decide to accept their parents’ religious beliefs? I’d venture to say not many. They accept these beliefs not because they rationally examine them, but because it’s a part of their identity as part of the family and community.

If you’re right, then we’re all wasting our time. A simple flyer explaining why religious faith is unreasonable should be all it takes. As beliefs are arrived at only through reason, people will simply process the information and arrive at the right answer. Why did no one else think of this?

First of all, leave aside this rational nonsense - reasoning doesn’t have to be good in order to still be reason.

Second, what you are describing there is still rational - the kids have limited sources of information and are trusting them to tell them the truth.

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 6:12am by Bruce Gorton Comment #15

Really?  Tell me what beliefs someone arrives at via means other than reason.  I dare you. 

Um, is this s trick question? How many children sit down and rationally decide to accept their parents’ religious beliefs? I’d venture to say not many. They accept these beliefs not because they rationally examine them, but because it’s a part of their identity as part of the family and community.

If you’re right, then we’re all wasting our time. A simple flyer explaining why religious faith is unreasonable should be all it takes. As beliefs are arrived at only through reason, people will simply process the information and arrive at the right answer. Why did no one else think of this?

First of all, leave aside this rational nonsense - reasoning doesn’t have to be good in order to still be reason.

Ok, then, how many children reason out whether they should accept their parents’ religion? (I took out the “sit down” part in order to head off any other pedantic objections.) I don’t think you will find much evidence that most people arrive at their religious beliefs through anything but osmosis. Otherwise you’d see a bit more variation (like more Muslims in Alabama.)

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 6:21am by Jansob Comment #16

Really?  Tell me what beliefs someone arrives at via means other than reason.  I dare you. 

Um, is this s trick question? How many children sit down and rationally decide to accept their parents’ religious beliefs? I’d venture to say not many. They accept these beliefs not because they rationally examine them, but because it’s a part of their identity as part of the family and community.

If you’re right, then we’re all wasting our time. A simple flyer explaining why religious faith is unreasonable should be all it takes. As beliefs are arrived at only through reason, people will simply process the information and arrive at the right answer. Why did no one else think of this?

First of all, leave aside this rational nonsense - reasoning doesn’t have to be good in order to still be reason.

Ok, then, how many children reason out whether they should accept their parents’ religion? (I took out the “sit down” part in order to head off any other pedantic objections.) I don’t think you will find much evidence that most people arrive at their religious beliefs through anything but osmosis. Otherwise you’d see a bit more variation (like more Muslims in Alabama.)

All. Even if that reasoning is “because mommy and daddy say so” or “because everyone else says so too” it is still reason. In order to adopt a belief we subject it to reason automatically.

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 6:32am by Bruce Gorton Comment #17

Really?  Tell me what beliefs someone arrives at via means other than reason.  I dare you. 

Um, is this s trick question? How many children sit down and rationally decide to accept their parents’ religious beliefs? I’d venture to say not many. They accept these beliefs not because they rationally examine them, but because it’s a part of their identity as part of the family and community.

If you’re right, then we’re all wasting our time. A simple flyer explaining why religious faith is unreasonable should be all it takes. As beliefs are arrived at only through reason, people will simply process the information and arrive at the right answer. Why did no one else think of this?

First of all, leave aside this rational nonsense - reasoning doesn’t have to be good in order to still be reason.

Second, what you are describing there is still rational - the kids have limited sources of information and are trusting them to tell them the truth.

@Jansob… only a “semi” trick question.  It was designed to do exactly what happened… get you and others to reconsider just how “reasoned” much of our daily “second-nature” or “reflexive” responses actually are, built on each and every bit of experience we have in life.  Not on emotional reactions at the moment.

Also, it is a total canard to throw up the “evangelical atheism” bit.  Standing up for, and debating the merits of, one’s positions does not equate to proselytizing dogma.  It asks ALL humans to abide by the same standards of interaction.

@Bruce:  Correct… and I’ll extend that a bit.  When a child, say, plugs an electrical device in whilst gripping the prongs and receives a shock, followed up by a parent teaching them how to properly hold the plug, and explaining that electricity is dangerous… it is thus “reasoned” by the child: a) damn, that hurt. I don’t want to repeat THAT experience. b)the person who seems to treat me best every day of my short life is telling me how to avoid future pain, so c) I think I will choose (reason) to follow that advice and never again hold the prongs. 

Are future events in which the person is “emotionally” cautious around electricity reasoned?  Conditioned responses are in effect reasoned on a scale of pleasure and pain and desire for future pleasure.  The idea that everything we do is (and only is) a visceral reaction to the event of the moment is silly.  It may be true the FIRST time we encounter something, but then we have the ability to reason/plan/practice for how we will respond in future occurrences.  The defensive barriers one throws up reflexively in response to “attacks” (yes, I’m talking to you, persecuted Christians) have been TRAINED into us… i.e. “reasoned.”  The fact that we rarely question long held habits/beliefs applies to all facets of our life, not just religious belief, and we CAN choose to recognize and uproot those bad habits. 

The pre-requisite is that we can be taught to recognize WHY holding untested prejudices and defending unfalsifiable beliefs ARE bad habits. 

Mooney’s approach doesn’t ask the religious addict to face their addiction, or admit any potential dangers/flaws in their thinking.  Mooney is an “enabler.”  He can go on all he wants about how cognitive dissonance theory has been replaced, but that is a dodge.  The only way I came to question my devout Catholicism was to be exposed to ideas that contradicted it… some of those ideas were presented gruffly, some eruditely… all added up to reasons to abandon the Church and a belief that my life’s actions need to be based on some supposed God entity.  Atheists willing to discuss and debate the merits of their positions, without belittling or dehumanizing those who have been indoctrinated to not question… and at the same time NOT ceding any ground to those religious folks demands for “respect” ful silence… are essential to achieving change:  in the lot of atheists in society, if not in changing the minds/beliefs of believers.

And frankly, my open advocacy of non-belief is more about carving a space of equality in society for all humans, than it is about converting believers.  Period.

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 6:44am by Robert Schneider Comment #18

Ok, then never mind. If every decision is classified as “reason”, then obviously every decision is a well-thought out position that can be defeated by a rational argument. So print up the flyers and religion will be gone my next month.

You guys have fun hunting heretics, I’m done.

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 6:50am by Jansob Comment #19

Ok, then never mind. If every decision is classified as “reason”, then obviously every decision is a well-thought out position that can be defeated by a rational argument. So print up the flyers and religion will be gone my next month.

You guys have fun hunting heretics, I’m done.

That, is a strawman.

Reason is how we come to accept ideas, and our ability to reason well is something that we pick up over time. We make errors in our logic when we are small that we wouldn’t make as adults, and different people have different aptitudes when it comes to reasoning.

Plus once we have accepted ideas we have a variety of nasty little perceptual weaknesses which kick in specifically to protect those ideas.

For example, say you believed that XYZ group couldn’t drive. Now this group is no worse at driving than anybody else is really, but your belief that they can’t drive would make you notice more bad drivers in that group, than other groups. This is confirmation bias - we tend to see the hits that suit our ideology while the misses go unnoticed.

We develop tools to improve our ability to reason and avoid the traps of our perception. We call this critical thinking.

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 7:43am by Bruce Gorton Comment #20

Ok, then never mind. If every decision is classified as “reason”, then obviously every decision is a well-thought out position that can be defeated by a rational argument. So print up the flyers and religion will be gone my next month.

You guys have fun hunting heretics, I’m done.

This is truly an amazing hornet’s nest Mr. Mooney (and I suppose others before him) has opened up. 

Mooney and his supporters essentially argue we should be enablers for believers, so that believers don’t clamp down on us (since they’re in the majority, and appeasing a majority is a good political strategy.)

Harris/Myers/Dawkins/Dennett and others argue that scientific thinking is incompatible with religious thinking (i.e. there aren’t multiple “ways of knowing”).  We should present unvarnished “truth,” argue about it and support it with data, experimentation, replicability, etc. and let believers deal with the fact that it implies their “way of knowing” is ineffective, untestable, dogmatic, received wisdom, etc. ... no matter how painful that may be to the ears of the believer.  Speaking truth and being willing to discuss/revise that truth in open discussion where everyone plays by the same rules, is, in their view, the better political strategy.

Coyne, very explicitly, argues that an organization like the NCSE, whose mission is improved SCIENCE education, need not take a position on religious belief at all.  Yet they do: not only adopting a favorable, “accommodationist” position toward religious belief, but actively fighting against those who advocate NEUTRALITY.  They seem to buy into Mooney’s explicitly political argument that it is in our “political” best interests to grow our constituency. 

And people like @Jansob continually muddy the waters by ASSERTING that the actions of non-religious people, who DARE to ask religious people to justify their claims on our lives and society, are equivalent to the actions of those religious who quash dissent.  You bandy about terms like “evangelical” and “hunting heretics” and “atheist orthodoxy” in a display of equivocation that boggles the mind.

What political majority has NOT stooped to demonizing those who challenge it?
What social change has been achieved by appeasement?
What equal rights movement has succeeded as a result of its “oppressor” voluntarily giving up their position?
What great idea achieved prominence because it was agreed to in committee?

Politics is compromise, and no doubt there are places where we can compromise to achieve greater freedom for all… even those we disagree with…  Free Speech is a good example, protecting hateful speech, under the principle that disagreeable speech is exactly what must be protected to prevent majorities from quashing dissent. But would you “accommodate” those who want to criminalize speech “offensive to religious faith?”  Is the concept of blasphemy compatible with the principle of free speech?

Compromise on the assertion that scientific thinking (belief acquisition through test, observation and accumulated experience… always open to change) and religious thinking (belief acquisition through assertion, ignoring evidence, and authority of divinely inspired texts) are “compatible” is not a compromise.  It is a surrender.

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 8:13am by Robert Schneider Comment #21

I’ll continue to educate those around me on science and teach skeptical thinking (which I think in the long run is corrosive to faith)...but I won’t really stay connected with the “movement” if it becomes synonymous with evangelical atheism.

Cya then.

“Evangelical atheism”... Gotta love the way Mooney supporters try to paint religion and atheism as the same thing. For one thing, if you want to be called a skeptic you should have no belief in anything that is without evidence. Someone is not a skeptic if they believe there is a bigfoot roaming around, so don’t tell me that someone who belongs to a religion and believes the myriad of things that go with that is a skeptic. They’re not. Science when dealing with things that are untestable or without evidence does not take a positive stance on them, so there’s no excuse for a person to ignore that and just believe in the flying jewish zombie anyhow.

This might just be my opinion, but I find the accomodationalists incredibly dull and boring to read. Lacking personality or entertainment. I think this hurts them getting their message out to a mass media in the way that Dawkins and Hitchens managed to do. The public responds better to plain speak wether they support it or makes them write an angry email about it.

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 3:15pm by kennykjc Comment #22

Mooney is asked to defend accommodationism and his Templeton Foundation fellowship. The tough questions elicit vigorous replies as Mooney restates his belief that some of the New Atheists are adopting the wrong tactics in criticizing religion.

Accommodationist? Can’t you find a better pejorative?  Why not sympathizer, collaborator, capitulationist, quisling…?

I see strong parallels between the fight for the rights of the non-religious and other civil rights issues, scuh as the ongoing struggle of the GLBT community.  There are academic theorists and philosophers.  There are angry protests and pride parades.  There are closeted benefactors.  There are enclaves, cities, states, parties, and professions where people find acceptance.  There are hotlines and gathering places for damaged souls.  There are legal challenges.  There are neighbors who are out.  There are people who feel it is their right to out others.  There are people who refuse to be defined by the issue.  There are political activists.  There are political alliances.  There are positive examples in art.  There are real friends who genuinely disagree.  There are setbacks and successes.  Both are multi-generational works in progress. 

Are you agnostic, antitheist, atheist, bright, deist, determinist, freethinker, humanist, materialist, mechanist, methodological naturalist, nihilist, none, non-believer, non-theist, other, pantheist, philosophical naturalist, science educator, scientist, secular, or skeptic?  Which one is right?  Who chooses the members of our club?  Which tactic is appropriate?  Which strategy is best?  Who makes a greater contribution to the desired goal?  Who chose the goal? 

Not all atheists have to be angry and up in your grill, just like not all gay activists ride the leather buddy float in the pride parade.  These are marathons.  There are a multitide of paths to the finish lines.  We need all the help we can get.

Posted on May 14, 2011 at 7:23am by michaelb Comment #23

Not all atheists have to be angry and up in your grill, just like not all gay activists ride the leather buddy float in the pride parade.  These are marathons.  There are a multitide of paths to the finish lines.  We need all the help we can get.

You get it.  Your entire post was spot on! If Mooney could say the same things, we wouldn’t need a term for him and his ilk.  But they are actively telling those of us on “other paths” that “YOU’RE NOT HELPING.”

The more resistance to his ideas, the more he digs in his heels and casts blame on his “attackers.”  Maybe he’s trying to prove his own point? And the way he does it… claiming to be scientific while relying on his “hunches” and “suspicions” that his idea is right.  It’s embarassing.  Maybe the world at large should start treating Mooney as a Troll, since responding to him only further props up his ersatz fame and authority.

Maybe the new internet meme can become, “Don’t feed the Mooney.”

Posted on May 14, 2011 at 8:21am by Robert Schneider Comment #24

Ophelia, I still remember your POI interview, a very good one.  :)

[16:26] [Lindsay]... residents of the EU are less scientifically literate overall, than Americans, but have less of a problem accepting Evolution.  And one could surmise that’s because, at least many in the EU are more secular than Americans.  Which, perhaps means that if we want to get people to understand science better, and maybe accept Evolution, what we should do in fact is to get people to give up their religious beliefs.  So, in fact, the way that we get people to accept evolution is not to soft-pedal criticism of religion, but rather to, in fact, subject religion to rather harsh criticism. 

      [Mooney] If you assume that harsh criticism will change their minds, which is something that I strongly reject.  I think it will backfire.  And I think that we have good reason to suspect that.  I will grant you that if you have a society that is less religious is is highly more likely to be a society that is more accepting of Evolution, but the question is how you get there.

      [Lindsay] And how would you get there, except through critical examination of religion?

      [Mooney] No, I think that that’s… I mean you say “critical examination of religion” as if suddenly by making the rational arguments against religion these are going to be taken up and accepted in the minds of the people for whom religion is the center of their identity, and I say that’s incredibly naive, psychologically.  So… that’s not how we work, that’s not how human beings work.  So what would I do?  I would try to empower the messengers that they will listen to.  People who are more like them, people who they trust.  That means people who are in their community hopefully, Pasteurs, scientists who are religious, people who are closer to them and can speak a bit more of their language, and may be able to move them… it will still be very hard.  You will still trigger a lot of resistance, but I think there will be more openness than kind of the frontal assault from someone with who you have very little or nothing in common, an atheist.


Mooney did very well.  The basic psychology of it, which I think would be obvious based on day-to-day experience… religion is not merely some idle belief, like when you believe that the Sun will rise tomorrow (it might not) or that the train will arrive on schedule (it might not), but it is instead an active pursuit, and a most personal and emotionally invested one too. 

I think that some people are just jumping from one extreme to the other, from a extremist religious background where questions were not allowed, to an extreme Humanist present were religion is not allowed.  There are many moderate religious out there, we can get along and be friends.

A tactless, bold, aggressive, verbal confrontation against their religion is just going to hurt the moderate religious, and they will resent it and be forced to defend against it.  That attitude will shoot our Humanist movement in the foot, the religious are in the majority and so angering and opposing them is a loosing strategy.  Those who can’t recognize that are not recognizing that religion is the norm in societies world-over, and so you have to accommodate that norm if you’re going to participate in society.  Without making some room for the widespread societal norms, that is just choosing to separate from society, it is anti-social, it is extreme.  We can and should choose to be a part of society, not apart from society and its norms.  We can make room for Humanism as one of the norms of society, be pro-Humanism rather than anti-religion.  The moderates are the people who the Humanists should be making friends with.  They are the open-minded ones who can hear a kind tactful positive and friendly message.  :)

Lets invite the religious moderates into the discussion, into the fold, the more the merrier!  People can learn, learn the facts, facts based on evidence, evidence gathered by science, science being an imperfect human pursuit but the best way to learn about the world.  They religious are inquisitive, they will ask questions, and we have some answers, but wait until they ask, encourage and entice them.  :)

[48:21] [Lindsay]... one of the strategies that the New Atheists have recommended, is that the people who are atheists come out more.

I’m glad to hear that Lindsay and Mooney have some agreement.  :)
Doug, you made good good points.  :)

Posted on May 14, 2011 at 9:28am by jump_in_the_pit Comment #25

Thank you, Chris, for speaking up for us accommodationists.  I believe that diversity is good for our movement, and I worry about the skeptical/freethought movement becoming too caught up in militant antireligious fervor.  I agree with you that new atheist attacks on religion will not change believers’ minds and would be counterproductive if not for a counterbalance of other views.  But I have no problem with Richard Dawkins and other scientists writing books expressing their atheism or with Francis Collins and Ken Miller expressing their religious belief.  I also think that accommodationism and new atheism are not mutually exclusive but two ends of a graduated scale, and just because I lean towards accommodationism that doesn’t mean I can’t at times criticize religion or express my unbelief.  I wonder, to what extent can I have my cake and eat it too?

Posted on May 14, 2011 at 3:46pm by rasmur Comment #26

Thank you, Chris, for speaking up for us accommodationists.  I believe that diversity is good for our movement

2 questions:  What “diversity” is being prevented, and what “movement” are you talking about?  Are you seeking the vaunted “diversity in ways of knowing”??  Doesn’t exist.

and I worry about the skeptical/freethought movement becoming too caught up in militant antireligious fervor.

 

I will stipulate that there are ways that people can go too far in attacking a person, or in stating their position. But let’s be clear.  Saying “Religious thinking and scientific thinking are mutually exclusive” is not attacking religion any more than saying “Homeopathy has no scientific basis for its claims.”

But I have no problem with Richard Dawkins and other scientists writing books expressing their atheism or with Francis Collins and Ken Miller expressing their religious belief.

Great…so magnanimous of you.  But let’s be very clear that what you are agreeing to above is NOT what the “accommodationism” debate is about, or what started it.  The “accommodationist” says what you said, PLUS “Science and religion are compatible” AND “You “New Atheists” aren’t helping in the effort to win converts.”

I also think that accommodationism and new atheism are not mutually exclusive but two ends of a graduated scale

Please, elaborate on this scale and the units of measure.  What defines the two end-points?  Seriously… what do you think is the difference.  It will reveal a lot about the way you think.

just because I lean towards accommodationism


please… pursuant to the previous line, define accommodationism in your terms.  In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya (Princess Bride), “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

Posted on May 14, 2011 at 4:18pm by Robert Schneider Comment #27

the religious are in the majority and so angering and opposing them is a loosing strategy

I have a huge problem with this assumption. Yeah, lets not fight for the gay rights because that would just anger the religious majority. Absolute nonsense!

I dunno why you think it’s a bad thing to rile the religious up anyway, because following the accomodationalist logic this would just turn more people against religion. But I doubt that, because that would mean your logic would be coherent.

I agree with you that new atheist attacks on religion will not change believers’ minds

This is why I have contempt for accomodationalists, because this is a lie. Stop repeating it.

Posted on May 14, 2011 at 4:28pm by kennykjc Comment #28

Thank you, Chris, for speaking up for us accommodationists.  I believe that diversity is good for our movement, and I worry about the skeptical/freethought movement becoming too caught up in militant antireligious fervor. ?

Good for you, but Chris wants us all to be ‘accomodationists’. I believe diversity will only make it stronger. Taking the Civil and Gay rights movements, it was their diversity which made them stronger. Neither would have gotten Jack Squat if they had all been accomodationists.

Posted on May 14, 2011 at 4:51pm by asanta Comment #29

I don’t see that religion is compatible with science, but I pick my battles. The battle to atheize the planet is not going to be won anytime soon. But I can increase the level of scientific knowledge and awareness of skeptical thought. I’ve gotten 2 religious school board members to see that ID is creationism in disguise and support science. They may still believe God is somehow behind it all, but they no longer support ID in the district.

If this is accomodationism, then it has it’s place. As do those who directly challenge religion when it’s appropriate. It bothers me to see skeptics strawmanning each other’s position as I’m seeing here. In a conversation about religion I doubt most “accomodationists” would meekly refuse to challenge religion. And I doubt most “New Atheists” would go hammer and tongs against the Bible when talking about vaccines. We have waaaaay more in common than not, and this whole argument depresses me.

Posted on May 14, 2011 at 5:30pm by Takahashi Comment #30

Mooney has a lot of good points, including the bit about the emotional responses having priority (both in terms of coming first and in terms of being more important) than working through the reasoning for a belief system.  However, I do think that the more of us who come forward and explain why we don’t accept anything on faith and specifically why we don’t accept a personal god, the more the most damaging ultra-religionists will be marginalized… to the benefit of society.

I think there is room for Mooney’s (and Niel DeGrasse Tyson’s) “accomodationist” approach and Dawkins’ et al’s more confrontational approach.  I don’t agree that Dawkins is all that confrontational except in the sense that he makes no bones about his beliefs and does not pretend that there is some merit in religious beliefs in order to placate the religionists.  I’m in the midst of reading “Unweaving the Rainbow” and find it to be a very warm, inspiring and friendly contribution to discussion of the arts vs science division within the intellectual community.  Also, his “God Delusion” was, IMHO, not nearly as “nasty” as some of the “hands over the mouth… you can’t say that!” ... critics suggested.

It would be interesting to bring Dan Barker into this debate… maybe have him as a guest or have Mooney as a guest on Free Thought Radio…or both… since in a sense Dan is in both camps.  As a former fundamentalist minister who is still on good terms with many (but by no means all) of his former colleagues and who still has a preacher’s style of speaking, Dan can be quite clear about exposing the nonsense that is christian religion while still in some sense being “one of them”....  just as escapees from other cults can help bring some of their friends who were still in thrall out of the cult.  The fact that Dan was able to bring his parents and one of his brothers out of the cult over time attests to this.

The thing is that for an awful lot of people, religion is a club and the price of membership is pretending to believe nonsense.  When belief in nonsense is the price of continued membership, some people are willing to pay.  Humans are social animals, after all.  Making membership in the club less attractive is a step in the right direction… regardless of how that is accomplished (as long as it doesn’t involve violence or coersion, of course).

Another bright star on the science horizon is the increasing interest in systematic study of the causes of (and maybe eventually cures for?) religious faith.  I like the theory that religion is a byproduct of our need to associate in groups for survival….  Kinda like sickle cell anemia persists because it confers partial immunity to malaria. :)

Posted on May 14, 2011 at 6:29pm by ullrich Comment #31

The battle to atheize the planet is not going to be won anytime soon.

Wow, if that’s the goal (is that the goal?) we’ve got a lot of work to do.  Religion is as naturally occurring as language, music, and art.  Applying the scientific method is an unnatural act.  Changing either probably requires rewiring the brain from the amygdala on up.  If making certain that biology, geology, and astronomy is taught in the science classroom and Genesis is taught in comparative religion course are among our objectives, then there is hope…

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 6:31am by michaelb Comment #32

The battle to atheize the planet is not going to be won anytime soon.

Wow, if that’s the goal (is that the goal?) we’ve got a lot of work to do.  Religion is as naturally occurring as language, music, and art.  Applying the scientific method is an unnatural act.  Changing either probably requires rewiring the brain from the amygdala on up.  If making certain that biology, geology, and astronomy is taught in the science classroom and Genesis is taught in comparative religion course are among our objectives, then there is hope…

Not always,rationality and critical thinking is very “natural"for some but not all.Teaching science is great,but not everyone actually cares about it.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 7:07am by mid atlantic Comment #33

I found this interview to be OK,but it didnt seem like it went too far.Both gentlemen seemed a bit pompous to me,but I agree with some points from all sides.There is no field guide for the skeptical community and there never will be!Accommodationism should not be tolerated IMO,however the emotional basis of belief is probably more powerful in most humans.Gnu atheists can be obnoxious now and then but that comes with the territory and the religious are capable of plenty of that too.Lets just keep at it,there is a supply of skeptics in every dark corner,waiting to find like minded people.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 7:35am by mid atlantic Comment #34

There is no field guide for the skeptical community and there never will be! Accommodationism should not be tolerated IMO

If there is no field guide for our enterprise why is “accommodationism” off the table?

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 8:20am by michaelb Comment #35

Chris was arguing that the New Atheists were wrong in their approach while Lindsay was defending them.  I did not see it as Lindsay saying it was wrong for Chris himself to take an accomodationist approach, but rather wrong to criticize the more confrontational approach of the New Atheists.  (I’m leaving aside the Templeton issue, as that is really something different).

Chris was completely unable to defend his position.  His basic argument was that “believers” are not converted by the confrontational approach.  But this is a gross overgeneralization.  Chris’ position would make sense only in no believer were ever convinced by this approach.  As long as a confrontationalist approach would be persuasive to any believer, then Chris’ argument falls apart, and there is ample evidence that many believers are persuaded by such an approach even if the majority, or even the vast majority, are not.  At this point, the only thing Chris could do to save his position is to show that, counteracting this persuasive effect on believers, the confrontationalist approach causes more people to become believers, and he offered no evidence of that, nor am I aware of any.

My personal belief is that believers are persuaded by a continuum of approaches—from completely non-confrontational to completely confrontational, and the evidence as I understand it fully supports this.  If one is going to be critical of any approach, he has the burden of marshalling the evidence against it.  Chris has thrown the stone against the confrontationist approach but has presented no evidence that it does not advance the ball overall. 

If everyone could just agree that a unified approach is unnecessary, then this entire argument could be put to bed and we could move on to more constructive discussions.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 8:25am by lumberjohn Comment #36

There is no field guide for the skeptical community and there never will be! Accommodationism should not be tolerated IMO

If there is no field guide for our enterprise why is “accommodationism” off the table?

Its not off the table,I just dont go for it.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 8:36am by mid atlantic Comment #37

There is no field guide for the skeptical community and there never will be! Accommodationism should not be tolerated IMO

If there is no field guide for our enterprise why is “accommodationism” off the table?

Because it often seems to spend more time telling those of us who prefer a more direct approach that we are doing it “rong” with zero evidence to that effect, than dealing with supernatural claims.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 9:23am by Bruce Gorton Comment #38

There is no field guide for the skeptical community and there never will be! Accommodationism should not be tolerated IMO

If there is no field guide for our enterprise why is “accommodationism” off the table?

Because it often seems to spend more time telling those of us who prefer a more direct approach that we are doing it “rong” with zero evidence to that effect, than dealing with supernatural claims.

One way to look at choosing a less in your grill approach is that we need the support - or at least not the opposition - of the political majority of main stream nominally religious and apatheist nones to help get/keep the creationists out of the science classroom.  If we hack off the the folks with enough votes to help us carry the issue what good have we done?  Seems to me it will be a lot easier to atheize (neat word) the planet once we get a decent K-12 science curriculum between our kids’ ears.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 10:18am by michaelb Comment #39

One way to look at choosing a less in your grill approach is that we need the support - or at least not the opposition - of the political majority of main stream nominally religious and apatheist nones to help get/keep the creationists out of the science classroom.  If we hack off the the folks with enough votes to help us carry the issue what good have we done?  Seems to me it will be a lot easier to atheize (neat word) the planet once we get a decent K-12 science curriculum between our kids’ ears.

As an “in your grill” atheist, I am all for having a strong science curriculum and keeping religion out of the class but I don’t think bruising their ego is gonna harm it. Same way I would say we shouldn’t be soft and gentle to anti-vaxxers.

I think people have this cartoon-like scenario in their head about a conversation between a new atheist and a religious person that always results in the religious person storming off to be close-minded forever and the next thing you know there is creationism in the classroom… While the other cartoon shows the religious person and the accomodationalist living happily ever after and no more will they attack science and maybe they might even give up their religious beliefs but who cares if they don’t.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 10:52am by kennykjc Comment #40

Neither the accommodationist nor the confrontational approach should be off the table, IMHO.  One of the problems with those who decry the confrontational approach is that they fail to realize that for a sizable segment of true believers, any hint that you don’t believe the Bible is the Word Of God is taken as confrontational.  For those people, you might as well get as confrontational as you like and hope for the best.  I suspect that for a lot of religious people, any denial of the absolute unquestionable truth of their beliefs is a threat to their self-definition and to their membership in a group of supportive fellow believers.  Deep down, these people know that religions are BS, but they’re unwilling to think about that because of the social implications.

IMHO, the proposition “Give us 10% of your income and in return we’ll rape your kids and scare them half to death with tales of eternal torture” would have very few takers without the effects of social pressure and unrelenting propaganda to the effect that the essentially insane belief system that is christianity is absolute truth.  It is no co-incidence that the most devout among us are the least knowledgeable of the actual contents of the “scriptures”.

There is a sizable number of former and current preachers who have, through honest and diligent biblical study, come to the correct conclusion that all religion is BS.  By being confrontational, some people will be goaded into looking at the bible more diligently and will discover: “Holy s**t! Those damned atheists are right!”.  Note that I’m being accommodationist here by substituting the obvious letters in “s**t” with asterisks.  :)

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 10:55am by ullrich Comment #41

IMHO, the proposition “Give us 10% of your income and in return we’ll rape your kids and scare them half to death with tales of eternal torture” would have very few takers without the effects of social pressure and unrelenting propaganda to the effect that the essentially insane belief system that is christianity is absolute truth.

The Archdiocese called.  That job in marketing has been filled…  ;-)

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 11:33am by michaelb Comment #42

I know, with that blurb, sales would plummet!  :)

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 11:34am by ullrich Comment #43

Templeton is there to SUPPORT religion and protect it in the modern era of science. I doubt Chris Mooney even wants to convert anyone out of religion since he appears to do what he can to encourage some version of Oprah-like religion or spritiuality. In the words of P.Z. - it makes me want to puke.

You and PZ should have that tendency to puke inappropriately looked into.  It can cause throat cancer, you know.  ;-P

I agree that Templeton’s aims were (now that he’s dead, I suspect he no longer has aims) basically pro-religion, but far from puking, my response is that there is nothing wrong with Mooney taking the money and using it to help refute religious belief… however accomodationist his approach.  That study about the usefulness of prayer actually showed the reverse of what I’m sure Templeton would have wanted it to show.  I certainly don’t begrudge whoever got the money for that study his due there.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 12:02pm by ullrich Comment #44

This is quite depressing. Like religions, the skeptical movement now has schisms, heretics, and factions. Skeptics who want to reach out to people who are our allies on 90% of the science issues are being insulted and called names because they are not pure enough. Those of you who are former Christians may recognize a strong whiff of Calvinism in the air.

I’ll continue to educate those around me on science and teach skeptical thinking (which I think in the long run is corrosive to faith)...but I won’t really stay connected with the “movement” if it becomes synonymous with evangelical atheism.

I believe that evangelical atheism is kinda needed to counter the so far overwhelming nature of christian and muslim evangelicalism.  Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening any time soon for the same underlying reason that religion develops in the first place.  The fact that we’re atheists means that we’re probably not “joiners” and tend to be relatively immune to social pressure… otherwise we would never have developed the courage to abandon the religions into which we were inducted as children.  One of the big problems for freethinkers is the apparent dearth of ability to form common fronts around issues that we all agree on (along with freedom-loving religious groups who also strongly support separation of church and state) instead of focusing on how stupid are the other atheists who don’t agree with our particular finer points of philosophy or who don’t even want to admit their atheism for fear of annoying anyone.

Laurie Anne Gaylor and Dan Barker have the right idea, IMHO, with their Freedom From Religion Foundation.  They focus on the pressing need to fight back the attack on separation of church and state in the US and make common cause with and accept help from all who support that focus regardless of what else they may believe.  They tend to have a mildly confrontational style, but it does seem to be working.  This is not to say that an accommodationist style like that espoused by Niel DeGrasse Tyson has no merit.  Raising the general level of scientific literacy is an essential component of the struggle.  It is, however, impossible to raise that level of scientific literacy while public (and private) schools are able to teach religious myths as science.

Regarding the qualm about being derided by fellow atheists for not being pure enough, that is just the nature of internet communication.  When you don’t see the emotional response your words are producing, you lose that self-correcting mirror-neuron mediated response to tone your comments down as appropriate.  There have been flame wars in probably every internet forum since the beginning of the internet when usenet was the only widely available public forum.  IMHO, it didn’t really cause any problems.  Participants quickly developed thick skins and the discussions proceeded apace as they do to this very day.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 12:30pm by ullrich Comment #45

As far as the podcast, Mooney at one time said that scientists like Newton studied the universe because they believed they were exploring God’s handiwork.  I’ve never believed that scientists actually believed that.  Even in the middle-ages, I think they used that explanation to fend-off their anti-scientific critics and bring some religious approval onto their hobbies.  People like Newton studied the universe because they were curious about the universe.  Keep in mind that these scientists worked in a period of history where authors would dedicate their books to God or the Pope as a way to avoid censorship.  Sometimes, they were advocating viewpoints that were diametrically opposed to teachings of the church, and this was their way of smoothing things over, rather than draw the ire of the church.

You’ve never believed that any scientists believed they were exploring God’s handiwork?  I think you should do a little more historical research.  There’s a lot of evidence for theological views having a bearing on approach to science (e.g., Peter Dear pointing out the differences between the mixed mathematical sciences approach of Catholics like Galileo and Pascal, vs. the more empirical approach of Protestants like Boyle and Bacon).[1]  While there are no doubt cases of insincere expressions of religious commitment used to stay out of trouble, in the case of Newton and Galileo I think there’s no question that they had sincere religious beliefs which influenced their notions of natural law—in Galileo’s case, sometimes negatively, such as his insistence on the perfection of circular motion which led him to discount the work of Kepler.  (BTW, it was criticism from fellow Catholics that got him to change the title of his major work from _Dialogue on the Ebb and Flow of the Sea_ to _Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems_.  Since his theory of tidal motion was quite wrong—another area where Kepler got it right—this turned out in hindsight to be a good change.)

On the other hand, the works that have made the strongest case for a war between science and religion—John William Draper’s _History of the Conflict Between Science and Religion_ (1875) and Andrew Dickson White’s _A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom_ (1896) are both polemical works now regarded to have seriously distorted many of the historical events they describe.  See, for example, Ronald Numbers, editor, _Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion_ (2009).

[1] I’ve written a bit more about this on my blog: http://lippard.blogspot.com/2010/04/galileo-on-relation-between-science-and.html

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 12:54pm by Jim Lippard Comment #46

Coyne, very explicitly, argues that an organization like the NCSE, whose mission is improved SCIENCE education, need not take a position on religious belief at all.  Yet they do: not only adopting a favorable, “accommodationist” position toward religious belief, but actively fighting against those who advocate NEUTRALITY.  They seem to buy into Mooney’s explicitly political argument that it is in our “political” best interests to grow our constituency.

What’s your evidence that the NCSE is “actively fighting against those who advocate NEUTRALITY”?

I think there have been a few statements associated with the NCSE that go too far in claiming compatibility, but they are rare and don’t seem to be part of official NCSE doctrine.  In general, they simply make the claim that compatibility is *possible* between science and religion, which is true in the abstract though untrue in the case of most believers, in my experience, with a few notable exceptions.

I thought that Mooney in general did a better job of defending his position than Lindsay did in attacking it.  In particular on the Templeton issue—to be such a purist as to say that it’s wrong for Mooney and Shermer to take Templeton money, or it’s wrong for people like Hitchens, Shermer, Pinker, and so forth to participate in Templeton projects that are part of mainstream examination of science, religion, and culture—that seems to me to force atheists into a ghetto.  Self-proclaimed atheists are perhaps 1-2% of the U.S. population.  It’s better to interact and engage with reasonable people regardless of their religious views.

That said, I don’t agree with Mooney in every particular, and I’d characterize myself as a pluralist, not an accomodationist.  I don’t object to the “new atheism” project in general, and think it has been effective in provoking contemplation of the idea of atheism much more widely, at the very least.  The idea of the Overton Window, though perhaps in need of better empirical support, does at least make some sense to me.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 1:10pm by Jim Lippard Comment #47

Chris was arguing that the New Atheists were wrong in their approach while Lindsay was defending them.  I did not see it as Lindsay saying it was wrong for Chris himself to take an accomodationist approach, but rather wrong to criticize the more confrontational approach of the New Atheists.  (I’m leaving aside the Templeton issue, as that is really something different).

Chris was completely unable to defend his position.  His basic argument was that “believers” are not converted by the confrontational approach.  But this is a gross overgeneralization.  Chris’ position would make sense only in no believer were ever convinced by this approach.

No, Chris would have a point if it were true that a confrontational approach had more of a tendency to increase belief in believers than to dissuade them from their beliefs, which was what he argued for based on the empirical studies he referred to.  Lindsay gave that specific counterexample you offer—that surely some people do change their beliefs, and Chris acknowledged that to be the case.  All that his argument requires is a relative tendency for confrontation to increase belief rather than change it, which he argued for citing a few empirical studies and his prior PoI interview with Lakoff about belief activation.

As long as a confrontationalist approach would be persuasive to any believer, then Chris’ argument falls apart, and there is ample evidence that many believers are persuaded by such an approach even if the majority, or even the vast majority, are not.  At this point, the only thing Chris could do to save his position is to show that, counteracting this persuasive effect on believers, the confrontationalist approach causes more people to become believers, and he offered no evidence of that, nor am I aware of any.

Your last sentence contradicts your prior claim (“Chris’ position would make sense *only* ...”), and Chris did refer to evidence though he didn’t cite it except for Lakoff.  He’s also referring to studies like the work of Brendan Nyhan and Dan Kahan.  All of them have been PoI guests interviewed by Mooney.

My personal belief is that believers are persuaded by a continuum of approaches—from completely non-confrontational to completely confrontational, and the evidence as I understand it fully supports this.  If one is going to be critical of any approach, he has the burden of marshalling the evidence against it.  Chris has thrown the stone against the confrontationist approach but has presented no evidence that it does not advance the ball overall. 

If everyone could just agree that a unified approach is unnecessary, then this entire argument could be put to bed and we could move on to more constructive discussions.

I think you’re right to an extent, which is part of why I’m a pluralist on this issue, but I think we should rely on the empirical evidence rather than our personal beliefs.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 1:18pm by Jim Lippard Comment #48

I never said I agree with everything that Chris Mooney says, but I think it is better to work with religion on issues with which we agree, such as NCSE does with the Clergy Letter Project, than to shrilly and vehemently oppose it as Dawkins and the new atheists do, or even to stand disdainfully aloof from it as Myers and Coyne insist that the NCSE should do.  That is why I say that I am more of an accommodationist than a new atheist, more in the Gould/Scott/Mooney camp than in the Dawkins/Myers/Hitchens camp.  But even though I don’t agree with Dawkins that religion is evil and must be fought, I believe he is helpful in encouraging those who are unhappy in their religion to leave it and take a stance of positive atheism.  I do not agree with Chris Mooney that (if I’m not misinterpreting him) scientists like Dawkins should not write books expressing their religious unbelief, or that other scientists like Francis Collins should not write books expressing their religious belief.  I do agree with him that evangelical, militant, antireligious atheism is not the right approach for a large number of our fellow citizens, and we need a diversity of approaches from a diversity of people and beliefs to be effective.  And I am glad Chris Mooney, Eugenie Scott, and other moderate voices are there to counteract the loud voices of all you preachers of atheism.  As to the issue of accommodation vs. new atheism being two extremes of a graduated scale, I feel that even though I am mostly an accommodationist, there may be times when I can tell people why I don’t believe or talk about the problems I find with religion, but how much of that I can get away with and still be considered amicable to religion, I’m not certain.  I would err on the side of accommodationism.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 2:56pm by rasmur Comment #49

I do agree with him that evangelical, militant, antireligious atheism is not the right approach for a large number of our fellow citizens, and we need a diversity of approaches from a diversity of people and beliefs to be effective.

That’s not what Chris Mooney is saying. As someone else here pointed out, Chris Mooney wants us ALL to be accomodationalists and that not only is outspoken atheism ineffective, but does more harm than good.

And to your comment about antireligious atheism not being the right approach to a large number of the population, are you saying a softy soft approach is more effective for a larger majority of the population? I just want to be clear that this is a BIG grey area that is often painted as a black and white issue by the softies.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 3:10pm by kennykjc Comment #50


You’ve never believed that any scientists believed they were exploring God’s handiwork?  I think you should do a little more historical research.

During Galileo’s time, 100% of the population of Europe had to claim to be not just Christian but the politically correct kind of Christian or risk being tortured to death.  Any professions of religious interest by people of that era whose work otherwise proved that they knew better are highly suspect.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 3:16pm by ullrich Comment #51

I never said I agree with everything that Chris Mooney says, but I think it is better to work with religion on issues with which we agree, such as NCSE does with the Clergy Letter Project, than to shrilly and vehemently oppose it as Dawkins and the new atheists do,.....

Hitchens is a bit shrill and vehement.  Dawkins is just vehement.  His “God Delusion” is quite calm, but refuses to concede anything to religion.  Given that a lot of the religion advocates out there (especially the Tea Baggers movement) are not only shrill and vehement, but deliberately manufacture and flood the airwaves with lies after manner of Joseph Goebbels (that Catholic German kid you’ve doubtless heard about), I’m actually kinda thrilled that there are some vehement voices out there presenting and defending science and objective truth to the best of their considerable ability to understand it.  I think it is possible to be vehement and still make common cause and have calm (if not friendly) debates with those religionists who are as appalled by the antics of the Bill Rileys of the world as we are.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 3:39pm by ullrich Comment #52


You’ve never believed that any scientists believed they were exploring God’s handiwork?  I think you should do a little more historical research.

During Galileo’s time, 100% of the population of Europe had to claim to be not just Christian but the politically correct kind of Christian or risk being tortured to death.  Any professions of religious interest by people of that era whose work otherwise proved that they knew better are highly suspect.

It takes only a single counterexample for his purported belief, and I think Newton’s private wriitngs suffice.  I’m also very skeptical of the claim that Galileo was a closet atheist.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 4:58pm by Jim Lippard Comment #53

Coyne, very explicitly, argues that an organization like the NCSE, whose mission is improved SCIENCE education, need not take a position on religious belief at all.  Yet they do: not only adopting a favorable, “accommodationist” position toward religious belief, but actively fighting against those who advocate NEUTRALITY.  They seem to buy into Mooney’s explicitly political argument that it is in our “political” best interests to grow our constituency.

What’s your evidence that the NCSE is “actively fighting against those who advocate NEUTRALITY”?

I don’t have a cite on the tip of my tongue, and it is completely possible that I’m wrongly attributing Mooney’s (and other CFI authors) support of NCSE Accommodations, to NCSE itself or its representatives.  I’ve read virtually everything written from Coyne, Myers, Dawkins, Mooney,  Shook, etc. on the topic as it arose, and after all these years ... yes, I look back and this goes at least to 2005… it is a bit of a blur.  I’ll retract the claim until it is validated (or not).

Jim, are you an NCSE Employee?

I think there have been a few statements associated with the NCSE that go too far in claiming compatibility, but they are rare and don’t seem to be part of official NCSE doctrine.  In general, they simply make the claim that compatibility is *possible* between science and religion, which is true in the abstract though untrue in the case of most believers, in my experience, with a few notable exceptions.

Here we go again with the compatibility equivocation.  Explain to me the “abstract” in which these two divergent “methods of knowing” can be “compatible,” and be sure to explicate the special definition or limits of “compatible.”  Further, let’s be clear:  Are you talking about whether the “Religious approach to acquiring “knowledge” is compatible with “the scientific approach to gaining knowledge,” or the completely wrong-headed and uninteresting (IMHO)claim that religion and science are “compatible because there are religious scientists.”  I don’t care if Francis Collins can simultaneously be a Christian and a geneticist.  It does not make the scientific method compatible with the Nicene Creed as sources or methods of “knowing.” 

Please, use your few notable exceptions to help explain.

Can their be comity between religious and non religious people?  Yes.
Can diverse people with diverse beliefs sets be on the same side of an issue that is in no way related to their religious beliefs? Yes.
Are science and religion (or scientific thinking and religious thinking) compatible?  Ultimately, not without making some twisted linguistic gymnastic** maneuvers that do damage to the concepts of scientific thinking.

There are not two ways of “knowing”.  There are, however, multiple ways of making decisions in life, based on what you CHOOSE to believe constitutes evidence for or against your proposed actions.  Including “revealed sources of truth” in your set of valid evidence is NOT compatible with science. 

**(Apologies to Elvis Costello, and “The Loved Ones”... “spare us your theatrics and verbal gymnastics; we break wise guys just like matchsticks.”)

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 6:46pm by Robert Schneider Comment #54

No, Chris would have a point if it were true that a confrontational approach had more of a tendency to increase belief in believers than to dissuade them from their beliefs, which was what he argued for based on the empirical studies he referred to.  Lindsay gave that specific counterexample you offer—that surely some people do change their beliefs, and Chris acknowledged that to be the case.  All that his argument requires is a relative tendency for confrontation to increase belief rather than change it, which he argued for citing a few empirical studies and his prior PoI interview with Lakoff about belief activation.

What Chris cited would potentially support only the proposition that a confrontational approach might make the person to whom it was directed dig in deeper, and thereby be unpersuasive to them.  He cited nothing that would suggest such arguments made to the general public increase the number of believers.  In other words, when you say"to increase belief rather than change it,” it would be limited to increasing the belief in someone who is already a believer—increasing the intensity of their belief and perhaps resistance to change.  But what is the accommodationist alternative?  That approach wouldn’t make the person more likely to disbelieve.  They would simply go on their merry way.  So with respect to that believer, the two positions are a wash, equally ineffective.  Moony must do more, then, to attack the confrontationist approach.  He must marshall evidence that it less effective across the board than his own approach, and he simply hasn’t done that.

I think you’re right to an extent, which is part of why I’m a pluralist on this issue, but I think we should rely on the empirical evidence rather than our personal beliefs.

Agreed.  Which is why I cited examples for my position while Moony has cited none for his.

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 8:07pm by lumberjohn Comment #55


You’ve never believed that any scientists believed they were exploring God’s handiwork?  I think you should do a little more historical research.

During Galileo’s time, 100% of the population of Europe had to claim to be not just Christian but the politically correct kind of Christian or risk being tortured to death.  Any professions of religious interest by people of that era whose work otherwise proved that they knew better are highly suspect.

It takes only a single counterexample for his purported belief, and I think Newton’s private wriitngs suffice.  I’m also very skeptical of the claim that Galileo was a closet atheist.

Neither had to be an atheist in order for their motives to be something other than “exploring God’s design.” They could well have been simply “exploring things they found interesting.”

And their exploration may well have taken them further without the load-stone weight of centuries of the mental oppression the church represented. Heck they may have even been rendered irrelevant as earlier discoverers could well have arisen without the threat of torture for going against dogma.

Posted on May 16, 2011 at 6:55am by Bruce Gorton Comment #56

the religious are in the majority and so angering and opposing them is a loosing strategy

I have a huge problem with this assumption. Yeah, lets not fight for the gay rights because that would just anger the religious majority. Absolute nonsense!

I dunno why you think it’s a bad thing to rile the religious up anyway, because following the accomodationalist logic this would just turn more people against religion. But I doubt that, because that would mean your logic would be coherent.

I agree with you that new atheist attacks on religion will not change believers’ minds

This is why I have contempt for accomodationalists, because this is a lie. Stop repeating it.

I am envious of others who can make the perfect point succinctly!  Well done, kennykjc!!

Your first tactic:  Take the argument and apply it to other situations to see how absurd it would sound.  Excellent. 
Here’s another version:  “You shouldn’t protest to abolish slavery because it will rile up the white-folk… you abolitionists are messing up the incredibly valuable work we in the House Servant’s Guild have been doing.” 

Second:
What are the presumed effects of “riling” the opposition?
1.  They won’t like us?
    Too Late… that’s the status quo.

2.  They might fight back and make our position even less comfortable? 
    Sounds like time to stiffen our backbones, and face the challenge of robust debate.  If we stand on principle, decency, openness and commitment to reasoned discussion, their irraitonal, unfounded counter-attacks will only further make our point. 

3.  Offending the religious might provoke physical attack?
  Who would be in the wrong in that case?  Is appeasement out of fear of repercussions desirable?  Again, there is clearly a difference between lashing out and attacking people, vs. questioning a person’s assertions and challenging their “right” to impose their beliefs on others.  Moderating our position, at the expense of central principle, to avoid a threatened reprisal does not seem like a good tactic.  Why… if it were, wouldn’t we all be in favor of adopting blasphemy laws to help protect religious sensitivities and avoid the riots and killings?

4.  “someone’s” relationship will change?    Yes, there are profiteers in any war, and they will fight anyone who might undermine their “profits” (whether they be fame, fellowships, or actual book royalties.)

And your final line…excellent.  Repeating an unfounded assertion does not make it true.

It bears repeating:  If Mooney can admit he made a mistake, and stop pointing fingers at others he believes are less effective than himself (without providing anything other than assertions, hunches, anecdotes and aspersions to that effect) then this whole “accommodationism” debate largely evaporates.  I’d love to find some face-saving way to allow him to “rejoin the team” but he keeps publicly shooting himself in the foot while attempting to fortify his original position.

It’s making things worse, and to paraphrase a participant in this debate… “Chris Mooney, YOU’RE NOT HELPING yourself.”

Posted on May 16, 2011 at 7:06am by Robert Schneider Comment #57

the religious are in the majority and so angering and opposing them is a loosing strategy


I have a huge problem with this assumption. Yeah, lets not fight for the gay rights because that would just anger the religious majority. Absolute nonsense!

Well said, Robert.  I completely agree.  If Mooney wants to do his accommodationist thing, I’ve no problem with that, but at some point confrontation is inevitable and necessary—particularly with the religious fanatics who consider any contradiction of their insane beliefs to be confrontational and more importantly who consider it their god given duty to impose those beliefs on the rest of us.

Posted on May 16, 2011 at 11:13am by ullrich Comment #58

This idea that the stance of the New Atheists “won’t change believers’ minds” really is the problem here, since that is what those who criticize their approach always seem to fall back on.  There is ample evidence just on Richard Dawkins’ website that this isn’t true.  Clearly, such arguments do change some believers’ minds, so they do advance the ball.  That is real evidence of actual numbers of people persuaded by the confrontational approach.

What do we have on the other side of the coin?  What evidence is there that such an approach moves the ball backwards?  All Moony can provide is research showing that, in general, people that believe something strongly often become defensive when that belief is subjected to a frontal assault.  Even if we were to grant that such research can be applied to religious belief, which I think is a reasonable though not necessary assumption, that only means that a confrontationist approach is likely to cause someone who is already a believer, and probably not likely to change their mind anyway, to become less likely to change their mind during the course of the argument.  It says nothing about what the long term effects of such confrontation would be.  For instance, the religious person might, after having his belief effectively attacked several times, go in search of confirmatory evidence and find that it doesn’t exist —thereby leading him away from religion. 

But the more important point is that such research says nothing at all about how a confrontational approach would shift the balance between believers and non-believers, which is the real question and one on which the New Atheists can and do provide such evidence.  I would like to hear from someone who actually supports Mooney’s position on this issue.

Posted on May 16, 2011 at 11:17am by lumberjohn Comment #59

I have a few questions for Chris, or perhaps for folks who agree with him (if he’s not planning on answering questions here, which seems like the case).

First, a little setup:  Imagine a person who is extremely religious and anti-science (say, a biblical literalist), and a scientifically-literate atheist like Chris wants to move this person towards a scientific worldview.  For the sake of something simple and quantifiable, let’s say we want this person to vaguely accept evolution, to the point that they wouldn’t vote for a creationist school board member over an non-creationist (all other things being equal).

Chris would say that directly “confronting” (loaded word, I know) this person would be a bad idea.  So, no telling them they’re wrong, no giving them facts that contradict their beliefs, no logical arguments, etc.  So, what to do?  The only specific thing Chris suggested was (not a direct quote) “showing them someone who’s close to their beliefs but is okay with evolution,” so that it’s less jarring.  So, I guess, the advice is to send in Francis Collins or Ken Miller, and demonstrate that it’s okay to be religious and Christian?

Now, for my questions:

(1)  Does anyone seriously think that will work well?  Won’t they reject Miller as a papist and Collins as a bad christian, and go home?  If they want scientists, they have creation “scientists”, after all.

(2)  Analogously, isn’t this effectively taking a theological stance?  This is where the criticism of the AAAS, NAS, and NCSE arises from the big-bad New Atheists.  Chris is clearly calling one type of religious person “better” than another, yet nebulously arguing the merits of religion as a whole (something he does all the damn time, by the way) and claiming science/reason can’t address religion.

(3)  Isn’t this insidious, and perhaps dishonest and unethical?  Look at this from the perspective of my hypothetical person.  Here is this atheist who wants me to give up a religious belief, and to do so he’s sending in people from a religion he likes better, hoping that I’ll change my beliefs.

(4)  Along the same lines, isn’t this spectacularly arrogant and condescending?  The part of the interview when Ron asked “well, should we close CFI,” and Chris eventually responded “no, it works for people like you and me” is straight-up obnoxious and offensive to religious people, no?  In case you don’t remember, the [it] there comprised things like science, reason, rationality, and logic.  Back to the hypothetical situation, isn’t the course of action Chris would (presumably) recommend basically saying “you rubes aren’t smart enough to handle the truth, so hopefully you’re gullible enough that my buddies can convince you to believe their slightly-less-wrong fairy tale instead of the one you believe now”?


Totally separate, and probably not worth getting into, I would also ask Chris (5) why he doesn’t follow any of the advice he’s offering here when it comes to the climate change issue?  Of the blogs I read regularly (not many, admittedly) he is by far the most “strident” and least “accommodating” w.r.t. climate change denialism.  And, hopefully everyone here knows a libertarian/objectivist or two, and thus won’t try to make the argument that climate change doesn’t challenge a core belief the way evolution challenges some religions.  Furthermore, it’s not just a religion thing, since he’s also been “accommodating” to anti-vaxxers, though we have a tiny sample size.

Posted on May 16, 2011 at 4:17pm by cheglabratjoe Comment #60

Loved it! This was a most excellent and educational discussion. and I hope that it hits as broad a range of “hard-wired” listeners as possible as was discussed therein since all of us can benefit from what it tells us.  Chris Mooney is of course, correct in his assertions regarding the difficulty of changing beliefs, but just as any army needs to make forays into the lines of and test the enemies strengths and weaknesses, so too is it necessary to maintain a strong fortress of ascertained beliefs of your own (as Mr. Lindsay maintains) from which to fire the big guns.

Europe is perhaps not a good example for evolution into secularism as most of it is projected to become irretrievably Muslim within the next 15 years or so, a matter of simple demographics.  Whether those Muslims become more or less secular is a highly speculative matter but the status quo is doomed by its own democratic processes.

My scientific viewpoint:

In the absence of a continuously applied directional net force of bias in the physical universe all things ultimately become gray, null and void, a corollary of which is that just as each participating observer will witness an event as being subjective to their own biases, any non-participant’s (“outside observer”) more objective, presumably bias-free viewpoint will also ultimately witness all things as being gray, null and void as well as unimaginative and thus too dull for words.  Assumptions hereto include that like-units of energy exchange exist in common Spacetime dimensions which precludes exchanges between (for example) theists and atheists if each is of the “strong” variety whereby no common ground exists upon which to battle (see above on “alternate universes”) .  (Excerpted from my blog article on Biases)

Aside from those restrictions, the battle is on!

Posted on May 16, 2011 at 6:09pm by gray1 Comment #61

Totally separate, and probably not worth getting into, I would also ask Chris (5) why he doesn’t follow any of the advice he’s offering here when it comes to the climate change issue?

That is an excellent point and one that is definitely worth getting into, as it demonstrates the blatent hypocrisy of Chris’ position.  If he really believed that a confrontational approach was counter-productive in the battle of ideas, then why does he take that exact approach on climate change?  I think the real answer is that Chris knows a lot of nice liberal Christians that he doesn’t want to offend.  The inconsistency couldn’t be more stark.

Posted on May 17, 2011 at 8:11am by lumberjohn Comment #62

Totally separate, and probably not worth getting into, I would also ask Chris (5) why he doesn’t follow any of the advice he’s offering here when it comes to the climate change issue?

That is an excellent point and one that is definitely worth getting into, as it demonstrates the blatent hypocrisy of Chris’ position.  If he really believed that a confrontational approach was counter-productive in the battle of ideas, then why does he take that exact approach on climate change?  I think the real answer is that Chris knows a lot of nice liberal Christians that he doesn’t want to offend.  The inconsistency couldn’t be more stark.

Well, I (perhaps unfairly) assumed the conversation would just descend into Chris calling me “philosophically naive” because I’m comparing religion to politics, and me calling Chris inconsistent and biased.

Frankly, I think the truth lies pretty close to your speculation:  that Chris just doesn’t want to offend nice liberal Christians he knows, but doesn’t mind offending conservatives (or at least the non-religious aspects of the Right in the US).  As I mentioned, I think this is demonstrated best by his reversion to accommodation in the few instances that he has talked about anti-vaxxers, who tend to be liberal (save for the ‘health freedom’ and faith-healers on the Right, of course).

Posted on May 17, 2011 at 9:50am by cheglabratjoe Comment #63

Another point that has been glossed over is that the accommodationist position, as asserted by Moony, consists of two different stances: (1) non-theists attempting to win the war of ideas with theists should take a non-confrontational approach, as a confrontational approach is counter-productive; and (2) accommodationists should maintain there is no conflict between science and religion. 

I would agree that a non-confrontational approach may be effective in certain situations, but would strongly disagree with the second part of number (1), and as I’ve pointed out above, I don’t think Chris has provided any evidence for this in the face of real evidence to the contrary.  Also, this isn’t consistent with Chris’ own stance on climate change.

I would strongly disagree with (2).  Chris was forced to back off his “perfectly compatible” statement, but I don’t see value in claiming any compatibility.  Chris’ position seems to be that everyone has a different view of their religion and since we can’t say that science is incompatible with them all, we have to say it is compatible with them all.  Clearly, that isn’t true.  We have to pick a definition of a religion to properly discuss it.  Using the core documents and tenants of the religion seems reasonable in defining it, and, using that approach, there is no major religion that is even close to compatible with what science tells us.  The only honest approach is to point out that science and religion are incompatible.

Posted on May 17, 2011 at 10:01am by lumberjohn Comment #64

I do agree with him that evangelical, militant, antireligious atheism is not the right approach for a large number of our fellow citizens, and we need a diversity of approaches from a diversity of people and beliefs to be effective.

That’s not what Chris Mooney is saying. As someone else here pointed out, Chris Mooney wants us ALL to be accomodationalists and that not only is outspoken atheism ineffective, but does more harm than good.

And to your comment about antireligious atheism not being the right approach to a large number of the population, are you saying a softy soft approach is more effective for a larger majority of the population? I just want to be clear that this is a BIG grey area that is often painted as a black and white issue by the softies.

I don’t believe that everyone needs to take a soft approach, and I don’t fault the new atheists for expressing their views.  I do believe that a more gentle approach would work better for most people.  But each individual can express his/her own feelings about it, resulting in diverse approaches for diverse target audiences.  Hopefully the result will be a more scientifically literate, less superstitious public.

Posted on May 17, 2011 at 4:25pm by rasmur Comment #65

I don’t believe that everyone needs to take a soft approach, and I don’t fault the new atheists for expressing their views.  I do believe that a more gentle approach would work better for most people.  But each individual can express his/her own feelings about it, resulting in diverse approaches for diverse target audiences.  Hopefully the result will be a more scientifically literate, less superstitious public.

Fair enough. Although I tend to always look at the big picture rather than dealing with a one on one conversation. When I think of the big movements over the last century, especially the civil rights movements (gay, feminist, race) I think of minorities and the powerless speaking loud and clear, out and proud challenging the status quo. Activism works.

Posted on May 17, 2011 at 8:16pm by kennykjc Comment #66

I think Chris Mooney, who I generally admire, was somewhat disingenuous in his discussion with Ronald Lindsay and I couldn’t help feeling that his taking of the Templeton shilling might have had something to do with it. There is little doubt that there has been over even the recent past, and certainly since 9/11 a growing disenchantment amongst mainstream European and I suggest also US opinion against religious beliefs of all kind. The difficulties that say, the Catholic Church has in recruiting to the priesthood would bear this out I think. But well before this watershed, in northern Europe a better informed and educated society was already moving in a strongly secular direction. This has only come about by challenging the often primitive beliefs of the religious which would seem to be contrary to the policy of Accomodationism proposed by Chris Mooney. I often find myself doing this in a light-hearted way with Catholics I know well by saying such things as “why does the Virgin Mary only appear in rural Europe”, what’s wrong with the USA? And furthermore, if she really wanted to make an impact, how about an Our Lady of Mecca? Many believers now accept Evolution, so how about this for a contra- accomodationist challenge: we are supposed to have an immortal soul which lives on in the after-life when we die. Lower life forms such as amoeba and even higher primates aren’t so lucky we are told. So picture the scene; evolution teaches there has been a continual transition from lower life forms to us, homo sapiens. So at some time t=0, God must have infused a specimen of homo sapiens, let’s call him Adam, with his immortal soul. But what about Adam’s Mum and Dad?  They obviously weren’t so lucky. A possible but highly unlikely scenario which I think believers would struggle with because it’s so silly.

Posted on May 19, 2011 at 9:17am by norrisgreen Comment #67

Well, it doesn’t look like we’re getting responses here, but I assume everyone has seen Chris’ summary of the podcast:  http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2011/05/17/latest-point-of-inquiry-accommodationism-and-the-psychology-of-belief/

A little self-important for my tastes.  (He calls himself a “Rorschach” when it comes to the accommodation thing.  Um, Chris, I’m pretty sure any accommodationist vs. new atheist podcast put out by CFI would garner blog responses from the people involved in said debate.  No?)  I did find it funny that the only supporting blog post he referenced admitted in the second sentence that he (Josh Rosenau) hadn’t even listened to the podcast, making his commentary nothing more than an uninformed knee-jerk reaction to something PZ Myers wrote.  Yeah, that’s what we need more of!

I don’t have a lot to say about his comments, other than pointing out that he again disparages religious people by saying they “aren’t thinking.”  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t realize that this is pretty insulting, since of course he’s framing himself at the nice guy in this debate.

Posted on May 19, 2011 at 1:38pm by cheglabratjoe Comment #68

Coyne, very explicitly, argues that an organization like the NCSE, whose mission is improved SCIENCE education, need not take a position on religious belief at all.  Yet they do: not only adopting a favorable, “accommodationist” position toward religious belief, but actively fighting against those who advocate NEUTRALITY.  They seem to buy into Mooney’s explicitly political argument that it is in our “political” best interests to grow our constituency.

What’s your evidence that the NCSE is “actively fighting against those who advocate NEUTRALITY”?

I don’t have a cite on the tip of my tongue, and it is completely possible that I’m wrongly attributing Mooney’s (and other CFI authors) support of NCSE Accommodations, to NCSE itself or its representatives.  I’ve read virtually everything written from Coyne, Myers, Dawkins, Mooney,  Shook, etc. on the topic as it arose, and after all these years ... yes, I look back and this goes at least to 2005… it is a bit of a blur.  I’ll retract the claim until it is validated (or not).

Jim, are you an NCSE Employee?

I am not now, nor have I ever been an NCSE employee.  I am an NCSE supporter and I’ve published articles in _Creation/Evolution_ and _Reports of the NCSE_.

I think there have been a few statements associated with the NCSE that go too far in claiming compatibility, but they are rare and don’t seem to be part of official NCSE doctrine.  In general, they simply make the claim that compatibility is *possible* between science and religion, which is true in the abstract though untrue in the case of most believers, in my experience, with a few notable exceptions.

Here we go again with the compatibility equivocation.  Explain to me the “abstract” in which these two divergent “methods of knowing” can be “compatible,” and be sure to explicate the special definition or limits of “compatible.”  Further, let’s be clear:  Are you talking about whether the “Religious approach to acquiring “knowledge” is compatible with “the scientific approach to gaining knowledge,” or the completely wrong-headed and uninteresting (IMHO)claim that religion and science are “compatible because there are religious scientists.”  I don’t care if Francis Collins can simultaneously be a Christian and a geneticist.  It does not make the scientific method compatible with the Nicene Creed as sources or methods of “knowing.” 

Please, use your few notable exceptions to help explain.

I didn’t equivocate between people believing mutually inconsistent propositions and propositions being consistent—I specifically called out that distinction.  You’re a bit hasty with accusations, aren’t you?

I don’t think there is such a thing as “*the* ‘Religious approach to acquiring knowledge’” nor “*the* scientific approach to gaining knowledge,” nor “*the* scientific method.”  There are most definitely different ways of knowing things—at the very least there are empirical and logical methods which can lead to knowledge.  I’m of the opinion that there is little, if anything, in any religious doctrine that constitutes knowledge, but that doesn’t entail that it is impossible for a religious position or practice to be logically consistent with established scientific knowledge.

Can their be comity between religious and non religious people?  Yes.
Can diverse people with diverse beliefs sets be on the same side of an issue that is in no way related to their religious beliefs? Yes.

We’re in agreement so far.

Are science and religion (or scientific thinking and religious thinking) compatible?  Ultimately, not without making some twisted linguistic gymnastic** maneuvers that do damage to the concepts of scientific thinking.

Here, I disagree.  First of all, there is more to life than propositional attitudes.  Second, much of religion involves social and cultural practices and values more than doctrine.  Third, “scientific thinking” is not a single unique methodology.  Fourth, scientific methodology doesn’t and cannot capture all known truths (at the very least, there are truths of mathematics and logic that are at best ancillary to empirical sciences of experimental and historical varieties).  Fifth, scientific practice involves values which may not themselves be the outcome of empirical research.  The argument you’re making here strikes me as similar to arguing that science and art cannot be compatible without “twisted linguistic gymnastic maneuvers.”  There is some overlapping subject matter, but the basic concerns of religion and science are quite different.

There are not two ways of “knowing”.  There are, however, multiple ways of making decisions in life, based on what you CHOOSE to believe constitutes evidence for or against your proposed actions.  Including “revealed sources of truth” in your set of valid evidence is NOT compatible with science.

I don’t think there’s necessarily a single objective way of carving up the world in order to count of how many ways there are of knowing things, but I’d say there are *at least* two ways of knowing (empirical and logical).  Lots more if you count different scientific, mathematical, and logical disciplines along with prescientific sensory methods, learned recognition of social and cultural cues, testimonial transmission of information, and so on.

If it’s your suggestion that science is the only way of knowing things, I think the obvious reductio ad absurdum is that such a position implies that there was no human knowledge prior to the development of science.  That strikes me as a non-starter epistemology.

Posted on May 19, 2011 at 5:41pm by Jim Lippard Comment #69

I’m working my through the historical CFI podcasts and just finished listening to the 10/11/2010 episode.  I find I agree completely with PZ Meyers in that debate.  Further, I find no evidence in PZ’s voice to indicate that he is in the habit of puking :)    I think there is a simple and effective resolution to the accommodationist vs “hard” atheist approach.  Let’s continue to apply both!  That’s what’s going to happen anyway.  Free speech is a core value for both sides of the debate, so given that, there’s no way either side is going to shut up and go away… nor, IMHO should they.  Mooney is quite correct that up front confrontation of core beliefs hardens them, so there is some merit, (in one on one discussions) to taking a “softer” line.  On the other hand, PZ evidently can (and did in that podcast) come across as quite friendly and non-threatening at least in his tone of voice.  If the content of what he says is perceived as threatening, then that is part of the problem with the religious mindset.  Being threatened, especially to the point of violence… when someone is just expressing the fact that he/she does not believe what you do, is a strong indication that the person really doesn’t hold those beliefs very firmly and is threatened by the implications to their social standing of possibly being convinced that what he has been taught and what now defines his position in society is a pack of lies.    At no point does PZ come out and say that religious people are inferior or bad.  Dawkins and the other “hard” atheists likewise do not attack the religious folks on a personal level.  “Hard” atheists merely point out the fact that the religious folk are promoting nonsensical ideas.  We all agree that it is highly desirable to weaken the hold these ideas have on public policy, so it makes perfect sense to publicly point out nonsense when you encounter it be it in print, in schools (especially in schools) or in one on one conversations.

Posted on May 19, 2011 at 5:51pm by ullrich Comment #70

A tactless, bold, aggressive, verbal confrontation against their religion is just going to hurt the moderate religious, and they will resent it and be forced to defend against it.  That attitude will shoot our Humanist movement in the foot, [

This assumes that the only people who are listening are one monotonous level of “moderately religious”.

(let’s just ignore your words “tactless” & “verbal confrontation” as this is just circular reasoning for the purpose of this discussion. You could also say “let’s not be rude, disgusting and punch people because that will hurt the cause” ...of course it would - but those words are not what this discussion is about, we’re talking about bold, confrontational style or strong criticism… whatever, but you can’t just assume it’s “tactless” as that is begging the question)

You only have to imagine that peoples’ religious convictions lay on a wide spectrum of conviction - from “hardly believe” to the “Nothing you can say will change my mind”.

Bold, ridiculing tactics don’t grate much with someone who hardly believes or believes a bit because he was brought up with it. Please acknowledge this possibility my accommodationist friends!

I know this because I was a luke-warm religious lamb, brought up knowing nothing else.
My conviction was never strong but any bold, aggressive tactics would just hang around in the back of my mind, forcing me to “really” question my bible studies.

In fact, it was important that criticism was strong because soft criticism was always “mowed over”. Especially by long, suspicious reasoning - that was so long, I usually just accepted it.
I had mild questions when I was young, but the minister could always weazel out of them. I literally needed bold & aggressive criticism to help me get out of this cycle.

I really wonder whether I’d be here right now, had many of my companions not scoffed at religion.
Please don’t stop scoffing & being bold & confrontational - I needed you & I am damn glad you were there.

Posted on May 20, 2011 at 6:03am by FurryMoses Comment #71

Very hard-hitting interview by Ron Lindsay, the best I’ve ever heard on this program.  Chris Mooney comes off sounding rather incoherent, in my view.

Posted on May 20, 2011 at 7:22pm by Taylor Comment #72

[40:41][Lindsay]Couldn’t one argue the other way, though.  That if you, in fact, emotionalize if you will.  Appeal to someone’s emotions in the right way, or the right type of emotions, that it might cause them to change their beliefs. 

[Mooney]Sure, but what you don’t want is the negative, defensive, “you’re attacking me” emotions.  There are many other emotions, right…  You want inspire, you want to motivate…

[Lindsay]How ‘bout, here’s an emotion, and this will take us back, perhaps for at least a little bit, to the whole issue of Accomodationism and the criticism of the New Atheists.  I was reading a book recently called The Honor Code, and how some of our great moral revolutions came about due to people feeling ashamed of what they’d been doing.  It talked about dueling, it talked about foot binding in China, it talked about slavery and how the Abolitionist movement was helped a lot by people beginning to feel ashamed about slavery.  Wouldn’t it be the case, couldn’t a new atheist argue, look this new research actually supports attacking religion very harshly.  Not because it will necessarily move the inter-lockature, the person I’m actually having the discussion with, but when I point out how ridiculous religious belief is, how these… the belief in miracles, the belief in the Trinty, the belief in resurrection of the dead, and how just obserd they are, it will have an effect on people who are listening to the argument, and they will feel ashamed that they actually believe in these fantasies.  And because they feel that shame they may be motivated to give up their religious beliefs.

Lindsay offers to “Appeal to someone’s emotions”, but instead threatens to put them to shame, despite Mooney’s warning against, “the negative, defensive, “you’re attacking me” emotions”.  Lindsay is obviously headed down a dark path in this interview.  As an institution shouldn’t the CFI be trying to make friends, not trying to make divisions, doesn’t the movement need more friends and more positive actions?  Mooney calls for inspiration and motivation, good call!  As an institution the CFI can appeal to the people with positive messages, inspire them with constructive ideas, invite them to participate, isn’t it obviously the right course of action?


————

Lindsay writes:

“Secular Humanism: Its Scope and Its Limits”

“Secular humanism is a comprehensive, nonreligious lifestance. It is comprehensive because it touches every aspect of life, including issues of value, meaning, and identity.”

“Freedom. Fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, freedom of religion, and reproductive freedom are central to the secular humanist outlook.”

“Nonetheless, some seek a broader agenda. In particular, there are some who believe that secular humanism implies a commitment to a wide range of specific political, economic, and cultural positions. I disagree.”

“However, there is a perception that, in terms of their beliefs, secular humanists in the United States are a faction of the left wing of the Democratic Party—and this perception is sometimes fostered by secular humanists themselves.”

“Regrettably, at least since the 1980s, the Republican Party has cozied up to religion, often the more conservative brand of religion.”

“Is there a secular humanist position on the Iran conflict? The war in Afghanistan?”

“In sum, it seems to me, the wisdom of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan is a subject on which reasonable secular humanists can differ.”

“Likewise, on economic issues, there is ample room for disagreement among secular humanists about regulation of financial institutions, stimulation of job growth, tax policy, Social Security reform, and so forth.”

“Clearly, because of secular humanists’ commitments to civil equality and the dignity of the individual, some of the constraints imposed on markets are supported by the vast majority of secular humanists.”

“Secular humanism does not empower its adherents to act as some sort of culture police, dictating standards to the less enlightened. It does not come with a required reading list or a mandatory course in art appreciation.”

“... it seems to me we may be a bit top-heavy in the area of graduate degrees. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wonderful that so many learned and accomplished individuals are attracted to secular humanism and are willing to use their skills to further our cause. But erudition can be perceived as condescension when a humanist leader begins lecturing others about what they should read, watch, or listen to or how they should spend their free time generally.”

“Secular humanism is supposed to be a “movement.” A movement limited to a subset of those who subscribe to the New York Times and enjoy reading Aristotle does not strike me as a broad-based movement or one with much potential for growth.”

Secular Humanism: Its Scope and Its Limits by Ronald A. Lindsay

Posted on May 21, 2011 at 2:21pm by jump_in_the_pit Comment #73

There have been protests on this forum against the way Kurtz has been treated and a change in direction for the CFI.  Some have been directed at Lindsay, some haven’t.

“The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.”

(It used to be “Promoting and defending science, reason, critical thought, and free inquiry into all human endeavors.” )

About the Center for Inquiry

————

“It is with great sadness that I Jonathan Kurtz, resign from the Board of Directors of all 5 corporations of the Center For Inquiry effective immediately. I also resign as Vice Chair.”

The future of CFI  October 12th 2009


————

“We, the undersigned, are sending the following statement to CEO Ronald Lindsay and the Board of the Center for Inquiry.  We do this out of a deep concern for the present policies and future direction of the Center.”

PETITION SENT TO CENTER FOR INQUIRY  Posted: 23 June 2010 02:10 PM

————

“It is with great sadness that I Jonathan Kurtz, resign from the Board of Directors of all 5 corporations of the Center For Inquiry effective immediately. I also resign as Vice Chair.”

RESIGNATION FROM CENTER OF INQUIRY BOARD  Posted: 14 October 2009 04:50 PM

————

“Members of CFI, CSH and readers of Free Inquiry have the right to insist that this conflict ,which is hurting the organizations they support, ( which are now suffering financial problems and have had serious staff upheaval) be resolved in a manner consistent with Humanist values. The ultimate test of a Humanist is not belief in abstract values, in my opinion, but interpersonal application of those values.”

UPDATE ON THE CRISIS AT THE CENTER FOR INQUIRY INVOLVING PAUL KURTZ, RON LINDSAY AND THE BOARD.  Posted: 19 September 2009 04:35 PM

————

“The point is this:  Paul is 84, he has had a couple of serious health issues including a by-pass operation not too long ago.  Although he is still intellectually and physically active he clearly has a limited time with the organizations.  Why couldn’t the Board have respected this fact and practiced humanism in dealing with him?  (this statement is continued in next message)”

Ousting of Paul Kurtz by CFI Board  25 June 2009 08:47 AM

————

“I sincerely hope this is a bad rumor, but it seems - from this staffer who says CFI/CSH has done enough “left wing” stuff that it is time for a Right-wing conference - that indeed CFI’s break from humanism has finally led to the connection of angry-atheism with the Right-wing!”

Center for Inquiry turning to the Right?  Posted: 16 February 2007 05:14 PM

————

“In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Ron Lindsay recounts his nearly thirty year history with the organization, including his role in a landmark legal case in Alabama regarding the question of whether or not secular humanism is a religion, elaborating on how the argument has been used since by the religious right.”

Ronald A. Lindsay - The Future of The Center for Inquiry

Posted on May 21, 2011 at 2:22pm by jump_in_the_pit Comment #74

Lindsay offers to “Appeal to someone’s emotions”, but instead threatens to put them to shame, despite Mooney’s warning against, “the negative, defensive, “you’re attacking me” emotions”.  Lindsay is obviously headed down a dark path in this interview.

Read my post above.
Appealing strongly and to emotions can only be damaging in the case where the emotional investment or level of religious conviction is very high.
What about the rest? What about those who are brought up in the church & don’t know much else?
Those people have plenty of self-supporting reasoning to get them over the soft criticism you’re intending to pander them with.

Lindsay is posing questions as an interviewer, to interpret his line of questioning as “going down a dark path” is certainly unfair.
He’s clearly just presenting an idea (partly paraphrased even) based on evidence - there’s no point trying to blame the interviewer for presenting ideas that you don’t like.

Posted on May 21, 2011 at 2:47pm by FurryMoses Comment #75

As an institution the CFI can appeal to the people with positive messages, inspire them with constructive ideas, invite them to participate, isn’t it obviously the right course of action?

No.  That’s the way Paul Kurtz sounds and I found listing to him wax eloquent about human values rather repugnant.  I see close to zero benefit from that sort of message, or at least as the primary message.

I’m delighted with the sustained assault on religion that we’ve seen in the past 10 years, and I hope that it increases.  I don’t doubt that there is a segment of society that will react oppositely from the way we wish, but we’re really after the next generation; in the meantime, we can influence the fence sitters and in-the-closet atheists.

Posted on May 21, 2011 at 3:12pm by Taylor Comment #76

A tactless, bold, aggressive, verbal confrontation against their religion is just going to hurt the moderate religious, and they will resent it and be forced to defend against it.  That attitude will shoot our Humanist movement in the foot, [

(let’s just ignore your words “tactless” & “verbal confrontation” as this is just circular reasoning ...

... we’re talking about bold, confrontational style or strong criticism…

I did read your message, FurryToes, I just didn’t want to say anything.  You obviously have the circular logic taking confrontation out of the discussion and then adding it back in.

This assumes that the only people who are listening are one monotonous level of “moderately religious”.

“the only people who are listening” is extreme, and your idea.  That’s not my idea.  If people want to handle this topic as an us versus them fight don’t, its really a debate between fellow members about the face of the institution.

The old trap of the atheists is that when they make an assertion like, “God doesn’t exist”, then they have to produce the evidence, but can’t when they can’t prove non-existance.  The religious have the same trap, and so must show the evidence when they say, “God exists”.  However, these are really beliefs, and the doubters don’t have trouble with the trap, because when someone says, “God exists” then they can just reply, “I doubt it”.  The institution should take a moderate stance to avoid this trap, and the religious will put it under the highest scrutiny when it poses this affront to their most heart-felt beliefs.
 
The institution needs more friends, more popularity, who can they turn to?  The irreligious are only around 14% of the populous, so what about the other 86%?  Among the religious extremists it’ll be rare if someone listens and switches sides over to irreligion because they are closed minded.  But the moderate religious are open-minded, they are searching for more information, more answers, they are unsettled, they can be reached, they are the source of the future popularity of the CFI, and in this cultural climate where religion is the norm they are the middle ground.

I know this because I was a luke-warm religious lamb, brought up knowing nothing else.  My conviction was never strong but any bold, aggressive tactics would just hang around in the back of my mind, forcing me to “really” question my bible studies.

And I’m sure there are more out there like you, but I doubt that a tactless institutional confrontation will affect most moderate people in any good way, if they don’t dismiss the nasty message, then they resent it.  I think your case is rare, not common.

Posted on May 21, 2011 at 5:11pm by jump_in_the_pit Comment #77

I’m delighted with the sustained assault on religion that we’ve seen in the past 10 years, and I hope that it increases.

You’ve circled back to tactless again.  Now you’ve confused delight, with antagonism.  Delight is when you see a beautiful sunrise, hear a child laughing, or your lover smiles at you.  Thank you for comparing me to Kurtz, because he’s a man that I admire, he promotes positive and constructive messages.  :)

Posted on May 21, 2011 at 5:24pm by jump_in_the_pit Comment #78

Thank you for comparing me to Kurtz, because he’s a man that I admire, he promotes positive and constructive messages.  :)

He’s also rather ineffectual.  Dawkins has done more to promote the cause in the last 10 years than Kurtz did in a lifetime.

BTW, I think you’ve confused me with another poster.

Posted on May 21, 2011 at 5:51pm by Taylor Comment #79

Thank you for comparing me to Kurtz, because he’s a man that I admire, he promotes positive and constructive messages.  :)

He’s also rather ineffectual.  Dawkins has done more to promote the cause in the last 10 years than Kurtz did in a lifetime.
BTW, I think you’ve confused me with another poster.

Indeed he has, I was just going to leave it.

Posted on May 21, 2011 at 7:01pm by FurryMoses Comment #80

Dawkins hasn’t accomplished what Kurtz has by any measure that I’m aware of.  What accomplishments is Taylor talking about?  That ineffectual claim is flawed prima faci, considering that you said it on the CFI web forum.

My reply to Taylor, was meant for Taylor.

Posted on May 22, 2011 at 6:31am by jump_in_the_pit Comment #81

Dawkins hasn’t accomplished what Kurtz has by any measure that I’m aware of.

You won’t find many people outside the skeptical movement who have ever heard of the name “Paul Kurtz” and only a small percentage of them.  The same isn’t true for Dawkins.  “The God Delusion” has likely sold more copies than all of Kurtz’ books put together, by a couple of orders of magnitude.  Dawkins speaks to sell-out crowds all around the world.  Much of the same applies to the other three “Horsemen”. 

Simply put, no one is interested in Paul Kurtz’ message, but there are huge numbers of people interested in what Dawkins has to say.  Survival of the fittest.

Posted on May 22, 2011 at 8:01am by Taylor Comment #82

Kurtz, with help, has established CFIs the world over, published magazines, journals, books, and more, and Taylor you think that Dawkins’ publishings are as popular?  I have to see the numbers to believe that, I doubt it.  You just like Dawkins, that’s why your saying this.  I find Kurtz longevity far more valuable than Dawkins’ here-today-gone-tomorrow sensationalism, although I’m happy about all these successes.

Posted on May 22, 2011 at 8:18am by jump_in_the_pit Comment #83

Kurtz, with help, has established CFIs the world over, published magazines, journals, books, and more, and Taylor you think that Dawkins’ publishings are as popular?

Much more so.  The circulation of “Skeptical Inquirer” is pretty small, about 50,000, and probably only among people that already buy into the message.  It’s not a very evangelical magazine.  Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” has sold between two and three million copies.  Many were bought by the choir, too, of course, but the book’s popularity had many a religious apologist running for the bookstore.  On “www.richarddawkins.net”, there are hundreds of letters from people claiming that the book helped them break free of religion.  Clearly, the book has reached much further into the mainstream than any other atheistic book ever has.  Even before that, his books on evolution were often instrumental in freeing some people from religious dogma.  Shakespeare said “If you strike at a king, you must kill him.”  Dawkins has attempted to do just that, whereas Kurtz merely put itching powder in the King’s socks. 

I see CSI’s best role as providing a social support network for those who have made the first steps to break free from religious indoctrination, so I’m particularly encouraged by their campus activity.  A useful synergy between Dawkins-like figures is for him to send people running towards secular organizations like CFI, which will help them grow in their rationality.

Posted on May 22, 2011 at 9:08am by Taylor Comment #84

Kurtz, with help, has established CFIs the world over, published magazines, journals, books, and more, and Taylor you think that Dawkins’ publishings are as popular?

Much more so.  The circulation of “Skeptical Inquirer” is pretty small, about 50,000, and probably only among people that already buy into the message.  It’s not a very evangelical magazine.  Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” has sold between two and three million copies.  Many were bought by the choir, too, of course, but the book’s popularity had many a religious apologist running for the bookstore.  On “www.richarddawkins.net”, there are hundreds of letters from people claiming that the book helped them break free of religion.  Clearly, the book has reached much further into the mainstream than any other atheistic book ever has.  Even before that, his books on evolution were often instrumental in freeing some people from religious dogma.  Shakespeare said “If you strike at a king, you must kill him.”  Dawkins has attempted to do just that, whereas Kurtz merely put itching powder in the King’s socks. 

I see CSI’s best role as providing a social support network for those who have made the first steps to break free from religious indoctrination, so I’m particularly encouraged by their campus activity.  A useful synergy between Dawkins-like figures is for him to send people running towards secular organizations like CSI, which will help them grow in their rationality.

I have to agree with Taylor on this point.  I only discovered that there were atheist organizations (I always thought the phrase “atheist organization” was a bit of an oxymoron… and maybe it is.) recently as I was googling around for any groups that might be systematically opposing the massive push toward a new dark age which seems to be taking root in the US.  I was delighted to hear of Dawkins and read his books avidly.  Dawkins and the “New Atheist” authors have helped make criticism of religion a bit more respectable among the general public.  The most important lesson from their works is that we must break down the paradigm that religious belief cannot be legitimately criticized.  There are still blasphemy laws on the books in some states, for god’s sake!

The Freedom From Religion foundation is pursuing the most useful course, IMHO with a no-compromise criticism of faith based “reasoning” and legal challenges of faith-based laws.

Posted on May 22, 2011 at 10:08am by ullrich Comment #85

I find both Dawkins and Kurtz positive in their attitude. They just have different personalities and communication strategies. I personally support Mooney’s approach to religion. Religion is not going to go anywhere in the near future. It’s better to accept that people will always have irrational beliefs and try to figure out ways of minimizing the harm. It’s also very healthy to always remember that all of us are irrational and prone to superstition at some level.

Posted on May 24, 2011 at 12:51pm by Eero T. Eloranta Comment #86

I find both Dawkins and Kurtz positive in their attitude. They just have different personalities and communication strategies. I personally support Mooney’s approach to religion. Religion is not going to go anywhere in the near future. It’s better to accept that people will always have irrational beliefs and try to figure out ways of minimizing the harm. It’s also very healthy to always remember that all of us are irrational and prone to superstition at some level.

Mooney’s “approach to religion” is that people like Dawkins should shut up.  So there appears to be a major contradiction in your statement.  How can you support Dawkins’ approach and Mooney’s?  They are mutually exclusive.

Posted on May 25, 2011 at 7:00am by lumberjohn Comment #87

I find both Dawkins and Kurtz positive in their attitude. They just have different personalities and communication strategies. I personally support Mooney’s approach to religion. Religion is not going to go anywhere in the near future. It’s better to accept that people will always have irrational beliefs and try to figure out ways of minimizing the harm. It’s also very healthy to always remember that all of us are irrational and prone to superstition at some level.

Mooney’s “approach to religion” is that people like Dawkins should shut up.  So there appears to be a major contradiction in your statement.  How can you support Dawkins’ approach and Mooney’s?  They are mutually exclusive.

There is always some element of “chaos” in human affairs. I believe that Mooney is pointing to the right direction. It doesn’t mean that I should choose between those two. They both are valuable champions of science and reason.

Actually I don’t believe they are very far from each other, it’s just different approach to the subject.

Posted on May 25, 2011 at 7:44am by Eero T. Eloranta Comment #88

Money’s suggestion that Dawkins and like minded folk should shut up is not his approach to religion.  It is his approach to us.  I don’t agree with him on that point, but I do agree that his approach to religion is valid.  I just think that Dawkins et al also have a valid approach which reaches some of the same people (but after some further thought and research on their part).  I don’t think Mooney’s approach actually changes any more minds, but it might help make atheists a bit more respectable in the minds of some believers.  That’s a good thing also.    Let’s all try to get along!  :)  The reason the phrase “Atheist organization” is a bit of an oxymoron is that we all like to think for ourselves, so inevitably come to our own conclusions which we then feel compelled to defend against all comers.  That shouldn’t mean that we can’t work together on the issues on which we do agree.  If that has to be in separate organizations, so be it.  Let 1000 flowers bloom to quote a famous non-theist religious leader :)  (Chairman Mao for the historically challenged :)  )

Posted on May 25, 2011 at 7:49am by ullrich Comment #89

But no one is arguing that a non-confrontational approach is never appropriate.  I think everyone on this board would agree that such an approach may be fine in the right circumstances.  It is like saying that you agree with Mooney that the sky is blue.

But that is not what this discussion is about.  It is about Mooney’s insistance that a confrontational approach is wrong a priori and that anyone who takes such an approach is hurting “the cause.”  That is the accommodationist position—that no one should be confrontational with theists —that we should all maintain there is no conflict between science or reason and religion.  That is the controversy.

Posted on May 25, 2011 at 10:33am by lumberjohn Comment #90

I have experienced many pastors who were glad to introduce me to scholars on the historical Jesus and to accept my position of the Bible being mostly allegorical. But, they certainly were not trying to steer me toward a greater belief in science. I’m pretty sure I am on the far liberal end of Christianity, and although my pastors may support “The Clergy Letter Project”, an acknowledgment of science and encouragement of it being taught, I can’t imagine them consciously encouraging people to become less faithful.

I have also corresponded with Matt Dilahunty from the ACA and found his confrontational style very off putting. It took some more rational discussion like the guys at Reasonable Doubts to help complete my de-conversion.

Of the two, the liberal pastors are far worse. They were more intent on keeping me as a church member than helping me discover any truth, one way or another. Although Matt often acted like a total jerk with me, he was at least consistent and honest. It is harder to judge how honest those pastors were.

I agree in part with Chris, but he did not present much of a plan. I don’t know what he has in mind when he talks about people of faith helping people understand scientific methodology. I have experienced much discussion about approaching Genesis as allegorical, but that is an extremely small step. Learning about book burnings and the Inquisition had much more to do with my de-converting than seeing Jesus as a piece of good mythology. The biggest problem is that accepting Jesus as your savior defines Christianity. I know a pastor who is willing to perform a homosexual union ceremony, against the rules of church, but he has no plans to give up belief in the resurrection.

Posted on May 25, 2011 at 5:24pm by Lausten Comment #91

I saw Dawkins’ “Root of All Evil?” film.  The first part was reasonable enough.  But that second part… man-o-man did he go off the deep end.  I think it was telling.  He finds an old Hasidic Jew, and another young Jew who turned Muslim and moved to the Mid-East where he hates the Jews… Dawkins takes these two extremists and other extremists painting them as though they represent the norm in religion and so we should all be suspicious, fearsome, and defensive against them.  It was ridiculous, and I think that it was telling about Dawkins.

“The Ancestor’s Tale”, good work Dawkins.  A bit dry reading, but that was due to the material, not the writing, fascinating though.

Posted on May 25, 2011 at 7:43pm by jump_in_the_pit Comment #92

I saw Dawkins’ “Root of All Evil?” film.  The first part was reasonable enough.  But that second part… man-o-man did he go off the deep end.  I think it was telling.  He finds an old Hasidic Jew, and another young Jew who turned Muslim and moved to the Mid-East where he hates the Jews… Dawkins takes these two extremists and other extremists painting them as though they represent the norm in religion and so we should all be suspicious, fearsome, and defensive against them.  It was ridiculous, and I think that it was telling about Dawkins.

“The Ancestor’s Tale”, good work Dawkins.  A bit dry reading, but that was due to the material, not the writing, fascinating though.

Then obviously if the religious extremists don’t matter, then the middle east is a bastion of peace then? Good one.

Posted on May 30, 2011 at 3:05pm by kennykjc Comment #93

I had a quite different reaction to Dawkins’ “Root of all Evil?”.  I found it very compelling and entirely reasonable.  One thing he pointed out was that he objected to that title for the film and insisted on at least putting in the ? mark at the end, since he doesn’t believe that anything is the root of all evil.  IMHO, that is a perfectly reasonable attitude.  As far as painting all religionists with the brush of the worst fanatics, that’s simply not what he is doing.  He is merely pointing out in an uncompromising manner and with irrefutable examples,  the historically rather obvious truth that religion is the root of a lot of evil and that overall, it has done more to retard than to promote human progress. 

People accuse Dawkins of being harsh, shrill, and fanatical in his beliefs, but the fact that these criticisms arise at all given what he is actually saying just underlines his point that it is time to break through the paradigm that religious belief is somehow in a privileged position and that criticism of religious belief is somehow hate speech.  The Inquisition, the Crusades, the witch trials, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, suicide bombers, the murder of that Dutch film maker for producing the short video “Submission”.... those manifestations of religious belief are harsh, shrill, fanatical… not Dawkins.  I’m reminded of a slogan I came across on FFRF.org’s “Out of the Closet” web pages:

“Militant Muslims blow up cars and commit acts of terrorism.
Militant Christians blow up abortion clinics and gun down abortion doctors.
Militant Atheists might just hurt your feelings.”
  -Jay Holland

Posted on Jun 02, 2011 at 5:57pm by ullrich Comment #94

This idea that the stance of the New Atheists “won’t change believers’ minds” really is the problem here, since that is what those who criticize their approach always seem to fall back on.  There is ample evidence just on Richard Dawkins’ website that this isn’t true.  Clearly, such arguments do change some believers’ minds, so they do advance the ball.  That is real evidence of actual numbers of people persuaded by the confrontational approach.

What do we have on the other side of the coin?  What evidence is there that such an approach moves the ball backwards?  All Moony can provide is research showing that, in general, people that believe something strongly often become defensive when that belief is subjected to a frontal assault.  Even if we were to grant that such research can be applied to religious belief, which I think is a reasonable though not necessary assumption, that only means that a confrontationist approach is likely to cause someone who is already a believer, and probably not likely to change their mind anyway, to become less likely to change their mind during the course of the argument.  It says nothing about what the long term effects of such confrontation would be.  For instance, the religious person might, after having his belief effectively attacked several times, go in search of confirmatory evidence and find that it doesn’t exist —thereby leading him away from religion. 

But the more important point is that such research says nothing at all about how a confrontational approach would shift the balance between believers and non-believers, which is the real question and one on which the New Atheists can and do provide such evidence.  I would like to hear from someone who actually supports Mooney’s position on this issue.

Good points.  Chris should read Dan Barker’s “Godless”  In it, he talks about gradually over several years, throwing out the “bathwater” of his beliefs until he found there was no “baby” to be found.  His honest search for confirmation of his beliefs in the bible, did, in the end, lead him to the conclusion that it was all BS.

Posted on Jun 04, 2011 at 4:15pm by ullrich Comment #95

I attended the Oakland RAM last month, and met such a guy. He was a fundie baptist who started dating a mormon. He was trying to convince her of the error of her ways, and she was trying to defend her beliefs. He did research for confirmation and ammunition and began his journey to disbelief, and his girlfriend studied her religion more closely and discovered it was hogwash. They are now married, and have been atheists for about 6 months.

Posted on Jun 04, 2011 at 4:28pm by asanta Comment #96

Trying to stick somewhat to the topic of accomodationists…
I watched “Root of All Evil?”, thanks for the link. It was a decent introduction, but did not really draw a line through history showing any particular roots. From the people interviewed, you could make some inferences, but a lot of room for questioning was left open. He could easily have covered more about book burning or the specifics of how Francis Bacon or Baruch Spinoza were treated, or just the university system in general. If this were presented in a balanced manner, such as also showing the early science that came out of Baghdad during the height of the Islamic empire, it might find more acceptance and wider viewing.

Studying the history of where one’s religion came from, in American’s cases how it was tamed and semi-secularized or for the fundamentalists how it was encouraged, is step one. Step two is a harder look at just what one is getting out of the experience. Studying the Bible is the quickest way to atheism. Then examining that whole “I just do it for the community thing.” The community and the charity, IMO, are fine, but are you gathering and giving out of fear or even because it has some magic power?

I don’t think Dawkins has examined religion in this way. I’m not familiar enough with Mooney to say.

Posted on Jun 05, 2011 at 7:38am by Lausten Comment #97

I attended the Oakland RAM last month, and met such a guy. He was a fundie baptist who started dating a mormon. He was trying to convince her of the error of her ways, and she was trying to defend her beliefs. He did research for confirmation and ammunition and began his journey to disbelief, and his girlfriend studied her religion more closely and discovered it was hogwash. They are now married, and have been atheists for about 6 months.

Asanta that is one interesting story!

As I listened to the podcast I was reminded of the guy
Robert Cialdini and the science of persuasion

Cialdini had 6 Rules of persuasion which he summarized in a Scientific American article some years ago. (in the Wikipedia link above) Some of them apply here.
(2) Consistency. Although Lindsay talks about making people ashamed,  a softer version of this is “consistency”—showing a scientist he is inconsistent to be superstitious.
(3)-(4) Social Proof and Authority. Here Lindsay and Mooney actually agree.  If more atheists come out (or whatever you call it), especially folks who are highly respected, it would be persuasive, and if people they know are atheists it makes a differnce.
(5) Liking—I’m not an accomodationist but Mooney scores on this one—someone is more willing to listen to you if they like you. Telling people who stayed up late waiting for the rapture that they are morons is sort of hoping this “liking” stuff doesn’t matter.
and then MAYBE
(6) Scarcity—I would say that there is common ground between atheists and “religionists” if they agree it is important to care about people, and atheists can possibly emphasize that they REALLY care since they don’t think people get a second chance in heaven. But probably doesn’t apply.

Asanta’s example suggests the rule (1) reciprocity—these two people treated each other with respect and somehow worked it out.  Still a VERY strange story!

Posted on Jun 05, 2011 at 4:42pm by Jackson Comment #98

Yes, it was strange that a baptist fundie and mormon started dating in the first place. If I remember correctly, the common denominator was college. Their respective families still wallow in their respective beliefs, leaving the couple feeling very isolated. They came to the RAM to find new friends.

Posted on Jun 05, 2011 at 5:09pm by asanta Comment #99

Wow.  Great work by the guest host.  If this was a debate (which I think is a fair characterization), then he basically ate Chris Mooney’s lunch.

Mooney’s own words seemed to prove his own point, albeit not in the way I’m sure he’d like to have.  While Lindsay was calm and supremely unemotional, Mooney really seemed to be very defensive when his positions were challenged.  I can’t think of a better example of someone digging in their heels, when a pre-existing belief is challenged.

Mooney’s logical arguments were really very flimsy.  He kept asserting very strongly that there was evidence that attacking peoples’ beliefs would not yield results for atheists.  However, when pressed about this supposed evidence, Mooney repeatedly conceded that it would be hard to conduct an experiment to ever provide such evidence.  But yet, even after this concession, he then resorted back to claiming that there was evidence to support his very firmly-held belief that confrontation wouldn’t work.  Lindsay would offer arguments like “isn’t it possible that this other approach could work”, while Mooney’s statements always took the form of certainty about what would or wouldn’t work.  This absolute certitude without evidence is the hallmark of religious people, as I’m sure Mooney knows.

I agree with Mooney that psychology plays a huge role here.  He seems to have taken some legitimate findings to an absurd extreme though.  He seems to think that it’s always the case (or maybe only mostly the case) that if a belief is strongly held, then people’s beliefs will always be strengthened by evidence to the contrary.  If that were really the case, after millions of years on Earth, the only strongly-held beliefs people would still have would be all ones that are diametrically opposite of the truth.  Not only would that be a bizarre outcome, but it would actually be the death of any species.  In control systems (engineering), this phenomenon is referred to as “positive feedback”.  This would be like a swing that’s forced further in the direction it’s traveling at all times, rather than the force of gravity always pulling a swing back to the center (vertical).  Positive feedback leads to unstable systems, which in the case of beliefs would mean that people’s beliefs would just spiral into more and more nonsense (if Mooney was correct).  As it turns out, despite the persistence of religion, mankind really is getting more knowledgeable with time.  Just not as quickly as some atheists would prefer :)

The other psychological issue is about personality differences.  For the sake of argument, let’s group people into Liberals and Conservatives.  Some recent US studies have shown that aside from policy issues, liberals tend to have personalities that view compromise as a positive, while conservatives view compromise as weakness (and by large margins).  This is how you get a country that’s almost evenly divided clearly shifting to the right on policy issues.  Liberals keep making outrageous concessions to conservative policy demands.  If Senate Democrats have 59 votes, they claim they don’t have the votes, and won’t even pursue an issue.  If the Republicans have 30 votes, they think, “we only need 10 more votes, and the issue is ours.  let’s go for it!”.  As Mooney himself has said, atheism does correlate well with liberalism, and I believe Mooney, and the majority of US atheists who are also accomodationalist, are merely being undermined by their own personalities.  Giving in to nonsensical religiousness amongst scientists (for example) just feels right to left-leaning atheists, who strive for consensus, not conflict.  But, all one needs to do is look at the results in our Congress recently to realize that this liberal/conservative difference should not be construed as evidence that the normally conservative strategy of confrontation isn’t effective.  Confrontationalism is effective!

If you want another example of confrontationalism working, take smoking in the US.  It’s gotten to the point where smokers really are treated as second-class citizens, and smoking has been on the decline.  Health experts haven’t been sugar-coating the dangers for decades.  There’s nothing accomodationalist about anti-smoking campaigns in this country.  Is this the same as religion?  No, but to a smoker, smoking is a pretty core part of their life.  And in addition to the psychological barrier of not wanting to think that they’ve wasted huge amounts of time and money doing something that’s killing them, there’s actually a chemical addiction barrier to overcome, too.  So, don’t despair, New Atheists!

Posted on Jun 18, 2011 at 6:12pm by n8r0n Comment #100

(After falling behind on PoI, I’m catching up and just listened to this interview.)

A key issue this interview raised for me is that we skeptics (and atheists, freethinkers, etc.) can point to embarrassingly little solid research about What Works.  For instance, though I’m sympathetic to some of Mooney’s arguments, when pressed he had difficulty citing specific research to support his views that certain strategies are better than others for changing religious beliefs.  Maybe relevant extant research wasn’t cited, but I’d be surprised if Mooney weren’t aware of it, given his experience with this topic.

Why do so many skeptics—who are allegedly fans of science and empirical evidence—seem to be content relying on anecdotes and loose speculation about how to allocate our limited resources toward spreading our worldview?

More specifically, I’d like to see the skeptical community put more resources toward supporting research on how best to achieve some of its main objectives.  How much time, money, or other resources does CfI spend engaging with researchers in relevant disciplines to encourage studies about, say, how to effectively persuade certain segments of believers to try some version of atheism—or at least to improve their motivation and ability to think critically?  Would such research really be as prohibitively difficult as Mooney seemed to suggest?  Granted, an ideal study on a certain topic might require inordinate resources, but some well-designed preliminary studies on carefully chosen topics might be much more feasible and better than what limited evidence we have.

During any given week tens of thousands of academic researchers (e.g., faculty members, post-docs, grad and undergrad students) in psychology, neuroscience, sociology, communication science, marketing, and other pertinent disciplines are conducting studies.  These studies vary hugely in their content, scope, budget, and other aspects, from small unfunded projects by undergrads for course requirements to federally funded grants with multi-million-dollar budgets that span several years (or a couple decades).  Surely some of these investigators—especially those who study closely related topics—could be convinced to do at least small-scale pilot studies to empirically inform some of our debates about effective (or harmful) strategies for promoting skepticism.  Preliminary findings from these studies could then be used to design and attract funding for larger, more ambitious programs of research.

Is this sort of engagement between the skeptical community and researchers already happening?  If not, why not?  How hard would this be, really?  I don’t know, but I suspect that starting it would be fairly easy: Find relevant research, contact the authors to gauge their interest in studying skeptical topics in their areas of expertise, and discuss with the interested ones what kind of external support might help them.  The early stages of this already happen, such as with guest researchers on PoI and other podcasts, but mostly the skeptics seem to play a passive role, as spectators.  CfI or other groups might be able to foster the later, more active stages by serving as a clearinghouse to connect these research partners with potential sources of support, such as grant dollars, research expertise, material for experimental manipulations (e.g., readings or videos), media coverage of findings, and meetings/conferences with fellow researchers.  For example, as a statistical consultant I’d consider markedly reducing or even waiving my consulting fees for clients who are working on such research and need help design studies or analyzing data, and I suspect other skeptics with relevant expertise might offer technical or substantive assistance.

Personally, I’d be much more generous with donations to CfI or similar skeptical organizations if I knew that part of my contributions went toward generating compelling empirical evidence about how to effectively promote skepticism, a naturalistic worldview, and the like.  If anyone out there is already doing this sort of thing, I’d love to know about it.

Posted on Sep 13, 2011 at 3:30pm by PsyStat Comment #101

Best. Interview. Ever.
Mooney is a very sloppy thinker and gets frustrated and angry when questioned by someone who doesn’t just accept his assertions of fact as true.  I don’t know Lindsay’s background, but he would have made a fantastic trial lawyer.

Edit:
From Ronald A. Lindsay’s bio: “For many years he practiced law in Washington, DC, and was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and American University, where he taught jurisprudence and philosophy courses.”

And THAT is why you do your research before opening up your big mouth.

Posted on Dec 02, 2011 at 2:58am by Charles Collom Comment #102

Yes, it was strange that a baptist fundie and mormon started dating in the first place. If I remember correctly, the common denominator was college. Their respective families still wallow in their respective beliefs, leaving the couple feeling very isolated. They came to the RAM to find new friends.

Love conquers all…... :)

Posted on Dec 02, 2011 at 3:24am by Write4U Comment #103

The old adage “speak softly and carry a big stick” is still valid.  When presenting a believer with skeptical observations about beliefs and statements of proven facts, it is best to do so from a position of respect, else it is not the facts that speak loudest but the shrillness of the voice and that justifiably elicits a defensive posture of rejection, rather than a calm look at what is being said.

Modification and ultimate rejection of long held beliefs is a gradual process, i.e. gradualism.

Posted on Dec 02, 2011 at 3:30am by Write4U Comment #104