“Accommodationist” atheists are those who do not want atheists to vigorously publicly attack religious beliefs and institutions, lest they risk alienating open-minded liberal and moderate religious people and turn them off to belief in evolution, climate change, science-based education and medicine, separation of church and state, or other crucial matters of public policy. Accommodationists fear, for example, that if the New Atheists convince religious people that evolution is incompatible with belief in God, then religious people will be more inclined to cling to their faith in God and reject both evolution and its proper place in biology curricula as threats to it.
Essentially, accommodationists judge that those religious beliefs which stay segregated from public debates and, so do no harm to the broader body politic, are matters that should not be challenged. Religious people have to be intellectually and politically challenged enough as it is, and it is too much to ask of them to abandon any more of their faith than they minimally have to accept modern science.
Now even though many New Atheists are both atheists and suspicious of religions ostensibly for scientific reasons, and even though many New Atheists resort to a default positivism or scientism when dealing with metaphysics and ethics, they nonetheless are essentially taking a generally pro-philosophy stand in refusing accommodationists’ compromises with faith-based, authoritarian religions.
I say this because essentially the New Atheists’ concerns are, first and foremost, epistemological and not strictly scientific. They are adamant that the scientists’ rigorous commitment to severe standards for belief and knowledge claims be applied not just to strictly scientific questions but just as scrupulously to the matters religions presume to pronounce upon. They are adamant that the rejection of willful faith believing that is the core of scientific success be not only applied to politics, but even to the matters of belief about “souls” and “gods”.
Many New Atheists develop explicit accounts of epistemology that distinguish why faith-beliefs are improper in principle. Many want to argue for the philosophical implications of scientific findings and show how they really can give just cause for philosophical inferences rejecting belief in gods (and, specifically, belief in the Abrahamic personal designer God of Western theism). And, as I argued this morning, the New Atheists reserve, and fiercely and extensively exercise, the right to publicly agitate on numerous ethical matters which, while sometimes informed by science, are not decided scientifically but philosophically.
Essentially, the New Atheists’ insistence on vigorous public debate about faith-based, superstitious, authoritarian religion is through and through an insistence that philosophical questions related to ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of science, and philosophy of religion be publicly hashed out and not ceded to the unwarranted authority of clerics. Whether the average New Atheist is well-enough apprised of the cutting edge research in professional philosophy related to these questions, the New Atheists are most certainly the ones who are dragging philosophy kicking and screaming out of self-imposed captivity in the ivory towers and into the public square. We are the ones knocking insistingly on the church and mosque and temple doors demanding that the pastors and priests and mullahs stop systematically brainwashing the average person into a set of long ago refuted philosophical superstitions that hitherto were rarely adequately challenged in public, laymen’s terms.
We are the ones who think and behave like the average person is capable of thinking about philosophical questions rigorously for themselves and like it is a matter of supreme moral, epistemological, and political importance that they start doing so already.
For more on related themes: