Anti-Accommodationism Is Pro-Philosophy

“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.

Your Thoughts?

For more on related themes:

Is It Too Risky To Debate Morality’s Foundations In The Public Square

Against Accommodationism: Religion Has NO Rightful Claim To A Magisterium Of Its Own

What I Think About How To Engage Religious Liberals, Moderates, and Fundamentalists

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • jamessweet

    I made a similar point quite a while back, that when us anti-accomodationists say that science and religion are not compatible, we are making a philosophical claim, not an empirical one. So when accomodationists respond by citing statistics of all the many people who accept both science and faith, that is simply a red herring. Yes, we are all well aware that people are quite capable of simultaneously believing two contradictory ideas — in fact, it’s something we all do at least some of the time! That is totally irrelevant to our claim that two given ideas are in fact contradictory.

  • http://songe.me Alex Songe

    The worst thing about accommodationism is that it creates insular religious ghettos. I was once a believer, and if it weren’t for a friend seriously challenging my views on creationism, I would not have created this life that I have now. Respect for institutions necessarily conflicts with respect for the individual when the institution prescribes behavior for the individual, and I think it is through respect for the individual that we should confront these issues. To make up our minds about who gets to hear what we think in the public sphere is necessarily paternalistic, and I’m getting tired of it.

    Today I was challenged about “evangelistic atheists”, and I couldn’t let it go that I had never even knowingly met an atheist until I was 22 years old. That’s the extent of the absence of atheism for many people. We have the moral high ground because we’re expecting people to be responsible moral agents and take criticism in the public square, and we respect their rights to do the same to us. I’m not making decisions for anyone else on what they get to hear.

    • Pen

      Today I was challenged about “evangelistic atheists”, and I couldn’t let it go that I had never even knowingly met an atheist until I was 22 years old.

      I have met very few Christians even though I am 42, and have rarely met an evangelical. I see things rather differently from people in America, though I’m kind of in contact with the American world through my husband. It’s hard for me to understand a social sphere in which accommodationism means keeping silent about atheism, as you suggest, as opposed to refraining from harassing people who are more often than not ethnic and cultural minorities as well as religious minorities. The last evangelical I did meet was an American under fire from a bunch of random French people about George Bush’s habit of mentioning religion in political speeches. They did not know he was an evangelical, or what that meant, and took it for granted that Americans were tolerating this lunatic behaviour out of apathy. I let him have it too, because we were all feeling very frustrated at the time. Was it nice to get so rough with an isolated expatriate who didn’t really master the language, over something he didn’t personally do? Given the real consequences of America’s foreign policy, was this really the best choice of focus for our frustrations? Did we change his mind about anything at all in this engagement? It is exactly the kind of behaviour the non-accommodationists are advocating, for sure.

      My mum is right on their side, though she wouldn’t know it and probably wouldn’t want to own it. She a very conventional lady in an ordinary little English village, where it is perfectly conventional for her to think that the vicar is out of order for mentioning religion in the church news section of the village paper. She think it’s indecent. Personally, I wouldn’t silence the vicar for anything, because few things are more hilarious than her pronouncements on religion. Frankly, some of them are indecent, the vicar has a talent for unintended double-entendres. She also has a congregation of 3 elderly people btw. It really is true that far from needing to find space for atheism, many Europeans find public expressions of religion unpalatable and squelch them loudly.

      As Dan said in these comments, he isn’t speaking to Europe. Nonetheless Europeans and Americans comment on these blogs without always declaring their identity. We should clarify this more often, because it’s a cause of our different perspectives. The New Atheists are largely an American movement.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks for the perspective, Pen. I think it’s also important to stress that I’m critical of strands of New Atheism that celebrate rudeness as a virtue, that leaps illogically from “the religious sometimes take offense at wholly inoffensive things” to “all rudeness is acceptable and all complaints about it is just religious (or accommodationist) hypersensitivity”. I’m not writing the above as a completely uncritical ra-ra for the New Atheists. I have written many posts and comments complaining about various temptations New Atheists need to ward off that could lead us to fundamentalist ways of thinking, tribalistic ways of banding together, out-group demonizing and belittling, etc.

      I want to fight for the distinction between criticizing faith-based authoritarian beliefs and practices in unequivocally honest ways, on the one hand, and being a jerk on the other. Unfortunately too many think the two are identical and some make it a matter of pride and accuse anyone against being a jerk of being an accommodationist. I’m not at all an accommodationist, but I’m also not in favor of hateful forms of rudeness and emotional or intellectual carelessness with people or ideas.

      The genuine accommodationists really do want to go further than just saying “don’t be obnoxious” (which I support) to conflating all harshly honest critique of religion with being obnoxious (which I don’t support).

    • J. J. Ramsey

      Alex Songe:

      The worst thing about accommodationism is that it creates insular religious ghettos. I was once a believer, and if it weren’t for a friend seriously challenging my views on creationism, …

      Waaaait a minute. Let’s remember that “accommodationist” is a term used to describe those who were once described by Dawkins as members of the “Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists,” those who supposedly bend over backwards to ally with the religious against the creationists. The “accommodationists” do outreach to the religious, and yet somehow they encourage religious ghettos? Okaaaay …

  • laurentweppe

    “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

    Your Thoughts?

    My thought: Gnus are -if one were to base their definition on the behavior of gnu bloggers drunk on their own words- those who misrepresent the “accomodationists” then playact the offended virtue when someone calls them out for essentially lying.
    Accomodationists do not fear turning open-minded liberal and moderate religious people away from evolution, climate-change, science, secularism and all these crucial matters, because open-minded liberal and moderate religious people are already secularist, pro-science, and in no need of Dawkins to know that evolution happens or that lying about climate change is a bad thing.
    Your “open-minded liberal and moderate” (I’d settle for “decent”) religious people are not going to turn toward the dark side of politics simply because a sanctimonious minority of atheists annoys them.
    ***

    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.

    No you’re not: secularists are the one who have been doing that: all secularists are not atheists, and all atheists are not secularists:
    I know that, from an USian viewpoint, where the religious right has a virtual monopoly on authoritarian speeches, where one does not see fascist leaders proclaiming themselves to be paragons of secularism and where rejection of religion has never been used to justify rigid social systems and dictatorial regimes, it is easier to forget it; but there are pro far-right -and far-left- atheists, atheists who adhere to cultural determinism, atheists who, unlike what you claim never believed that

    “the average person is capable of thinking about philosophical questions rigorously for themselves”

    but share with the religious fundies the narcissistic belief that everyone but themselves are cattle. These are among the staunchest ennemies of secularism, as secularism implies an equality of worth between the religious and non-religious people that they reject, and an equality of status between the religious and non-religious that they dream to replace by their own brand of supremacism: they’re not here to challenge the priest and pastors, they’re here to take their place.
    *
    And that’s where the “Accommodationists” stand: they claim that the natural allies of secular atheists are the secular religious, not the anti-secular authoritarian atheists who are often the most aggressive toward religion in their rhetoric, but for unavowable reasons. In the end, the rejection of the “Accommodationists” stance is little more than a way to avoid dealing with the existence of authoritarian atheists and the embarassing fact that they blend so easily among gnus

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Laurent here’s Michael Zimmerman making the “they will opt against god if forced to choose” argument that I was thinking of:

      Like religious fundamentalists, Coyne is arguing that people must choose between religion and science, that they can’t accept both. There are, I believe, two problems with this position. First, pragmatically, studies have clearly suggested that in the United States, when people are given this choice, they will more often than not opt for religion. Now, I’m not suggesting that Coyne, or any of us who care deeply about science, should pervert our understanding of the discipline simply to make converts. No, I’m arguing that there is a way to promote the principles of scientific inquiry fully while not alienating many who are likely to be supporters by belittling their sincerely held beliefs.

      http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/zimmerman/

      Now that might be aimed at the fundies and not the liberals, but I don’t think so. The fundies are unequivocally against evolution, period, end of story already. They’re non-negotiable. It’s the liberals and moderates who have an alliance Zimmerman does not want to disrupt.

      And, no there is a difference between secularists and New Atheists. I fully understand that there are religious secularists (and I appreciate them a great deal in politics). The difference is that only the New Atheist kind of secularists ALSO want to combat religious belief systems and soft forms of cultural influence OUTSIDE the political sphere.

      Not everything is about fighting over the political. The New Atheists care about what is not political too. And the religious secularists in politics are still religious in the social realm where the New Atheists want to challenge them. It’s there that we’re opposed, not in the common cause of political secularism.

      I can’t speak to Europe, I’m only addressing America essentially.

    • laurentweppe

      here’s Michael Zimmerman making the “they will opt against god if forced to choose” argument that I was thinking of

      What Zimmerman is arguing is that, unlike what Coyne says, many religious people will accept science and remain religious. What are you going to say to someone who’s both pro-science and religious? If you claim that science and religion are not compatible, then the logical conclusions of your line of thoughts are either that your atheistic mind reading superpower is telling you that they are secretly anti-science; or that according to the Coyne School of Thoughts* they are only playcating their religious devotion.
      *
      At its core, Coyne & co proposition is similar to the wingnut postulate that one has to be religious to be a patriot: in both case, it is implied that the people who do not fit the simplistic ideological mold (godless patriots, pro-science religious) are treacherous, two-faced deluders: so of course it’s going to alienate religious people: it’s accusing them of perfidy throught tangential rhetoric: it has all the vices of slander and insult without even the virtue of forthrightness: if you’re not feeling outraged when targeted by this kind of contemptuous and cowardly attack, then something’s wrong with you.
      ***
      ***

      *every individual displaying a modicum of intelligence must be a closeted atheist

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Someone who is both scientific and religious, if they are believing things that their scientific beliefs should lead them to reject is not being adequately scientific. They are not being honest about the full extent of what their scientific beliefs entail or they are avoiding (or simply ignorant of) implications of their science for their religious beliefs and we just want to make them confront those intellectual implications in an unrestrained debate. We don’t want to have to pretend that the existence of religious scientists magically vindicates the content of their beliefs as consistent. They may be living with inconsistencies. It’s not slander and insult to say, “look, your beliefs are incompatible”. That’s a demand for logical consistency or counter-arguments that make some fucking sense. It’s not “cowardly contempt”.

  • Steve Schuler

    Hey Dude!

    Mighty flamboyant rhetoric in these last two posts of yours.

    Mobilizing the choir, are ya’?

    (Ijoke, Ijoke, I keeda wid you!)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Hey Dude! Mighty flamboyant rhetoric in these last two posts of yours. Mobilizing the choir, are ya’? (Ijoke, Ijoke, I keeda wid you!)

      In a way, yes, but I was more motivated by getting the choir to focus on its own interests in morality and in philosophy and understand how essential they are to their motives. I think segments of the choir often elide the questions of morality and philosophy and dismiss them as irrelevant when, in essence, the core of the choir is morality and philosophy when you really look at it! That was the impetus, not just sounding the bugle horn for battle or back patting.

    • Steve Schuler

      Rodger That, Dan!

      You are doing your part, and more, to expand the breadth and depth of the ‘conversation’. Keep up the Good Work, Amigo!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks so much, Steve. Working hard as I can!

    • Steve Schuler

      By the way, do you prefer to be called “Dan” or “Daniel”?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Dan. I only sign the posts Daniel because they’re writings I’m publishing and I want to keep my publishing record all “Daniel”.

      That said, my grandfather used to be the only one who called me Daniel and I find it endearing on that account. But I don’t like it when people call me Daniel if they feel like they’re being formal as though I’m hard to approach or require too much respect. But if people mean Daniel in a friendly, endearing way, then that’s neat. It’s a break from so much “Dan” in normal life.

      And I like Danny but no one besides people who knew me as a kid seem to just say that.

  • http://www.reason-being.com reasonbeing

    ‘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.

    Your Thoughts?’

    I agree with you on this. I think that is why I started speaking out–to friends, family, commenting on these blogs that I used to read in silence, and even started my own blog. I felt I could no longer be an accomodationist. I would also have to say that epistemology is very important to my way of thinking. I tend to focus more on what is happening politically in the U.S. than I do on science and philosophy. I feel far more comfortable discussing political topics, as that is where my background is (along with an MA in Political Philosophy). I do think they key thing is to speak up in a way that encourages others to think on their own. I do think that most people are capable of doing what you stated in the last paragraph if shown there is a need to do so, for me that need is politics.

  • seditiosus

    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.

    Agreed, and this is why I think anti-accommodationism is a beneficial philosophy. It shouldn’t be about being rude, and it should always be appropriate to the situation, but the purpose of anti-accommodationism is to educate people and encourage them to think about these issues.

  • Laurent Weppe

    We don’t want to have to pretend that the existence of religious scientists magically vindicates the content of their beliefs as consistent. They may be living with inconsistencies. It’s not slander and insult to say, “look, your beliefs are incompatible”. That’s a demand for logical consistency or counter-arguments that make some fucking sense.

    You seem to forget that very often, the argument of Coyne & co is not

    “look, what You believe and what You know are incompatible”

    but

    “look, what You know and Whatever fundamentalist interpretation of your religion that I find particularly despicable proclaims are incompatible. What? Your beliefs are way different than this fundie interpretation that I love so much to hate? Well, that’s too bad, because I just proclaimed -without real expertise in these matters but who cares- that the fundie interpretation was more authentic than your actual beliefs”

    Why would someone then take the time to patiently describe their personal beliefs? At this point, they’ll already have -correctly- concluded that the Coynoïde is being intellectually dishonest and much more interested in beating the rhetorical crap out of their imaginary doppelgänger than in partaking in any meaningfull conversation.

    • John Morales

      To what intellectual dishonesty do you refer?

      If it’s their religion, then they purportedly buy into its claims — if they do not, then it ain’t their religion!

      (More to the point, if they claim to be (say) Catholic but reject Catholic dogma, then they are the intellectually-dishonest ones)

      Coynoïde

      <snicker>

    • laurentweppe

      If it’s their religion, then they purportedly buy into its claims — if they do not, then it ain’t their religion!

      Hurray! Bravo! You just reworded my

      I just proclaimed -without real expertise in these matters but who cares- that the fundie interpretation was more authentic than your actual beliefs

      which is exactly the intellectual dishonesty I am [Censored by the MPAA] talking about

    • John Morales

      No, I didn’t.

      I am amused that you consider that the “fundamentalist interpretation of [someone's] religion” ain’t what that someone believes about their religion — they’re definitionally the fundamentals (i.e. the very foundation) of their claimed religion.

      Again: if someone claims to be an adherent of religion X, then it’s not only not intellectually-dishonest for another to address the fundamentals of X, but also intellectually-dishonest of that someone to claim not to follow the fundamentals of X.

      Want an example? Consider a self-declared Catholic; you think it’s unfair to laugh at them for believing the Nicene Creed (which they recite in church)?


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