When Mark Oppenheimer of the New York Times wrote an article that I wasn’t particular fond of, I was afraid I’d cringe reading his follow-up piece. The first article was about a minor issue — a squabble between the current and former leader of the Center for inquiry that really wasn’t an important story for national readers.
The new article looks at the debate between “accommodationists” and “confrontationalists” in our movement. (The words don’t make either side look good, but they’re the ones we’ve essentially chosen for ourselves, so no reason to complain there.)
At least this is a relevant piece. It notes an important issue in our world — which side are you on? — and explains those two positions for people who may not be aware of them. Was it the focus of the CFI conference? Nope, but that’s only the framework from which the reporter can talk about a larger issue.
Oppenheimer describes Chris Mooney as the accommodationist, wanting us to frame our arguments for science in a way that doesn’t alienate Christians.
PZ Myers is the confrontationalist who doesn’t hold back about how accepting science necessarily means accepting a godless world.
At the liveliest panel, on Friday night, the science writer Chris Mooney pointed to research that shows that many Christians “are rejecting science because of a perceived conflict with moral values.” Atheists should be mindful of this perception, Mr. Mooney argued. For example, an atheist fighting to keep the theory of evolution in schools should reassure Christians that their faith is compatible with modern science.
“They resist evolution because they think everyone will lose morals,” Mr. Mooney said. “Knowing this, why would you go directly at these deeply held beliefs?”
“I have been told that my position won’t win the creationist court cases,” Mr. Myers said. “Do you think I care? I didn’t become a scientist because I want to impress lawyers.
“The word for people who are neutral about truth is ‘liars,’ ” he added.
Mr. Myers and other “confrontationalists” surely do alienate some potential Christian allies. But they may also give comfort to people… who feel like an invisible minority. Mr. Myers is way out of the closet as an atheist — proudly, outrageously so. We’re here, he’s saying. And we don’t believe. And we have science and reason on our side. Get used to it.
Here’s the difference between the two sides: You know that courtroom phrase, “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”?
Both Mooney and PZ want to tell the truth about science and evolution.
Only PZ is willing to tell the whole truth — that the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural.
Mooney thinks it’s bad PR for us to admit that — and he may be right — but it’s wrong to let Christians keep thinking science and religion are perfectly compatible when they really aren’t.
I’m clearly on PZ’s side of the spectrum, but I don’t think anyone could realistically call me a “confrontationalist.” I’m not looking to pick fights with theists, I frequently get invited by churches to help Christians understand our perspective, and I’m not calling religious people names just to underscore my point. PZ revels in that.
So the downside of the accommodationist/confrontationalist dichotomy is that it leaves a lot of people with no label. What do you call those of us who might lean to one side but aren’t in one camp entirely?
Where do you place yourself on the spectrum?
Incidentally, Jerry Coyne posted video of the panel in question.