Thursday, July 8, 2010

Episode 70 Accommodationism with guest Chris Mooney

Are Science and Religion compatible? The New Atheists argue that a proper understanding of science undermines faith. But according to atheists such as Chris Mooney (author of Unscientific America and host of CFI's podcast Point of Inquiry) not only are science and moderate religion compatible , but the uncompromising rhetoric and harsh tone of the New Atheists "can only damage the cause of scientific literacy." For this episode, the doubtcasters share their take on the "accommodationist" vs "confrontationist" debate. Also on this episode: a critical look at the Templeton Foundation and we look at the psychology of persuasion for a new installment of God Thinks Like You.

To download this or any previous Reasonable Doubts episodes click here. Find the episode you want and right click the "play now" link and select "save target as..."

Michael De Dora is the director of CFI New York City not Amherst. P.Z. Myers said "demented fuckwit" not "fucktard" and in this particular instance of nasty language he was writing about someone who deserved it.


Jeremy said...


We made some factual errors in this episode. They are corrected on the episode post.

We are also aware of the minor blogging controversy Chris Mooney is involved with over the fraudulent claims made by "William" the author of the You're Not Helping blog. We will say something about it on the next episode.

Anonymous said...

I stopped listening to POI precisely because of Chris Mooney. I then stopped following CFI because of Michael De Dora. I'm not sure why you'd want these two "anchors" (in a nautical sense) on your show because I have zero interest in these two nitwits. Not even to explain their side of the story.

Jeremy said...

If you're not interested in giving the other side a fair hearing, I dont know why you ever liked listening to our show in the first place.

Anonymous said...

The problem that I have with accomodationalism (and I think PZ's problem as well) is that it allows one to be skeptical and critical about everything except someone's batshit crazy religion. Religion should not be exempted.

If someone were a skilled and sound scientist by weekday, but believed that a cracker magically turns into a dead jew on Sunday, I don't think ignoring their insane weekend belief is healthy.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy - (1st Anonymous here) I did give them a fair hearing, the fairest of them all! My decisions were made after listening to their podcasts and reading their blogs.

Anonymous said...
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articulett said...

When you give undeserved respect to people because of what they "believe in", they feel ENTITLED to respect for faith.

Mooney is a Templeton weenie. I think he does much less for the furthering of science than those "new atheists" he's sure are doing it wrong. He fosters prejudices amongst some of the most honest atheists around while crying that their tone is mean and that they are misrepresenting him. In my opinion, Mooney is the one doing the misrepresentation.

It's the ennoblement of faith that is the real reason behind "Unscientific America" not "new atheists." On the contrary, the "new atheist" Christ derides are drawing in a lot more people (with increasing scientific literacy) than Mooney.

Unknown said...

Is there any way you could post some links of titles of the studies you site in the podcasts?
I continually have to pause the program and run to the computer to look up what you are referencing and a good portion of the time I cannot find the studies with the key words I find from your talk.

Unknown said...

Shoot, make that studies that Luke talks about. Drrrrr...
Multitasking is not my friend.

Taylor said...

Couple of comments:

1) PZ Myers is an ass, but a useful ass. He serves a purpose not by converting the faithful, but by implanting a spine into people that already agree with his point of view. There is a need for that. Whether he is right or Mooney is right is an empirical question and the answer is not presently known, but it won't be decided by mere argumentation. There is some data that suggests a small statistical swing in the direction that Myers advocates, but I think it's too early to draw much of a conclusion from that.

2) I don't agree that the statement "there are no supernatural forces" is unscientific. It is an inductive conclusion and most (all?) scientific laws have an inductive origin. The laws of Thermodynamics start of with the phrase "It is impossible for ..." During a frank conversation, most scientists will admit that these are observational laws and there might be some corner of the universe where they may not hold, but they don't really expect that and that's not how the laws are used in everyday life.

Lausten North said...

Thanks for another great show. I would never accuse any of you of being accomodationists. I certainly have given you fodder for potentially getting slammed and you have treated me with respect. I appreciate that.

Numeric Blahs said...

Listening to your interview with Chris Mooney, I couldn't help but wonder what in the hell the point of this conversation is? In my mind the crucial question is, who are you trying to convince? What is the target demographic? What do you suppose the odds are that you're going to get a moderate-to-liberal Christian (ignoring the fundies for obvious reasons) to completely neuter their personal God and carry on a dialogue about the nature of metaphysical naturalism? Yeah. Pretty Slim.

So who's the target? If we aren't trying to convince current Christians, perhaps we're engaging in the same form of generational shift that was seen during the civil rights movement? It's currently underway with the gay-rights movement and is going swimmingly (e.g. compare the numbers of homophobes in age groups over 30 vs. those under 30). In other words, the shift to accept atheists/naturalists will occur, not because we convince those currently in power, but rather because we wage a campaign to point out the idiocy of mystical/religious thinking to the generation currently growing up in the 21st century. (btw, this is a strategy that Christians have used for millennia - get the kids first and the old generation will become obsolete).

Now, Mr. Mooney will likely disagree by saying that we shouldn't alienate older people because we'll need their assistance in order to successfully enact a change and to that I say, bull shit. As evidenced by your pointedly asking about why the polling data directly conflicts with his thesis and his shrugging and saying, well, the data must be flawed, he seems perfectly willing to ignore the real world. Maybe we should see some data from people who were Christians (or whatever) who left their faith? What are the correlates? What age group is most likely to change their minds? I'd bet the curve peaks somewhere between 16 and 30, but I haven't seen the data.

Why waste our energy trying to convince people who will likely NOT change their minds? Sure, it's polite and we can get into some constructive arguments, but what does it do to facilitate a real goal of targeting the next generation?

I present a rather one-sided argument, but I do realize that, as with everything in nature, there needs to be a mixture. We still need a few "accomodationists" - I still haven't heard a coherent, definition of the term - to bitch about tone and continue bleating that since Dr. Smith believes in, say, astrology and is still a good scientist that astrology and science are perfectly compatible. It will keep the older folk distracted while we teach their children about how ridiculous the Jesus-dying-to-appease-himself thing is.

Jeremy said...


Here is the link to an overview of the studies mentioned in the GTLY segment. I'll ask Luke if he has links to the full studies (we often dont link to the studies we mention because they are often peer-reviewed and require a subscriptions)

Jeremy said...


Just FYI: you accidentally left about 5 drafts of your comment on the blog. I deleted all but the final draft as I figured that was the one you were satisfied with. I do have the other drafts saved (at least for the next few days), so if there was another one you preferred I can repost it.

Unknown said...

Thank you very much!
Being able to view studies is one of the few benefits I get from working at a university. Pay is low but I get access to lots of things most people would not. lol

Richard said...

The debate is frustrating, because the accommodationists seem to use an inaccurate frame.

The argument presented wasn't that they can keep their faith.

It was that they can accept science and remain religious by trading their current beliefs for another set of beliefs.

Given this, framing the question as 'can people can keep their faith and accept science?' seems deeply inaccurate.

Jeremy said...


Munro, G.D. (2010).
The Scientific Impotence Excuse:
Discounting Belief-Threatening Scientific Abstracts ournal of Applied Social Psychology Volume 40 Issue 3, Pages 579 - 600

PhotoMatt said...

Good topic this week, though it would be nice to have had an English major in the wings during the debate over accommodation. Much of what was discussed parallels the reader-response school of literary theory, which focuses on the audience of a work, not just the author.

Dispensing with this early in the show would have left more time to discuss the scientific and theological implications of accommodation rather than just the techniques use to win an audience over. This latter has been discussed since the golden days of Athens, when they simply called it "rhetoric."

Thanks again, and keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Once I saw you were talking about Chris Mooney, I could not believe you did not bring up the all the fake identities he used

Jeremy said...


We couldn't talk about it because it wasn't revealed until the day after our recording. As I said on the post we will mention it on the next recording.

Also, it wasn't mooney who was using a false identity. It was another blogger. Mooney just got taken in by it.

snafu said...

Posting the names of the studies would still be of value. I have access to peer reviewed journals through university. Others will also.
Thanks for a great podcast.

Bjarte Foshaug said...

The more I listen to accomodationists like Mooney the more I come to realize that I would be perfectly happy to watch their watered down version of "science" (the kind that is perfectly compatible with holding unshakable beliefs for dreadful or non-existing reasons) wither and die. After all they have already stripped it of everything that made it worth promoting in the first place (i.e. the part about requiring good reasons before accepting something as true). The day science stopped insisting on good reasons was the day that science died.

In order to believe as they do, religious people have no choice but to rely on bad reasons (that's what it means to take things "on faith") because no other reasons are available. If you are prepared to accept the findings of science only in so far and to the extent that they don't contradict what your bad reasons tell you to believe, you might as well not accept them at all. An acceptance on those terms only doesn't make you a scientific or critical thinker and it sure as hell doesn’t make you an ally. Putting such conditions on your acceptance of the findings of science is the very antithesis to an impartial and open-ended search for truth which to me is the very essence of science and critical thinking.

Plus, it is not as if what the accomodationists are advocating hasn’t been tried. It's basically what we have been doing all along, and it has already failed miserably, which is why the whole history of organizations like the NCSE amount to nothing but damage control. If you think our way of dealing with religion in the past has been a spectacular success and want nothing more than maintaining the status quo, then by all means listen to the likes of Mooney, because that's the only thing you are ever going to get.

Justin said...

Mooney made a lot of good sense and good points. I really haven't seen anyone respond to those points when they kvetch about the interview. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't he basically say "Religion is not science, faith means nothing, religion cannot make scientific claims"? Do we really think that we're going to make any social headway by being a bunch of loud jerks?

God is not real, and fewer people each generation dispute that in any meaningful way. The best way to promote atheism long term is to be a friendly, caring and open atheist. Show everyone that we're here, we're reasonable and completely unimpressed by religion and spirituality.

Numeric Blahs said...


Yes. There are fewer and fewer people buying into the whole faithist schema each generation. However, we aren't getting recruits by being nice and quiet and polite. No one cares if there is a hifalutin intellectual discussion of some version of god whom only 8 uber intellectuals believe in. (I realize I ended that sentence with a preposition and I'm OK with it.)

In order to make waves, so to speak, and get noticed on the vast oceans of the intertubes, it becomes necessary to actually say what you ACTUALLY believe, For instance, I believe that worshiping a God who sacrifices himself in order to appease himself so that he doesn't torture me for all eternity is patently ridiculous. Really. It. Is. Silly.

Call me impolite, but that also happens to be the main tenet of most Christian sects. Oops.

Fortunately, my honest assessment of the situation resonates with the majority of people in my generation as compared to "serious" and "polite" debate.

Justin said...

I don't think that's impolite, and I do think that making waves is good. But there are two types of waves you can make. The first is by asserting "Religion/supernatural beliefs are silly". The second is by saying "Theists are stupid".

Undermine the belief system with valid observations rather than the believer. Nobody is saying respect religion; I don't think it deserves any. No more than any baseless and harmful belief system. Just disrespect religion in such a way that it doesn't push people away from atheism. Spreading it is what we're trying to do, after all.

I know that this is completely anecdotal, so take it as such, but I was raised an evangelical (JW!) and I've had the pleasure of speaking to lots of former Christians at the skeptics pub and other CFI events.

I embraced humanism and then atheism because over several years I encountered firm but respectful atheists with watertight arguments. I don't expect I'd convince any of my Christian friends to follow in my footsteps if I jeered at them.

Jeremy said...

Thank you for your comment Justin,

I feel the same way about my deconversion. Many thoughtful people (teachers, friends and in books) challenged me back when i was a hard core fundamentalist. It was hard to dismiss them precisely because they treated me like a human being capable of reason (not a moronic mentally diseased Fundy incapable of reason). They also gave me space to think for myself, which was something I never had at church.

There is this macho notion (which I usually associate with authoritarianism) that name calling, taunting and sarcasm shows how tough you are. People who refrain are either soft or not "telling it like it is." But it is always easier to be the bad cop than the good cop. The bad cop can just scream and yell and bang his chest. That is really all that name calling is...a threat display. Its all sticks and stones, and people learn that it doesnt have to hurt them.

The real skill comes in knowing the arguments and knowing how to deliver them at the right time and in the right way to make them stick. I have noticed that most people who put down "serious" and "polite" debate couldn't survive in one anyway. Having studied the bible for years I can silence a table full of seminary grads with the right argument and send them home with serious worries. I don't need to call them names or be sarcastic. The evidence cuts so much deeper. And they cant just they cant use it as an excuse to ignore me either.

Joseph Caine said...

Interestingly enough, Meyers seems to have inadvertently(or advertently?) addressed this on his blog last sunday:

PZ Myers said...

Mooney simply can't get to the point of the disagreement. It's that he advocates a weakly incremental approach that demands we obscure the major implications of evolution (and other sciences) by pretending that they're not there. It's dishonest, and it assumes that our opponents are idiots. The tone complaints are an irrelevant distraction; avoiding the implications of science when you're talking one-on-one with someone and making nice, it does no good when next Sunday they're going to get reset.

We've seen it over and over again. These psychological arguments simply don't matter. They are about transient contingent phenomena rather than substance; bending over to be respectful to bad ideas makes the short term conversation easy, but does absolutely nothing in the long run, as we have seen for year after year.

Also, that methodological/metaphysical distinction is bogus and annoying. None of the debate is over metaphysical issues; every single noisy atheist I've ever talked to has come to their conclusions methodologically. The give-away is that that distinction is most popular right now among creationists -- read Johnson. He uses it to falsely isolate ideas.

Jeremy said...


Thank you for commenting.

I agree with you that the methodological/metaphysical distinction is bogus. I see it as valid in only in this one sense: to jump from "there is no evidence for the supernatural" to "there cannot be a supernatural realm" would be an argument from ignorance. But this really is not of any consequence for the reasons you stated. In fact I think the case is even worse for the methodological/metaphysical distinction when one turns to literature in philosophy of religion (or even philosophy of science for that matter). Both atheist (Michael Martian to name one) and theist philosophers use empirical facts in forming probability arguments for or against metaphysical propositions. In other words nobody on the religious side is really going to obey this strict separation between scientific and religious claims that Pennock and Mooney and NAS are so fond of. If we play by these rules were tying one hand behind our backs against an opponent who rarely plays fair(this will be discussed in depth on our next episode).

On to the issue of tone (in the next comment because it wont all fit)

Jeremy said...

Second response to PZ

But on tone I think there is an issue. Is there really no middle ground between excessive name calling and tripping over yourself to be polite? Since when? This is a forced choice between extremes when a spectrum of options are possible. Were Bertrand Russell and Carl Sagan wimps when it came to religion? Some of their statements were pretty harsh, but they never de-humanized their opponents. Fundamentalists sure got the message…and attacked them relentlessly (to their own folly because the wider public had respect for Russell and Sagan)

How can a good scientist like yourself so easily dismiss data by saying "These psychological arguments simply don't matter." The psychology of cognitive dissonance and persuasion is entirely relevant--its the difference between following what our gut tells us and doing what works.

"when you're talking one-on-one with someone and making nice, it does no good when next Sunday they're going to get reset"

So berating them as delusional and hopeless fairs better? When I was a delusional Christian personal attacks did nothing but provide great stories for my sunday school group. But the thoughtful and specific challenges of skeptics who gained my trust and respect kept me up at night. I get a couple emails a week from people who've had the same experience. The data on nonbelief backs me up here as well. It shows a significant portion of atheists are apostates. Bruce E. Hunsberger and Bob Altemeyer concluded that apostates often left the faith because their holy books and congregations couldn't live up to the values (like truth and honesty) they were raised with. In other words we should appeal to those values in our pitch for skepticism if we want to be effective.

I am not against ridicule or name calling in all contexts. It has its time and its place--and we should exercise careful judgment as to when it is appropriate to use it as a tool. At times you come across as very level-headed and compassionate. But when you say tone is "an irrelevant distraction" you are teaching people not to exercise that judgment. And a new generation of skeptics is getting the message.

Jeremy said...
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Dale said...

1. De Dora made an unsubstantiated claim about constitutional jurisprudence -- that the word "myth" used in a science class risks crossing a church-state separation line (I am NOT claiming that brief summary expresses the matter completely) -- and did so in the service of making another tired rehash of "atheists are mean." His legal insights were lazy, groundless, and wrong, and while PZ did say harsh things in response to De Dora, he did what he always does as far as I know -- even when he goes "nasty," he weaves in a great deal of substance. It's simply NOT as though he went in guns a-blazing with nothing but a personal attack. It's important to separate a genuine ad hominem attack from a valid criticism that also contains elements of mean, even over-the-line rhetoric.

2. Speaking of over-the-line rhetoric: atheists are routinely told we will burn in hell forever, and that the goodness and justice of this is affirmed by no less an authority than GOD HIMSELF who KNOWS EVERYTHING with ABSOLUTE PERFECTION and COMPLETENESS. Often we're told we will burn in hell forever, that it will be deserved, AND that the saved will enjoy watching us suffer for trillions of years on end. Now, "fuckwit" is a bruising put-down, but it simply can't compete with *that* for the sheer volume of dehumanizing, negating hatred communicated.

3. You might want to know that the "forummotion" forum is cool and everything, but it doesn't seem to support subscriptions. Blogger does. So we get e-mails when new comments appear here, and they contain the comment. Whereas we have to keep going back to looking at the forums at forummotion to see if anything has been added. I think this explains why this blog gets a lot of comments and why people don't gravitate strongly to the forum you've set up. That forum doesn't even seem to support RSS. (If I'm wrong about subscriptions, I'd love to be corrected!)

4. Thanks for the show. I really do love it -- I listen to every episode as soon as I see a new one, and agree about 98% of the time with at least one of the three speakers. I respect, appreciate, and admire your efforts.

articulett said...

I like Jerry Coyne on this subject: He makes much more sense to me than Mooney. I wish you'd have him on your show.

And PZ's Sunday Sacrilege also addressed the subject with points that seem to fly right over Mooney's head:

Jeremy said...

Just for the record, I was not defending DeDoras conclusion. I even said I disagreed. My statement was that the personal attack on the mans character (and all who defended him) was way out of proportion to the crime.

Also, didn't know that about the forum. Well have to look into that.

Thank you for the comment

articulett said...

Why does Mooney feel it's okay to talk about PZ et. al.'s tone when there is no evidence at all that Mooney's accommodationism works?. Moreover there is some evidence that respecting faith as a means of knowledge encourages people to feel proud of their magical thinking and more steadfast in their ignorance. And why wouldn't they-- they've been told that their salvation depends on such faith! See Coyne's article linked above.

If you read the actual words of the many people who have given up faith, you find that they are often motivated by the very things Mooney decries. And they are thankful to people that Mooney imagines are harming "the cause". Where are Mooney's convert stories. I am quite sure that PZ's readership is more scientifically literate than Mooney's.

Why does Mooney imagine his way is the only way? Or even the best way? I think he's a weenie, but you don't see those he criticizes telling him to "amp it up" or to be more clear even though he's a self-appointed expert on science communication. If Mooney wants to worry about tone, I think he ought to be worrying about the tone of true believers. If a belief is good or true, then why should anyone's tone matter? If something needs to be "respected" and "believed in" to "work", then it's crap. Rather than getting defensive, maybe the believers and their accommodationist cohorts might want to examine the beliefs and opinions that they are getting so defensive about. Maybe their brouhaha is really due to the message of the "new atheists" hitting a little too close to home for comfort.

Science doesn't need religion. But everyone who lives in this world depends upon science. Respecting religion makes people feel entitled to respect for what they BELIEVE. And nobody would have to play the silly game if people kept their magical beliefs to themselves. Why should scientists have to know or care about Christian beliefs any more than they care about Scientology beliefs? Mooney is really only advocating "coddling" of one particular "brand" of superstition-- and he's failed to provide evidence that his "tone" is useful for anything.

Mooney seems to imagine himself a peacekeeper by vilifying those who speak the truth more plainly than he does. He can go "frame" himself.

articulett said...

Thanks, Jeremy, for deleting my accidental reposts-- I was very embarrassed when I realized I had posted because I thought each of my other posts hadn't gotten through due to an error on my part. (You are my personal savior--ha!)

I do enjoy your show very much and look forward to each episode, but Mooney is hard to listen to (Not as bad as McLaren though).

I hope you invite PZ or Jerry Coyne on to respond... or maybe, Ophelia Benson --she was banned from posting on Mooney's intersection blog. I just don't think anyone wants PZ, Dawkins, et. al. to be more like Mooney. I suspect they are far more more effective at promoting rational thought than Mooney imagines... and far more effective than Mooney himself.

Justin said...


I know Mooney specifically agreed that faith is not a means of knowledge.

I don't think anyone is advocating the respect of religion; there's not much there to respect. Certainly some good works come out of some of it, but not typically for good reasons.

The trick is to persuade and give no ground, without straying into ad hominem language. Using the Socratic method with reasonable theists seems to work well. No method will work with the unreasonable, so go for it.

PZ Myers said...

The "tone" issue is misleading for a couple of reasons.

1. It assumes that the bad guys, that is the "New Atheists", are bad guys. They don't have a clue how to interact with other people. But it's simply not true -- we use the right tone in the right place. And even when we're busily kicking someone in the metaphorical taint, we're also explaining with ruthless thoroughness exactly why we're making this argument.

I teach for a living. Do people like Mooney really think I walk into the classroom with a truncheon and a bullhorn?

2. There's a lot of flawed pop psych out there. I'm not arguing that it's wrong -- it's true, if you smile nicely at someone, they'll like you better than if you scowl -- but it's irrelevant. It's great if I want to sell someone some soap. It's not very useful at all if my goal is to show someone that they are fundamentally wrong.

It also ignores context. When you're one on one with someone, trying to lead them to understand your views, you use the gentle approach. Even barbarians like Dawkins and myself do that.

But sometimes we're engaged in a gladiatorial match. My goal isn't to reach my opponent's sensitive side, it's to disembowel him for the edification of the spectators. And that's an important tactic.

Mooney's approach makes for very poor spectacle, and makes his position look weak. That's the kiss of death in the rough-and-tumble real world. Complaining about "tone" in those kinds of arguments just leaves me rolling my eyes. Yeah, right. We aren't always playing kiss-ass.

3. Sometimes we aren't playing the persuasion game. Sometimes we're just playing the truth game and setting aside the diplomatic greasing. There's something ultimately condescending about Mooney's approach -- he's an atheist, but he doesn't want to make the person on the other side of the table uncomfortable with the fact. I'd rather slam the atheism down front and center and get it over with. If the other runs away crying, we weren't going to have much of a discussion anyway. If they stay and lay out their philosophical position openly, we can argue without evasion and maybe achieve some understanding.

Really, I've had much more respect with creationists, for instance, who resolve their conflicts with science by announcing, "god did it with a miracle," than with the weasely rat-bags who sit there inventing ever more contrived pseudoscientific explanations for the Flood or whatever. I'm not going to be the converse, the guy who makes sympathetic excuses for why religion is compatible with science when in my own life, I do not truck in such nonsense.

PZ Myers said...

I second articulett -- get Ophelia Benson on the podcast. She's one of the best articulate atheists out there, and I just don't understand why she isn't being invited to be front and center more often.

I'd be willing to be on again sometime, but get Ophelia first. Or put us on together.

Dale said...

To PZ Myers's last comment: YES! I kept waiting for Ophelia to be mentioned in the podcast, but she wasn't.

But whatever -- water under the bridge, right? Get her on! She's brilliant, and she has a great deal to say on these topics. (And many more.)

Jeremy said...


Thank you again for your comment. I don't have the time tonight to respond in any detail.

I've never heard of Ophelia Benson before today. Its not my style to bring someone on to the show just over a disagreement. Perhaps I could invite her on the show to discuss her book and then towards the conclusion of the interview we can bring you on and the three of us can discuss the "tone" matter together. I think that would make for a great show.

PZ Myers said...

Don't bring her on for a disagreement -- bring her on because she's good! Check out Butterflies & Wheels. If you'd rather, don't even bother mentioning Mooney, she has interesting things to say without getting distracted by that prat.

articulett said...
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articulett said...

Didn't you bring Mooney on to discuss a disagreement anyhow? Don't you think your listening audience would want to hear from the other side? What about your first post where you are into "giving the other side a fair hearing"? Do you think you've done this for the side you allowed Chris to slander?

Besides, Ophelia is female-- and I'd like to hear more females on your show;I'm sure others would too. And her blog has been around a lot longer than Mooney's.

Those who Chris Mooney has mischaracterized ought to be able to tell why they think his "framing" of the issue is incorrect. Plus, I bet you'll gain more listeners than you did with Mooney... you may even gain back the ones he caused you to lose.

Jeremy said...


Buddy...slow down. Take a breath. Did you actually read my comment? I said I wouldn't bring her on JUST for a disagreement. I would however bring her on to discuss her book. I was saying I want to hear what she has to say and consider it, rather than just debate her over tone. Thats what we've always done, it doesn't matter who they are.

Jesus, people (not just articulett) seem to think because I gave Mooney a microphone that I must be spooning the guy at night. Did anyone listen to the hour of commentary after the interview?

And if we did lose listeners just because Mooney was on the show...I didn't want them anyway. Anyone with intellectual integrity must be prepared to hear views other than their own.

Numeric Blahs said...


Those of us in the brotherhood of the beard appear to agree. By all means, have people like Mooney on the show. Unlike many dogmatists I know, I enjoy hearing exactly what controversial people have to say.

Give them some time to sort out which rope exactly they're planning on using to hang themselves, so to speak.

And, as you did, push them a little in the interview, not enough to make them super defensive, but enough to let them know that bull-shitting and getting all vague and high-minded won't cut it.

Numeric Blahs said...

To be fair to an earlier poster, I stopped listening to POI and CFI for some of the same reasons. I am interested in what they really think and love to see them in debates, but they are never challenged and never actually argue seriously about "interesting things." It's all just vague self-congratulatory fluff.

Somehow, even as a molecular biologist, I manage to power through Casey Luskin on the "ID the Future" podcast.

I guess that ones more of a comedy show though, right? Tell me it's a satire... please...

Jeremy said...


First off, I'm guessing you’re a busy guy and haven't had the chance to listen to this episode. I want to clarify where I'm coming from. As I told Mooney, I think the tone issue is separate from the compatibility of science and religion issue. I don’t think scientists should stop short of critiquing religion.

You write "When you're one on one with someone, trying to lead them to understand your views, you use the gentle approach. Even barbarians like Dawkins and myself do that"

Im glad to hear you say that because it helps clarify your earlier statement "avoiding the implications of science when you're talking one-on-one with someone and making nice, it does no good when next Sunday they're going to get reset." So the tone/compatibility distinction is relevant here. One can and should be "gentle" or "make nice" in one-on-one discussions, but without compromising science (even barbarians agree). So tone is not an irrelevant distraction …it is a contextual concern.

But I need to ask, how different is a public appeal from a one-on-one discussion? Some of the research cited in this episode had participants reacting to written information. So the principles here apply outside of personal discussions. The studies conducted and cited by Geoffrey Munro are not just "pop psychology." He is specifically addressing how to break down resistance to scientific data which conflicts with the persons worldview and he suggests specific strategies that get results in the laboratory. You might conclude his strategies ask too much of us (my co-host Luke Galen would agree) but his data should not be dismissed as "irrelevant".

I find the rest of your comment to be engaging in the same forced choice rhetoric as before. Either we're "kicking people in the metaphorical taint" or we're "kissing ass." Is it possible to thoroughly dismantle a religious idea (showing it to be irrational, dangerous, conflicting with evidence) without attaching a string of pejoratives aimed at the listener? If the answer is yes, then our fondness for personal attack is merely aesthetic--and issues of skillful execution and good taste come into play. If the answer is no, then how many terms of abuse like "witless wanker milquetoast marshmallow" must I use before my argument against religion becomes relevant? And must I use alliteration?

There may be a third option. Yes one could attack religion by assaulting the beliefs not the audience, but this would be boring and no one would pay attention. To answer that I only need to point to our show, which is the top atheist podcast on iTunes. Our reviewers almost always say the same things: the show is informative, funny, entertaining and devastating to religion without degrading into angry rants.

Jeremy said...

All that being said, I find it hard to disagree with PZ's "gladatorial combat" comment. There are plenty of authoritarian demagogues who deserve no better and when one is debating them civility is counterproductive.

Eric said...


In RD extra "Denying Death" wasn't it said that attacking one's worldview had the psychological effect of making one more defensive entrenched in their worldview by raising their death anxiety? If so, how is "assaulting the beliefs not the audience" different in it's psychological effect from PZ's "gladitorial combat"? I'm asking because I see merit in both of your arguments as alternatives to accomodationism which I find ineffectual and weak.

Jeremy said...


Good catch. First off, we cannot avoid criticizing beliefs unless we give up the debate entirely. And yes, if people self-identify with their beliefs then attacking their beliefs is attacking them. Munro's study echo's this concern. His insight was to try and disarm some of that anxiety by allowing them to affirm some of their values. But doesn't that just lead back into accommodationism? Only if you leaving controversial subjects off the table or in some way are lying to them in order to affirm their values. Thats why I suggested starting by identifying values you espouse that are also held by your opponent. For example most Christians affirm truth and integrity as virtues. Acknowledge that when you are trying to hold them to the evidence. Most Christians fear atheism would lead to postmodernism and ethical relativism. Play up that fact in your argument..."Im like you! I dont believe that there are different truths for different people" If you work these into your criticisms, you are still affirming some aspects of their worldview they hold dear--minimizing the resistance. You are also telling them that religion may not be the best source for these values. As I mentioned to PZ in my first comment, many apostates self report leaving their faith for precisely those reasons.

I think the Terror Managment Theory data, the cognitive dissonance data, info on "amazing apostates" and studies like Munroe's are all converging on the same conclusion--we must be very thoughtful when sharing our views and not just shoot from the hip. We are not just engaged with the persons reason we are engaged with their emotions, fears, values and identity. I don't see any reason why we cannot do this while preserving our own intellectual integrity.

Taylor said...

====If the answer is yes, then our fondness for personal attack is merely aesthetic=====

No, it also drives up the page hits. The sort of invective that PZ uses is probably a big reason his blog is so popular. If he moderated his rhetoric, the page hits would go down, which would be a negative reinforcer. This is pure operant conditioning; the rationalizations come later. :-)

Eric said...

Thanks Jeremy, we have a lot to learn from the research on TMT and cognitive dissonance. I'll keep your insights in mind when challenging believers. I think even ridicule to some degree can fit within this scheme, like the movie "Religulous". As long as it's clear that you can also laugh at yourself.

Richard said...

The psychology makes predictions that don't appear to be true.

If gentler rhetoric is more effective, it seems like they should have more converts. And, the four horsemen shouldn't have had nearly as much impact as they did.

I wonder if the problem lies in the assumption of "all else equal".

If people were opposed to equal amounts of text or an equal length of debate, the gentler approach might work better. But, it seems that people could read more of the things that that engage them on an emotional level, if only to try and "win" an internet debate.

Neon Genesis said...

"Really, I've had much more respect with creationists, for instance, who resolve their conflicts with science by announcing, "god did it with a miracle," than with the weasely rat-bags who sit there inventing ever more contrived pseudoscientific explanations for the Flood or whatever. I'm not going to be the converse, the guy who makes sympathetic excuses for why religion is compatible with science when in my own life, I do not truck in such nonsense."

When creationists claim they've discovered Noah's Ark when it later turns out to be a hoax, how is that being honest? When creationists claim that carbon dating is from the devil but turn around and use it to claim their Noah's Ark hoax is real, how is that honest? How are moderate Christians practicing pseudoscience? Moderate Christians fully admit that Noah's Ark is a myth and never really happened. How is that pseudoscience? Only in the fantasy world of the New Atheists are creationists who deny an entire branch of science more honest than Christians who fully accept Noah's Ark is a myth. Just because fundamentalist Christians say they're the only real Christians doesn't make it so. They used to believe in evolution when Darwin first came up with the theory too, you know. It's only in modern times that fundamentalist Christians rejected Darwin.

Dale said...

I "get" the research and in any case I'm in no position to doubt its conclusions. What I wonder is whether there has been research into the countervailing idea that (for lack of a better term) delivering an emotional shock -- fear, anger, dread, anxiety, discombobulation, what have you -- can be an effective way to dislodge complacency and push people to see new ideas.

It seems intuitively obvious that this is so. This might be the second-oldest trick in the book, the oldest being the use of smooth talk / flattery to win someone to a novel point of view. Religious proselytizers, politicians, and others have been about the business of jolting people out of their complacency forever: you'll go to hell if you don't listen to what I say, you'll end up in a gulag or a "death panel" if you don't tune in, etc.

Often -- usually, I'd say -- the flattery and the jolting come bound up together: one then the other, repeat.

This is commonly what drill sergeants, coaches, counselors, teachers, and many others do -- it's hardly an innovation of 'new atheism' to try to throw a wrench into people's mental machinery by the use of sharp, candid rhetoric.

Provocation isn't persuasion, but I think it can be a starting point for it, and often a necessary one.

That it's intuitively obvious doesn't make it true, of course -- nature (including human psychology) isn't ruled by our intuitions.


Dale said...

Taylor: No, it also drives up the page hits. The sort of invective that PZ uses is probably a big reason his blog is so popular. If he moderated his rhetoric, the page hits would go down, which would be a negative reinforcer. This is pure operant conditioning; the rationalizations come later. :-)

So ... page hits are a bad thing? How so? Learning what attracts readers and sticking with it is a bad thing? How so? Under what theory of life or blogging or whatever should PZ Myers be working to drive down his readership? Does it apply more widely, or just to atheist scientist-bloggers you don't favor?

It's true -- people are drawn to conflict, and they know they'll get a good deal of it at PZ's blog. They'll get a great deal more than that if they read it regularly, and oh by the way, it continues to be true that it takes >= two to make a conflict.

Oftentimes Myers is responding to e-mail, much of it vicious or even directly threatening, nearly all of it coming from people who claim to uphold "turn the other cheek" as a fundamental precept.

Numeric Blahs said...

So, here's a question that pertains to TMT, accommodationism, and tone: when people are still forming thier opinions/worldviews, what effect does "tone" have on the outcome?

This ties into my previous post about the target demographic, but essentially, how does rhetorically eviscerating one position (e.g. Theism) effect the belief of someone "in crisis" or on-the-fence?

If PZ, for instance, calls Chris Mooney an intellectual coward (not that he has done so) for being a "kiss ass," how does that influence people who are in a position to actually change their minds?

(This might be a question best suited for the Dr. Professor).

articulett said...

Having Mooney on was supposed to involve a discussion of "accommodationist" vs "confrontationist" (your terms), and we were told we should give the "other side a fair hearing." I presume the "other side" is "accommodationist" since that is the side Mooney represents. And I agree with this. So when does the "confrontationalist" side get a fair hearing? Or do you think they have had one?

And since when does the truth have sides? Shouldn't we all be interested in what approaches work best for achieving which goals? Isn't it possible that a variety of techniques work?

In looking at recent studies (linked before), the evidence seems to show that giving undeserved respect to religion is a greater factor in "unscientific America" than the misnamed "confrontationalism". I think the opposite of "accomodationist" is "incompatabilist" not "confrontationalist". Incompatablists think religion should be treated like all other supernatural claims not coddled as Mooney and his cohorts seem to be advocating.

Moreover, it is theists who are confrontational; if they weren't we wouldn't be having these discussions. If they kept their beliefs as private as they want the Scientologists to keep theirs and kept their magisteria from "overlapping" by not making truth claims and denigrating science, then there would be no need to "accommodate" or "confront". We wouldn't have to point out that there is no evidence for "other ways of knowing".

Christians are not used to being challenged so they imagine PZ is being confrontational when he answers their stupidity with sarcasm. But he doesn't go to their sites or homes and "confront" them, so the term, itself, is silly. No one is required to read him or listen to him and it sounds like Mooney wants to silence PZ on his own blog-- where the goal may well be to cultivate camaraderie among an intellectual, rational crowd. Who would be confrontational if theists kept their beliefs to themselves and didn't demand the respect of science anyhow? Does Mooney really think that America would be more scientific if Dawkins, Myers, Harris, et. al. were more like him?!

It's dishonest to give lip service to this idea that there are "divine truths" when the idea is a factor in so many harms-- so many delusions seen as "messages"... it makes people vulnerable to anyone who can convince them they are in touch with "higher sources".

How does Chris propose we enhance more rational thought when people imagine themselves saved for believing irrational things?

Taylor said...

======Dale: So ... page hits are a bad thing? =====

Not inherently, no, but it indicates that the author isn't interested in effectiveness as a persuader, which makes his theory of argumentation seem disingenuous.

articulett said...


I don't think PZ's blog is a place where he needs to be concerned with his effects as a persuader.

Nevertheless, he seems to be a far more effective persuader than any of his critics.

Those who teach evolution have tolerated more than enough "confrontation" from idiots who peddle lies while denigrating those who tell the truth and share the evidence with anyone with an actual interest in learning.

If PZ is too harsh for you, try Mooney's Intersection --where those of your ilk are more likely to find kinship. (Maybe he can persuade you to get a clue.)

Numeric Blahs said...

Once upon a time, I tried to engage believers in a reasonable discussion via beliefnet.

articulett, you are correct, they cannot be dissuaded that "faith" is a means to collect knowledge about the universe. I literally asked WHAT information they might gain from "faith" and, of course, I was simply scoffed at with the whole, "well if you don't know already, it's hardly worth my time trying to explain it to you." And of course, I replied, "This is the internet. Of course I have time."

And that was the end of the conversation.

Personally, I do not think it is worth our time to try to convince or convert believers. They've already drunk too much kool-aid. One of the reasons that PZ is so popular is that people who are seriously on the edge, looking for something or someone to get behind (so to speak), see in him a bearded champion who is not afraid to tell that goddam Jehovah's witness at the door to go fuck himself. It's cathartic.

articulett said...

I'm not sure it's a scientist's responsibility to respect (or even care about) the assorted magical beliefs people have.

However, if the goal is to get others to think more rationally, then maybe Mooney and that sort are good for people starting out, or sensitive people. Jeremy felt like such people helped him, for example. Who knows what might have happened to him if he'd have stumbled upon PZ's blog instead.

But when people are in a stage where they want to "exorcise" old religious demons that once filled their life with angst... or laugh at themselves with others who have been there, then the substance and humor of the "new atheists" (whom Mooney imagines are "harming the cause") can't be beat. I've read lots of unsolicited testimonials on PZ's blogs and in Dawkins "converts corner." Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

"New Atheists" are probably a better group for people who've gotten rid of the "belief in belief" meme. I can see why their approach might come off as ruder than it actually is to those who have learned to protect faith from scrutiny, even when they, themselves, are no longer believers. But to me, the accommodationists come across as dishonest. They are trying to keep one brand of superstition from scientific scrutiny by vilifying anyone who dares to treat it like every other superstition.

Often, terms like "confrontational", "strident", "rude", etc. are opinion terms that result from confirmation bias which accommodationists generate so they can see the "new atheist" as worse than they are while protecting religious zealots from similar scrutiny. It's their brain's way of protecting faith and imagining themselves as some sort of moderate or peacekeeper. But faith doesn't need protecting. And the truth doesn't have "sides".

It would just be nice to see evidence of Mooney's claim that new atheists hurt "the cause" and/or that accommodationism helps people think more "scientifically". Repeated studies show that people are unwilling to change their beliefs when they find out science conflicts with what they feel "saved" for believing. Other than that, they trust science. How is this the fault of new atheists exactly and how does accomodationism address that?

This "accommodating" may have worked for Jeremy, but it didn't worked for me. All the accommodationism made me think they must be something worth accommodating.

But the Emperor was never wearing any clothes at all. I'm glad for those who speak up and say the equivalent of, "there's no such things as magical robes that only the chosen can see!"

Mooney lacks the integrity to do that. I find those he criticizes to be much more honest than he is, and I would love to have you "give the other side a fair hearing".

Chris said...

I know that I am coming into the conversation late and some of this ground has already been covered but I would like to add my 50 cents worth.

Let me preface this comment with a giant fan boy gushing I LOVE YOUR SHOW. Having said that I think that on your podcast you are a whole lot less accommodationalist than you think in this episode. During the course of your show you identified with Mooney in many ways but I think that the most relevant point you made was to say something along the lines of “Any god that is compatible with science has to be noninterfering and so becomes irrelevant” That doesn’t sound accommodationalist to me. Far from it and I mean that as a complement.

In your comments section Jeremy makes it clear that this was an alternate point of view but that did not come across in the podcast. It sounded like you were agreeing with Mooney while berating PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins. I know that you did mention it here but I think it may be well worth talking in the show about how provoked Myers was before yelling “demented fuckwit”.

Personally Chirs Mooney’s attitude to other atheists makes my blood boil. Bending over backwards to court “moderate” Christians into the rationalist stable whilst hurling insults at his atheist peers.

I totally get that you strive to be fair minded and attempt to not use pejorative terms to describe the religious but you do mock them. You also hold up their beliefs up and criticise their flaws. There is a big deference between being disrespectful and disagreeing. You disagree vocally with a calculated polemic that often has my sides aching. Don’t throw in your lot with Mooney, you guys have too much courage and intellectual honesty to become apologetic politicians.

From listening to your podcast I know that I do not have to explain the fine line to you guys. You tread said line between disagreement and respect like grand masters as if you had a real person in front of you that you were disagreeing with instead of hurling insults into the anonymous ether.

All your previous shows tell me that you disagree with Mooney’s point of view. I think that you were too soft on him.

Jeremy said...

Id like to point out to articulett how annoying he is. I was patient with him, like I try to be with everyone, but its wearing thin.

Hes convinced that we are somehow not allowing the other side to be heard.

Newsflash: we ARE the other side. Every week we criticism religion, most of the time we marshal scientific evidence to do so. We've had PZ Myers, Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stanger, etc. on the show in the past. Believe me, if there is an imbalance on this show its not in the direction of accommidationism. Also, If you read the comments I said Id be willing to get PZ and Ophelia Benson together on the same show to talk about this. Honestly, what more do you want?

Sharkey said...

Jeremy: "I'd like to point out to articulett how annoying he is. I was patient with him, like I try to be with everyone, but its wearing thin."

I think your comment shows the fundamental issue with this controversy: humans suck at inferring tone from Internet conversations. Simple misunderstanding that would be subsumed by nonverbal cues in real-life are left to build and amplify.

To me, Articulett's posts don't appear to be annoying, he's just trying to reinforce his points. Your posts don't seem to be "trying to be patient", you're just responding to those posts with your own viewpoint. And yet, over the course of 7 posts, you've decided articulett is annoying and you're likely to treat him less patiently next time. Considering this is over a minor disagreement between two individuals both would identify with the same "side", are the results surprising when the emotions of an issue run just slightly hotter?

PZ and Mooney's major disagreement is over how much we should adjust our communication given the Internet's inherent tone-muting properties. PZ: "let the invective fly, both positive and negative tone are gonna be misinterpreted due to the medium, and negative is more expressive (and fun)", Mooney: "maybe there are ways to get tone across on the Internet, and it can't hurt to try, considering that Internet posts lead to books, videos and public appearances which have more context for tone to survive".

I side with PZ, but sympathize with Mooney.

Jeremy said...


Your right that tone is hard to pick up from text. I've seen that happen many many times.

My complaint against articullet is very specific.

here's my statment:
"I've never heard of Ophelia Benson before today. Its not my style to bring someone on to the show just over a disagreement. Perhaps I could invite her on the show to discuss her book and then towards the conclusion of the interview we can bring you (PZ) on and the three of us can discuss the "tone" matter together. I think that would make for a great show."

Heres how he interpreted it (the exact opposite of what I meant):

"Didn't you bring Mooney on to discuss a disagreement anyhow? Don't you think your listening audience would want to hear from the other side? What about your first post where you are into "giving the other side a fair hearing"? Do you think you've done this for the side you allowed Chris to slander?"

I dont think my comment to PZ was at all hard to interpret (Hey why dont you both come on the show. But I wouldnt want it to be a fight, Id want to hear what you have to say) But even after directly adressing articullet and saying "were having them on the show" He persists with saying things like this and (others to that effect).

"So when does the "confrontationalist" side get a fair hearing? Or do you think they have had one?"

Thats why I'm impatient. I've been clear. Hes still maintaining his misinterpretation of my comment.

Numeric Blahs said...

Jeremy said:

"I want to make sweet man-love with Christ, I mean Chris Mooney."

My GOD Jeremy, how could you stoop to such a pandering level of accommodationism? When, oh when will those who rightfully do not want to embrace Mr. Mooney in such a romanic manner be heard?

(The interview tended toward the softball-ish, but the follow-up commentary tidied up nicely.)

I am disturbed, though, by one omission: I assume you spoke at length with Mr. Mooney about free will. Why did you cut that segment from the podcast?

Saving it up as a bonus episode, eh? Savvy.

Jeremy said...

I've left a long post at the forum that I hope will clear some things up about where I and my co-hosts are coming from.

You can read it here

Chris said...

Jeremy said...

“I've left a long post at the forum that I hope will clear some things up about where I and my co-hosts are coming from.”

Thanks for that post. I would like to comment in particular on point 4 where you expressed regret that you did not press him. You guys aren’t perfect I get that, you’re just so damn good that you set the bar very high for yourselves.

I think that not pushing him harder gets right to the heart of the matter. I was jazzing for you to go for the jugular as I think many commenters and listeners were. I think I am not in a minority of people that have lost in faith in Point of Inquiry, (thanks goodness DJ kept going with For Good Reason).

I didn’t want to make typical internet commenter attacks on Mooney when he is not here to defend himself so I was pointing my grump at you but here I go anyway.

I feel that Mooney’s point of view is so convoluted and confusing that he does back flips to try and marry them all together. When he is “waxing lyrical” doing his “why can’t we be friends” routine it is completely sickening. It seems that one minute he is a sceptic and an atheist but selectively and only at a whisper coz we all need to get along. Barf. I think that he has a practiced nature to his rhetoric that manages to hide the fact that his point of view isn’t really consistent and he has pat answers that would put a professional politician to shame, he talks a lot and says little.

I am now getting that you had him on the show to have a civil chat with someone from the other side. And it is your show and you guys get to choose the direction that it goes in. Truth be told, I think that many of us just wanted to see him backed into the corner by a barrage of logic in a situation that he could not sweet talk his way out of by some masters of logic who know their stuff. Then watch him sweat as he desperately tries to justify his dissonant points of view and you guys all laugh at him. And I think that is why so many people are riled up we wanted to hear him stammer excuses when he isn’t in control of the editing desk

On a second point was it Luke that said he would take money from Templeton. Was that serious or a joke? If it was serious I would love to hear more about that in depth about the ethical concerns if any behind that.

Jeremy said...

Thank you Chris for the comment.

First off, it was Dave, not Luke. And Dave would take money from the Tea Party right now if they were offering ;)

I think Mooney is inconsistent. I've been reading more of his stuff since the interview and his emphasis changes dramatically depending on who hes talking to (for example he wrote a piece about Coyne that really did sound like he was advocating self-censorship). This is just speculation, but I suspect he may not be purposely inconsistent so much as confused. I think this actually applies to many of the key players in the debate. When Dawkins, Coyne and Mooney backpedal (and they all do) they sound almost identical. When the pressure is off, suddenly the gray area becomes black and white again. At some point we need to ask, has anyone really sat down and thought this through carefully? I think its difficult because everyone of us, as Luke said "has a little PZ and a little Ken Miller on his shoulder" We all want allies in this culture war and at the same time we dont want to compromise the message. We can't avoid some infighting over this issue, but I wish everyone would just deescalate the emotions a bit. Thats why I'm thankful for your comment. You're being sincere about how you felt towards the interview. At the same time you've cut me some slack, and I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you waded into this territory, and yet nothing too much came of it. Thanks for trying.
1. The anti-New Atheists seem to not want to acknowledge the ground-breaking nature of the "New Atheists." Where was atheism before Dawkins et al? An honorable, but nearly moribund "humanism," in this country at leat. These stalwarts have every right to insist on their place in history, but there were no bestsellers, no public face, no social support for atheism that could operate out of the shadows. Now there is.
2. The Kurtz wing of "don't offend, don't tell" is becoming closer to ATINO (atheist in name only). PZ Myers is being far too generous to his detractors in this camp - they keep chopping at his ankles out of timorous anxiety. Whoever gets alienated wasn't that strong to begin with.
I take it some of you worry and castigate based out of desire to be mind-chaning superstars. Obviosuly, I don't expect Jeremy to write effusive apologia for his siding with the anti-New Atheists, but I enjoy the lines being more sharply drawn through these fora.
3. If you take Templeton money, you are no good, no good at all.
Written by: Martin

Ophelia Benson said...

I think Mooney is inconsistent. I've been reading more of his stuff since the interview and his emphasis changes dramatically depending on who hes talking to (for example he wrote a piece about Coyne that really did sound like he was advocating self-censorship).

Exactly. It was precisely that piece that triggered my disagreement with him (and thus his with me). It was just before Unscientific America came out, so I hadn't read it yet; UA expanded and deepened the disagreement. But the beginning was that post about Coyne's review in The New Republic of books by Ken Miller and Karl Giberson, and Mooney's claim that Barbara Forrest had suggested that it was somehow a tactical mistake to write that review.

I asked Mooney then, and when he didn't answer I asked him again, and ditto again, what exactly he would have had Coyne do differently.

I would really like to know. I write reviews myself; I would like to know what the rules according to Mooney should be.

Mooney has never answered. He could still answer. I asked again on the Center for Inquiry forum the other day, on a thread he was replying on, but he still didn't answer.

I think that is, among other things, simply rude; rude in the kind of way that Mooney himself urges "new" atheists not to be. It's a perfectly civil, reasonable question, yet he simply won't answer it. Well why not? To this day I don't know. I didn't know more than a year ago, and I still don't know now.

Maybe it's because, as you say, he was confused when he wrote it, and it's not quite what he meant. But then he could just say that! Godalmighty, how hard is that? He could just say he said more than he meant, and he takes it back, let's start over.

I still would like to know. If we're not allowed even to write things like serious well-argued reviews for magazines like TNR, then what are we allowed to write? What, exactly, is it that accommodationists think we should be doing?

Jeremy said...

Thank you Ophelia for joining the discussion,

I'm Jeremy (1/3 of the RD podcast)

My take is that science and religion are incompatible and I do think scientists should challenge religion.

But I agreed with Mooney that the tone of the New Atheists (I mean this much more broadly than just the big 4) can sometimes go too far.

I think you got to the heart of the problem by asking "what do the accommodationists think we should be doing?" Mooney cant answer that question because (as we both agree) he hasn't thought it through. There is too much vagueness in this debate and people on both sides are tripping up on it.

I'm in the process of clarifying and writing down my thoughts on the "tone" issue. When I'm done I would like to send it to you and PZ and I would love to get your opinion, if you have the time.

I began reading your blog just yesterday and I think you would make a great guest for this show (I just haven't emailed you to ask you on yet).

Ophelia Benson said...

Hi Jeremy

Well in a way it would be absurd to disagree with the claim that the tone of the New Atheists (defined much more broadly than just the big 4) can sometimes go too far...except that it needs to be more carefully worded. There's really no such thing as "the tone of the New Atheists" - because they are plural, and your parenthesis notes that you are thinking of much more than four people, so they are not just plural but many; there can't really be such a thing as the tone of many people. There can't be, and in the case of the putative New Atheists, there isn't. That's one reason the barrage of wild and repetitive attacks on the putative New Atheists is so absurd.

It has happened to me more than once that I have pressed people to give examples of the horrid tone of "the New Atheists" only to be referred to comments on blog posts. Comments on blog posts. If that's the best the critics can do, they haven't got much.

I take it what you mean is that the tone of some "New Atheists" can sometimes go too far, and that is what it would be absurd to disagree with. Of course it does! The tone of some members of any large group of people sometimes goes too far. Even a Quaker can have a bad day; even a Buddhist can lose her temper. But what conclusions we can draw from that fact...well that's apparently what you're writing about, so I look forward to reading what you write. :- ) Sure, I have time, and I'd be happy to offer my opinion.

I hope you take a look at the site as well as the blog - it has a lot of great articles, written by people other than me.

Den!s said...

Chris Mooney hahahaha, you mean he actually showed up for your show? I know a couple of shows he didn't have the balls to show up for :) Sorry, I have no respect for this guy, and he heads up the CFI podcast? sheesh..... fail

Steve O said...


Liked the show and just getting around to catching up on the last couple of episodes.

From my perspective (without trying to be "accommodating" myself) but I feel that both sides of the skeptical side have an important role to play.

The new athiests have a role to play, not to de-convert the religious but more to bolster and inspire the rest of the already skeptical movement. We need these people at the "extreme" end to keep the momentumn, get the headlines, make the cracks in a religious viewpoint etc that the more accomodating atheists can then use to engage in dialogue with the religious middle ground.

Agree with aspects of the show that capturing the hearts and minds is done best in a accommodating way (which is how I approach these conversations - particularly as these people are often family and friends), but personally I know I feel much more comfortable speaking my mind as an atheist with the likes of Dawkins sharing the same world view, to at least have the dialogue on the public agenda.

rrpostal said...

The thing that struck me is that Mooney seems to want us to convince people about certain facts of science, but doesn't really seem worried about teaching the "scientific process". I don't consider it a victory if I get a moderate christian to accept evolution if they don't understand why it is accepted and how to separate fact from truth. believing in thing that offer no evidence is, to me, a cornerstone of a logical foundation that needs addressed before arguing about the specifics.

Chuck Doswell said...

The fact that practicing scientists are believers in theistic denominations is proof only that humans can embrace contradictions by compartmentalized thinking.

Science is evidence-based. Religion is faith-based. These are incompatible at the core.

Seth C. said...

Chris Mooney is a hypocrite and a dick. He talks about "popularizing" science like Sagan and then alienates potential (RATIONAL) Republican sympathetics with his book title "The Republican War on Science". I am not a Republican nor will I EVER be, but godfuckingdammit, if you're a "science-popularizer", well, DON'T FUCKING DIVIDE PEOPLE!

Gatogreensleeves said...

Unfortunately, for some reason I could not register at the forum (never got a confirmation code), so I'm posting here.

I'm having a great time catching up to the present- almost there... This show definitely made me want to see what's been said since, because upon hearing so much about the psych data and that some new atheists are perhaps willfully ignoring it, there is all kinds of OTHER data that was not mentioned here, on the forum, or in the show. I was hoping Luke would have brought some of it up, though he did mention (and Jeremy did as well very briefly in the forum) that they were focusing on influence in the *short term*. Cognitive dissonance studies may be in favor of accomodationists in the short term, but what about the long term? Plus, we must consider who's doing the talking, some anonymous blogger or a public science figure for example. There are a host of studies to consider: