Saturday, October 31, 2009

Accomodationists care more about Darwin than the rights of the oppressed

Okay, the title of this post is needlessly inflammatory, but given how nasty the whole accomodationism debate has gotten, I figure I need to be inflammatory to get anybody's attention, right?

The latest volley from the accomodationist side has been Chris Mooney's contention that Dawkins' atheism advocacy is diluting his pro-evolution message -- specifically, that The God Delusion effectively undermined the mission of The Greatest Show on Earth.

There have been various responses to that argument, mostly focusing on Mooney's very premise, which I agree is weak on evidence. However, I want to pose a completely different response to Mooney's argument:

Yeah, so?

Let's assume for a second that Mooney is completely right: The success and visibility of The God Delusion has had a net negative contribution to the mission of The Greatest Show in Earth to bring people over to the pro-evolution side. However, getting people to come around on evolution is not the only goal in the whole wide world... is it?

Jason Rosenhouse points out:

To this point I have been focused specifically on the evolution issue. Obviously, though, I think religion lies at the heart of a great many other societal ills. It is the primary factor in issues like bigotry towards homosexuals, repressive attitudes toward women, assaults on public education, and a political system in which people must profess the strength of their religious faith to have any hope of a future. Those are just a few examples.

Indeed, and in fact I have to criticize Jason just a little bit for failing to follow up on this point as much as he might. I'm going to go out on a limb and argue that bigotry and repression of women and homosexuals are more important issues than evolution education. Not that the latter isn't critically important, and I believe there is synergy between these various goals -- but if I were offered a choice between ending Creationism and ending bigotry, I wouldn't even have to think about that one.

So, as I said, let's say Mooney is right. So what? Is he saying that The God Delusion was completely worthless in all respects, then? That it has not had any positive effect on the public conversation about the false respect accorded to religion and religious prejudice? Well, maybe Mooney is saying that, but I think that's ridiculous.

Rosenhouse says something very similar, that the long-term goal is moving towards a more godless society, but he puts it firmly within the context of the Creationism problem, i.e. he argues that as the American and UK mainstream stop giving so much undue deference to religious belief, ideas like "Teach the controversy" will fade into crackpot obscurity, where they belong.

I think Rosenhouse is exactly right, that there is synergy here. But I'm going to go one step further and say that the goal of tearing down religion's wall of protection is the more important aim even if it had no effect, or even a negative effect, on the fight against creationism. As atheists and other nontheists are further emboldened to speak out, it helps in so many other struggles as well: In countering those who would use religiously-motivated scare-mongering to fight against marriage equality, in deflating the silly faux-liberal belief that equates criticism of misogyny with ethnocentric intolerance, and in combating dangerous nigh-genocidal prohibitions issued by a certain "rat" of a pontiff. All of these things are important -- at least as important as whether evolution gets taught properly in schools, don't you think?

When making grand pronouncements on the wisdom of writing The God Delusion, one cannot take into account only the costs and benefits in regards to evolution education and future books on evolution -- one must look at all the costs and benefits. And I say, even if The God Delusion did have some small deleterious effect on evolution education (an unproven allegation to begin with), it still would be a net positive, because it helped to bring atheism and frank religious criticism into the mainstream. It seems to me that to argue otherwise is rather short-sighted and narrow-minded.


  1. Does anyone really take Mooney seriously?

  2. Apparently so, if you look at the comments on his blog and on sympathetic blogs. I think Orac is more or less on Mooney's side, and Orac is somebody I have a lot of respect for.

  3. All I have to say is, "Damn straight!"

  4. Yes! The reason for fighting creationist nonsense is not because creationism is an attack on the TOE, but because it is an attack on critical thinking/rationality/evidence/the scientific method. But all religion, not just creationism, is an attack on rationality and evidence. Moreover, religion is also an attack on morality and empathy and freedom and human dignity. That makes religion in general the enemy, not just the subset of religion called creationism.