Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Revisiting "strong" vs. "weak" accomodationism

When I set up an RSS reader for my new phone, I added Phil Plait's blog. I've been enjoying it quite a bit. Reading an article right now about the accelerating expansion of the universe -- cool stuff.

Phil Plait's got a little bit of a bad name in the gnu community at the moment, because of his infamous Don't Be a Dick speech, but I think it's unfair to lump him in with the likes of Mooney, Rosenau, and Ruse. The reason is related to a post I did a while back on the difference between "strong" and "weak" accomodationism.

In a nutshell, a "weak" accomodationist prefers an approach of reconciliation between science and religion, often asserting that faith and reason are perfectly compatible. This describes people like Eugenie Scott, who has advocated for faith/science compatibility as part of her job as executive director of the NCSE. A "strong" accomodationist not only prefers this approach, but thinks anybody who doesn't is Not Helping and should STFU. This describes your Mooneys and your Rosenaus, who constantly denigrate the gnus. The former don't bother me; the latter are annoying as all get-out. (FWIW, I think some of the gnus spend a bit too much of their time tackling the accomodationists -- Jerry Coyne's blog is one of my favorites, but he pushes it sometimes, for instance -- so it's not a problem restricted fully to the other side.)

Despite the DBAD speech, I think Plait clearly belongs in the former category. Now, the lack of specificity in that speech is problematic: I'm not actually sure whether I disagree with him or not. But let's assume for sake of argument that he meant that speech in the most anti-gnu possible interpretation. Then I would say I disagree with him, but that's okay, and since he isn't constantly writing blog posts about how stupid people like me are for disagreeing with him, I'm not all that interested in constantly writing blog posts about how stupid people like him are for disagreeing with me.

The problem with Mooney and Rosenau and Ruse is not that they have a different tactical approach. It's that they are constantly saying how destructive our approach is. I think they think the same about us, judging from comments about accomodationism being a "cardinal sin" (that was actually the 3 Quarks Daily guys, but the sentiment has been expressed by the others). Yet I think one will be hard pressed to find very many blog posts from gnus strongly condemning Genie Scott, Michael Schermer, or even Phil Plait (despite the recent noise over the aforementioned speech) -- because they have their opinion and don't seem to be bothered by the fact that other people have different opinions.

The "cardinal sin" is not asserting the compatibility of faith and science. The "cardinal sin" is asserting, even by implication, that it's not okay to proclaim their incompatibility. Because we care about open dialog -- in fact, the goal of stripping away the special deference towards religion which prevents open dialog is pretty much the defining characteristic of "New Atheism" -- assertions that seek to shut down an open dialog really piss us off. Go ahead and disagree with me about faith/science compatibility, but don't tell me I don't even have a right to my opinion or that I'm not allowed to say it in polite company.

My two cents on that.

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