FtB co-blogger The Crommunist Manifesto explains why he is not an accommodationist.
I am not persuaded that any argument, no matter how friendly or accommodating, can persuade a person away from faith. Faith is not a position that is found by reason; it is one that is found through indoctrination and reliance on heuristics and flawed cognitive processes. It is well-insulated against emotional appeals, and uniquely protected against reasoned counterargument, by virtue of the fact that it claims to be ‘beyond mere human reason’.
The same sort of idea is expressed by the old saying, “You can’t reason somebody out of a position they were never reasoned into.” It’s pretty much an undeniable fact, as you know if you’ve ever tried to argue someone out of their religious superstitions. People sometimes de-convert after listening to arguments against their faith, but it’s virtually unheard of for anyone to do so during an argument about their faith.
And yet—you can see it coming—I’m going to try and make a case that we should try and understand the religious audience, and to frame our arguments in terms they will understand.
I don’t want to mislead anyone, so I’ll say up front that I’m not an accommodationist myself, and I’m not saying that if we just try to get along, we’ll gain a better hearing for our arguments. I’m saying that understanding a Christian worldview, and being able to state our case in terms familiar to Christians, will make our arguments more compelling, and possibly more offensive.
I go back to the early days of ScienceBlogs, when the “framing” debate first broke out. The New Atheists, it was said, were needlessly offending people with their “harsh” dismissal of concepts and values that the faithful held dear. But worse, the New Atheists were undermining the effectiveness of their message by their failure to properly “frame” the debate in more appealing terms. Besides, look how effectively the voices on the Right were communicating their message through their heavy use of framing.
There’s something to be said for that last point, but I couldn’t help noticing that right-wing framing was specifically not the kind of framing the New Atheists were being urged to employ. You never hear Fox News, for example, going out of its way to promote respect for liberal ideas, or to uphold liberals as honorable and virtuous citizens. “Framing,” as used so effectively by the Right, has little or nothing to do with having respect and good manners towards one’s opponents. Framing is all about making your side of the argument sound so superior to the other point of view that your eventual victory is all but inevitable.
At a certain point, the dividing line between framing and sheer dishonesty becomes hazy at best. Still, even a conscientious debater can exercise some discretion in how he or she frames their point, without crossing over to the wrong side of the line. And the more effectively you can frame your argument in terms that will be familiar and compelling to your audience, the more effective your argument will be, if only in terms of planting seeds that will bear fruits of critical thinking later on.
I tried to provide an example of good framing in a recent post comparing Christian homophobia with the description in Galatians 5 about “works of the flesh” versus “fruits of the Spirit.” We can say that homophobic practices are bigotry, and Christians will only cry persecution. If we can show that it actually conflicts with Biblical teaching, however, they might have to stop and think.
One commenter pointed out that Christians have a built-in defense against such arguments, saying that “the Devil quotes Scripture for his own purposes,” and it’s true that you can rationalize away even Scripture if you try hard enough. However not all rationalizations are equally easy, and the hard ones are a burden on the believer’s mind (speaking from personal experience here), so the point is still worth making, even if the believer seems to reject it.