This is entertaining. I was browsing through stuff trying to recall previous disagreements with Shermer (I know I’ve had some, though only unilateral ones) and I found a post of Jerry Coyne’s from more than three years ago. It’s about Shermer as accommodationist.
Amusingly, I start by arguing that Shermer can be read as describing a view rather than endorsing it. Funny, isn’t it! Since now I’m getting shouted at for confusing the two in the case of “it’s more of a guy thing.”
Then there’s the whole pragmatism question.
- Posted November 28, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
Shermer is a bit weird on this topic. At the Beyond Belief conference a few years ago, he practically blew up at criticisms of the Templeton Foundation. I don’t think he is receiving money from them, but at the time it was striking in how loudly and angrily he reacted to complaints about an organization to which he didn’t belong.
- Posted November 28, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
He also seems to be afflicted with the one-eyed practical or ‘political’ approach that is so noticeable in Chris Mooney. He talks about what ‘works’ without pausing to say what he means by ‘works’ – apparently thinking that absolutely everything boils down to some kind of campaign. What if (at least sometimes) we don’t care about what ‘works’ so much as we care about getting it right?
How it takes me back.
But then, even more entertaining – I find myself saying yet again, or rather not again but way back then, that Shermer said what he said and not something else. I say it to, of all people, Russell Blackford. The ironies.
- Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Permalink
Ophelia says: “What if (at least sometimes) we don’t care about what ‘works’ so much as we care about getting it right?”
I’m going to keep batting for Michael here, because I think this gets things a bit backwards. Michael could reply: “What if (at least sometimes) we do care about what ‘works’ as much as we care about getting it right?”
Now, maybe we should always care more about getting it right, but that’s not the argument. I can’t speak for Michael, of course, but I doubt that he’d deny the following: “sometimes we don’t care about what ‘works’ so much as we care about getting it right”. I think he’d say, “Yes, sometimes … but not all the time. I’m talking about those other times.”
If so, is there really that much disagreement?
- Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
But Russell, he said what he said. I’m arguing with what he said. Maybe he would rephrase it if you asked him, but he did say what he did say. He said “There are multiple ways [to respond to theists and/or theism], all of which work, depending on the context.” I’m saying they don’t all “work” (unless he means something very odd and idiosyncratic by “work”) and whether or not they “work” isn’t the only question to ask about them.
Do admit. That’s exactly what I’ve said about nineteen times during this dispute, when people keep saying what he could have said or what they’re sure he meant, and I keep saying he said what he said and that’s what I’m arguing with.
And the same disagreement. Let’s not pin him to exactly what he said. But why not, since he did say it?
Posted November 29, 2009 at 6:18 am | Permalink
But Ophelia, he does seem to think that sometimes we just plain straight out should tell the theists that their views are wrong, or are not rationally grounded, or are merely a human construction, or whatever. That’s consistent with his modus operandi in the past … and it’s a funny sort of accommodationist position. He’d probably think that this “works” approach in some sense, but presumably not in the sense of getting theists to fight global warming, etc.
I don’t think the pieces are written with the kind of rigour that justifies trying to analyse them like statutes or like poems, and they wouldn’t stand up to that sort of analysis. But to me, the question is whether Michael is telling us that religion and science “just are” compatible in some broad, sloppy sense, without all the needed caveats that you and I and Jerry like to insist on (which tend to eat up the claim itself), or whether he wants us to stop criticising religion – things like that. I can see problems in the original piece (I discuss some of these at more length over at Butterflies and Wheels) as well as in his attempt to defend it. But I don’t think he’s doing either of those things. The problems I see are quite specific (some of them are actually theological!). At this stage, they don’t add up to reason to think that Michael has gone over to the accommodationist side.
And – to everyone – I freely admit that I’m looking at these pieces charitably. But I think we should always do that until we have enough cumulative reason to do otherwise, and especially with someone who has Michael’s sort of track record of opposing irrationalism.
- Posted November 29, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink
Russell, I don’t want to claim that Michael himself has gone over to the accommodationist side (and anyway, as I said in replying to you at B&W, even if he has he can always come back again). I just want to dispute some (much) of what he says in this particular piece.
It’s an argumentative piece, after all, and a personal one at that – so I really don’t see why we shouldn’t take its claims at face value and disagree with them if we disagree with them.
And here it is three years later and I still don’t see why we shouldn’t take particular claims at face value and disagree with them if we disagree with them. Is this consistency or sheer bloody stubbornness?