Provocative or offensive?

Massimo Pigliucci has a post about the American Atheists billboard campaign and the utility of what Dave Silverman calls the “firebrand” approach to fighting religion.

In this essay I will first explain why I object to “firebrand” atheism and on what principled (i.e., before evidence) grounds. I will then look at David’s data and argue that it doesn’t show what he thinks it does, and why even if it did this would still not settle the matter. I will then end with some constructive suggestions for atheist activism more generally.

Why firebrand atheism is a bad idea

American Atheists’ billboards have carried messages the likes of “You know it’s a myth… and you have a choice,” “What myths do you see?,” “Christianity? Sadistic God; useless Savior; 30,000+ versions of ‘truth’; promotes hate, calls it ‘love’” (I know, this is a mouthful…); “You know they are all scams”; “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody”; and this year’s entry, featuring a cute kid and the words “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales.”

I have one thought here before even reading most of Massimo’s post. That thought is that billboards are like tweets, and that deliberately “provocative” (or firebrand) tweets can backfire in ways that we have seen many many many times over the past few years as Twitter’s ubiquity has become ever more so. In short, I have learned to loathe “provocative” tweets, and to think that they just don’t work. Maybe that’s actually an overgeneralization, and they can work, but it takes a lot of skill. Billboards are even more so than tweets, because there is no Reply button on a billboard. The AA billboards have always made me feel a bit twitchy, because they oversimplify, and oversimplification doesn’t seem all that useful. (T shirts come to mind here, too.)

The reason I find this approach objectionable is precisely the reason David pushes it: it is in-your-face, belittling religious believers by telling them in huge font that they built their lives around myths and lies, and that they worship morally reprehensible charismatic figures. The ads paint religion with one broad brush, implying, or outright stating, that it is fundamentally stupid and evil.

Well, I think it’s all right to argue that, and that it is at least a big part of the truth, but I don’t think it’s a great idea to say it in ten or twenty words on a billboard. I think you need many more words, and a less take-it-or-leave-it medium.

The first problem with all this is that the older I get the less I think that being offensive on purpose gets you anywhere.

Now that I agree with.

I think being provocative can get you somewhere, if you’re a skilled provocateur (which few people are). But offensive on purpose? Not really…although I suppose I can think of some pieties that do need puncturing, for the public good, and the pious believers will inevitably see the puncturing as offensive even if we consider it merely provocative. Irregular verbs or adjectival phrases again: I’m provocative, they’re offensive.

Now I’ll read the rest of Massimo’s post.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    “I am offended! OFFENDED, I say! Thus, you must shut up and never say anything again. Because you are offending me. And if my feeeelings are not your paramount concern, you are rude and a terrible person to boot.”

    Typical argument from intimidation: The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. The pattern is always: “Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, etc.) can hold such an idea.” This is reminiscent of the McCarthy era loyalty oaths or groups that demand that candidates take a yes or no position on complex issues. From

    Identical to how the privileged majority condemned the Civil Rights and Gay Rights movements for being too rude and in-your-face, suggesting that they should instead speak very softly and politely and *ask* for what they wanted, and then quietly, politely, *wait*, hat in hand, for it to be generously, benevolently bestowed upon them at the privileged majority’s pleasure. We see those who attempt to bring their concerns to the public criticized and maligned in precisely these ways. “They’re going about it all wrong – this will never work.” But it DOES work. The fact that bringing such ideas to the public tends to make more people aware of options and possibilities is precisely why these critics are trying to shame the publicizers into silence. They want nothing more than for them to be silent so that everyone can continue with the “business as usual” that they themselves are profiting from.

    Recommended reading: “The Revolution Will Not Be Polite – The Issue of Nice Vs Good”

  2. Al Dente says

    I agree with Blanche @1. Being conciliatory and placid towards the privileged group does not achieve the minority’s goals. Martin Luther King and Gandhi were polite but confrontational. Appeasement will never get the majority to relinquish even part of their privilege.

    Personally I’m not fond of American Atheists’ billboards. They tend to be wordy and poorly designed. I have no problem with the raison d’être for the billboards, my objections are solely in regards to execution.

  3. Sastra says

    I really liked American Atheists’ campaign last year with the billboard which changed and allowed a longer message, starting out with “Who needs Christ in Christmas? Nobody” and following it up with a list of all the secular Christmas joys, including trees, charity, Santa, egg nog, and love for humanity. Provocative and yet positive, and pissing off only the right people.

    In my opinion atheists will be more effective in the long run by adopting a “Christmas for everybody!” secularization strategy. After all, the Christians who have been pushing both “It’s ‘Merry Christmas’ NOT ‘Happy Holidays'” and “Keep the Christ in Christmas” are working at cross-purposes (pun unintentional but now noted.)

  4. brucegee1962 says

    But King’s and Gandhi’s tactics were virtually guaranteed to cast them in the role of the victim. People usually sympathize with victims, and don’t want to be seen to be siding with victimizers. There are always a few who will say “Oh, it’s really these activists who are the aggressors,” but that’s hard to do when the person is, say, in jail.

    The problem with these billboards is that, if you’re a smug theist driving along with your family and you catch a glimpse of one of them, then you get to feel like you’re the one being victimized. That’s perfectly in accordance with what your pastor has been telling you (that Christians are being persecuted by the godless society) and it doesn’t cause any of the cognitive dissonance that might actually challenge your beliefs or shake you out of their complacency.

  5. says

    Al Dente @ 3 – oh I’m not talking about being conciliatory and placid, towards the privileged group or anyone else. I’m talking about being provocative where that’s useful but not deliberately offensive.

    Obviously that’s subjective and fuzzy and hard to adjudicate. But…I’m sure you get the general drift.

    It’s rather like teasing. It’s an all-too-popular ploy to call it “teasing” when it’s actually just sadistic mockery and humiliation.

  6. says

    if you’re a smug theist driving along with your family and you catch a glimpse of one of them, then you get to feel like you’re the one being victimized

    Okay. But that sort of theist; is there any way at all to have them not feel victimized short of being in active agreement with everything they say?

  7. says

    So the billboards aren’t effective at changing the minds of die-hard believers — well, probably not, but they’re not supposed to be, are they? I think they’re supposed to nudge the already-doubting and the already-atheists out of the pews, to come out and be counted. Hence, “You know it’s a myth”.

    My position, and I think American Atheists wouldn’t disagree, is that people are welcome to believe whatever wacky thing they like, they just shouldn’t be able to impose the social and legal consequences of their beliefs on everyone else.

    The billboards are provocative, sure, but AA are pushing the Overton window, and we’re all benefiting from their efforts. If anyone doesn’t like their style, there are lots of groups with milder and more nuanced tactics to support.

  8. TxSkeptic says

    There is no one size fits all approach to this issue. Silverman’s in your face style is just one of many should be used. Hitchen’s ‘firebrand’ debating style was also along these lines. Then there are the quiet calm debaters, calm bloggers etc that serve to back up the bombastic approach with a more reasoned explanation of the atheist position. We need them all. It’s no different than the different styles that preachers use, some fire and damnation preachers, and some with a watching the paint dry style.

    If you don’t like one style , don’t use it, or consume it.

  9. says

    For the most part, I share Pigliucci’s distaste for the “firebrand” approach, but that’s just a personal preference. I have no interest in convincing other atheists to adopt this preference for themselves. I figure different people respond differently to different messages. Besides, I just don’t think there’s very much riding on the tone atheists take in their billboards one way or the other.

    But yeah, if it was up to me, I’d take a gentler approach.

  10. RJW says

    “Firebrand” atheism is probably counter-productive because so many believers will see it as a challenge from a rival ‘belief’ system. The first priority of atheists or secularists in general, is to defend the secular state from the wannabe theocrats that seem to be completely indefatigable in their attempts to undermine it. Since many people seem psychologically predisposed towards religious belief and culture, shouting at them by using so-called ‘firebrand’ atheism will be misrepresented and misinterpreted, as attacks on religious freedom. An increasing proportion of the population of liberal democracies is now ‘apatheist’ ie they are a-religious, let’s keep them on side, rather than start a screaming match with people who are impervious to reason.

  11. Hj Hornbeck says

    I’ve heard Silverman defend his group’s style in person. The idea is to make AA the “bad atheists,” causing the media to search out “good atheists” to condemn them. Net result: two atheist voices make it into the media instead of zero, and we’re revealed to be a diverse bunch who also do good works. It’s clever.

    The danger comes from promoting outrage for outrage’s sake. Once “good atheist” stories become commonplace, we don’t need the “bad atheists” anymore. There also has to be substance behind the arguments, no matter how outrageous, and so far AA seem to be doing a good job there. Even Pigliucci can’t name a single example.

    Where Piglucci’s critique carries the most weight is over the Google Search data. Those graphs set off all sorts of warning bells when I looked at them, especially when Silverman started drawing “floors.” He did claim to have run them past a few statisticians, in his defense, but it still struck me as incredibly ad-hoc: were people searching “atheist” because they were genuinely curious, or because they wanted to reinforce their previous views by looking for “bad atheists?” There’s no substitute for surveys that directly ask these questions.

  12. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I find AA’s billboards to be in direct opposition to what Silverman has said is his ultimate goal: to make atheism so accepted, so normal, that nobody bats an eye. It’s not an “the end doesn’t justify the means” situation, it’s a “how the living crud are the means supposed to bring about the preferred end?” It baffles me, frankly.

  13. Akira MacKenzie says

    anthrosciguy @ 7

    The trick is to craft your billboard message in a such a way that the perpetually offended theists will end up looking the fool for complaining about it.

    Sadly, most atheist orgs seem to lack that subtly, so their final product tends to intellectually boil down to “Heh, heh…Christians are so dumb!” In the end the Bible-beater has his paranoia validated while moderate and liberal theist, and even some non-believers, rally around the fundies in sympathy against the mean old atheists.

  14. says

    It doesn’t help that I think American Atheists is trash and a scam and piss-poor self-serving “representative” assholes…

    I also think there’s a problem with this idea that you’re disagreement with other people’s positions rises to the level of being their business. There seems to be a particular attitude that it is fun and useful to punch down at the rank-and-file theists to make us atheists feel superior, rather than going after the leadership types who cause the real harm. Douchebag Dave goes to CPAC to suck some butt, and then makes billboards that insult regular folks.

  15. Blanche Quizno says

    Religionists are quick to label any effective atheist argument as “firebrand.” The only reason people seem predisposed toward religion and theistic belief is because they’ve been completely immersed in such a religious milieu for so long that it’s all they’re aware of. Time to open up the marketplace and let people know what other products are there.

    As the young French nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville remarked in his “Democracy in America” observations from the early 1830s:

    Tocqueville concluded that most Americans vested religious authority neither in God nor the self, but in democratic public opinion. “All the clergy of America are aware of the intellectual domination of the majority,” he observed in the Democracy, “and they treat it with respect.” “They never struggle against it unless the struggle is necessary. They keep aloof from party squabbles, but they freely adopt the general views of their time and country and let themselves go unresistingly with the tide of feeling and opinion which carries everything around them along with it.”

    Ironically, Americans paid for their membership in public opinion’s church with true religious freedom, that is the freedom of noncomfority. Eschewing argument and persuasion, the majority compelled belief “by some mighty pressure of the mind of all upon the intelligence of each.” Resistance to this pressure, which entered into the very depths of the soul, was virtually impossible. In democracy, Tocqueville notes, it is “very difficult for a man to believe what the mass rejects and to profess what it condemns.”

    In Tocqueville’s America, however, there was “only one authority, one source of strength and success, and nothing outside it.” Although the majority didn’t banish or burn heretics, it silenced them more effectively by ostracism. Luther himself, Tocqueville notes, probably would have been denied a hearing under these circumstances.

    Despite the high level of religious activity, he found “less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion” here than in any other country familiar to him. Ironically, the same democratic forces which fostered enlightenment rationalism and Protestant sectarianism threatened in the 1830s to “confine the activity of private judgment within limits too narrow for the dignity and happiness of mankind.” Americans also paid a steep price in happiness for their worship of equality. Traditional Christians repressed “a crowd of petty passing desires” for the sake of salvation and could be happy in their faith even if not prosperous, enlightened, or free. Tocqueville’s Americans, in contrast, were prosperous, enlightened, and free, but not really happy. “A cloud habitually hung on their brow,” he observed, “and they seemed serious and almost sad even in their pleasures.” In his mind, this restless melancholy was due largely to a virtual abandonment of otherworldly hopes.

    Tocqueville thought that these changes brought a grievous loss to real Christianity, drastically reducing its power over the American soul. “Religion does not move…[Americans]…deeply,” he noted in his letter to Kergolay. Very few American Protestants made the sacrifices of time, effort, and wealth for the faith that one would expect from the truly pious nor did they seem to fear otherworldly punishment. Rather, they followed their religion “the way our fathers took a medicine in the month of May – if it does not do any good, people seem to say, at least it cannot do any harm.” This indifference made Christians who “follow[ed] their habits rather than their convictions” and hypocrisy was common. Ultimately, Tocqueville could not determine just how many American Protestants sincerely believed, “for who can read the secrets of the heart?”

    “A man who has set his heart on nothing but the good things of this world is always in a hurry, for he has only a limited time in which to find them, get them, and enjoy them. Remembrance of the shortness of life continually goads him on. Apart from the goods he has, he thinks of a thousand others which death will prevent him from tasting if he does not hurry. This thought fills him with distress, fear, and regret and keeps his mind continually in agitation…”

    The Christian spirit of freedom ultimately led Americans unconsciously to worship public opinion when private, rational judgment proved incapable of satisfying their metaphysical needs. While the Christian spirit of religion no longer acted independently on the American soul, its residual influence on public opinion left the country, at least in appearance, the most Christian nation in the world.

    Interesting how little has changed; atheists remain the most hated minority in the US, the one minority considered acceptable to discriminate against, the least trusted and the most condemned. How difficult it is for such persons to speak out! Knowing their every word will be greeted as “offensive” by the majority Christians, because their very existence is “offensive” to the majority Christians.

    And so we see Christians attacking any who defend freedom FROM religion with the most astonishing vitriol, including death threats:

    From that source, the wife of the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has compiled just a few of the vile communiqués they’ve received, many containing the senders’ actual names and addresses (no, it’s not due to internet anonymity), to demonstrate just how much Christians stand ready with a vile and savage response instead of any “love thy neighbor” or “love thine enemies” – their home has been vandalized multiple times.

    Bonnie has uncovered a shocking reality: Self-professed Christians deny the fundamental humanity of other people they don’t even know.

    @12 HJ: Reminds me of the “good feminists”…only without the “good works” and the “clever”.

  16. k_machine says

    It’s probably hard for atheists to avoid being both Provocative and offensive. Even the most neutral statement (say, “There is no god”) will offend believers.

  17. brucegorton says


    How well has that worked exactly?

    During the O’Hair era, American Atheists was in your face and fighting the good fight. She also won one of the biggest victories against state sponsored religion in decades, ending school prayer.

    Meanwhile the polite atheists talked about how divisive she was.

    Then she died – ten years later and the religious right were in charge of all three houses of American government and committing war crimes. It is important to note that in real terms, Dawkins and Co came out too late to prevent that and it took time for them to regain that lost momentum.

    The strong “in your face” atheist movement doesn’t just have implications for the atheism vs religion debate, it opens up the discussion for the left in general.

  18. Ariel says


    In short, I have learned to loathe “provocative” tweets, and to think that they just don’t work.

    They probably “don’t work” in the sense of convincing those who are not already convinced. In addition, what “we have seen many many many times over the past few years” makes me think that they also do not work in the sense of shaming the opposition into silence. Their value as an appeal to the closet supporters is also very doubtful (see Pigliucci’s piece and also Hornbeck’s #12). If so, what’s the point of shouting that “Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, etc.) can hold such an idea” (cf. Blanche Quizno in #1. By the way, the approach is not specific to the privileged majority. On the contrary, you can easily find it coming from all sorts of sources.) So, where is the gain?

    One possible gain was indicated by Hornbeck: we get the chance of being seen as diverse, with the “good atheists” becoming more visible as the final result. Here I must agree with Hornbeck: that would be a clever plan indeed.

    However, in such cases I have always one and the same worry: I’m afraid that usually it’s in fact not about any clever plans at all.

    I’m afraid that mostly we do it simply because we are ourselves angry, hurt, and offended. We do it because we hate and despise them, whoever “they” are. We do it to consolidate and mobilize our group: not the shy sympathizers or the fence sitters, but people like us – those who are also ready to hate and despise. We do it to build and strengthen the in-group war ethos. We do it to rage war.

    If that’s the real aim, the strategy can be pretty efficient.

  19. latveriandiplomat says

    As for the empirical evidence, such as it is. raw google searches seems a problematic hook to hang one’s hat on. Shouldn’t one at least try to normalize it against google usage generally in some fashion? Among other problems.

  20. quixote says

    What’s the purpose? If it’s to make atheists feel smarter than non-atheists, then they probably work. If it’s to attract anyone to come out about their atheism, then I doubt it. The billboards just seem obnoxious. Except the girl-writing-to-Santa one, which is somewhat funny, and probably resonates with just about every kid who sees it.

    I’d think the AA would do better to stress that secularism and societies with religious freedom are two sides of the same coin. In some clever and humorous way, of course. (No, I have no ideas. I flunk PR.) And ditch the “You are sooo stooopid” approach. That provokes thought in nobody, including atheists when they’re the ones being shouted at.

  21. bigwhale says

    Seeing such a billboard would have changed my life growing up. I was a christian by default. I thought it was just what everyone did. It took reading the first chapter of The God Delusion to change my life. Now, I think that book is simplistic and could be a lot better, but I can’t argue with my results.

    I am not donating money to AA. But I wouldn’t write that others shouldn’t. Massimo has strayed too far from his expertise in other social justice areas, and this seems similar.

    The problem isn’t AA. The problem is that there should be AA and also a dozen other organizations with a variety of strategies. There are hundreds of ways to be a Christian, so I was just trying to figure out what kind of christian I was. We need to show all kinds of atheists so people can spend time wondering what kind of atheist they are. It is not rational, but it is how this person worked. Just as good as Massimo using twitter as anecdotes.

  22. quixote says

    Oh, and also too: I don’t believe the “it’ll make the media look for good atheists” angle. The media wants the most colorful characters. Given a rabid atheist, they’re not going to make sure they have a nice, calm, reasonable one for “balance.” They’ll find a rabid fundie for that. I mean, “DUH!” fergawdsake. AA is just inventing rationalizations for insulting people that it thinks might be plausible to its peer group.

  23. RJW says

    @ 18 brucegorton,

    The U.S. is a particular and perhaps peculiar case, it’s unusually religious, the trend in most liberal democracies, is not so much an embrace of atheism but an indifference toward religion.

    @22 quixote,

    Agreed. Some atheists have developed a conceit that they’re necessarily smarter than believers, that’s not a productive approach, protecting the secular state by educating believers in the limits of religious freedom is a far more practical policy than preaching atheism.

  24. xxxxxx says

    Agreed. re: billboards/tweets sometimes need to be provocative to work and that this is a hard skill to master. Has AA/Silverman mastered this ability? I don’t know the answer to that, but AA/Silverman certainly seem to be getting better at it IMO (if one compares, say, today’s AA messaging to those of a few years ago, when, for example, AA thought it a fine idea to place a Bible quote about slavery along side the horrid image of a chained African slave…and then place the ads in the African American/Black community).

    Not to promote the bigger off-topic point….but I also don’t get why people like Pigliucci and Silverman (or anyone in “the” movement) are taken seriously at all when they argue over the best/worst ways to guide the atheist community forward. If ever humanity can know anything about why society changes the way it does, its (1) only discoverable long after the fact, and (2) accomplished through historical research done by people who AREN’T HIP DEEP IN THE MIDDLE OF EVERYTHING (you know that little thing called dispassionate objectivity which neither of these guys can remotely claim). For all we know right now, its their damned squabbling that derails atheism in a few years. People just need to stop trying to tell everyone else how to drive, instead just focus on how best to steer their own vehicle, and just be happy when we are all still (mostly) going the same direction on the freeway. Our future legacy will take care of itself.

  25. Donnie says

    Every time I see a church I am offended. Churches remind me that I am wrong in not believing in the Truth of God. When I see a church, I am left to believe that I am less of a patriot, less of an American. Seeing a small billboard helps reaffirms me that I am not less of a patriot, not less of an American. The symbols of a church continually remind me that I am wrong in my worlview.

    Please feel free to reverse objections above with religious objections to Atheism.

  26. vereverum says

    So, the last time you saw a Westboro Baptist protest, or, on the polite side, a “reason for the season” billboard, you decided to repent from your sinful ways and join a church?
    Didn’t think so.
    Donnie #27 brings up a good point. If you want to evaluate the effectiveness of your billboard, just reverse the audience and subject to yourself and see how it plays out. Make you change your mind or make you double down?
    When bigwhale #23 was but a wee calf, it might have made a difference, but I think his environment would’ve overruled any effect of the billboard.
    And, really, I don’t think most atheists or secularists know what they are dealing with. As Drusilla Clack says in The Moonstone:

    Once self-supported by conscience, once embarked on a career of manifest usefulness, the true Christian never yields. Neither public nor private influences produce the slightest effect on us, when we have once got our mission. Taxation may be the consequence of a mission; riots may be the consequence of a mission; wars may be the consequence of a mission: we go on with our work, irrespective of every human consideration which moves the world outside us. We are above reason; we are beyond ridicule; we see with nobody’s eyes, we hear with nobody’s ears, we feel with nobody’s hearts but our own. Glorious, glorious privilege! And how is it earned? Ah, my friends, you may spare yourselves the useless inquiry! We are the only people who can earn it – for we are the only people who are always right.

  27. Dave Ricks says

    If a billboard’s objective is telling nonbelievers they are not alone (for bigwhale #23), then Massimo cited billboards like these from the United Coalition of Reason:

    • Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.
    • Are you good without God? Millions are.
    • Don’t believe in God? Join the club.
    • Godless? So are we!

    Those billboards were crafted carefully by people like Fred Edwords to reach out to isolated nonbelievers with a minimum of potential offense to believers. And for bigwhale #23, “that there should be AA and also a dozen other organizations with a variety of strategies,” I agree, so I liked to UCorR as one.

  28. Brian E says

    My issue with being offensive because nobody has the right to not be offended is it basically breaks a butterfly on a wheel. Now where have I read that expression before? It can be useful when speaking truth to power but so often seems to end up punching down. For example, I think Islam is bonkers, but I don’t berate my Islamic coworker, because she is already on the receiving end. Being brown and wearing a scarf. nobody asks Catholics to disown peadiophilia, when the church facilitates pederasts. But every time isil commits a terrorist act, people ask why aren’t Muslims condemning the act?

    Apart from that, are we reliving the accommodationist debates if 2010? Massimo says be nice!

  29. canonicalkoi says

    I’m torn on this one. Part of me sees the possibility of “driving people away”, but I really hate descending into arguments about “tone”. Part of me says, “You know, it’s a good way to get into people’s faces and say, “We’re here. You can’t keep ignoring us. If you know we’re here, stop saying, “We live in a Christian community” when, well, not.”” The other third of me thinks, “Hey, I’ve had to deal with signs saying everything from “God hates fags” to congress-critters asserting THEIR “Divine Right” to decide what to do with MY body to people physically shoving me off the sidewalk because I might be going into an “abortion clinic” (read: Planned Parenthood) to lame-asses trying to get the teaching of evolution pulled from schools . Deal with the oh-so-nasty sign, snowflake.”

    Having lived through the beginning of the Gay Rights movement and modern feminism, I gotta tell you that the Stonewall riots and Act-Up made people finally stop pretending that either gays didn’t exist or that there were so few they could safely be disregarded and disrespected. Sometimes you have to poke society hard in the eye to get its attention. Sometimes shoving people off their cozy assumptions rather than asking them to please, if they’d be ever so kind to rethink something, makes them actually think. Sometimes.

  30. Dave Ricks says

    A side note about accommodationism:

    In 2008, Austin Dacey wrote accommodationism to mean [1]

    The view that there exist no important conflicts between science and religion I call accommodationism. Those who either recognize no conflicts between religion and science, or who recognize such conflicts but are disinclined to discuss them publicly, I call accommodationists.

    In 2009, Jerry Coyne wrote accommodationism to mean [2]

    Professional societies like the National Academy of Sciences — the most elite organization of American scientists — have concluded that to make evolution palatable to Americans, you must show that it is not only consistent with religion, but also no threat to it.

    Dacey and Coyne wrote accommodationism to mean nearly the same thing, although Coyne meant something more active. But by either definition, what Massimo Pigliucci wrote here is not accommodationism. Also, Coyne’s position of anti-accommodationism is that science organizations like the NCSE should simply stop telling people their religion is compatible with evolution by natural selection. Coyne’s anti-accommodationism has nothing to do with being provocative or offensive.

    By 2010 the atheosphere overheard the discussion and started arguing as if accommodationism meant being nice, and anti-accommodationism meant being a jerk. This is a pet peeve of mine, not to be pedantic about definitions, but because the original points of Dacey and Coyne were lost.

    – – –
    [1] At Trinity College here, you can select the book Secularism & Science in the 21st Century, then select Dacey’s chapter, “Evolution Education and the Science-Religion Conflict: Dispatches from a Philosophical Correspondent.” From there you can download the chapter as a PDF file by registering with Scribd.
    [2] Coyne posted a timeline from 2009 here. He first used the word “accommodationism” in the 2nd link on that list, and my blockquote is from that post.

  31. khms says

    #33 Dave Ricks

    A side note about accommodationism:

    In 2008 …

    … the word was already old. From Wikipedia:

    Accommodationism has been used in the following senses:

    Atlanta compromise, an agreement struck in 1895 between African-American leaders and Southern white leaders
    A term coined by Austin Dacey to describe those “who either recognize no conflicts between religion and science, or who recognize such conflicts but are disinclined to discuss them publicly”.

    The usage you complain about seems to be that older usage:

    The agreement was that Southern blacks would work meekly and submit to white political rule, while Southern whites guaranteed that blacks would receive basic education and due process in law.[3][4] Blacks would not agitate for equality, integration, or justice, and Northern whites would fund black educational charities.[5][6]

    The agreement was never written down. Essential elements of the agreement were that blacks would not ask for the right to vote, they would not retaliate against racist behavior, they would tolerate segregation and discrimination, that they would receive free basic education, education would be limited to vocational or industrial training (for instance as teachers or nurses), liberal arts education would be prohibited (for instance, college education in the classics, humanities, art, or literature).[citation needed]

    In essence, the minority in question “plays nice” and gets a few crumbs for that.


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