This essay on the accommodationists vs. the ‘new atheists’ gets off to a bad start, I’m afraid, and I had some concern it was going to be another of those fuzzy articles.
There is a new war between science and religion, rising from the ashes of the old one, which ended with the defeat of the anti-evolution forces in the 2005 “intelligent design” trial.
That’s incorrect. The anti-evolutionists have not been defeated — they got smacked in the nose with a rolled-up newspaper, and that’s about it. The creationists are still thriving, and in some places (like Texas) getting even bolder and noisier.
It gets better from there, though. It’s a polite framing of the arguments between the apologists for religion and the opponents of religion, and the author favors the latter.
As does the commenter.
Reading Pennock’s Tower of Babel presently.
There is hope as non-science-based apologists continue to fragment into little overly-vocal pieces. Keep the faith (couldn’t resist, sorry). EFH
Becca, the Main Gauche of Mild Reason says
exactly. when it comes down to it, religious views cannot be defended, and I think if pressed, the religious will admit it. That is why science must be silenced, in their minds. And it is why I am no longer religious.
SC OM says
See comment #13!
Oh yeah? I think that they don’t like having their superstitious idiocy disrespected. Fuck them!
SC OM says
He quotes Jerry Coyne. Cue heddle.
Unless the deity and its properties can be clearly defined, it can be said that it’s an incoherent concept unworthy of serious consideration.
The only deity that science can say nothing about is a deity who does nothing at all.
Behold, the mating call of the Lower Mentalis Pompositus Religiotardus.
@ Becca #2: Indeed. This “respect of religion” business and how it treats believers as supposedly fragile little things reminds me of something Zoe Williams wrote about feminism and masculinity:
And once again, a political defenses of religion ends up being even more disrespectful than all the criticism coming from the atheists’ camp. At least, vocal atheists see the believers as rational human beings, capable of thinking for themselves.
Steve LaBonne says
I knew it would be good before actually reading it, as soon as I saw the author’s name. For people unfamiliar with Singham, he writes a blog that would certainly appeal to most Pharyngulites:
I was about to quote the same passage Becka did. There are reasonable arguments for involvement in a religious community, but all of those arguments are based on an understanding that religion is more about people than it is about god and that all god language is simply a metaphor for aspects of human experience. I would be willing to show respect for religion if and to the extent that religious believers concede this point (some do) and accept that different people use different metaphors, so that there is no such thing as the “one true faith.”
There are precious few religious people willing to entertain either of those propositions, however, which is why I remain firmly on the side of the new atheists.
The problem is with the term moderate.It seems benign but really is not.Every supposedly “religious moderate” is tied to the vile extremism that saturates the dogma.
Nerd of Redhead, OM says
Well, that made my day. :D
Becca – You stole my favorite passage, too! Religion is infantile and its spread, like nicotine addiction, depends on the young. The author neglected to bring up the word, “faith.” Faith, like child-like wonder, is what is really supposed to be defended against rude science. And, in fact, the social convention is that any debate between science and religion can be ended with, “well, it’s a matter of faith.” For the science advocate to press beyond that point is akin to child molestation (done by non-Catholic priests, of course!).
Mattir – I think the more “moderate” religions implicitly realize that religion is about the people, yet simultaneously realize that without the imprimateur of God, their society would fall apart. Maybe for the “sophisticated” church-goers, the defense of God isn’t for the sake of faith, but for ultimately for the unity of their congregation.
The problem is that much of western society has granted the “magical R word” special status, so that if you have a “religious” belief it gets special privilege, while if you have a “philosophical” or other deeply held belief, it’s not privileged to the same degree. Assuming that people aren’t going to stop wanting to gather in groups and sing songs and celebrate seasonal holidays or lifecycle events or whatever, perhaps we need a separate word for the folks who understand the idea of metaphor and those who think that actual but invisible beings are speaking to them.
irenedelse @ 7 “…At least, vocal atheists see the believers as rational human beings, capable of thinking for themselves.”
I’m a vocal atheist, & i certainly don’t see believers as being rational, at least, not on the issue of their belief in superstitious nonsense. They may be rational in other things.
Abdul Alhazred says
As you know there is nothing new about “New Atheism”. There’s also nothing new about being a bit impolite about it. See some of Sinclair Lewis’ rants.
What is new is more people being persuaded. Not because of some innovation in insidiousness, but as a side effect of the advance of education.
Yay, “new” atheism. :)
I don’t think this is true – the UUs and Buddhists and many Quaker and Jewish groups have managed it fine. It does take some actual thought and education, which is the big stumbling block for many groups. It would be great if people could realize that they don’t necessarily have to give up the singing, group activities, lifecycle celebrations, and cultural and literary heritage parts just because there’s no invisible unicorn.
Mattir – The terms you are looking for are “Catholic” and “nuts,” respectively.
How many people are aware of religion as metaphor-and-ritual and are out about it? How many societies are completely upfront about not speaking for or interacting with a deity, mystery, or similar mumbo jumbo? Maybe a few Unitarian Universalists…. but the majority of metaphoricians are in the closet, and I don’t imagine any church dare make a break with faith, and if they did I wonder how long they would survive.
Anubis Bloodsin the third says
Apart from the contradiction in terms of “sophisticated” I agree completely with that.
I am fairly convinced, as well as one can ever be without empirical evidence, that a fairly hefty percentage of those polled in the bible belt would wax lyrical about a sky fairy and his brat as long as peers were present to hear the diatribe but in the privacy of their own thoughts thoroughly reject the notion,it is just that they prefer inclusion in the community rather then ostracism by those in the audience with a brain by-pass, whom although do exist in some numbers are…I suggest…not in the numbers actually mooted by the brain dead themselves!
Shorter religious apologists. “Stop calling our fairy tales….fairy tales.”
We wouldn’t bother if they weren’t trying to force their fairy tales on us and destroy our society to make it safe for their fairy tales.
I don’t get all that worked up about the UFO cultists. They aren’t trying to take over the local school board or running candidates for office on the “Round up the Gray Aliens and steal their flying saucers” platform.
They left out hallucinations & wishful thinking. Oh, wait, I guess science can provide insight for that.
Happy Ascension Day!! Thanks Jesus for miraculously flying back into the sky!!
Mattir – UU’s are still faithy, depending on the society. Jews obviously have an ethnic identity that supersedes their religion. Buddhism, in my part of the world, is a meditation group for people who did not grow up Buddhist. Where native Buddhists are involved, it is likely very much more “religious.” Quakers are a very few. I don’t see an effective model for a popular roll out of Religion 2.0 — a new religious identity based on community and completely rejecting faith; there will always be sanctuaries for those not willing to let go of church-style communities, but the masses really go to church for God.
Being an atheist and belonging in almost any Christian group is absolutely incompatible. Besides, apart from the Catholic Church, I don’t think most Christian churches are really that integrated into people’s life fabrics. Even in deeply religious areas, people can and do change churches all the time, and change religious rituals as well. In the instance of Christian America, belief in God, not the tradition, is the main draw.
Egnu Cledge says
Man, the comments over there are depressing:
Religion wins because it’s adherents are willing to die for it. Religion wins because it’s adherents are connecting with the energy essence of the universe (just ask a physicist!). Religion wins because scientists can’t know everything. It’s arrogant of scientists and atheists (but not me!)to say they can know anything about god. Evolution proves religion is true, otherwise it would have evolved out of us. Religion wins because science brought us technology with which we have ruined the planet. Obligatory mention of Nazis. Atheism is a religion….blah, blah, blah.
Brownian, OM says
The world has been waiting for millennia for these deep fucking insights religion offers.
Who is god? Is god male or female or something in between? Is god bearded, blue, an elephant, or something beyond our conception? Is god one, three, millions, or everything? Is god right here with me all the time or an absentee landlord who turned on the power before retiring to some cosmic Florida?
What does god want? Does god want us to marry one woman, multiple women, one man, multiple men, or none at all and live on a mountaintop? Does god want us to eat pork, shellfish, beef, or nothing but vegetables? Does god want us to love one another as brothers and sisters or take up swords against our family, friends and neighbours? Does god want our livestock, children, bloody hearts and flayed skin, our prayers in private, or our prayers in public? Does god want us to live in poverty and humility, or opulent temples with lavish plazas, gilded thrones, and air-conditioned doghouses?
Where does god send us when we die? Does god send us to billowy clouds, multi-storey infernos, voids of nothingness, our very own planets, or this one to do it all over as someone else? Does god reunite us with loved ones, bathe us in loving light, amuse us with the screams of the damned, or feast us with unending meat and mead? Is where I go my choice or was my fate predestined long before I was born?
What is the meaning of life? Is it to spend our waking moments in reverent worship of god, to fulfill our cosmic duty, or free ourselves from the unending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth? Should I put my nose to the grindstone and do good works to glorify god’s name or commend myself to god’s care knowing I shall want for nothing as the birds of the air?
C’mon, religion, we want some definitive answers to these questions. What you’ve provided so far is akin to saying 2 plus 2 could equal 4, 5, 3.1, 4,324,276,566,345,235.3, 3/11, or blue, and told us that’s some kind of ‘deep insight’. Not good enough.
Does that mean that Islam is the realest of the real True Religions?
The current leader in people dying because of and for religion are a few Moslem countries, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan.
Most days, some suicide bomber or car bomb takes out a few dozen or so random people on behalf of some version or other of Allahism. And I seem to remember there used to be two skyscrapers in NYC called the World Trade Center.
How about Jonestown and the People’s Temple or Heaven’s Gaters?
Rey Fox says
“We respectfully ask those contemporary Darwinians who seem intent on using Darwin’s theory as a vehicle for promoting an anti-theistic agenda to desist from doing so as they are, albeit unintentionally, turning people away from the theory.”
Professional concern trolls?
Speaking personally, I was perfectly happy to give up the rituals and singing and all that BS. That was the first thing I hated about religion before I realized that the rest of it was a sham too. And I can’t imagine that I’m all that unusual in that regard, since church attendance among young people continues to drop.
@ Rey Fox
That’s the first problem with religion – stupid songs, tuneless singing, and badly done rituals, the religious equivalent of fast food. Doesn’t have to be that way, but if the point of the activity is the magical unicorn, then there’s no real point in improving those parts of the activity that provide actual pleasure to the people involved. Don’t know where other people are, but none of the UUs I know are remotely faithy – they’re more of the “let’s have good songs and food and help the needy – no need to bother this god-person” variety.
Brownian, OM says
I’d say the religion of peer pressure and impressing chicks must be pretty true given the number of teenage boys willing to die for it.
Brownian, OM says
Look! YouTube is full of True Believers™ performing rituals of worship.
If it’s so important to protect people’s fantasies, why do science at all?
Um, to develop better toys for the fulfillment of said fantasies? I can think of one or two things I might try in the holodeck, possibly involving giant robotic jellyfish…
Brownian, OM says
I’m dismayed to finally encounter a mind that frightens me more than my own.
One point that many new atheists make that I’d like to humbly disagree with is this idea that deism is the only religion “compatible” with science, since a deistic god doesn’t intervene with physical reality in any way (and theistic claims supposedly only clash with science when it’s asserted that god performs some act involving the physical world).
But I think this is still conceding way too much. A deistic god conflicts with the principles of known science by simply existing. Everything we’ve learned about consciousness suggests that it is a property of physical brains. A disembodied mind or supernatural consciousness such as god is a complete violation of everything we know and would count as a miracle itself. Thus, even deism is incompatible with science.
Unless, of course, individual deists don’t assume the “first cause” to be a conscious supernatural individual but merely some insentient natural process. But then, if we are to keep our terms sensible, such a process is hardly deserving of the label “god.”
inkadu #12 wrote:
It seems to me that the ‘moderate’ religions put a lot of emphasis on faith as personal therapy. Without believing in God, or some higher power which is working behind the material world for our benefit, people will fall apart. Or, perhaps, fail to be the Best They Can Be. So it’s very, very important to believe in God. Any God.
So important, in fact, that it’s unwise to ask whether it exists or not. And it’s rude to get other people to wonder about this question. Or dangerous.
There seems to be an underlying sense that, if faith is a placebo, it won’t “work” if people know it’s a placebo. They have to be able to kid themselves into thinking their religious views are real enough — which they will be, if you don’t poke around.
Daniel Dennet used the metaphor of the crows in the movie Dumbo. Dumbo the elephant had ears so large that he could fly with them, but he lacked the confidence to try. So his mouse friend gave him the feather of one of the local crows and told him it was a “magic feather.” It made things fly.
But imagine, Dennett wrote, that right before the big leap off the tree one of the onlooking crows had tried to tell Dumbo that the feather has nothing to do with it — it’s all aerodynamics. The feather isn’t magic at all. The audience would have realized that was disastrous: Dumbo needs to “believe in” the magic feather, or else he might stiffen up with fear, and no longer believe in either his own abilities, or the laws of physics. He would therefore plunge to his doom. “Stop that crow!” the audience would cry. “He’s going to ruin everything!” Don’t let Dumbo know the feather isn’t magic.
The accomodationists are looking at the new atheists and crying “stop that crow!” Even if belief in magic is a placebo, it works if people think it works — by acting as a personal narrative and motivational tool, for every individual.
When I hear liberal theists and faitheists defending religion, I imagine their apologetics being applied to a form of therapy. Religion is all about people — literally. They talk like counselors.
The feather isn’t magic at all. The audience would have realized that was disastrous: Dumbo needs to “believe in” the magic feather, or else he might stiffen up with fear, and no longer believe in either his own abilities, or the laws of physics.
I know it’s been a while, but doesn’t Dumbo eventually figure out the magic feather is bullshit, anyway? You know, when he drops it, but can still fly?
Dunno why, but a lesson is in there, somewhere.
I wonder if the next generation will assert that the feather is miraculous and necessary and good because it elicits the desired outcome.
Off-topic: Another poll from Gop: currently running 97% against confirming Elena Kagan for the U.S. Supreme Court. Remember to confuse them by copying the link location and pasting it into your browser from another Web page.
Thunderbird 5 says
I was wondering what it was that my cat bought home for his tea.
I give up on all this god stuff. I readily admit that religion is a nuisance. But if someone as intelligent as Francis Collins claims to have seen the Trinity in a waterfall, or rainbow (or whatever it was), then obviously religion must be a very potent “meme”, easily capable of overthrowing a person’s commonsense, and causing them to believe the most incredible nonsense imaginable. Religion seems impervious to logical/rational/scientific thinking.
RE: A disembodied mind or supernatural consciousness…
Why would a disembodied consciousness that reads our minds and causes earthquakes be a good thing? How is that not the definition of a meddlesome space-alien that needs to be destroyed? If it’s REAL there must be a way to detect it. Even the SciFi creatures that are “pure energy” or exist “between dimensions” can be detected – and ultimately destroyed – with the correct technology. Even if a “higher power” existed why would people gather together and sing songs and worship the thing? Stockholm Syndrome perhaps?
If it was susceptible, it wouldn’t exist.
Tim Harris says
Do read David Lewis-Williams’s ‘Conceiving God’: it contains the best arguments against Gould’s ‘overlapping magisteria’ I have come across, and shows how it is not so much science violating religion, as religion impinging on science that is the problem: it is religion that asserts that there is a supernatural realm peopled by supernatural beings and that these beings intervene in various ways in the world – this is what is fundamental to every religion, and if there are supernatural interventions in the world, then these are by definition subject to scrutiny, scientific or otherwise. The gobbledy-gook about contingent and absolute being put out by Hart (who merely and tiredly draws on woozy old Keith Ward,) as well as ‘Extreme Unction’ McGrath and the Ineffable Eagleton, is irrelevant.
I often wonder what would have happened if there had been more rationalists back in the day and fewer superstitionists. I might even write a blog post about it some day, if I ever get off my lazy backside and start my own blog.
in the meantime :
In my opinion, if some scientists wish to indulge in magical thinking, I don’t have a problem with that, so long as it doesn’t affect their ability to do the science. Perhaps it should be listed under potential conflicts of interest.
morgan in austin says
Brownian, OM wrote:
That was a beautiful essay. Just gorgeous.