We aren’t angry, we’re effective, which is even scarier

Chris Mooney was on Point of Inquiry recently. I know, he’s always on PoI anymore, which was the big reason I’ve tuned that podcast out, but in this case, he’s in the hot seat with Ron Lindsay interviewing him on accommodationism. Lindsay is excellent, just calmly and quietly asking killer questions that Mooney flounders over. Ophelia Benson has a short summary of the highlights, if you’d rather not sit through it all.

Once again, the problem revolves around a central argument for the Mooneyites: that harsh criticism of cherished beliefs, like religion, leads to an immediate, emotion-based shutdown of critical faculties by the target, and makes them refractory to rational evaluation of their ideas. To which I say, yeah, so? I agree with that. I know that happens. It’s what I expect to happen.

But that’s all short-term thinking, and I don’t care what happens in the mind of a believer five minutes or a day after I make an argument (the usual domain of the psychology experiments accommodations love to cite in defense of their position; there’s an awful lot of psychology done in our universities with horizons no longer than the next publication deadline). What I’m interested in seeing happen is the development of a strong cadre of vocal atheists who will make a sustained argument, over the course of years or generations, who will keep pressing on the foolishness of faith. I also don’t mind seeing believers get angry and stomping off determined to prove I’m a colossal jackhole — that means they’re thinking, even if they’re disagreeing with me. At the very least, I hope that a few of them will realize, even if they don’t change their mind about the god nonsense, that quoting the Bible at me has no effect, and maybe some years down the road I won’t be hearing as many idiots telling me “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” as if they’ve made a profound point.

I’ll also cop to the obvious fact that, knowing that reason will not get through their skills, I’m happy to use emotional arguments as well. Passion is persuasive. Look at all those assertive Gnu/New Atheists — they are not making Spock-like dispassionate arguments only, although there is a strong rational core — we are hitting people in the gut and telling them to open their eyes. It gives us that unseemly aggressive reputation, but at the same time it’s a very effective way to let people know we think they are dead wrong.

And that’s the other flaw in the accommodationist position: they are so concerned with being nurturing and sensitive to beliefs — no gut-punching for them! — that they end up being really, really boring to read, and they also end up affirming religious idiocy through neglect. Somebody has to set up the conflict so that someone, maybe even the accommodationists, have leverage to set up the resolution. But someone must voice the objections with clarity and without wooly excuses.