This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Sam Harris on accommodationism

Sam Harris on accommodationism - Comments

TheRationalizer's Avatar Comment 1 by TheRationalizer

Am I the only person who has not burned down the library of Alexandria?

Fri, 13 May 2011 10:07:26 UTC | #626404

robaylesbury's Avatar Comment 2 by robaylesbury

Crisp, salient, perfectly voiced. To hear a true explainer at the height of their powers is as close to transcendent as one can get.

Fri, 13 May 2011 10:24:49 UTC | #626405

sanban's Avatar Comment 3 by sanban

Thank you for reminding me of that piece, Prof Dawkins. I've since paraphrased it in argument to tell my good friend, a theist, that I respect her too much NOT to be honest with her about religion.

Fri, 13 May 2011 10:25:51 UTC | #626406

Adrian A Bartholomew's Avatar Comment 4 by Adrian A Bartholomew

I've heard argumentation on both sides. Harris is, in my opinion, the more morally correct position. However at this point I would like some actual study evidence to clear it up.

I know there are psychological studies relating to people holding very strong beliefs clinging to those beliefs even more when presented with counter evidence, which would support Mooney. However I am not sure many people fall under that umbrella. So it would be nice to get a run down on:

1) The reaction of moderates and undecideds to strong presentations (Dawkins, Harris et al) vs. weak presentations (Mooney and Kirshenbaum et al). Proper studies ideally.

2) The audience size of each presentation style (if you have the perfect method to change minds but only 10 people get exposed to that method then it's not much use globally) and the spread of conviction levels amongst populations.

3) Location. My suspicion here is that a more aggressive style works better in the UK and other secular countries but my suspicions aren't that valuable.

I suspect the evidence is out there (I know of a few professors doing cool studies in similar areas and am looking them up). Finally, I always think when the evidence isn't in on a subject the wisest default position is the more moral one based on argumentation.

Fri, 13 May 2011 10:27:13 UTC | #626408

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 5 by AtheistEgbert

Does anyone remember the evidence that Chris Mooney himself cited that supported New Atheism? If not here is the link:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2011/04/21/psych-evidence-that-supports-new-atheism/

So it amazes me that Mooney is still on this course of attacking fellow atheists, apparently without evidence to support his own position.

And although I have reservations about Harris's moral ideas, his argument above is indeed brilliantly clear.

Fri, 13 May 2011 10:48:48 UTC | #626412

Adrian A Bartholomew's Avatar Comment 6 by Adrian A Bartholomew

Thanks Egbert. Printing it out now. Love this website. Ask for evidence? Get it within half an hour :-)

Fri, 13 May 2011 11:02:22 UTC | #626417

colluvial's Avatar Comment 7 by colluvial

#4 Adrian A Bartholomew: "However at this point I would like some actual study evidence to clear it up."

It seems that the central issue for Mooney is to strive for marketing campaigns that shape religiously unpopular ideas into palatable forms. What you're suggesting is to research ways to determine the most effective campaigns.

On the other hand, Harris' strategy is to treat people as mature, rational adults. I suspect that, even if there was an advantage to sugar-coating scientific ideas, Harris - and many of the rest of us - would find that type of pandering objectionable.

Fri, 13 May 2011 11:08:42 UTC | #626418

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 8 by Mark Jones

Comment 4 by Adrian A Bartholomew

Commenter Paul W posted this at Butterflies and Wheels, which includes references to a number of psych studies that are relevant to this whole, rather complicated, area.

I'm no expert, but application of study findings to specific cases looks quite difficult, even if indicative, so perhaps a specific study on the effects of New Atheism would be useful. I'm surprised Templeton haven't funded it.

But, as some have noted, many accommodationists are consumed by the dangers to the acceptance of evolution that New Atheism poses, whereas I consider there are much bigger dangers we need to be concerned about. So, to address accommodationist and gnu concerns, such a study should aim to differentiate between the strategy effects on the acceptance of evolution, and its effects on the acceptance of reason, evidence and the scientific method.

Fri, 13 May 2011 11:51:50 UTC | #626422

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 9 by Peter Grant

Yip, Sam's got it exactly right. Mooney's "respect" is actually a lot more like condescension.

Fri, 13 May 2011 12:04:42 UTC | #626423

markfox's Avatar Comment 10 by markfox

Comment Removed by Author

Fri, 13 May 2011 12:20:00 UTC | #626425

markfox's Avatar Comment 11 by markfox

"Atheism is not the logically inevitable outcome of scientific reasoning, any more than intelligent design is a necessary corollary of religious faith."

i completely disagree with this, mooney! i think atheism IS the logical outcome of scientific reason. surely if you question the universe with open-minded rational inquiry, you must out of principle reject superstitious faith and certainly the god hypothesis. any religious scientist MUST at some point in his/her imagined reality be abandoning said reason in favour of belief that goes against all evidence.

in other news, sam harris is a genius. i have finally placed an order for this book.

Fri, 13 May 2011 12:27:02 UTC | #626428

alphcat's Avatar Comment 12 by alphcat

Adrian Bartholomew @ comment 4. There was an article in New Scientist 26th March 2011 by a Johnathon Lanman that addressed some of your questions about moderates v fundamentallists, audiences and locations. Unfortunately I think you have to subscribe to read it on line, but it is worth a look. His argument was that strong atheist sentiments (such as the ones expressed in the studies) and high profile atheism were more pertinent in countries were fundamentalism and creationism are the norm. In Europe, where most religion seems to be mildly practiced, declining and most religious folk seem to accept science such a strong stance was less obvious (possibly because it was less necessary)? He actually coined the term non theism to describe many European laid back atheists. He hypothesised that the stronger new atheism was a reaction to definite threats posed by religion to society (eg creationism) where a higher profile is, I guess, required to challenge obvious dangers.

His evidence was largely correlational. He found that much of Europe has mild religion with no real political clout and no large scale anti science sentiment and that went with what he found was an accompanying laid back non theism. Neither group really challenged the other because there was no real pressing need to.

In the states however, where religion is a huge political threat to science and rights (eg their stance on women and homosexuality) there is evidence of a growing and vocal group of strong atheists. He also pointed to increases in membership of atheist groups in the US after the election of George W Bush and in the Netherlands after the Mohammed cartoons and following riots.

Whether that helps with any of your questions I don't know. But it was an interesting and intuitive take on the situation.

Fri, 13 May 2011 12:41:53 UTC | #626434

Wendy Farts On Her Bible's Avatar Comment 13 by Wendy Farts On Her Bible

"Watch what you say, or the Christian mob will burn down the Library of Alexandria all over again."

Unfortunately, the followers of 'gentle Jesus' can turn very ugly in the face of science.

I mean, look what they did to Hypatia.

Remember?

In case you’ve forgotten, please allow Carl Sagan to remind you.

Thus…

‘The last scientist who worked in the Library [of Alexandria] was a mathematician, astronomer, physicist and the head of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy - an extraordinary range of accomplishments for any individual in any age. Her name was Hypatia. She was born in Alexandria in 370. At a time when women had few options and were treated as property, Hypatia moved freely and unselfconsciously through traditional male domains. By all accounts she was a great beauty. She had many suitors but rejected all offers of marriage. The Alexandria of Hypatia’s time - by then long under Roman rule - was a city under grave strain. Slavery had sapped classical civilization of its vitality. The growing Christian Church was consolidating its power and attempting to eradicate pagan influence and culture. Hypatia stood at the epicenter of these mighty social forces. Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, despised her because of her close friendship with the Roman governor, and because she was a symbol of learning and science, which were largely identified by the early Church with paganism. In great personal danger, she continued to teach and publish, until, in the year 415, on her way to work she was set upon by a fanatical mob of Cyril’s parishioners. They dragged her from her chariot, tore off her clothes, and, armed with abalone shells, flayed her flesh from her bones. Her remains were burned, her works obliterated, her name forgotten. Cyril was made a saint.’

Excerpted from Cosmos by Carl Sagan

So much for the Golden Rule.

More tea, vicar?

Fri, 13 May 2011 12:46:57 UTC | #626435

Ballardian's Avatar Comment 14 by Ballardian

I don't see why so-called "accommodationists" are accused of being more condescending than the New Atheists, simply because they value plurality and/or don't expect religious people to be won over to science (to play into the hands of a false dichotomy) by brute force. Harris and others always assume that "accommodationists" secretly hate religious people, but are either too scared or too patronising to come out with it. There's usually no evidence for this in what "accommodationists" actually say, so it's a good job New Atheists don't claim to be rationalists who thrive on evidence... oh never mind.

This tough love idea that Harris pretends to promote is actually the peak of arrogance. He tries to justify his excess of hatred by acting as if it's for their own good.

We are merely guilty of assuming that our fellow Homo sapiens possess the requisite intelligence and emotional maturity to respond to rational argument, satire, and ridicule on the subject of religion—just as they respond to these discursive pressures on all other subjects.

"Merely guilty". You can feel the sickening shrug of false modesty. And look at the use of "respond". What does he mean? He doesn't mean respond with argument, because that will just frustrate him. He means respond by becoming Sam Harris. The implication is that if the religious don't "get it" after being battered around the head with it through ridicule, satire and rational argument then they are just plain stupid, somehow failing their Homo sapiens status. Or Sam Harris status, as he is now campaigning for it to be called.

Fri, 13 May 2011 13:17:31 UTC | #626441

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 15 by aquilacane

Atheism has nothing to do with science.

Fri, 13 May 2011 13:21:58 UTC | #626442

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 16 by aquilacane

This argument is irrelevant in the grand scheme of atheism. While the scientific method is required to adequately confirm the claims of the religious it is the religious who need to apply the scientific method, not the atheist. The atheist stand point is secure specifically due to a lack of scientific method on the part of the claimant.

On occasion, I have been in confrontation with religious people about my atheism. Ultimately, they accuse me of not having any evidence for evolution or they point out the false flaws of evolution. It is often easier for me to flip the burden back onto them by simply saying — "I'm not claiming to believe in evolution, I'm simply not accepting your claim due to a lack of evidence." "I don't accept your belief in God as valid."

They will try to flip it back by asking me if I do believe in evolution; to which I will reply—"that's none of your business, do you have evidence for your God?" They will ask me to prove that God doesn't exist. "What God?" I reply. Always push it back on them and focus on forcing them to give evidence for God.

Ignore science with a creationist. Ignore trying to prove evolution. Get at the real heart of atheism. Your claim of God is unsupported by evidence, I don't accept it. They will provide no argument. Each time they try to point out faults in what they assume you believe, make no claim of believing it. I am only denying the acceptance of your God claim based on a lack of evidence, where cometh all this evolution speak and why do you keep asking me to defend claims I have not made?

Atheists do not accept the belief in a god or gods, that is all.

Fri, 13 May 2011 13:57:40 UTC | #626448

Adrian A Bartholomew's Avatar Comment 17 by Adrian A Bartholomew

Thanks for the links folks. Still reading half of them. Everything so far has been damning to Mooney's position and supportive of Harris. Is there nothing that supports Mooney out there?

By the way I think I was referring to "When Prophecy Fails" by Festinger in comment 4 regarding people becoming more entrenched in their beliefs when challenged. Although that just related to people getting more vocal about their advocacy of their incorrect positions when challenged with evidence. And now I am not convinced that is a bad thing if it brings weak arguments into greater scrutiny and the evidence they rail against to a wider audience.

Fri, 13 May 2011 14:18:11 UTC | #626455

markfox's Avatar Comment 18 by markfox

Comment 17 by aquilacane :

Ignore science with a creationist. Ignore trying to prove evolution. Get at the real heart of atheism. Your claim of God is unsupported by evidence, I don't accept it. They will provide no argument. Each time they try to point out faults in what they assume you believe, make no claim of believing it. I am only denying the acceptance of your God claim based on a lack of evidence, where cometh all this evolution speak and why do you keep asking me to defend claims I have not made?

Atheists do not accept the belief in a god or gods, that is all.

it's true that proving evolution is not necessary to stump a creationist. as you say, just asking them to prove god can be enough. it does seem tiresome to get into the whole 'evolution' debate with a creationist, because it is not central to the concept of atheism.

Comment 16 by aquilacane :

Atheism has nothing to do with science.

by definition atheists don't believe in a god or gods, but for a reason. we don't just choose to 'not believe', our non-belief is based on reason and evidence; this is (to me, anyway) what it means to be an atheist, as you say, the "heart of atheism." it follows that by their very nature, science and atheism are linked and do have something to do with each other, as both demand answers (of which evolution is one).

Fri, 13 May 2011 14:52:27 UTC | #626464

Dr Doctor's Avatar Comment 19 by Dr Doctor

Atheism has nothing to do with science.

Correction. Atheism is a position that can be reached without the need for science. However, if you could prove a given theology scientifically, would you be an atheist?

Fri, 13 May 2011 15:07:46 UTC | #626466

Ballardian's Avatar Comment 20 by Ballardian

by definition atheists don't believe in a god or gods, but for a reason. we don't just choose to 'not believe', our non-belief is based on reason and evidence; this is (to me, anyway) what it means to be an atheist, as you say, the "heart of atheism." it follows that by their very nature, science and atheism are linked and do have something to do with each other, as both demand answers (of which evolution is one).

But there were non-believers before science, or at least before science as we know it. There were non-believers even before the major monotheisms cropped up. Not only this, but science has thrived in religious times. Just look at the Golden Age of Islam. Obviously back then there was no perceived conflict. The link between science and atheism is a new phenomenon which has come about due to the increasing power and variety of science. Only in the past two hundred years or so has science felt confident enough to supplant religion. It has its own narrative now, its own mythology. But this is not the only way to atheism, and it certainly isn't necessary to atheism.

Fri, 13 May 2011 15:16:43 UTC | #626468

Richard01's Avatar Comment 21 by Richard01

This tag of 'New Atheism' is unfortunate. What is new is that human knowledge about life is growing exponentially in these times and is showing up the blatantly obvious defects in religious faith.

I think this 'knowledge pressure buildup' is unstoppable and will prevail, in the same way but much faster than, for example, democracy has developed in more advanced societies, or modern medicine has been accepted to replace witchcraft.

Modern knowledge will steadily displace religion as a source of factual information irrespective of whether some people try to accommodate outdated beliefs to be polite, or whether religious leaders fight against it. Athiests don't need to do any more than to continue to educate people about the latest knowledge that is available ...which is what RD does so successfully. There is no reason to be defensive about it as it is human nature to want to 'know' and to be informed.

There is nothing that can be done about people who are are determined to be ignorant or who have been brainwashed beyond recovery. They should be ignored as the passage of time will relegate them to the lunatic fringe.

Fri, 13 May 2011 15:50:17 UTC | #626474

markfox's Avatar Comment 22 by markfox

ballardian, hmm. i see your point. probably an issue with semantics, on my part anyway. i think i'm using 'science' as a synonym for 'reason' when they don't necessarily have to mean the same thing. science (modern science anyway) is a name for a system of recorded reasoning, and in this respect, its specifics are not necessary to atheism. but isn't reason? reason is what prompts people to turn away from religion, and did so even before the advent of science. perhaps 'sceince' is not a fundamental component of atheism, but 'reason' must be.

Fri, 13 May 2011 15:51:24 UTC | #626475

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 23 by Peter Grant

Comment 21 by Ballardian

Only in the past two hundred years or so has science felt confident enough to supplant religion. It has its own narrative now, its own mythology.

It makes sense to call it a narrative, because science does tell a story, but it is a true story, or at least the closest we will ever get to the true story. It's a lot better that any mythology.

Fri, 13 May 2011 15:51:27 UTC | #626476

Stonyground's Avatar Comment 24 by Stonyground

"The New Atheists err in insisting that such a choice needs to be made."

No we don't, you err in pretending that it doesn't.

"Atheism is not the logically inevitable outcome of scientific reasoning,..."

Er, yes it is. The fact that it is can only be avoided by not taking scientific reasoning to its logical conclusion by applying it to your religious delusions.

"A great many scientists believe in God with no sense of internal contradiction, just as many religious believers accept evolution as the correct theory to explain the development, diversity, and inter-relatedness of life on Earth."

Of course there is an internal contradiction. Such people pretend that there is no contradiction but that does not mean that it isn't there.

It would appear to me that the accomodatioists are building their argument upon false premises.

Fri, 13 May 2011 15:52:41 UTC | #626477

chawinwords's Avatar Comment 25 by chawinwords

When humans are both happy and deluded in their ignorance within the circle of beliefs "opinions and beliefs with a foundation only upon opinions and beliefs," enlightenment is impossible. Being so is living in the unending maze of closed circles -- the ultimate intellectual mind trap! About the only way to escape is to trip and fall out of the circle, then not trying to quickly claw their way back into the safety of the warm womb of such ignorance.

Fri, 13 May 2011 16:05:00 UTC | #626482

Ballardian's Avatar Comment 26 by Ballardian

Comment 23 by markfox

I would agree that reason is a major component of atheism for most people, including myself.

Comment 24 by Peter Grant

It makes sense to call it a narrative, because science does tell a story, but it is a true story, or at least the closest we will ever get to the true story. It's a lot better that any mythology.

I mostly agree, except the average layman will have an exaggerated idea of that narrative. A narrative has to be exaggerated or embellished in order for it to be interesting, in most cases. Non-experts will buy into things that aren't strictly true but which are part of the scientific mythos (if that doesn't sound too pretentious). The idea of scientific genius, for example, or the vision most people have of science as a logically cumulative process where everyone is friendly and all scientists put truth before pet theories etc. I suppose on the other side of that would be the mad scientist myth, the man with no empathy and a wild haircut. I'm aware that experts have more subtle views on these matters, but I think science is bigger and more ambiguous than just the honest search for truth; it has its heroes and villains, its quests and battles. "Mythology" is perhaps too broad a word to use, and it sounds disparaging, but I can't think of another word.

Fri, 13 May 2011 16:35:32 UTC | #626491

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 27 by Peter Grant

Just read it again for about tenth time and this line keeps jumping out at me:

Mooney and Kirshenbaum seem to imagine that we can get people to value intellectual honesty by lying to them.

Fri, 13 May 2011 16:53:02 UTC | #626497

Jiten's Avatar Comment 28 by Jiten

Atheism has nothing to do with science.

No, but it is a consequence of a scientific world-view.

Fri, 13 May 2011 17:24:54 UTC | #626504

JS1685's Avatar Comment 29 by JS1685

I don't see why so-called "accommodationists" are accused of being more condescending than the New Atheists, simply because they value plurality

That a plurality of approaches is what it will take is the gnu stance. Accomodationists are the ones calling for some approaches (i.e. honesty and being uncompromising) to be abandoned.

"accommodationists" secretly hate religious people

That is a flagrant mischaracterization of Sam's argument. Nowhere does he say that. The tactic they employ is indeed condescending - and Sam explains this well. Read the passage again.

You can feel the sickening shrug of false modesty. And look at the use of "respond". What does he mean? He doesn't mean respond with argument, because that will just frustrate him. He means respond by becoming Sam Harris.

Ugh. Ad hominem, pretending to know Sam's meaning better than he himself...who's going to take what you've written here seriously?

Fri, 13 May 2011 18:00:54 UTC | #626518

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 30 by ZenDruid

Atheism has nothing to do with science.

Atheists and scientists use the same logic to arrive at well-considered conclusions. There's a Venn diagram in my mind....

Fri, 13 May 2011 19:58:37 UTC | #626551