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

← Chris Mooney - Accommodationism and the Psychology of Belief

Chris Mooney - Accommodationism and the Psychology of Belief - Comments

jameshogg's Avatar Comment 1 by jameshogg

I hope someone can fill me in here. Does the Templeton Foundation try to avoid criticising religion altogether, or do they investigate alternative approaches to criticising religion?

Thu, 12 May 2011 14:02:52 UTC | #626178

Dax's Avatar Comment 2 by Dax

I stopped listening to Point of Inquiry after DJ left and was replaced by some interesting people and Mooney. Every episode presented by him would devolve into a rant against atheists, scientific naturalists, etc. Every. Single. Episode. Even when the subject was unrelated, through Mooney's little "framing" obsession, he would start ranting again.

Thu, 12 May 2011 14:16:44 UTC | #626181

Austin K's Avatar Comment 3 by Austin K

They try to blur the line between science and religion by making their religious nonsense sound more technical and insisting that science is more mysterious, which in this context means magical.

Thu, 12 May 2011 14:18:06 UTC | #626182

Sara12's Avatar Comment 4 by Sara12

They also give cash prizes to scientists who say nice things about religion and who say that there is room for science and religion to coexist, blah, blah, blah...

Thu, 12 May 2011 14:37:01 UTC | #626190

superbeanson's Avatar Comment 5 by superbeanson

Bending over backwards- but why bother

Interviewer: 'When religion does make claims against the natural world doesnt there tend to be a conflict?'

Mooney: 'Well what if the religion is saying well, it's OK to accept evolution, it's compatible with our beliefs?'

WTF?- of course if faith-heads agree to go along with science then there would be no conflict- it is precisely because they don't that incompatibility arises

Thu, 12 May 2011 14:40:39 UTC | #626194

El Bastardo's Avatar Comment 6 by El Bastardo

I have no respect for Mooney. I'll admit that I didn't listen to it but I did read Ophelia Benson's summary of the first half and it's kinda what I'd expect.

Mooney is in the pockets of Templeton, he just doesn't realize it.

Thu, 12 May 2011 14:41:10 UTC | #626195

superbeanson's Avatar Comment 7 by superbeanson

Mooney asserts that the catholic church is not in conflict with science over claims that the soul was injected into humans at some juncture in early hominid evolution because: the soul can never be tested for- it is scientifically untouchable.

In that case how the F***k does anyone know anything about souls?

If it's scientifically intangible then it is intangible full stop: so please stop making things up about this supposed entity

You cannot have your cake and eat it. If someone makes an ontological claim they are saying they have reason to believe it- these reasons are then open to objective validation. Even a purely subjective sensation is not in priciple ruled out for ever from scientific scrutiny.

A claim about an entity (soul) is not a subjective sensation however, it is an ontological claim and cannot in principle be ruled out of scientific scrutiny

Thu, 12 May 2011 14:50:54 UTC | #626199

remijdio's Avatar Comment 8 by remijdio

Is there a transcribed version anywhere? Seems a bit ironic that he's involved with the templeton foundation even though he's written a book entitled "The Republican War on Science" To me, Mooney's accommodationism seems like he's saying "Don't question the masses, because it offends them." but the masses blatantly offend and threaten us all the time.

Thu, 12 May 2011 15:03:09 UTC | #626201

superbeanson's Avatar Comment 9 by superbeanson

What one can say with some persuasive force however is that there has never ever been any scientific evidence for the soul, and therefore I assume most orthodox scientists would not include souls in their ontologies. In which case it is purely a fact that the catholic church is in conflict with mainstream science on this issue

Thu, 12 May 2011 15:09:42 UTC | #626204

Irat's Avatar Comment 10 by Irat

Actually, superbeanson, I would go even further, to say that the hypothesis of the immaterial soul has been effectively disproved. It has been shown that there is material grounding for (most probably) all of what might otherwise be perceived as the functions of the "soul." I made a longer comment about this here:

http://richarddawkins.net/articles/621058-why-do-americans-still-dislike-atheists/comments?page=12#comment_622325

Though I would recommend doing some outside research on this, as the above aims to only very briefly present a simplified version.

Edited with a "(most probably)".

Thu, 12 May 2011 15:18:36 UTC | #626206

Sara12's Avatar Comment 11 by Sara12

Comment 7 by superbeanson :

Mooney asserts that the catholic church is not in conflict with science over claims that the soul was injected into humans at some juncture in early hominid evolution because: the soul can never be tested for- it is scientifically untouchable.

In that case how the F***k does anyone know anything about souls?

If it's scientifically intangible then it is intangible full stop: so please stop making things up about this supposed entity

You cannot have your cake and eat it. If someone makes an ontological claim they are saying they have reason to believe it- these reasons must be open to objective validation. Even a purely subjective sensation is not in priciple ruled out for ever from scientific scrutiny.

A claim about an entity (soul) is not a subjective sensation however, it is an ontological claim and cannot in principle be ruled out of scientific scrutiny

I butted heads with a theist on the Washington Post site who tried to make a similar argument. He tried to say that material things exist, and science has lots to say about them. But non-material things also exist, and don't interact with the material world the way material things interact with each other, and since they aren't material, science has nothing to say about them. Therefore, science can't say that non-material things don't exist. He was referring to Richard's use of Carl Sagan's quote about "all that is, ever was, or ever will be," in his rapture and tradition are nonsense column.

Then he tried to tell me that he wasn't going to go through all of the evidence for god, heaven, and souls until I acknowledged that point. Peh. I tried to explain that things that exist leave marks on the world and we call the collection of those marks evidence. If one wants to claim god, heaven and souls exist, and that one has evidence for them, then one is acknowledging that those things interact with and leave marks on the world. And in that case, they fall into Sagan's "all that is, ever was, or every will be."

He never did present his evidence, even though I asked three times. It evolved into a discussion of standards of evidence. He tried to make a comment on "alternate ways of knowing" but never elaborated. Finally he devolved into the "people throughout history have always believed in god" argument, and finally into the "I believe because of faith not evidence anyway" argument. Predictable, but good fun nonetheless.

Thu, 12 May 2011 15:20:41 UTC | #626207

Rob Schneider's Avatar Comment 12 by Rob Schneider

I'd like to extend my response on the CFI website on this thread. Some of the respondents there continue to ignore what is being claimed by the likes of Lindsay and Coyne, i.e. they are ignoring or "straw-man"ing the definition of accommodation.

some like to try to set up a false dichotomy that the only opposition to religions is "strong atheism" and that anyone who argues against their obsequious pandering is a strong atheist.

Perhaps we need a humorous definition to help them understand what an "accommodationist" is?

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy,

"If you [insert behavior here], you just might be an accommodationist."

If you avoid asking piercing, falsifiable, testable questions about a topic because someone says "Oooooh....I'd rather you not question my faith".... you might be an accommodationist.

You might be an accommodationist if you take money from an organization that asserts there is compatibility between science and religion, and works to avoid questioning that assertion.

I'm sure the wits on this site can come up with pithier ones than that?

Thu, 12 May 2011 15:23:42 UTC | #626209

jameshogg's Avatar Comment 13 by jameshogg

Comment 5 by superbeanson :

Bending over backwards- but why bother

Interviewer: 'When religion does make claims against the natural world doesnt there tend to be a conflict?'

Mooney: 'Well what if the religion is saying well, it's OK to accept evolution, it's compatible with our beliefs?'

WTF?- of course if faith-heads agree to go along with science then there would be no conflict- it is precisely because they don't that incompatibility arises

It very much sounds like they are trying to build a bridge from Paris to New York. I would very much respond to Mooney here by saying "if the only reason they accept evolution is because it fits into what they already believe, then they have accepted evolution for all the wrong reasons, and it's completely incorrect to promote that idea as opposed to coming to the conclusion that evolution is true because you've thought about it."

It really does sounds like a bad attempt at trying to win the religious over to the side of science. It's not worth doing this on the political level. You are much better off with a policy of division on the political level in front of mass crowds, because it's bad enough trying to sway the opinion of one fundamentalist as opposed to thousands of fundamentalists.

If I were talking to a believer one on one with nobody else watching I would personally take a different approach if I wanted to change his/her mind. But that approach would not be fit for the crowds watching the progression of reasoning where a) there is no need to avoid offense because the believing section of the crowd has to expect offense if they are coming to watch a debate and b) there are probably third-party onlookers (people on the fence and/or agnostics) who need explicit, clear challenges to the falsehoods at hand.

My one on one approach would be quite different. It revolves around teaching how to be reasonable while avoiding a social confrontation that could hinder my points and analogies (such as discussing some other pseudo-science like Homeopathy, and explaining how belief systems develop through that instead - the info would sink in more smoothly).

That approach, however, is impossible on the political level. But I'm still in the process of thinking about Sam Harris' perspective on helping even Christians to shoot down Muslim ideas by giving them good analogies to shoot down their beliefs, and vice-versa. Everything physically said in such a move would not be wrong, or false, and yet it is possible it could work more efficiently than jumping to say that "everybody is completely wrong about everything". I think Sam made that point in the Four Horsemen video about talking about beliefs for the sake of beliefs as opposed to the lazy process of labeling, where he says that fundamentalist Christians would be very eager to side with us on something deadly serious as Islamic practices, but would be eager to dismiss us when we bring up something so pitiful as the opposition towards stem cell research.

Thu, 12 May 2011 15:34:55 UTC | #626213

Rob Schneider's Avatar Comment 14 by Rob Schneider

Listening to the discussion now, I see there is a gross equivocation over the word "compatible." In Mooney's sense it means religious/scientific people can sit at a table and agree to not talk religion. Or perhaps they mean that someone like Francis Collins is capable of holding contradictory thoughts in his lab vs. his personal life.

In Coyne/Dawkins/Myers position, "compatible" refers to the modes of assessing evidence and arriving at conclusions. scientific "ways of knowing" and religious "ways of knowing" are incompatible. In fact... one exists as a method, and the other exists as an assertion of opinion and personal anecdote.

Thu, 12 May 2011 15:35:54 UTC | #626214

Sara12's Avatar Comment 15 by Sara12

If you take offense at a fellow scientist pointing out the inconsistency between the work you do and your acceptance of money from said organization.... you might be an accomodationist.

Not pithy perhaps, but applicable...

Thu, 12 May 2011 15:37:15 UTC | #626216

JuJu's Avatar Comment 16 by JuJu

If you describe Richard Dawkins views on religion as an "aggressive attack" You might just be an accommodationist.

Thu, 12 May 2011 15:41:00 UTC | #626218

Wendy Farts On Her Bible's Avatar Comment 17 by Wendy Farts On Her Bible

Sam Harris slaps down Mooney and Kirshenbaum expertly in The Moral Landscape.

After listening to this interview it is as obvious as a bible-black jobby in Antarctica that Mooney is wearing Karen Armstrong’s underwear.

Thu, 12 May 2011 15:42:13 UTC | #626222

Reginald's Avatar Comment 18 by Reginald

Comment 7 by superbeanson

" the soul can never be tested for- it is scientifically untouchable"

equals: Argument from Ignorance.

Thu, 12 May 2011 15:59:58 UTC | #626224

AlexP's Avatar Comment 19 by AlexP

"Religion and science can be compatible"

Yes, yes, we know. We know they can be "compatible". If you don't mind hiding your god in the gaps between our scientific knowledge. If you make sure to keep up with the latest scientific discoveries and rewrite, pardon, "reinterpret" the outdated parts of your holy books. And make sure everything about your faith is vague and fluffly enough to harmlessly bounce off all those nasty hard facts.

You can even go the other way and carefully "prune" all those presumptuous scientists who take their heathen thoughts too far. Build a fence around your faith and keep those pesky scientists limited to whatever mundane matters are deemed feeble enough for them.

There are many ways to keep religion and science compatible. Most of them are hypocritical, inconsistent or contradictory. The others are so vague and meaningless that they don't have anything to offer to us.

But thats not the point. The point is: What do we do in those occasions ( and there are plenty ) when science and religion are not compatible? What do we do when the priest and the physicist disagree? Who gets to decide what makes our world tick, which forces govern it, who gets to say what is real?

That is the moment when you have to show your colours. Do you bend and twist the facts until they suit your faith? Or do you redesign your faith to no longer stand in the way of facts.

I'm sure Mooney scoffs at young-earth creationists who explain the evidence away with "deceitfull demons", "fraudulent scientists" and "buried dinosaur skeletons". And yet these lunatics are ultimately trying the same thing he does. To keep the evidence compatible with their faith. The only reason they appear crazy is because they chose to twist the facts, not their faith.

But that doesn't mean the other way, bending faith to suit the facts, is any less ridiculous.

Thu, 12 May 2011 16:11:17 UTC | #626228

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 20 by Steve Zara

A problem with the accommodationists is that they seem to consider that there is some organised formal movement called "New Atheism" that includes in its list of policies that there should be regular ridiculing of religion and all believers should be called idiots.

There is no such movement, no organisation. There are many people who have come to accept that the time to respect the taboo on criticising religion has passed, and that what matters is truth. This idea has become popular, and as a result there are scientists and bloggers and philosophers who have gained prominence.

There is no point accommodationists criticising people like MZ Myers or Jerry Coyne, because in the (very unlikely) event of them shutting up, there would be plenty more to take their place.

One of the things New Atheism is about is freedom to express honestly held beliefs about reality. And, it's a fact that scientific education is corrosive to religious faith. The proportion of scientists who are religions is much less than the proportion of the general public.

So, accommodationism is not just a mistaken belief about the nature of science and religion, it's also a strategy based on deception - telling people that science will fit comfortably with their faith is not telling the truth.

There is also little evidence that accommodationism works. I believe it was Jerry Coyne who pointed out a few years ago that the proportion of the American public who believed in creationism had not changed in decades.

So accommodation is an attempt to politicize science that is based on mistaken beliefs about the factual compatibility of science and religion and mistaken beliefs about the psychology of science and religion.

Thu, 12 May 2011 16:36:26 UTC | #626235

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 21 by Steve Zara

In Mooney's sense it means religious/scientific people can sit at a table and agree to not talk religion

Like he's not talking about religion? How is having a Templeton Foundation Fellowship "agreeing not to talk religion"?

I fear that Mooney's approach is not "don't talk religion", but much more like "shut up when I'm talking" to New atheists.

Thu, 12 May 2011 16:38:20 UTC | #626236

wald0h's Avatar Comment 22 by wald0h

Lindsay was great. We know it's hilarious to watch people like Mooney squirm when criticized by people like Sam Harris, but when Lindsay does it for some reason it's even better.

Thu, 12 May 2011 17:15:41 UTC | #626250

Rob Schneider's Avatar Comment 23 by Rob Schneider

Comment 21 by Steve Zara :

In Mooney's sense it means religious/scientific people can sit at a table and agree to not talk religion

Like he's not talking about religion? How is having a Templeton Foundation Fellowship "agreeing not to talk religion"?

I fear that Mooney's approach is not "don't talk religion", but much more like "shut up when I'm talking" to New atheists.

Well put... Mooney's position toward "New Atheists" is "Shutup, you're upsetting my nice, compatible dinner party where I won't let YOUR position sit down."

Any implication that I hold an opinion different than yours (Steve) on Mooney is unintended. Mr. Mooney is making a horrific argument, based on speculation and wishful thinking and I align myself with you, Coyne, Myers, Dawkins, etc.

It's about a universal discussion with no party being allowed to play their trump card in order to avoid uncomfortable thoughts/truths.

Thu, 12 May 2011 17:44:47 UTC | #626256

The Plc's Avatar Comment 24 by The Plc

Stopped listening to Point of Inquiry since the episode featuring the debate between Myers and Mooney, and the Templeton fellow moderator dropped her neutrality and began attacking Myers! All with of course, quite asinine and incoherent arguments about "ways of seeing the world", "human condition" blah blah blah wet rubbish.

Thu, 12 May 2011 18:00:46 UTC | #626259

wald0h's Avatar Comment 25 by wald0h

For the people who stopped listening to Point of Inquiry (rightfully) you owe it to yourself to hear Lindsay just annoy the ever-living shit out of Mooney here

Thu, 12 May 2011 18:09:14 UTC | #626262

six45ive's Avatar Comment 26 by six45ive

I've just listened to the whole interview and although I initially disagreed with much of what Mooney had to say about the Templeton Foundation and all the politics surrounding accommodationists, he more than struck a chord with my take on how this battle should be fought through looking at the scientific data from psychology and cognitive research.

I see it all the time from working in education. If you can strike up a relationship with your audience (student or theist), become a regular part of their world, find out what makes them tick, appeal to the most fundamental part of their personality (usually their emotions) and use your own knowledge, logic and reason to guide your emotional appeal in a calm, concerned and inclusive way then, in my experience, this brings greater success (not a guarantee of success) than a more 'stand offish' or 'in your face' approach and for that reason, videos like this; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmyzzNqQW4E&feature=related (especially from 11 mins), will always have a more positive effect on changing minds than this; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfGTA8p1riw&feature=related which will almost certainly leave both 'participants' even more strongly entrenched in their respective positions (even though Jeff is accurate in what he says).

Thu, 12 May 2011 18:13:50 UTC | #626263

jameshogg's Avatar Comment 27 by jameshogg

Comment 20 by Steve Zara :

A problem with the accommodationists is that they seem to consider that there is some organised formal movement called "New Atheism" that includes in its list of policies that there should be regular ridiculing of religion and all believers should be called idiots.

Yes quite right. But I would add that sometimes non-accomodationists can think this as well. Not as often as accomodationists, however.

Thu, 12 May 2011 18:57:35 UTC | #626273

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 28 by Peter Grant

So if I understand Mooney correctly, his research seems to indicate that to be effective we need to ramp up the criticism. Being pwned by an gnu atheist needs to feel like a close friend has just died, albeit an imaginary one.

Thu, 12 May 2011 20:12:57 UTC | #626287

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 29 by Mr DArcy

I think Mooney's main point was that people get upset if you tell them they're wrong, and they then put up defence mechanisms to what is said and are less likely to change their minds. Quite how you pussyfoot around the existence, or otherwise, of God is something of a mystery to me, but I've never yet come to blows at the dinner table because of a discussion about religion. I'm sure the various advertising agencies can advise us how best to convince someone of something, - given enough money and exposure! How else does he think the religious sustain their untenable positions?

Thu, 12 May 2011 21:12:06 UTC | #626296

Wendy Farts On Her Bible's Avatar Comment 30 by Wendy Farts On Her Bible

Comment 17 by Wendy Farts On Her Bible

Sam Harris slaps down Mooney and Kirshenbaum expertly in The Moral Landscape.

Here is the passage from Harris' book in which this is done:

‘Many of our secular critics worry that if we oblige people to choose between reason and faith, they will choose faith and cease to support scientific research; if, on the other hand, we ceaselessly reiterate that there is no conflict between religion and science, we might cajole great multitudes into accepting the truth of evolution (as though this were an end in itself). Here is a version of this charge that, I fear, most people would accept, taken from journalist Chris Mooney and marine biologist Sheril Kirshenbaum’s book Unscientific America:

If the goal is to create an America more friendly toward science and reason, the combativeness of the New Atheists is strongly counterproductive. If anything, they work in ironic combination with their dire enemies, the anti-science conservative Christians who populate the creation science and intelligent design movements, to ensure we’ll continue to be polarized over subjects like the teaching of evolution when we don’t have to be. America is a very religious nation, and if forced to choose between faith and science, vast numbers of Americans will select the former. The New Atheists err in insisting that such a choice needs to be made. Atheism is not the logically inevitable outcome of scientific reasoning, any more than intelligent design is a necessary corollary of religious faith. 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. The New Atheists, like the fundamentalists they so despise, are setting up a false dichotomy that can only damage the cause of scientific literacy for generations to come. It threatens to leave science itself caught in the middle between extremes, unable to find cover in a destructive, seemingly unending, culture war.

The first thing to observe is that Mooney and Kirshenbaum are confused about the nature of the problem. The goal is not to get more Americans to merely accept the truth of evolution (or any other scientific theory); the goal is to get them to value the principles of reasoning and educated discourse that now make a belief in evolution obligatory. Doubt about evolution is merely a symptom of an underlying condition; the condition is faith itself—conviction without sufficient reason, hope mistaken for knowledge, bad ideas protected from good ones, good ideas obscured by bad ones, wishful thinking elevated to a principle of salvation, etc. Mooney and Kirshenbaum seem to imagine that we can get people to value intellectual honesty by lying to them.

While it is invariably advertised as an expression of “respect” for people of faith, the accommodationism that Mooney and Kirshenbaum recommend is nothing more than naked condescension, motivated by fear. They assure us that people will choose religion over science, no matter how good a case is made against religion. In certain contexts, this fear is probably warranted. I wouldn’t be eager to spell out the irrationality of Islam while standing in the Great Mosque in Mecca. But let’s be honest about how Mooney and Kirshenbaum view public discourse in the United States: Watch what you say, or the Christian mob will burn down the Library of Alexandria all over again By comparison, the “combativeness” of the “New Atheists” seems quite collegial. 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. Of course, we could be wrong. But let’s admit which side in this debate currently views our neighbors as dangerous children and which views them as adults who might prefer not to be completely mistaken about the nature of reality.

Excerpted from The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris

Thu, 12 May 2011 21:39:29 UTC | #626299