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Chris Mooney - Accommodationism and the Psychology of Belief
Posted: 13 May 2011 06:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Bruce Gorton - 13 May 2011 06:12 AM
Jansob - 12 May 2011 08:48 PM
Robert Schneider - 12 May 2011 08:14 AM

Really?  Tell me what beliefs someone arrives at via means other than reason.  I dare you. 

Um, is this s trick question? How many children sit down and rationally decide to accept their parents’ religious beliefs? I’d venture to say not many. They accept these beliefs not because they rationally examine them, but because it’s a part of their identity as part of the family and community.

If you’re right, then we’re all wasting our time. A simple flyer explaining why religious faith is unreasonable should be all it takes. As beliefs are arrived at only through reason, people will simply process the information and arrive at the right answer. Why did no one else think of this?

First of all, leave aside this rational nonsense - reasoning doesn’t have to be good in order to still be reason.

Ok, then, how many children reason out whether they should accept their parents’ religion? (I took out the “sit down” part in order to head off any other pedantic objections.) I don’t think you will find much evidence that most people arrive at their religious beliefs through anything but osmosis. Otherwise you’d see a bit more variation (like more Muslims in Alabama.)

[ Edited: 13 May 2011 06:24 AM by Jansob ]
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Posted: 13 May 2011 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Jansob - 13 May 2011 06:21 AM
Bruce Gorton - 13 May 2011 06:12 AM
Jansob - 12 May 2011 08:48 PM
Robert Schneider - 12 May 2011 08:14 AM

Really?  Tell me what beliefs someone arrives at via means other than reason.  I dare you. 

Um, is this s trick question? How many children sit down and rationally decide to accept their parents’ religious beliefs? I’d venture to say not many. They accept these beliefs not because they rationally examine them, but because it’s a part of their identity as part of the family and community.

If you’re right, then we’re all wasting our time. A simple flyer explaining why religious faith is unreasonable should be all it takes. As beliefs are arrived at only through reason, people will simply process the information and arrive at the right answer. Why did no one else think of this?

First of all, leave aside this rational nonsense - reasoning doesn’t have to be good in order to still be reason.

Ok, then, how many children reason out whether they should accept their parents’ religion? (I took out the “sit down” part in order to head off any other pedantic objections.) I don’t think you will find much evidence that most people arrive at their religious beliefs through anything but osmosis. Otherwise you’d see a bit more variation (like more Muslims in Alabama.)

All. Even if that reasoning is “because mommy and daddy say so” or “because everyone else says so too” it is still reason. In order to adopt a belief we subject it to reason automatically.

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Posted: 13 May 2011 06:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Bruce Gorton - 13 May 2011 06:12 AM
Jansob - 12 May 2011 08:48 PM
Robert Schneider - 12 May 2011 08:14 AM

Really?  Tell me what beliefs someone arrives at via means other than reason.  I dare you. 

Um, is this s trick question? How many children sit down and rationally decide to accept their parents’ religious beliefs? I’d venture to say not many. They accept these beliefs not because they rationally examine them, but because it’s a part of their identity as part of the family and community.

If you’re right, then we’re all wasting our time. A simple flyer explaining why religious faith is unreasonable should be all it takes. As beliefs are arrived at only through reason, people will simply process the information and arrive at the right answer. Why did no one else think of this?

First of all, leave aside this rational nonsense - reasoning doesn’t have to be good in order to still be reason.

Second, what you are describing there is still rational - the kids have limited sources of information and are trusting them to tell them the truth.

@Jansob… only a “semi” trick question.  It was designed to do exactly what happened… get you and others to reconsider just how “reasoned” much of our daily “second-nature” or “reflexive” responses actually are, built on each and every bit of experience we have in life.  Not on emotional reactions at the moment.

Also, it is a total canard to throw up the “evangelical atheism” bit.  Standing up for, and debating the merits of, one’s positions does not equate to proselytizing dogma.  It asks ALL humans to abide by the same standards of interaction.

@Bruce:  Correct… and I’ll extend that a bit.  When a child, say, plugs an electrical device in whilst gripping the prongs and receives a shock, followed up by a parent teaching them how to properly hold the plug, and explaining that electricity is dangerous… it is thus “reasoned” by the child: a) damn, that hurt. I don’t want to repeat THAT experience. b)the person who seems to treat me best every day of my short life is telling me how to avoid future pain, so c) I think I will choose (reason) to follow that advice and never again hold the prongs. 

Are future events in which the person is “emotionally” cautious around electricity reasoned?  Conditioned responses are in effect reasoned on a scale of pleasure and pain and desire for future pleasure.  The idea that everything we do is (and only is) a visceral reaction to the event of the moment is silly.  It may be true the FIRST time we encounter something, but then we have the ability to reason/plan/practice for how we will respond in future occurrences.  The defensive barriers one throws up reflexively in response to “attacks” (yes, I’m talking to you, persecuted Christians) have been TRAINED into us… i.e. “reasoned.”  The fact that we rarely question long held habits/beliefs applies to all facets of our life, not just religious belief, and we CAN choose to recognize and uproot those bad habits. 

The pre-requisite is that we can be taught to recognize WHY holding untested prejudices and defending unfalsifiable beliefs ARE bad habits. 

Mooney’s approach doesn’t ask the religious addict to face their addiction, or admit any potential dangers/flaws in their thinking.  Mooney is an “enabler.”  He can go on all he wants about how cognitive dissonance theory has been replaced, but that is a dodge.  The only way I came to question my devout Catholicism was to be exposed to ideas that contradicted it… some of those ideas were presented gruffly, some eruditely… all added up to reasons to abandon the Church and a belief that my life’s actions need to be based on some supposed God entity.  Atheists willing to discuss and debate the merits of their positions, without belittling or dehumanizing those who have been indoctrinated to not question… and at the same time NOT ceding any ground to those religious folks demands for “respect” ful silence… are essential to achieving change:  in the lot of atheists in society, if not in changing the minds/beliefs of believers.

And frankly, my open advocacy of non-belief is more about carving a space of equality in society for all humans, than it is about converting believers.  Period.

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Posted: 13 May 2011 06:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Ok, then never mind. If every decision is classified as “reason”, then obviously every decision is a well-thought out position that can be defeated by a rational argument. So print up the flyers and religion will be gone my next month.

You guys have fun hunting heretics, I’m done.

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Posted: 13 May 2011 07:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Jansob - 13 May 2011 06:50 AM

Ok, then never mind. If every decision is classified as “reason”, then obviously every decision is a well-thought out position that can be defeated by a rational argument. So print up the flyers and religion will be gone my next month.

You guys have fun hunting heretics, I’m done.

That, is a strawman.

Reason is how we come to accept ideas, and our ability to reason well is something that we pick up over time. We make errors in our logic when we are small that we wouldn’t make as adults, and different people have different aptitudes when it comes to reasoning.

Plus once we have accepted ideas we have a variety of nasty little perceptual weaknesses which kick in specifically to protect those ideas.

For example, say you believed that XYZ group couldn’t drive. Now this group is no worse at driving than anybody else is really, but your belief that they can’t drive would make you notice more bad drivers in that group, than other groups. This is confirmation bias - we tend to see the hits that suit our ideology while the misses go unnoticed.

We develop tools to improve our ability to reason and avoid the traps of our perception. We call this critical thinking.

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Posted: 13 May 2011 08:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Jansob - 13 May 2011 06:50 AM

Ok, then never mind. If every decision is classified as “reason”, then obviously every decision is a well-thought out position that can be defeated by a rational argument. So print up the flyers and religion will be gone my next month.

You guys have fun hunting heretics, I’m done.

This is truly an amazing hornet’s nest Mr. Mooney (and I suppose others before him) has opened up. 

Mooney and his supporters essentially argue we should be enablers for believers, so that believers don’t clamp down on us (since they’re in the majority, and appeasing a majority is a good political strategy.)

Harris/Myers/Dawkins/Dennett and others argue that scientific thinking is incompatible with religious thinking (i.e. there aren’t multiple “ways of knowing”).  We should present unvarnished “truth,” argue about it and support it with data, experimentation, replicability, etc. and let believers deal with the fact that it implies their “way of knowing” is ineffective, untestable, dogmatic, received wisdom, etc. ... no matter how painful that may be to the ears of the believer.  Speaking truth and being willing to discuss/revise that truth in open discussion where everyone plays by the same rules, is, in their view, the better political strategy.

Coyne, very explicitly, argues that an organization like the NCSE, whose mission is improved SCIENCE education, need not take a position on religious belief at all.  Yet they do: not only adopting a favorable, “accommodationist” position toward religious belief, but actively fighting against those who advocate NEUTRALITY.  They seem to buy into Mooney’s explicitly political argument that it is in our “political” best interests to grow our constituency. 

And people like @Jansob continually muddy the waters by ASSERTING that the actions of non-religious people, who DARE to ask religious people to justify their claims on our lives and society, are equivalent to the actions of those religious who quash dissent.  You bandy about terms like “evangelical” and “hunting heretics” and “atheist orthodoxy” in a display of equivocation that boggles the mind.

What political majority has NOT stooped to demonizing those who challenge it?
What social change has been achieved by appeasement?
What equal rights movement has succeeded as a result of its “oppressor” voluntarily giving up their position?
What great idea achieved prominence because it was agreed to in committee?

Politics is compromise, and no doubt there are places where we can compromise to achieve greater freedom for all… even those we disagree with…  Free Speech is a good example, protecting hateful speech, under the principle that disagreeable speech is exactly what must be protected to prevent majorities from quashing dissent. But would you “accommodate” those who want to criminalize speech “offensive to religious faith?”  Is the concept of blasphemy compatible with the principle of free speech?

Compromise on the assertion that scientific thinking (belief acquisition through test, observation and accumulated experience… always open to change) and religious thinking (belief acquisition through assertion, ignoring evidence, and authority of divinely inspired texts) are “compatible” is not a compromise.  It is a surrender.

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Posted: 13 May 2011 03:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Jansob - 13 May 2011 05:24 AM

I’ll continue to educate those around me on science and teach skeptical thinking (which I think in the long run is corrosive to faith)...but I won’t really stay connected with the “movement” if it becomes synonymous with evangelical atheism.

Cya then.

“Evangelical atheism”... Gotta love the way Mooney supporters try to paint religion and atheism as the same thing. For one thing, if you want to be called a skeptic you should have no belief in anything that is without evidence. Someone is not a skeptic if they believe there is a bigfoot roaming around, so don’t tell me that someone who belongs to a religion and believes the myriad of things that go with that is a skeptic. They’re not. Science when dealing with things that are untestable or without evidence does not take a positive stance on them, so there’s no excuse for a person to ignore that and just believe in the flying jewish zombie anyhow.

This might just be my opinion, but I find the accomodationalists incredibly dull and boring to read. Lacking personality or entertainment. I think this hurts them getting their message out to a mass media in the way that Dawkins and Hitchens managed to do. The public responds better to plain speak wether they support it or makes them write an angry email about it.

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Posted: 14 May 2011 07:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Adam Isaak - 11 May 2011 08:53 AM

Mooney is asked to defend accommodationism and his Templeton Foundation fellowship. The tough questions elicit vigorous replies as Mooney restates his belief that some of the New Atheists are adopting the wrong tactics in criticizing religion.

Accommodationist? Can’t you find a better pejorative?  Why not sympathizer, collaborator, capitulationist, quisling…?

I see strong parallels between the fight for the rights of the non-religious and other civil rights issues, scuh as the ongoing struggle of the GLBT community.  There are academic theorists and philosophers.  There are angry protests and pride parades.  There are closeted benefactors.  There are enclaves, cities, states, parties, and professions where people find acceptance.  There are hotlines and gathering places for damaged souls.  There are legal challenges.  There are neighbors who are out.  There are people who feel it is their right to out others.  There are people who refuse to be defined by the issue.  There are political activists.  There are political alliances.  There are positive examples in art.  There are real friends who genuinely disagree.  There are setbacks and successes.  Both are multi-generational works in progress. 

Are you agnostic, antitheist, atheist, bright, deist, determinist, freethinker, humanist, materialist, mechanist, methodological naturalist, nihilist, none, non-believer, non-theist, other, pantheist, philosophical naturalist, science educator, scientist, secular, or skeptic?  Which one is right?  Who chooses the members of our club?  Which tactic is appropriate?  Which strategy is best?  Who makes a greater contribution to the desired goal?  Who chose the goal? 

Not all atheists have to be angry and up in your grill, just like not all gay activists ride the leather buddy float in the pride parade.  These are marathons.  There are a multitide of paths to the finish lines.  We need all the help we can get.

[ Edited: 14 May 2011 11:57 AM by michaelb ]
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Posted: 14 May 2011 08:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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michaelb - 14 May 2011 07:23 AM

Not all atheists have to be angry and up in your grill, just like not all gay activists ride the leather buddy float in the pride parade.  These are marathons.  There are a multitide of paths to the finish lines.  We need all the help we can get.

You get it.  Your entire post was spot on! If Mooney could say the same things, we wouldn’t need a term for him and his ilk.  But they are actively telling those of us on “other paths” that “YOU’RE NOT HELPING.”

The more resistance to his ideas, the more he digs in his heels and casts blame on his “attackers.”  Maybe he’s trying to prove his own point? And the way he does it… claiming to be scientific while relying on his “hunches” and “suspicions” that his idea is right.  It’s embarassing.  Maybe the world at large should start treating Mooney as a Troll, since responding to him only further props up his ersatz fame and authority.

Maybe the new internet meme can become, “Don’t feed the Mooney.”

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Posted: 14 May 2011 09:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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Ophelia, I still remember your POI interview, a very good one.  smile

[16:26] [Lindsay]... residents of the EU are less scientifically literate overall, than Americans, but have less of a problem accepting Evolution.  And one could surmise that’s because, at least many in the EU are more secular than Americans.  Which, perhaps means that if we want to get people to understand science better, and maybe accept Evolution, what we should do in fact is to get people to give up their religious beliefs.  So, in fact, the way that we get people to accept evolution is not to soft-pedal criticism of religion, but rather to, in fact, subject religion to rather harsh criticism. 

      [Mooney] If you assume that harsh criticism will change their minds, which is something that I strongly reject.  I think it will backfire.  And I think that we have good reason to suspect that.  I will grant you that if you have a society that is less religious is is highly more likely to be a society that is more accepting of Evolution, but the question is how you get there.

      [Lindsay] And how would you get there, except through critical examination of religion?

      [Mooney] No, I think that that’s… I mean you say “critical examination of religion” as if suddenly by making the rational arguments against religion these are going to be taken up and accepted in the minds of the people for whom religion is the center of their identity, and I say that’s incredibly naive, psychologically.  So… that’s not how we work, that’s not how human beings work.  So what would I do?  I would try to empower the messengers that they will listen to.  People who are more like them, people who they trust.  That means people who are in their community hopefully, Pasteurs, scientists who are religious, people who are closer to them and can speak a bit more of their language, and may be able to move them… it will still be very hard.  You will still trigger a lot of resistance, but I think there will be more openness than kind of the frontal assault from someone with who you have very little or nothing in common, an atheist.


Mooney did very well.  The basic psychology of it, which I think would be obvious based on day-to-day experience… religion is not merely some idle belief, like when you believe that the Sun will rise tomorrow (it might not) or that the train will arrive on schedule (it might not), but it is instead an active pursuit, and a most personal and emotionally invested one too. 

I think that some people are just jumping from one extreme to the other, from a extremist religious background where questions were not allowed, to an extreme Humanist present were religion is not allowed.  There are many moderate religious out there, we can get along and be friends.

A tactless, bold, aggressive, verbal confrontation against their religion is just going to hurt the moderate religious, and they will resent it and be forced to defend against it.  That attitude will shoot our Humanist movement in the foot, the religious are in the majority and so angering and opposing them is a loosing strategy.  Those who can’t recognize that are not recognizing that religion is the norm in societies world-over, and so you have to accommodate that norm if you’re going to participate in society.  Without making some room for the widespread societal norms, that is just choosing to separate from society, it is anti-social, it is extreme.  We can and should choose to be a part of society, not apart from society and its norms.  We can make room for Humanism as one of the norms of society, be pro-Humanism rather than anti-religion.  The moderates are the people who the Humanists should be making friends with.  They are the open-minded ones who can hear a kind tactful positive and friendly message.  smile

Lets invite the religious moderates into the discussion, into the fold, the more the merrier!  People can learn, learn the facts, facts based on evidence, evidence gathered by science, science being an imperfect human pursuit but the best way to learn about the world.  They religious are inquisitive, they will ask questions, and we have some answers, but wait until they ask, encourage and entice them.  smile

[48:21] [Lindsay]... one of the strategies that the New Atheists have recommended, is that the people who are atheists come out more.

I’m glad to hear that Lindsay and Mooney have some agreement.  smile
Doug, you made good good points.  smile

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Posted: 14 May 2011 03:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Thank you, Chris, for speaking up for us accommodationists.  I believe that diversity is good for our movement, and I worry about the skeptical/freethought movement becoming too caught up in militant antireligious fervor.  I agree with you that new atheist attacks on religion will not change believers’ minds and would be counterproductive if not for a counterbalance of other views.  But I have no problem with Richard Dawkins and other scientists writing books expressing their atheism or with Francis Collins and Ken Miller expressing their religious belief.  I also think that accommodationism and new atheism are not mutually exclusive but two ends of a graduated scale, and just because I lean towards accommodationism that doesn’t mean I can’t at times criticize religion or express my unbelief.  I wonder, to what extent can I have my cake and eat it too?

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Posted: 14 May 2011 04:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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rasmur - 14 May 2011 03:46 PM

Thank you, Chris, for speaking up for us accommodationists.  I believe that diversity is good for our movement

2 questions:  What “diversity” is being prevented, and what “movement” are you talking about?  Are you seeking the vaunted “diversity in ways of knowing”??  Doesn’t exist.

and I worry about the skeptical/freethought movement becoming too caught up in militant antireligious fervor.

 

I will stipulate that there are ways that people can go too far in attacking a person, or in stating their position. But let’s be clear.  Saying “Religious thinking and scientific thinking are mutually exclusive” is not attacking religion any more than saying “Homeopathy has no scientific basis for its claims.”

But I have no problem with Richard Dawkins and other scientists writing books expressing their atheism or with Francis Collins and Ken Miller expressing their religious belief.

Great…so magnanimous of you.  But let’s be very clear that what you are agreeing to above is NOT what the “accommodationism” debate is about, or what started it.  The “accommodationist” says what you said, PLUS “Science and religion are compatible” AND “You “New Atheists” aren’t helping in the effort to win converts.”

I also think that accommodationism and new atheism are not mutually exclusive but two ends of a graduated scale

Please, elaborate on this scale and the units of measure.  What defines the two end-points?  Seriously… what do you think is the difference.  It will reveal a lot about the way you think.

just because I lean towards accommodationism


please… pursuant to the previous line, define accommodationism in your terms.  In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya (Princess Bride), “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

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Posted: 14 May 2011 04:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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the religious are in the majority and so angering and opposing them is a loosing strategy

I have a huge problem with this assumption. Yeah, lets not fight for the gay rights because that would just anger the religious majority. Absolute nonsense!

I dunno why you think it’s a bad thing to rile the religious up anyway, because following the accomodationalist logic this would just turn more people against religion. But I doubt that, because that would mean your logic would be coherent.

I agree with you that new atheist attacks on religion will not change believers’ minds

This is why I have contempt for accomodationalists, because this is a lie. Stop repeating it.

[ Edited: 14 May 2011 04:37 PM by kennykjc ]
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Posted: 14 May 2011 04:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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rasmur - 14 May 2011 03:46 PM

Thank you, Chris, for speaking up for us accommodationists.  I believe that diversity is good for our movement, and I worry about the skeptical/freethought movement becoming too caught up in militant antireligious fervor. ?

Good for you, but Chris wants us all to be ‘accomodationists’. I believe diversity will only make it stronger. Taking the Civil and Gay rights movements, it was their diversity which made them stronger. Neither would have gotten Jack Squat if they had all been accomodationists.

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Posted: 14 May 2011 05:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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I don’t see that religion is compatible with science, but I pick my battles. The battle to atheize the planet is not going to be won anytime soon. But I can increase the level of scientific knowledge and awareness of skeptical thought. I’ve gotten 2 religious school board members to see that ID is creationism in disguise and support science. They may still believe God is somehow behind it all, but they no longer support ID in the district.

If this is accomodationism, then it has it’s place. As do those who directly challenge religion when it’s appropriate. It bothers me to see skeptics strawmanning each other’s position as I’m seeing here. In a conversation about religion I doubt most “accomodationists” would meekly refuse to challenge religion. And I doubt most “New Atheists” would go hammer and tongs against the Bible when talking about vaccines. We have waaaaay more in common than not, and this whole argument depresses me.

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