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PZ Myers, Jennifer Michael Hecht, and Chris Mooney - New Atheism or Accommodation?
Posted: 05 November 2010 02:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 151 ]
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First post in a long time…

I finally got around to listening to this podcast.  Having some notion of what to expect helped me be more critical.  The idea that the world needs more than one method of communicating is a good one.  The idea that some methods of communication (“loud atheism”) can, in some cases, cause people to pull away from the neutral ground and solidify unhealthy ideas is another good idea to keep in mind.

PZ (supposed “loud atheist”) pointed out that he does not start conversations with the intent to rile people up about religion (airplane conversation).  He focuses on actual topics and issues and if the person he is talking with shifts the conversation to include religion, then he will state his position without any mincing of words or apologetic language.

Confidence about who we are and what we think is important if atheists are to break free from the negative connotations that have haunted us for generations.  If atheists continue to be push overs, then religious communities are free to label us as devil worshipers and baby eaters.  Stating clearly that “Atheists are not these things, that we are moral contributing citizens and that we simply don’t see a place for ancient mythologies in today’s society,” is an honest enough point to make.  If this is considered loud, obnoxious or mean spirited, then I say the onus for these negative opinions falls on the offended.

The main point I would like to make is regarding how the speakers discussed people.  PZ focused on individual ideas, whereas Mooney & Heckt used language concerning people as a whole, or as a collection of ideas.  This seems to be the only point of contention in this debate.  This would have been more evident if the guests were asked a similar question to this, “Suppose there is an individual who sets the record for feeding starving children in the world, suppose he also sets the record for abusing these same children.  Would it be acceptable to criticize this persons abuses and at the same time laud his humanitarian efforts?” (of course you can)  How you view this person as a whole or as an individual is irrelevant when focusing on the issues.  Taking the good with the bad is unacceptable.  This is about specific issues.

The point I take away from the accomodationists perspective is that it is necessary for atheists to reiterate (sometimes over & over) that they are not necessarily speaking out against individuals but, more so, against specific ideas.  By doing this, we make it harder for those with conflicting views to label us as loud or obnoxious or worse.  And more importantly, it is also harder to disagree.

I appreciate all of the people involved in this debate and value many of their specific ideas on science, politics, poetry and atheism.  Keep it coming.

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Posted: 05 November 2010 04:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 152 ]
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retrospy - 05 November 2010 02:23 PM

First post in a long time…

Welcome back!

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Posted: 06 November 2010 12:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 153 ]
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Allow me summarize the ‘Accomodationists’ message to the ‘New Atheists’:

‘When you’re trying to express truth to the religionists, could you please be a little less truthful?’

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Posted: 16 November 2010 08:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 154 ]
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This article, by Robert Sapolsky, one of the smarter non-believers around these days, has everything to do with the subject matter covered in the podcast.

For my part, I think the issue at root has nothing to do with truth or falsity, but with intelligent and well-thought-out communication versus juvenile communication and spittle.
Or put another way, the bottom line is whether atheists, humanists, and free-thinkers want to make faster progress toward the better world Mr. Sapolsky mentions, or whether our own self-righteousness and piety are in fact our most cherished values.

That doesn’t mean I throw in with Chris Mooney’s viewpoint, or even necessarily with Ms. Hecht’s rather gauzy and ill-defined remarks.
As I wrote earlier, in my view neither Mooney or Myers are particularly effective.

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Brad

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Posted: 16 November 2010 08:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 155 ]
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The linked article above “This is Your Brain on Metaphors” was really good.  Nice short examples of scientific research that I can use in conversations.  Thank You Brad.

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Posted: 16 November 2010 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 156 ]
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Sapolsky is great. Thanks for the link, Brad!

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Posted: 16 November 2010 05:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 157 ]
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So what do the atheists on the forum think about the debate? (I happen to think the title’s a false dichotomy: not all failures to hurl insults at your opponents are identical with accomodationism. I’m happy to have anyone clearly state their *considered* opinions.)

But how about this: Meyers can be well accused of just enjoying smacking people around. ‘They do it too’ is just what nasty people say when they want to do something shabby. ‘I’m just being honest’ doesn’t wash either: any man worth his politic salt knows how and when to say something negative. (I’ve been learning how to be a Team Player at the retail job I have. It’s been good for me; I learn how to influence the people where I work without being a know-it-all lout. Marvelous!)

Someone suggested that his (specific brand of) loudness may sway fence-sitters - but which way? Isn’t it as likely that for every man led to atheism by Meyers, there’s another who says ‘forget that noise if this is what the New Atheism produces.’ Being a cad isn’t *reliable* persuasion.

I say, down with the New Atheism; try some Old Atheism. How ‘bout dat Epicurus, for instance - he started the longest-lived intellectual sect ever, was so admired that they had busts of him in their houses, and was famous even among the other schools for his moral probity. That’s how to show your opponents, no?

Chris Kirk

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Posted: 16 November 2010 08:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 158 ]
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Trail Rider - 16 November 2010 08:12 AM

This article, by Robert Sapolsky, one of the smarter non-believers around these days, has everything to do with the subject matter covered in the podcast.

Very interesting. I always thought the brain thinks in only a symbolic manner, but apparently it does both.
Perhaps this why we have the expression, “he thinks with his heart, not with his brain”.  confused

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Posted: 28 November 2011 06:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 159 ]
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Although I do like the idea of a debate on this topic, after hearing the episode I was very disappointed, mainly because the woman who was supposed to be moderating was doing no such thing. Rather, between her tangential ramblings and Mooney, it was basically a gang-up. I understand, everyone has an agenda, no one can really be unbiased. But if you are going to call something a moderated debate (which I assumed you called it since you named a moderator), than please try at least a tiny bit to be fair about it.

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Posted: 15 March 2012 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 160 ]
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I thought this particular episode failed to clarify several things for me - the direction of the conversation was convoluted and unfocused.  I am a huge fan of PZ Myers and Chris Mooney both, but one thing that neither of them really clarified is what the end goal is.  Is it to ‘unconvert’ religious to atheism, or is it achieving real secularism (to remove the religiosity and religious privilege from our government)?  Since this was not really explored, it left me pretty confused and wanting more.  I think neither of them really were able to articulate their point of view very well because no one talked about the actual merits of each approach, it was simply an argument about belief, which is entirely not the point, it was supposed to be about tactics.

To boil it down for me, it all seems to come down to pessimism (confrontationalists) versus optimizm (accommodationists), and it’s not hard to see that optimism has the upper hand in changing minds and a better likelihood of success, and is frankly the road I would rather choose. 

If I were to take PZ at his word only from this interview, it seems to me that confrontationalists (New Atheists) don’t believe that actual secularism is possible while religion still exists in the world.  Therefore, the logical focus should be on eradicating religion.  This rings hollow, impossible for humans, and doomed to failure (even if it’s true).  I happen to think that the psychology of belief is really where the argument needs to go.  PZ didn’t seem interested in the data about psychology (of belief or otherwise).  Nothing was mentioned about the fact that cognitive dissonance exists on many levels in all of us, and their only answer is to remove all forms of dissonance in all humans?  Good luck with that.

I think what accommodation is trying to say (which was not really at all articulated by Chris Mooney in this interview) is really that “we don’t care what you believe so long as you don’t push it on others”.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with allowing mutual respect for fellow human beings in this manner, and I think a lot of progress can be made by promoting science and science education through those who are “given a pass” for being believers (i.e. Francis Collins).  As long as you adequately explain and teach science, the benefits to society (in my opinion) would far outweigh any negatives that giving the Francis Collins’ a pass would create.  On the flip side, it is probably impossible to have the true objectivity necessary to not (even subconsciously) push your beliefs on others if you are a true believer, and if accommodationists have one major flaw, it is that.  Still, just because you don’t put a loud asterisk (*caution, this was stated by a believer) next to everything a believer says doesn’t mean you are giving them tacit approval for everything they believe.  Yes, it is possible to have cognitive dissonance, or correct viewpoints on one issue and incorrect views on others (views that can be tested and proven with science).  I believe there is room for healthy debate/discourse, and that this can lead to progress on those issues of dissonance for the majority of people, who probably haven’t thought too deeply about it yet.  Accommodation embraces this view, and I agree with it.  It’ll probably work better, and I think the data will bear this out over time.

Anyway, I usually agree with much of what is said on POI, except this time it made me post.  Despite this, I owe a lot to POI for all their intriguing topics.  Much has been covered since this interview, I just happened to listen to it and hope people comment further.

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