“Relentless attacks” on clergy?

July 16, 2010 • 5:24 am

In their attempt to marginalize atheists, accommodationists are homing in on a common strategy, which includes these claims:

1.  There is more than one way of finding out the truth about the universe. Science is one way, religion another.  Ergo Jesus. Example: Marilynne Robinson’s post, “Religion, science and the ultimate nature of reality.”

2. If you think that empirical evidence and reason is the sole arbiter of what’s true, you’re guilty of scientism.  This makes scientists just as religious as fundamentalists.  Ergo Jesus.  Example here.

3.  And, by the way, science itself makes mistakes. Scientists are human and some of their claims are unreliable. Also, science continually replaces old ideas with new ones, so scientific “truth” is unstable. Ergo Jesus. Rod Dreher of the Templeton Foundation has recently taken this tack (see here and here).

4.  Science and religion contribute fruitfully to each other.  Ergo Jesus. See anything written by the Templeton Foundation, Krista Tippett, or John Polkinghorne.  This “fruitful interaction hypothesis”—never mind that many of the same people see science and religion as having distinct and nonoverlapping domains—is the basis of HuffPo’s dreadful new “Religion and Science” section.

5.  Most important, those New Atheists are just so mean and shrill that they contribute nothing, nay, can contribute nothing, to the “dialogue” between science and faith. Indeed, their relentless negativity and incivility alienates the faithful, making them flee from science back to the arms of Jesus.  Thus it’s advisable to simply omit the atheist viewpoint from debates and panels. This appears to be the strategy of organizations like the National Center for Science Education (whose “faith project” consists almost entirely of accommodationist  posts and “recommended readings”), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Templeton Foundation, the World Science Festival, and bloggers like Chris Mooney and Josh Rosenau.

The last claim has just been made by Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project, an attempt to get clergy to sign a statement saying that there is no conflict between science and their faith.  I’ve written about Zimmerman’s views before, criticizing his philosophical accommodationism and view of American religion as a largely liberal enterprise, and characterizing the Letter Project as “harmless at worst” (actually, I suspect it’s useful, but nowhere near as useful as its advocates claim).   But I wouldn’t consider this an uncivil attack.  Nevertheless, in his latest defense of the Project, Zimmerman goes after New Atheists in general:

Oddly enough, although these Clergy Letter Project members are often among the first to fight for all forms of creationism to be removed from our public schools and for evolution to be taught, they have also been relentlessly attacked by “New Atheists.” The crux of these attacks seems to take two forms. In the first, clergy members are ridiculed simply for having religious faith. In the second, supposedly intelligent people pretend they are unable to distinguish these clergy members from the fundamentalists with whom they share very little theologically and they are then tarred with the brush of unthinking literalism.

Well, I’m not aware of these “relentless attacks” (a Mooneyism if there ever was one) on members of the Clergy Letter Project, nor have I participated in them.  (My online dictionary defines “relentless” as “obsessively constant, incessant”.) Perhaps Dr. Zimmerman can point us to some of them (he implies that they’re not rare)—that is, attacks not on faith, but on “Clergy Letter Project members.”  Yes, some of us have ridiculed believers in general (or even in particular; viz. the Pope), and have drawn parallels between fundamentalists and more liberal believers who nevertheless still accept superstition.  But do those critiques constitute “relentless attacks” on Clergy Letter Project members?  Like many accommodationists, Zimmerman seems unable to distinguish between frank criticism and vicious, rabid aggression.

Nor do they want to make this distinction, because if they did they might have to actually address the New Atheists’ substantive arguments against religion. The most important of these is this: “What’s the evidence for the stuff that you claim is true?”

54 thoughts on ““Relentless attacks” on clergy?

  1. Look no further for an explanation of this vecordious behaviour than simple pride.
    The pride of not being able to admit that one’s strategy will not be effective in the long term.
    It neatly explains the godly-coddlers’ contumely toward we evidential pragmatists.

    1. Thank you. I have learned a new word today.


      Though, rareness seams to be part of the meaning of this word, along with senseless, crazy, mad and foolish. Perhaps conventions vary over time and place, but the behavior on display by the accommodationists is not rare.

    2. It doesn’t really look like a case of ‘muddled thought best camouflaged by uncommon words,’ but . . .

    3. Yes, I was trying decide if using obscure words in some way cleverly supported your argument but I ended up concluding you got a thesaurus for your birthday.

  2. In the second, supposedly intelligent people pretend they are unable to distinguish these clergy members from the fundamentalists with whom they share very little theologically and they are then tarred with the brush of unthinking literalism.

    Why is it that these people always seem to miss the point of what much of the criticism of religion is about?

    ‘Very little theologically’? Please. Cafeteria Christians and fundamentalists might differ in some areas, but it’s why they believe what they believe – i.e. the baseless excuse of ‘faith’ and the inane dodge of ‘other ways of knowing’ [jazz hands!] – that is what they’re both being challenged on – and both coming up empty-handed.

    What’s the evidence for the stuff that you claim is true?

    Oh, you relentless militant, you. Oh! Where are my smelling salts?

    1. Why is it that these people always seem to miss the point of what much of the criticism of religion is about?

      I think they know what the criticism of religion is about, it is just that it doesn’t sell as well.

    2. Exactly.

      How can a person claim that the invisible creator of the universe talks to SOME people and then deny that someone else got an actual message from said creator?

      -Lots of people imagine they are getting messages from god all the time. And many times the results are horrific. All people who advocate faith-based thinking are guilty (in my opinion) when the results of this thinking leads to harms –such as a parent praying for a sick child rather than getting medical treatment.

      How can you give lip-service to the idea that the bible is the word of god while claiming that your interpretation of those words is more valid then the YECs or a Muslims? By what standard? There is no standard by which to measure the veracity of supernatural claims.

      I don’t see how science can advocate for one superstition over another and yet that seems to be what the accommodationists are asking us to do. Wouldn’t it just be smarter to suggest that religious people keep their beliefs private and not expect science to “accommodate them?

    3. The differences between the various flavors of goddists are much more important to them than they are to us. Having heard two goddists argue about infant versus adult baptism for over an hour, I can’t get too excited about the minutiae separating one group of delusionists from another

      1. As usual, the only true source of truth gets it right: “Easy on the zeal Churchos… I’ve got something to say. Don’t you get it? It’s all Christianity, people! The little stupid differences are nothing next to the big stupid similarities!” Bart Simpson, The Father, The Son, and The Holy Guest Star (Season 16, Episode 21.

  3. The accomodationists are also unbelievably short sighted. They point to a Christian who believes in evolution and conclude that science and religion are compatible. Sure, wait until you have to tell them that consciousness is a product of the brain alone and that our moral sense is a product of evolution and culture. Oh wait they’ve already said they don’t believe that, it seems that science and religion aren’t compatible after all.

    1. The accomodationists are also unbelievably short sighted.

      I couldn’t agree more. ‘Kicking the can down the road’ to be dealt with in some (somehow) better or easier future.
      Wrong! Ethical decisions are going to get more difficult and the !uck! factor will be engaged at warp10 as more and even more techno/bio developments roll out, and roll out, and roll out.
      Part of the increased religiosity is due to anxiety and uncertainty. We know this and we know that the scared ones are looking for rigid instructions, not philosophically sinuous debate.
      As a society, if we can’t assemble at least a modicum of respect for the methodology that is creating this reality, we will have no way to develop any consensus about these issues or decide about them rationally.
      Ironically, the accommodating stance is likely to make that less likely, by ‘othering’ (thank you OB)the vociferous and unruly new atheists, the very ones you want speaking up in this social conversation.
      Luckily we are loud and proud.

  4. So, they’re getting nasty. Soon, they will get angry. And then – they will start to change their minds.

    1. they will start to change their minds.

      I don’t think so. But the reflexive and now systematized attempt to marginalize out-group critizism reveals the emptiness of their “atheists are rude” and “critizism is harmful” claims.

      By being nasty and obviously angry they hoist themselves on their own petard. And by admitting that critizism affects them, by way of the thinskinned christian contingent, it is seen as a constructive method of us as well as bystanders.

      They can’t silence atheists by trying to shut them out of a social sphere where they naturally belong. Sooner or later the push to widen the Overton window in the public, while the accommodationists strive the other way, will set up too much tension. Something has to give; and the BioLogos implosion as a “reasonable compromise” seems to indicate the first victim.

  5. Indeed, their relentless negativity and incivility alienates the faithful, making them flee from science back to the arms of Jesus.

    Not a good way to stroke my sympathy module. It only makes me want to be more relentlessly negative toward the cowards when they go fleeing back to their imaginary friend.

    Let me tell you from personal experience, the ones that flee back to the arms of Sky Daddy are not nice people. They are the ones who make the sign of the cross when they hear the word “atheist” and make a big public scene out of what was a very private conversation the minute you mention atheism. They are the ones who delete any comments critical of their ridiculous public essay on the “truth” of Sky Daddy’s existence until all that is left is a chorus of sycophants and “old” atheists (you know, ones like Chris Mooney).

    Yes, they know they cannot answer New Atheist objections so they do their damnedest to paint New Atheists as big meanies when all we do is treat their religious beliefs seriously as grownup beliefs and show how those beliefs are wrong.

  6. Cross-posted from here at B&W:

    Functionally, what is the difference between the fundamentalist denial of science (esp. ToE and AGW), and the liberal theology that seeks to embellish it by trampling on parsimony and null hypothesis? Is evolution+fine tuning+miracles+quark diddling+IC+Cartesian dualism+human inevitability, etc., somehow preferable to the outright denial of scientific consensus? Maybe, but it seems a pretty cheap price for our integrity and silence.

    Perhaps if they were willing to give up patriarchy, tax-exempt status, homosexual persecution, claimed moral authority, opposition to abortion rights and stem-cell research, references to god in pledges and on currency, the emotional manipulation of children through induced fear and guilt, claims of the US being a christian nation, and so forth, then we might want at least to listen to the offers.

    We won’t sell, of course, but our current, self-appointed negotiators/shushers haven’t yet given us a bargain worth framing.

    Faith is the anti-epistemology. With it anything is true, and if faith is all you use, everything, even contradictions, must be true. Faith obliterates the concept of objective reality.

  7. It looks like the accommodationists are lowering themselves to the level of the far right wing-nuts. They are fabricating offenses and making stuff up to suit their current whim. This is what happens because the stance they take is indefensible and has no basis in logic or fact.

  8. Thoughts on the listed accomodationists claims.

    1. If it is not possible to demonstrate the validity of your newly discovered, or ancient and deeply held, “truth” how can you possibly consider it to be true?

    If your newly discovered, or ancient and deeply held, “truth” is contradicted by large amounts of data that can be duplicated at will how can you possibly consider it to be true?

    2. The Scientism claim is just really bizarre to me. I interpret this claim as a clear admission that the person making the claim understands that religion is bullshit. Admitting that the thing you are trying to argue for is bullshit does not seem like a good way to win an argument to me.

    3. Funny how they do not understand, even though they have been told countles times, that the process of science concedes that humans are error prone and that the process is structured in such a way as to filter out all those errors as much as possible. That is precisely what science, the process, IS. If humans where not prone to error, science as we know it would not exist.

    I think many accomodationists must have learned this but choose to ignore it so they can make this argument for the benefit of people who don’t know it. Lying for jesus basically.

    4. Sure. Religion has contributed to science by stifling it and lying about it in an attempt to maintain religion’s authority. Science has contributed to religion by steadily revealing that religious claims are bullshit. I guess that is an equitable arrangement. This seems like a rather desperate claim.

    5. Bullshit. Which seems nastier to you?

    But it’s always a very tricky business to interpret the purpose of the divine providence. After all, plenty of good, even saintly, people die prematurely from terrible diseases all the time, and lots of atheists and vile sinners live long prosperous lives before dying peacefully in their beds.


    Nor do they want to make this distinction, because if they did they might have to actually address the New Atheists’ substantive arguments against religion. The most important of these is this: “What’s the evidence for the stuff that you claim is true?”

    You sure as hell don’t need to use “foul language” in order to be rude, mean or nasty. I have always found it amusing that virtually everytime I hear someone argue that another person is being rude due to foul language or direct statements, that someone then goes on to insult the other person as many times as they can. Using, of course, the most proper and largest words in their vocabulary. All while largely ignoring the arguments they have been presented.

    1. The Scientism claim is just really bizarre to me.

      Yes. Beyond the tacit admission that religion stands on clay feet, I can safely say that I have found all the common variants of the claim not applicable to me. And if it isn’t, what is the idea to dress it up as a general claim?

      1. “Scientism is the idea that natural science is the most authoritative worldview or aspect of human education, and that it is superior to all other interpretations of life.

      This is what I would call a factism. Well, yes, exactly: we use science because we have observed that it works. Similarly we find that it works best as pertaining facts.

      This is not applicable as criticism.

      2. “To indicate the improper usage of science or scientific claims[7] in contexts where science might not apply, …” [Ibid]

      As I have mentioned on WEIT before, I do recognize that a mind have individual experiences, a modeling in the mind which details may not be amenable for analysis in all details in the same way that all details of nature will never be elucidated by any reasonable amount of resources.

      Likewise I do recognize that general learning is a less rigid way to get to facts. But see 1.

      This is not applicable as criticism.

      3. “To refer to “the belief that the methods of natural science, or the categories and things recognized in natural science, form the only proper elements in any philosophical or other inquiry,” … It thus expresses a position critical of (at least the more extreme expressions of) positivism.” [Ibid]

      For the first part, the same analysis as in 2.

      The second part is a clever ruse. As Cosma Shalisi I claim to be a positivist, and as I have noted on WEIT before a naturalist (science method, more specifically falsification, works) and materialist (nature is monistic).

      My understanding of positivism is that falsifiability is a decisive requirement. It is thus a predictive and falsifiable hypothesis based on the observation of having naturalism: whenever we don’t have falsification we aren’t assured of facts and theories.

      But that doesn’t mean that all science method is the same or easily characterized, which is the claim of the Wikipedia article: “For example, most contemporary social researchers do not believe in the existence of general social laws.”

      This is not applicable as criticism.

      And on and on it goes. Mostly it revolves around the claims of #2, and it is really another variant of the article point 1, “more than one way of finding out”. Which is another way of claiming “gods of the gaps”.

      Why they aren’t forthcoming with that is understandable, because it doesn’t look as good. It is however the correct claim, and it is straightforward accommodationist belief as we all know it.

      1. Well said.

        Breaking it down to the simplest terms it just seems to be the natural / supernatural claim.

        In order to leave room for gods and magic that the endeavor of science can’t debunk, you have to posit a supernatural realm, in addition to nature. Then you can claim all sorts of nonsense like “science can only probe natural phenomena, but this is a supernatural phenomena and religion is necessary to understand it”.

        I get frustrated when I see skeptics, atheists, what have yous, arguing with theists or accommodationists that there is no evidence that the supernatural exists. I mean, that is fine and true as far as it goes, but what really needs to be pointed out is that the process of science makes no distinction between natural or supernatural, or any other “realm”. Science interrogates that which exists, period. No matter how bizzare the phenomenon may be, if it exists the methods of science can, in principal, be used to probe it.

        So, when a theist or accommodationist throws out the epithet “scientism”, they seem to simply be trying to reinforce the idea of natural and supernatural realms with their target audience. To me scientism would be reserved for someone who espouses, for example, the idea that Evolution means we should institute social darwinism to properly order our society. Which theists, of course, often accuse people like me of believing.

        1. I share some of your frustration as regards “no facts”, for reasons that I have shared on other threads many times.

          It is so much more pertinent to observe that _the absence of evidence means evidence of absence among testable hypotheses_, as opposed to the claims of abstract, context-less, philosophy. I.e. empirically the contra-hypothesis exist, and is falsifiable but not falsified by that very absence.

          So yes, we can probe existential claims.

          To me scientism would be reserved for someone who espouses, for example, the idea that Evolution means we should institute social darwinism to properly order our society.

          What do you know, I’ve never considered that! But of course that is the very meaning of scientism if it existed, to make claims, on behalf of science, outside of their support; such as when embracing the naturalistic fallacy.

        2. Actually on a whim I googled it, and saw that this goes back to bayesian hypothesis building:

          “Let H be a hypothesis that something is true, and E be an observation of evidence supporting H. The probability of H given E is P(H|E), and the probability of H given not-E is P(H|~E).

          If P(H|E) > P(H) then conversely P(H|~E) < P(H). By Bayes' theorem, E increases our estimate of P(H) and ~E lowers our estimate of P(H).

          Absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence, always, though that evidence may be strong or very weak. How strong it is depends on how likely E is given H. If you don't search for evidence and don't observe any, that's obviously much weaker than if you had searched."

          1. I have always found your posts interesting, wherever I come across them.

            I agree with your reasining here and have always thought that the statement “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is a neat saying to express the idea that you should not give up looking for something too soon, but that at a basic level it eventually becomes useless. All knowledge is provisional, some is just less provisional than others.

        3. Excellent post! I especially like your third paragraph, which very neatly disposes of the natural/supernatural dichotomy. I really wish I had thunk of it. I had never really looked at it in that way. To me, being receptive to new ways of thinking about a given phenomenon is one of the joys of being a scientist, a la Sagan’s ecstasy of understanding.
          That said, my initial thought was that there are some things that exist but are not amenable to scientific investigation. One that came to mind is pedophilia; it clearly exists, but thus far there is virtually no understanding of its root causes. After a bit of thought, though, it occurred to me that while we don’t yet have an explanatory scientific understanding of pedophilia, we do have some descriptive data, which shows that it is in fact amenable to scientific study. So, your argument is definitely persuasive.
          Your main point is well-taken as well; appeals to the supernatural do seem to be a mechanism for setting aside a particular domain which can be reserved for access, for lack of a better word, only via religion. One would think that if people had a psychological need or desire for such a “special” domain, then they would be satisfied with its authenticity for them without feeling compelled to expand it outside the scope of the supernatural. I’m sure many of the reasons they do feel so compelled are mundane, such as the human need for affirmation from others, the need to convince themselves of a dubious belief system, the simple desire to exert power or control over others, and so on. But perhaps the principal reason is part of the genius of religion: Religions – most notably Christianity and Islam – often have a built-in mandate that its adherents proselytize. It’s not enough for an individual to commit to a religion, but they are entreated to recruit others as part of a demonstration of their piety and commitment. The depth of that commitment is often such that the committed (no pun intended, kinda) lack the ability to conceptualize a mode of thought apart from one rooted in faith in wholly intangible notions. As a result, they invent “faith-like” constructs and attach them to science. The sheer, utter irony is that without exception, their arguments that science is also rooted in faith always have a pejorative tone. In essence they are saying “Faith in religion is virtuous, but faith in science is duplicitous.” I’m tempted to say that they can’t have it both ways, but as you pointed out, if your whole belief system is predicated on the supernatural, I suppose you can have it any way you want.

          1. Thank you Todd (at least if you where talking to me). I often find it hard to adequately write down ideas.

            The depth of that commitment is often such that the committed (no pun intended, kinda) lack the ability to conceptualize a mode of thought apart from one rooted in faith in wholly intangible notions. As a result, they invent “faith-like” constructs and attach them to science.

            A very important point well stated. Because of this I often tell myself to give more slack to such people, and sometimes my frustration meter shatters.

            1. @Darrell E – Thank you as well. For what it’s worth, the ideas in your posts are much more than “adequately” expressed.
              Your efforts to cut folks some slack are commendable. I have to admit that I tend to view people’s inability to think outside the “faith” box as more of a character flaw. I should probably be more forgiving. Of course, it would be much easier to be forgiving if the religious were content in saying something more along the lines of “Well, faith works for me, but I understand that science works differently,” instead of the typical demand that science acquiesce to religious claims and accusations that science is somehow equally “faith-based.”

  9. Without hemming and hawing Frank Schaffer lays it out in this Rachael Maddow interview. The interesting part is at the 3:30 mark with the money quote:

    “Look, you can’t reorganize village life to suit the village idiot.”

    It seems to me this is what the accommodationists are trying to do.

    All theology is opinion, not evidentiary. It is no more valid to science than is my opinion of Adam Sandler movies.

  10. To me this comes down to two simple things- money and power. The religious leaders of whatever ilk are frightened of losing their position in society as an almost untouchable so the ever present threat of Atheism must be extinguished before it burns down the Sacred Forest. When you used to riding on someone’s back it’s hard to walk on your two feet.

    It would be interesting to know how many billions of tax free dollars Religion’s Inc. makes every year. If only that money could go to a better use- America could have great schools, free day care, safe housing and the best health care in the world but I guess that would be Socialism and you couldn’t have that. What a terrible world it would be if Pat Robertson’s bank account had less then a million dollars in it and poverty was eradicated. What a tragedy.

    1. Just think about what America would be like if people gave money to disaster relief and medical research organizations instead of televangelists.

  11. Many good people are intuitively wise enough not to press the claims of either science or religion beyond what they need to get through any given day. They understand that thunder is not the anger of Thor, but even if they don’t believe there’s an afterlife, they might say a little prayer at night just on the outside chance of seeing the face lying next to them one more time.

    The professional accomodationists like Zimmerman and Dreher are another matter, and it is specifically a matter of the sucking rottenness at the heart of a vampire soul. They need science because their own faiths are ultimately incredible to them, faiths ultimately unable to sustain either the faiths themselves or these vampire adherents to them and because they will not nourish these vampires the way science ultimately does. But they cannot have a science too strong in its own right, a science that might ultimately expose the weakness in their faiths or, worse, shine some natural sunlight (Hiss!!!) on the stinking rottenness at the heart of these vampires themselves, and so they must cripple science in order to feed off it.

    They are your friends, friends who would sidle up to you, smiling, before injecting you first with an anesthetic, then a paralytic, before cutting your tendons. Then they will continue to smile, and lick you gently, and then nibble and gnaw until your flesh finally opens and the sweet nectar they need, a pseudo-scientific truth which both confirms their faith while also vaccinating it from any criticism, seeps forth.

    Lick, lick, lick, droozle, lick, lick, lick, nip, lick, lick…

  12. The crux of these attacks seems to take two forms. In the first, clergy members are ridiculed simply for having religious faith.

    Well, yeah. See my next response.

    In the second, supposedly intelligent people pretend they are unable to distinguish these clergy members from the fundamentalists with whom they share very little theologically and they are then tarred with the brush of unthinking literalism.

    Because, whatever theological differences they may have, they still share one theological position in common, and it’s the only one that counts: that a God exists, and it is a laudable thing to have faith in that claim without evidence.

    That belief is what makes religion incompatible with science. The other aspects of theology, no matter how fervently the two sides debate them, are completely irrelevant to the compatibility of science and religion.

  13. @ #13 truthspeaker
    Well said.

    This “no-conflict-between-science-and-religion” BS is a huge threat to scientific literacy in this country—not to mention that it tacitly validates various forms of woo (pseudo-science, new age medicine, etc.).

  14. Oh, the poor widdle accommodationists, neither side likes them–they probably don’t even like themselves! Even though they are so ‘reasonable’, kind, gentle, supportive, engaged, blah, blah, blah. Being lukewarm is not a badge of pride.

    Christians are Jesus junkies, while accommodationsts are whitewash junkies–spread that whitewash on real thick, you jerks, you are only fooling yourselves that such a layer of cowardly contortion of reality will fool anybody but yourselves.

  15. Darrell E’s post very nicely articulated several points which are very similar to some of the thoughts I had. To echo/expand on some of his comments:

    1. What “truth” is revealed via religion? Certainly no “truth” in (anything like) a scientific sense. If anything, religion and/or religious texts simply reveal the same kinds of truths as literature, film, or any other art, which is fine; I’m sure we all have our favorite novelists, poets, filmmakers, etc., but as much as I love and admire Kazuo Ishiguro, his novels don’t reveal any fundamental information about the material nature of the universe.

    2. This appeal to “science as faith” seems to me to be an emerging trend, but it is clearly a logical fallacy to equate scientific empiricism with religious faith. I’ve noticed several of these kinds of arguments lately, all of which claim that science is predicated on the same kinds of assumptions as religion, to wit, the Mitchell LeBlanc piece linked to above:

    “Science itself rests upon the assumed validity of empiricism in such a manner that should empiricism be defeated as an epistemology scientific knowledge falls along with it, to become irrelevant at best.”

    Umm…what? Very much like LeBlanc’s convoluted, circular reasoning, I have yet to see any of the religious apologists offer any examples of the faith-based assumptions upon which science is alleged to operate.

    3. Yes, science does make mistakes. Science also has the capacity to correct its mistakes, which Dreher either ignores or cannot comprehend. I tend to lean toward the latter, especially in light of remarks like the following, which beautifully illustrates the problem with reasoning from the specific to the general:

    “[T]he best science of the early 20th century included eugenics…”

    4. I can list dozens of contributions science has made to religion just off the top of my head, but I can’t think of anything that religion has contributed to science. Except maybe Gregor Mendel. I can almost hear Religion saying, “Thanks for penicillin, electricity, indoor plumbing, computers and all that other stuff. Sorry about Galileo.”
    (I love Darrell’s response to this one.)

    5. In a way, I actually kind of agree with this one. Atheists are no more mean or shrill than any other group of people; as it happens, I’ve met some pretty mean and shrill religious folks. And, part of me thinks that atheists can contribute nothing to the dialogue between science and faith because the very idea of a “dialogue” between science and faith is preposterous. Science and faith don’t even “speak” the same language. The idea of a “dialogue” between science and faith seems to me something like a conversation between Thomas Jefferson and a goldfish.

  16. I’m getting really sick of the scientism straw-man. Just because faith is not a way of knowing, it doesn’t mean that all truths are scientific. It’s as dumb as telling someone they are engaging in scientism because they reject astrology.

    Yet it keeps persisting, perhaps because while science can’t answer everything it is answering more and more. But forego those epistemic limits, it’s either revelation is a valid way of knowing or all truths are scientific.

    And they wonder why the New Atheists don’t take them seriously…

    1. Keep up the relentlessness!

      No credit for people who only partially reject reality!

      (In fact, all religious people partially reject reality, they just choose to draw the rejection line at different places)

  17. Hmm…I’ve seen “scientism” used in the social sciences to criticize those who operated only according to the most efficient “instrumental” rationality and ignored “substantive” rationality; they never stepped back to subject their larger goals to logical examination. It was also used to refer to the 1950s/60 sociologists who tried to mimic the methodological form of physics when what was called for was a more historical or comparative approach. Neither of these uses is derogatory to science or reason, though- if anything it was a call for an even more rigorously scientific approach!

    Never liked the term much myself since it always seemed to tempt people into just the kind of misuse that we’re seeing from the accommodationists. Of course any bit of contention among scientists, no matter how mild, gets turned into an “ergo Jesus” moment by the faithful anyway…

  18. It really is amazing how thin-skinned the accommodationists are. Even the merest hint of criticism, even the mild criticism they’ve gotten from us compared to what we routinely direct at creationists, sends them into anguished cries about how mean we are to them.

    It’s to be expected, of course. They overreact to criticism because they’re not used to getting any. What they’re used to is their position being treated with automatic respect and deference, and when that assumed entitlement isn’t respected, they automatically lash out. That’s nothing new; it’s just what we expected to happen. Once they learn that they’re not exempt from criticism just because they’re religious, they’ll settle down (from squawking into sullen muttering, most likely).

      1. Hah. 🙂 I guess what I meant by that is, even though our hypothesis of religious privilege predicts it, it’s still amazing to be proven right. You really might think that liberal clergy could handle some criticism maturely, and yet they respond with the same venom as the fundamentalists.

    1. I do know what you mean though. I suppose that’s a pretty typical reaction – initial amazement at the repetitive frothing misrepresentation followed by weary ‘oh well, what can you expect – the inability to think properly is just what we object to, so it’s no surprise to see yet more of it.’

    2. @Ebonmuse – Your post nicely illustrates another component of religion’s (i.e., Christianity’s) evil genius, specifically a reflexive appeal to claims of religious persecution. All too often, criticism of Christianity or any resistance to Christians’ attempts to insinuate Judeo-Christian religion into the public sphere (posting the Ten Commandments in a courtroom, for example) elicits allegations of religious persecution – despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian.

  19. Like many accommodationists, Zimmerman seems unable to distinguish between frank criticism and vicious, rabid aggression.

    Oh Zimmerman can distinguish… if it’s directed AT the “new atheists”, it’s the former; if the “new atheists” are the ones saying it, it’s the latter.

  20. I’m a bit late to the game here, but this is a topic I’ve written about extensively. I call this the “Anti Rationalism” meme, the idea that when faith and reason collide, faith wins.

    What atheists need to do is to fight fire with fire. When they use memes like “scientism” or “alternate ways to truth,” we can fight back by explaining that they’ve fallen for the Anti-Rationalism meme, the history of which goes back almost two thousand years.

    Here’s a blog I wrote about this: http://religionvirus.blogspot.com/2010/06/anti-rationalism-meme-is-confirmed-by.html


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