CfI podcast on accommodationism

October 12, 2010 • 5:01 am

The 50-minute Center for Inquiry podcast on accommodationism between Chris Mooney and P. Z. Myers, theoretically moderated by Jennifer Michael Hecht, is now available (click on upper right at the link). It’s actually not bad—save for the moderator’s interruptions—so you should ignore P.Z.’s advice to skip the piece.

Unfortunately, Hecht is totally annoying and self-promoting (in the panel discussion in L.A., which she was also supposed to moderate, she was equally self-promoting, constantly touting her books).  A moderator’s role is to keep the discussion on topic or flowing in productive directions, as well as asking good questions, but Hecht simply acts as a discussant, and not a very good one at that. Her statements are time-wasting digressions.  And, as P.Z. noted, she joins with Mooney in an attempted pile-on, decrying the counterproductive stridency of Gnu Atheism.  I say “attempted” because it’s not successful.  P.Z. does a good job, while Mooney is pretty much what we’ve come to expect. It may be germane that Hecht, like Mooney, had Templeton funding; she was a Templeton Research Fellow in 2008).

Start at 20 minutes in if you want the meat.  There’s a particularly good bit starting at 47:20.

30 thoughts on “CfI podcast on accommodationism

  1. Hecht drove me NUTS.

    Maybe, come to think of it, that’s because my first experience of Point of Inquiry was being interviewed by DJ Grothe. That guy can interview. Hecht can’t even talk or argue, and she wasn’t even trying to interview or moderate.

    1. If there was ever I time I agreed with anyone it’s Ms Benson here, right now.

      Hecht basically was an idiot with a thesaurus.

      She was a rambling fool, I curious to find out what her credentials are, I’ve never heard anyone NOT make any kind of point so well…

  2. PZ is definitely improving in these sorts of debates but there’s still room for improvement. He should take care to demolish the weak arguments of his opponents before resorting to saying things like Jesus is ‘nonsense’. Mooneys central point is clearly vunerable to the charge that one approach will not work and therefore BOTH accomodationism AND gnu atheism should be the overall strategy of atheist promoters of reason. PZ briefly touched upon this but should have forced the point home at the outset and got Mooney to admit that this is the case.
    As for Hecht – did I really hear her claim that she is tired of having to reconvert people back to being atheists after Dawkins turned them into theists? Which people were they?
    (I suspect it might include Tom Johnson, Bilbo, etc)

    1. If people switched to being atheists through Hecht’s persuasion but reverted back to theism because of Dawkins, it seems to me that she really made a hatchet-job of presenting atheism in the first place.

      1. On that thought, maybe Dawkins should have a separate ‘Convert’s Corner’ at his website that would chronicle the agony (or perhaps the unbridled ecstasy) of individuals who were compelled to embrace theism after reading ‘The God Delusion’.

  3. If this is the podcast from last week, I saw much of it on the stream. It was extremely dull and, for the most part, missed the point. Further, everyone, including PZ, were rather pedantic and boring with a large side-helping of rigid absolutism.

    Of course I’ve seen this from most of the participants in the past. Just because you’re nominally “on my side” doesn’t mean you’re not a rigid, inflexible idealogue…

    The only part I enjoyed was that, true to my prediction in these matters, fans of various people would call “their guy” the winner. The only thing I saw was losing, especially when I heard PZ retreating into the atheist equivalent of the silly definitional god-of-the-gaps-moving-the-goal-posts games as the creationists… “be specific..” “define…”

    Fuck me Ray Bradbury… But it was dull and the moderator wasn’t the only problem…

    1. This is NOT the panel discussion, but a separate recording with PZ, Mooney, and Hecht as “moderator.” I think the podcast is much better.

  4. I liked that PZ pointed out there is a place for what he does, and a place for what Mooney does. I think Mooney is playing the short-game, trying to overcome resistance to teaching accurate science, while PZ is playing the long-game, trying to dismantle the religious impulses that lead to that resistance.

    Hecht’s position confused me. Does she think we just should consider using more religious language when talking about the mysteries of the universe (a kind of Einstein’s god) or is she actually saying we need to be open to the possibility of supernatural entities in the universe?

    1. Hecht has no opinion. At least not one that I can discern. She appears to use any argument she thinks will give her a point, the usual tactic of religious apologetics. If she sticks to history, she sounds reasonably intelligent, but move her one inch out of her comfort zone and she falls apart.

  5. Hecht: “But it matters if you sound to most people like you are closed to any ideas that are not your own.”

    For someone associated with a programme on “Inquiry”, this is a remarkably lazy thing to say. First, where is the evidence that it is “most people” who think this? I don’t buy it. Second, even if that were true, why—given that we’re talking only about the appearance of closed-mindedness—are we striving for the lowest common denominator here? Why aren’t we trying to be teachers about this and raise people’s game? Third, and perhaps most importantly, it is a sad fact that people will think you are closed-minded when all you do is point out that some opinions are better than others. That of course does not mean that only your opinion is allowed, but that you expect somebody’s opinion to be rational; just having a belief—to which you are perfectly entitled—doesn’t mean that your idea has progressed to the stage of an actual, thought-out opinion, which then, but only then, would deserve to be respected.

    Or, in Mill’s words, in On Liberty:

    The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion … is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it: for, being cognisant of all that can, at least obviously, be said against him, and … knowing that he has sought for objections and difficulties, instead of avoiding them, … he has a right to think his judgement better than that of any person, or any multitude, who have not gone through a similar process.

    1. Sorry about the HTML fail. 🙁

      Can somebody please fix this? (And then delete this comment?)

      Preview badly needed!

      1. Preview badly needed!

        If post has a lot of links or formatting codes, I’ll often open another window and cut and paste it into another blog like Pharyngula so I can preview it. Then, only if everything looks good, do I post it here. But, yeah, a preview feature would be welcome.

  6. That was worthwhile, if only to hear the accommodationist confusion between strategy and tactics. If Mooney had any evidence to cite for his strategic concerns about undermining faith in god or his tactical concerns about attacking it directly, he failed to offer it, but instead relied entirely on a very unconvincing emotional appeal.

    Tangentially, the URHS link to podcasts has a treasure trove of interviews. There’s a very worthwhile one with Jerry about WEIT, with Ayaan Hirsi Ali discussing her experience as an atheist and cultural Muslim, and many others that also appear interesting.

    Jerry, in your WEIT interview, I think that you give short shrift to DNA evidence as merely the “icing on the cake”. There was an apparent paradox when people first tried to combine Darwin, who espoused a “continuous” view of inheritance, with the newly re-discovered genetics of Mendel, who had a distinctly “discrete” view supportable by direct experimentation. How could Darwin possibly be correct if inheritance is actually discrete? As I recall my history, Darwin fell into somewhat of a shadow of doubt during this period until Fisher showed how discrete statistics are completely consistent with and provide direct, quantifiable experimental evidence for Darwin’s original view. This paved the way for the modern synthesis and Watson and Crick. That story is a pretty big scientific meal in itself—more than just icing on a cake.

  7. As I’ve said on Butterflies and Wheels, I just kept zoning out every time Hecht spoke. What I did hear was very muddled and self-contradictory.

    Also, I couldn’t help but notice that Mooney pretty much conceded every point to PZ, but in the end came out right where he started.

    1. Well that’s usually how debates go, how many people are ever argued out of or even slightly away from, their position by their opponent in a debate ? It’s the people watching who count although I doubt if more than a tiny percentage of them are swayed either. The value of debate lies in bringing to the attention of the otherwise ignorant the existence of a point of view which they knew little or nothing about. This is one of the annoying things about the received wisdom on strident gnu’s and ‘fundamentalist’ atheists, if you ask the people who come out with this stuff if they’ve actually listened to the arguments the answer is usually no.

      1. in debates, there are almost always a few people in the audience who actually want to listen to both sides to find out what all the fuss is about, and they may be able to spot which side has actual arguments and which side doesn’t.

        They’re certainly the obvious targets if you’re looking to convince anyone, though good arguments will also capture some of the ones that have already leaned one way but are prepared to listen.

  8. PZ’s final point was spot-on, but one small addition would have made it perfect.

    PZ is absolutely right that we all have voices that should be heard. When he’s not attacking us, Mooney has some very good things to say.

    What I would have liked PZ to have added is that it’s not the Strident Gnus™ who Aren’t Helping™, but rather the accommodationists who aren’t helping when they try to get others to shut up.

    I also find it fascinating how PZ’s essential quest is for knowledge founded upon evidence, and how Hecht and Mooney prefer fuzzy intuition. There’s a time for fuzzy intuition, but only when evidence is lacking.



  9. The patience of PZ Myers is extraordinary. I consider myself a fairly calm deliberator, not given to provocation, but I would have found it so difficult not to interrupt Hecht, on multiple occasions, to ask, “What the fuck are you talking about?” (An honest answer, I think, would be, “I think it’s counterproductive to care about the truth, so I don’t challenge anyone on anything. Except you.”)

    1. It’s really amazing how easy-going he is when you consider he has an (undeserved) reputation for being an asshole.

      I don’t think Jennifer needed to be there. Mooney and PZ certainly disagree sharply, but they hardly require a referee. It’s not like either man is shouting or not letting the other speak; both are quite mellow and respectful toward the other guy. They would have had a better discussion without Jennifer.

  10. I couldn’t finish it.
    Hecht sucked.
    Someone need to clarify her what a “moderator” is. Her job was not to come out in favor of one debater and against the other.

  11. So through the forest of idiocy that Hecht put up, I could discern two main points from Mooney, both of which are wrong:

    1. New Atheism rubs most people the wrong way.
    -The reason it’s wrong is because all of the Gnus have out sold any other atheist book by leaps and bounds, gnu screeds are being published in USA Today!

    2. The age old, there are some religious intellectuals/mature theologians ect.
    -The reason it’s wrong is,well it isn’t wrong. Mr. Mooney can go work on the six people that bought Karen Armstrong’s book and we’ll continue to take on the millions that watch the 700 club and say God Hates Fags.

    1. I actually think Mooney has some arguable points – it’s just that I don’t happen to agree with his aims (short term acceptance by the American public of the scientific consensus on topics like climate change).
      I think it is reasonable to argue that his proposed strategy (a united front of nicely-nicely scientists) MIGHT be a better way to achieve his goals rather than the gnu atheist approach.
      The problem is that he acts as if his goals are also the goals of the gnus – and that is not the case. While the confrontational approach of the gnus will probably not quickly change the minds of the mainstream public I would argue that that is not what we are trying to do. I see the confrontational approach as being consistent with the generational strategy – following Max Plancks remarks on how ideas move to the mainstream. Planck said that new paradigms in science do not become mainstream due to the evidence in favor of them convincing the older generation of scientists, rather the exposure of the younger generation to these ideas results in the acceptance amongst a younger generation – and the older generation simply die out!
      I suspect this model explains a lot more than the acceptance of scientific models. It seems to explain other things in society – how racism has gradually decreased and how bigotry against homosexuals is gradually (and indeed literally!) dying out.
      If one accepts this model as a way to change the attitude of society to things like religion then the confrontational attitude of the gnus is entirely necessary in order to expose the younger generation to atheism. The alternative approach, advocated by Mooney, would be to keep quiet on the God question and thus, inevitably, the only public voices speaking on religion would remain the religious.
      I think it is important not to dismiss Mooneys points out of hand – they ARE reasonable tactics to achieve HIS aims. The problem is that our aims are not the same and thus his tactics are completely inappropriate and indeed counterproductive for our objective (remove supernatural based claims from the public and political arena).

      1. I’m actually in agreement with you, but the main problem with most of the accommodationists isn’t that they have a separate viewpoint, it’s that they stand on a soapbox that tries to attack Dawkins, Dennett ect, in order to effuse their views.

        While I still agree with you Sigmund, I still think accoms. are selling to a niche market (where the market for a direct atheism is far better, though some don’t think so) and that Gnus convert as many people as they alienate, those that become alienated probably would have been anyway.

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