Lawrence Krauss: accommodationist?

February 7, 2012 • 2:47 pm

UPDATEIn the following post I have apologized for the intemperate nature of this piece and for the accusation that Krauss might be an accommodationist. I’m leaving this original post here as a testament to my peevishness and poor judgment.


Lawrence Krauss’s new book, A Universe from Nothing, is supposed to be very good; one of its points, I think, is to show that science disproves the cosmological argument for God.  In today’s Notes & Theories from the Guardian‘s science desk, Krauss has an essay called, “The faithful must learn to respect those who question their beliefs.” I suppose this stuff needed to be said, but if Krauss is calling for accommodationism, as he seems to be doing, his argument is naive.  Saying that the faithful must learn to respect those who question their beliefs is like saying, “tigers must learn to be vegetarians.”

I was a bit peeved from the opening paragraph:

Issues of personal faith can be a source of respectful debate and discussion. Since faith is often not based on evidence, however, it is hard to imagine how various deep philosophical or religious disagreements can be objectively laid to rest. As a result, skeptics like myself struggle to understand or anticipate the vehement anger that can be generated by the mere suggestion that perhaps there may be no God, or even that such a suggestion is not meant to offend.

Really? Is it really such a struggle for Krauss to anticipate and understand the anger of the faithful? I think not. And yes, some of the strategy is to offend, directly or indirectly, because one of the best ways to reveal the emptiness of faith is to mock it, and mock it hard in front of the uncommitted. That’s what P. Z. was doing when he nailed that cracker, and what I was doing when I drew a picture of Mohamed.

After citing several familiar examples of how reviled atheists are in America, Krauss concludes:

It is fascinating that lack of belief, or even mere skepticism, is met among the faithful with less respect and more distrust even than a fervent belief in a rival God. This, more than anything, leads to an inevitable and deep tension between science and religion. When such distrust enters the realm of public policy, everyone suffers.

It is fascinating, but understandable.  If someone believes in a rival God, they’re at least confessing belief in a sky-fairy—something transcendent. I can easily see why that’s far less threatening than suggesting that one’s belief in sky-fairies is unjustified and ludicrous.  For deep down, many religious people are deeply worried that they may be wrong.  If you put the basic beliefs of Catholicism in simple language, for example, as I think P. Z. Myers has (and Ben Goren on this site), they sound absolutely ridiculous. No wonder religious folks get all huffy if you suggest that they’re wrong or deluded, and why, in the end, they resort to asserting that evidence isn’t relevant at all: what’s relevant is revelation and what feels good to believe.

Krauss continues:

As a scientist, one is trained to be skeptical, which is perhaps why many scientists find it difficult to accept blindly the existence of a deity. What is unfortunate is that this skepticism is taken by many among the faithful to be an attack not only on their beliefs, but also on their values, and therefore leads to the conclusion that science itself is suspect.

The first sentence is bloody obvious.  And yes, it’s unfortunate that this situation exists, but it’s also inevitable—for religious values stem from religious beliefs. Where else would you get the idea that aborting an early-stage zygote is the same as human murder, or that it’s a sin for a man to lie with another man?

Krauss, who appears to have done a good job showing that the Universe could have arisen ex nihilo, then turns accommodationist, saying that new scientific knowledge need not drive a wedge between science and society.

As a result, the longstanding theological and philosophical question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, like many earlier such questions, is increasingly becoming a scientific question, because our notions of “something” and “nothing” have completely changed as a result of our new knowledge.

As science continues to encroach on this issue of profound human interest, it would be most unfortunate if the inherent skepticism associated with scientific progress were to drive a further wedge between science and society.

As a cosmologist, I am keenly aware of the limitations inherent in our study of the universe and its origins – limitations arising from the accidents of our birth and location in a universe whose limits may forever be beyond the reach of our experiments.

As a result, science need not be the direct enemy of faith. However, a deep tension will persist until the faithful recognise that a willingness to question even one’s most fervently held beliefs – the hallmark of science – is a trait that should be respected, not reviled.

The last paragraph seems rather naive. Unless there are mercenary considerations at issue, I’m baffled why he thinks science need not be a direct enemy of faith.  It need not be a direct enemy of only one kind of faith: deism.  As for the remaining thousands of faiths that see God as interceding in the world, yes, science must be their enemy. For religion—especially theistic religion—is based on revelation, dogma, and indoctrination, while science is based on reason, doubt, and evidence. No rapprochement is possible.

Getting the faithful to show respect for the way science works will not bring about a truce between science and religion, for lots of religious people already have that respect for science. They just don’t apply it to their own beliefs. That “deep tension” will persist not until religion respects science, but until the hokum that is religion goes away forever. (And if you think that’s not possible, look what’s happened in Europe over the last 200 years.) I wish Krauss had had the guts to say that in his essay.  But then he wouldn’t sell so many books.

h/t: Matthew Cobb

132 thoughts on “Lawrence Krauss: accommodationist?

  1. Oh dear no. As you say, science must be the enemy of faith because otherwise, it’s not doing it’s job, because science is about not being stupid. It’s also far too late to worry about distrust entering public policy – it’s already there when it comes to any politically or religiously relevant aspect of science. Krauss’ attempt at niceness only makes things worse.

    1. Quibble:

      Science doesn’t have to be the enemy of faith.

      If a deity-like entity exists that could interact with the would in significant ways, then that interaction should be measurable.

      If we could measure such an interaction, then that would provide a scientific basis for belief in such an entity.

      Whether or not such an entity is in fact a deity, or would be deserving of worship, is a secondary question.

      It just happens to be the case that every time a deity-claims is worded such that measurable effects could be detected, those claims have been consistently falsified.

      So yes. It turns out that science is the enemy of religious faith.

      But that’s only because the results, such as they are, are consistently opposed to faith claims.

      This is all the more damning precisely because the results could have come up in faith’s favor, but didn’t.

      End quibble.

      1. Requibble
        At the point that deity is “measurable” faith ceases, and the thing becomes part of evidenced based observation etc. ie science….
        Thus science is the enemy of faith.
        Faith is caught in a catch22, the moment it is observable it ceases to be faith….

  2. This is surprising. I’m 2/3 of the way through A Universe from Nothing, and he seems to have no time for religious belief in the book. As much as he talks about any kind of faith in the book, it’s quite derisive.

      1. Hmm. I normally agree with Jerry on these things, but this time I think he’s creating a storm in a tea-cup that’s pretty much empty. I’ll summarize my view on this in a response to this ;

        “Is it really such a struggle for Krauss to anticipate and understand the anger of the faithful?”

        Notice two things; first, Lawrence writes “understand and anticipate” while Jerry reverse this with “anticipate and understand”, and second, as a rhetorical device it is spot on, no matter if Jerry takes it literary. Of course Lawrence can anticipate the anger (it’s easy to anticipate the anger of those who’s losing), but from a neutral standpoint wearing scientific glasses impossible to understand. He’s not saying he can’t understand it from other reasons, and I get the feeling that most of these issues Jerry has with Lawrence are, hmm, prose pedantry. For example ;

        “I’m baffled why he thinks science need not be a direct enemy of faith.”

        Why should he? The category “faith” is rather large and may very well contain bits of truth in it, even if they are accidental. There is no de facto rule that says science must destroy religion, that they are always in stark contrast to eachother; if what some person believes has measurable constraints, then science can do what it does best. This is not being an accommodationist, it’s being rational and open to anything, sceptical of everything.

        Isn’t Jerry mistaking accommodation for just being humble? At no point has Lawrence said that religion is ok, good, positive, nice to have, alright to deal with, harmless, inspiring, helpful … the list of superlatives go on. In fact, I think Jerry might have missed the most important part, which is this;

        “it would be most unfortunate if the inherent skepticism associated with scientific progress were to drive a further wedge between science and society”

        That puts the onus on the faithful, even if some will read it the other way around. And I think that is brilliant writing.

        Btw, I have read “Universe from nothing” and this essay, and Lawrence is so far removed from accommodation that I’m *very* surprised at this blog post. Consider me baffled.

        1. I think you’ve put it very well. If anything, Lawrence has put out a string of words that is difficult to misconstrue, no matter what the receiver’s point of view — and without compromising materialism, as far as I’m able to detect. It seems to stem from a tradition of general (broad-based) education, not compromise.

        2. Yeah. There are many more discussions worthy of JC’s time than this. I interpreted Krauss’ words as kind of being polite but not accepting the veracity of any religious position. I think there’s plenty of room on this side of the aisle for being polite AND being no-holds-barred up-for-a-fight.

  3. There are some good gems in here, but I think perhaps some misunderstandings.

    Yes, Krauss’ statement about anger and offense does seem naive if put in the context of *any* anger or offense. Likewise true if put in the context of *all* strategies of skeptics and atheists.

    But I don’t interpret Krauss as saying either. I see his words suggesting it is difficult to understand anticipate the forms of *some* anger and offense, and not over all strategies (such as mocking) but specifically over simple scientific reporting.

    Sometimes simply reporting scientific results will generate hatred and offense and often following bizarre and unexpected rationale.

    Of course there are standard offense and anger with standard material. Evolution will offend creationists, and it is understandable. Mocking will understandably offend the mocked. But sometimes simply reporting scientific results of observation offend people.

    The mere idea of observing and reporting seems offensive to some. Sometimes it might be out of fear of revealing something they don’t want to hear, but that implies an inherent doubt, otherwise they wouldn’t fear being wrong. Rather, I think some “true” believers are offended by observation simply because the act itself is in defiance of accepting dogma as stated. For some, faith is reality. If observation disagrees then there is something wrong with the observation, and something wrong with the observer for even trying.

    And that is truly a bizarre way of thinking.

  4. The faithful must learn to respect those who question their beliefs

    This is a form of accomodationism I actually find very, very welcome. Considering how many “allies” focus on the necessity of atheists respecting the faithful it’s really nice to finally see someone put the shoe on the other foot.

    Multiplicity of methods, we don’t all need to be attack dogs all the time.

    1. I agree. The faithful should indeed respect the views of the skeptics because our views are based on reason. Of course, I do not feel duty bound to return that respect, because the views of the faithful are based on superstition. No need for symmetry here.

    2. Yes, yes, yes.
      I think Krauss makes some great points. The faithful should realize that they need to be bending over backwards begging us to stop mocking them.
      Perhaps they’ll head over to a little corner and leave the rational folks alone.

  5. “It need not be a direct enemy <>: deism.”

    This was the thought that kept me “agnostic” my whole life. What turned me to acceptance of atheism was a simple understanding about the burden of proof, which came from Occam’s Razor. True, it may be impossible to disprove deism, but it’s an unnecessary complication that adds noting to the discussion. And it runs smack into the truth that Aquinas was a silly charlatan whose postulates contradict themselves–eve if one accepts deism, it doesn’t answer the completely legitimate question of who or what created the creator.

  6. I do agree that science and religion are inherently at odds though. Accommodationists tend to look at where there are belief overlaps, such as The Golden Rule, or in backhanded validation such as scientific demonstrations that we are prone to religious beliefs. (Yes, and prone to eating fat and sugary foods to. It doesn’t make it factual.)

    But what makes science scientific is skepticism and what makes religions religious is faith. Those are fundamentally incompatible. I agree.

    I also believe mocking is a very effective means of using human psychology to make people question their beliefs. Civil philosophical discussions can go right over peoples’ heads and they move on. Mocking makes people dig in their heals. We have a tribal tendency to defend. But, digging in your heals here means thinking hard about counter-arguments and ways to mock back. That means thinking about your beliefs to work out how to do that. And that thinking leads to realizing the problems in their beliefs. I’ve seen mocking work well. It just isn’t an immediate effect. Mocking is planting a virus. It takes time to see the symptoms.

    As for selling books, I don’t think that is the issue. The God Delusion and God is Not Great are directly offensive titles yet sold well. A Universe from Nothing is different. It is a science book whose religious implications are not the main point. Krauss merely has a different perspective with this book and article. His goal is to talk about the scientific approach, not anti-religious arguments.

  7. Just this once, I think we must be wary of over-reacting.
    The entire essay by Krauss seemed to me less than compelling, compared to the book. Especially the last four paragraphs: a paratactic alignment of afterthoughts. A good editor would have excised them.

    Still, Krauss comes over as excessively polite, diplomatic, oblique, even diffident; but accomodationist?

    … a willingness to question even one’s most fervently held beliefs – the hallmark of science – is a trait that should be respected…

    This polite wording means one thing only: every religious belief is up for debate. And Krauss is formally right in stating that science need not be the direct enemy of faith: religion is the direct enemy of science, not vice-versa. The relation is not bijective. Scientific method challenges every assumption, including its own. Religious belief cannot sustain rational challenge; this must be fought off, hence the enmity. From the point of view of science, religious belief is just another unwarranted assumption, just another falsified hypothesis. Science holds no animus; faith does.

    1. If faith is belief held without evidence, or on insufficient evidence, then science is most definitely the enemy of faith. It’s not a matter of “animus.” Belief held without evidence contradicts the scientific method.

      1. Thanks for re-iterating my point:
        Science disproves or invalidates faith. When the heliocentric model displaced Ptolemaean geocentricity, it was just a scientific paradigm shift. But it also challenged the authority of a religious system of beliefs. Hence the enmity of the church. The faith system adopted an enemy stance, aggressively seeking to occupy a ground it could not, by reason, hold. Same story over and over.

  8. Do books touting an accommodationist line really sell better? Better than a straight book on science aimed at the “popular” market?
    I wonder if they do.

    Those who are most likely to pick up a book on cosmology are are probably either already some way to being scientifically literate or have a genuine interest in the subject. The issue of how well current physics can be reverse-engineered to accommodate the multitude of religious belief systems in the world shouldn’t even register as a question.

    And no amount of reverse-engineering or pussy-footing (apologies, Ceiling Cat) will convince True Believers anyway.

    The bottom line is that trying to appeal or pander to the “moderates” of the religious persuasion is probably a misconceived strategy. They aren’t particularly threatened by science in the first place.

    All accommodationist undertones really achieve is annoying those who are quite capable of reading a non-fiction book without requiring a patronizing woolly comfort-blanket to prop up their personal superstitions (if any).

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled this book is out. Ever since I heard the famous “Universe From Nothing” talk I have wanted to hear more on the subject.

    Anyway, to quote Krauss himself in that totally awesome lecture:
    “You are all star dust….So forget Jesus. The stars died so you could be here today”

    1. Anyway, to quote Krauss himself in that totally awesome lecture:
      “You are all star dust….So forget Jesus. The stars died so you could be here today”

      That line really is too good.

      1. Yes, absolutely agreed. True Believers read conspiracy theory sites if they read anything at all.

        Books on cosmology are not written for True Believers who literally believe that Noah herded dinosaurs two by two into an ark and one Yeshua ben Yosef magicked the earth into being 6000 years ago. They’re written for people who want to learn more about what physics can tell us about how the universe was formed.

        If the Templeton Foundation has taught us anything (and it probably hasn’t) it is that at best, attempts to reconcile faith and science backfire in spectacular fashion.

  9. But then he wouldn’t sell so many books.

    Well, it didn’t seem to do Dawkins’s book sales any harm…

    Isn’t his point that if there are pragmatic limits on our understanding of the universe, there will still be some wriggle room for faith? But it’s not at all clear that he means that there’d be room for any and all faiths – so, yes, maybe only deism.

    In this respect Krauss seems to be in line with Attenborough’s comments on DID.


  10. The hokum that is religion hasn’t gone away forever in Europe yet, I’m afraid. (More’s the pity.) Certainly not Britain, anyway. You only have to look at the recent “Jesus and Mo” cartoon censoring and the backlash at the Advertising Standards Agency getting a faith healing charity to remove claims that God could heal people to see that the religious are still pretty vocal and manipulative. (Though no where near as bad at the US, it is true.) In response, there’s a “rally in defence of free expression and the right to criticise religion” in London on Saturday 11 (

  11. Sadly, it is clear that Jerry is jealous of Larry Krauss’ professional success. I attended the Krauss – Dawkins discussion this past Saturday, and found the former to be anything, but accommodating towards religion of any stripe. Jerry’s particular type of stridence manifests itself in the same sort of mean spiritedness that is the hallmark of PZ Myers.

    Together they represent a sort of second or third tier of outspoken atheists who are unwilling or unable to convey their thoughts through sound logic and a commanding facility of language. They seem to have lost their way in a clumsy attempt to emulate the eloquence and logic of Hitchens, but succeed in producing only a great deal of sound in their fury which generally amounts to little or nothing of import.

    1. it is clear that Jerry is jealous of Larry Krauss’ professional success

      When you say things like that, you reveal a deep ignorance about who Jerry Coyne is.

      1. How about we try this? How about we try letting people find and use their own true voice, whether it’s the way we’d do things or not? How about we leave the handcuffs and ballgags of orthodoxy to the religious, and learn to support each other as much as possible (in matters of tone, not fact), and make allowances for different approaches, approaches that match individual styles, tastes, and strengths? We have some wonderful models, from impish Tim Minchin to firebrand Christopher Hitchens, from the polite and professorial Richard Dawkins to the rather obnoxious Penn Jillette. Isn’t that terrific?! Isn’t it the very essence of freedom from dogma to be who you really are rather than allowing yourself to be straitjacketed into someone else’s idea of what’s appropriate? We are a critical people, a tribe of nitpickers and malcontents, and I don’t expect that will ever change. It is a strength. But maybe sometimes we could learn to temper that attitude with a little, “OK, that sorta makes me cringe, not what I would have done, but more power to her, and at least she has an audience, at least she spoke up in her own voice.”

        1. @Greg Peterson

          How about we try this? How about we try letting people find and use their own true voice, whether it’s the way we’d do things or not? How about we leave the handcuffs and ballgags of orthodoxy to the religious, and learn to support each other as much as possible (in matters of tone, not fact), and make allowances for different approaches, approaches that match individual styles, tastes, and strengths?

          We don’t? As far as I can tell, we already do that. And please leave your accusations of orthodoxy and/or creationism out of responses to me. I take that as nothing more than a sign of trolling and do not appreciate it one bit.

          We have some wonderful [male role] models, from impish Tim Minchin to firebrand Christopher Hitchens, from the polite and professorial Richard Dawkins to the rather obnoxious Penn Jillette. Isn’t that terrific?!

          Yes it is. I also like how I don’t have to agree with them on everything since we aren’t a top-down organization. The atheist movement (Gnu Atheism) is very democratic to its core.

          Isn’t it the very essence of freedom from dogma to be who you really are rather than allowing yourself to be straitjacketed into someone else’s idea of what’s appropriate?

          If you mean that you should oppose all attempts to convince you or others that something you or others is doing isn’t right or is harmful to yourself or others, then no, that is not the essence of freedom; that is being contrarian, self-righteous, or just plain anti-social.

          We are a critical people, a tribe of nitpickers and malcontents, and I don’t expect that will ever change. It is a strength. But maybe sometimes we could learn to temper that attitude with a little, “OK, that sorta makes me cringe, not what I would have done, but more power to her, and at least she has an audience, at least she spoke up in her own voice.”

          When that is appropriate is our own call to make, though. You can’t decide when it is right for us to do that anymore than we can decide when it is right for you. Not every circumstance calls for apathy or a live and let live attitude, and accommodationism rarely does because it undermines human intellectual progress.

          1. If I’m not mistaken, I think Greg Peterson’s reply should have been aimed at ingemar oseth’s comment and not yours.

            1. It doesn’t really have any authority over anything except theism and supernaturalism, does it? 😉

              I really meant democratic as it applies to the social principles of our movement (as much as there is one). The people we look up to and respect (I guess you could say leaders, but only in the inspirational sense) have no authority over what any one of us ultimately do, and there is no intention of changing that.

    2. Nope, I’m not jealous of Larry at all–I wish him all the success in the world AND have recommended (and ordered) his book. If I were jealous of professional success, I should be going after Dawkins!

      1. Your denial is noted.

        On the other hand, your constant lashing out against all comers, like that of Myers, begs the following questions.

        Can you articulate a cogent strategy behind this behavior or do the two of you represent the “loose cannon” wing of the atheist movement? If it is the latter, does it serve the movement? If the former, please enlighten me.

          1. I’m afraid that’s what it’s coming to mean. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t hear or read “begs the question” used incorrectly. But I’m not a presciptivist. Ultimately, usage defines meaning. The traditional meaning of “begs the question” is too subtle for the modern ear, I think.

          2. also +1, fussy as it is to point it out. But a sanctimonious pedant gets his (or her) dues in pedantry.

            Can it actually be that writers needs a ‘cogent strategy’ to justify frank commentary in their own blogs?

        1. Lawrence Kraus irredeemably discredited himself as a skeptic in the “sex offender” affair, with his lame attitude when confronted with evidence. I also find most his books uninteresting or just selling gimmicks (“Physics of Star Trek” was dreadful), though maybe because I’m a fellow astrophysicist.

          In contrast, both Jerry and PZ have showed they can apply the core scientific principles (honesty, rigorous thinking, non-PR speech) to other areas than their professional field. The only reason Kraus is talked about here is because he’s an atheist, anglophone, and well-known. His atheism is nothing out of the ordinary, though. His texts were never comparable to that of the Horsemen/Jerry/PZ or Victor Stenger (if you want another astrophysicist.

          1. As any writer, he’s honing his skills, and getting better and more interesting over time. His latest is rather good, and you can trace it back through “Quantum Man” (which I also enjoyed) and back. Yes, some of his books are more campy, but for Pete’s sake, as an ambassador for popularizing science, he’s damn good! Or are you going to lob similar jabs at Tyson for “The Pluto files” and “Death by Black Hole”? Heck, most of the books I love the most on these issues are definitely not by the four horsemen, so I’m not even sure what point you’re trying to make there.

            (As to the “sex offender” reference, I have no idea what you’re talking about?)

            1. My point of view is essentially European. The “campiness” does not annoy me, but I have higher expectations for popularizing science; I agree it’s not too bad considering what passes for documentaries on TV these days. Quantum Man was good because of Feynman.

              The “sex offender” reference is this quite often forgotten anecdote… yet this was not so long ago:

              1. Hmm, after looking up that case (the “sex offender” reference) I don’t think I would react so blatantly bombastic as you do. Krauss’ own comments on it looks fine to me, and I think the real problem there lies in the details of what none of us know (but make assumptions on) rather than the facts presented. But then again, I know far too little about the case and the connections within to really make a reasonable comment.

                And btw, I’m European, too. 🙂

        2. “Loose cannon”. Well at least that provides a variation on the usual complaint of “strident” and “shrill”.

          The cogent strategy is this: Atheists saying clearly and loudly that they think is not something to avoid. If there has been any progress in serving “the movement” in the last decade it has been precisely because of people like Coyne, Myers, Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. refusing to shrink from explicit and blunt analysis.

          The alternative (polite, quiet and phony respect towards religion) has had many decades, even centuries, to work it’s marvels. Without any significant success as far as I can tell.

          1. The phrase “loose cannon” does not equate with “strident” or “shrill.”

            You describe a tactic, not a strategy.

            1. I did not say it equated. I said it was an a variation on the usual complaint. Which it was.

              And quibbling about strategy vs. tactic misses the point. “Shrill” (or “Strident” or “loose cannon”… pick your slur) atheism is exactly what is responsible for the increase in non-belief in recent years.

        3. Why is a strategy needed? What’s wrong with reading stuff on subjects you are interested in and giving your thoughts on them, agreement or not?

          To me, these pieces don’t seem like lashing out, more expressing a different viewpoint.

          1. Strategy can be defined as the planned, unified, and coordinated use of all available resources to attain an ultimate goal by gaining an advantage over a rival.

            The Atheist Movement does not appear to possess an identifiable strategy. This represents a serious disadvantage in the fight against organized religion.

            1. We’ll need to alert the Pope of Atheism about this problem. With any luck he’ll provide us all with the requisite orders to implement an Atheist Movement™ strategy.

              1. As I suspected, strategic thought is foreign to many atheists.

                Without a strategy (the right one of course.) there can be no victory.

              2. ingemar oseth, You are quick to throw the slur but notably lacking in contribution to the conversation. You insist that the Atheist Movement™ needs a identifiable strategy but back this assertion up with nothing. (“Why?” you are asked, to which you reply by defining the word. That is not an answer.

                Please offer us your Right Strategy™ (of course) so we can all fall in line behind it. Success is be assured.

              3. GBJames,

                You misunderstand my point.

                The movement has no discernable strategy, and it sorely needs one. As with any alliance consisting of disparate groups, a plausible strategy can only come from a meeting of recognized leaders with the authority to develop said strategy on behalf of their followers.

                I am qualified to offer suggestions for a useful strategy, in much the same way that Jerry is qualified to teach evolution. However, I do not have any standing in the atheist community which would allow me to have a real voice. For this reason I can only make observations and hope someone with the necessary clout will pick them up.

              4. ingemar oseth: I do not think I misunderstand your point. You do not need qualifications to offer suggestions. Have at it. Your thoughts can be laid out right here. Simply piping in from the sidelines telling us that there are missing bits, critical to our success, but declining to say what they are is just sniping.

                So, again, please enlighten us. What counts are the ideas, not your qualifications (whatever they might be. If they are helpful, they will spread like wildfire.

              5. GBJames

                You are out of your depth here. Read Clausewitz and then get back to me.

                I will make some suggestions to Faircloth and Dawkins, and see where it goes from there. After all, Fairchild comes as close to establishing a basis for strategy in his book, as I have seen. At least it appears he was reaching for a strategy although what he writes is more a combination of operations and tactics.

              6. I think that you are just strutting around and puffing up your feathers. Put something on the table. At this point I don’t think you have anything. Show us the cards. We all want to see the winning hand.

              7. Like the religious fundamentalists you revile, you are threatened when confronted with new information that calls into question your system of belief. According to your previous comments you believe the Atheist Movement is progressing perfectly well as it is, and has no need of improvement. To be consistent in your beliefs you must also find Faircloth’s efforts to chart a “strategic” course for the movement equally useless.

                Change is often exceedingly difficult for the “slower” members of our species. Perhaps, in the far distant future, even your progeny, with sufficient interbreeding with “faster” homo sapiens, your progeny will evolve away of this serious handicap.

                Strut, Preen, Strut…………..

              8. ingemar oseth: I’m not threatened at all. I am simply unwilling to accept your unsupported assertions. So far, in all those words, you have offered precisely three nuggets for us to chew on. 1) You think we need a Right Strategy™, 2) You are qualified to offer suggestions and 3) you apparently read a book about an 18th century German soldier. Presumably the third item supports the second assertion.

                But you offer no reason for us to think that something is lacking, much less that you can provide said Right Strategy™. Nothing. Nada. Squat.

                One might imagine that your qualifications to offer suggestions for a useful strategy, impressive as the must be (but who but you knows?), would position you to enlighten us slowpokes a bit. But nothing comes forth. And the parsimonious conclusion is that this is because there is nothing there to flow forth. You are free to demonstrate that I am wrong.

            2. In what sense is religion “organised”? There are multiple religions with different primates and much disagreement between them… I certainly don’t think “they” have a strategy!

              OTOH, there are multiple national atheist, humanist and secular societies/organisations, which tend to make coordinated efforts nationally and sometimes internationally. And many of us in the Atheist Movement™ — well, many gnu atheists — are members of one or more of those.

              Gnu atheists also do a lot of guerilla fighting too! (Gnuerillas?)


              1. The number of atheistic/humanist organizations is as irrelevant as the number of atheist/humanists so long as they are without strategic guidance.The number of atheistic/humanist organizations is as irrelevant as the number of atheist/humanists so long as they are without strategic guidance.

                Coordination and cooperation are not the same thing as grand strategy.

              2. ingemar, you miss my point.

                It’s not evident that a grand strategy is necessary nor that the lack of one represents a serious disadvantage.

                Atheists have been moving for centuries without one and in many European countries, at least, religion is in decline.

                Nor is it evident in what way you are qualified to offer suggestions for a useful strategy. Your reply to GBJames about is oblique. Are you saying that you are a university professor in some discipline that focuses on strategising?


  12. I think I agree with some people here… He is just being soft and yes… maybe naive… but I wouldn’t say it’s accomodationism…

    Also I think you made a couple of strawmans here…

    He said somethink like “by dismissing your beliefs we don’t necessarily attack your values”… and you are saying that he is talking about only religious values…

  13. I think criticism of Krauss is probably misplaced. He is using good rhetorical sense to get out a message that might otherwise be ignored or subverted. His appearance on NPR’s Science Friday was uncompromising, as is the book itself. While true wish-washy accommodationism is of course blame-worthy, it’s not the case that everyone who tries a measured, civil approach, or who just fails to throw stink-bombs into a room upon entering it, is some sort of Quisling. And at least an appearance of some humility, if not out-and-out compromise, might win us a fuller hearing. With the number of actual enemies of full-throated atheism at hand, going after Krauss seems like a waste of energy.

  14. I wouldn’t describe that essay as accomodationist.
    Where’s the hallmark attack on the extremist gnu atheists?
    Yes, the line about “science need not be the direct enemy of faith” doesn’t make sense unless he’s thinking of some obscure definition of faith (all the standard theistic types of faith ARE in danger from science) but the rest of the article was a call for less bigotry from the religious. I guess you could call it as asking them, the religious, to be accomodating towards us but that’s not what we usually mean by “accomodationist” – meaning either condemning the gnus or having warm feelings towards the idea of theistic faith (despite being an atheist).

    1. As above, I think he’s quite right to say, conditionally, that “science need not be the direct enemy of faith” — for certain values of faith. (As my sons would say.)


  15. I don’t think Krauss was being particularly accommodationist, I just think he was trying to drive home a point about mutual respect without driving a knife in with it.

    There are more than two approaches to this issue (the old dichotomy being accommodationist or bat-shit crazy), and one of them is being intellectually honest about how science erodes faith while reasonably allowing people to hold their cognitive dissonances if they want to just so long as they don’t spread their venom into children or the public arena.

    If you adopt the approach that intellectual honesty is equivalent to the knife, you’re going to do nothing other than preach to the choir and piss everyone else off.

    As shit as it is, sometimes you have to sacrifice stringent principles and be manipulative in order to get what you want.

  16. Having just finished A Universe From Nothing, I can say with confidence that I have zero concern about Krauss being an accommodationist. And if you don’t believe me, read the Afterword chapter he has included at the end of the book by Richard Dawkins.

    1. Furthermore, I do not like the idea that atheists have to hew some line of orthodoxy. We all have different views on how to communicate our message. But the message is the same–there is no good reason to believe in god.

  17. Ah, yeaas, accommodation.

    I once congenially suggested to a certain family member, of a rather enthusiastically religious persuasion, that he might consider reading a book I owned. I showed him the cover. The title included the word “philosophical.” Upon noting the title, he declined to look at it, replying, “That book has nothing to say to me,” and said it with a thinly disguised smirk which said, “Whoo Hoo! I’ve gotten to use this canned response zinger I’ve been taught.”

    (I assume at least a few frequenters of this website have had similar experiences.)

    I said nothing else in response, though I wanted to –

    (“How do you know it has nothing to say to you – did that pearl come to you in a dream? Were you vouchsafed a personal, private revelation to that effect? Is it so by virtue of your merely and solely having said so? You’ve been successively enthralled with Scientology, LDS, Church Universal and Triumphant and now Assemblies of God – what’s next?”)

    – but found myself being quite accommodationist – trying to avoid one more conflict in a clan awash in conflict. (He obviously wasn’t inclined to be accommodating in return, to meet me half-way.) There was a “Bigger Picture” involved – trying to keep a civil line of communication open to ones kinfolk. As the old saying goes, you can pick your friends (“kith”) but you can’t pick your relatives (“kin”).

    End of rant.

  18. I see nothing in Krauss’s Guardian piece that is the least accommodationist. The message seems to be that believers have no choice but to accept that they will always stand in opposition to science so long as they insist on supernaturalism.

  19. I think there is room among atheists for accomodationists and hard liners. I kinda shift back and forth myself depending upon who I am dealing with. There are times when a gentle understanding attitude works best “to win friends and influence people” and other times when a hard line and offensive tactics works best. Our actions should depend who is in the ring with us before we attack. There is a time and place for both tactics.

  20. Well I don’t quite agree with Jerry’s analogy:

    [Saying that the faithful must learn to respect those who question their beliefs is like saying, “tigers must learn to be vegetarians.”]

    I mean tigers didn’t evolve incisors for eating plants! lolz.

    So by making that analogy, does that mean that the religious evolved brains for worshipping and now they must learn to forego that and not worship? So the analogy to me doesn’t make any sense at all!

    Also, one aspect that is not examined too closely is what if those who believe in sky fairies do so because it makes them feel better and they really do need to believe this to get up everyday, to do nice things, to help others.

    For sure it is condescending to think and say to others to leave the religious in their fantasy because perhaps they really aren’t to the task of having their delusions broken.

    There must be a range of personalities and maturity levels that not everyone is capable in realizing that there is no God! For many, perhaps they do not have the mental faculty or the training or whatever it may be to make sense of the world in the absence of magic!

    Now I’ve heard many arguments that state that a morality that only lets people do the right things only because they think there is a surveillance camera in the sky is no morality at all. But what if, it is true that they really do all the “right” things simply because they think that there is someone up there watching them! And that if they really did realize that there was nothing up there to reward or punish them, then they would go buckwild!

    So it’s very difficult to separate believing that the sky fairy is real and making sense of what atheists are saying! When us atheists tell them there is no such thing, they won’t or can’t accept that because all the tools they know how to explain why and how things are rests on that sky fairy. So that’s probably why they are more receptive in agreeing with someone that believes in a completely different sky fairy because at least there is something up there for them to explain what they don’t know.

    1. OMG! Maybe a large number of the “faithful” cannot be atheists. Perhaps they will murder and rape if that sky fairy isn’t there to keep them in line.

  21. “(And if you think that’s not possible, look what’s happened in Europe over the last 200 years.)”

    The latest annual British Social Attitudes survey has no religion at 50% (compared with 31% in 1983).

    Despite this we still have no separation of Church and State, even though less than 25% are practising Church of England members (though it must be remembered that over 70% will identify as C of E).

  22. Read the book. It was very good.

    I find it uncalled for and even outrageous for you to attack Krauss for accommodationism. The whole point of the book is that religion isn’t necessary to explain the origin of the universe, and the tone is unrelentingly skeptical and critical of religion. Apparently, by your standards, anyone who isn’t an in-your-face crusader against religion is an apostate. That’s going way too far. You can pick your fights, but let Krauss pick his.

    By the way, one of the finer points of the book, which I appreciated, was the acknowledgement that physics as we know it today is incomplete and inconsistent, in particular with respect to quantum gravity — the relationship between general relativity and quantum mechanics — but in other spheres as well. Krauss is not a practitioner of “scientism” as I understand it — an overweening an unjustified faith in science, and particularly physics, as we understand it today, as able to explain everything.

    I wonder where Krauss stands on the free-will question.

  23. Jerry,

    Krauss has written probably the best popular book on cosmology to date. It provides detailed scientific evidence of exactly how space, time and the universe could have come into being without the need for God or for any supernatural intervention of any kind.

    It is petty and absurd to attack him because he does not align precisely with you ideologically although he does so scientifically. He has presented the best God Is Unnecessary argument to date. Why get on his case over philosophy when he has presented the data better than anyone else ever has?

    – Jerry

  24. I would agree that the sentiment expressed is naive, but I don’t see Krauss as an accommodationist. I just see Krauss saying “hey, there’s really nothing to be upset about – think about it”; unfortunately thinking is farthest from the mind of the religious zealot. Religious people would gladly denounce other religions while asserting that theirs is somehow special and not to be questioned. Many religions even have a tradition of sophistry which is passed off as a tradition of inquiry and questioning (but no, it is mere sophistry).

      1. Ooops … I forgot – it’s not even exclusively religion vs. godless, but religion vs. anything which contradicts religious claims.

  25. Dr. Coyne,

    I think you should reconsider the attack on the apparent accommodationism here on Dr. Krauss’es comments. I have no patience with a serious accomodationist either, but here there ought to be a place for different ways of dealing with religious believers. We cant just go on an all-out attack on the religious believers.

    Plus when you’re writing a book for a wider audience one needs some amount of gap bridging. That is just economics for a book that is designed to blow the shit right out of the water. I’m sure you will understand it in your patient moments. Please consider this from an avid reader of your work and a big fan.


  26. Jerry:

    I agreee that Krauss was perhaps a bit too careful in his choice of words. But his arguments are as powerful (actually, much more powerful) than those any amateur atheist such as myself could ever come up with.

    If I enter a room full of strangers, I will say “Hello”, even if chances are that among those strangers there are a few Christian or Muslim fundamentalists; that’s more or less the position an author finds him/herself in when publishing a book.

    In the end, it is arguments that count. I can be extremely aggressive and proffer unconvincing arguments, and I can be extremly polite and swiftly demolish theist claims with unimpeachablñe logic.

    I understand that the theism-atheism debate can be frustrating: the same old arguments have been demolished time and again, and it becomes just tiresome to realize that most theists have not only failed to carefully considered the arguments against their position, but are not even aware of them. Still, I think of Krauss as an ally: he is obviously a first-class mind, and he has offered arguments to show that creation ex-nihilo is plausible. Why ask him to do more than that?

  27. Heh, as with any post on the Intertubes, any heading that is a question invariably has the answer “No” 🙂

    It may be that Dr Krauss’s last paragraph is not clear, but I read it as “Science does not need to be an enemy of the faithful, but that all depends on the faithful having some rationality about them.” If the faithful are irrational about dismissing facts and findings that come about through science, that is their loss, and would make science an enemy. Science doesn’t go out of its way to make enemies; it just turns out that way as the faithful is made up of a large population that cannot abide having fundamental concepts challenged.

  28. Jerry.. I got the feeling when I read your article that you simply woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. It did surprise me.. as I thought you missed the key point of my piece, which was to state a fact which is far from obvious to many in our society: that atheism is not synonymous with evil, and to point out to those people for whom the first point is not obvious, that skepticism should not be reviled in society and that it is a key part of science, so get used to it.. Forgive me if I didn’t say : ok you assholes, atheism is not akin to evil… but since I wasn’t writing for you, but for people for whom this simple idea may be surprising, I thought a gentle pedagogical approach would be best, especially since the conclusion is that science requires that which they otherwise determine is untrustworthy.. for those who trust science but distrust atheists, that may require them to rethink their views. In any case, all the best, and I appreciate your efforts,


    1. Well said reply. You have to gently expose to the faithful that religion cannot survive the light of honest skeptical inquiry.

        1. Well done! I feel so smart now: Jerry Coyne and Lawrence Krauss agree with me! (notice it’s not me who agrees with Jerry Coyne and Lawrence Krauss).

          1. Big smile. A few days ago, for no good reason, I found myself in the comments section of an inferior website, dismayed at the idiocy on display. The subject was a moonbase & space colonization in general – the future of humanity – that kind of thing.
            Feeling my IQ points dwindling, yet oddly compelled to fart in that hurricane anyway, I spent way too much time spitting out my point of view with supporting arguments. At nearly the same time, another commenter said what I said and much, much more – using about half the words. I shot back with one of those “boy, am I impressed, well done” comments – and someone else remarked that the original commenter had simply copypasted Lawrence Krauss without attribution.

    2. The problem is that for many, it’s very difficult to separate what they want to hear from what is actually going on. The difficulty is amplified when you add to that the fact that perhaps their tools for trying to figure out what actually is going on is inadequate.

    3. At first the article seems a tiny bit accommodationist, but re-reading shows that it is just very very carefully worded to get the key points past religious defences.

      I’m sure most of us have used the same approach in conversation at some point.

    4. Yes, Professor Krauss, a measured reply. I have long delighted in your videos and writing and Jerry’s writing and videos. I would be sad indeed if a strain developed between you two. I greatly enjoy the intelligence, claritas, and humor of your communication, and of Jerry’s as well.

      As a member of the unseen-anonymous of your Web appreciators, I would like to say thank you.

    5. This is a good point, a lot (I am not sure whether it is majority or not) of religious people are not really into debate science vs religion, because they do not think deeply about both science and religions. If being pressed they may take church’s position, just because it it a habit.

      Being shrill and direct are good when you faced a priest or a religious leader that have a lot at stake, and have prepared (somewhat) their position. Not the laymen, who mostly do not think much about science (or even their own religioun’s details).

      Krauss’ book is excellent, the message is as strong as Dawkin’s (or Coyne’s for that matter), in physics, the tone is easier.

      What we need now is an overall Universe from Nothing to Ancestor’s Tale, in easy to understand words, and we have the good secular origin story.

      Something to read to our kids, “with the added benefits of being true ..”

  29. I think you are worrying to much about Krause. All he is doing is challenging the faithful to feel secure enough to critique religion in the same way that science is critiqued . He knows that when they refuse to accept his challenge it will be a telling indictment against religion.

  30. “faith” is a marketing/sales term — it’s just age old magical thinking…

    the human brain seems helpless to prevent it but let’s call it what it is…it appears to be a hold over from childhood brain development as well, that’s all…

    the main argument seems to be some sort of social politeness…would you want your doctor being scientific or not hurting your feelings, aka exposing your magical/delusional statements and beliefs…?

  31. Krauss made it clear that he views the problem as originating with the religious. I would summarise his argument thusly:

    1) Science/skepticism drives us to question everything.

    2) This upsets religious people.

    3) Questioning everything is a *good* thing.

    4) Therefore religious people need to get over it.

    Polite isn’t the same as accomodationist.

  32. Religion isn’t the problem, the rejection of individuality is. The idea that there’s a wedge between science and religion is only present among those who turn the former into the latter and the latter into the former: instead of describing the mechanics of how things work, they both develop into political machines to oppose freedom of thought that isn’t in the interests of their practitioners i.e. those who profit from it; which are usually pop-theologians/scientists or layman who acquire their education from the former through the vehicle of authority rather than thorough investigation and critical thinking.

    I’ve been a professional experimental physicist for the past three years after I left graduate school and in my experience, this alleged opposition isn’t present among my colleagues. Sure, we discuss things, but we discuss them with the golden rule in mind: not because x is ‘based on reason’ while z isn’t, it’s because I would not like to be treated as sub-human and therefore I provide that respect equally to those I socialize with. If anything, this lack of respectful reciprocation is illogical; it’s not based on reason, it’s based on the lack of awareness that we share this planet with other people [gasp!].

    So, to call Professor Krauss’ position ‘accomodationist’ is very skewed and shortsighted: it’s an unconscious assumption for tribalism and it’s respective politicist conclusions. He’s a scientist and good scientists set examples and inspire people; not insult them and treat them less than human. He has certainly inspired me, and the tolerance/gentleness like this is all the more reason he does.

  33. I don’t see Krauss as being an accommodationist. And in the article the only thing close to it is when he claims that “science need not be the direct enemy of faith.”

  34. I’m up to chapter 11, “Brave New Worlds”, and no accomodationism yet.
    It’s looking like a storm in a teacup so far, Jerry, sorry.

  35. So, I’ve had a nagging question at the back of my mind…

    Jerry, why did you change the title of this post from “Krauss on the tension between scence and faith” to “Lawrence Krauss: accommodationist?”? (Apart from eliminating a misspelling?)

    That seems… disingenuous.


  36. I didn’t get ‘accomodationist’ from his article at all. Hasn’t he always been pretty direct in telling the faithful that science takes no note of religion but that religion, if it wants to be relevant, had better pay attention to science?

  37. Peevish, indeed. Commendable apology.

    Maybe off-topic, but this post got me thinking: WHY is there so much superstitious thinking within all human populations? And isn’s krauss merely recognizing this and compelling religionists to consider it? Even Dawkins conjectured about the possibility that we all may have a “god-shaped hole in the brain” to varying degrees that needs to be filled.

    I think this is the next big question that neuroscience needs to answer (after Where does consciousness come from?) Why are we superstitious? And it dovetails with JAC’s idea that we have no free will; maybe we need to have compassion for the most superstitious among us as we point out the rational problems with it and the counter-productivity– and dangers– of religion in an increasingly interdependent world.

    Keep up the good work JAC, and maybe get some fresh coffee before the next post.

  38. I like Hitchens’ reply to Krauss even better:
    “We are made from stardust…or nuclear waste, depending on your analysis.”

  39. Jerry, thanks for the apology. I now restore my faith in you – until the next time you stuff up.
    Good lesson in scepticism anyway.

  40. Proof that Jerry Coyne is human .. all too human, getting emotional and wrong.

    What worried me is the vitriol Jerry used in his attack article, basically the same he used against any ‘confirmed enemy’. Jerry has the similar emotional outburst as others in the other side. Don’t jump to conclusion, when he does the same in the future.

    Of course, the other coin shines, when Jerry announces his mea culpa. This is something that is very rarely done anywhere. This act of bravery also will make it easier for others to do the same, on the same situation.

    (perhaps Jerry deliberately did both of these articles to achieve this honorable end ? .. nah… don’t think so )


    1. “Loose Cannons” do not discriminate.

      I wonder if Jerry would have apologized so sweetly if his target had been a less well known individual? Still, Jerry is a much classier act than the mean-spirited PZ Myers; a man who wishes he could eat the hearts of his chosen enemies.

      1. You’re really a piece of work, Ingemar. I am not flattered by your snarky remark, and suggest that you go to other websites.

  41. GBJames writes:
    “And quibbling about strategy vs. tactic misses the point. “Shrill” (or “Strident” or “loose cannon”… pick your slur) atheism is exactly what is responsible for the increase in non-belief in recent years.”

    Please provide a reliable, scientific (statistical) study that supports your statement. Keep in mind your proof will also have to obviate the effects of education and social change in order to be convincing.

    1. You might start with the American Religious Identification Survey. Actually, if you go out and get yourself a Google machine, that will help you find other sources of information as well.

      Of course you’ll no doubt still find a gaping need for a Right Strategy™. As soon as you post the outline of said strategery, we’ll get our troops all lined up for the big advance.

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