Kvetch kvetch kvetch

A bit more on Shermer, in a very level humble non-fundamentalist tone, because it’s not that I want to enforce orthodoxy with a big heavy stick, it’s that…I disagree with him about some things. I’m not trying to expel him into the outer darkness, I just disagree with him about some things. I’ll say what they are, because I feel like it.

[I]t seems to me that believers who accept Newton’s theory of gravity as the means by which God creates stars, planets, solar systems, galaxies, and universes, can just as readily accept Darwin’s theory of evolution as the means by which God creates life.

I said yesterday in comments but will say again – nuh uh. Even after we change ‘evolution’ to ‘natural selection’ and ‘life’ to ‘species,’ still nuh uh. Not just as readily at all, because natural selection is horrible. Gravity has its flaws too, as you’ll notice if you ever fall off a cliff, but compared to natural selection, it’s sweetness itself. Let’s don’t forget what natural selection is, shall we? It’s that thing that makes organisms compete with each other to see who can be first to eat the other. It’s not nice. It’s not kind. If it was all God’s idea, God has a nasty way of doing things. It’s just not true that it’s as easy for a theist to accept as gravity is. Shermer must know this; he must have written in a hurry; but if he did he did – the piece is still there, and it’s worth disagreeing with.

After the bit I disagreed with yesterday, about what ‘works’ in some undefined sense, he goes on to say

if it is your goal to educate everyone on earth to the power and wonders of science (as it is the Skeptics Society and www.skeptic.com) and to employ science to solve social, political, economic, medical and environmental problems (as it is my personal goal), then we need as many people as we can get on board toward a common goal, whatever it may be (starvation in Africa, disease in India, poverty in South America, global warming everywhere…pick your battle).

I didn’t notice it until later yesterday, after I’d already commented, but that’s an incredibly ambitious claim when combined with the rest of what he says. His claim is that we need as many people as we can get on board toward some common goal, any common goal, it doesn’t even matter what common goal it is – and in order to reach this highly questionable goal, we have to do the accommodationist thing. What that boils down to is that the real goal is simply to get as many people as we can on board toward whatever, and everything else is subordinate to that bizarre goal.

I don’t think he actually meant to say that – it’s too absurd. But he did say it, and I suspect that’s because that is what the accommodationist mindset does – it puts the frantic worry about alienating some number of people before everything else, until it finally finds itself exclaiming madly that we have to unite everyone, everyone I tell you! and that therefore no atheists can say anything that might be disconcerting to anyone. It’s nuts – but I think that’s what the thinking is. I think accommodationists are fundamentally allergic to a certain kind (and a certain kind only) of potentially ‘controversial’ ideas. I think their fretting about this ends up eroding their awareness that total agreement about anything is impossible, and that it’s futile to try to rule out disagreement ahead of time, and that the attempt is not only futile but the dire enemy of free thought and inquiry and speech.

Russell urged us to read Shermer’s essay in 50 Voices of Disbelief, so I did. I have to tell you, I have some disagreements there, too. I’m sorry! I’m a noodge! I can’t help it.

For example…he says on p 69

Most people equate ‘atheist’ not only with someone who believes that there is no God (which is technically not a tenable position because one cannot prove that there is no God; that is, you cannot prove a negative)…

Well that’s not right. It’s perfectly tenable to believe things that you cannot prove. It’s rash, and untenable if you like, to claim certainty about such things, but to believe them? Of course not. I believe that there is no invisible dragon sitting on my desk. Can I prove it? No. I believe it nevertheless. Shermer must have meant someone who ‘claims to know’ or ‘is certain’ – but he didn’t say that.

Another item, on the same page:

A second reason I don’t believe in God is emotional: I’m comfortable with not having answers to everything. By temperament, I have a high tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty.

That jumped out at me because he had just finished telling us that he was a devout Christian as a teenager – far more devout than his nominally-religious parents. He goes into some detail about that, and the result is that the claim about his temperament sounds very odd. It sounds self-flattering and unconvincing.

I’m just saying – Shermer isn’t a terribly careful writer. I’ve thought this before, about both his belief books. So I’m not doing some anti-accommodationism bandwagon number by disagreeing with him; I just disagree with him about some things, that’s all.

50 Voices of Disbelief is terrific, by the way. Read Sean Carroll’s piece. Read Austin Dacey’s. Read Tom Clark’s. Read them all.

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