They just can’t get it right, can they

Michael Shermer replies, or retorts, to Jerry Coyne.

What is the right way to respond to theists and/or theism? That is the question asked at every atheism/humanism conference I’ve attended the past several years. The answer is simple: there is no one “right way”. There are multiple ways, all of which work, depending on the context.

He expands on the point, but without bothering to say what he means by ‘works.’ It’s a rather silly way to put it, frankly, because one doesn’t always expect one’s responses to ‘work’ – one sometimes simply wants to say what is true to the best of one’s ability, not to do what ‘works.’ This is a big part of the issue between accommodationists and critics of accommodationism, and it’s one of the most irritating things about accommodationists that they almost never seem to get that. Accommodationists always talk about what works, what wins more allies, what is least likely to offend the moderates, and similar calculating issues. Critics of accommodationism on the other hand tend to dislike manipulative rhetoric and tactical evasion, and want to try to tell the truth instead of trying to shape a message for fragile listeners.

Shermer’s apparent unawareness of that disagreement leads him, predictably, into the usual strawman overstatement and sneering.

If you insist that people of faith renounce every last ounce of their beliefs before they are allowed to join the common fight against these scourges of humanity, then you have just alienated the vast majority of the world’s population from your project. To what end? So you can stand up tall and proud and proclaim “…but I never gave an inch to those faith heads!”? Well good for you! Just keep on playing “Nearer my Atheism to Thee” while the ship of humanity slips further into the depths of disaster.

We don’t insist that. That is a strawman. What we insist is that we shouldn’t be expected to say things that we do not think are true on the flimsy grounds that some observers think that not doing so will ‘alienate the vast majority of the world’s population from your project’ (and what if we don’t have a project apart from telling the truth as we see it?). There is a difference between insisting ‘that people of faith renounce every last ounce of their beliefs,’ and refusing to tailor everything we say to suit some vague idea of what will not threaten other people. There is a big, serious, important difference between those two things. It is irritating that accommodationists so often insist on framing the matter the first way. It is irritating and it does not increase our respect for their probity.

The rest of the quoted passage is of course just snotty jeering. That doesn’t do much for the respect for probity either.

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