Thursday, January 13, 2011

For Accommodationism

There is a current amongst the atheist blogs I read regarding accommodationist vs. confrontationalist stances. This is my argument for accommodationism as the superior position of the two.

Confrontationalism lacks any credible epistemic basis to discredit religion at large, and this is, from what I can tell, what it tries to do. If it does not do this, then the following is incorrect. When I say religion at large, I mean all the predominant religious positions within culture today. We'll say Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and Hinduism. Further, it lacks the moral basis to discredit religion at large. These are the two main issues brought against religion by confrontational atheists. I think that these positions are the product of arguing against weak positions, positions I also stand against, but when generalized to all religions then atheism is making too dogmatic a claim. At that point we're talking politics. If politics, then there are more important issues than atheism to discuss, like war, class, capitalism, genocide, health care, gay rights, science education, and so on. Further, there are religious allies to these political causes, and so if politics, then accommodationism is better for supporting these political points, as well as building a healthy pluralistic environment.

On epistemology: The central claim here is that religions are false. The basis that religions are evaluated to be false are scientific claims. However, there exist scientists who are religious. To relegate these scientists to the special, no-counter example corner of "Their beliefs are contradictory" is to play the no true Scotsman card. As such, I have good reason to believe that science does not prove religion false.

To know and to believe are two separate things. To know something requires an argument, whether it be a "negative claim" or not. On "Negatives":I can prove a negative, such as the square root of 2 is not rational. Negatives can be proven via the modus tollens inference, or the proof by contradiction. In fact, the often used problem of evil builds itself on the proof by contradiction. However, I don't think the problem of evil works to prove that God does not exist, but only that God is not in this exact way that some rationalist theists thought he was. But, for the major world religions, you didn't need such a proof by contradiction -- God's nature is explicated in far greater detail within the religious tracts than some simple, vague Three-O reference.

Lastly, there is an emphasis on evidence based claims. Why, and what does it even mean? If all we mean is, "Well, it's nice to have data", then I have no problem. If what we mean is ,"the existence of pH meters proves that God does not exist", then I'm claiming that this is a little senseless. The whole "evidence based claims" meme sounds great as a talking point, works fine against creationism, but could really do with a little more ground work to support it.

On moral claims: Atheists are personally moral, as are many theists. To point to the Catholic abuses of children, the crusades, and so on doesn't say anything. You need to show that religion is the causal culprit. Without a causal argument one must admit that atheism leads to mass murder, as the USSR performed mass murder. Clearly no one in the atheist community believes this, so one should admit that the correlation between theism and child molestation doesn't follow causally.

Further, if the atheists lack an epistemic basis to claim that religion is false, and continue to claim that religion is false for epistemic reasons, then the atheists are loosing moral credibility with respect to truth-claims in that they are demonstrating an inability to self-reflect, which is an important part of moral deliberation.

As neither epistemic or moral claims counter religion as a whole very well, we should get down to the brass tacks of politics. Accommodationism is a superior politic to confrontationalism because it's more honest about our epistemic certainty, it allows bridges to be built between the atheist community and theist communities who are friendly towards the same political end goals, such as gay rights and science education, and it plays a better PR role. In fact, accommodationism is the correct position, not the weak and scared position that's too afraid to "say anything". Accommodationists are skeptical of strong negative claims, and find things outside of metaphysical speculation, such as science education vs. thoughts on the existence of god, to be more important. As the confrontationlists have said, let us not mince words. Religion, at large, can stand on its own two feet, and atheists don't have a good basis to claim that it doesn't do so in its entirety. The confrontationalist position is poorly thought out, lacks self reflection, and the conclusions it purports to prove are simply wrong if it's swinging its rhetoric at religion as a whole. As such, accommodationism is the only position that is epistemically and morally worthwhile, whether or not confrontationalists are angry about this fact or not. While there are some religions that deserve scorn and derision, the claim that all major religions are false is simply an unsupported belief.

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