PZ Myers, Jennifer Michael Hecht, and Chris Mooney – New Atheism or Accommodation?

October 08, 2010

Recently at the 30th anniversary conference of the Council for Secular Humanism in Los Angeles, leading science blogger PZ Myers and Point of Inquiry host Chris Mooney appeared together on a panel to discuss the questions, “How should secular humanists respond to science and religion? If we champion science, must we oppose faith? How best to approach flashpoints like evolution education?”

It’s a subject about which they are known to… er, differ.

The moderator was Jennifer Michael Hecht, the author of Doubt: A History. The next day, the three reprised their public debate for a special episode of Point of Inquiry, with Hecht sitting in as a guest host in Mooney’s stead.

This is the unedited cut of their three way conversation.

PZ Myers is a biologist at the University of Minnesota-Morris who, in addition to his duties as a teacher of biology and especially of development and evolution, likes to spend his spare time poking at the follies of creationists, Christians, crystal-gazers, Muslims, right-wing politicians, apologists for religion, and anyone who doesn’t appreciate how much the beauty of reality exceeds that of ignorant myth.

Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of award-winning books of philosophy, history, and poetry, including: Doubt: A History (HarperCollins, 2003); The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism and Anthropology (Columbia University Press, 2003); and The Happiness Myth, (HarperCollins in 2007). Her work appears in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, and The New Yorker. Hecht earned her Ph.D. in History from Columbia University in 1995 and now teaches in the graduate writing program of The New School University.

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Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Chris Mooney Point of Inquiry is a radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. And at the grassroots. And I’m here for a special episode of Point of Inquiry at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. And I am not going to be hosting this episode of Point of Inquiry because I’m here with Peezy Myers and Jennifer Michael Hecht. She’s gonna be hosting the show. Peezy Meyers and I will be debating whether how how accommodating we should be towards religion as we promote science. And I’m not going to pass off to Jennifer, a great author of books like Dout A History to Take Over and to relieve me of my role as the host. 

Excellent. Thank you. Welcome, everyone. Thanks for listening. 

We’re here to recapitulate and and perhaps go into new directions from a panel that we had yesterday on the question of accommodation and confrontation between secularists and religionless. And we have two inspired authors who often come at things from very different directions. So I’d like to welcome Chris Mooney and Peezy Myers and start off with the question which each of them can answer and turn about. Just in general, how they respond to the notion of either attacking or in some ways trying to gently bring over to our point of view those of us who disagree. Perhaps we could start with you, Peezy. 

OK, well, what I said yesterday was that I think much of the problem here is a fundamental misunderstanding about what the so-called new atheists are all about. That talking about framing, talking about, you know, accommodating ourselves to other people’s ideas is fine in a political and diplomatic sense. But there are core issues that we’re not going to compromise on. And foremost of those is the fact that we think religion is false, that in any discussion with religious people, we’re we’re going to come right out and say it that. Jesus is nonsense that your beliefs in these certain regards or are not credible and we’re going to dismiss them, that we you know, if we want to frame things, what you’d say as well, we can talk about your important issues. So, for instance, I’ve talked to fundamentalists and often one big issue is they want to send their kids to college. They want their kids to succeed in this economy and so forth. And they feel really, really frightened by the fact that they’ll go off to college and be converted to godless atheists. And what I will say to them as well, I’m not going to compromise. I am an atheist. But when I teach classes, that’s not a subject that you come into my biology classes. I’m I’m too busy teaching biology to talk about this other stuff. But then you don’t. So you can’t expect me to sit here and say, well. No, respect my views. I don’t. 

Well, yes, since we’re I think we’re kind of laying out initial positions. So I’m not going to directly disagree or agree, although some things are kind of agreed with. But so I’m personally an atheist, but I’ve certainly written in such a way that I’ve been called an accommodation. So it’s not a label that I necessarily accept, but it’s used so much that for the purposes of this, I’ll use it with quotation marks around it. And the reason I am accommodating, so to speak, is just that I feel that while the promotion of science and reason are critically important and it’s what I try to do at the same time, I realize that there are certain things about, broadly speaking, the human mind and also the modern media that make it very hard for good information to get through and very hard for people to give up on things that they feel strongly about and very hard for people who might need to read something that would disagree with them to even find it to become. So all of these things make me think that we need to be really strategic about how we try to inject the good information in. 

And that’s been what I’ve been trying to work on. Excellent. Gives us some things you start from and I guess as a leaping off point, I think I’ll bring up this question of the nonsense of Jesus. I think that there are a tremendous number of Americans who say they believe in God but who don’t really believe in Jesus. And they don’t they don’t believe in purgatory and they don’t believe in prayer. They don’t believe in almost anything you can nail down. 

I have my own issues with them where I just beg them to come up with one attribute that they can actually stand by. And often they can’t. And often they come back to me later and tell me that that really rocked them. But my question is. 

Religion in this country is of a great variety. There are people who believe things that are quite clearly legend, fantasy, family. In fact, fabrication. 

And then there are the sort of middle ground people who simply like attending to the more poetic and unknowable aspects of human life. 

I will bracket this by saying I myself am an atheist, not an agnostic. I feel very strongly that I know that reason can lead one to be an atheist without having to bow down to the notion of what you could. But you can prove negatives. I need evidence before I’m willing to talk to you about anything. And without evidence. No. 

But what about those Americans who are consider themselves believing, but not any. Not much specific. Do you temper what you say in terms of how much their belief is fabulist? Let’s start with Tempora. 

Anything. I mean, what we’re doing is we’re expressing our own ideas. I’m not I’m not going to modulate my ideas to suit somebody else’s impressions of what they should be. So, no, we’re not. And of course, the thing is, too, that this is this is often argument that’s brought up is that there’s this vast diversity of religious belief out there, as if somehow this is a virtue or an excuse and it isn’t. What this is telling us is that the vast majority of human beings on this planet have deeply incoherent views about how the world works. That they’re they’re kind of doing the opposite of science. They’re diverging into all these different wild, crazy, unfounded ideas. That does not motivate me to say, well, OK, I’ll forgive you. 

That that what that says is you’re doing it wrong. That what you need to do is learn a little more science and understand how the world actually works. And then again, if if, like you said, there are people who just want the touchy feely stuff, the ritual, whatever. That’s irrelevant. That’s fine. It’s like there are scientists who like to play music. There are scientists who like to read poetry. There are scientists who like to go to plays. The fact that’s maybe some people will be able to think scientifically and yet they also enjoy going through the Catholic liturgy. No problem. Not going to bother me at all. But I’m not going to respect that particular hobby. 

I think the diversity of religion and the many inconsistencies of human beings in terms of all the different things that they embrace, you know, a little bit of Buddhism, little girl Catholicism. And, you know, I like to wear crystals around my neck. I mean, people are all over the place. I view it differently than peezy, though, because to me, what that says is that while you can have religious folks whose religious beliefs impel them to reject scientific information, and we know there are many, many of them. It also means you can have religious folks whose religious beliefs and tell them to love science or whose religious beliefs have nothing to do with their orientation toward science at all. It could be any of these things. And that’s why the diversity is important, because world religions have very different relationships with science, some, you know. So because of that, I think there is not a necessary conflict with science, although there’s often a conflict. But it depends on the circumstance. And because of that, people who are religious, I believe, don’t have to be pushed away from science. So so I look at that diversity differently. 

Well, wait a minute, though. There’s this is this is another excuse we hear all the time. OK. That there is this diversity of beliefs out there and that there is not necessarily a conflict between science and religion. So name the person whose religious beliefs does not conflict with science. Let’s be very specific here. What set of religious beliefs beyond just sort of a vague deism are compatible with with scientific thought? And I would say that there aren’t any more. 

The vague deism would be one. 

I don’t know why we have not let me use it because there’s nobody who’s this kind of vague. There’s there’s you know, there’s people kind of pay lip service to religion. But then and they more or less agnostics who are saying, well, okay, maybe there’s something out there. But I don’t think that that represents at all the majority of religious thought out there that if that were the case, there’d be absolutely no conflict here. We’d be done. We could shut off the microphones and go home. But it’s not the case. That’s not what Muslims are. 

Well, there is a lot of conflict. But if you look at American religion on which I’m not an expert, but there are camps and there is a foot of evangelical fundamentalist camp, conflicts with science are highest there. Yeah. Would we agree with that about that? And there is then a spectrum of more moderate Christianity and other religions. Of course, in the middle is a spectrum and there would be less conflict there. 

Yes. Yes. But we’re talking about something that doesn’t conflict with science. And yes, there’s this gigantic spectrum where we can talk about the really crazy people who believe in the coming of Jesus and the apocalypse on the way and so forth. And then we can also talk about universal universalist Unitarians and so forth that are pretty vague on religion. And what I’m saying is that show me where in that spectrum is the boundary? Where do we say, OK, well, that’s compatible science. And you you know, I would agree with you something like a very vague deism. OK, that’s that’s not incompatible. But I would say that’s a tiny slice of the spectrum. It’s a very tiny part of the community of religious thought in this country. So so saying that there is one little bit over here that we’re going to excuse because it’s works with science, but then there’s going to be I’m sorry, leaves all the rest. And what do we do with that? 

With all the rest are going to have varying degrees of compatibility. 

Yeah. Right. So. So OK. The vague deism. We agree. This is someone who thinks that basically God, I guess, created created the world, maybe set everything in motion, all laws of nature, then play themselves out. And so all of science is confirmed. That little slice by this cares, right? Yeah. So but then you will have actual Christians who nevertheless are supportive of the teaching of evolution. Embryonic stem cell research and all the rest. And so this would be like there’s the clergy letter project where. Which is terrible. 

Well, but this is but this is a group let’s just talk about as a group is these are Christian ministers, they believe. 

Certainly they have Christian beliefs. I wouldn’t call them evangelical fundamentalist for the most part, although some may be evangelical. And they say evolution is good science and it’s OK to have this and also be an inherent of this religion. So what do we do with them? I think that’s really positive that they’re telling their flock, so to speak. Evolution is OK. You know, evolution gets three stars. 

Yes, but it doesn’t solve the problem. 

This is what Eugenie Scott was talking about yesterday. And you can see the what’s going on here is that Eugenie is saying here’s a very narrow domain of things that I care about, and that’s specifically evolution. 

So what we’re saying is, is we’re setting up a kind of wall here and we’re saying, OK, if you believe in a bunch of nonsense, but. You allow this one little fragment to come through if you’re willing to tolerate evolution while you still believe in all the other crap that that Christians believe in. We’re going to say you’re OK. We’re gonna we’re gonna approve of what you’re doing. And that’s fine for the teaching of evolution that helps with the teaching of evolution, but it doesn’t help with the fundamental scientific illiteracy of the American public. There’s more there than just evolution. You know, and I say that as somebody who’s really into evolution. 

Thing is, it seems to me that we have to find some way to clarify the very dangerous belief in extremely bizarre ideas. And it seems to me very important to look at that group of Americans who. 

Who have sensitivity for, I would say, the psychology, poetry and art of what it is to actually be a human being. 

I meet a lot of these people I know. I end up in self-selecting groups. 

And I know that this country has some extreme belief. And I frankly believe that those people have to be addressed with some with some vigor. 

And yet I find these searchers in the middle ground to be much more populous than you’re suggesting, Pewsey. 

Again, this is anecdotal evidence, my experience, but I meet a lot of people who want to address life with reality. 

And reality is not entirely subsumed within science because human experience is not entirely subsumed within science. So they want to be able to have a way of speaking to how they feel and what they see around them. And science isn’t doing that now. It seems to me that there’s time for a kind of tough speak. Because people are so far gone that unless you’re tough with them, you’re probably not going to get through at all. And then there’s time for meeting people sort of where they are with a kind of humility that allows the possibility of learning something new. 

It seems to me that there are that there are an awful lot of intelligent people who are not exactly where I am. And I’ve come to believe that I have to listen a good deal in those cases and be extremely careful that I don’t talk so much that I don’t hear. 

And I think that that’s that that to say this is a sliver of society that we can sort of put to the side is a very dangerous notion because we’re trying to make some progress. And I think this this group of people is really easy to turn off by being too hostile. 

And I guess when I when I said setting aside what I’m saying is not, you know, let’s load them up into boxcars and take them to the concentration camps. No, I’m saying exactly the opposite. I’m saying that that thin slice is one that isn’t a matter of contention here, that we’re not worried about deists, that I’ve met many people who told me that I turned them into atheists and that Richard Dawkins turned them back and then I had to do it again. 

And that’s exhausting work. So what I’m trying to say here is how to be a little kef. 

But that that’s another bad argument because you talk to Richard Dawkins, talk to me. We can give you lots and lots of people who have adopted atheists and because of us. Sure. And the whole point here of what the new atheists have been saying is not that we need to take the accommodationists and put duct tape over their mouths and shut them up. It’s that they’re a part of the. Process. They’re part of this story that they’re only, but they’re only a tiny part of it. That there’s a lot of other voices out there and that what we represent is a more hard edged voice. That is making a case for a more science literate society that covers the entire spectrum of their ideas. So, yeah, what we want is we want Chris Mooney to get out there and convert people to his brand of soft and fuzzy spiritual Athie ism. And, you know, that’s moving them. That’s moving them out of that broad spectrum where they’re very objectionable into the one where we were. We’re fine. 

We’re compatible science. And then we want a legion of Richard Dawkins style atheists out there, too. We want we want the whole range. But I also to mention something else, you know. You know, I said that one of the things we do here that we see here is, is forming of boundaries where we say this is this is the this is the wall. 

And everything in this part of the spectrum is crazy town. And we’re going to accept this certain part over here. And U2 would put that wall farther over or farther over to the to the to the left as I’m moving my hands around here. And that’s being cut social at radio. I’m sure that that that you would say we’re going to tolerate a larger spectrum as supportive of science than we would. We’re saying that there’s only a small slice. But when you said that, you know, here’s this fringe over here. They’re crazy. They’re nuts. They’re. That’s a really radical, cultish sect sort of things. I’m sitting here thinking, well, OK, what about Catholics? Have. Have you looked at the Nicene Creed? 

It’s insane that this stuff that’s fundamental to all of Christianity, the Seder believes it’s 325 be 325 A.D., 325 something, sir. 

Great thing to discuss because they have this huge diversity there all over the place. 

Not everybody is a good Catholic. By what, though? Yes. Is it more a boy to marry any other groups? Sort of. But this is I think I would say that that’s what I’m talking about, is that you have if you look at our top universities, you will find all kinds of Catholic intellectual course. I do not subscribe to many things that the pope says. That’s the thing, though. 

Where are you going to draw? Where are you going to define these people? 

Because when you look at Catholics and there is a there is a hard edge to very clearly defined legalistic set of policies and principles that they consider the core of being Catholic. And look at them, they’re nuts. I mean, the creed, for instance, you read this and you know that the Trinity, the sect, the sacrifice at home and all this kind of stuff. This is all crucial to understanding the Catholic mindset. And it’s just as crazy as you know. You know, the name the most crazy poppycock apocalyptic sect you can think, I mean, it’s still nutty stuff. And what we’re saying is, is not. You as a Catholic are not allowed to believe this. You as a Catholic, because you believe in this creed, can not be a full participating member of the full range of opportunities in our culture. We’re just saying you can’t tell us that we can’t criticize this. 

This is this is nutty stuff. And we’re going to come right out and say, what do you speak? You can criticize as you’re well. 

And I am fully in agreement that you can say your criticisms of religion and more power to you and you can criticize Catholicism. 

You should probably be equal opportunity and you should probably go through all of them. 

OK, so just so your proportionate, you’re just picking Catholicism because it is mainstream and it’s got a it’s got a good intellectual tradition. 

What I would then go on to say is that, hey, we’ve got some great Catholics who were great allies in promoting the teaching of evolution. And, you know, Kenneth Miller happens to be a Catholic. 

And Kenneth Miller is an incredibly persuasive missionary in a sense towards religious people to talk about evolutionary science. And he’s very, very good at it. He’s very, very persuasive, very, very entertaining. 

I love watching Ken Miller talk. And what I worry about is a viewpoint that somehow says that the Ken Millar’s, you know, something something defective, because I don’t agree with them metaphysically, even though we’ve got all these same things in common when it comes to our understanding of the natural world. And in suggesting that they’re not the best allies. I think that they’re wonderful allies and they’re their essential allies for certain aspects of what we want to achieve. But whoever said they weren’t good allies, I feel like there’s a lot of attacks on. Yes, there are religious moderates. Yes, there are. Right. 

And there will continue to be these attacks that that, you know, I can personally appreciate a lot of the work that Ken Miller does. I think he’s great. I, I would say yes. Go up. Go up, Ken. And do more. I want to do that, sir. But the same time, that does not mean that now his crazy ideas are inviolate, that we can no longer criticize them. There’s this there’s this tendency I’m seeing where we’re sort of sanctifying certain individuals as movement because they make good contributions that now all of a sudden we can not criticize the crazy part. 

I think Chris is saying something that that has to do with strategy. And I’m not involved in the movement in the way in that way. And so I don’t tend to think about strategy. If I don’t agree, I’m going to say so. And in varying types of language, depending on what I think is going on. I think there that in this country, given the situation of this country, we need to have voices that that bridge the gap. And I do think we also need to have some strong language against the kind of thinking that is. Well, it’s a black and white in terms of the religious, I suppose that what I’d like to to. 

Find a way to express is that I think that there are people who believe different things about the universe than what you think. And I think that there when I get to talk to them, I find that sometimes beneath something that I perhaps don’t agree with. What I find is someone who simply open to the notion of of of the universe and our place in it as being a little bit too complicated and too strange. The very fact that the meat thinks your head is full of me and your meat is your thinking. 

I have feelings and and a range of of notions that there is no rational way of understanding all of that. You can talk about the rational aspect to it, but the human experience goes beyond that. I as I said, I am non-religious and very much an atheist. And yet when I talk to these people, I find that we have almost no differences. It’s just a matter of how we want to talk about it and how our politics place us in terms of religion. And I suppose what I’m hearing is what? What comes off as a lack of tolerance and while I I do see a lack of talent as appropriate, when someone is saying something that’s outright goofy. Maybe it’s a difference in what you and I think is goofy. But it’s hard to say because I can’t imagine exactly what those terms would be. What? What I’m trying to. 

To defend and to make a make room for is the fact that some people interpret the exact same facts that I have with a more religious kind of response. And that when we get into the details, there’s not too much difference. So I feel like I have come to be more respectful of this. Odd, poetic. Interests to see. And I I don’t want to sound like I’m defending anything other than a bit of civility and an open mindedness, even while I remain quite certain of my own position. You want to speak to that peezy? 

That yeah, that that. 

There is just this constant misunderstanding going on that, you know, that somehow what we’re doing is something that’s very disparate, disrespectful to the human condition, that we’re not appreciating the diversity, that we’re not we’re not appreciating that they’re 99 percent in agreement with us and that that’s completely wrong. That I Miller is a great example. Ninety nine point nine percent of what he thinks because he’s largely a scientist. We’re in agreement on there’s absolutely no conflict. What happens, though, in our in our culture is that the religious sensibility acquires a privilege that Ken Miller, for instance, where we agree with him when the great majority of things, because he has this little piece, this little religious element that that I disagree with, many of us disagree with that we find profoundly goofy. We’re supposed to leave him alone and not touch that part because, well, it makes him a better communicator with religious or something. But then look at the converse. You look at somebody like Richard Dawkins, Richard Dawkins and Ken Miller. Agree. Ninety nine percent on everything. But that extra little bit that Dock’s Dawkins has is the atheist component. He does not benefit from the religious privilege that’s given to Ken Miller. And so nobody says, oh, well, we should not criticize Richard Dawkins because he’s such a great science communicator. And Ethan, he’s he’s sharing these ideas with people who share his mind view. Instead, what they do is they’re going to criticize him freely, which I agree. I prove up to charge and and criticize Richard Dawkins. 

But we’re gonna do the same thing with Ken Miller for Ken Miller might not have known that he was gonna be talked about so much on this show. Well, hope they give him a chance. Ken, I know it’s my fault. 

And I actually have a problem with this, too, because Ken Miller has become the poster child for this combination as view. He’s against Francis Collins, Francis Collins, that they have their great skills there. They’re much more qualified. They have much better reputations than I do in science and things like that. And that ought to be what makes them valuable communicators to the public. But it’s not the reason, Ken. Ken Miller is always getting picked up and brought around to give these these talks and so forth. This is because he’s Catholic. He’s become that Catholic representative. And it’s just like, you know, I get invited to atheist meetings. Yet somehow when we’re communicating with a wider public. No one thinks to invite. The noisy atheist. 

We are there a niche. They get a fair amount of exposure, too. I want to remember this controversy about Kemmler. We you know. Let’s switch to Francis Collins there. OK, you know, 99 percent, all the scientific content, complete agreement. And then there’s this set of beliefs that you are sometimes going goofy and crazy, which somehow I don’t agree with those beliefs. I wouldn’t use those terms. I just don’t see a need. But, um. But you say you still want to criticize that. Yes. And I say is a big proponent. Freedom of speech. You absolutely may. Of course. And more power to you. But this came up yesterday. There’s a million things in the world that are wrong, misleading, dubious, etc.. And here we have people who are really good at communicating science. And yes, we do privilege them all because they’re also religious, because that makes them good messengers to the religious. That’s why they get the extra attention. It just seems of all the things in the world that we might be pounding on. 

That probably isn’t a high priority to take the part of there. 

You know, there’s where I disagree. Begin. Yes. 

We could for instance, we could pound on on Francis Collins because he’s got really bad taste in folk music. OK. We could pound on him. But folk music players are not an issue in our society. It’s not a flash point that generates a lot of controversy. You know, there aren’t a bunch of folks out there who are saying, well, we got to teach our children that evolution is wrong. But that piece that we do criticize is his religiosity. You got to face it. This country has got a huge problem with this religious tide that’s overwhelming everything that I think we faced it. 

I think the question is just we’re talking tactics right now. 

I’m saying that proper tactic is open confrontation. But that was the whole purpose of our panel. Yesterday’s is we’re saying, no, we’re not going we’re not gonna sit quietly and let people who are contributors to science even get away with making excuses for religion, that religion is the problem. We are going to criticize it no matter who’s expressing it. 

Again, I want to say, I think that you guys are talking tactics and and I’m not sure who is right. 

I think I’m open to open dialog where you say what you feel is brave and great and important. I also think that in when you’re trying to move people, you have to be clever about it. 

And usually you want to go for people who are a little closer to really problematic. That makes sense to me. Both sides of that makes sense to me. My concern is a little bit different, which is that I think that some people who think of themselves as a little bit religious are just as right as we are. I think that they use different terms, terms that I’m not comfortable with using, that I wouldn’t use for myself. But because I believe that human beings live their lives in an extremely strange place between rationality and nonsense, and that there’s no way out of that place that if other people want to just describe their their experience as exactly the way I describe mine. But with a different title, I’ve come to feel that it becomes arrogant and we start to look foolish if we don’t see that other people are saying exactly the same thing we are. 

But they have a different vision of what’s good in the world and what kind of terms they want to use. I think you have to notice that we have perhaps there little difference on one side and on the other side. We’ve got a tactics conversation. 

What this is doing is saying, OK, we’re we’re like in so many things, we’re going to ignore the differences. The differences don’t matter. And I disagree. The differences do matter. That that what we have with religion is something that’s fundamentally antagonistic to science. And while we can we can tolerate it. We have to at the same time, make sure that people in our culture recognize that this is this is not appropriate. And, you know, this this is this are big problem right now is that we’ve got politicians, we’ve got the electorate all sitting there thinking that their spiritual beliefs about evolution or climate change or whatever is a justification for electing know nothings to office and dominating the national conversation. We are constantly fighting these people. And to pretend that all these because we can find some people who have, you know, little differences and who are willing to accommodate to science doesn’t mean that this large majority, or at least a large plurality plurality in the electorate is somehow innocuous. And that doesn’t. 

Well, let’s talk about a point that I. I want to hit more straight on. I agree with you that resistance to science springs from religious motivations to a great extent in the United States. I don’t. One problem that I had with the panel yesterday and one problem that I’ve always had is I don’t see the evidence that direct confrontation on the topic is close to people’s hearts as religion is likely to be an effective strategy. And in fact, I pointed out evidence yesterday suggesting strongly the opposite, which is that I first I didn’t use a topic of religion, but I just use people who are strongly ideological and read newspaper articles that contain a correction of some fact that they believe strongly they after reading the correction, they don’t change their minds. They actually become more convinced about the wrong thing. So, for example, Republicans become more convinced that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction after is refuted because as a core part of their identity, I think religion is a core part of their identity, too. So I question whether this really is very observant of human nature. 

But we’re we’re aware of this. We know this. We know that religion is a dominant force. And what we’re saying is that that’s the problem, that if you’ve got this core identity of religiosity that leads you into making stupid decisions, sure, we could dance around it. We could say, OK, well, we’re just gonna we’re gonna go for the the symptoms. We’re going to treat this little problem. They express there, but we’re not going to touch this core because they’re resistant. That that’s you. You do have good evidence that. Yeah. It’s really, really hard that this is something where people dig in their heels and refused to change. But we’re saying, so what it’s worth doing, it’s worth changing. For instance, the other night, if you watch Bill Marr, there was this appalling episode where it was a PJ O’Rourke and S.E. Cupp were on there. And you’re talking about global warming and what is their position? Well, their position is it’s a really, really hard problem. We don’t see a way to solve it now. Therefore, we shouldn’t bother. We you just throw out all of our conservation efforts. We shouldn’t you know, switching to hybrid cars don’t do that. You just go get go get your gas guzzler and drive in it that they’re making this this argument on. It’s an argument from dispirits. And I’m glad I didn’t see this. Yeah, it was infuriating. It is horrible. Was the worst episode of Ma I’ve ever seen, except for the ones where talks about vaccination anyway. So it was this horrible episode where they’ve got a couple of people on his panel that are just they’re taking his attitude because it’s a big, hard problem because we can’t touch it with our little changes now. Leave it alone. Just let it rot. And we’re seeing the same thing about religion. Yes, I agree. It’s a tough problem. It’s a core of many people’s identity. And that’s exactly the problem. That at some point somebody should be making an effort to change this, chiseling away that hard. And as I said earlier, we want all those positions we want. We want the soft, fuzzy guys out there just working to change the symptoms, the effects, because that will make immediate short term change. It will make a difference, you know. You know, tell P.J. O’Rourke that. Yeah. You know, OK. What’s really hard problem, but you should still, you know, avoid that Cadillac. But at the same time, we also need people who are saying we’re, you know, for the long term, for the long haul, we have to change this in our society, that we have to remove this obdurate strand of religiosity that’s corrupting everything. 

I just. I don’t supposing that that is your goal, right? And that’s one thing. I still don’t see the connection between yelling loudly at it. 

That’s all we’re doing. No. Oh. That’s an all you’re doing. But as essentially the principle strategy is to make publicly, loudly the arguments that refused. It is certainly. No, it’s not. It’s not simply to make. 

It’s not just turning up the volume. It’s making arguments that directly address these core ideas. Belief in God is a core idea. It’s a problem. Let’s start arguing against it. You know, look at Richard Dawkins book, The God Delusion. Is is is he just arguing loudly? No, he’s going right for this fundamental idea. 

But it matters if you sound to most people like you are. Like, you are closed to any ideas that are not your own. 

I, I find myself just aghast that I’m not that I’m arguing anything other than what seems like the most radical atheist position. 

But when I when I talk to people, I find that very smart people who agree with science, though they don’t worship it, they realize the vast amount of nonsense it generates. 

And perhaps more appropriately, I should say, the way that it’s covered in the news allows for science to stand for a kind of just just an awful lot of nonsense that that’s all about the value judgments that go into the kind of science that’s done so that when I when I hear from people, they’re rather nuanced response to science, to religion, to how America should be run. 

And there’s so many of them that I meet who seem to have great politics, who want things to change in favor of their being more open ness in this country to policy that’s based on science and yet who find the the most hard line atheists to be, though. 

Again, I am at a loss for how I could possibly be less than the hard line atheist, except that when people tell me that they don’t consider themselves hard line atheists and yet they represent nothing, that seems to me untrue. 

They just recognize the irrationality of the human experience and they philosophically approach it from a stance that’s more in tune with religion than then makes sense to me. It seems to me that, though, that we’re only doing ourselves harm by sounding arrogant. And when you’re arrogant and you’re sure you’re right, it’s reasonable. 

And when you’re arrogant, despite the fact that there are other very smart people who come to very similar opinions, but with a lot of little adjustments, it seems like the reasonable position at that point is to accept a little bit of of doubt in terms of what precisely the right way to talk about this stuff is. And again, I’m not trying to be strategic. 

Last night was really essentially about this. And he gave. Well, this is a fantastic lecture to begin with. And he’s incredibly entertaining. The talk was really centrally about people getting offended and why they really should sort of toughen up and why there’s something beautiful about ridicule executed with enough wit. And I really enjoyed the talk, but I, I thought there was a fundamental problem with the argument, which was that I agree with them. People should not get offended. People should appreciate Rapier with great ridicule for what it is. But at the same time, at the end of the day, it’s not the offenders. It’s the defendant to determine who’s offended because the people are just going to be offended there. That’s the fact of the matter. They’re offended for their own internal reasons, right or wrong. And in terms of politics and getting things to happen, that will be the thing you have to deal with if they’re offended. So it’s it’s great to say we can wittily take this stuff apart and they really shouldn’t. You know, they should just brush it off. But if they’re not going to brush it off, then you still have a problem. 

And how about just a little bit of psychology? It seems to me that some of us were raised in religious with religious backgrounds where there were a great many lies told to us. And those people, that is ex Catholics call themselves ex Catholics. They’re atheists. They don’t say I’m an atheist Catholic. Whereas if you’re raised in essentially secular, do you know that half of Jewish Americans don’t believe in God and many of them still consider themselves Jewish and they tend to be very strong about what they believe. But also to understand that somewhere between the land of nonsense and where they stand, there are other people who have valid and reasonable beliefs. And again, since the psychology seems so upfront, since if you were raised where people really boster around with religion, you’re the one who’s most hostile, most angry about it. It seems like when you can see the psychology playing itself out, it seems like that’s a good moment to step back and say maybe I don’t know everything about what people mean when they talk. 

OK, so we’ve heard this word arrogant multiple times now, and I think in many cases the arrogance is justified when we’re right. 

OK. Right. Yeah. You’re just going to have to deal with it. Yeah, the atheists are really arrogant. 

And that’s because they know they’re right, that religion is is junk. Are we going to make. Are we going to make political compromise on that? No. Because, again, what happened here is, you know, we say, OK, well, here’s these issues we think are core issues that we need to address. And I get all this fuzzy stuff that you tell me, yes, there is these there are these religious people who have, you know, for instance, nice progressive values and so forth. And they they are agreeing with us on politics and what they want the nation to look like. 

And they’re not even sure there’s a God, they just believe that the world seems to be a little more complex. 

And if I am if I’m saying on the plane with all these poor people and we have a conversation about it, really, you know, I don’t open up a conversation with my seatmate by saying, well, I’m going to tack God now and you’re going to listen. Now, we talk about things, you know, and if they’re if they’re talking about liberal, progressive politics, we’ll sit there and we’ll agree they’re there. If they’re Tea Partier will fight over it. So, you know, in these cases, these these hypothetical kids you’re talking about, this issue won’t even come up that even Richard Dawkins will be it could be sitting there and he won’t be sharing. 

Dogmatists said some things that are downright, as we’ve been describing, spiritualists, which usually I think of spiritualists as necessarily supernatural. That’s why I call it poetic. But but Dawkins has said things that are spiritualist in the description we’ve been giving or poetic in the description I usually use. So he’s clearly not a philosophically a good example of this, though, in the public eye. He certainly. 

I know, but but at the same time, though, what you’re saying, Father, what you’re saying is that that there are still these beliefs that these people hold that I disagree with. 

And I would agree there’s there’s a whole bunch stuff they may be having that I disagree with. And what you’re saying or what you’re implying is that I can’t criticize those as long as they’re mostly on my side. 

No, I’m saying you might be a little wrong, and it doesn’t seem like you can criticize those. But wait, wait. I want to get to this, though, that you’re saying. You’re saying I’m wrong. Be specific. This is the whole problem is there’s all this nebulous nonsense that gets thrown at us. 

And what is this specific religious belief that is held by some hypothetical liberal progressive person? That is right. 

What I’m saying is that there are people, many people who while when I identify as an atheist, they say that they are not atheists and they they’re not atheist because it’s not that they’re. It’s not that they’re thinking anything about the anthropomorphic God, whatever. What they’re thinking about is the notion, well, it’s not whatever you ask for specifics. It seems very just a way to say no anthropomorphic God, but to say that they’re not sure how this world works. And and they see it as more complex than science is ever able to speak of it. So they don’t identify as agnostic. They don’t identify as religious. They don’t identify as atheist. But they are turned off by the tone of voice and the approach of the atheist. And I find myself in conversation with them moving more towards where they are, because I think that it takes a more and more Fiss poetic kind of recognition that the whole thing is a little overdetermined in order for us to get to anything like a kind of truth that matches the world. 

So that’s you. But you haven’t said anything yet. 

Well, any hardcore atheist will disagree with you know, if you say we don’t understand the whole world, if you think some atheists could disagree with that. 

Not even the most hardcore think that you can people she’s talking about may not even have a substantive religious belief in some case. And we have no greater we’re not right when he doesn’t tell it. The point is and actually let me just cut in first, because I think we’re probably going to wrap up at this point pretty soon. So we’ll go into some sort of kind of closing statement or something like that. But, um, I think the point is that actually you could have and maybe this will be my closing statement. 

I think the point is that you could have people who have no supernatural beliefs whatsoever, who are still unhappy with the tone of outlook. Maybe they should be tougher, but they’re not. Maybe they should brush it off, but they don’t. Nevertheless, something striking them wrong. And I think that that’s evidence that should be paid attention to. That’s. 

Oh, of course. Because we will all have personal, subjective likes and dislikes. Believe it or not, there are many people who dislike your tone, who find you extremely offensive and annoying. Does that mean that you need to become more strident in order to appeal? I would say no. That you’ve got your strategy. I’ve got my strategy and pointing out that we can find individual differences in the population where people agree or disagree with some particular speaker or not on the basis of these kinds of. Oh, well, he sounds arrogant or he sounds too too wimpy or he’s whatever, or or his nose is an ugly shape, you know. That doesn’t matter. That’s that’s not what we’re saying. What I’m saying is, is that there has to be room in the national and international debate for direct criticism of the fundamental belief issues, things like the existence of God, the existence of an afterlife, that what the new atheists are doing in their their arrogant way is they’re making this debate public. We’re going to we’re going to argue about them at the same time telling us that, well, this person believes in God and and they’re there. They want to vote the correct way on an environmental issue or on the science education issue. It just doesn’t matter to us, you know, because we’re sick. We would say, OK, great, I’m glad they’re voting in the positive way on their school board for us for teaching evolution in schools. And I would shake their hand and say, yes, you’re doing a good job there. But that doesn’t mean that that they get a pass on foolishness. I would so great. 

I think that we’ve we’ve explored the the conversation in in a lot of different ways and I think was very useful. 

Again, just for my part, we’ll just say that I’m interested in truth and I’m not exactly interested in making change. And personally being interested in truth has made me more interested in a most multifocal approach to what I believe is the truth, which is Athie ism. But I find Athie ism coming in very different packages, and I myself have moved towards being a little bit more open to the idea that I’m not the only one in possession of something that is reasonably called truth. I thank you both for your participation. 

I think it’s a very, very useful conversation. 

I want to thank you for listening to this special episode of Point of Inquiry to get involved in a discussion about the contents of today’s debate over accommodation versus confrontation. I encourage you to visit our online forums by going to center for inquiry, dot net slash forums and then clicking on point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry, dawg. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in AMR’s, New York. And our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Wailin. Today show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Chris Mooney. 

Jennifer Michael Hecht