Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist recently experienced a "conversion." He used to be an accommodationist but lately he's become more and more sympathetic to the position of the Gnu Atheists. He describes how he sees the dispute in How Pushy Should Atheists Be?.
Here’s the difference between the two sides: You know that courtroom phrase, “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”?This is a pretty good analysis of the Gnu Atheist side of the problem. Gnu Atheists think that superstition is the problem and they want to tell the whole truth; namely, that superstitious beliefs are not compatible with a scientific way of knowing.
Both Mooney and PZ want to tell the truth about science and evolution.
Only PZ is willing to tell the whole truth — that the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural.
Mooney thinks it’s bad PR for us to admit that — and he may be right — but it’s wrong to let Christians keep thinking science and religion are perfectly compatible when they really aren’t.
I’m clearly on PZ’s side of the spectrum, but I don’t think anyone could realistically call me a “confrontationalist.” I’m not looking to pick fights with theists, I frequently get invited by churches to help Christians understand our perspective, and I’m not calling religious people names just to underscore my point. PZ revels in that.
So the downside of the accommodationist/confrontationalist dichotomy is that it leaves a lot of people with no label. What do you call those of us who might lean to one side but aren’t in one camp entirely?
But here's the problem. Accommodationsts don't necessarily believe that science and religion are in conflict. They aren't avoiding the whole truth, instead, they are telling the whole truth as they see it. Compatibility is their version of the truth, even if they are atheists.
I can respect that even though I believe they are wrong. Compatibility seems to be the position of Genie Scott and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).
But what about those atheists who actually believe that science and religion are in conflict but who still want to be accommodationists? Do those atheists have to avoid telling the whole truth? How do they justify that?
Joshua Rosenau has the answer: A Prak-tical guide to confrontationalism and accommodationism.
The point being, it's impossible to constantly be telling "the whole truth," and no audience really wants you to do that. You pick and choose which truths (as you see them) you want to expound. Part of the way you do that is by thinking about how much of the truth you can express without driving your audience insane. Hopefully you also select your slice of the truth based on what will convince your audience that your central point is, in fact, true. Omitting parts of the truth that will drive your audience away (or insane) is not dishonest, and may well be the best service you can do for the truth.There's a word that's used to describe leaving out part of the truth in order to please your audience. It's called lying. Lying is very similar to framing. Josh probably doesn't think that omitting an important part of the truth is the same as lying by omission.
But there's a more serious issue here. Josh works for NCSE, although he's very careful to point out that he doesn't always speak for that organization on his blog. In this posting he's defending accommodationism of the sort defined by Hemant Mehta. This is not the position of those who believe in compatibility because those people are not hiding the truth.
In this case I hope Josh isn't speaking for NCSE because his statement suggests something pretty ominous. He raises the possibility that there are some people who think science and religion are in conflict but who might be willing to say something quite different in public in order to appease moderate theists. That's not just lying by omission.
I wonder if there are people who think science and religion are actually incompatible but who are willing to lie about their position in order to keep creationism out of the classroom. Is Josh one of those people?