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Sunday, October 05, 2014

The ten commandments of faitheism

An accommodationist is an atheist who generally believes that religion and science are compatible but certainly believes that other atheists should go easy on those who believe in gods. Jerry Coyne doesn't like some words (e.g. bl*g, d*g)) so he invented another word for accommodationists—he calls them "faithiests." I'm going to stick with accommodationist.

Alex Chituc posts at "Nonprophet Status" on the patheos website ("Hosting the Conversation on Faith"). He defends the accommodationist position and tries to lay out their position [Our 10 Commandments of Faitheism].

Here's how he explains it ...
In most debates, especially arguments over the internet, each side brings along a list of premises, premises that originally gave rise to their conclusions and often go unaddressed. Unless a counter argument addresses any of these often unstated premises, all it accomplishes is bringing in a whole new set of premises to be addressed, and nobody gets anywhere.

Given a recent list I saw floating around twitter titled "10 commandments of faitheism," which is nothing but a list of things nobody associated with the term "faitheist" actually believes, I thought it would be a good exercise to try to list all of premises that we at NPS, at least, bring to the table. I should state upfront that, obviously, only Chris Stedman can speak for Chris Stedman, but since most people lump us at NPS in with him anyway and “faitheist” is the most convenient term on hand right now, I decided to use it.
This is a laudable objective. I fully support the concept.

Let's see how he interprets his opponents (I am one) and let's see whether his accomodationist premises stand up to close scrutiny. Here's Alex Chitic's "10 Premises of Faitheism."

1) God probably isn’t real.
I would never say that. Atheists don't believe in god(s) because there is no evidence that they exist and it is not reasonable to believe in something without evidence. I'm happy to say that there are no gods—gods do not exist—and I mean that in exactly the same sense as when I say that there is no Santa Clause and the tooth fairy doesn't exist.

Yes, it's true that when discussing this with philosophers I'll concede that you can't prove a negative. There's always a slight chance that Santa Claus exists so, strictly speaking, you can't affirm that Santa Claus isn't real. However, in the real world nobody says that "Santa Claus probably isn't real" unless you are trying to gently break the bad news to a five-year-old. Maybe that's how accommodationists view theists.

I prefer to treat them as adults and assume that they can handle the truth.
2) Attacking people is a bad way to change their mind. This has been folk wisdom for as long as people have been talking about persuasion, but it’s been backed up in recent years by a host of psychological research. All anti-theists often bring to counter this claim is a collection of anecdotes, but no one would take these seriously for any other kind of empirical claim about what is or isn’t effective. Research shows criticism is almost always unproductive, and usually leaves the instigator feeling morally superior and both parties walking away more convinced of what they originally believed.
I don't know what this accommodationist means by "attacking people." When I look at the history of social change it always involves passionate people who speak out forcibly against the status quo. Civil right leaders criticized racists, feminists criticized sexists, and gay rights advocates spoke out against bigotry.

What's wrong with me saying to theists that belief in gods is wrong because there's no evidence that gods exist? I don't go knocking on doors in my neighborhood handing out pamphlets and threatening believers with punishment but neither do I hold back if someone wants to debate the issue of gods.

There's a difference between not wanting to discuss the existence of gods because any kind of disagreement upsets you and trying to pretend that such discussions will never change minds. This is a false premise.
3) More atheists won’t necessarily make the world a better place. Atheism is inherently neither good nor bad. The wealth of a nation and its secularization are pretty strongly correlated, with any outliers easily explained away. Improving the quality of life and adding stability to people’s lives in our own nations and across the globe seems like the quicker and easier way to a more secular world. Trying to deconvert believers isn’t an effective way to increase the number of atheists, and does nothing to make the world better.
My position is that making decisions based on evidence and rational thinking is preferable to believing in myths and fairytales. I think the world will be a better place if we get rid of superstitious thinking. I think we have a better chance of improving the quality of life if we can convince people to challenge their fundamental beliefs.

Belief in gods is just one of the superstitions that inhibit change for the better, but it's a big one. I actually believe that the world will be a better place when there are more atheists but it's not because atheism is inherently good. I believe that the world became better when people in Europe stopped believing in witches but that wasn't because non-belief in witches led directly to improving the quality of life. It's because abandoning that superstition was one step toward freeing minds, recognizing facts, and accepting change.

This is another false premise. It's based on a profound misunderstanding of the position of many atheists.
4) Whatever goals we do have for making the world a better place require cooperation with the religious. Gay rights were not an atheist victory. Civil rights were not an atheist victory. Women’s suffrage was not an atheist victory. Gender and sexuality equality will not be an atheist victory. We simply lack the numbers to cause meaningful change, and it’s much more pragmatic to work alongside the religious whose values we share than it is to deconvert the majority of our nation.
Alex Chituc lives in France but I think he's referring to the USA when he says "our nation."

There are two false ideas in this paragraph. First, it's wrong to assume that everyone is an American when defending accomodationism and attacking "militant atheism." There are many countries where you don't need to make concessions to deeply religious people in order to effect social change. You need to do this in the USA since politicians are overwhelmingly religious and there's a stigma attached to nonbelievers. If Alex Chituc wants to calls this "10 Premises for American Faitheists" then that's fine by me.

The second false idea falls under the category of red herring. There are many battles and I've never had a problem working with believers on any number of issues. I've even worked with people who voted for the Conservatives and with vegans. Alex and his accommodationst friends seem to think that atheists should never have friends who believe in gods. That's silly.

This is a stupid premise based on a ridiculous view of the personality of most atheists. It is completely at variance with the facts and with what atheists have been saying to accommodationists for two decades.
5) Religion is not a monolith. For better or worse, religions are larger than their foundational texts. Religions are individual and social phenomena lived and expressed and transmitted and transformed through diverse human beings and diverse human communities. There is not one Christianity, there are Christianities. There is not one Islam, there are Islams. Of course moderate muslims say that their Islam is the true Islam, and extremists say that their Islam is the true Islam, but that’s because they’re assuming their religion is true. Given that 1) God probably isn’t real, atheists can’t play the "no true Scotsman" card and say what a religion really is. To point out here that the Islam practiced by our neighbors is not the Islam practiced in Somalia is no gesture at all toward true Islam.
Non sequitur. Most atheists know this. This is another stupid premise based on a gross misunderstanding.

Besides, what does this have to do with accommodationsm? Do accommodationists defend religions or do they defend belief in gods. If it's religions that they want to accommodate then is it all religions or just some of them?
6) Given the hard-to-define-ness of a religion, it isn’t clear how much religious belief causes anything. Scientists, however, are very good at parsing out causal relationships. Causal relations are empirical claims about the world. If you think religion causes behavior, find a psychological or sociological study to support it. Correlation is not causation, and armchair theorizing on empirical matters is a waste of time. Anecdotal evidence is not evidence, and saying that the data isn’t there because of overly politically correct scientists puts you on par with those who deny climate-change or the effectiveness of psychiatry and traditional medicines because the scientists were paid-off.
This is so confusing that I don't know where to begin.

I'm opposed to belief in gods because gods don't exist and I think it's wrong to believe in things without evidence. Lots of believers form groups that do very good things. I support those groups but that doesn't mean that their gods exist. Similarly, lots of believers form groups that do very bad things and I'm opposed to those groups. I don't understand the accommodationist position. Premise #6 makes no sense to me.
7) Dogmatism is bad, whether religious or secular. Atheists, as human beings, are just as prone to tribalism and bias. An understanding of science does not make you less prone to fallacious reasoning than anyone else.
I agree with this. It is not a premise of accommodationists—at least not one that distinguishes them from other atheists.

Am I missing something?
8) Minorities and marginalized groups are not props. The suffering of religious people aren’t opportunities to score cheap rhetorical points against religion. You shouldn’t exploit slavery or domestic violence to one-up believers. Deconverted religious fundamentalists are not poster children up until they say something nice about the religious communities they left.
Oh dear. This is becoming increasingly bizarre.

I think Alex Chituc believes that most atheists run around ranting against all forms of bad behavior as long as they are perpetrated by people who believe in gods. But he lives in France where most of the people who behave badly are nonbelievers and the people who criticize them are also nonbelievers.

I don't get it. Maybe he's upset by the fact that some of us will occasionally point out the hypocrisy of the devoutly religious?
9) The problem atheists face in the West is a PR problem. Far too often, atheist awareness-raising is done through confrontation. We need to move beyond insensitive billboards and jumping on every opportunity to score points against religion. If our goal is to end atheist stigmatization, our first step should be to stop embodying negative atheist stereotypes.
There is no PR problem in most Western industrialized nations. Nonbelievers make up a substantial—and growing—minority of the population. It's a majority in some countries.

There's a problem in the USA. Some atheists think that the problem has to be addressed in the same way that racism, sexism, homophobia, abortion, guns, and capital punishment were/are addressed. It involves a bit of confrontation and, like all social change, the people on the front lines of change weren't always viewed in a positive light. That didn't stop them. Thank God!

The accommodationst position seems to be that you can affect social change by keeping a low profile and not ruffling any feathers. I agree that this is a valid accommodationist premise. Good luck with it.
10) "Faitheist" is a term for a strawman. When people criticize "faitheists," they aren’t criticizing anybody. It’s at best a strawman, and at worst a simple ad hominem, on the same level of maturity and intellectual honesty as a bully who changes a child’s last name to include the word "fart" in it. Coyning the term "accommodatheist" is no better.
I've been arguing against the accommodationist position since about 1990. Accommodationists have been defending their views for just as long although we didn't start using the word "accommodationist" until about 2007. If Alex Chituc wants to use another term to describe his position then let's hear it. I'm happy to point out the inconsistencies of his views no matter what he calls them.

It's probably not a good idea to post the "10 Premises of Faitheism" if #10 is a childish rant against using the word "faitheist."

And it's definitely not a good idea to do that if most of your "premises" contain strawman, ad hominem, descriptions of the views of your opponents.
It's always seemed to me that the accommodationist position is based on treating religious beliefs as privileged views that need special protection from criticism.


  1. As I write in this blog post (,

    Religion is about faith, and faith by definition means believing without knowing--and without even the possibility of knowing. God is neither an epistemological nor metaphysical question.

    If the real question is: Do you have faith that God exists? my answer is No; others may answer Yes. The interesting discussion as far as I'm concerned then focuses on why someone has faith. By Why I'm not asking for a justification but for a personal statement of the part that a person's faith plays in their life. How is a person's faith integrated into their view of the world? What part it plays in how they live? Why is it an important feature of the fabric of their personality. That, I think, is the most useful and interesting discussion about faith in God.

    1. No, any ontological claim must have an epistemology to validate it. Why people have faith is a secondary issue. The important issue here is our ethical obligation to properly justify our factual, ontological, beliefs. Faith fails in this context, therefore anyone who cites faith in any such context is making a mistake.

    2. You missed the point. There is no ontological claim. There is only faith. Faith is not intended to justify anything. It is part of the psychological make-up of the believer- and is independent of any claim about the material world. Assume a believer says that he has faith that X even though there is no possible evidence for X. You may find that believer foolish. You may not understand why that believer holds onto that belief. But there holding the belief the believer is not giving you anything to argue against. No claim -- other than the fact of his own belief -- is being made.

    3. You can also deny that water is wet, or insist that a square is a circle. Anyone who says the existence of a god is not an ontological claim and faith that there is a god is not an epistemology is making two self-contradictory, impossible assertions similar to the assertions water is not wet and a square is a circle.

    4. In the USA, health insurance is paid for not by the state, but by employers. It is currently legal for an employer to refuse to pay for contraception coverage based on the faith (believing without knowing) that contraception a bad thing. An employer can legally tell an employee "I am not going to pay for your contraception coverage because I believe, but do not know, that contraception would be a bad thing for you".

      What this means is that "Do you have faith that God exists?" is NOT the "real question". The real question is whether society should continue to regard belief without knowledge as an acceptable justification when people make decisions that affect the lives of people other than themselves.

  2. 1. Theism and atheism are both views on metaphysics, but what counts in everyday social life is how you treat people, that is, morals. We can't see into other people's hearts, so all we have to go on is their behavior, what they do.

    2. Those of us who believe there are right and wrong ways to deal with each other agree on the most important thing. It's those who want to condemn other people for what they think rather than what they do who are doing wrong. It doesn't matter whether they do this because they think they are holier than the others or because they think the others can't do right as they are misled by a false God (or none.)

    3. Experience has showed that other people who don't believe as we do can still do right as well as wrong. Acting on the assumption that people who have the wrong religion can't do right by us is bigotry.

    4. Experience also shows us that people somehow disagree on what God says to do. If we want to deal with other people, we must acknowledge this disagreement in the only way that really matters: By reasoning together on common grounds. Facts, logic, cost and benefit, natural human sympathy are the basic tools of social intercourse between people, not religious commandments.

    5. It is natural that people want to act according to the religious commandments as they perceive them. Experience shows that making other people act according to your personal beliefs is militant bigotry and has caused terrible evils.

    6. Insisting that your personal ideas are mandated by God is effectively claiming you are holier than others. Perhaps this is so, but experience shows that people will disagree with you. If and when these people attack your opinions, that is nevertheless not an attack on you personally. Whining about being a victim when this happens is shameless bigotry. The decent way to disagree with people is with public arguments, not personal revelation.

    7. Experience has showed that the notion some people are better than others isn't true. Therefore there is no reason why some people should get privileges others don't.
    This is just as true when the people are claiming to be the true religion.

    8. Trying to be considerate of other people, to treat them well, also means trying to leave space for them to think differently. This means that in social life there should not be an omnipresent expression of a particular set of religious beliefs, not even the majority's. Given the diversity of beliefs, it is impractical to mandate full representation. Besides, when the other's religious beliefs get thrust into your life, it becomes very obvious this is an intrusion into personal space. The courteous and sensible code of manners in public is to avoid pointless contention about religion.

    9. Experience shows us that we are not necessarily aware of our biases, especially those we share with the majority. Therefore it is particularly incumbent upon us to be cautious about expressions of contempt, or support persecution of religious minorities (or the unchurched or those we perceive as unbelievers of any kind.) Attacking other religions and their believers as evil is bigotry.

    10. Inasmuch as our morals also include not just personal but public decisions about how to treat other people, that is, laws, it is our moral duty to abide by the just laws of the land. And we must engage in debate on justice on our common grounds, not our personal beliefs. In the most difficult cases, we as the public may assess a particular religious observance as contaminated by gross superstition. Laws against harm done by superstition are not religious persecution. Allowing harmful practices to continue under color of religion is special privilege, legal bigotry.

    I don't know whether any of this would count as faitheism, but I suspect there are quite a few atheist bloggers who couldn't agree with this. Yet I think this is what we really should want, rather than verbal assent to metaphysical propositions.

    1. You are divorcing what people believe from their behavior. But well intentioned people can behave very poorly if they sincerely believe that God decrees death for homosexuality, for adultery, for not observing the Sabbath the correct way, for leaving the true religion, for not believing in any God, etc. The reality is that morality is rooted in recognizing harm, accurately identifying harm is very much linked to accurately identifying what is true and false about how the universe functions, which in turn is very strongly linked too recognizing, and using, reliable epistemology.

  3. Religious identities were here first. We fought and settled these matters long ago in North america.
    We agree to disagree. nOt we agree they were wrong and we simply will live with them.
    to overthrow one must attack entrenched garrisons.
    Atheists must attack since they are a tiny minority.
    Creationists attack because a tiny minority is in wrongful position of leadership on conclusions in certain things.
    Social conservatives must attack wrong and bad things.
    Its all about fair play in the battle. Not fight like evil savages.
    It might be the wrong side acts more unjustly because they have too.
    To might be the bad guys act badder because they have too. Its the DNA.
    The good guys and right guys benefit more from fair fights.
    It seems society sees attacks on God/religion as unnaturally nasty.
    I suspect the left wing doesn't want provocation against religious foundations and peoples because they want to progress thier ideas for how society must be run.
    Divide and conquer and later mopping up operations.
    its funny to me to indeed see the left wing army chastise the "extreme atheists " because they are a threat to a orderly left wing change with not as much resistance.
    When Rome took over the world they left religion alone because it provoked the natives too much if it was destroyed.

    1. Byers: "Religious identities were here first. We fought and settled these matters long ago in North america."

      No you racist asshole, the Native Americans were here first. Your kind attacked them spiritually, religiously, militantly and violently for centuries. Your kind were the original "militant atheists" since you were atheists with regard to the Natives' beliefs. Unlike today's so-called "militant atheists", who use books and science, yesterday's militant atheists-- Christians all-- were actually militant, and actually used weapons to kill people.

      Since you have assumed that those who were "here first" should have their beliefs given privilege and authority, then the Native Americans must have this privilege and authority; and you, Byers, must convert to paganism and the worship of Gitchi Manitou.

      Explain why you should not worship Gitchi Manitou.

  4. Even by your standards that's an incredibly incoherent post. I'm having difficulty trying to work out if it has any content worth addressing. Maybe someone else can try.

    1. Are you referring to my post or to the comment by Robert Byers? If you want to reply directly to a comment, click on the "Reply" button that's right underneath the comment. That's what I did to reply to you.

    2. Guess! (I've not always agreed with you, but usually I do, and anyway, I've never found you to be incoherent.)

      I know how the buttons are supposed to work, but for some reason I can't always get them to do what they're supposed to do. Anyway, this time I'm clicking on the reply button under your comment ("you" = Larry) but I don't guarantee that the combination of your server and my computer will produce the hoped-for result.

    3. Athel, even for you, that is an astonishingly incoherent comment. I'm trying to figure out what you're bitching about, but your comment had no content for me to attempt to refute.

    4. Diogenes, that seems rather an extreme reaction to pressing the wrong button. As my post appeared right under the one of Robert Byers it should have been obvious that it was a comment on that and not on Larry's post. I get the impression from your own response to Robert Byers that you were not all that convinced by his arguments yourself, and you only addressed his first sentence, which is not what I meant by describing the rest of it as incoherent. What about the rest of it? do you find "To might be the bad guys act badder because they have too. Its the DNA" a well argued proposition?

      Your "even for you" suggests that you have found others of my comments to be incoherent. Could you give an example or two?

      I hope I'm pressing right button this time, but if not I hope the first word will make it clear what I'm replying to.

    5. OK OK, when you wrote "I'm clicking the reply button under your comment (you = Larry)", I thought you meant both comments were directed at Larry. Apologies.

  5. Good read. However, I may be mistaken but I thought that there was a slight difference between accommodationism and "faitheism", with the former meaning the desire to avoid a confrontational approach and the latter being descriptive of atheists who consider religion a force of good in the world even as they find it impossible to believe themselves. What is described here sounds more like accommodationism than how I understood "faitheism".

    That word, by the way, is probably listed as an example of cacophony in the dictionary.

  6. Great post, Larry. One point: I don't see "faitheists" as identical to "accommodationists". There is a lot of overlap, but a "faitheist" is defined as an atheist who is very sympathetic to believers and belief, while an accommodationist is someone who sees religion as compatible with science. Not all faitheists are accommodationists, and not all accommodationists are faitheists.

    Besides that quibble, it's an excellent rebuttal of Chituc's stand. I particularly deplore the claim that we'll never get anywhere by criticizing the tenets of religion. In fact, that's the ONLY way we'll get anywhere as far as loosing faith's grip on this planet.

    Jerry Coyne