Accommodationists, Don’t Lead With Your Straw-Man Argument

Ophelia Benson over at Butterflies and Wheels writes about the latest Point of Inquiry episode featuring a debate between Chris Mooney and P.Z. Myers, in which the supposedly objective interviewer, Jennifer Michael Hecht, takes Mooney’s side, automatically forfeiting mediator status. Ophelia writes:

Ten minutes in and she just starts arguing away as if she’s a participant and not the interviwer. A few minutes later she just plain interrupts PZ to say what she wants to say – the interviewer!

I have been an avid listener of POI for many years, and consider D.J. Grothe, the original host for many years, a great champion of reason. Mooney and Hecht are no lightweights when it comes to promoting science and freethought. But Ophelia gets it exactly right in her observation. In fact, I didn’t have to wait the 10 minutes. Right at the beginning Hecht leads off with a straw-man.

I’d like to welcome P.Z. Myers and Chris Mooney and start off with a question, which each of them can answer in 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.

So here are the two sides, as she presents the case:

1. New Atheists: Attacking (religious people).

2. Accomodationists: Trying to gently bring over to our point of view those of us who disagree.

Now why is this a straw man? Because that is not the point of contention between the New Atheists and the accommodationists. The actual disagreement between the two groups is on the subject of whether strident criticism of religious beliefs also has a place in the debate. That is, the New Atheist position is a pluralist one. No New Atheist claims that those folk working along with moderate believers who support science and democratic values, in order to affect sensible and progressive public policy, are not doing an important and essential job.

New Atheists believe in treating religious ideas and beliefs with the same level of public scrutiny and open debate that we accord all ideas in our culture. This position does not preclude a practical accommodationism, in its purest sense. It does, however, go against the brand of accommodationism seen from those like Mooney and Hecht, who ignore the pluralistic approach offered by the New Atheists and argue against a crude position that is not at all representative of what the New Atheists are really about. The brand of accommodationism that is being pushed forward by Mooney and Hecht promotes a disingenuously revisionist history of religion and its impact on culture. This brand of accommodationism is on par with religious apologetics in painting freethinkers as immoral and arrogant caricatures of their true selves. This brand of accommodationism is an impediment to maintaining academic honesty within the Freethought movement. This brand of accommodationism needs to go.

Anyone else feel that these straw-men arguments from accommodationists are not helping the cause?