Coyne and Kloor on the Atheist Fundamentalism


Keith Kloor is whining about being labeled an accomodationist by Jerry Coyne:

If you dare to say (as I do) that religion still has some redeeming qualities for people, you’re branded an ‘accomodationist.’ If you dare to say (as I do) that science and religion can coexist, you’re branded an ‘accomodationist.’

I think dare is an important word in this sentence, in that accomodationists don’t dare to do anything. Yes, I think the label is useful because Kloor and other Mooney-like (Mooneys?) critics are unusually predictable.

There isn’t much diversity within the accomodationist crowd, and while I can’t speak to their motivations, they do seem to spend a great deal of energy attacking other atheists, and not bridge-building or whatever it is they claim to do on holiday.

The only thing interesting about accomodationists like Kloor is that they don’t seem to understand why so many atheists think science and religion are incompatible. I suspect that a great many accomodationists took one too many undergraduate courses taught from a hard social-constructivist perspective.

A core part of Kloor’s criticism of confrontational atheists is that they want to support the “purity” of science. Sounds a lot like Thomas Gieryn‘s concept of boundary work. According to this view people use science to gain legitimacy by claiming themselves as credible while distancing themselves from others, whose efforts are dismissed as non-science, “junk” science, or pseudoscience.

One of the major limitations of boundary work as a concept is that it fails to consider the integrity of an argument, let alone the principles guiding a position, but it is very useful for coming up with explanations based on non-epistemic factors like authority, power, ideology, and the like.

Coyne and other “confrontationalists” can’t possibly mean what they say. Surely, there’s something else going on. Oh, I know, it’s ideological purity! Yes, that must be it. It’s all so bloody boring.

I find the science warriors refreshingly frank, rather than Machiavellian, but I’m  not so sure about the accomodationists, who, per usual, are highly invested in maintaining things as they are. They know they have a marginalized status, but they still want invitations to all the dinner parties.