Saturday 24 October 2009

There is a line to be drawn — why I'm against "accommodationism"

Most people who meet me would, I think, consider that I'm a fairly easy-going chap, not prone to outbursts of vitriolic invective or uncompromising rage.

I'm usually prepared to accommodate people's foibles and make allowances for mild idiosyncrasies. This makes for a quite life, without avoidable friction. And it's fine as far as it goes. It's fine if others are prepared to be included in the give and take. But being easy-going doesn't mean you need to be a doormat. There comes a time when easy-going ceases to be a beneficial strategy. When others won't play by the rules, and take advantage of someone's attitude of tolerance, that's when the normally meek and mild need to take a firm stand.

Nowhere is this more important in today's multicultural world than in matters of belief — especially unsubstantiated belief. That's why, in the matter of the current belief/non-belief/accommodationist debate, I'm firmly on the side of Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers.

"Accommodationism" is all very fine and dandy, but it doesn't work. Giving leave to those who proclaim unsubstantiated belief to have sway over matters that are capable of objective substantiation simply opens the gate to mysticism and woo. Whether it's "alternative" medicine being endorsed by the National Health Service, or the validity of moral edicts derived from ancient scripture, those of us who base our lives on what is objectively true have a duty to point out unsubstantiated assertion, especially if someone is attempting to influence decisions that will affect other people. It's no good attempting to excuse behaviour of this sort with words of conciliation. Unsupported, dangerous nonsense should be stamped on, forthwith.

Believers in woo can be left to wallow in their fantasies, but the moment they become purveyors of woo they implicitly open themselves to public scrutiny, and we should not be shy in calling them on anything that appears to fail the evidential test. Assertions not grounded in evidence should be brought into the light of rational analysis, even to the extent of naming and shaming. The purveyors of woo, be they magical thinkers or faith-based dogmatists, should be made to account for their claims or else withdraw them. Those who refuse should be publicly shunned.

"But your reality isn't the only one," they say. "What's real for you, isn't necessarily real for us." OK, fine. Show me your "reality". Show me, in particular, what makes you think it's real. Show me the evidence. If you won't, then don't expect me or anyone else to give it credence.

There is a line to be drawn, and it's here. I'm an easy-going chap, most of the time. Rant over.


  1. Thank you for welcoming new concepts. How important it is to keep an open-mind, especially when new and logical views appear that change our understanding of reality.
    I challenge atheists who say we just don't have our brains in gear: 166 years ago Abbott' s 'Flatland' showed that contiguous geometrical worlds explain where God is and why we can't see him. So we wrote 'Techie Worlds' for mechanical people and did the scientific thing: we looked at Christian teachings like the Trinity, like resurrection, judgment, the idea of a soul. In contiguous geometrical worlds these things are logical and understandable, even though to 'this-world-only' atheists they are ridiculous imaginings.
    We see a lot of belief in devils, in miracles, in good and evil spirits. Just talk with your friendly Wiccas and Satanists. Their recognition of spirit worlds makes it more probable that our view (the view of love) of the world is correct. Besides, there is Pascal's wager, pointing out that Christian belief can reward while atheism surely leads to death. The labels: Thinking, Logical, Reasonable, Rational really belong to Christians more than to those proudly acclaimed agnostics. Get a copy of 'Techie Worlds' from and see the reasonableness of Abbott's explanation.

  2. George,

    I've not read Flatland, though I'm aware of the concepts contained in the novel. But you'll have to give me better reasons for buying your book than what you've outlined above. Just because a lot of people believe weird things, that doesn't make weird things any more likely to be true. Your credibility is severely damaged by mentioning Pascal's Wager, which certainly does not point towards Christianity.

    In the introduction to your book (as shown on Amazon) you admit you have no proof. It's all very well coming up with a theory of how things work, and seeing if it fits with reality, but in order for it to be convincing you need actual evidence that supports it. This is the essence of Russell's orbiting teapot argument.

    I note that your book has a single, 5-star review, but the reviewer's name isn't verified, and he hasn't reviewed anything else to date. This doesn't inspire confidence.