Our book Reasonable Atheism: A Moral Case for Respectful Disbelief publishes with Prometheus Books in April 2011. In addition to being professors who go about the typical business of academic research and publication, we are monthly columnists for the blog 3 Quarks Daily. On February 7th, 2011, we posted there a brief discussion of a kind of premature criticism that we have received of the book, apparently based on the sub-title alone, that we are “accommodationists.” This criticism came in the form of a handful of emails from sundry strangers who seem to agree that accommodationism is what one is guilty of when one believes that religious believers are deserving of respect rather than derision. We don’t take these correspondents to be serious interlocutors; they merely provided the occasion for thinking about what their understanding of accommodationism comes to.
In our post, we argued that this understanding of accommodationism is self-undermining, as it conflates two distinct kinds of epistemic evaluation: (1) belief evaluation, and (2) believer evaluation. With this conflation, the charge of accommodationism (as it was brought against us) requires those who wield it to at once see religious believers as epistemically contemptible and also utterly epistemically inept. But those who are utterly inept cannot be held responsible, and thus cannot rightly be held in contempt. And atheists should want to hold religious believers responsible for their beliefs. So atheists should be “accommodationists” in the sense employed by those who wrote emails criticizing our book (which they have not read). That’s of course just a sketch of what is already a too-short discussion of an important topic. If you’re at all interested in any of this, and see anything in this paragraph you’d like to take issue with, please go read the post.
We thought the point of our piece was clear, obvious, and uncontroversial. But many of those who identify with New Atheism read our post as if it were (incompetently) pressing some broader objection to New Atheism. And so in the comments on 3 Quarks and elsewhere various New Atheists have charged us with a range of sins, including strawmanning New Atheism; throwing New Atheists under the bus [*]; being insulting to New Atheism; advocating “anti-New-Atheism;” and (try not to laugh…) engaging in some kind of McCarthyism. We hold that our original piece does none of these things; in fact, the original post says almost nothing about New Atheism as such, and what it does say isn’t readily construed as particularly critical.
So we are now contemplating writing a follow-up post for 3QD about the various misunderstandings, misreadings and mistargeted criticisms of our original post. We’ll try our level best to be clearer this time, as part of the problem no doubt lies in the fact that we are not accustomed to writing blog-sized arguments. Perhaps we unwittingly raised the hackles of some who would otherwise agree with us. We don’t want to do that, but not because seek agreement with fellow atheists; we don’t. Rather, we seek criticisms of our actual views. So clarity is crucial. (We’ve even enlisted some help on this score from a prominent New Atheist who will help us to avoid distraction).
We will use this blog site to talk about the book and related matters, and to respond to critics. It seems that some New Atheists have found our attitude with respect to the Ontological Argument obviously objectionable, pseudo-intellectual, and perhaps evidence of senility. If you think the Ontological Argument is trash, you don’t understand it (or at best only understand the absolutely dumbest versions of it). To be sure, the argument fails. But not for the reasons most commonly cited. So maybe that’s a place to begin.