Are liberal believers allies?

A major bone of contention between “accommodationists” and “gnus” is how to approach liberal believers. (By “liberal”, I mean that they interpret their sacred texts as mainly metaphorical, and they are pro-science generally.) Accommodationists are so named for aim to seek common ground with these theists in the battle against fundamentalism. Acc’s and gnus both want science to be respected when it conflicts with theology, and, to a large extent, liberal believers want this too.

My question, then, is this: does liberal belief help or hurt the cause of atheism?

Posted: May 4th 2011

Ophelia Benson www

It depends (as so often) on what is meant by various contested terms – liberal, belief/believers, sacred texts, metaphorical, common ground, battle against fundamentalism…

It also depends on context, goals, timing, and so on.

In other words it may be both desirable and possible for gnus to team up with liberal believers for some purposes while it is less so for others.

I don’t think it’s desirable to focus on permanent common ground with liberal believers, because I think we need to continue to make room for people to have complete freedom from religious belief, even “liberal” belief.

Posted: May 8th 2011

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SmartLX www

Inasmuch as atheism is a cause, whether liberal believers are allies depends on what the fight is.

When the object is to spread atheism, or at least to decrease the influence of faith and religion, no believer is really an ally. As much as they might denounce the actions of extremists, or religion as a whole, even the most liberal believers (even some atheists) will ultimately defend and attempt to justify belief itself. Those defenses and justifications can invariably be extended to fundamentalist beliefs as well as their own.

When the object is instead to promote secularism and good science, both of which are relentlessly attacked by fundamentalists, liberal believers can be of great assistance. Catholic biologist Ken Miller has contributed a great deal to the defense of science education in America. The exception is of course when atheists criticise religion in order to defend science and secularism; that’s what liberal believers (Miller included) and accommodationists like to denounce. In some specific cases, like the Dover trials in which the judge and those on all sides were religious to some degree, they may have a point.

That said, accommodationists go too far in two ways.

Firstly, they accuse atheists of wanting scientific and political organisations (e.g. the NCSE) to switch from religion-friendly to anti-religion messages, when in fact the desire is for such groups to stop talking about religion altogether and address only relevant, factual points (for the NCSE, science).

Secondly, they try to persuade outspoken atheists, especially prominent ones like Richard Dawkins, to stop criticising religion altogether because their mere association with issues such as evolution drives liberal believers to the opposing side of those issues. Quite simply, there is no evidence that this is happening.

Posted: May 7th 2011

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Steve Zara www

Liberal belief is a strange thing. It supports science sometimes, but rejects science when dealing with the biggest questions of all. The strange thing is how the liberal believer knows when the domain of science ends.

Generally, liberal belief assists fundamentalism, because governments pander to faith as a result of the number of believers. That pandering can result in governments showing respect to faith leaders with distinctly illiberal views.

Posted: May 7th 2011

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