Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reaching Out to the Faithful: Does It Work?

A Philip Randolph reached out to the faithful. There is a lot to show for it.

Eugenie Scott has been trying to reach out to the faithful. It has been an utter embarrassment.

By Hos
Don left a comment on my last post, mentioning E.O. Wilson going into fundamentalist churches and teaching  them about global climate change. It got me thinking about the question: Did he do something worthwhile? Or was that an utter waste of time, albeit a well-intentioned one?

I have no doubt that working together with the faithful can be a good idea for the secularists and it can produce results. Case in point: Randolph (above), a humanist, was the head of the March on Washington in 1963, at which Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech. (Many people think King was the head of the March, but he was the keynote speaker.)
On the other hand, accomodationist organizations like the National Center for Science Education (with Scott, above, as its chair), BioLogos, the Clergy Letter Project, and others have been trying to bring evolutionary science to fundamentalist christians and convince them that acceptance of evolution will not undercut their faith for decades. The result?

We are where we were thirty years ago.
And how about the efforts of people like E. O. Wilson, have they been able to change many minds among the fundamentalists concerning climate change? The short answer is no. A few years ago there were hints that evangelicals may be turning more environmentally conscious and take global climate change seriously, but that never panned out. As things stand now, evangelical christianity in the US is a pure right wing political movement, which doesn't bode well for their involvement in activism against climate change.
So in short, reaching out and cooperating can be a good idea, but that is not always the case. Cooperation should not be praised for its own sake, as spending too much time trying to find common ground my not only not work, but ultimately dilute your goals to the point you forget what the goal of cooperation was in the first place. A more nuanced approach probably makes more sense.

1 comment:

Explicit Atheist said...

I have never heard an anti-accommodationist criticize E.O. Wilson for going to churches, and otherwise seeking out religious audiences, in an effort to alert people to the seriousness of the threats facing our environment.

However, since he has been mentioned in this context, it is worth pointing out the obvious, that E.O. Wilson hides his atheism to the point of punting questions about his religious beliefs. The fact that there is good reason to think that he needs to avoid acknowledging his atheism so that the audience will consider his arguments on the merits is bad, it is very bad. It means his audience is not oriented to giving priority to an argument's merit, which in itself undermines the goal of taking real problems seriously by making it very easy for someone else to come along and sway the same people against E.O. Wilson's meritorious argument that are strongly backed by honest evidence with pure sophistry. After all, the arguments that the threats to our environment are serious do not lose any of their merit because the argument is being made by an atheist. So this intolerance/prejudice against atheism is part of the same problem as the more general problems of not giving priority to the evidence that turns well evidenced problems into artificial partisan controversies.

I just think it is a tremendous mistake to try to play intolerance/prejudice against atheism against all of the other issues by declaring that challenging intolerance/ prejudice against atheism is incompatible with achieving all other goals and therefore must not be attempted. The truth is that any one goal can be set against all the other goals this way, since there is opposition to all of the goals and advocating for any one goal generates opposition. Advocating for taking global warming seriously undermines advocating for taking evolution seriously and vice versa because by arguing for either one you will undermine your trustworthiness in the minds of some people that will then carry over to anything else you say on any other controversy. But no one argues that therefore we shouldn't argue for taking global warming seriously. Instead, we look at each issue on its merits and advocate for what is best on that issue. There is no good justification for doing any differently with respect to the problem of intolerance/prejudice against atheism.