Here’s the difference between the two sides: You know that courtroom phrase, “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”?
Both Mooney and PZ want to tell the truth about science and evolution.
Only PZ is willing to tell the whole truth — that the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural.
Mooney thinks it’s bad PR for us to admit that — and he may be right — but it’s wrong to let Christians keep thinking science and religion are perfectly compatible when they really aren’t.
I’m clearly on PZ’s side of the spectrum, but I don’t think anyone could realistically call me a “confrontationalist.” I’m not looking to pick fights with theists, I frequently get invited by churches to help Christians understand our perspective, and I’m not calling religious people names just to underscore my point. PZ revels in that.
So the downside of the accommodationist/confrontationalist dichotomy is that it leaves a lot of people with no label. What do you call those of us who might lean to one side but aren’t in one camp entirely?
Where do you place yourself on the spectrum?
Set aside that Chris’s point isn’t just about PR. Set aside that not everyone agrees that PZ’s “whole truth” (in this formulation) is the truth at all. Set aside the dubious notion that anyone has “the whole truth” anyway, or that anyone claiming to have it is trustworthy about anything. Set aside that the truth PZ and Chris agree on is a scientific consensus based on empirical data, while PZ’s extension of that claimed truth is not, and therefore is epistemically different (though it may be true, it’s true in a different way). Set them aside even though those are central to the dispute.
Accepting that spectrum as Mehta says it is, I place myself with Douglas Adams (to whom The God Delusion is dedicated). From Life, the Universe, and Everything, part 4 of the Hitchhikers trilogy:
“I was covering a trial,” he said at last, “on Argabuthon.”
He pushed himself up onto his thin and wasted shoulders; his eyes stared wildly. His white hair seemed to be waving at someone it knew in the next room.
“Easy, easy,” said Ford. Trillian put a soothing hand on his shoulder.
The man sank back down again, and stared at the ceiling of the ship’s sick bay.
“The case,” he said, “is now immaterial, but there was a witness…a witness…a man called…called Prak. A strange and difficult man. They were eventually forced to administer a drug to make him tell the truth, a truth drug.”
His eyes rolled helplessly in his head.
“They gave him too much,” he said in a tiny whimper, “they gave him much too much.” He started to cry. […]
“And when the trial continued,” he said in a weeping whisper, “they asked Prak a most unfortunate thing. They asked him”–he paused and shivered–”to tell the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth. Only don’t you see?”
He suddenly hoisted himself up onto his elbows again and shouted at them.
“They’d given him too much of the drug!” […]
“What happened?” said Zaphod at last.
“Oh, he told it all right,” said the man savagely, “for all I know he’s still telling it now. Strange, terrible things…terrible terrible!” he screamed.
They tried to calm him, but he struggled to his elbows again.
“Terrible, things, incomprehensible things,” he shouted, “things that would drive a man mad!”
He stared wildly at them.
“Or in my case,” he said, “half-mad. I’m a journalist.”
“You mean,” said Arthur quietly, “that you are used to confronting the truth?”
“No,” said the man with a puzzled frown,” I mean that I made an excuse and left early.”
The point being, it’s impossible to constantly be telling “the whole truth,” and no audience really wants you to do that. You pick and choose which truths (as you see them) you want to expound. Part of the way you do that is by thinking about how much of the truth you can express without driving your audience insane. Hopefully you also select your slice of the truth based on what will convince your audience that your central point is, in fact, true. Omitting parts of the truth that will drive your audience away (or insane) is not dishonest, and may well be the best service you can do for the truth.