After this post, I’m not going to be writing about these two any more; I’ve had my say about their book, and I’ve watched in disgust as they engaged in frenzied and nearly duplicitous self-promotion while ignoring or distorting reasonable criticisms of their book. I’ve also seen them move from wanting my take on Unscientific America, saying that they thought it would be “balanced and fair,” to then dismissing my critical opinion on the grounds that I’m a biased “new atheist.” I’m sorry, but my opinion was indeed balanced and fair: Unscientific America is simply a bad book, shallow, unreflective, and not worth buying or reading.
And now Mooney and Kirshenbaum have published an equally shallow and unreflective editorial in the L. A. Times. It’s a rambling, confused piece, accusing the new atheists of hurting science literacy, implying that Richard Dawkins has, in the main, impeded the acceptance of evolution, and even invoking the ghost of Charles Darwin against us. (Why are we supposed to worship everything that Darwin ever said? He was a man, not a god.)
I’m not going to dissect their piece in detail: as usual, P.Z. at Pharyngula has beaten me to the punch, and I have little to add to his lucubrations. And the crowd here should be well familiar with M&K’s arguments. I just want to say two things:
1. The “new atheists” have been on the scene for exactly five years, beginning with Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, published in 2004. But American’s attitudes to evolution have been relatively unchanged (with 40+% denying it) for twenty-five years. This means two things:
a. American illiteracy about evolutionary biology cannot have been due to criticism of religion by the “new atheists.”
b. The dominant strategy of scientific organizations engaged in fighting creationism over the past twenty-five years has been accommodationism: coddling or refusing to criticize religious people for fear of alienating those of the faithful who support evolution. This has been combined with incessant claims that science and religion are perfectly compatible. This strategy has not worked.
2. M&K have repeatedly noted that religious people have a problem with evolution because of religion, and yet they bray incessantly that religion is not the problem: it’s those pesky new atheists. Here is what they say about my criticisms of the National Center for Science Education’s (NCSE) “Faith Project”:
In this, Coyne is once again following the lead of Dawkins, who in “The God Delusion” denounces the NCSE as part of the “Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists,” those equivocators who defend the science but refuse to engage with what the New Atheists perceive as the real root of the problem — namely, religious belief.
And of course they claim that such criticisms are mistaken and counterproductive.
So I will say this to Mooney and Kirshenbaum one last time, without hope that they’ll absorb it or even respond to it: the strategy you suggest has not worked. We’ve been making nice with religion for decades, and America remains as “unscientific” as ever. We don’t just perceive religion as the root of the problem, it IS the root of the problem. Even you, Mooney and Kirshenbaum, must admit that. And many of us feel that Americans won’t begin to accept evolution — or indeed, become more rational about many scientific issues, including stem-cell research and global warming — until they abandon the anti-rational habits of religion. The “new atheists” are against religion because it is inimical to rational thought.