There is a certain kind of atheist who never misses a chance to slander the Gnu Atheists, and the usual charges are about tone—we’re strident, arrogant, not respectful, and shout forced laughter into the faces of the faithful.
We’ve seen several of these tone trolls, including Phil Plait and Jeremy Stangroom, go after their fellow atheists on these grounds. Invariably the instances of “stridency” turn out to be either false (as in the case of Walter Smith—the real “Tom Johnson“), or of strong criticism that barely reaches the level of invective (as in Stangroom’s pathetic—and now abandoned—attempts to show us up as evil).
We have another case. This time the role of Tom Johnson is played by Nick Matzke, former employee of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and now a graduate student at Berkeley. Over at Panda’s Thumb, there’s been some discussion of a new essay that is supposed to demonstrate (it doesn’t) that Gnu Atheist invective will turn people away from science. The original post was by Matzke, who quickly showed that he’s a nasty piece of work. He first links to the article, which is by Chris M**ney, and then, when the predictable criticism begins, Matzke shows his true colors. (Isn’t it the case that these guys are even more uncivil than the Gnus they decry?)
First of all, please react to what Mooney is saying here, not some generalized reaction to whatever ridiculous grudge the Gnus have built up against Mooney over the years. Tell us what, specifically, you disagree with in what he wrote, and please back it up with science, like science defenders ™ are supposed to do.
I never understand the hot death people rain down on Chris Mooney for this kind of thing (*). They tend to be the same people that rain hot death on all opponents, real or imagined, all the time. You’ve got to realize, the vast majority of people out there are not committed, deliberate creationists (or climate deniers, or whatever). The vast majority of people have very vague ideas about these topics, whatever their opinions. They can be reached, but not if you lead with you are stupid liers [sic] whose religion is also a lie and by the way there’s no God, no objective meaning to life, and if you think otherwise then science is against you, it’s a package deal and you have to accept all that if you accept evolution/global warming.
I’ve done a lot of speaking to general audiences – students, civil rights groups, church groups, etc. Not once has it seemed even mildly likely that provoking a defensive reaction was a good idea. It’s only good, maybe, when you are in a shouting match on a blog or on Fox News, and even in those venues it’s extremely debatable if it does anything other than get people mad and shut down and repel the very people you would like to reach.
Reader Jolo then asks Nick about the Tom Johnson-ish church group business:
Nick, who does this? Who are these people that go into church groups and provoke defensive reactions? You would be willing to back this up with more than a general comment I assume?
Matzke responds with a pretty serious claim:
Well, I have seen Richard Dawkins address large general audiences and quite deliberately, but ridiculously, play the Nazi card against religion. It’s an instance of Godwin’s Law, and it’s no better when Dawkins does it than when anyone else does it.
Reader Chris Lawson, who’s familiar with this accusation, attacks it immediately:
Are you sure you saw that, Nick? Or did you read the news post by Barney Zwartz covering the atheist conference in Melbourne that turned out to be an egregious misquote for which Zwartz subsequently apologised but not in time to prevent it being reposted in newspapers around the world (none of which bothered to report Zwartz’s apology).
I would be impressed if you could show me a single trustworthy reference to Dawkins equating religious belief with Nazism.
Other people ask for details as as well. What happens? The rest is silence: Nick doesn’t answer. I suspect it’s because there was no such event (or it’s merely the one that Chris Lawson mentions), and Matzke hopes that this will blow over if he just keeps his head down and shuts up.
I won’t let him, though. Like Woody Allen with Marshall McLuhan, I happen to have Richard Dawkins right behind this sign. I wrote to Richard and asked him if he’d ever compared religious people to Nazis. Sure enough, the only time he’s been accused of that was the incident mentioned by Chris Lawson. And Dawkins didn’t compare religious people to Nazis—he simply used the word “Pope Nazi” to refer to Pope Pius XII, a Nazi sympathizer, since Pius’s name had temporarily slipped Richard’s memory. With Dawkins’s permission I post his reply.
[For a full account of the incident, first read this post on the Thinkers Podium website]
The above account correctly states that I was referring to Pope Pius XII, NOT Benedict XVI. I was answering a question about the absurd Roman Catholic practice of looking for ‘miracles’ performed by dead people as evidence that they should be made saints. The question was about the Australian candidate, Mary McKillop. In addition to her I mentioned another candidate for sainthood, Pope Pius XII, except that I forgot his name and referred to him as ‘Pope Nazi’. A Catholic apologist might object that Pius XII’s Nazi sympathies can be excused on grounds of political expediency, and that therefore I was being unduly harsh in calling him ‘Pope Nazi’. It was my shorthand for “Pope . . . I’m blocking on his name, but you know who I mean, the wartime Pope who was accused of collaboration with the nazis.”
But what is absolutely certain is that
1. I DEFINITELY meant Pius XII, not Benedict XVI. This should have been obvious to everyone who heard my speech, since Benedict XVI, being still alive, cannot be a candidate for sainthood
2. I DEFINITELY didn’t come anywhere close to equating any religion with nazism
So, I challenge Matzke to break his silence and either apologize, correct himself, or name any other incidents involving Nazis (since he says he’s seen Dawkins do this at “large general audiences,” which is plural).
It’s curious that these New Accommodationists are so quick to criticize us for our tone, but then adopt exactly the same tone (“hot death rain,” “ridiculous grudge”, etc.) in their criticism. Further, they’re always weak on the facts, unable or unwilling to give specific instances of Gnu Bad Behavior. And it’s happened again. Like Tom Johnson, Matzke has apparently made stuff up to support his accusation. I’m starting to realize that people like him actually despise Gnu Atheists more than they do creationists.
And by their own meanness, invective, and even fabrication or gross exaggeration of incidents, these accommodationists—many who work or worked for the NCSE—have alienated a whole group of potential supporters: those who are both vocal atheists and strong supporters of evolution. In fact, these accommodationists are even worse than Gnus, because they make up stuff. And why behold you the mote that is in your brother’s eye, but consider not the beam that is in your own eye?