A bright spot at The Chronicle and an open letter

UPDATE: This thread has grown bloated and full of unproductive back and forth, so please post ONLY if you want to sign the letter. I am deleting all other comments after this announcment.  Thanks for your indulgence.

When is The Chronicle of Higher Education going to put the kibosh on the irrelevant and incoherent tirades of Gnu-Bashers like Michael Ruse and Jacques Berlinerblau, whose continual attacks on atheists don’t do the journal any good? But in the meantime, one person still mans the Gnu Barricades: David Barash. Barash, a biologist at the University of Washington, has posted his latest on Tuesday, “The emperor’s new nakedness.”  Taking his fellow Chronicle “bloggers” to task, he points out what’s really new in New Atheists:  their popularity and their unwillingness to respect religious claims (on a related note, read Jason Rosenhouse’s epic new post on atheist “incivility”)

We have a curious compact of silence here in the United States, or at least we did prior to the arising of the New Atheists. Were someone to announce a blatant absurdity (the Earth is flat, she has been abducted and inseminated by space aliens, etc.), she would be subjected to extreme doubt, often scorn. But claim that Mohammed ascended to heaven on the back of a winged horse, or that Jesus did so without a comparable equine assist, and you must be respected. Why? Because it’s your religion. That settles it.

How impertinent of those New Atheists to treat such claims with skepticism! How disrespectful to suggest that religious claims can and should be scrutinized just like any other pronouncements! How uncouth to speak of these things in anything other than a knowing and admiring whisper!

Thus, it is somehow naïve to point out that there is no evidence whatever for the existence of a soul, immortal or otherwise, that nearly every supposed factual claim in the Bible is either unverifiable or verifiably ridiculous, on a par with the Tibetan Buddhist insistence that the head of the embalmed body of the 13th Dalai Lama, which had been facing south-east, had suddenly and mysteriously turned to face the northeast, thereby pointing to the direction in which his successor (the 14th and current Dalai Lama) would be found. And so forth.

To point out such absurdities is, once again, to be “naïve,” crass, or ill-bred. Such people, we are told, should leave high-falutin’ theologically meaningful analyses to those who best understand them, who know the Magic Abracadabra and have plumbed the Mysteries. They should join the crowd, speak only in hushed tones, and, if they cannot bring themselves to admire the Emperor’s finery, at least have the good manners to keep quiet.

On the big “Nick Matzke = Tom Johnson” thread the other day, a fellow named Roger Stanyard came over to complain.  He is spokesperson for the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE), the UK equivalent of our National Center for Science Education (NCSE); both organizations are worthy endeavors.  But Stanyard immediately alienated everyone by telling us to lay off not only Nick Matzke (who accused Richard Dawkins of playing the “Nazi card”), but religion in general. It’s the usual argument that any vociferous atheism turns people away from science.  I responded to Stanyard, saying in part (I put the identical post on the Dawkins website, where Stanyard is trolling as well):

So are you asking the rest of us atheists, who oppose creationism as well, to just shut up about religion?

Or do you think the battle against creationism is so much more important than the one against the pernicious effects of religion that we should concentrate on the former and simply keep our mouths shut about the latter? You realize, of course, that creationism will never go away until religion does. I know of only a single creationist (David Berlinski) who isn’t motivated by religious faith.

If you’d read my popular book promoting evolution (WEIT), you’ll see that I say virtually nothing about religion.

I’d suggest, then, that you lay off telling us what to do until you’ve read about our goals. The fact is that we’ll always be fighting creationism until religion goes away, and when it does the fight will be over, as it is in Scandinavia.

Stanyard has not responded, preferring instead to yammer on endlessly about somebody who compared Matzke to “vermin”.  That was an unfortunate remark—the kind of name calling I don’t like on this site, but Stanyard glommed onto it like white on rice, or Kwok on a Leica.  Like Matzke and others, Stanyard prefers to drone about tone, and won’t engage the worthy argument that creationism is one battle and religion another, that the two battles are connected, and you won’t win the first until you win the second.

The strangest thing in all this, though, is Stanyard’s claim that we should lay off religion because “You’ll lose a pile of allies.”  Yet that’s exactly what he’s done with his own invective on this site and Richard’s.  So let me just pen this:

Open letter to the NCSE and BCSE

Dear comrades:

Although we may diverge in our philosophies and actions toward religion, we share a common goal: the promulgation of good science education in Britain and America—indeed, throughout the world.  Many of us, like myself and Richard Dawkins, spend a lot of time teaching evolution to the general public.  There’s little doubt, in fact, that Dawkins is the preeminent teacher of evolution in the world. He has not only turned many people on to modern evolutionary biology, but has converted many evolution-deniers (most of them religious) to evolution-accepters.

Nevertheless, your employees, present and former, have chosen to spend much of their time battling not creationists, but evolutionists who happen to be atheists.  This apparently comes from your idea that if evolutionists also espouse atheism, it will hurt the cause of science education and turn people away from evolution.  I think this is misguided for several reasons, including a complete lack of evidence that your idea is true, but also your apparent failure to recognize that creationism is a symptom of religion (and not just fundamentalist religion), and will be with us until faith disappears. That is one reason—and, given the pernicious effect of religion, a minor one—for the fact that we choose to fight on both fronts.

The official policy of your organizations—certainly of the NCSE—is apparently to cozy up to religion.  You have “faith projects,” you constantly tell us to shut up about religion, and you even espouse a kind of theology which claims that faith and science are compatible.  Clearly you are going to continue with these activities, for you’ve done nothing to change them in the face of criticism.  And your employees, past and present, will continue to heap invective on New Atheists and tar people like Richard Dawkins with undeserved opprobrium.

We will continue to answer the misguided attacks by people like Josh Rosenau, Roger Stanyard, and Nick Matzke so long as they keep mounting those attacks.  I don’t expect them to abate, but I’d like your organizations to recognize this: you have lost many allies, including some prominent ones, in your attacks on atheism.  And I doubt that those attacks have converted many Christians or Muslims to the cause of evolution.  This is a shame, because we all recognize that the NCSE has done some great things in the past and, I hope, will—like the new BCSE—continue do great things in the future.

There is a double irony in this situation.  First, your repeated and strong accusations that, by criticizing religion, atheists are alienating our pro-evolution allies (liberal Christians), has precisely the same alienating effect on your allies: scientists who are atheists.  Second, your assertion that only you have the requisite communication skills to promote evolution is belied by the observation that you have, by your own ham-handed communications, alienated many people who are on the side of good science and evolution.  You have lost your natural allies.  And this is not just speculation, for those allies were us, and we’re telling you so.

Sincerely,
Jerry Coyne

Feel free to “cosign” this letter by giving your real name in the comments.  And any reader who has advice for the NCSE or BCSE, please add it in the comments below.  Please be constructive.  History tells me that they’re not going to listen to us, but it’s worth a try.

728 Comments

  1. Posted April 26, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I hereby cosign. The advice given is hardly partisan, and merely sane. Any organization seeking to advance the cause of any natural science would do well to keep its hands well-washed of theology. Explicitly commenting upon an alleged compatibility with any given religion does not at all pass this sniff test.

    AJ Milne
    Ottawa

  2. Jason A.
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Cosign

    Jason Ahrns
    Fairbanks, AK

  3. Gabby
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Oh hell, late to the party again.
    Sign me up.
    Gary A Gabbard
    Cincinnati, Ohio

  4. Nick Andrew
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Cosigned.

  5. Luis A.
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Cosigned.

    I agree 100%.

  6. Nicolas Keller
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    happy to cosign.

    Nicolas Keller
    Munich, Germany

  7. Doug Jensen
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    BCSE and NCSE websites are disturbingly supportive of anti-scientific themes. I also note they favor only a narrow range of superstitions. The websites have no instruction as to how others can have their favored superstition included. I would be less concerned if those websites and indeed the policies of the organizations were on not safe for children lists, as children of other persuasions will certainly feel less valued if they happen to see.

    Signing open letter:

    Doug Jensen

    Rapid City, South Dakota

  8. satan augustine
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Cosigned!

    Frank Wall
    Dayton, OH, USA

  9. Stacy Kennedy
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Cosigned.

    Stacy Kennedy

  10. Ned Freed
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    I support this as well.

    Ned Freed
    Claremont, CA

  11. stephen sarbiewski
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    cosigned this great letter

  12. Kagehi
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    Well, as if I need to do this, given my comments on the subject, but..

    Cosigned

    Patrick Elliott
    Lake Havasu City, AZ

  13. Posted April 27, 2011 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    I approve and therefore co-sign Professor Coyne’s open letter.

    Philippe Giordana, musician and science enthusiast, Nice, France.

    (Also known as Schroedinger’s Dog on AtBC and Pharyngula).

  14. Posted April 27, 2011 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    I support Prof. Coyne’s message.

    Michael Gray, BSc, MACS, MRIAus, MRSA.

  15. Stephen Norley
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    As one of the earlier additions to the NCSE’s ‘Project Steve’ I have become increasingly dismayed over the last few years with the increasingly accomodationist stance taken by the organisation. I therefore would like to cosign Jerry’s excellent open letter.

    Stephen Norley, Ph.D.
    Berlin, Germany

  16. Mathew Varidel
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    I cosign.

    Mathew Varidel
    Sydney, Australia

  17. Sven
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    If it is not too late, I’d like to add my signature to the letter.

    Sven Sinclair
    Columbia, MD

  18. Posted April 27, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    You have my support in cosigning.

    Glendon Mellow
    Toronto, Canada

  19. David Pitcher
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 3:54 am | Permalink

    I endorse the sentiments in this letter, and doubt the rationality of anyone that disagrees.

    David Pitcher, Kent, United Kingdom.

    I’d like to thank Roger Stanyard for revealing the true nature of the BCSE and bringing it to my attention.

    As a result of this I will be making sure that as many other people as possible find out exactly what it is and how its spokesperson behaves.

    To the owner of this blog, please do not remove any evidence that might help the casual reader come to an appropriate conclusion about Stanyard, Matzke and the BCSE. I found it enlightening…

    ..and not entirely unexpected in Mr Stanyard’s case having read Richard Dawkins.net’s front page news comment threads for many years.

  20. MattnDC
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Cosigned.

    Matt Whealton
    Washington DC

  21. Marvol19
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Consider it cosigned.

    Marcel Volker
    Brighton, UK

  22. Lorenzo
    Posted May 2, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Happy to co-sign this letter.

    Lorenzo Braschi,
    Madrid, Spain

  23. Posted May 4, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    One more name to add to the list as a co-signer!

    Jan Stephan Lundquist
    Bow, NH

  24. brian Tarr
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    i hereby cosign this excellent open letter. everything salient has pretty much been said, so there’s not much i can add; but, i do think it would be in the N&B’s best interest to notice how much support($$$) they are losing from people, as is evident from many of the comments in this thread.

    brian Tarr
    Moraga, CA

  25. Posted January 15, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    It is just me or does anyone else really hate the term ‘open later’?

    Eurgh.

  26. Douglas W. Kinney
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I fully agree with Jerry on this matter.

  27. Posted July 6, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my
    comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog!


11 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] A bright spot at The Chronicle and an open letter: Stanyard has not responded, preferring instead to yammer on endlessly about somebody who compared Matzke to “vermin”.  That was an unfortunate remark—the kind of name calling I don’t like on this site, but Stanyard glommed onto it like white on rice, or Kwok on a Leica. [...]

  2. [...] Read on and note especially at the end Jerry’s open letter to NCSE and BCSE, suggesting that they should look askance at the strident and shrill accommodationists among their supporters, advocates of ‘niceness’ whose whose own nastiness towards their fellow atheists exceeds that of those fellow atheists towards religion. Incidentally, if you notice a resemblance between the piece by the admirable David Barash and PZ Myers’ ‘Couriter’s Reply’, it is a genuine coincidence. Barash was not acquainted with the Courtier’s Reply until it was shown him by a reader, and he promptly quoted it, with admiration and in full in his next article. [...]

  3. [...] A bright spot at The Chronicle and an open letter When is The Chronicle of Higher Education going to put the kibosh on the irrelevant and incoherent tirades of [...] [...]

  4. [...] Read on and note especially at the end Jerry’s open letter to NCSE and BCSE, suggesting that they should look askance at the strident and shrill accommodationists among their supporters: advocates of ‘niceness’, whose whose own nastiness towards their fellow atheists exceeds that of those atheists towards religion. Incidentally, if you notice a resemblance between the piece by the admirable David Barash and PZ Myers’ ‘Courtier’s Reply’, it is a genuine coincidence. Barash was not acquainted with the Courtier’s Reply until it was shown him by a reader, and he promptly quoted it, with admiration and in full, in his next article. Share and Enjoy: [...]

  5. [...] Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True (which coincidentally I started reading yesterday, and is so far excellent) has published an open letter criticising the NCSE and the BCSE for cuddling up to the religious at the expense of atheistic scientists.  The full text of the letter follows: Dear comrades: [...]

  6. [...] who works for the BCSE and has lately been telling Jerry and co. to stop dissing religion because, tried to explain about how the UK is different from the US. This was entirely beside the point, as several people tried to explain in return, but Stanyard [...]

  7. [...] Coyne, as an act of his usual standing-up-for-the-truth-ness and general badassery, has posted a letter to the NCSE and BCSE criticizing their policies of alienating atheists in the evolutionary community by sucking up to an [...]

  8. [...] A bright spot at The Chronicle and an open letter « Why Evolution Is True [...]

  9. [...] “New” Atheist open letter strikes a nerve – The other day, Dr. Jerry Coyne wrote an open letter to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and British Centre for Science Education [...]

  10. [...] of such prominent atheists to responding in favor of Coyne’s position such as PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins. And now Roger Stanyard of the BCSE is firing back with a complete straw man position that just [...]

  11. [...] Jerry Coyne wrote an open letter to the NCSE and BCSE complaining of a perceived pro-liberal Christianity bias within the organizations, and a tendency for people who work for them to bash “New Atheists”, alienating their allies. [...]

Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *
*
*

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27,029 other followers

%d bloggers like this: