When Keith Kloor first posted on his Discover blog about the perfidy of the New Atheists, lumping me with Dawkins as strident “fundamentalist” atheists, wrongheaded in our dislike of accommodationism, I got a strange feeling about him. He seemed oversensitive, much like Robert Wright or Chris Mooney. In that post, Kloor claimed that atheist stridency was aimed at “making enemies of the whole world,” and that we also hold all religions as equally bad.
Somehow I sensed that Kloor was one of those thin-skinned accommodationists who can’t let well enough alone. Their downfall is always their inability to resist responding to criticism, no matter where it comes from..
Sure enough, after I replied to Kloor, he wrote a second post in response. I didn’t deal with that one because it was lame, citing “authorities” like Saul Bellow and Clifford Geertz to show that religion has substantial value, and suggesting there were things in heaven and earth not dreamt of by us materialists. (Kloor really has a weakness for the numinous.)
In the meantime, P. Z. Myers took out after Kloor at Pharyngula. Kloor’s statement that most ticked off P.Z. was this:
To wave away the persistent questions and yearnings that still drive the religious impulse as merely the last bastion of ignorant superstition is, as I wrote here, “inconsistent with the spirit of science.”
The assertion that religion and science are incompatible has become an article of faith for some–a kind of dogma that I recently discussed in this post. Aside from this being a form of fundamentalism, I also said that I saw no constructive use “in making an enemy of virtually the whole world” by broadly denigrating all religious believers.
Myers offered a withering response:
I’m not waving away the yearnings, they’re real enough, and we all have them. I’m waving away the goddamned answers as inadequate, contradictory, and false.
You do realize, Mr Kloor, that that’s what religion promises? Not more questions (if that were the case, it would be philosophy), but deep cosmic truths, answers hallowed by nothing more than generations of prophets pulling stories out of their asses? It is “inconsistent with the spirit of science” to simply accept those claims unquestioned, to assume that there is some validity to them because you’re afraid that pointing out the flaws might be regarded as “denigrating all religious believers.”
If telling people that they are wrong is denigrating, then my profession of education is dedicated to denigration.
I guess it also makes me a fundamentalist, if your definition of fundamentalis is lacking in reverence for the unsupported authoritarian dogma of religion, and feeling no respect for faith at all.
Thin-skinned as he is, Kloor has now put up a third post, and—oy vey!—promises more of them! Here’s his latest (today) from his Discover blog, a piece called “People who live in glass houses.” I post it in its entirety because it’s short:
To make sure the reader understands what he’s saying, Kloor begins with a picture of a glass house, and then proffers a small rant, now lumping me with Myers instead of Dawkins.
This exquisitely designed house would be perfect for PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne. I’ll expand on that (and more) in the New Year (later this week). Meanwhile, here’s something from Margaret Atwood that reminds us why religion is not so easy to stamp out in the 21st-century:
“I think that the religious strand is probably part of human hard-wiring…by religious strand, I don’t mean any particular religion, I mean the part of human beings that feels that the seen world is not the only world, that the world you see is not the only world that there is and that it can become awestruck. If that is the case, religion was selected for in the Pleistocene by many, many millennia of human evolution.”
You’d that think the atheists who are evolutionary biologists would be able to process this with their super-rational minds. And that they (Myers, Coyne et al) would be smart enough to recognize that one-size-fits all denunciation is likely counterproductive to their goal.
Indeed, for Margaret Atwood is surely an expert on both religion and evolution, and therefore stands as the authority on the evolutionary genetics of faith! Here Kloor promotes Atwood’s tenuous statement as something that evolutionists like Myers and I should acknowledge as truth.
But it’s complete garbage. I’m not going to discuss into the many theories for the origin of religion, but most of them argue not that we have hardwired “genes for god and spirituality,” but that religion is an epiphenomenon of our biology interacting with our culture: something that has piggybacked on humans’ evolved childhood obedience to authority, or on our desire to impute agency to inanimate objects or events. Only a chowderheaded biologist would argue that “religion was selected for in the Pleistocene by many, many millennia of human evolution.” We simply don’t know that! In fact, we know very little about the original source of the religious impulse, except that it can be eliminated relatively quickly (viz., Scandinavia). So if it’s “hardwired,” it’s extraordinarily malleable!
So why, exactly, are we supposed to accept the “scientific” conclusions of a novelist—granted, a good novelist—in the absence of evidence? It would behoove Kloor, since he’s writing for a science site, to stop touting people like Atwood as experts on the evolution of human behavior.
As for our one-size-fits-all denunciation of religion, Kloor still hasn’t absorbed the fact that almost no New Atheist denounces all religions as equally bad. Fundamentalist Christians and Catholics are far worse than Quakers. Scientologists are far more harmful than Unitarian Universalists. Insofar as religions accept the supernatural, they’re all bad in contributing to the denigration of reason, but they’re not equal in their pernicious effects on society. Some proselytize more than others, or try harder make their religious views into public law. Kloor should just quit purveying lies about what New Atheists believe, get back to writing about science, and stop embarrassing the Discover website.
I’m done with Kloor; he lacks the originality of thought to interest me, and his deliberate misrepresentation of New Atheists is intellectually dishonest. Let him put up as many posts as he wants promoting accommodationism, and let him cite as many famous people as he can to show the virtues of faith. All it will do is make him look foolish—at least in the eyes of scientists.
One last point: I find it curious that atheists like Kloor spend a lot more time going after fellow atheists than after religion. That could only be justified if atheists were hurting science more than religion does, but that’s surely not the case. And we’re far less harmful than even moderate Christians. You don’t see atheists throwing acid in the faces of schoolgirls, terrifying children with thoughts of hell, or trying to regulate people’s sex lives.
UPDATE: I was right; Kloor has just put up another post (his second today) accusing P. Z. and me of “atheism fundamentalism.” He even uses the old Chris Mooney tactic of saying that our reaction to him is proof that he’s “hit a nerve”!