Salon jumps the shark, becomes official secular atheist-bashing site

I hereby declare the official editorial policy of Salon to involve atheist-bashing, especially in the form of  the “I-am-better-than-everyone” stance so effectively portrayed in this famous xkcd cartoon on atheists:


And if a picture’s worth a thousand words, than the picture above is worth the 1,666 (!) words of Andrew O’Hehir’s new piece in Salon, “America: stupidly stuck between religion and science.” O’Hehir’s piece says absolutely nothing new, but simply reiterates the idea that fundamentalism is dumb, but not all religion is fundamentalism, that the New Atheists like Dawkins and Harris attack religion as if it were fundamentalism, and therefore they’re dumb too. Have you heard that one lately? O’Hehir’s looking for some kind of middle ground between science and religion, but, bizarrely, admits in the end that it doesn’t seem to exist. I wonder why that is?

Here, in words, is the supercilious first paragraph of O’Hehir’s piece, which could serve as a caption for the cartoon above:

Karl Marx’s famous maxim that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, can apply just as well to the history of ideas as to the political sphere. Consider the teapot-tempest over religion and science that has mysteriously broken out in 2014, and has proven so irresistible to the media. We already had this debate, which occupied a great deal of the intellectual life of Western civilization in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it was a whole lot less stupid the first time around. Of course, no one on any side of the argument understands its philosophical and theological history, and the very idea of “Western civilization” is in considerable disrepute on the left and right alike. So we get the sinister cartoon version, in which religious faith and scientific rationalism are reduced to ideological caricatures of themselves, and in which we are revealed to believe in neither one.

Yes, we have had this debate, and it has continued, though I don’t think it was more active in the 18th and 19th centuries than it is now. And no, it’s not more stupid this time around, because we know a lot more about science, and we’ve seen how science has made even more hash of religious claims.  And note how O’Hehir implies that he, but nobody else engaged in these arguments, understands their philosophical and theological history. Such hauteur! In fact, many of the New Atheist arguments against religion are either the old and supposedly “less stupid” ones (viz. those of Russell or Hume), or newer responses to the defensive but unconvincing lucubrations of Sophisticated Theologians.™ You want stupid? Pick your side: Karen Armstrong or Steven Weinberg.

O’Hehir does indeed go after “young earth creationism” and its spinoffs, but then says that these worldviews are “a tiny fringe” movement in Christianity, implying that most decent Christians are of the liberal Eagleton stripe. He fails to note that 46% of Americans—hardly a tiny fringe minority—are indeed young-earth creationists when it comes to human evolution; that about 70% of us believe in Satan, angels, and Hell; and that 30% of Americans see the Bible as the direct word of God, while another 49% see it as “inspired by the word of God.”  O’Hehir clearly doesn’t get out enough, but at least he notes some of the dangers of melding Christianity and politics. Yet even those he hedges in a strange way:

This creationist boomlet goes hand in glove with the larger political strategy of Christian fundamentalism, which is somewhere between diabolically clever and flat-out desperate. Faced with a long sunset as a significant but declining subculture, the Christian right has embraced postmodernism and identity politics, at least in the sense that it suddenly wants to depict itself as a persecuted cultural minority entitled to special rights and privileges. These largely boil down, of course, to the right to resist scientific evidence on everything from evolution to climate change to vaccination, along with the right to be gratuitously cruel to LGBT people. One might well argue that this has less to do with the eternal dictates of the Almighty than with anti-government paranoia and old-fashioned bigotry. But it’s noteworthy that even in its dumbest and most debased form, religion still finds a way to attack liberal orthodoxy at its weak point.

He’s right about the “persecuted minority” canard, but I fail to see why gay rights, vaccination, and climate-change avowal are either “liberal orthodoxy” (they happen to be things that are either true or moral) or “weak points,” but never mind.  Certainly creationism and persecution of gays are strongly based on religion, and, of course, bigotry is not something that is separate from religion. Religion is certainly one of the main sources of bigotry.

After he gets religion out of the way, O’Hehir goes after his real target: atheists. And here he gets just about everything wrong:

Things can’t possibly be as bad on the scientific and rationalist side of the ledger, but they’re still confused and confusing. [Neil deGrasse] Tyson has made diplomatic comments about science and religion not necessarily being enemies, a halfway true statement that was never likely to satisfy anybody. (Meanwhile, “Cosmos” thoroughly botched the fascinating and ambiguous story of Giordano Bruno, a cosmological pioneer and heretical theologian burned by the Inquisition.) 

I didn’t see this show, but my impression, and that of others, was that the Bruno example was not used to show a conflict between religion and science per se, but a conflict between faith and rationality: how blind faith impeded and persecuted free thinking. O’Hehir argues that Tyson’s aim was to show that, à la Gould, religion and science occupy separate magisteria, but I don’t recall any viewers mentioning such a claim appearing in “Cosmos”.

O’Hehir then takes off the gloves and uses New Atheism as a punching bag, but again gets a lot of it wrong:

Creationists and other Biblical fundamentalists, needless to say, are having none of it: For them, the empirical realm is always and everywhere subservient to the revealed word of God. Meanwhile “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, along with their pop-culture sock puppet Bill Maher, espouse a similar view from the other direction. Their ahistorical or anti-historical depiction of religion is every bit as stupid as Ken Ham’s. Since there is nothing outside the empirical realm and no questions that can resist rational inquiry, the so-called domain of religion does not even exist. These debased modern-day atheists conflate all religion with its most stereotypical, superstitious and oppressive dogmas – a mistake that Nietzsche, the archangel of atheism, would never have made – and refuse to acknowledge that human life possesses a sensuous, symbolic and communal aspect that religion has channeled and accessed in a way no other social practice ever has. Strangely, their jeremiads urging the sheeple to wake from their God-haunted torpor haven’t won many converts.

First, nobody claims that “the so-called domain of religion” doesn’t exist, if that’s conceived as religious practices. If O’Hehir means that there is no evidence for any of the empirical claims of faith, then yes, we have no evidence of that sort. And that is completely independent of history or even the human longing for spirituality. After all, Sam Harris’s next book is on spirituality without religion.

O’Hehir thinks that somehow, because these human longings exist, they give credibility to religion. Well, they do, but only religion as a social or philosophical organization—not as a purveyor of truth. Further, who among us has “refused to acknowledge” that humans do long for symbolism, sensuality, and communality, something that religion tries to channel (along with its other less palatable aims)? Dan Dennett’s Breaking the Spell was in fact an attempt to show why, given the human character, religion has gained purchase. Finally, O’Hehir is simply wrong to say that the efforts of New Atheists “haven’t won many converts.” Has he ever looked at Dawkins’s “Converts Corner” site? That site has 120 pages of letters from people whom Dawkins has helped “convert” to unbelief. In contrast, I know of not one secularist who has become religious because he or she was turned off by the “militant atheism” of people like Dawkins. O’Hehir is a journalist who simply hasn’t done his homework, one who spout soothing platitudes without checking his facts.

What O’Hehir is missing is simply this: despite religion’s catering to some human needs, New Atheism opposes it on three grounds. First, its truth claims are false, and lead people to abandon rationality in other areas of inquiry. Second, that abandonment of rationality, and adherence to dogma, has pernicious effects on today’s world (O’Hehir himself cites America’s religious right, which even he admits has a malignant affect on society, but fails to mention Islam). Third, we can have the good things of religion—the communality, the sensuality, and yes, the spirituality—without the false, corrosive, and divisive claims of faith. After all, Scandinavia, France, and Germany do. And they’re doing fine.

And have a look at this deepity:

While [Ken] Ham’s beliefs are avowedly irrational and Dawkins claims to represent absolute rationality, both come off as passionate extremists within the cool, denatured, post-ideological space of the mass media — where in any case there is no obvious difference between those things.

“Cool, denatured, post-ideological space of the mass media”? What does that mean? (“Denatured”?) And does O’Hehir really see no difference between Ham’s crazed religiosity and arguments about the Flood and the Ark, and Dawkins’s refusal to accept these things because there’s no evidence for them? Yes, there is passion on both sides, but only one side has the evidence. Somehow “evidence” seems to have gotten lost in O’Hehir’s tirade.

I won’t reprise the rest of O’Hehir’s self-satisfied but unconvincing argument, except to reproduce his last paragraph, which I find thoroughly confusing:

Eagleton claims that our “post-theological, post-metaphysical, post-ideological [and] even post-historical era” is reacting with intense anxiety to the rise of a renewed fundamentalism, and the news flash that God isn’t dead after all. But he’s writing from the context of Britain, one of the world’s most thoroughly secularized societies. The American dilemma lies in the fact that we’re not post-anything. The Enlightenment never entirely took hold on this continent, as Thomas Jefferson accurately predicted, and the faithlessness or supermarket spirituality of consumer culture coexists uneasily with intense religious feeling and intense mythological nationalism. If Americans keep fighting the old philosophical battle between faith and reason over and over again, in increasingly silly forms, that reflects an unresolved spiritual contradiction at the core of our national identity. We long to be a shining city on a hill but cannot build it; we long for a mystical synthesis of science and religion but cannot find it.

On the one hand, O’Hehir bemoans the continuing conflict between Enlightenment values and religion. That’s a very real conflict, not a “silly” one.  And while it may be more intense in America than in, say, northern Europe, this conflict is not at “the core of our national identity”. Rather, it’s simply a holdover from the bad old days, combined with the adverse social conditions in America that has kept religion from waning as it has in much of Europe.

The reason the debate goes on is not because it’s been taken over by those “silly” New Atheists who don’t have the proper historical and theological grounding, but because there is a fundamental incompatibility between seeing the world through faith and through the spectacles of reason.

I, for one, do not long for a mystical synthesis of science and religion. Given religion’s methods for finding “truth,” which don’t find truth because each religion has settled on a different version of reality, and can’t find truth because faith accepts things without evidence, no synthesis is possible. That’s why we can’t find one. It’s beyond me why O’Hehir cannot see this simple fact. But perhaps he’s blinded by his animus towards atheism, and by his protruding chest, which, like that of a courting prairie chicken,  has become so puffed up by his preening and strutting that it has occluded his vision.

If anything is “silly” in all this, it’s O’Hehir’s futile effort to straddle the fence between science and religion. His article comes off as saying nothing beyond “both sides are stupid,” and he offers neither a synthesis nor a cogent analysis of the problem.


h/t: Marcel


  1. gbjames
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink


    • francis
      Posted April 15, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink


  2. Ian Hewitson
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Anyone using the word ‘sheeple’ deserves an instant red card and an early bath.

  3. D. Taylor
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    What is priceless is Jerry’s “courting prairie chicken” analogy. Such a great visual and so right on!

  4. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Has this guy never hear of evidence? L

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted April 15, 2014 at 7:37 am | Permalink


    • Posted April 15, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink


      Somehow “evidence” seems to have gotten lost in O’Hehir’s tirade.

      That’s the common failing of the religious and accommodationists both: lack and / or contempt of evidence.

      …and add in philosophers, and the PoMo crowd, and Tea Partiers….



    • Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      Another “exactly” here.

      Even if atheists “conflate all religion with its most stereotypical, superstitious and oppressive dogmas”, so what?

      Our argument against *all* forms of religion is the same. It is not subtle or nuanced because it doesn’t need to be. The issue is simple: How do you know that?


    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 15, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      You’re right in so many ways – first of all he seems to disrespect evidence when he goes on about the New Atheists et al., as Ben suggests but on top of it all, if you look at his paragraphs of pompous presentation, you don’t see much in the way of supporting evidence – just assertions. To wit, the first paragraph Jerry quotes states that:

      We already had this debate, which occupied a great deal of the intellectual life of Western civilization in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it was a whole lot less stupid the first time around.

      So, define then provide what you mean, in historical evidence, that the 18th and 19th C debates around religion were “a whole lot less stupid”. What does that mean exactly?

      The whole article is like this, even with assertions such as:

      The American dilemma lies in the fact that we’re not post-anything. The Enlightenment never entirely took hold on this continent….

      Reference please? What do you really mean by the Enlightenment didn’t take hold – be more specific at least!

      I give him a C- — the C is for crappy writing and the – is for lack of historical evidence and a general disrespect of evidence.

  5. Vaal
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Yep, yep, yep.

    Today’s noms: skewered prairie chicken.


  6. Sastra
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Since there is nothing outside the empirical realm and no questions that can resist rational inquiry, the so-called domain of religion does not even exist. These debased modern-day atheists conflate all religion with its most stereotypical, superstitious and oppressive dogmas

    WTF? O’Hehir here conflates new atheism with the most stereotypical, hyper-reductionist, clueless Materialist who denies beauty, joy, love, and anything else which is emotional – and he DARES to accuse US of straw-manning? Please.

    Here it is again: category error. Consider “religion” as being like morals or meaning or emotions. Equate it if you must with “philosophy” and or “ethics.” Turn it into a matter of identity, of the kind of person you want to be or the kind of life you want to live.

    NOW the question of whether or not God exists is supposed to be approached as if you’re deciding whether love is worthwhile or life matters.

    Do they not see this not-too-subtle Bait ‘n Switch? Or are they too smugly pleased with themselves for finding the Golden Middle Ground between the extremes?

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 15, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink


      • Posted April 15, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        Oh, come on. I think that was at least an A- effort.

    • Posted April 15, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Well, I do have a problem with calling “beauty, joy, love, and anything else that is emotional” the “domain of religion”. Of course those things exist, but they’re properly categorized in the domain of being human.

      So sure, I would say that this kind of “religious domain” doesn’t really exist.

  7. Sastra
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Ok, here is O’Hehir’s main argument against gnu atheism:

    Religious doctrine may well be false or sinister and is certainly mythological, but it is also “a power that moves us to action in ways of which Reason alone is incapable.”

    And here is the gnu atheism argument:

    Religion may be “a power that moves us to action in ways of which Reason alone is incapable,” but religious doctrine is false or sinister and is certainly mythological.

    Yeah, this guy really did a number on us, didn’t he?

    Come on. If arguments against the existence of God are “like claiming that the death of Cordelia in “King Lear” cannot possibly move us to tears because she’s not a real person” then that’s not a refutation of atheism. That’s a Little People Argument. Don’t expect the general public to handle what we can handle. It’s theater. As long as faith doesn’t get too extreme, then where’s the harm?

    Uh huh. Where’s the line where faith gets ‘too extreme?’ Can you pinpoint that for us so we can all see the same spot?

    And it seems to me that throwing curious honesty under the bus as a form of “extremism” is harmful.

  8. gluonspring
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    “Cool, denatured, post-ideological space of the mass media”

    Fox News?

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 5:38 am | Permalink

      Denatured, then cooled, like a hard-boiled egg in a lunchbox. Which explains the smell.

  9. Posted April 15, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    All of Salon’s editorials on atheism sound like they were pulled from a game of madlibs. “I’m an atheist, but… [tell us why you are superior to those other atheists]… unlike that asshole… [insert name of prominent new atheist here]… who… [tell us why that new atheist really gets your goat].”

  10. Ken Pidcock
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    You want stupid? Pick your side: Karen Armstrong or Steven Weinberg.

    I found that bracing, but don’t be surprised if someone finds it uncivil.

    • James Walker
      Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      Maybe I’m missing something, but why is Steven Weinberg stupid?

      • Posted April 15, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        I’m certain that Jerry meant that Weinberg is not stupid. Likewise, Armstrong is obviously intelligent and knowledgeable, but she believes in all sorts of nonsensical god stuff – she’s the prototypical Sophisticated Theologian/Believer. So between the two, who has the stupid or illogical beliefs? We all would say Armstrong, while O’heir would (wrongly) pick Weinberg.

        • James Walker
          Posted April 15, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          Ah, I misunderstood it as the kind of stupid, not stupid vs. non-stupid 🙂

          • Diane G.
            Posted April 15, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

            James, I think it can be read that way. I had to stop and think before I figured out it wasn’t calling both people stupid.

            • John Scanlon, FCD
              Posted April 16, 2014 at 5:41 am | Permalink

              My reading: O’Hehir called both ‘extremes’ stupid, Jerry points to manifestly non-stupid examples on each side.

              • John Scanlon, FCD
                Posted April 16, 2014 at 5:51 am | Permalink

                On one of them, I should say (your choice).

  11. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Just about the most incoherent attack on atheism I’ve ever seen. What Terry Eagleton said of New Atheists “lunging, flailing, mispunching” is actually true of this guy.
    (He seems to write OK movie reviews, though.)

    However, the good news is that you can look up Salon articles by tags, and if you peruse all the last two years’ articles on New Atheism
    a lot of them are actually pretty good.

    Salon likes to have articles attacking prejudice, and this fellow seems to have misconstrued atheism as a prejudiced position.

    I think there are a lot of folks who DO see religion as part of America’s national identity, but that’s a cultural thing, and cultures shift. A more credible statement in the 1950s than the 2000s, methinks.

  12. Larry Gay
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    As of now the number of comments at Salon is 457 and I have sample only 30 or 40. The main discourse appears to be between atheists and people of the middle ground, who feel superior to both extremes, as per Jerry’s xkcd cartoon. The full-blooded religionists seem to be taking the day off. There doesn’t seem to be much analysis of O’Hehir’s actual words a la Sastra or Jerry.

  13. Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Third, we can have the good things of religion—the communality, the sensuality, and yes, the spirituality—without the false, corrosive, and divisive claims of faith. After all, Scandinavia, France, and Germany do. And they’re doing fine.”

    While I generally agree with you, I think this is not a completely correct characterization. (I’ve lived in Germany almost 31 years; I’ve spent about a year altogether in Scandinavia and speak (and read) Swedish an Norwegian and can read Danish). I follow politics in all these countries. I am somewhat less familiar with France, but speak French and follow French politics to some extent.) First, religious fundamentalists (of any persuasion) are a negligible minority (accept for the occasional Moslem terrorist; negligible in numbers but not in effects). This is certainly the greatest difference between most of Europe and the USA. There is a small minority who are religious because of the community, the sensuality(?!) and the spirituality, probably about 10%; they would certainly be accomodationists in your book. Essentially all public spokesmen for religion from these countries (except the former Pope Benedict) fall into this category. There is a large minority with no religious affiliation whatsoever. Probably a slight majority are formally members of a church, but at most of the “hatched, matched and dispatched” variety. The main reason these folks are members of a church at all is because of the tradition of large gifts at confirmation or first communion. Without these, membership in the churches would be much less. (There is a double standard here. If some “sect” arranged for expensive gifts to be given to 14-year-olds if they sign up—whether or not they are officially from the sect or not—, then the state would, rightly in my view, step in and put a stop to it.)

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Damn, I don’t remember getting any expensive gifts at my first communion. Maybe a little prayer book and a medal of “Our Lady”. Perhaps if the church had paid more in bribes I wouldn’t have drifted away a couple of years later!

      • Posted April 15, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        Where was that?

        • Pete Cockerell
          Posted April 15, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

          St Helen’s Roman Catholic Church, Plaistow, London E13. In about 1970.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        My family moved from Australia to the UK the year I turned 7, so I got a purely notional first communion. It was presumably some kind of miracle that I was assumed ready for the sacrament after an ocean voyage (possibly by intervention of King Neptune, who’d visited no less than three times on the trip) with no need for any of the catechism and silly dressing-up that my older sibs had all suffered. Nobody at the new parish was any the wiser (which reminds me this was neither the first nor last instance of parish-shopping by my parents, in connection with contraception [public outspokenness re] and remarriage after divorce). It’s all win-win-win as far as I’m concerned.

  14. Chris
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Salon used to seem relatively enlightened as quasi-mainstream media go, but they’ve gone off the deep end on religion. I’m curious why.

  15. Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    The fringe thing really gets me: even if YECs of the Ken Ham sort were 1% of the population – and they aren’t – they would still be worth criticizing!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 15, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      And creationist is creationist YEC or non YEC it’s just a matter of degree. Both are not even wrong on most things and yet at least the non YEC variety have lots of $$ behind them (think of the DI) & have a lot of political power. Creationists of all stripes are responsible for fiddling with the US school system and encouraging ignorance about science. These people need to be criticized loudly!

  16. Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Sorry, but I haven’t taken Salon seriously in a long time.

  17. Kevin
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Prominent atheists, like Harris and Weinberg, are particularly critical of the people in the middle. The people who believe in God, go to church maybe twice a year but are very happy to label themselves as religious. These are the worst people. They do not take this reality seriously and they hurt humanity because they become spectators in the midst of transition that is going on right before them: the beginning of the end of religion.

    I read only excuses and nothing of value from people like O’Hehir. What is he trying to defend that is worth defending?

    • Posted April 15, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      I can sympathize with this. The fundamentalists are wrong, but they stick to their guns. The accomodationists don’t think things through.

      What really annoys me are “liberals” who criticize religious fundamentalists for opposing abortion even in the case of incest and rape, as if this were somehow worse than those who are generally opposed but make exceptions in these cases. Actually, the fundamentalists are behaving logically: if abortion is murder, then there can be no excuse for it, not even rape or incest. Of course, it is the premise, not the consequence, which is debated, but often the consequence is attacked. To me, someone who wants restrictions on abortion but not in the case of rape is not behaving logically. If it is murder, then there should be no exceptions. If not, then why oppose it in “normal” cases?

      • Pali
        Posted April 15, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        The rape exception is, I think, based on the notion of personal responsibility – if you are choosing to have sex, you have accepted the potential consequences of sex, including getting pregnant, and therefore you are responsible for causing that pregnancy, therefore you must see it to term. If you are raped, of course, this does not apply to you.

        While they still see the abortion as murder, when raped it is forgivable as the victim is forced into the situation against their will. Though I’ve never heard it said as such, I also suspect some level of blame for the rape being applied to the fetus – it’s a dirty rape baby, not one created out of love and sunshine, therefore getting rid of it is less of a crime. People love to treat things as “tainted” somehow and unworthy of true moral consideration – just look at how “criminal” is used to label people (often for their whole lives) rather than behavior, and how the rape or other abuse of prisoners barely draws any attention because those people are judged as having removed themselves from civil consideration.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

          Well, of course those are the sorts of “reasons” given, but Phillip is absolutely right; in what moral system are some babies more killable than others?

          • Pali
            Posted April 16, 2014 at 1:13 am | Permalink

            Considering that Christianity’s entire plot-line is based around inherited guilt, it seems consistent.

  18. michaelfugate
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Roger Ebert skewered O’Hehir for a silly review O’Hehir wrote on the movie Secretariat.
    O’Hehir seems to inhabit at world far from reality.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

      I nearly skipped that till I noticed the title; great read, thanks for the link.

  19. Larry Cook
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    O’Hehir comes across like an inexperienced writer who has discovered that he likes the sounds his words make regardless of what they mean. He exhibits a terrible lack of logic time and time again. When he states that we had these arguments in the 18th and 19th centuries and we did it better back then he not only ignores that we obviously never came to a satisfactory conclusion in those arguments but also that we’ve had 100-200 years advancements in science since then. Arguments from religion stay sickeningly the same, but arguments from science refreshingly change with discovery and new ideas.
    And Thomas Jefferson was certainly a man of the Enlightenment and the idea that the Enlightenment never took hold here loses credibility when you consider that we created a secular government with separation of church and state. Let’s here about any other country where Enlightenment ideas were so thoroughly put to practical use.

  20. revelator60
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    O’Hehir is a sometimes good film critic, but his screed doesn’t contain a single original thought. Adopt his complacent view of history and you wouldn’t know that in 18th century religious debates atheists could not even debate under their real names. Now look at today, when Dawkins can write best-selling books under his own name and not worry about committing social suicide.
    All he has to worry about is sniping from people like O’Hehir, whose article is so paint-by-numbers that it has inspired me to assemble a How-To Guide for Writing Atheist-Bashing Articles. Follow these easy steps and Salon will be sure to publish you:

    * State that New Atheists and religious fundamentalists are really alike.

    * Complain about scientism and all those uppity scientists out to destroy the humanities with their rationalism (see O’Hehir defend King Lear from the non-existent attacks of strawmen).

    * Insist that science relies just as much on faith as religion. Your lack of scientific knowledge will make this easy to write.

    * Whine that atheists are attacking a reductive concept of religion (the most popular and widespread one, but don’t admit that). Religion is most refined when most nebulous.

    * Demand that atheists address every single form of theology ever devised (no matter how arcane, stupid, whacko, or foreign to the mindset of most religious people) before they can be taken seriously.

    * Rudely attack atheists for their rudeness. Tone troll to your heart’s content. Make sure to personally call out Richard Dawkins, for he is the devil.

    * Quote faithist deepities on the value of religion—the gassier the better. If you are O’Hehir, quote Terry Eagleton, whose crypto-Christian name-calling you repeatedly praised in Salon.

    * If you happen to be an atheist, insist that the little people less intelligent than yourself need religion. Pat yourself on the back for standing up for the little people.

    * Use Nitezsche as an example of a good little atheist and ask why New Atheists can’t be more like him. Ignore how rude Nietzsche was about religion in his last books. Similarly ignore how Nietzsche called Christianity the wretched religion of weak, degenerate slaves—if an atheist said that you would ceaselessly attack him, but you need to pretend Nietzsche is on your side.

    * Insist there is no divide between religion and science—it was made up by all those atheist and fundamentalist fanatics, and if they’d only shut up, everything would be better. Take a courageous stand in the middle of the road.

    And there we have it. With this easy formula you can be the envy of all your atheist-bashing friends and score brownie points with the great Salon editor in the sky.

  21. madscientist
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    There’s little money to be made when you aim for an intelligent audience. There’s plenty to be made from rubes – as you can see there is never a shortage of radio/tv/internet content aimed at the rubes.

  22. hank_says
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    I hereby coin and invoke Internet Rule 774 (named for the ID of the xkcd comic reprinted above):

    Any person bashing both sides of an argument almost certainly understands neither.

  23. rogerivanhart
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    It is their prerogative, although the editorial staff need to explain the mechanics underlying walking on water or turning water into wine in the same way that atheists can explain the mechanics of evolution. If they cannot then they’re just full of hot air.

  24. Diane G.
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    A very minor point, but O’Hehir also misconstrues the meaning of “sock puppet,” in today’s parlance.

    • Robin Brown
      Posted April 16, 2014 at 2:54 am | Permalink

      Unless he believes that Bill Maher actually IS Richard Dawkins in disguise.

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 17, 2014 at 12:29 am | Permalink

        Well that would certainly explain the “strident Dawkins” trope!

  25. John Scanlon, FCD
    Posted April 16, 2014 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    I, for one, do not long for a mystical synthesis of science and religion. Given religion’s methods for finding “truth,” which don’t find truth because each religion has settled on a different version of reality, and can’t find truth because faith accepts things without evidence, no synthesis is possible. That’s why we can’t find one.

    I seem to recall that ‘QFT’ per se is against Da Roolz, but the above is quoted as an example of fine writing, and an argument and conclusion with which I heartily agree.

  26. Posted April 16, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    After five decades of life in these United States, and two of them as an activist atheist who gives no quarter to fundamentalism and tax-exempt religions, when god-botherers actually have evidence for their views, they can play in the sandbox of human thought. Right now, they are like the neighbor’s cat that uses the sandbox as a litter tray, expecting…no, demanding that the secular world clean up after their messes. (Terrorism, pedophilia, jihad, creationism, interference in legal medical procedures, etc).

  27. Posted April 17, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    “because these human longings exist, they give credibility to religion.”

    do pedophile longings validate pedophilia?

  28. David T
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    What a myopic idiot! Unbelievers existed as far back as religion itself if O’Hehir actually knew any history at all. In Western civilization, as early as Socrates and Epicurus both spoke against religion with their Euthyphro Dilemma and “Whence Comes Evil” arguments respectively. I suppose he believes in pseudoscience too? What little bubble does he live in? What a load of nonsense, yet another sign of the creep of voodoo into popular press. Shame on Salon!

  29. Posted April 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    You nailed it. Salon allows quite a bit of fancy-sounding garbage to spoil their site. I had a similarly violent reaction to a piece attacking Hitchens and New Atheism:

    I deeply feel your frustration. Nothing quite upsets me like people using their obviously well-developed vocabularies to make interesting sounds while drooling all over whatever the topic was supposed to be.

    Love the site. I’ll be following from now on!

  30. Filippo
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Salon jumps the shark, become official secular atheist-bashing site […]

  2. […] ‘new atheists’ of! There’s a good article over at Why Evolution is True called Salon jumps the shark, becomes official secular atheist-bashing site completely debunking the arguments O’Hehir presents. Highlights include pointing out that: […]

%d bloggers like this: