I just stumbled across a blog post from anti-theist Jerry Coyne where he took to task Lawrence Krauss for being too “moderate” (according to Coyne’s own enlightened standards).
I really think it’s a masterpiece in its own rights.
“Lawrence Krauss’s new book, A Universe from Nothing, is supposed to be very good; one of its points, I think, is to show that science disproves the cosmological argument for God. In today’s Notes & Theories from the Guardian‘s science desk, Krauss has an essay called, “The faithful must learn to respect those who question their beliefs.” I suppose this stuff needed to be said, but if Krauss is calling for accommodationism, as he seems to be doing, his argument is naive. Saying that the faithful must learn to respect those who question their beliefs is like saying, “tigers must learn to be vegetarians.”
I was a bit peeved from the opening paragraph:
Issues of personal faith can be a source of respectful debate and discussion. Since faith is often not based on evidence, however, it is hard to imagine how various deep philosophical or religious disagreements can be objectively laid to rest. As a result, skeptics like myself struggle to understand or anticipate the vehement anger that can be generated by the mere suggestion that perhaps there may be no God, or even that such a suggestion is not meant to offend.
Really? Is it really such a struggle for Krauss to anticipate and understand the anger of THE (my emphasis) faithful? I think not. And yes, some of the strategy is to offend, directly or indirectly, because one of the best ways to reveal the emptiness of faith is to mock it, and mock it hard in front of the uncommitted. That’s what P. Z. was doing when he nailed that cracker, and what I was doing when I drew a picture of Mohamed.
After citing several familiar examples of how reviled atheists are in America, Krauss concludes:
It is fascinating that lack of belief, or even mere skepticism, is met among the faithful with less respect and more distrust even than a fervent belief in a rival God. This, more than anything, leads to an inevitable and deep tension between science and religion. When such distrust enters the realm of public policy, everyone suffers.
It is fascinating, but understandable. If someone believes in a rival God, they’re at least confessing belief in a sky-fairy—something transcendent. I can easily see why that’s far less threatening than suggesting that one’s belief in sky-fairies is unjustified and ludicrous. For deep down, many religious people are deeply worried that they may be wrong. If you put the basic beliefs of Catholicism in simple language, for example, as I think P. Z. Myers has (and Ben Goren on this site), they sound absolutely ridiculous. No wonder religious folks get all huffy if you suggest that they’re wrong or deluded, and why, in the end, they resort to asserting that evidence isn’t relevant at all: what’s relevant is revelation and what feels good to believe.
As a scientist, one is trained to be skeptical, which is perhaps why many scientists find it difficult to accept blindly the existence of a deity. What is unfortunate is that this skepticism is taken by many among the faithful to be an attack not only on their beliefs, but also on their values, and therefore leads to the conclusion that science itself is suspect.
The first sentence is bloody obvious. And yes, it’s unfortunate that this situation exists, but it’s also inevitable—for religious values stem from religious beliefs. Where else would you get the idea that aborting an early-stage zygote is the same as human murder, or that it’s a sin for a man to lie with another man?
Krauss, who appears to have done a good job showing that the Universe could have arisen ex nihilo, then turns accommodationist, saying that new scientific knowledge need not drive a wedge between science and society.
As a result, the longstanding theological and philosophical question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, like many earlier such questions, is increasingly becoming a scientific question, because our notions of “something” and “nothing” have completely changed as a result of our new knowledge.
As science continues to encroach on this issue of profound human interest, it would be most unfortunate if the inherent skepticism associated with scientific progress were to drive a further wedge between science and society.
As a cosmologist, I am keenly aware of the limitations inherent in our study of the universe and its origins – limitations arising from the accidents of our birth and location in a universe whose limits may forever be beyond the reach of our experiments.
As a result, science need not be the direct enemy of faith. However, a deep tension will persist until the faithful recognise that a willingness to question even one’s most fervently held beliefs – the hallmark of science – is a trait that should be respected, not reviled.
The last paragraph seems rather naive. Unless there are mercenary considerations at issue, I’m baffled why he thinks science need not be a direct enemy of faith. It need not be a direct enemy of only one kind of faith: deism. As for the remaining thousands of faiths that see God as interceding in the world, yes, science must be their enemy. For religion—especially theistic religion—is based on revelation, dogma, and indoctrination, while science is based on reason, doubt, and evidence. No rapprochement is possible.
Getting the faithful to show respect for the way science works will not bring about a truce between science and religion, for lots of religious people already have that respect for science. They just don’t apply it to their own beliefs. That “deep tension” will persist not until religion respects science, but until the hokum that is religion goes away forever. (And if you think that’s not possible, look what’s happened in Europe over the last 200 years.) I wish Krauss had had the guts to say that in his essay. But then he wouldn’t sell so many books.”
The hate of the New Atheists
I am thankful to Coyne that he showed us the true face of anti-theism. It is certainly not just about “ending religious privilege” or “relegating religion to the private sphere”.
No, it is about WIPING OUT all religions by using vile emotional bullying and all sorts of vicious propaganda.
There was a time where I tried to patiently dialog with anti-theists and wanted to understand their stories. All I got in return were the most intolerable insults you can think of and the conclusion that I must either be a lunatic, a hopeless idiot or a liar.
As the Great Richard Dawkins put it:
““Mock them, ridicule them in public, don’t fall for the convention that we’re far too polite to talk about religion…Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion makes specific claims about the universe, which need to be substantiated. They should be challenged and ridiculed with contempt.”
“I suspect that most of our regular readers here would agree that ridicule, of a humorous nature, is likely to be more effective than the sort of snuggling-up and head-patting that Jerry is attacking. I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt … I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.”
Militant atheist Richard Carrier added:
“By and large the minds of the ridiculous can’t be changed. It’s their flock we’re talking to. But even the ridiculous change under ridicule some respond by getting more ridiculous (and those are the ones who could never be swayed even by the politest methods), but others accumulate shame until they see the error of their ways (I’ve met many ex-evangelicals who have told me exactly that). Thus, ridicule converts the convertible and marginalizes the untouchable. There is no more effective strategy in a culture war.”
I constantly speak out for the need for a reasonable and polite dialog between moderate atheists and religious believers and am certainly willing to read challenges against theism from respectful atheistic authors.
Yet I hate being mocked and ridiculed by people towards whom I have only been friendly. This makes me angry and causes me to boycott all kinds of writings resorting to a similar strategy.
According to Carrier, the fact I did not react to emotional bullying by becoming an atheist means that I am a ridiculous and incorrigible “untouchable”.
I cannot help but consider Coyne, Dawkins and Carrier as anti-theistic prophets calling their followers to a holy war for getting the world rid of religious darkness once and for all.
The last lines of Coyne were particularly troubling. Basically his (implicit) reasoning was as follows:
1) It would be good to live in a world where creationism (and other anti-scientific beliefs) have wholly disappeared.
2) If ALL religions were to fade away, creationism would be no more.
3) Hence it is morally good to use our best types of psychological warfare to utterly destroy ALL religions.
Interestingly enough, French racists use exactly the same kind of reasoning:
1′) It would be good to live in a France where anti-white racism no longer exists.
2′) If ALL blacks and Arabs were driven out of the land, anti-white racism would be no more.
3′) Hence it is morally good to expel ALL blacks and Arabs from France.
Let us grant that both 1) and 1′) are true.
2) and 2′) are certainly technically true in both cases.
If ALL religions were to go away, there would be no longer any form of creationism, and if ALL blacks and Arabs no longer lived in France, anti-white racism would be no more.
But it should be clear that a vital fact has been entirely left out of the picture in the second racist reasoning. There are countless blacks and Arabs who are not racist against white folks and are completely respectful of French laws and customs.
It would be egregiously wrong to expel them as well for this would be a gruesome form of collective punishment.
Exactly the same thing can be said about Coyne’s reasoning.
There are countless moderate, progressive and even conservative religious believers who are not opposed to science and reason and who do not cause any harm to the society in which they live.
Advocating to systematically bully them out of their faith is equally egregious.
The fundamentalist mindset of the New Atheists is crystal-clear when you consider the number of times they fall prey to the cognitive distortions “binary thinking”, “overgeneralization” and “focusing on the negative”.
They all too often seem utterly unable to realize and recognize that like everything in our universe, the religious landscape of planet Earth is extremely complex and multifaceted. There is not one Islam and one Christianity but many forms of them, some of them promoting peace and tolerance, some of them fostering hatred, superstitions and (verbal or physical) violence.
Likewise, there are numerous kinds of atheists out there, many of them being nice and respectful people and some of them being hateful self-righteous bigots like the individuals I’ve dealt with in this post. And there are clearly forms of anti-theism preaching the use of physical violence for reaching their noble goal of annihilating all religions. This is all too obvious when one considers the persecutions of religious people by the hand of Chinese and the former Russian anti-theists in the name of making their respective countries free of religion.
I really think that anti-theism is a loathsome hate-group which should not be tolerated in an open society but harshly combated like all other extremisms.
In the same way hateful Christian fundamentalists are an utter embarrassment for the Master they pretend to follow, militant atheists are a shame for the very Reason and Science they profess to cherish.
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