Gnus vs. Academia

Tom Bartlett has written a nice article for CHE that contrasts the work of scientists with the claims of Gnu atheist extremists.

He begins by asking whether the extremist views of the Gnu atheists truly conform to reality:

 Their argument isn’t just that there probably is no God, or that intelligent design is laughable bunk, or that the Bible is far from inerrant. It’s that religion is obviously bad for human beings, condemning them to ignorance, subservience, and endless conflict, and we would be better off without it.  But would we?

He then follows with a brief and incomplete survey of research that suggests religion imparts some form of benefit to the human species.   One scientist who has been making this argument is David Sloan Wilson.  According to Bartlett, “Wilson, a professor of biology and anthropology at Binghamton University, is an atheist (as was his father, the novelist Sloan Wilson) who is interested in finding out what religion does, from an evolutionary perspective, for individuals and societies.”

It turns out that Wilson has been critical of Richard Dawkins, who is the lead activist for the Gnu atheist movement:

In a recent interview, Wilson declared that Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists “don’t understand the nature of the beast” and yet still “go on and on in a very ignorant fashion.”

Note how the Gnu leaders have responded:

When asked for comment via e-mail, Dawkins sent a link to a blog post by Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, and wrote that he had nothing to add to that “brilliant takedown.”

So Dawkins punts by arrogantly dismissing the criticism.

In the post, Coyne mocks Wilson as a whiner whose ideas have been ignored by mainstream scientists and who is “blinded by hubris.” It’s the kind of scorched-earth exasperation that has become Coyne’s trademark. To drive the point home, he embeds a YouTube clip from Finding Nemo in which a pelican tells some annoying sea gulls to shut up. The sea gulls are, presumably, Wilson.

And Coyne’s “takedown” mocks and ridicules.

PZ Myers has sounded a similar note. Myers, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota at Morris, writes the popular blog Pharyngula, which is subtitled “Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal.” He has a generally low opinion of those who, like Wilson, equate evangelical atheism with evangelical Christianity, saying in a Reddit question-and-answer session that such people deserve “a good punch to the balls.” He said it with a smile in the video, but it seemed as if he meant it.

And Myers jokes about committing acts of violence against a scientist.

And there you have it a nutshell – the intellectual rigor of the Gnu atheist leaders consists mostly of dismissive arrogance, mocking and ridiculing, and even threats. 

And then there is this:

The substance of Coyne’s criticism is that while Wilson is speculating about religion’s origins, which Coyne sees as a quixotic endeavor, he and other New Atheists are on the front lines battling extremists, and that Wilson would do well to enlist.

This is laughable.  The “extremists” that the Coyne “battles” on regular basis are Francis Collins, Michael Ruse, Ken Miller, Eugenie Scott, Karl Giberson and the meek members of BioLogos.  If the Gnu leaders view themselves as being on some front line battling “extremists,” then they truly have sipped too much kool-aid.  For the evidence is overwhelming – it’s the Gnus who ARE the extremists.  According to them, even the theistic, liberal-leaning evolutionists are evil and the “accomodationist” atheists who don’t agree are also part of the problem – people who deserve “a good punch to the balls.” It’s hard to imagine a position more extreme than this.

Anyway, Coyne has replied.  Shall we take a look in the next posting?

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