Back in 2006, Sam Harris made an incredibly stupid argument:
Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God — as some scientists seem to manage it — there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is.
While a first year college student would likely note that Harris is confusing correlation with causation, this doesn’t stop another Gnu leader from regurgitating the same talking point seven years later:
while the official position of the National Academy of Sciences is that there is no conflict between science and faith, 93% of the members of that Academy—the most elite body of scientists in America—are atheists or agnostics……No conflict? Why is atheism among scientists tenfold more common than among the American public, and even higher among scientists at more elite universities or those who are members of more elite organizations? The answer surely involves atheists going into science more often, but almost certainly the main reason for the discrepancy is simply that practicing science erodes one’s religious belief.
There are so many things wrong with this argument that it is embarrassing to see men who are supposed to be scientists making it. But let’s just focus on one aspect.
Why have Harris and Coyne cherry-picked this variable alone? Surely, such one-dimensional explanations can be used to account for other facts about the NAS. For example, what is the % breakdown of males and females who are members of the NAS? I couldn’t find a list of the NAS members (and I admit not looking very hard), so I decided to search the member directory of the NAS with the ten most common male and female names . It turned out that 614 members have the ten most common male names. Yet only 76 members have the ten most common female names. Hmmm. So while it is true that 93% of NAS members are either atheists or agnostics (as if there is no difference between the two), it’s also probably the case that something like 89% of NAS members are male.
Now imagine if someone decided to use Coyne’s logic and argue that science and being female are incompatible. Imagine if they borrowed from Coyne’s line of thinking and argued “the main reason for the discrepancy is simply that practicing science is something women can’t do very well.” Or maybe they borrow from Harris and argue, “there are few modes of thinking less congenial to women than science is? And they use the NAS data to support their case.
Any thinking person would recognize this as poorly supported sexism. Yet for some odd reason, the New Atheists don’t seem to recognize the poorly supported, bigoted essence of their own version of the sexist argument.