I wanted to blog about this before I forget and the data get buried.
For over a decade now, the New Atheists have been preaching a message – religion is evil and the world would be so much better if only we could get rid of it. Yet as we have seen, atheist activist Jerry Coyne recently did his best impersonation of Capt. Obvious and finally figured out this atheist message was without empirical evidence. Coyne, adopting a position that is incompatible with science, concedes that this New Atheist Message has always been a “judgment call” supported by nothing more than anecdotes.
Of course, being a faithful believer in The Cause, he does what any activist would do – he goes fishing for “evidence” to prop up his preconceptions by asking his readers to come up with something.
Well, this sets the stage for our next entry. Coyne returns to the topic and summarizes the “findings” from his faithful fans:
in my post on Friday, I asked readers to tell me why, in the absence of data, they were so sure that religion was bad for the world. That is, how do they know that if the world had never had religion, it would be better than it is now?
That would seem to be an empirical question, resolvable only with data. Yet as far as I can see (and I haven’t read every comment), most readers feel that the question can be resolved not with data, but with logic or from first principles.
Now you should be able to see why I wanted to archive this blog entry.
Coyne’s blog is one of the most popular New Atheist blogs out there. And he has unknowingly let the cat out of the bag one more time – he acknowledges most of his readers, which we can safely assume are representative of the entire New Atheist population, feel they can resolve empirical questions “not with data, but with logic or from first principles.”
There it is.
Staring you right in the face.
Coyne, living in his cocoon, doesn’t realize he gave away the store.
He also adds:
Or, they cite anecdotes like religiously-inspired violence (my response would be that it’s easy to measure deaths, but not so easy to measure the consolation and well being that, believers claim, religion brings them). But pointing out that religion does bad stuff doesn’t answer the question if it’s been harmful on the whole.
A rare moment where Coyne is making sense. But it is worse than this.
First, anecdotes don’t count as scientific evidence. As Coyne originally pointed out, “One can only cite anecdotes, and the other side has their anecdotes too.”
Second, there is the cherry picking again. It is not hard at all to point out places where secularism does bad stuff too. Neither is it hard to point out the good things religiously-inspired beliefs have done.
One person I talked to said that New Atheist books like The End of Faith or God Is Not Great were meant not to show that religion in its net effects was harmful to humanity, but instead to emphasize that there were some bad effects of religion that had been overlooked. I disagree: I claim that those books were very clearly written to show that religion was a bad institution as a whole.
Coyne is right again.
So I would encourage you to bookmark this blog entry for future reference when dealing with others on your own blog, on some forum, or in real life. While none of this is news to those of us who follow the New Atheist movement, keep in mind there are many people out there who are susceptible to the Gnu talking points and who are willing to take the “comittment to evidence” Gnu posturing at face value. Coyne’s off-the-cuff blog entry nicely, and succinctly, documents and confirms what many of us have been saying:
1. The Gnu’s “Religion is Evil Message” is rooted in emotion and rhetoric, not science and evidence.
2. The Gnu’s posturing about being “committed to evidence wherever it leads” has always been an empty talking point.