PZ Myers has long been one of the leaders in the New Atheist movement. Back in September, he started to come to terms with the inevitable failure of creating some Gnu Untopia. Myers wrote:
I’ve been writing about atheism for about 10 years now. What has driven me is a combination of awe at the amazing insights produced by science, so much deeper and more substantial than any collection of myths, and a furious rage at the lies and injustice and corruption of humanity by religion. For a while there, in the middle, there was also an ebullience at the growing success of atheism, and hope that someday we would be able to cast aside the follies of faith. The awe is still here, the rage is still burning, but the optimism is fading and is being consumed by a new anger at the incompetence and betrayal of the self-appointed atheist leadership.
Too many atheists turn out to be just as shallow as the fervent faithful I rail against. Too many see atheism as another useless difference they can use to excuse discrimination against others they are already prejudiced against.
It has always been clear to me that Atheism As The Key to ushering in some form of utopia was a pipe dream propped up by wishful thinking. After all, we only needed to observe the atheist community itself. Having rid themselves of God and religion, they still cling to their ideologies and emotions, ripping at each other furiously with threats and mockery and worse. Purity tests are constantly invoked to determine who are the Real Atheists and who represent “The Problem.” Enemies are made. Battles continue.
Myers is a Gnu who believed the Social Justice movement could be seamlessly fused with the New Atheism movement. That was his dream. I think he now knows that was a fantasy. So he offers up a warning:
I will make a prediction, right here and now. The number of people identifying as “nones” will grow in this country in coming years, because we’re on the right side of history, and because organized religion is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on other-worldly issues that don’t help people. The number of people identifying as atheists will stagnate or even shrink, because organized atheism is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on irrelevant metaphysical differences that don’t help people.
I can’t say that’s a bad thing. The name of atheism has been burdened with unfair and inaccurate stigma for a great many years, and we’re now drifting into an era in which atheism will be burdened with a totally fair and accurate stigma.
Myers wants to blame the growing stigma against atheist on their rejection of his social justice causes. He doesn’t seem to realize the “nones” are also turned off by dogmatic, extremist, closed-mindedness, traits that define the New Atheist movement. After all, just as the number of “nones” are increasing, so to is the number of people who think astrology is valid.
In the end, what we can learn from all this is that Reason and Evidence don’t have the power the atheists claim. For it has always been clear that the warring factions of the atheist movement both claim to have mastered the use of Reason and Evidence, both claiming to be led by Reason and Evidence. Yet they clash and they clash. Reason and Evidence does not guide them into consensus; it convinces them they are right and the outgroup is wrong. Reason and Evidence fuels their battles.
Reason and evidence can and do guide, but only when the person using them is truly open-minded and committed to intellectual honestly. The problem is that such people, by definition, are excluded from activism.