Writing for the Times Higher Education, Matthew Reisz, recalls a previous article:
Five years ago, I wrote an article arguing that the idea of a “war” between science and religion is not a very helpful one, given that “all-out wars between neighbours tend to be pretty unpleasant, and the reality is that atheistic scientists have to share space in universities with scientifically literate religious believers and religiously committed scientists”. Although I was critical of some militantly atheistic scientists – such as one who regards religion as “intellectual terrorism” and “mental weakness” – the general tone could hardly have been less inflammatory.
Indeed. It was a good article which led off with a typical New Atheist scientist:
“Arik” is a physicist at a US university. Although he is easy-going on most issues, he regards religion as a form of “intellectual terrorism”, a “virus” to which he has now become “immune”, and he is proud that his children have been “thoroughly and successfully indoctrinated that belief in God is a form of mental weakness”.
Far from being worthy of even grudging respect, religion is to “Arik” simply “garbage – the detritus left over from the age of enlightenment and the scientific revolution”. Its fierce and inevitable struggle with science counts as “the only realization of the battle between good and evil that I know of”.
Much of this is pretty familiar. The notion that religion is perniciously simple-minded and locked in an eternal fight with science has been powerfully argued by a number of atheist thinkers, many of them based in the academy, with the charge led by Richard Dawkins in his 2006 best-seller The God Delusion.
As we all know, New Atheists tend to be thin-skinned and hate being criticized. So not surprisingly, New Atheist activist Jerry Coyne brought this article to the attention of his devoted followers in a blog entry entitled, “Times Higher Ed promotes a science-faith lovefest.” Even though Reisz is an atheist, Coyne set the stage with the following introduction:
The “science-and-faith-are-friends” articles just keep on coming as religious people try to neuter the discipline most dangerous to their faith.
The title of the blog entry, coupled with that lead sentence, served as red meat for Coyne’s rabid fans, who then predictably launched a series of personal attacks on Matthew Reisz.
And that gets us back to Reisz’s article:
I have obviously written scores of articles since then and have hardly given that one much thought. But the other day, when I was searching for something else, I happened to come across a post on the Why Evolution is True website, where I was subjected to some pretty startling abuse.
It is interesting to note that Reisz does not mention Coyne as the owner of this “website.” Either Reisz does not know Coyne owns the site or he is trying to spare Coyne the public embarrassment of being the owner of such a nasty, abusive site.
I was accused of “promoting a science-faith lovefest”, being “pretty much biased against atheists”, and producing “totally juvenile”, “massively tedious…bilge”, fit only for being “put in the recycling bin or better still in the cat litter tray”. I was called “an asshole” and a “so-called journalist” who managed not only to “miss the target when he shot his arrow” but to send it in “the wrong direction”, where it “came around and shot him square in the ass”.
One contributor to the thread wondered whether I was “really so blind or stupid” or just “a manipulative prick”. Another (don’t tell my boss) was “shocked at such an appalling article being in the Times Higher Ed”. A third – best of all – suggested I was “lying for Jesus”.
In other words, the typical New Atheist responses to their perceived opponents. Of course, this is mild compared to the torrents of bile they spew out at religious people.
Reisz then finds himself in a position that many of us recognize:
But what is really weird is just how distant it seems from what I actually wrote. Amid what strike me as a few valid criticisms and a few more I am happy to reflect on, torrents of bile were directed at me for minor irrelevancies, things I hadn’t said (and don’t believe) or comments I had quoted from others. Far from being “biased against atheists”, I am – for what it’s worth – a pretty convinced atheist myself. And although I am sceptical about whether science and religion are engaged in a battle to the death, that hardly means I want to “promote a lovefest”.
The key point is this – “what is really weird is just how distant it seems from what I actually wrote.” I think most people who have ever argued with a Gnu know exactly how that feels. In fact, over the years on this blog, I have had to question, again and again, whether or not my Gnu critic actually bothered to read what I wrote. They often argue against things I did not write and when they do engage on something I actually wrote, they tend to be minor irrelevancies. In other words, there is nothing atypical about Matthew Reisz’s experience. It is a common experience shared by all who argue with the New Atheist leaders and/or their followers. It doesn’t matter if you are an atheist, agnostic, or theist. You will have the same experience if you dare to disagree with New Atheist orthodoxy. In fact, Edward Feser nicely summarized his own experience with their approach:
It is as if these people are so lost in their delusions that they literally cannot see what is really there on the page or the computer screen in front of them. All they can see is the New Atheist Fantasyland they’ve constructed, where every ticket is a scarlet-A-for-atheist ticket, and Coyne and Co. keep going on the same rides over and over and over again. The New Atheists like to think that they win every argument, and indeed they do, though only in the way Walter Mittywins every battle.
Of course, New Atheists, as usual, might want to dismiss the complaints of Reisz and Feser as the complaints of sore losers, but Coyne himself has taken away that option:
Reisz says that some of the comments below it were rude, and I have to agree with him….. Some of these comments were more offensive than others, but calling Reisz an “asshole” and a “manipulative prick” is simply out of bounds here.
He has even instituted yet another rule for his blog:
The Roolz (read them again) specify that we’re not to abuse other commenters or call them names. I’d like to add that we should extend similar courtesy to people who write articles with which I or the readers disagree.
Although in the comments, it doesn’t look like Coyne plans on any strict enforcement of this rule:
I can no longer read every comment on every post, though I do try, so sometimes unwarranted rudeness can slip through the cracks. I won’t ask readers to snitch on each other for this, but try policing each other if you see it.
And there is a big loophole in this new rule:
What I’m asking for now is this: is when commenting on a piece by someone who’s not a known charlatan, miscreant, or historical jerk (i.e., not people like Deepak Chopra or Ken Ham).
Given that New Atheists are likely to view any religious person as a charlatan, miscreant, or historical jerk, I’d say the new rule won’t apply that often to Coyne’s religious critics.
All in all, given the lax enforcement and the limited scope, it looks like the new rule is just window-dressing to help soften the public image a bit.