Friday, August 8, 2008

Friday Dust-Kick: Nisbet v. Myers (Again)

This should get interesting: Matt Nisbet has once again criticized PZ Myers for being the wrong sort of atheist, the sort who received a very unfavorable profile in The National Catholic Register. Nisbet:

Titled "The Face of the New Atheism," it profiles PZ Myers and his rants against the Eucharist and the Catholic community. Notice the key words emphasized. The dominant image of atheism portrayed in the article is one of "hate," "contempt," "dogmatism," "a junior high level understanding of religion," "irate," "incredulous," "bigoted"...the list goes on.

Is this how we really want Catholics to view us? Do we really want a group of moderately religious Americans--who polls show otherwise prize science, reason, and stand for many of the same values that we hold dear--to think of us through the prism of PZ Myers?
Note Nisbet's implication that the measure of how "Catholics" (implicitly equated with "moderately religious Americans") will tend to view atheists rests on a single article from The National Catholic Register. I don't pretend to be a close follower of The National Catholic Register, but I didn't have to spend much time on their site before finding an article propounding the evils of contraception, or another, titled "When Your Faith Is Illegal," delivering the maudlin and self-pitying news that some faith-addled medical care providers are required, in many cases, to provide care they find morally objectionable. What next? Will faithful Muslim doctors be required to treat female trauma patients whose injuries occurred while they were driving a car? From there it's a slippery slope to forcing doctors and police to intervene on behalf of Muslim girls who were righteously beaten by their fathers or righteously raped by men to whom they dared to speak in public.

Nisbet contrasts The National Catholic Register's contemptuous coverage of Myers with NPR's favorable treatment of DJ Grothe and Camp Inquiry. True enough, I happened to have caught most of the NPR story as it aired, and it was basically favorable toward Grothe, Camp Inquiry, and atheism. But is Nisbet seriously suggesting the two cases offer a like-for-like comparison, differing only in the tone, style, and combativeness of the atheists on offer? We should, in other words, reasonably expect National Public Radio and The National Catholic Register to start from the same assumptions and with the same receptiveness toward atheism? Really?

The claim might attain some slight credibility if Nisbet could cite instances of favorable coverage of atheists and atheism in The National Catholic Register. Do they like DJ Grothe and Camp Inquiry too? Something tells me they don't favor the skeptical approach to god regardless of where it is found or under whose letterhead it is propagated, and that something comes in this article lambasting the recent spate of pro-atheism books:
Though varying slightly in tone and emphasis, these books bear a remarkable resemblance to one another.

First, they all latch onto the worst historical errors of religious people and extrapolate them to apply to all believers everywhere.
Were it true, this would be a compelling criticism of the "new atheism" books. It reminds me of the way Nisbet's periodic anti-Myers, anti-Dawkins, anti-atheist-bugaboo blog posts vary slightly in tone and emphasis while bearing a remarkable resemblance to one another. They latch on to the worst instances of atheism's public perception and extrapolate these to apply to all instances in which public intellectuals candidly acknowledge the baselessness of god-belief.

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