Friday, April 16, 2010

Get a Dog

Massimo Pigliucci is tired, so very tired, of all the outrageous invective directed at his friend who Fox-Newsily spun the word myth into an elaborate and specious theory of church-state separation:

It isn’t a matter of defending a friend, who is perfectly capable of doing so himself. Or to attack PZ personally — I never met the guy, and I occasionally enjoy his antics. But this to me represents the latest example of an escalation (downwards in quality) in the tone and substance of the discourse on atheism, and I blame this broadly on the rhetoric of the new atheism (the only “new” aspect of which is precisely the in-your-face approach to “reason”). With few exceptions (mostly, Dennett), what we have seen in recent years is much foaming at the mouth, accompanied by a cavalier attitude toward the substance, rationality and coherence of one’s arguments. And now we have seen a new low consisting of childish insults to a fellow atheist and writer who is clearly fighting the same battle as the rest of us.

I am often told by my non-activist friends (pretty much all of whom are agnostics or atheists themselves) that the problem with the new atheism is that it looks a lot like the mirror image of the sort of fundamentalist rage that we all so justly abhor. I always shrugged at this accusation as being overblown and missing the point, after all we — unlike them — are on the side of reason and true human compassion. Now I’m not so sure.
It's difficult to imagine a clearer form of a "cavalier attitude toward the substance" than whining that science and non-science can't be accurately distinguished in a science classroom.

Beyond that, notice how the whining has morphed. Usually the anti-"new atheist" plaint is that harsh invective will repel believers who might be amenable to a cool, calm approach. Now, apparently, those nasty "new atheist" are being too mean even when squabbling with other atheists.

No more harsh words or ... or else what terrible calamities will befall the gregarious, dulcet climes of the freethought community? Some will get tummy aches, forget where they left the car keys, feel an urge to punch something, shake their tiny fists whilst raging at the empty heavens? Atheists will find each other unpleasant from time to time? RSS feeds will drop from aggregators?

Or here's a thought: perhaps they'll become passionately engaged, find themselves forced to think through matters critically and skeptically, refine and revise ideas and arguments. Call me a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

As the saying goes, if you want a friend, get a dog.

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