Abdication not the Way to Go

I was surprised to read this about Panda’s Thumb at Pharyngula yesterday. I didn’t know any of it. I don’t read Panda’s very often, whereas I do read Pharyngula almost daily, because I love PZ’s steady flow of irascible atheism. I now realize that the absence of irascible atheism is not absence of mind but intentional. No wonder I’ve never formed a habit of reading it.

The Panda’s Thumb has done a terrible job of covering the Mirecki situation. F-. Total flop. Nosedive into the latrine pit…No names, no details, but let’s just say that there are a few people in the group who would be more comfortable with Michelle Malkin’s innuendo or John Altevogt’s slanders than with supporting an academic critic of fundamentalism…Another lesson I’ve learned, that might be reassuring to some, is that the group as a whole is far more religion-friendly than you might think from reading creationist sites. Criticizing “fundies” is a bad, bad thing, and will cost you the support of many of the Panda’s Thumb gang. Mirecki should be grateful that he isn’t an atheist; I definitely got the feeling that there’d have been anti-Mirecki diatribes publicly washing our hands of him if that had been the case. At least, I don’t feel particularly welcome there, and definitely perceive that I’m a third-class citizen in the hierarchy (heck, I didn’t even know there was a hierarchy until recently). I don’t feel bad enough about it to start going to church to win the prize of being a valued theistic evolutionist, though.

Oh. Oh dear. How unfortunate. See, I think criticizing fundies is one of the more urgent tasks out there right now. What else can we do? Just lie down and let them take over?

While I’m a flaming liberal atheist, most of the people there are not, and they’re actually a diverse bunch; it’s too bad there’s less interest in seeing that diversity expressed than in maintaining a bland front of tepid inoffensiveness. The Panda’s Thumb is a great resource for science and focused critiques of creationism, and everyone should keep reading it, but we should also be clear on what it is not. It is not ever going to address the root causes of creationism in our country: the virulent, pathological brands of fundamentalism that are growing in our midst. That would be…rude.

That’s just it – the root causes problem. They have to be addressed, because the alternative is just submission.

One of the PT people commented on PZ’s post, and said something I find very strange and somewhat worrying.

As a biologist, I can claim some expertise in my area of study. I also have strong views on politics and religion. But no matter how strongly felt my views of religion and politics are, in these I’m just another citizen. As a biologist, I’ll happily tell you when your facts about science are wrong. As a citizen, I don’t believe I have the same warrant to make pronouncements about the personal, individual, subjectively held beliefs of whole classes of people.

But we’re all just other citizens in our views on religion and politics. Why would it follow that we don’t have warrant to make pronouncements about everyone else’s views – whether they belong to whole classes of people or not? That’s just a total abdication of argument, thought, and rational discussion, isn’t it? And if we do that – if we just throw up our hands and say we don’t have warrant to make pronouncements on people’s ‘beliefs’ then we just give the irrationalists a free hand. And that’s the worst thing we can do. The worst. We’re all citizens (if we’re lucky, if we don’t live in dictatorships), we live in democracies (those of us who do), and public matters are for public discussion. Public discussion rests on reasons rather than authority or revelation – it has to – those are the only alternatives. If you give up on reasons and reason, then authority and revelation is what takes over. So the idea that citizens should abstain from challenging one another’s beliefs merely because they are personal, individual, and subjectively held – is a dangerous idea, in my view. It’s just locking up the only tools we have, in the face of a determined, aggressive, hostile, totalitarian enemy. Why would we want to do that?

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