Why should the criticism of religion provoke such an outcry?

As we saw, Matthew Nisbet cites Paul Kurtz as someone whose lead he is following when he says things like ‘Messages must be positive and respect diversity…[M]any scientists not only fail to think strategically about how to communicate on evolution, but belittle and insult others’ religious beliefs.’ A helpful commenter on his Kurtz post pointed out a recent editorial by Kurtz in Free Inquiry – from the February/March 2007 issue, it was.

The fact that books by Dawkins and Harris have made it to The New York Times best-seller list has apparently sent chills down the spines of many commentators; not only conservative religionists but also some otherwise liberal secularists are worried about this unexpected development. We note that the people now being attacked are affiliated with FREE INQUIRY and the Center for Inquiry. The editors of FREE INQUIRY, of course, are gratified that the views espoused in these pages have received a wider forum. What disturbs us is the preposterous outcry that atheists are “evangelical” and that they have gone too far in their criticism of religion.

Really? The public has been bombarded by pro-religious propaganda from time immemorial—today it comes from pulpits across the land, TV ministries, political hucksters, and best-selling books…Until now, it has been virtually impossible to get a fair hearing for critical comment upon uncontested religious claims. It was considered impolite, in bad taste, and it threatened to raise doubts about God’s existence or hegemony. I have often said that it is as if an “iron curtain” had descended within America, for skeptics have discovered that the critical examination of religion has been virtually verboten. We have experienced firsthand how journalists and producers have killed stories about secular humanism for fear of offending the little old ladies and gentlemen in the suburbs, conservative advertisers, the Catholic hierarchy, or right-wing fundamentalists.

For skeptics have discovered that the critical examination of religion has been virtually verboten. Exactly. This is what I’m saying.

Science columnist William J. Broad, in a piece published earlier this year in the Times…, criticized both Daniel C. Dennett and Edward O. Wilson (another Center for Inquiry stalwart)…Broad faults E.O. Wilson for writing in an earlier book (Consilience) that “the insights of neuroscience and evolution . . . increasingly can illuminate even morality and ethics, with the scientific findings potentially leading ‘more directly and safely to stable moral codes’ than do the dictates of God’s will or the findings of transcendentalism.” Broad remonstrates against such views, maintaining that they exhibit “a kind of arrogance,” and he likewise recommends that scientists declare a truce in their critiques of religion. To which I reply that it is important that we apply scientific inquiry as best we can to all areas of human behavior, including religion and ethics. I fail to see why it is “arrogant” to attempt to do so.

Because…because…well because it alienates fellow citizens.

We note that the National Review and the Jewish Forward are also worried by “militant secularists” who question established religions—they were objecting to an advertisement the Center for Inquiry/Transnational ran on the op-ed page of The New York Times (November 15, 2006), headlined “In Defense of Science and Secularism.” We think it appropriate to defend the integrity of science and the importance of secularism at a time when both are under heavy attack…But why should the nonreligious, nonaffiliated, secular minority in the country remain silent? We dissenters now comprise some 14 to 16 percent of the population. Why should religion be held immune from criticism, and why should the admission that one is a disbeliever be considered so disturbing?…Given all these facts, why should the criticism of religion provoke such an outcry?

Read the whole thing, as the saying goes. It’s very unNisbetesque.

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