Journalistic standards

Andrew Brown has no shame.

[Sam[ Harris has had an op-ed in the New York Times, in which, in his bold and exhilarating way, he makes the case against appointing a Christian scientist, Francis Collins, to the important American government post of Director of the National Institutes of Health. This is not because Collins is a bad scientist…But he is, unashamedly, a Christian. He’s not a creationist, and he does science without expecting God to interfere. But he believes in God; he prays, and this is for Harris sufficient reason to exclude him from a job directing medical research.

That’s false. It’s flatly, demonstrably, brazenly, offensively, in your facely, unprofessionally, what journalistic ethics?y false. The fact that Collins believes in God and prays is precisely not for Harris sufficient reason to exclude him from the job at the NIH. Harris says very clearly what makes him ‘so uncomfortable about his nomination’ and it’s emphatically not just that he believes in God and prays. It’s right there in black and white, words on the page, easy to understand – yet Andrew Brown feels free to say he wrote something quite different. Why is this okay? Because it’s CiF ‘Belief’ and therefore there are no rules?

Harris explains his worry very clearly. He quotes Collins on god and morality, then

Why should Dr. Collins’s beliefs be of concern? There is an epidemic of scientific ignorance in the United States. This isn’t surprising, as very few scientific truths are self-evident, and many are counterintuitive. It is by no means obvious that empty space has structure or that we share a common ancestor with both the housefly and the banana. It can be difficult to think like a scientist. But few things make thinking like a scientist more difficult than religion.

He then expands on why. By no stretch of the imagination does it boil down to ‘he believes in God; he prays.’ Yet Brown said, precisely, that it did – ‘this is for Harris sufficient reason to exclude him.’ He then goes on to say

Of course this is a fantastically illiberal and embryonically totalitarian position that goes against every possible notion of human rights and even the American constitution. If we follow Harris, government jobs are to be handed out on the basis of religious beliefs or lack thereof.

Then at the end he works himself up into a good old name-calling ‘demonizing’ fit.

[M]ilitant atheism, of the sort that would deny people jobs for their religions beliefs, doesn’t actually believe in real science at all, any more than it believes in reason. Rather, it uses “science” and “reason” as tribal labels, and “religion” as a term for witchcraft.

Whip that bogey – that terrifying militant atheism that would deny people jobs for their religions beliefs even though that’s not what Harris said.

It’s really interesting that many of the more vituperative atheist-haters – Madeleine Bunting, Chris Hedges, Mark Vernon, and certainly Andrew Brown – seem to be incapable of accurately reporting what atheists actually say. ‘A term for witchcraft’ indeed.

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