The first step is getting the facts right

Mooney and Kirshenbaum have struck again. They’ve written a piece on their blog telling some entity unattractively called ‘the New Atheist blogosphere’ why TNAB is wrong and M&K are right. It’s a repulsive read, because (as usual but more so) it’s so willfully blind, so obstinately determined not to heed reasonable objections but instead to ‘frame’ them as irrational outbursts from Declared Enemies.

They’ve created this bind for themselves, of course. They spent a large chunk of their very short book blaming ‘New Atheists’ for American ignorance of science, and then labeled all criticism as coming from ‘New Atheists’ and therefore (in ways not always specified) tainted and wrong and thus safe to ignore. The problem there is that they’re getting criticism from some very clever and knowledgeable people, so they’re ignoring criticism that they really (for the sake of their cognitive health, though perhaps not for the reputation of their book) should pay attention to.

But they’re not, and in the process of not, they are misrepresenting both themselves and their critics – which causes their critics to think even less of them. This is not because of some ‘New Atheist’ cognitive distortion.

For several months, Chris tried to engage in a civil debate with Dr. Coyne about the merits of “accommodationism.”

Chris did no such thing. ‘Engage in a civil debate with Dr. Coyne’ is exactly what Chris did not do. Chris made arbitrary random assertions about the need for greater ‘civility’ and cited Coyne as someone who needed to be more civil.

Forrest eloquently defended this view in the first half of her talk; but in the second, she also challenged the latest secularist to start a ruckus–Jerry Coyne, who I’ve criticized before. In a recent New Republic book review, Coyne took on Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson, two scientists who reconcile science and religion in their own lives. Basically, Forrest’s point was that while Coyne may be right that there’s no good reason to believe in the supernatural, he’s very misguided about strategy. Especially when we have the religious right to worry about, why is he criticizing people like Miller and Giberson for their attempts to reconcile modern science and religion?

Many people asked what exactly he meant, and he never replied. That is not ‘trying to engage in a civil debate’ – it’s accusing someone of something and then refusing to elaborate or justify the accusation.

He became concerned a few weeks back, though, after posting (along with a few supporting words) a video of Eugenie Scott talking about science-religion compatibility. Merely for posting this video, Coyne accused Chris of “dissembling” and “using authority arguments.” Scott was also accused of dissembling—simply for making an argument she believes in.

Coyne did no such thing. Coyne wrote a long and considered post pointing out that Mooney was simply repeating the old accusation without having taken in the intervening objections. That does not remotely translate to ‘merely for posting this video.’

And so on. Needless to say, things don’t improve as they go on. This is why a lot of people disagree with M&K – it’s not because we all live in a box with ‘New Atheists’ painted over the door.

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