More lessons in civility

Backlash against “new” atheists, chapter 479,811.

We were initially surprised that our co-authored book, Unscientific America, was so strongly attacked for observing that scientists should strive to improve their skills at public communication–and that this probably includes not alienating potential religious allies or mainstream America. But in a sense, the attacks made a kind of sense. Mostly, they came from those for whom this advice ran contrary to their particular project of denouncing much of America and the world for alleged ignorance and superstition–the New Atheists.

That’s “backlash” because it’s untrue, and distorted, and misleading. It’s dishonest and unreasonable, and those qualities make it backlash as opposed to disagreement or criticism. It is of course entirely possible to disagree with “the New Atheists” or “new” atheism in a reasonable and truthful way. It’s noticeable and interesting, though, that the vast bulk of the unfavorable reaction to “new” atheism is not like that, but is, rather, untrue, and distorted, and misleading. There has been a torrent of unfavorable reaction to “new” atheism, and I have seen very little of it – to tell the truth I don’t recall any, which of course is not to say that there isn’t any – that is not hostile and dishonest.

The quoted passage is untrue and distorted in several ways. One is that it doesn’t say who “the New Atheists” are, which means it leaves the impression that anyone and everyone that someone might consider a “new” atheist fits that hostile and dishonest description.

That’s an ugly trick. And the description itself is ugly – typical, and ugly. It’s typical of the shameless hyperbole that backlashers permit themselves to indulge in, as if it were simply self-evident that “new” atheists are on a moral level with Nazis or child-raping priests. I’m often considered and labeled a “new” atheist, and I consider myself to have a lot in common with people who are so labeled (and so I consider the label a compliment), so I’ll give my position on this description. I have no “project” to “denounce” much of the US and the world for alleged ignorance and superstition. That doesn’t describe me, and it doesn’t describe the “new” atheists I’m familiar with, either.

It’s a curiously anti-intellectual and paranoiac description of people who make arguments in books and articles and blog posts, too. It makes us sound as if we lead Nuremberg rallies against the majority of human beings.
In that, of course, it is simply typical of backlash rhetoric, which seems to be hell-bent on stirring up as much hatred of avowed atheists as it possibly can. It never stops surprising me how cheerfully willing the backlashers are to play with this kind of fire.

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