Those bloodthirsty New Atheists

I saw this article by Chris Mooney yesterday but I couldn’t summon the will to comment on it. I waited for Jerry to do so instead. If I had commented I would have said something brisk about the silly word “spirituality,” but mostly I would have pointed out how heavily Mooney always leans on war-language when he talks about overt atheists, and how invidious that is. He leans especially heavily here.

We hear a lot these days about the “conflict” between science and religion — the atheists and the fundamentalists, it seems, are constantly blasting one another. But what’s rarely noted is that even as science-religion warriors clash by night, in the morning they’ll see the battlefield has shifted beneath them.

The old science-religion story goes like this: The so-called New Atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, uncompromisingly blast faith, even as religiously driven “intelligent design” proponents repeatedly undermine science. And while most of us don’t fit into either of these camps, the extremes also target those in the middle. The New Atheists aim considerable fire toward moderate religious believers who are also top scientists, such as National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins. Meanwhile, people like Collins get regular flack from the “intelligent design” crowd as well.

In this schematic, the battle lines may appear drawn, the conflict inescapable. But once spirituality enters the picture, there seems to be common ground after all.

It’s invidious, and it’s also quite sinister. It’s a kind of hate-mongering, done in a climate in which atheists are already abominated. I don’t think Mooney is unaware of that climate, so I don’t think he can be acquitted of being at least irresponsible about this. I think he is more or less deliberately stoking hatred of what he persists in calling “the New Atheists,” and I think that is reprehensible.

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