Oh dear, Karl Giberson is mad at me. He’s just disgorged two articles that criticize me for incivility and for not properly understanding the ways of God. The first, “Atheists, it’s time to play well with others” (oy, what a title!), is at USA Today. The second, “Jerry Coyne’s insufferable argument,” is at his own venue, BioLogos. I’ll take up the first one here, as I’m not sure I have the stomach for both.
There’s really nothing new in the USA Today piece—it’s the wearying argument that even if the New Atheists are right, and there is no God, our tone is simply off-putting. We’re shrill, obstreperous, and intolerant. More intolerant, in fact, than fundamentalists themselves, since a religously conservative seminary was open-minded enough to hire Bruce Waltke after Reformed Theological Seminary forced him to resign for being soft on evolution.
Here’s what Giberson says.
Science and faith are compatible because there are lots of religious scientists. Some of them have even won Nobel Prizes! Hello? Anybody listening out there? Earth to Giberson: no New Atheist has ever denied that faith and science can be “compatible” in the sense that both can be simultaneously embraced by one human mind. The argument is, and always has been, about whether science and faith are philosophically compatible. Do they clash because they deal with “data” in disparate ways? Do they have completely different standards for judging “truth”? I say “yes,” and assert that religious scientists exist in a state of cognitive dissonance.
I stated this perfectly clearly in an earlier New Republic article that, apparently, helped inspire Giberson’s USA Today piece. But this simple logic still eludes him. Well, let me inform Dr. Giberson one last time what his argument implies: Catholicism is compatible with pedophilia because many Catholics are pedophiles.
Atheist-scientists claim “that a fellow scientist doing world-class science must abandon his or her religion to be a good scientist.” You know, Giberson is really starting to tick me off. I have never said this, nor, to my knowledge, have any New Atheists. All of us agree, for instance, that evangelical Christian Francis Collins is a good scientist. What we say is that anybody doing any kind of science should abandon his or her faith if they wish become a philosophically consistent scientist.
It’s hard not to see Giberson as disingenuous when he continues to accuse New Atheists of things that they don’t believe, and which he knows that they don’t believe. That’s how creationists behave, for crying out loud.
I attacked Giberson in an unseemly manner.:
Dennett’s brother-in-arms, atheist Jerry Coyne, raked Brown University cell biologist Ken Miller and me over the coals in The New Republic for our claims that Christians can unapologetically embrace science.
Raked them over the coals? I defy anybody to read that article and say that it’s uncivil. In fact, it says the following:
Giberson and Miller are thoughtful men of good will. Reading them, you get a sense of conviction and sincerity absent from the writings of many creationists, who blatantly deny the most obvious facts about nature in the cause of their faith. Both of their books are worth reading: Giberson for the history of the creation/ evolution debate, and Miller for his lucid arguments against intelligent design. Yet in the end they fail to achieve their longed-for union between faith and evolution. And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people’s religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims.
Wow, that’s way harsh, dudes!
I didn’t rake Miller and Giberson over the coals, I raked their ideas over the coals. Giberson, like Michael Ruse, can’t see the difference between attacking ideas and attacking persons. Which brings us to Giberson’s last complaint:
Criticizing faith is “un-American.” I wouldn’t have believe this McCarthy-esque accusation if I hadn’t seen it myself:
There is something profoundly un-American about demanding that people give up cherished, or even uncherished, beliefs just because they don’t comport with science.
But wait. Isn’t that exactly what Giberson is doing when he tells people, as he did in his latest book, that they should stop espousing creationism because science disproves it?
Giberson is, a la Archie Bunker, telling vociferous atheists to stifle themselves. Criticizing religion is off limits because it clashes with people’s cherished—or uncherished!—beliefs.
But here‘s what’s un-American: demanding special privileges for religion, and immunity from criticism, that other bodies of thought, like political views, don’t enjoy. Giberson would never tell Democrats to stop criticizing Republicans’ cherished ideas of offshore drilling and racial profiling. Political ideas must survive the rough-and-tumble market of free thought. Giving a pass to religious ideas, simply because they are religious, makes about as much sense as giving tax breaks to churches. The First Amendment is there because free expression allows the best ideas to rise to the top.
Freedom of speech is profoundly American. Like Dorothy, we atheists have looked behind the curtain of religious thought and found nothing there. And we talk about that. Is a little criticism, and, at times, ridicule, too much for Giberson to bear? Are he and his comrades in faith such wilting flowers that they must at all cost be protected from criticism of their supernaturalism?
In the end, Giberson condescendingly admonishes us:
The New Atheists need to learn how to play in the sandbox.
Sorry, Dr. Giberson, no can do—not if “playing” means pretending to eat the invisible sandwiches that our playmates offer us. And besides, you know what happens when you put a kitteh in the sandbox: