Over at his own CfI blog, “It’s only natural,” John Shook, Director of Education and senior research fellow at the Center for Inquiry, reacts to the new poll showing that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than many believers–and, by inference, deals with the brouhaha about his HuffPo article on the abysmal theological ignorance of atheists. Actually, he doesn’t deal with that: he simply tells us that we really must understand theology and then pats atheists on the back for having done so (his piece is called “Atheist pride in understanding religion“). It’s pretty lame, and doesn’t address the controversy aroused by his misguided remarks.
Atheists who have some comprehension of religion and how its ideological system works should rightfully be proud, as proud as atheists satisfied with knowing naturalism alone. And all atheists should be encouraged to put their knowledge to good use. Those atheists who want to publicly engage believers in civil discourse will admirably support the rational and naturalistic worldview, and probably open up more cracks of doubt in believers. There is no reason at all to just assume, as a few atheists do, that no intellectual engagement with religion is possible or worthwhile. As I repeatedly urge, atheists do have the superior worldview and our intellectual leadership from Richard Dawkins to Daniel Dennett and many more, too numerous to name, should be our role models. Recommending some familiarity with religious thinking is no treacherous betrayal, but wise counsel.
Atheists capable of guiding public discourse about religion, and capable of showing religious people a dignified and smart way to abandon religion’s delusions, are heroic figures in these dangerous times. We must use every strategy possible to confront religion. From the sparks of slashing debate to the smiles of pointed blasphemy, atheists can do it with our wits.
Okay, fine and noble sentiments. But click the link supporting his claim that “no intellectual engagement with religion is possible.” It doesn’t link, as you might expect, to any atheists who made that claim, but to his original HuffPo article. And that article, while flinging out strong accusations of theological ignorance, doesn’t name any perpetrators.
And he ascribes “intellectual leadership” to Richard Dawkins? I would have thought that Dawkins was one of the theologically benighted who inspired Shook’s original post: one of the “know-nothings” who is “proud of their ignorance.” After all, Shook said this: “To listen to the loudest atheists, you can hear the bewilderment. And they just can’t believe how a thing like religion could appeal to any intelligent person.” Who, exactly, are these “loudest atheists”? Who is louder than Dawkins–or Hitchens? Dawkins is, of course, the atheist most often accused of not knowing “sophisticated” theology.
I have a feeling that Shook (like Phil Plait in his “don’t be a dick” talk) won’t be forthcoming with examples of prominent atheists who are know-nothings. I read his new article as a retraction, but not really a retraction. Mistakes were made, but not by Dr. Shook.
I challenge Shook to name names and give examples–and not examples of a few blog commenters who don’t know theology. Until he does so, I have little respect for the man.