As I predicted, the new “science” section of HuffPo has turned out to be almost a tabloid-like selection of puff pieces and soft science. I’m disappointed but not surprised. Here’s a screenshot of its latest headlines (click to enlarge):
Note Christopher Lane’s piece at the left: it’s about agnosticism, Hitchens, and Dawkins, and has virtually nothing to do with science. Rather, it’s a defense of agnosticism as the “reasonable” position on faith, much as we heard recently vis-a-vis David Attenborough. It’s laughable how Lane uses weak evidence to show that Hitchens was much more approving of agnosticism than was Dawkins.
. . . one might assume Hitchens would’ve been similarly uncompromising about agnosticism as failing to reach his own level of certainty in “antitheism,” his preferred self-description. Yet, of the seven brief references to agnosticism that appear in “God Is Not Great,” all are unmistakably supportive. What’s more, Hitchens’s book did something increasingly rare among atheists and critics of religion: whenever possible, it grouped agnostics with atheists and freethinkers, as allies with shared arguments against monotheism, zealotry and fundamentalism.
In “Putting It Mildly,” his opening chapter, Hitchens wrote: “Not all can be agreed on matters of aesthetics, but we secular humanists and atheists and agnostics do not wish to deprive humanity of its wonders or consolations. Not in the least.” Among other things, the sentence abounds in inclusiveness: “we secular humanists and atheists and agnostics…”
A later chapter reinforces the point when Hitchens discusses “American freethinkers and agnostics and atheists” with almost ostentatious use of the connective “and.”
Yeah, it abounds in inclusiveness! And the word “and” is so meaningful here!
Another gem from the column:
For Dawkins, all the same, agnosticism’s embrace of a similar unknown [the existence of God] points not to its stringency or capaciousness, but to its “poverty.” “I am agnostic,” he later quips, “to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.” At such moments, the vast, considered history of agnosticism slips into caricature. The dignity and candor of honest disbelief morph into the cop-out of weak tea, weedy, pallid fence-sitting. We are left with playground taunts, where rigorous skeptics are mocked as namby-pamby while unbelievers crown themselves “brights.” (Hitchens, of course, winced over such regrettable moves.)
Still, when doubt is acknowledged, even embraced, it sharpens conviction, strengthens resilience and modulates extremism — among other ways by testing beliefs and asking us to consider in what they really consist. Agnosticism also makes it possible for people to change their minds, a prime element in the rise of secularism and freethought, as I detail in “The Age of Doubt.” When a culture is polarized over such matters, however, it tends to shun the possibility of moderation through religious and intellectual doubt. And though in doing so it seems to gain an illusion of certainty, in the frequent flight to extremes it risks losing the considered center. There, where freethought inevitably meets agnosticism and atheism, shades of gray are unavoidable — and sometimes even welcome.
Curiously, when it comes to considering those who are entrenched and thus unable to change their minds, it is the atheists who are chastised, not those who are certain that there is God, Mohamed, or Baby Jesus.