Atheism has a jerk problem, and so Science has an atheism problem

In a really interesting post over at small pond science, Terry McGlynn talks about the problem facing scientists of faith.

“Our scientific communities do not fully accept scientists of faith. As I’ve said before, this is a problem, and it actively hinders our efforts for equity and inclusion.

You can be a great scientist and still be religious. You can fully accept an empirical worldview for the laws and theories that govern life and matter as we know it, but also be part of a religious tradition.”

He then goes on to note that the most visible New Atheists (Bill Maher, Jerry Coyne, Michael Shermer) are loudmouth arrogant jerks. It’s how they win people over to their argument! But, by them being the face of atheism, and also associated with science, we all look like loudmouth arrogant jerks.

I’m not sure where I fall on this argument. I agree that science and faith really don’t have anything to do with one another. And I’m passionate about science communication and think that loudmouth jerks are not good ambassadors of science. But I’m not sure how to fix it, or whether or not it even needs fixing.

Read the whole blog post here, and let me know what you think!



8 comments on “Atheism has a jerk problem, and so Science has an atheism problem

  1. bchaller says:

    Hmm. I don’t think either Coyne or Maher is a “loudmouth arrogant jerk”, and I think if one is going to level such accusations one ought to at least provide some evidence – not a single quote is provided to support those ad hominem attacks, making the author themselves rather a “loudmouth arrogant jerk” if you ask me. I have no opinion regarding Shermer, since I don’t pay much attention to him, but of course he, too, deserves to at least have such ad hominem accusations substantiated. The only indication the author gives regarding why they think that Coyne, Maher, and Shermer are “loudmouth arrogant jerks” is that they “judge” religious people. Hmm, that’s a rather vague word. If by that the author means that Coyne et al. judge all religious people to be bad people, then I don’t think that is true; indeed, I think Coyne and Maher, at least, makes it very clear that they do *not* pass such judgement (again, I don’t follow Shermer). If, on the other hand, the author means that Coyne et al. judge that religious people hold incorrect beliefs that are harmful to society, then yes, that is an intellectual position that they hold and defend with rational argument. Does simply holding that intellectual position make a person a “loudmouth arrogant jerk”? Do all atheists have to be meek and quiet little mice who pretend to believe that religion is “equally valid” and “another way of knowing”? Is Gould’s “NOMA” position the only position atheists are allowed to take without being “loudmouth arrogant jerks”?

    It is perhaps instructive to compare this situation to a parallel scenario involving some non-religious belief, such as Communism. I think Communism is wrong; I think it doesn’t work, is morally problematic, and does real harm in the world. I could make a rational, intellectual case for that (as many other people already have). But I don’t think individual Communists are necessarily bad people; they just hold a mistaken belief. Some of them do bad things because of their belief in Communism, but many others don’t, and of course some even do good things because of their belief in Communism. Pointing out that the belief system of Communism is wrong is not a personal attack upon individual Communists, and a person who speaks out against Communism is not necessarily a “loudmouth arrogant jerk”. If a Communist doesn’t like to hear Communism criticized, well, that’s their problem; they don’t have a right to have the whole space of public debate kowtow to their personal belief system. Why is criticizing religion any different?

    This trope of accusing New Atheists of being “arrogant” and so forth is tired, offensive propaganda. I’m disappointed to see it here.

  2. Macrobe says:

    McGlynn’s post seems empty of real discourse than containing the emotive rhetoric that is so prevalent now in public communication. I hesitate to even call it ‘debate’, and is surprising coming from a scientist (who don’t normally resort to petty name calling).

    I also find interesting the absence of any attempt in his post to include discussion of the converse: the refusal of the extreme religious to accept science.

    Perhaps letting his post sit overnight before a more thoughtful review by McGlynn might have served the content and discourse better.

    Interesting that comments to his post are prohibited.

    • I’ve thought about it for a couple weeks, and yeah, I think it stand up pretty well. I calling those guys loudmouth arrogant jerks is just a statement of the obvious, and it appears that most other readers who aren’t in the skeptic club agree. Really, if you need evidence that they’re loudmouth arrogant jerks, then what you really need is to remove those hate-tinted glasses.

      I’m writing this comment because I wanted to share a little fact with you. In my five years of writing Small Pond Science, it turns out this single post has generated, by far, the greatest volume of private correspondence from both friends and people I don’t know, who were personally thanking me for writing it, because they feel this very deeply but have the fear of expressing it because then they’ll get attacked for having a religious faith tradition. Seriously — almost 20 people came out of the woodwork to contact me in private to let me know how spot on this post was, and how me sticking my neck out for them meant something. I just thought you’d want to know this, and perhaps after reflecting on it, it might help put my post in context.

      If you do think that I normally am reasonable on other topics but not this one, then I ask you to take a little leap of not-faith, based on your prior experience, to perhaps consider that maybe I’m not name calling when I say how those guys are jerks, but just calling a spade a spade. And also clearly in the mainstream, by the way, at least when it comes to other scientists who see this as just a fact.

      • bchaller says:

        If it’s so obvious that they’re loudmouth arrogant jerks, it seems like it ought to be easy for you to defend that claim with evidence, rather than simply making the accusation and claiming that it is “obvious”. And saying that “most other readers who aren’t in the skeptic club agree” is just a way of saying that “most people who don’t disagree with me agree with me” – tautological and empty. What is obvious is that the people who do disagree with you are unlikely to be convinced simply by ad hominem attacks from you. It’s sad that you consider this to be an acceptable way to debate ideas, while at the same time accusing others of being the ones wearing “hate-tinted glasses” – another an ad hominem attack, this time against everyone who disagrees with you. You wrote a nasty posted filled with ad hominems directed towards atheists, and you received some congratulatory emails from religious people as a result. Yay?

  3. And oh, by the way, I’m disabling comments on most of my posts nowadays, I explained that a couple months back. And actually, this post illustrates it. Because I wouldn’t want comments, such as this, to have equal real estate as my own. Because I honestly want to give a free platform to people who have contemptible views, such as religion-bashing, like we see Dawkins and Shermer and Coyne.

    (Hey if you happen to be in San Diego in a couple days, I’m speaking at the Sunday Assembly there! Would be glad to chat afterwards.)

    • bchaller says:

      Well, at least you’re honest about wanting to suppress the speech of those with whom you disagree, so that you can attack them without any pushback. Allowing those whom you call nasty names to reply to you publicly certainly can be inconvenient.

      • By not providing you access to my own platform I am not suppressing speech! Heck, I’ve actually engaged with you! You’re free to say whatever you want! And look! You are! Congrats on exercising your free speech.

      • bchaller says:

        “Because I wouldn’t want comments, such as this, to have equal real estate as my own.” Your words. But yes, I am able to comment here – on a different blog that does not block comments, unlike yours. And no, you haven’t really “engaged” with me – you haven’t defended your views with any evidence or reasoning, you have just issued forth more ad hominem attacks, now against everyone who disagrees with you – including, presumably, me. That’s not “engagement”, it’s just vitriol.

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