Wilkins posted about Michael Ruse's latest offering to the widely-cited Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on-line. (A heckuva resource, by the way). Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others interested in evolution education have staked out one tactical position with regards to defending evolution that puts them at odds with more assertive critics of religion, such as PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins. And they go back and forth in this vein, with more than a little rhetorical overkill. Ruse and Scott are 'Neville Chamberlain' atheists, dontcha know, while Myers and Dawkins are 'fundamentalist' atheists.

Me? I'm a theist and I find this entire 'controversy' tiresome and counterproductive.* As I see it, Ruse and Scott are no more 'appeasers' than Myers and Dawkins are 'true believers'.

In reality, even those who like to style themselves as 'radical nonbelievers', who regard religion as inherently wicked, end up making common cause with those who hold less restrictive views on religion. They do so for a simple reason: because they wish to be effective. The views articulated by Dawkins and PZ Myers with respect to how we should regard religion are not science per se and they do not in any way impel science educators to swear allegiance to any imagined 'fundamentalism' on either side. They are simply their personal views, more or less, and (agreeing with some posters at Wilkins' site) holding those views doesn't make them any more or less 'militant'.

Critics often allege that lay people will not make the above distinction, that they will conflate such views with evolutionary biology and that will make the task of educating the public and defending evolution education that much more difficult. This is, of course, true---but irrelevant. Creationists will 'quote mine' and misrepresent all manner of notions as science--that's the nature of creationists. Muzzling Dawkins etc. in the name of protecting evolution education is a means that undermines our hopes about the ends, and (in my judgement) is a response unworthy of those who profess to value intellectual liberty.

As a final observation, I remain unimpressed by these arguments in no small part because I've corresponded with Ruse, Dawkins, Myers et al and found them all helpful and willing to make common cause and assist yours truly. At the core, we all know our common foe, and the sensible and well-spoken among us know how to set aside some of our personal views in order to be effective. Ruse's riposte in the SEP is but another parry in a private fencing match between 'gentlemen of the club'. There is no scorched earth, there is no march to Savannah. I refuse to become animated about this, or jump on it either way as a talking point, and I urge other believers and non-believers alike to take a relaxed view of the whole affair.

* Of course, the reason I feel this way is that I don't care about the 'correct' formulation of atheism any more than I care about the 'correct' formulation of the Texas state GOP platform. If I was emotionally invested in non-belief (which seems contradictory), perhaps I would care. As it is, I don't and I cheerfully admire folk on both sides of the 'ScienceBlogs Atheism Wars.'


Thordr said...

I tend to be one of the "middle of the road"ers in politics and other things, but I lack eloquence, so... Thanks Scott, I dont think I could have said it better.

Eamon Knight said...


Ian H Spedding FCD said...

I refuse to become animated about this, or jump on it either way as a talking point, and I urge other believers and non-believers alike to take a relaxed view of the whole affair.

You're right, of course.

It's just that a good bout of verbal jousting is fun and since the IDiots and cretinists won't come out to play all we can do is squabble amongst ourselves.