LINK (to my old Secular Web article from 2001)
I’ll make this very brief and to the point. Jerry Coyne wrote something on his website. (The details don’t even matter, but if you’re curious, you can read the article here.) A scientist named Ben Allen disagrees with something Coyne wrote. Allen submits a comment critical of Coyne’s claim in the combox on Coyne’s website. Allen is subsequently blocked from his site. Because of the scientific nature of the disagreement and Allen’s scientific credentials, however, Allen attracts the attention of PZ Myers, who agrees to publish Allen’s critique as a guest post on Myers’s blog. The comments on Allen’s post are as interesting as the post itself: many other people report being blocked by Jerry Coyne for similar reasons. And readers of this blog will remember that I described my own experience being blocked by Jerry Coyne over a minor issue.
I have great respect for Jerry Coyne’s intelligence and knowledge of biology. I have no respect for his thin-skinned moderation and comment blocking policy, however. Virtually all Christian apologists I’ve interacted with have been much more tolerant of publishing criticisms in their comment boxes, Twitter feeds, discussion forums, etc. than Jerry Coyne is. Jerry Coyne is not acting like a freethinker who has nothing to fear and everything to gain from the honest pursuit of truth.
Jerry Coyne should be ashamed of himself. Kudos to PZ Myers for helping to expose Coyne’s behavior.
“Renowned scholar” Reza Aslan wrote an article for Salon.com with the title, “Sam Harris and ‘New Atheists’ Aren’t New, Aren’t Even Atheists.” I don’t know if this title was chosen by him or his editors, but it’s false. To deny that Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins are atheists is as ridiculous as to deny that the Pope is Catholic.
If one can look beyond the absurdity of the title’s claim, however, I find much in the article to agree with.
- The “New Atheism” isn’t new.
- Criticism of the “New Atheism” isn’t necessarily criticism of atheism as such.
- “There is plenty to criticize in any religion and no ideology — religious or otherwise — should be immune from criticism.”
- The “New Atheists” do not speak for the majority of atheists.
- More accurate names for the “New Atheism” and “New Atheists” are antitheism and antitheists, respectively.
- He recognizes the fact that many atheists make a distinction between “positive atheism” and “negative atheism” (though he fails to note that, among professional philosophers, this distinction is usually ignored and “atheism” is equated with “positive atheism” only).
- He recognizes that the atrocities committed by atheist dictators such as Stalin and Mao were not caused by atheism.
Apart from the ridiculous title, the article’s main flaw is that Aslan tries to argue that the atrocities committed by atheist dictators like Stalin and Mao were caused by antitheism. Aslan is surely correct that Stalin and Mao were antitheists, but even antitheism isn’t the cause for what they did. What Aslan fails to notice is that dictators like Stalin and Mao were not freethinkers. It was their opposition to freethought, not their antitheism, that should receive the blame. One can be “actively opposed” to theism by criticizing it and even ridiculing it without believing that religious freedom should be suppressed. This is what Harris and Dawkins do: they ridicule religion but not do not support the violent suppression of religious freedom or believers.
Aslan is right to notice that antitheists are not representative of the majority of atheists. It’s too bad he didn’t also notice that anti-freethought, totalitarian dictators are equally not representative of the majority of antitheists.
“Ignoring faults of arguments that agree with your conclusions is what leads to dogmatism.”