Behold! Atheism is buckling under a deep rift of infighting caused by rude, crude New Atheists! Or maybe not?

This is something I first came across while enjoying Pharyngula and The Intersection (at Discover Blogs). Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum wrote a book called "Unscientific America". To make a long story short, it was panned by many people, including PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne. This seems to be the start of a blog war that had Mooney and Kirshenbaum accusing outspoken atheists like Dawkins, Myers, and Coyne of ruining everything. M&K believe that atheists should accommodate religious belief and stop being so darn strident (and no cussing!). Coyne began calling people like M&K faitheists as Myers, Coyne, Fish, and others tore their arguments apart. Personally, they were dropped from my reading list for reasons that are not important to this discussion. Anyone that is a regular reader of Pharyngula would remember PZ's posts tearing into M&K. This blog war faded and I thought all would return to normal despite my initial fear that people like this would emerge and put atheism back into a meek and silent state of being.

Listening to Matt Dillhunty on the Non Prophets, he mentioned something about a rift and he was asking if it was just him or was there something happening? He never elaborated and I am a week or two behind the ACA podcasts. I then found, by ways I don't recall, Michael Shermer espousing some disturbing views. One being that religion was exempt from the type of critique that fairies were. He doesn't really explain why, though.

The we get this NPR article that headlines thusly : A Bitter Rift Divides Atheists. Well, Paul Kurtz lends some weight to this claim, but even DJ Grothe will dissent from Kurtz's accommodating stances and NPR's reporter raises the ire of Greg Fish.

Now, Jerry Coyne alerts me to further rifts between science, atheism, and skepticism, which touches on the theme of most of these running arguments. It's basically that science/humanism/skepticism should not be marrying atheism. But, I think Jerry has it right.

There is evidence of this supposed "rift" all over the virtual landscape. I don't think that it is as big of a deal as being reported and just because it is the topic du jour doesn't make it that prominant in reality, either. However, there has always been a minority of atheists that are not happy with the new vocal and confrontaltional style of "New Atheism". I feared that Mooney and Kirshenbaum were trying to pioneer this charge and that it would eventually lead to an all out war on how best to "steer the movement".

What does Think Atheist think?

* On a side note, I am trying to dig up old links to cite sources on stuff in the early part of my post, but since I have been reading about it over months, they are hard to find. If you have them, feel free to post them to help me out. Otherwise, I will add them to the original post as I find them. Thanks!

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There is some grousing in the atheist community about the aggressiveness of the Four Horsemen -- e.g., Neil DeGrasse Tyson ripping into Richard Dawkins at the Beyond Belief conference -- but I think the real divide is between the skeptical movement and the atheist movement. The speakers at TAM 7 were told not to mention or to downplay their atheism, just as both Michael Shermer and James Randi have made a point recently of distinguishing between skepticism and atheism. That's what Dilihunty was talking about.
Yeah, I don't really understand that. I know that the Skeptics Guide to the Universe avoids making atheism a topic, really. I don't mind that because they have a great podcast. But religious claims are no more different than other supernatural or paranormal claims. I know that Randi always allows for supernatural and paranormal stuff and simply states that he has never seen it. If they want to take that soft agnosticism with alien abductions or ghosts, then fine. But ghost hunters and alien abduction conspiracy theorists are not permeating our government and school boards and attempting to meld the country and the educational system to match their world view. If what Dillahunty says is true, then I am disappointed in the people who run TAM and some noted skeptics who take this forgiving view.
As I recall, it was not TAM in general, but a specific speaker at TAM (the MC, I believe) who made the request for atheists to 'respect the beliefs of the believers' or some such.

But yeah, the divide between the skeptical movement and atheists is wider than the supposed divide in the atheist movement (what there is of one).
Because strong/weak atheists, agnostics and skeptics ultimately agree on the poverty of evidential support for theistic claims, I tend to view the whole eposode as more of a war over PR strategies. There's some issue over epistemics, but that pales in comparison to "how to steer the movement."

Ultimately, preferring honesty over accomodationism, I tend to side with PZ, Coyne and ERV, while recognizing that their counterparts have some valid points to make about falsifiability, wider social acceptance and confrontationalism. Eventually, a balance will be found. In some ways, it's similar to the approaches of Darwin and Huxley. It's hardly the Great Schism.

Oh, hell, I should add that I am friendly with a fair number of theistic evolutionists (at Panda's Thumb, Talk Rational, Freethought and Rationalism [the old IIDB], etc. ) and I have no problem with their stance so long as they acknowledge that their position is based on faith and not viable evidence. What we can agree on regarding the anti-science creationists and ID-ers is far greater than the issues dividing us, I think.
I tend to feel the same.
Now this column by Michael Ruse is making the rounds and in it, he makes some pretty stupid claims.

. The Quakers and the Evangelicals were inspired and driven by their religion to oppose slavery, and a good thing too

Religion ended slavery? Come the fuck on. Religion was used to justify slavery AND abolition. What bullshit. When something can be used to justify anything, what value does it have? I can't believe that this guy is a professional philosopher.

I could go on and on, but I'll leave some indignation to you all.

His basic point is that religion isn't pure evil all the time and some religious people are fine folk. I don't think anyone disagrees with that. But because of that fact, Ruse thinks that we ought not to disrespect ideas and beliefs held by these respectable people. Well, that is where I disagree and I think Ruse misses the entire point of having a reality based world view.
Ruse is incredibly wishy-washy and seems to have a 'everyone should just feel good and agree to disagree, because it's not like what is or is not true is actually important or anything' attitude.
Interesting NPR report...


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