In Seattle, PZ Myers Reflects Candidly on His Constituency
Darwinist/atheist blogger PZ Myers spoke here in Seattle last week at the Nordic Heritage Museum, and I'm sorry to say I missed it. His theme: "Moving Atheism Beyond Science." He opened with this plaint on the sociological profile of his core constituency:
If we're going to expand our base and we're going to draw in more people to recognize the virtues of living in a secular world, we need to appeal to more than just that geek and nerd subset of the population. We need to have a wider base. And that seems to be a peculiar thing to say now because right now atheism is booming. It's growing at a really rapid pace. But on the other hand, I seriously believe that we're on the cusp of a crisis. We're not there yet but it's looming in front of us. Will we adapt and thrive and change the world? Or will we remain an avocation for a prosperous and largely irrelevant subset of the population? Will we become something more than a scattered society of Internet nerds? That's what we have to do.Hear what he's saying. At present his base is essentially limited within the confines of "that geek and nerd subset of the population," practicing an "avocation" or hobby (!) for a "prosperous and largely irrelevant" subculture, "a scattered society of Internet nerds"! That's a startling admission, surely a distressing one, from the author of the forthcoming no-doubt mega-bestseller The Happy Atheist. It should be a comfort to those on the other side.
A crisis looms, in Myers's view, because he looks around himself and sees a not very promising basis for a mass movement. He's right. There is indeed a quality of geeky isolation from reality, common sense, and the fullness of life that I see as a motif in atheist and Darwin activism alike.
It reminds me of the Darwin-defending hard core that obsessively maintains the defenses at Wikipedia, around the clock, making sure that every reference to evolution and intelligent design reflects the party line, reversing corrections and changing truths to lies so fast that, judged for endurance and speed, no one can outperform them. In fact, they're in all likelihood largely the same people. Beyond their obsessions, don't these guys have a life? Spouses, children, communities, aged parents, bowling league, anything? You might think not.
They're not irrelevant -- far from it, they control a significant part of the information flow that reaches everyone else -- but no one should be fooled by triumphalist hype either from New Atheists or Darwinian materialists. A welcome bottom line for us here may be that sociology is destiny. If so, that's good news for Darwin skeptics.