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It's a Saving Grace that Coyne and Other New Atheists Are Such Lousy Students of Human Nature

Coyne at Podium.jpg

There's one good thing you can say for Jerry Coyne and some of the other crude village-atheist-style New Atheists. I mean good in the sense that it limits their effectiveness: As a student of human nature, Coyne is completely clueless.

At Why Evolution Is True he rebukes the National Center for Science Education for being too chummy with religious people. The object of his rage is Josh Rosenau, the NCSE's programs and policy director.

Rosenau is a character, as I well know from interactions with him. But Josh did come out solidly in defense of his NCSE colleague Peter Hess who drew fire for criticizing the caricature of Giordano Bruno by Neil Tyson and Cosmos as a scientific martyr for materialism. We've already had our say on that (see here and here).

Coyne delivers a tongue-lashing to Rosenau, for the bit about Bruno and for otherwise trying to be an "accomodationist" and get along with religious folks:

Do we really need to discuss how to make nice to the religious? Why not just join together and file lawsuits against schools, or testify at school board meeting? Let the theologians do their thing (tell the faithful that evolution isn't a tool of Satan, if they must) and let us secular evolutionists do ours. I'll be glad to go to a school board meeting with pastors and testify against creationism, but do NOT ask me to coddle superstition, or tell the palpable lie that evolution does not conflict with religion. Do not ask me to make theological statements about what is and what is not "good" religion. And do not ask me to participate in some kind of interfaith "kumbaya" exercise. What is there to learn except how to work with other people, which we know already? It's irrelevant that those other people are pastors or faitheists, for religion has nothing to tell me about how to teach evolution. And I have no interest in "bridging religious boundaries." Let the religious people do that.

I leave it to Jerry Coyne and Josh Rosenau to sort out their difference of view on doctrine and tactics. Sitting back on the sidelines, I observe that if your goal were to use evolution to upset religious faith, Coyne's method is obviously bound to be the less effective.

His counsel is to throw a public fit whenever possible -- filing lawsuits, speaking out at public meetings, "testify[ing] against creationism," engaging in lots of juvenile mockery -- and of course consistently refusing to answer serious proponents of competing scientific views. In other words, be a buffoon.

Is any of this likely to sway anyone on the other side? Of course not. Coyne and his friends at the Freedom From Religion Foundation have had success in stampeding educrats like the ones at Ball State, but have they reached any actual thoughtful men and women of faith? I can't imagine. By contrast, the National Center for Science Education has been silent about the Ball State affair. Why? I tweeted to them last week, in fact, and received no response. That is probably smart of them.

Coyne understands cats better than he does people. Human beings do not change their mind on ultimate questions in response to crude insults and bullying lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. Much more corrosive, in fact, are the ministrations of the folks at the National Center for Science Education, who assure the faithful that there's no choice to be made between Darwinian evolution and their religious tradition.

It's the difference between someone who wishes you ill standing outside your front door and screaming at you -- or sitting at your dining room table, smiling and insinuating. One may be more annoying in the short term, but the other surely poses the more serious problem. In the long haul, in his tactical argument with Coyne, Josh Rosenau has the better of it.

I'm now on Twitter. Find me @d_klinghoffer.