Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When Are "Angry Atheists" Actually Angry, And Why?

In this Wrong Monkey blog post, I took Max Tegmark to task for this Huffington post article in which he insists that there is no inherent conflict between science and religion. A week after that article, Tegmark followed up with this brief piece in which he professes to be amazed by all the negative responses to the first piece by "angry atheists," whom he proceeds to condescendingly lecture, and blame for religious fundamentalism.

Several stages of this process so far have been very familiar to any regular reader of Huffington Post's Religion section: a scientist with some credentials appears on the Huffington Post, says that there is no reason why science and religion should be in conflict, gets a strong negative response, calls his critics "angry atheists," and proceeds to blame allegedly angry atheists for religious fundamentalism.

A bizarre accusation of atheists, you say? Well of course it is. A bizarre description of the history and present relationship of science and religion? You don't have to tell me. But that's the sort of hooey they're selling these days on HP Religion. It's also what the Templeton Foundation is selling. If you examine the bios of the contributors to the Religion section and note the number of recipients of grants from Templeton, you must surely agree that to call the relationship between HP Religion and Templeton "cozy" would be a great understatement, and that to call it "cordial" would be a bigger understatement still.

What makes Tegmark's case stand out as particularly strange is the combination of his professed amazement at the negative response he gets when he posts the standard Templeton nonsense, and the fact that from 2006 to 2009, he awarded grants on behalf of Templeton. He's not merely one of the usual suspects -- he funded many of the usual suspects.

I suppose that it's somehow possible that Teagmark was completely insulated, until a week ago, from the public response the sort of "moderate and enlightened religious" propaganda which he pushes, and which is funded by neocons like Templeton, tends to get. It reminds me more than a little of Renault being "shocked, shocked!" to discover that gambling was going on at Rick's, but I suppose that it's possible that Tegmark's intellectual cocoon was that solid until last week. And I suppose that it's possible that many of the responses he's gotten are angry. I have to guess, Tegmark doesn't quote a one of them. I would guess that the typical atheist response he's gotten is similar to the typical reader's comment on these two pieces on HP. I wouldn't call them "angry" as much as "very, very unimpressed." Tegmark complains about "ad hominem" attacks. Well jeepers, Professor, I don't know what to say to that except that if you're going to discuss science and religion in public, you really ought to be wearing your big boy pants and shrug it off if some responses get personal.

But can we believe Tegmark when he says he's shocked by the response to his nonsense? Or is he worse than clueless: pretending to be clueless and deliberately stirring shit? Arianna must love the huge volume of clicks he's generating.

But if he really is sincere, and if "angry" really is a better description of the response he's getting than "unimpressed," still I think that he and purveyors of similar simplistic malarkey should ask themselves: is it more precise to call these people "angry atheists," or atheists who are angry when they're around, atheists who are angry at them? And perhaps with perfectly good cause?

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