There’s been some interesting developments going on in the atheist/skeptic/rationalist community over the past year, with it all coming to a bit of a head last week. Science blogger Matt Nisbet posted a controversial story noting his concern over the high-profile involvement of mega-popular science blogger (Pharyngula) P.Z. Myers, and the iconic Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), in the debate over the upcoming Intelligent-Design/Creationist movie Expelled:
The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers, and many others, but it is by no means the official position of science, though they often implicitly claim to speak for science. Nor does it stand up to mounds of empirical evidence about the complex relationship between science literacy and public perceptions.
…As long as Dawkins and PZ continue to be the representative voices from the pro-science side in this debate, it is really bad for those of us who care about promoting public trust in science and science education.
Nisbet’s article sent the Scienceblogs community into overdrive, and provoked this response from Myers:
I’m not exactly feeling pleasantly conducive to continuing the latest sanctimonious whine-fests from some of the people who share a server with me. I have been avoiding the various framing flare-ups around here, despite the fact that everyone of them seems to drag my name into the mix.
We appreciate your concern, it is noted and stupid.
Reading the comments beneath Myers entry, from his fan base, things get even more prickly. I do find it odd though, that we have this reaction now, when other more high-profile atheist/skeptics have been saying similar things over the past year. Most notably, Michael Shermer, who wrote a Scientific American column late last year titled “Rational Atheism: An open letter to Messrs. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens“.
I can’t speak for everyone else, but I do have to say that I think Shermer is right on this one. I can’t see Myers approach having any effect except to alienate people outside his fan base, and Dawkins – though he has some great ideas, and can explain them in great prose – similarly polarises the audience when he descends into intellectual snobbery and scientific bigotry.