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There has been plenty of debate in recent years about ‘New Atheism’, most notably its growing antitheism aspect (the active opposition to religion and belief in a god) – characterised by the likes of Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, and Christopher Hitchins. This idea generally takes the form that religious belief is harmful to individuals and societies…the ‘root of all evil’, as some might have it.

A large part of the criticism of New Atheism has been directed at its inability to see redeeming or helpful features to religion. So while atrocities committed in the name of Catholicism feature often in the literature, little is said about positive work done by believers. And now, that criticism has perhaps found its apotheosis. Witness the epic fail that is P.Z. Myers.

In short, Myers posted one of his usual caustic rants yesterday, this time about the refusal of the Australian government to help fund next year’s ‘The Rise of Atheism’ Global Atheism Conference. He began by attacking the government’s claim that the conference didn’t meet the correct criteria, and then moved on to a second target, Reverend Tim Costello. His problem? That Costello was the religious person mentioned in a news article, even though he was discussing his own conference when he said that “In a global context, most of the world is profoundly religious, and there literally can’t be peace without religious peace.”

Myers accused Costello of lying, going on to say “we also will not have peace through religion.” But Costello didn’t say that – he simply pointed out the majority of the world’s population is religious, and therefore there can’t be peace without religious peace (vs “there can’t be peace without religion”). Taking it further, Costello’s comment actually sounds more to me like a criticism of religions; the fact that they are in conflict and thus inhibiting world peace. But Myers got his dander up and went off early without reading things carefully. What could have upset this intelligent scientist so much in order for such a serious lack of judgement?

I thought this was a well understood principle; the danger in a democracy is the tyranny of the majority, and safeguards have to be put in place to protect the rights of minorities. Since Costello is a “reverend”, unfortunately, that probably means he’s an ignorant ass who has never learned anything that matters.

Ah, he’s a “reverend”! So he therefore is probably an “ignorant ass” who has “never learned anything that matters” about threats to democracy and the rights of minorities. Wow, epic fail on a galactic scale…

For those that don’t know ‘Reverend’ Tim Costello, here’s a quick CV:

In 1987, the Reverend Tim Costello, along with a team of others, rebuilt the congregation at the St Kilda Baptist Church, opened a drop-in centre and worked in a legal practice for those for whom the law is normally inaccessible…

…As elected Mayor of St Kilda Council in 1993, he became well known for championing the cause of local democracy…

…From 1995 to 2003 he was a Minister of the Collins Street Baptist Church and the Executive Director of Urban Seed, a Christian not-for-profit organization created in response to concern about homelessness, drug abuse and the marginalisation of the city’s street people.

…He has been Patron of Baptist World Aid, a member of the Australian Earth Charter Committee, a council member of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, a spokesperson for the Interchurch Gambling Taskforce, a member of the National Advisory Body on Gambling and a member of the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation.

…Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s he was frequently seen in the Australian national media commenting on gambling and other social problems.

…In 2004, Costello was appointed CEO of World Vision Australia. He was awarded Victorian of the Year 2004 in July 2004, in recognition of his public and community service. He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in June 2005. He is the 2008 winner of the Australian Peace Prize awarded by the Peace Organisation of Australia. He is also listed by the National Trust as a ‘National Living Treasure’.

Yep, that’s definitely an “ignorant ass” who’s “never learned anything that matters”. Or, perhaps, the prime example of where ‘New Atheism’ is going badly wrong.

So, on the world’s premiere science blog, there would have been plenty of intelligent people ready to set the record straight in the 200-or-so comments that followed such an epic fail? Right? Hmmm? No. Because, sadly, Myers is what he so despises himself. A rigid fundamentalist who will ignorantly spout off at someone just because they don’t have the same view as him, leading a flock of his own faithful who don’t dare criticise (or simply, don’t even see the flaws because they’ve drunk so much Kool-Aid). And, sadly, lowering the level of debate about religion – a topic that deserves much more intelligent discussion and criticism. This is the man put forward as the spokesperson for rationalism?

Fail.