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I am going to preface this blog post by saying that this is totally my opinion and I’m well aware that many people will not agree with me, but I can live with that.
Recently Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum published a book call Unscientific America. In their book they cover the war on reason that is occurring in America and how we seem to be allowing pseudoscience to have the same standing as actual hard science. I have read Mooney’s last book The Republican War on Science, which I thought was a very good book (though half the book was a big middle finger to Sen. Jim Inhofe) despite the fact that Mooney is a journalist, not a scientist. However, his most recent publication is not doing too well in the science blogosphere. PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, and others have been quite critical of the book because of its pandering to the religious right and its harsh criticism of the “New Atheists” and their effect on the fight against anti-science and pseudoscience. Needless to say the crap has hit the fan.
It has lead to quite the blog war between Mooney and PZ Myers (read here, here, here, here, and here). Now I have not read the book, though it is on the list, and may be slightly biased to agree with the real scientist, but Professor Myers arguments are quite persuasive and Mooney’s rebuttals tend to be quite adolescent. Mooney’s argument is that the New Atheists are hurting the pro-science camp’s efforts to get science back into a prominent place in America. He insists that people like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers should not be attacking religion because it is dividing society into a science camp, and a religious one that views science as the enemy (see his article in Newsweek). What I have gathered from all that I have read is that criticizing religion on scientific grounds should be considered taboo in the scientific community and that the New Atheists are bad. On this point Mr. Mooney and I disagree.
I would say that there is definitely a place for figures like Coyne, Dawkins, Dennet, Myers, Hitchens, etc. Religion is NOT off limits to science. Most major religions claim that their deity in some way interacts with the physical world; this automatically enters he/she/it into the realm of science. If there is interaction between a deity and nature, then it should be observable using the scientific method. Yet whenever such a claim is made, there ends up being a plausible naturalistic explanation for the event. For example, the prayer study that was done recently showed no correlation between the recovery time of sick individuals and whether or not they are prayed for.
The New Atheist has filled a niche that has been left void for some time. They are not scared to challenge religion on the claims that they make and pull no punches when criticizing the ridiculousness of these claims. Some people just need to be shocked in to actually questioning what they believe and why they believe it. I was one of those people. When I picked up Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion I still considered myself an evangelical. But, upon reading the book I began to realize that I had not studied in depth really anything that I believe, so I began to and it took me in a completely different direction. I have heard other stories similar to mine. Some people do not respond to a tap on the shoulder, so they need a punch in the face.
As a bit of a side note. I did read an excerpt chapter from Unscientific America about the reaction to Pluto no longer being a planet. This is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read. So now science is supposed to consult the public on matters of science to make sure they’re okay with it? Science is not a democracy, it is governed by the evidence. Pluto no longer fit the criteria to be considered a full planet, therefore it was taken off the list of planets and given the classification “plutoid”. Science should not care if people get really angry because something is declassified as something. It should only be concerned with communicating to the public why such a change was made. It should NEVER cave to public opinion when it is fully supported by the evidence.
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