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The best of the bad alternatives

March 12, 2010

This is a comment of mine on Huffington Post, which I have come back to elaborate upon a bit. Apparently they will turn your comments into blog posts for you, to advertise their website. The Net is an innovative place, isn’t it?

A couple of comments on Mr. Schrei’s article here; most of it was a laundry list of past bad behavior of scientists. It’s not that I find science and reason especially trustworthy; why else would peer review exist? It’s that it may be the best of the various bad alternatives, and demonstrably better than baseless beliefs.

“Everyone, as long as they are not infringing on the rights of others, is entitled to respect. I do not ridicule the atheist position, even though I do not agree with it.”

What is interesting here is how Mr. Schrei moves from respect for the person to respect for a position, an idea. Ideas are not inherently due respect. That is why religion earns none, and gets derision — which is deserved — instead.

“Bluntly dismissing the worldview of 4+ billion people might be expected from a sensationalist such as Hitchens, but sadly his view seems to be all too common among the atheist community.”

Yes, in fact I would bluntly dismiss this, as it is an appeal to the people, fallacious rhetoric and rightly dismissed.

It is ironic that after a fairly long list of bash-science examples from history, the writer turns around…

Unlike Hitchens, who uses religion’s atrocities to draw the conclusion that religion is bad, I am not attempting to create a logically flawed argument that says that science is bad or that atheists are racist — and of course most atheists, who tend on the liberal side as I do — would be shocked at the suggestion that class or race play any role in their worldview.

Yet after a list of flawed studies and eugenics and scientists who were racists, he wishes to claim that he is making no connection here, none at all! Relax, pal, the message you wanted to get across has been received in spite of your seeming-well-meaning protestations.

But there is a sensitivity here that the atheist community would do well to heed. It is a fact that modern day atheism grows out of the academic and scientific community. In America and Western Europe, it is no secret — and it is even an issue among the community — that the majority of atheists today are white, are middle or upper class, and are college educated. Of course in and of itself this fact means exactly nothing. However, when atheism’s mainly white, mainly upper/middle class, mainly educated adherents start to claim intellectual superiority over believers, that’s where the waters get dangerous; that’s where they start to drift into Richard Lynn territory.

The reason for this allegedly necessary sensitivity, the reason people make this association, well…it’s you, Mr. Schrei. There’s a reason why people continue to use logical fallacies like the appeal to the people or the tu quoque. They’re fallacious, but some people still buy it. People who clearly cannot claim intellectual superiority, because their logic is fallacious, their arguments therefore worthless.

That is an excellent reason for the skeptic to claim intellectual superiority. Not because science is somehow special or immune from flaw. It’s not, and we know this, or else things like peer review and demonstrable evidence and repeatable experiment would not be valued.

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