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Evolutionary Religious Studies
  • SimonSimon August 2012
    Rather liked the following article that I saw today:

  • exchemist August 2012
    I've read it and must confess my heart sank rather, in spite of being somewhat intrigued by the ideas of Wilson et al. 

    What the New Atheists do, apparently, is to copy the strategy of the US ID people. This is to bypass rigorous debate and scrutiny of the ideas, in favour of a PR campaign aimed at eliciting political support. In doing so, they have evidently taken to heart the old journalists' dictum of "Simplify, then exaggerate." The goal, in both cases, is to get to a position where they can influence educational policy, since reaching the minds of the young, in order to change society, is the ultimate objective.

    I find this cynical, and particularly depressing that academics of repute would prostitute themselves intellectually in this way. Surely "simplify, then exaggerate" is the antithesis of academic principles. So I cannot quite bring myself to approve of Wilson's attempts to combat the New Atheists on the PR battleground, much though I sympathise with his more nuanced views. In any case, since "Simplify, then exaggerate" is the very thing he is fighting against, he is obviously precluded from using this weapon himself in the PR battle, so he's almost doomed by definition. (I notice some of the attacks on him are that he is "dull".) 

    Part of me knows that worldly-wise, media-savvy people will say,"Too bad, swallow your scruples. The only way to avoid losing the war for hearts and minds is to get out there in the "marketplace of ideas [ugh]" and and simplify and exaggerate along with the rest of them. To recoil from doing so is just academic snobbery." Well maybe, and no doubt I am an academic snob. But I can't help thinking that extreme ideas such as those of New Atheism will eventually blow themselves out, because ordinary people will see their absurdity and bias, regardless of what PR campaigns are mounted over the next decade or so (i.e. until Dawkins dies or becomes harmlessly ensconced in a bath chair in Bournemouth).  

    (I suspect, actually, that US discourse - which this article is about - has become particularly shallow and febrile of late, due to the baleful effects of Murdoch's junk news channel. This seems to have dumbed down the standard of public debate so that simple abuse passes for argument and a generation of permanently angry idiots has been created, who feel short-changed if they don't see custard pies being thrown. I worry that this is having a very damaging effect on the US in a lot of ways, but that's another subject)    

    Over here, I take some comfort from how British schools have recovered from the onslaught of Marxism in the 70s. Then as now, the aim was to reach children with the ideas. But, although it remains true that teachers tend to be left of centre in their politics (not surprisingly), one doesn't have the feeling that much political indoctrination goes on today, or that whatever was attempted at that time has had much effect. It seems to me the intellectual roots of New Atheism are so shallow that it cannot last once the current personalities fade from the scene. 

    Meanwhile it will be interesting to see whether Wilson's ideas get anywhere. I suppose the evolutionary advantages of religion might be evidence for his ideas about group selection.