Will the True Nonbelievers Please Shut Up?

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Science versus religion: The ancient battle has escalated into an all-out intellectual brawl, fueled by a seemingly interminable debate over evolution. But what if all the arguing, name calling, lobbying, op-ed writing, and book publishing is a distraction? What if that distraction is harmful to society?

The “new atheism” movement, led by biologist Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), neuroscientist Sam Harris (The End of Faith), and philosopher Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell), has helped whip the debate into a fever pitch. The movement attacks in-your-face theism with in-your-face atheism. Exhibit A: UK buses plastered with ads stating “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Everyone needs to remember, however, that “not all of the religious have a problem with science,” Chris Mooney, author of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, tells Free Inquiry (Feb.-March 2010). An atheist (and one-time atheist activist), Mooney finds fault in pitting science against religion. While he advocates for defending science education, in order to do so “it is critical that we mobilize the pro-science moderates,” he tells the secular humanist publication.  “The new atheism, as a strategy, flies in the face of this, since it is often about attacking and alienating the religious moderates.”

More than any other field, science plays a starring role in many of the most important policy debates and decisions of our time. “Broadly speaking, scientific illiteracy is the cause of 20 years of gridlock on the global-warming issue,” Mooney says. His recommended course of action: Give up the grudge match and allow scientific literacy to become a shared social priority.