See here for Mark Oppenheimer’s report from last weekend’s secular humanism conference. He focuses closely on the panel featuring PZ Myers, Victor Stenger, Eugenie Scott, and myself:
At the liveliest panel, on Friday night, the science writer Chris Mooney pointed to research that shows that many Christians “are rejecting science because of a perceived conflict with moral values.” Atheists should be mindful of this perception, Mr. Mooney argued. For example, an atheist fighting to keep the theory of evolution in schools should reassure Christians that their faith is compatible with modern science.
“They resist evolution because they think everyone will lose morals,” Mr. Mooney said. “Knowing this, why would you go directly at these deeply held beliefs?”
The research I was pointing to includes a Time magazine poll from 2006, showing that for most Americans, if scientific research were to refute a strongly held religious belief, they would still cling to the belief; and things like the Wedge document, where moral decline is cited directly by anti-evolutionists as the reason for resisting the theory.
The article continues:
The panel must have been organized by someone mischievous, because the next speaker was the biologist and blogger PZ Myers — a confrontationalist, to put it mildly. In 2008, to make a stand for freedom of speech, he publicly desecrated a Communion wafer, a Koran and (for good measure) a copy of Mr. Dawkins’s book “The God Delusion.” He likes to say that he tries to commit blasphemy every day.
“I have been told that my position won’t win the creationist court cases,” Mr. Myers said. “Do you think I care? I didn’t become a scientist because I want to impress lawyers.
“The word for people who are neutral about truth is ‘liars,’ ” he added.
That seemed close to the view held by the physicist Victor Stenger, the last speaker. He accused those who live without God of cowardice: “It’s time for secularists to stop sucking up to Christians” and other religious people, he said.
I gave a response to this line of argument–about “truth”–on the panel and on the latest Point of Inquiry. Of course truth is important. However, practically speaking, we also have to pick and choose where we can set the record straight–there is a vast amount of nonsense out there, religiously impelled and otherwise, and it doesn’t go away easily, if at all. There is far more of it than any single person can argue with or refute, and not all of it is equally damaging or pernicious.
In this context, setting priorities is not dishonest.
Then comes what I suspect will be the most noted part of this Times article–the “clown” scene:
Afterward, Mr. Mooney and Mr. Myers quarreled about a figure frequently cited as living proof of accommodation between science and religion: Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian. In the past, Mr. Myers has called Mr. Collins “a clown” because of his religious beliefs.
According to Mr. Mooney, Mr. Collins, who was not at the conference, is an important ally for atheists: a leading proponent of the theory of evolution and a supporter of embryonic stem cell research. “By what metric is that a clown?” he asked.
“When it comes to the way he’s thinking about science, everything I’ve read that he’s written has been complete garbage,” Mr. Myers replied, adding later that he “will continue to call him a clown.”
You can read Mark Oppenheimer’s full article here.