When I asked in a recent blog whether I was being too harsh on religious loonies or not harsh enough I got some excellent replies, ranging from 'go get em' to 'be gentle'.
The question, and the responses, are the essence of a much wider discussion that has been going on for the last month or so.
Madeleine Bunting in a recent (March 27) issue of the Guardian suggested that Richard Dawkins was playing into the hands of fundamentalists by promoting evolution, and attacking both creationism and the religion that lies behind it. She quotes William Dembski as being grateful to Dawkins because, I guess, his criticisms anger fundamentalists and make them ever more determined -- a bit like the Republicans using gay marriage to motivate their voters. Another scientist, Michael Ruse, extends the argument further by suggesting that when Dawkins says that Darwinism leads to atheism he gives the creationists a legal case: 'If Darwinism equals atheism then it can't be taught in US schools because of the constitutional separation of church and state.'
Daniel Dennett, supporter of Dawkins, argues that Ruse is playing into the creationist's hands, and that Dembski is using the Brer Rabbit trick -- 'oh please don't throw me into the briar patch' and Bunting has fallen for it. I wrote to Bunting saying: 'Madeleine -- someone has to point out to religious believers that the Emperor has no clothes. Or do you think we should all just go on pretending that the range of imaginary friends that various people believe in across the world are real? Of course once Darwin had published in 1859 that was the end of any respectable belief in any kind of 'god' that intervened in any way in the evolution of this planet. Once the cosmologists and physicists got stuck into the early part of the big bang then there was no excuse for even pretending that there was some kind of 'god principle' (though why you would want to I don't know) hidden away in the wrinkles of the universe. Good for Dawkins. He doesn't suffer fools gladly and there is no reason why he should (nor why I should).'
The scientists of the world have mobilised to fight the War on Global Warming. Once the ice caps began to melt the world changed for ever. They don't have time to be undermined by a kind of religious fifth column, working behind them, attacking science, corrupting scientific teaching in schools, promoting a view that human beings are not part of natural world. Nor should they have to put up with believers in armageddon or rapture, cheering from the sidelines as the world's ecosystems unravel, thinking that every loss of species brings them closer to a mythical being who never existed.
Scientists must confront these people at every turn. Acquiescing, and pretending that there is some merit to their beliefs, leads to teachers being increasingly frighened to even mention the E word, and to others faced with nonsense such as teaching creationism alongside evolution in science classes because children should know there is a debate. There is no debate.