Friday, December 4, 2009

Mencken's Way

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne is just plain tired of civil discourse between believers and unbelievers and thinks it's time to "try H. L. Mencken's way" of dealing with Christian theists:

The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.

True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge.

I had to laugh as I read this quote a second time through because the first time I read it I thought Mencken was talking about Darwinians. The description in the second paragraph, especially, certainly fit.

Anyway, it's an odd bit of advice that Coyne is urging upon his atheist confreres, given that it's the atheistic Darwinians who so often refuse to engage creationists or intelligent design advocates in open debate. Their reluctance is warranted, perhaps, by the fact that when one of their number, like Christopher Hitchens, does sally forth to do battle with the unwashed dolts, he often gets trounced.

So, to Mr. Coyne I say I hope you're successful in convincing your brethren to engage the best Christian theists in debate, but I caution you to be careful what you wish for.