Nice post, interesting and engaging and generous. Thanks.
In our last dialogue, you asked me (a skeptic) to tell you how you could make BL more welcoming to skeptics. Specifically, I asked you to think about what your rhetoric looks like to skeptics, and you wanted to know what you could do better. I’ll just toss some thoughts in, then be content to leave the conversation. Here are responses in no particular order.
Your rhetoric toward Bill Nye is noticeably harsher than it was toward Stephen Meyer. I am familiar with the output of the Discovery Institute, an organisation notorious for anti-science positions and tactics, frequently accused (quite reasonably) of gross misrepresentation of science. You used words like ‘troubling’ and ‘disturbing’ to describe Nye’s positions. As before, I will disclose that I have not read more than a dozen or so BL posts, but I read the whole series of “Darwin’s Doubt” entries, including the final comments from DH, and found nothing resembling confrontation in any of them. Even if I thought it reasonable to call Nye’s comments ‘troubling’ or ‘disturbing’ (and I don’t), I would be taken aback by the contrast between your treatment of him and your treatment of Meyer. (I have not looked at your conversations with the even more notorious Mr. Ham, but email correspondents make it sound like a common theme in your approach.)
In your conversation with me, and in your reflections on Nye, you consistently exaggerated the words of skeptics, in what looks like an effort to make their statements look extreme and/or unreasonable. It’s hard to tell whether you notice this, but several of us did, and it gives a strong impression of low-level hostility. This is all the more noticeable (and offensive) in light of how you talk to Meyer (and other fellow believers, I presume). The comments suggest that other skeptics see and feel this clearly as well. I think you should look again at how you chose to represent what Nye said, and what I wrote. It looks pretty bad.
Your posts often emphasize religious “unity,” often when discussing what we may politely (too politely) call misbehaviour by people on your religious team. It is inevitable that this pervasive team-talk sends an us/them message to those who can’t affirm the creed. It would take a little effort to realise this and to try to minimise it. In this post, you did a wonderful job. In the previous posts, you didn’t.
But now I will undo what I just did. Because I don’t think you can realistically make BL a friendly or even moderately welcoming place for skeptics/unbelievers. You are a religious organisation, with religious goals. I used to be a Christian, so I know how the us/them thing works and how powerful the “unity” appeal is in a religious context. More importantly (and tragically), I suspect that you pay a price for NOT being obnoxious to unbelievers. I am not your audience, and my discomfort is not your concern. What you need to do, and what many of us in the skeptic/humanist community really want you to do, is to blunt the anti-science force of evangelical Christianity. If you have to misquote me to make me look like an ignorant pagan who embraces “scientism” in order to get a few more evangelicals to think, then please do it. I only ask that you make it count, so that my forbearance is not for naught.