We have a vigorous discussion from several recent posts about the virtue or lack of it in relating with those who are religious. In this post I would like to respond to Hos's post on Reaching Out to the Faithful: Does ItWork?
It is vastly unfair to condemn EO Wilsons' or Eugenie Scott's efforts based on national statistics. EO Wilsons' influence should be evaluated where his books have been purchased and in the churches where he has spoken. I think there is ample evidence that he has been profoundly positive where that is the case. There are now religious environmental magazines supporting a very significant subset of the evangelical community where there was no such movement before.
We should not forget that the fossil fuel industry is putting hundreds of billions of dollars into their misinformation campaigns. The fact that our side can make such a significant difference in what is otherwise a very right wing community is a huge success for our side. Wilson's book TheCreation: an appeal to save life on Earth was published is 2006. In it he says, “Dear Pastor: We have not met, yet I feel I know you well enough to call you friend. First of all, we grew up in the same faith. Although I no longer belong to that faith, I am confident that if we met and spoke privately of our deepest beliefs, it would be in a spirit of mutual respect and goodwill.” Later in that year the NY Times highlighted “86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming.” see: Evangelical Leaders Join GlobalWarming Initiative.How many of us have managed to get 86 evangelical leaders to come out for a positive humanist position?
A similar argument is true for Eugenie Scott and her National Center for Science Education. Her efforts in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial was nothing less than one of the most stunning secular courtroom victories of our nation. A Republican judge wrote a finding that was literally dripping with contempt for the ludicrous arguments of the creationists. NCSE does a wonderful job in monitoring the antics of creationist nonsense wherever it raises its ugly head. Typically after a religious school board gets through being trounced in a legal confrontation with NCSE they are voted out of office in the next election. The voters might still be very religious but they don't like to see their state, county or district be embarrassed by their leaders. Obviously the funding on the other side is more than an order of magnitude greater than the budget for NCSE. The value they give to our society is massively greater than the miniscule budget with which they do their work.
Let me also respond to Mathew's charge, in a comment on Hos' post, that “E.O. Wilson hides his atheism to the point of punting questions about his religious beliefs.” Frankly his atheism is discussed in so many internet articles that it is impossible to deny. As noted above he declares his non-belief explicitly in his book. I don't care if he does not choose to engage on religion in a context where he wants to communicate on some other issue. The presumption that Mathew asserts is his private view. My guess is the Wilson just wants to stay on message and the fact that he is more effective when he does that is to our advantage. If we make all possible fights over science into a fight over religion we will lose. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye are both unbelievers who have received the Humanist of the Year Award. They are out there to educate and they do a wonderful job of that. Each of them avoids confronting religion directly in most of their public work. There is no reason why EO Wilson should be precluded from adopting a similar role.
I certainly do not want to (quoting Mathew), declare “that challenging intolerance/prejudice against atheism is incompatible with achieving all other goals and therefore must not be attempted.” I think it is reasonable to allow intelligent secular thinkers to decide on their goals and priorities as they wish. Reason used in any domain of social consequence is better than unreason.
I was a bit distracted in researching EO Wilson because I got entangled in the group selection issue. Edward O. Wilson and David Sloan Wilson both support group selection as an evolutionarily relevant mechanism. Both of them wish to highlight the role of groups in our culture. Richard Dawkins argues that belief in group selection is not confirmed by the evidence. Dawkins correctly says that the measure of an evolutionary relevent mechanism must be confirmed by differences in gene frequencies. It is an excessively complex area of science and to date I have come down on the side of Dawkins.