A constant, and thoroughly unoriginal, theme in my take on the new atheism is that it has an ideological role, deflecting concern from real social conflicts. My last post said something along these lines against the background of the commentariat’s tantrums over the papal visit. Much the same thing could be said about the urge on the part of a section of liberal Britain to tell Muslim women what they can, or can’t, wear in public. Without a hint of irony, by the way, this latest advocacy of the state forcibly undressing women, is in the name of womens’ liberation**.
The best example of the phenomenon I have seen for some time, however, is courtesy of the clever-than-thou blogosphere. The ‘Atheist Missionary‘ (“atheists don’t proselytize”) finally asks the question which has been on everybody’s lips for ages – why are atheists smarter than theists? S/he writes:
I am sure that most readers will be aware of the remarkable difference in incarceration rates between atheists and those who profess to have religious beliefs. Many will also be aware that over 90% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not believe in a “personal God” (Sam Harris actually pegged the percentage at 93% in 2006 but the precise figure doesn’t matter). The upshot of statistics like these lead to a very simple but puzzling question: Why are Atheists smarter than Theists?
Leaving aside the fact that we have here a textbook example of invalid reasoning, why is there a ‘remarkable difference’ in incaceration rates between us deluded Godbotherers and the freethinkers? Perhaps it is because we are all stupid*. Alternatively, it could be because professing atheism is a predominantly middle class affair, that explicit religious allegiance is more common in minority ethnic groups in the West, and that working class and black people are grossly over-represented in the prison population. The latter answer should prompt us to think about, and maybe even challenge, systematic structural injustice. Blaming the foolish sky-worshippers lets the world carry on as usual.
*The small worry here that, even were that true, it doesn’t explain the data – are criminality and stupidity especially correlated? – can be overlooked for present purposes.
**I have a vested interest in this debate of a somewhat specialist sort. One of the hurried justifications offered for the dinner-table racism of banning the burqa is that facial expressions and eye-contact are essential to human communication. The very fact that I am communicating with you right now via. the internet suffices to refute this. However, there is a real neurodiversity issue here. Plenty of us don’t communicate very much using these kind of non-verbal methods. What is being said about us?
In other news, which will no doubt transform the outcome of the forthcoming Labour leadership election, this blog declares itself for Diane Abbott, and heartily commends Red Maria’s thoughts on the matter.