With chapter 2, Vox finally hits his stride. Here I found the tone very smooth and the path easy to travel. It helped that Vox coincidentally seems to share my views on medieval culture, Enlightenment rationalism, and nineteenth-century stupidity.
Here is the key quote for chapter 2:
Since we have already established that the opposition of Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris to religion does not stem from any rational fears for science as a body of knowledge, a profession, or a process, and that there was no significant historical enmity between science and religion, it is apparent that the New Atheists’ stated desire to destroy religion must stem from another source. And given the way in which their opposition to religion so closely resembles that of their rationalist antecedents, it is reasonable to suggest that they are not so much interested in defending science as they are in advocating an outdated, nineteenth-century meme.
This chapter quite properly covers the meaning of science, since modern atheists claim that science is not merely the basis for their atheism, but the basis for all their “beliefs” (they are quite sensitive about the use of that term), all their morality, all their thoughts, all their actions, and all their political positions. In short, everything not addressed by science is said to be de facto imaginary, and everything addressed by science is real, and everything real can be expressed in scientific jargon. I was pleased to see PZ Myers’ definitions of science here, anticipating that Vox will eventually show how idiotic they are.
However, Vox does not actually succeed in establishing that atheist fears for the sanctity of science are unreasonable. He merely dismisses the claims as groundless, without actually addressing the substance of the fears. It could be that the atheists in question don’t go into the detailed reasons for their anxiety, considering that their books are supposed to be written for true initiates of the Cult of Reasonably Outraged Scientific-Sounding (CROSS) Liberals. However, it is also possible that Vox is just too arrogant to bother.
Functionally, the atheist anxiety about science has to do with the failure of public schools and the dependence on federal funding for scientific research. Despite the concerns of conservative culture warriors, public schools are astoundingly ineffective at indoctrinating children in the ways of secular humanism, as evidenced by Myers’ and Dawkins’ complaints about the ignorance of public school graduates with regard to “true” evolutionary biology. You can go down the whole list of liberal concerns, such as racism, feminism, sex education, and so on, and liberals will complain about how public schools are failing to properly indoctrinate children. Public schools are mainly effective at dumbing down any curriculum and promoting the worst aspects of popular culture, including things representing the “reactionary” values that liberals despise and the “radical” values that conservatives despise.
The other big atheist anxiety concerns federal funding for research. Republicans in the legislative and executive branches make liberals very nervous that the whole reeducation project will go down the drain unless there is a constant flow of new discoveries in theoretical physics, evolutionary psychology, ecology, and genetic science. This publicity campaign is always under threat from attempts to fund technology that doesn’t promote liberal “social values,” and religious lobbyists tend to team up with business lobbyists and anti-tax groups on these issues.
I would say that High Church Atheists have legitimate fears about the progress of science, but they are blinded by their own prejudices, so that they end up blaming religious and lower-class voters (supposedly identical demographically) for derailing social progress. The actual problem, as Vox ends up suggesting in chapter 2, is the bankruptcy of their Enlightenment ideology.
Unfortunately, Vox doesn’t make his case succinctly in this chapter, nor does he tie in Enlightenment rationalism with positivism here. Commenting on this section, Kelly makes the kind of ignorant remarks about the Enlightenment that typically come from people who have unwarranted faith in public secondary education. Vox could have forestalled this by simply dismantling the hollow structure of phony rationalism and showing the corruptions of idealism, but instead he settles for the easy score against the Galileo myth. Overall, however, I found this chapter well written and pleasant to read.