Ever notice how participants in a debate will often attempt to direct the discussion by labeling the participants? Sometimes this is helpful and relevant – as when a person’s background or position can give an indication of their knowledge and authority of their comments. On the other hand it is sometime an obvious pandering to the “them vs us” mentality – a guide to how “we” should reject the arguments of a participant because she is one of “them.” The old red smear ploy. (I wonder if this was the motive for the label “kiwi atheist” applied to me in a recent discussion).
I think this smearing is commonly used by religious fundamentalists. Just check how often scientists are discredited by labelling them “atheists” in the intelligent design/creationism vs evolutionary science debate. Very often the issue of atheism is exposed as the main concern. And it seems that this label is the most effective way of discrediting any opponent amongst this conservative Christian constituency. And yet, the ‘atheist’ label says hardly anything about a person or the reliability of their knowledge – and, of course, may be completely wrong.
For example, one contributer to recent discussions on this site referred to his role in “debating some atheists in New Zealand.” That got me thinking. The only participant in these discussion I know to be an atheist is me and that is a “very limited … description” of me. Several of the other participants have identified themselves as Christians, none as atheists. It’s clear that most of the participants are scientists, professionally, or strong defenders of science. Yet we all get labelled atheist! This contributor appears to think that science and atheism is synonymous!
Only one science
It’s surely salient that within the scientific community such ideological labelling is very uncommon (although it certainly went on in Russia during Stalin’s reign and in China under Mao Tse Tung). We can have quite fierce debates but evidence and interpretation are the usual weapons, rather than ideological labels.
The fact is that science is done by people who may have quite diverse ideological beliefs. And there is only one science. There is no atheistic science, Christian science, Islamic science or spaghetti monster science. As Richard Dawkins points out we can colour different countries on a world map differently according to predominant religion – but we can’t do that with science.
Anyway I like this cartoon (from Atheist Cartoons – check them out). It shows that preoccupation with an ideological label can mean that really important information is ignored.