I've never liked the analogy of the Emperor's non-existent clothes to religion's supposed non-existent empirical underpinnings (and not just for the obvious reason that a great deal of what goes under the name "religion" does not aspire to empirical truth in the same way that science or history do.) I think the analogy does violence to the story, which (in the Anderson version) is a fable about vanity, not ignorance. The Emperor is able to be so easily swindled because he greedily desires the finest possible garments, and because he desires to maintain his Imperial station even when he appears to himself unfit to rule (inability to see the garments being putative evidence of lack of discernment). The irony is that it is his vanity that makes him unfit to rule. His senses don't deceive him, nor his reason; his insecurity does.
Furthermore, while we, the readers of the tale, know that the King has been deceived, the brave innocent child does not, and cares not. Nor has she heard the lie that not seeing the non-existent clothes is evidence of foolishness. She only knows that he is naked. This simplicity is what makes her innocent, and also what makes her a bad model for any thoughtful social critic, who we would like to have studied the ways of the world, or at least read some William Blake. (I take this to be Kazez's main point: that while calling a spade a spade has value, all things being equal, it is not always the wisest choice. We blunt, temper, dress up, and postpone the truth for a host of reasons, sometimes legitimate, sometimes less so; truth is one value among many.)
Having said that, I can see why Kazez's story rubs Blackford the wrong way, since she explicitly compares the Incompatiblists to children, and the Compatiblists to grownups. This would come off as undeservedly condescending, if Blackford did not reply--in a voice very much like a child's--that his side was innocent and noble, while the other side is mendacious, simplistic, underhanded, and just mean. (This isn't the first time Blackford has assigned the black and white hats thusly):
As far as I can see, the incivility is generally not coming from people who could be considered part of the New Atheist movement - such as Dawkins, or Ophelia, or maybe Jerry Coyne [...] Most of the mockery, name-calling, gotcha rhetoric, twisting of the truth for effect, adopting outrageous and wildly implausible lies as "Exhibits", and various others forms of downright unfairness actually seem to be coming from such people as Chris Mooney and Josh Rosenau, i.e. people who wish that the Gnus would go away.Without even getting into particulars, this is a suspect stance. It's human nature that one's argument will appear to oneself as highminded, while one's opponent will seem to be illegitimate and sniping. This is one of the tendencies that the best discourse tries to meet head on, and rise above. The same is true of the position that our arguments are in the spirit of debate, dialogue, truth and inquiry, while our opponents arguments are censorious and scolding. "There is no God, and people should not believe there is," is an opinion which may be supported by rhetoric and logic, just as "Attacking religion in a withering, alienating fashion will have undesired blowback" is an opinion which may be supported by rhetoric and logic. Each can be presented in good, or bad, faith.
What we actually tend to see is reasonably civil, courteous, thoughtful critiques of religion from the Gnus being met with the response that it is so far beyond the pale that it should not be said. Thus, the crucial moment that set off the current round of debates was when Jerry Coyne reviewed two books by religious authors who argued for a compatibility of religion and science. The review was as civil as one could expect from any reviewer who disagrees strongly with key elements of non-fiction books that he or she is reviewing. It was thoughtful, detailed, and followed all the courtesies. See for yourself.
The response from Chris Mooney was that such things should not be said.
To be fair, it's true that Coyne's TNR article was pretty measured and tame. And it's true he was gentle and respectful when addressing that group of Methodist parishioners. But before we take these examples as typical and endorse Coyne's self-congratulation for never having "criticized an evolutionist, writer, or scholar in an ad hominem manner," it's worth taking a quick glance at his blog, where it's hard to find a post that doesn't devolve into ad hom (unless it's about kittens). Starting with the most recent example, earlier this week Coyne called Deepak Chopra (not someone I particuraly admire, but a writer nonetheless) "Deepity Chopra," whose significant wealth he calls "an indictment of America."
Prior to this he suggests that the critiques ("tripe") of Phil Zuckerman--writer and scholar--are motivated mainly by jealousy of the New Atheists' book sales. Thomas Jackson writes "babble," Mary Midgley is "dumb" and "superannuated" (Coyne loves the 10 cent words Hitchens and Grayling teach him). Elaine Ecklund is a "disingenuous" "Templeton-funded automaton," (regular readers of Coyne's blog will learn that everyone funded by Templeton has been horribly corrupted) Laurie Lebo has "lost neurons," Rob Knop is "mushbrained, and Josh Rosenau has been taken over by a demon. That's just in the last 3 weeks.
Now, I really do mean to be sociological about this. There are numerous fair, interesting and important criticisms to make about religious belief and practice in this world, and I have no interest in stopping anyone from making them. Some I've even made myself. But do we really need to erect a firewall between these criticisms, and similar good-faith criticisms of science, humanism, or enlightenment values? Debate unavoidably divides people into teams, but we can acknowledge this division as a structural artifact, rather than mistaking it for a carving out of ontological categories. If we're interested in truth, dialogue, learning, and similar values, does it really matter so much where the lines are between us and them?
Not that I have any illusions about our ability to reject shibboleths altogether. But we can periodically direct our attention to the high-amperage jolt of human nature that runs through this debate, fueling (in this case) the self-serving myth of the big bad accomodationists trying to stamp out the decent, unimpeachable, eminently rational arguments of the "Gnus." And yes, there's sanctimony and snark to go around on all sides. That crack above about the 10-cent words, for example. That was jerky of me to say. It was and is an obstacle to clear vision and communication, every bit as much as the vanity of the Emperor in Anderson's story was an obstacle to his own clear sight and judgement.
Update I: Jeremy Stangroom, in response to Blackford's post, calls him out for some choice ad homs of his own. His post is more concise than mine, if also slightly more testy.
Update II: Josh Rosenau chimes in:
But when Russell claims in the post linked above that I "wish that the Gnus would go away," he's wrong. I wish they'd make better arguments, ones which engage the peer reviewed literature in the relevant fields, including philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, science/religion studies, metaethics, and even theology. I wish they cited that literature more, and I wish they published their arguments there and engaged with the relevant communities of scholars that way, rather than just through blogs, and TED talks, and mass-market books and magazines. I wish they'd study the literature of social movement theory, and take what lessons can be learned from past efforts to change society and apply that research to their own efforts. I wish they'd lay out some sort of consensus platform, including both big principles and practical changes to be made. I wish they'd work with, rather than against, their most likely allies. I wish they wouldn't drive wedges within the pro-science movement, and would focus their righteous ire on the religious authoritarians who deserve it, or who at least we all agree deserve it most. I don't want them to go away, I want them to be better at what they're trying to do.