When I read brain surgeon and neuroscience professor Michael Egnor‘s latest article, somehow I thought of this Mitchell & Webb sketch. Maybe it’s because a self-satisfied, prickish man got put nicely in his place. Shall we try emulating the British duo’s example?
Egnor, a Catholic and evolution denier affiliated with the Discovery Institute (a conservative think tank that pushes Intelligent Design), is angry about a now-deleted Steven Pinker tweet that read
Belief in the afterlife is a malignant delusion, since it devalues actual lives and discourages action that would make them longer, safer and happier.
That unkind observation — which was taken apart by Alex Berezow on the website of the American Council on Science and Health — leads Egnor to conclude that
The coronavirus pandemic has occasioned a pandemic of another sort: anti-religious hate.
A bold claim — but not one that Egnor, in his piece, makes the slightest attempt to support. He’s too busy galloping to the task at hand: slandering unbelievers.
The irony in Pinker’s outburst is twofold. First, Pinker’s own ideology — atheism — has been an unrelenting blood-stained assault on human life since its conception on the world stage in the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror.
This is bizarre in the extreme, and not just because atheism — that is, not believing in gods — must be nearly as old as humanity. Certainly, philosophical atheist thought in Europe and Asia provably predates Christianity by five or six centuries.
To hold up the Reign of Terror as an atheist-driven event is to mock historical fact. Egnor’s corroborating link goes to a Brittanica entry that says nothing about the period’s anti-religious fervor. Why? Because the batshit-crazy, bloodthirsty Maximilien de Robespierre, who briefly exercised tyrannical control over the French government in 1793 and ’94, was a deist. The accusation from conservative Catholics that the Reign of Terror was carried out by atheists (I previously addressed that calumny here) is nuts. Robespierre believed in God, and tried to get France to adopt a new religion that he called the Cult of the Supreme Being.
He sought to instill a spiritual resurgence across the nation predicated on Deist beliefs. On 6 May 1794, Robespierre announced to the Convention that in the name of the French people, the Committee of Public Safety had decided to recognize the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul. …
Though he was no admirer of Catholicism, he had a special dislike for atheism. He thought that belief in a supreme being was important for social order. … Belief in a living god and a higher moral code, he said, were “constant reminders of justice” and thus essential.
How anyone can get from this that atheists were behind the Reign of Terror is a mystery. Either Egnor didn’t avail himself of the most basic facts on the topic, or he knowingly pushes falsehoods.
If the symbol for Christianity in human affairs is the Red Cross and the hospital, the symbol for atheism in human affairs is the guillotine and the gulag. Atheism, when it achieves government power, is the most effective instrument of mass homicide in human history.
Again, nonsense. The American Red Cross was founded by Clara Barton, a humanitarian, suffragist supporter, and civil-rights advocate. Religiously, she was a progressive Unitarian who had fond memories of her parents’ church but didn’t often attend church as an adult, and who declined to officially join the Unitarian faith.
Despite is name, the Red Cross is not rooted in Christianity in any meaningful way. The symbol, designed by Swiss-born co-founder Henry Dunant, a humanitarian Christian with pacifist leanings, is an inversion of his country’s flag, and a reference to the connection between Switzerland and the original Geneva Convention that Dunant helped birth.
As for Joseph Stalin and the gulags: Unless Christians want to say that Adolf Hitler was chiefly motivated by his Christianity (he wasn’t), they’re going to want to acknowledge that Stalin wasn’t principally driven by his atheism. Both dictators used their views of religion as an opportunistic weapon to get what they wanted — Aryan supremacy for the Führer, and a communist “paradise” for the Red Tsar.
There’s much more to say on the topic, and Christopher Hitchens did it more than ably, in chapter 17 of God Is Not Great.
The second irony of Pinker’s assault on religious belief is especially relevant to this coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 arose in China, which is the most atheist nation on earth. … [I]t is undeniable that the Chinese scientists and government officials — atheists all — lied and covered up the pandemic, and in doing so spread it to the world. …
The COVID pandemic is just another iteration of a recurring theme in modern Western civilization: the hallmarks of atheism in power are lies, carnage, and economic devastation. If there is a “malignant delusion” in this pandemic, it is the delusion that the spread of the coronavirus is attributable to religious believers. A more accurate inference about the role of religion in the spread of COVID-19, given the origin of this pandemic from the incompetence and malfeasance of the world’s most atheist nation, is that COVID-19 is atheism gone viral.
Please. The 1918 Spanish flu, its name notwithstanding, probably originated in the highly religious United States — in Kansas, to be precise. Marburg virus spread from labs in Germany and Serbia, neither of which are atheist countries. Measles probably worked its way around the world from South Africa; smallpox from India or Egypt; hepatitis B from the Middle East and North Africa. I’m not sure why Egnor presents atheists as the architects and spreaders of COVID-19. Does he, by the same token, wish to place the millions of deaths from Spanish flu, measles, and smallpox at the feet of religious people?
(Side note: As the father of three Chinese-American daughters, I can’t help but read Egnor’s article and hear Trump’s dog-whistle all over again.)
I also wonder about this: If it took lying, murderous Chinese atheists to ultimately infect good Christian Americans, shouldn’t Egnor reasonably devote a word to the Christianist administration that bungled its virus response so badly that the United States, with just 4.3 percent of the world population, has almost 30 percent of all COVID-19 deaths?
If you were a patient of Egnor’s, and he found out that you don’t think gods are real, what do you reckon his bedside manner would be? Would you be comfortable going under the knife of a surgeon with such a burning hatred of unbelievers?
For a man who knows so much about the brain, might we expect Egnor to get better at using his?