How, you ask, did Dawkins and Myers become so compromised? Why ... because of their known anti-religious views of, course. If science is communicated by people known to have such views then the good, plain folk of the USA's Bible-rich heartland will pass by the other way, like rats following a piper or horny priests on the trail of a juicy altar boy. Better to leave the defence of science to official organisations ... or to nice Catholic scientists like Francisco J. Ayala.
For some time now, I've been following Nisbet's running program of blatant self-promotion over at ScienceBlogs, and I've finally decided that he's not just a nuisance who doesn't "get" it. I've made up my mind that he's a genuine opponent of the party of reason. Sure, he may wish to popularise his concept of science. But his view is something like: "Religion is here to stay, so to popularise science we have to
This might have some short-term benefits, I suppose, though I can see many problems with it. In any event, it is not the way to popularise a rational view of the world.
Look, I accept that religion in some form may turn out to be here to stay. Not necessarily, though: that has certainly not been the experience in a lot of Western and Asian countries (Norway, Japan, etc., and even the UK, Australia, and New Zealand to an extent). And even if we're always going to be stuck with religion of some kind, deep into the indefinite future, religious claims can be put under pressure, and perhaps they will mutate into something more benign (like Unitarian Universalism or the nicer strains of Anglicanism). What's more, as religion gets put under pressure it will lose something of its lustre of authority in the minds of all those busy people whose belief is half-hearted, not to mention all those who are not really religious but still believe in belief.
Here's how I see it. Not all religion is simply evil. I'll mention yet again that I am fond of the Anglican Church, at least its more enlightened and less evangelical strains, and am mildly touched that unbelievers like me are still welcome in its halls. (Note to self: I must go to a nice High Church cathedral service, with incense and all, some time soon. I haven't done that for ages.) Certain kinds of Hinduism and Buddhism don't bug me. In fact, I get along with genuine moderates from any religious tradition. Some of them even read this blog, and they're very welcome. Some of them are people whom I count as friends.
Nonetheless, for all of that, the various religions are - more often than not I'm afraid to say - cults of misery that need to be opposed. They merit our opposition not just because they are false, but because their moral teachings and political influence are pernicious. At the same time, there is, to put it very mildly, a tension between any full-blooded, supernaturalist religious belief and the austere-yet-beautiful worldview arising from science. In particular, it is very difficult to reconcile the scientific image of the world with the image of a loving, providential (and all-powerful, all-knowing) God presiding over it. Anyone prepared to try the needed intellectual gymnastics and contortions is welcome to it, but I gave up many years ago.
I submit that those of us who form the party of reason should be saying this loudly, clearly, and persistently. If someone keeps telling us to shut up, I am no longer going to consider him a friend of the party of reason who just doesn't "get" a few things. I'm going to see him as an opponent, as an enemy of reason itself.