August 23, 2011

Michael Lind, secular humanism and straw men

Up until about three months ago, Salon columnist Michael Lind was pretty much can't-miss in my book on his choice of column topics and the angle he took. Then, he minimized, or worse, Peak Oil issues while also flirting with global warming denialism, and when challenged by a fellow Salon columnist, refused to pull in his horns.

Since then, I have read him more skeptically, and with good reason.

The latest? He takes Paul Kurtz as "The" representative of modern secular humanism, twists to some degree Kurtz's thoughts, and produces a straw man. The subhead for the column says it all:
As fundamentalism gets stronger, post-religious liberalism offers a naive and sentimental creed.
Actually, Lind undercuts himself starting right there. How can a movement that is so reason-heavy and emotion-light as Lind claims be "sentinmental"?

Second, claiming that Kurtz violates David Hume's hoary "is doesn't mean ought" probably stretches things.

Third, the idea that Kurtz, when you have a variety of Gnu Atheists (who would fit Lind's stereotype better), old atheists, agnostics, undefined humanist, etc. out there, is, as someone who is 80-plus and removed from his original base at the Center for Inquiry, "the" representative of secular humanism today is ridiculous and ill-informed.

But, that's not all. Lind then clearly shows his biases by descending into sneering like this:
If the secular humanist creed lasts a millennium, it may well generate more manifestos than the pope has encyclicals.
Lind later admits Kurtz isn't "the" representative, and that Kurtz's utilitarianism isn't "the" moral stance of modern humanism, but that's three-quarters the way down a 1,500-word column.

After that, then, Lind, in saying evolutionary biology offers little hope to secular humanism, commits the EXACT is-ought fallacy he condemns in Kurtz.

He does that in defense of a good question. What about humanists who, unlike Kurtz or P.Z. Myers, are political conservatives, libertarians or even Randians? However, there are much better ways of getting to his issue, and to saying that secular humanism, if it has a broad tent, can make only limited political claims, than the way he actually takes.

Even beyond his Peak Oil/global warming errors, this is easily Lind's worst column I've ever read.

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