PZ Myers put forward this famous and rather devastating counter argument against theology:
I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk. Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.
It was designed to counter those ‘sophisticated theologians’ who criticized New Atheism’s arguments as simplistic and who encouraged Dawkins et al to read and engage with modern theological treatises.
When I first read it I was impressed, but I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, and not from Atheists.
It is, at heart, an argument of anti-intellectualism. It says that for field X there is a direct way of accessing the truth and therefore one can come to the secure conclusion that any academic or scholarly work in that field is wrong without having to consider it on its own merits. Put another way, if you have good reason to believe you know the truth, than you don’t need to look at the evidence.
Which other groups make the same kind of claims? Lots, as it happens. Geocentrists, holocaust denialists, mythicists, and, darling of my debating life: Creationists. And the latter (who I have most exposure to) have begun to quote it to me. When I suggest that they find out about genetics, or learn about radiometric dating techniques. And this week it was quoted by name:
Look up the Courtiers Reply by your beloved PZMeyers [sic] — I don’t need to go to school for ten years in biology to know its all a lot of rubbish — cats don’t turn into dogs — the emperor has no clothes.
I have studied, and continue to study theology. I believe there is no God (for the most common definitions of God). I think those very few theologians who claim their work shows otherwise are wrong, and I can generally say where their reasoning is specious. But such rejections cannot be made on the basis of Emperor’s New Clothes type thinking.
I wince hard when New (or Gnu) Atheists make theological statements the equivalent of “cat’s don’t turn into dogs” and then, when they are corrected hide behind this kind of response: ‘first show me why your field is valid, then I’ll listen to anything you have to say’. Especially when this is most often correlated with communities of non-believers who are more likely to claim they understand religions better than their believers.
And this is why: it is the exact same arrogant anti-intellectualism that endangers good science.