Berkeley Scholar Doesn’t Admit He Is A Corporate Shill

Climatology denialist Steven F. Hayward had a propaganda piece published in the The Wall Street Journal: Climate Change Has Run Its Course (see archived version). Immediately after it was published, the typical right-wing think tanks, astroturf websites, and corporatist media outlets began pushing the article. A common title in the web results was: Berkeley Scholar Admits “Climate Change Has Run Its Course”. In two days, a Google search showed “about 2,550 results” for the exact wording of that title alone.

It is a highly coordinated and well-funded operation. A single article like that might cost thousands of dollars to promote, which is nothing for plutocrats like the Koch and Mercer families who have so much money they don’t know what to do with it all. Numerous pieces like that are put out and promoted every year, as large numbers of hacks, pundits, trolls, etc are paid to write such pieces or bring the pieces up in their shows and blogs and websites, not to mention public relations and perception management companies that do their magic with bots, fake social media accounts, etc. Hayward himself plays multiple roles within this propaganda machine, not only a writer but also a major figure within multiple key organizations. For example, he is a director of Donors Capital Fund“a group that works with DonorsTrust to give hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to numerous groups questioning mainstream climate science”, from one year alone.

The entire anti-climatology network costs at least millions of dollars a year (as for what could be documented with two specific funding sources, precisely $125 million went to US groups over a particular three year period during the Obama administration; one of the two funding sources was Hayward’s abovementioned Donors Capital Fund; and other research by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle found that “In all, 140 foundations funneled $558 million to almost 100 climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010.”). Most of it is dark money and, as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said in a speech, “the story of dark money and the story of climate change denial are the same story: two sides of the same coin” — see Whitehouse’s book on the topic and see the investigative work of Jane Mayer, Naomi Oreskes, and Erik Conway. That doesn’t even count the general operational funding for all the organizations and individuals involved with related and overlapping agendas: staffing, lobbying efforts, political campaigns, legal forms of indirect bribery (e.g., donations to politicians’ favored groups), lucrative jobs for retired politicians, astroturf, corporate-friendly research, etc.

About overlapping agendas, Hayward has promoted many other issues besides climatology denialism. An example is his promoting anti-immigrant ideology and in rather extreme forms. In one piece at Power Line, he cited the popular right-wing novel Camp of Saints, a novel that portrays genocidal racism — and that inspired Steve Bannon along with many others on the alt-right. What Hayward predictably doesn’t note is that the refugee crisis is largely being caused by climate change, specifically droughts that turned one of civilization’s bread baskets into a desert. By the way, Power Line was made famous for the defense of Bush against attacks on his military record. And more interestingly, as Power Line is funded by Koch money, one of the Power Line bloggers is a lawyer whose law firm represents Koch Industries. It’s a tangled web of wealth and power. And as Hayward demonstrates, that tangled web is increasingly encroaching within academia as the Kochs have specifically targeted universities with donations tied to demands — “According to IRS tax filing data compiled by Greenpeace, Charles Koch has given over $68 million to over 300 universities from 2005 to 2013.[2] The Center for Public Integrity calculated that the Kochs spent $19.3 million on 163 colleges and universities in 2013 alone” (SourceWatch).

But such costs of millions of dollars are a fraction of a fraction of big energy profits, especially considering the public is giving big energy corporations billions of dollars a year in subsidies. The money spent is a wise investment, at least for the short-term profits of plutocrats. Meanwhile, these big energy corporations see the writing on the wall, as their own scientists had proven the existence and threat of man-made climate change going back to the 1970s. Even so, they will wring every last dollar out of old energy, until they are forced to change. It’s of no concern to their quarterly earnings what devastating catastrophes might happen in the decades to come. Many individuals within the system know the situation is dire, but the system itself doesn’t allow for this to be translated into action. It’s entirely outside of the dominant ideological worldview and its in-built system of incentives and disincentives, the carrot and stick that keeps everyone in line.

The point of all this isn’t public debate about science. Articles like this rarely escape the targeted audience within the echo chamber (the only reason I knew about it was because my conservative father, a regular WSJ reader, shared it with me). The political left has grown weary of the bullshit and rarely bothers to acknowledge the latest propaganda pieces, as it is an endless and thankless and ultimately impossible task to keep up with it all (but some take notice). As for mainstream liberals, they tend to take it all at face value and typically don’t question the immense corruption behind it all because only wacko conspiracy theorists think that way, which leaves the naive liberal class vulnerable to obfuscation and manipulation. And it goes without saying that the comments section below the WSJ article and elsewhere on the web is filled with right-wingers repeating the talking points they learned from previous propaganda pieces — this staged and coordinated groupthink is a big circle jerk, but one supported by immense wealth and power. Meanwhile, Steven Hayward continues to play the role of respectable public intellectual, and there are thousands more right-wing hacks, corporate shills, etc similar to him that pervade the alternative and mainstream media.

This game of rhetoric is subtle and, as with the political parties, it pulls the entire media system far to the right. Even public bastions of supposedly liberal media give more airtime to right-wing sources than left-wing sources (NPR turns to right-wing think tanks between two and four times as often as to liberal think tanks; as for left-wingers, they are either ignored, dismissed, criticized, or attacked). As I often note, the center of the majority opinion of the American public is far to the left of the entire establishment (‘progressivism’ and ‘socialism’ are more popular than the ‘Tea Party’ and, among multiple demographics, more popular than ‘capitalism’), including on many issues to the left of the so-called ‘liberal’ media and the Democratic Party (going by polling data on policy positions, even the average ‘conservative’ is often to the left of the average Democratic politician — let that sink in for a moment). The word ‘mainstream’, as with the word ‘centrist’, becomes rather meaningless; other than as a designation of the site of institutionalized power where plutocratic values are expressed and plutocratic interests represented, where gatekeepers operate and talking heads push their agendas, where the propaganda model is implemented and the public is indoctrinated.

This is a powerful ideological system. It extends into the government itself through placing plutocrats and corporatists into official positions, from stacking the courts to regulatory capture. What pathetic excuse we have for democratic process is so hobbled as to be helpless against this big money onslaught. As an example, Carly Cassella at Science Alert notes that “Lamar Smith, one of the most notorious climate deniers in Congress, is the current chairman of the” House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The official Twitter account tweeted Hayward’s recent WSJ opinion piece. Besides regularly tweeting other denialist propaganda: “All in all, the committee has shared approximately 36 WSJ articles on Twitter since September 2017. Over half of these articles spout climate denial in some form or other.” Talk about ideological religion (it’s similar to the tactics used by fundies in taking over local school boards to push their Creationist and anti-choice beliefs through educational curriculum and textbooks in order to indoctrinate children; and, of course, there has long been overlap between fundamentalism and anti-science ideology as found within numerous organizations and increasingly within government).

To return to the article itself, Hayward writes that: “Scientists who are genuinely worried about the potential for catastrophic climate change ought to be the most outraged at how the left politicized the issue and how the international policy community narrowed the range of acceptable responses. Treating climate change as a planet-scale problem that could be solved only by an international regulatory scheme transformed the issue into a political creed for committed believers. Causes that live by politics, die by politics.”

As one commenter (Susan Marano) responded, “Perhaps the left wouldn’t have “politicized” the issue, if the right, as apologists for, and funded by, the fossil-fuel industry, hadn’t politicized it in the first place – because it implied an existential threat to their businesses.” Of course, Hayward already knows that.

By definition, climate change is a planet-scale problem that requires a planet-scale response, if we are to avoid even worse catastrophes as weather patterns shift with flooding and desertification in new areas and as the number and intensity of severe weather worsens. The fact of the matter is that scientists who are genuinely worried aren’t corporate shills who use rhetoric to dismiss reality. Is this guy stupid or does he simply play a stupid person on right-wing media? Either way, he is insulting the intelligence of his readers, but then again maybe he knows all too well his target audience of Wall Street Journal readers — they apparently take having their intelligence insulted as a badge of honor in the fight against the intellectual elite. This puts the WSJ in an odd position, as it never before aspired to be an anti-elitist or anti-intellectual rag, but much changed when Rupert Murdoch bought the WSJ.

Who does Hayward think he is fooling with this bullshit? Is it merely preaching to the choir? I doubt many of the regular readers are fooled either, even as they enjoy the ideological signalling that confirms their identity politics. Such right-wing pieces are shameless propaganda. And it is well documented that the author is a paid propagandist of big biz. But I just don’t get it. What does anyone have to gain by pushing the biosphere and human civilization toward mass catastrophe? Even big biz will be harmed in the end. What kind of person is willing to destroy a planet and ensure the eventual harm and suffering of their own children and grandchildren in order to gain some temporary wealth for themselves? A sociopath, that is the simplest and scariest answer. In the end, we all live and die by politics, specifically in terms of vast environmental problems, even if externalized costs are not evenly spread across all populations (“About 40 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution” which impacts “3.7 billion people”).

Explain to me how scientific experts who support scientific consensus are ‘cultists’ because “I’m rubber and you’re glue, what bounces off of me sticks to you”. Besides being inanely stupid, that is false equivalency between the two sides. Why shouldn’t we label as science denialists those who deny science? And how does that justify declaring that respectable climatologists are cultists for simply stating scientific facts? Calling a spade a spade in calling a denialist a denialist isn’t unfair name-calling, since it is a objective description. It reminds me of racists who complain about being called racists and demand they be treated as respectable equals. Why should we play their game?

Conservatives seeing everything in terms of religion is nothing new. To their mind, everything on the political left is a cult, as every other religion is a cult. Their complaint isn’t about religion but that there can only be one true religion to rule them all (religiosity as authoritarian dogmatism by way of Social Darwinism) and all else is cultism. It’s similar to how conservatives deny having an ideology for only people they disagree with have ideologies. The labels of ‘cult’ and ‘ideology’ mean the same thing in the conservative mind. It seems like a whole lot of projection considering how hard conservatives push their political and religious ideologies onto others, including their own preferred versions of political correctness. That is what this comes down to, political correctness in defense of right-wing ideology. The right-wing snowflakes have their feelings hurt by words. And since they can’t win on the facts, they will try to make it a fight over language policing.

All of this is in service of denial. And denial is simply the first stage of the grieving process. They deny global warming and climate change is real, although denial has been weakening such that they’ve shifted their position from “it’s not real” to “it’s not that bad”. The next stage is anger when they attack supporters of climatology for blaming humanity in pointing out that the evidence indicates it is anthropogenic. As the scientific evidence grows and the denialist position weakens, they have been moving into this second stage for a while.

Now we are entering the third stage, bargaining. They are increasingly admitting that the climatologists were right in that there is climate change and it is anthropogenic (“I guess we’re adding a new step to the old dance? “The planet isn’t getting warmer, the warming is natural and not man-made, it’ll be easier to adapt than address the human causes…..and if you liberals weren’t so annoying we’d be willing to work on it.” “). But as they continue to quibble and obfuscate the actual science in seeking to blame environmentalists and scientists as cultists, now they want to to negotiate about not being called mean names anymore so that they can save face in their sense of shame at having pushed harmful lies for so many decades. The fourth stage will be depression, followed by the fifth and final stage of acceptance.

We are getting closer to being able to have rational and moral public debate about climatology. The problem is that, even as a few ideological hacks and useful idiots and corporatist cucks for big energy have moved past outright denial, most of them are still peddling more slippery forms of denialism and big energy is still funding propaganda. It’s slow progress, considering big energy companies hid their own climatology research for almost a half century. At this rate, we might not get to full acceptance until later in this century or else until the issue becomes moot once it becomes obvious that we are beyond the point of no return.

In conclusion, here is a fun little disccusion at /r/Politics in response to Hayward’s WSJ propaganda piece:

10390: “They characterize climate change as a movement rather than a threat. They are not listening to the Department of Defense.”

GhostBearBestClanForeign: “What does the DOD know? It’s not like they invented satellite imaging or anything…”

the_geotus: “And it’s not like DOD has any interest to protect Americans …”

puroloco: “Can’t keep the military complex going if we are all dead”

* * *

Further Info:

Steven F. Hayward

Hayward has ties to many conservative think tanks. He has been a senior fellow in environmental studies at at the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), and Weyerhaeuser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He is also a director of the Donors Capital Fund (DCF), a group that works with DonorsTrust to give hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to numerous groups questioning mainstream climate science. Hayward is a board member of the Institute for Energy Research (IER). [2][3], [20]

The American Enterprise Institute and Pacific Research Institute are both heavily funded by oil billionaires Koch Industries, and Richard Mellon Scaife.

Steven F. Hayward
Source Watch

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute ( in Washington, D.C., and a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute ( in San Francisco.

Hayward writes frequently on a wide range of issues, including environmentalism, law, economics, and public policy, and has published dozens of articles in scholarly and popular journals. His work has appeared in National ReviewNew York TimesWall Street Journal, Reason, The Weekly StandardPolicy Review, and Chicago Tribune. He is a Weyerhauser Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, an adjunct fellow of the John Ashbrook Center and a former Bradley Fellow at the Heritage FoundationWeaver Fellow of the Intercollegiate Studies InstituteEarhart Fellow, and Olive Garvey Fellow of the Mont Pelerin Society.” — Pacific Research Institute

The American Enterprise Institute and Pacific Research Institute are both heavily funded by oil billionaires Koch Industries, and Richard Mellon Scaife (Gulf Oil).

Koch Bros Tribune Co? Climate change denial in Koch-friendly media
by Connor Gibson, Greenpeace

Steven Hayward, who is affiliated with numerous groups financed by the Kochs as well serving as treasurer and board member to Donors Capital Fund. DCF and sister group Donors Trust hide money from the Kochs and other corporate interests to groups like the Heartland Institute, the Franklin Center, CFACT, Americans for Prosperity, and many other groups connected to Haywardread more on Steven Hayward and the Donors Trust network. Steven Hayward frequently dismisses global warming in the Weekly Standard, the National Review, and Powerline Blog, run by attorney John Hinderaker, whose firm has represented Koch Industries.

Who are these guys? Yet more polluter-funded front groups hit the climate scene
by Pete Altman, NRDC

Just how far out there does the IER get in touting the energy industry line on climate change denial?  In recent weeks, the energy-financed IER has helped tell the, well, dirty lie that “clean energy is a ‘dirty lie.”

IER also did its part to spread around the lies contained in a widely debunked Spanish “study” that falsely suggests green jobs are somehow a bad thing.

Speaking of being out there on denial issues, one of IER’s directors is Steven Hayward with the American Enterprise InstituteHayward was exposed two years ago for offering to pay scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change $10,000 for written critiques of the IPCC’s newest findings.

Factsheet: Steven F. Hayward
Exxon Secrets

5 July, 2006
Co-author of a July 2006 letter sent by AEI to an unknown number of scientists, looking for someone – at a rate of $10,000 for 10,000 words – whose review “thoughtfully explores the limitations of climate model outputs as they pertain to the development of climate policy.”
Source: (2006)

Meet The Climate Denial Machine
by Jill Fitzsimmons, Media Matters

In 2007, The Guardian reported that the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was offering scientists and economists $10,000 each to write articles critical of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on climate change. The Guardian noted that AEI has received substantial funding from ExxonMobil and that former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond — a vocal climate change skeptic — served as AEI’s Vice Chair. AEI criticized the story, saying they merely sought to subject the IPCC report to “serious scrutiny and criticism” but were not doubting the “existence of global warming.”

Nevertheless, AEI scholars have repeatedly downplayed the threat of climate change. Steven Hayward, who writes for National Review, has said that climate concerns are based on “propaganda” and that efforts to reduce emissions are “based on exaggerations and conjecture rather than science.” Former AEI president Christopher DeMuth acknowledged in 2001 that the earth has warmed but claimed “it’s not clear why this happened.” But some other AEI scholars have endorsed a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

15 Most Absurd Comments Right-Wing Media Said About Climate Change in 2015
by Kevin Kalhoefer, Eco Watch

National Review tweeted that a misleading temperature chart published by Powerline’s Steven Hayward was “[t]he only #climatechange chart you need to see.” Hayward wrote that his chart displayed average annual global temperature “with the axis starting not just from zero, but from the lower bound of the actual experienced temperature range of the earth,” and claimed, “[i]f this chart were published on the front page of newspapers the climate change crusaders would be out of business instantly.”

National Review’s tweet was roundly criticized for the chart’s obviously misleading scale (with an appropriately scaled y-axis, the chart shows a demonstrable increase in global temperatures), with Kevin Drum of Mother Jones writing that Hayward’s re-scaled chart was “so phenomenally stupid that I figured it had to be a joke of some kind.” Several Twitter users responded to National Review by jokingly posting examples of similarly misleading charts, including one that the Union of Concerned Scientists described as showing “comfort in the idea that nobody really reads the National Review online.”

ANALYSIS: How The Wall Street Journal Opinion Section Presents Climate Change
Climate Nexus

An analysis of 20 years of the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages on climate shows a consistent pattern that overwhelmingly ignores the science, champions doubt and denial of both the science and effectiveness of action, and leaves readers misinformed about the consensus of science and of the risks of the threat. […]

Similarly, when the opinion page publishes op-eds by Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), they failed to disclose his AEI affiliation in three of four op-eds. AEI is funded by the fossil fuel industry (and the tobacco industry) with major donations from the Kochs and ExxonMobil. Also undisclosed is the fact that Hayward is Treasurer for the Donors Capital Fund, one of a pair of groups described by The Guardian as “a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120m (£77m) to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change.” According to researcher Robert Brulle, Donors Capital Fund and its sister group Donors Trust are responsible for “about one-quarter of the funding of the climate countermovement.”

Remarkable Editorial Bias on Climate Science at the Wall Street Journal
by Peter Gleick, Forbes

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has long been understood to be not only antagonistic to the facts of climate science, but hostile. But in a remarkable example of their unabashed bias, on Friday they published an opinion piece that not only repeats many of the flawed and misleading arguments about climate science, but purports to be of special significance because it was signed by 16 “scientists.” […]

The National Academy of Sciences is the nation’s pre-eminent independent scientific organizations. Its members are among the most respected in the world in their fields. Yet the Journal wouldn’t publish this letter, from more than 15 times as many top scientists. Instead they chose to publish an error-filled and misleading piece on climate because some so-called experts aligned with their bias signed it. This may be good politics for them, but it is bad science and it is bad for the nation.

Science magazine – perhaps the nation’s most important journal on scientific issues – published the letter from the NAS members after the Journal turned it down.

Do you have an open mind? Read both, side by side. And understand that every national academy of sciences on the planet agrees with the reality and seriousness of human caused climate change.

The letter signed by 255 National Academy of Sciences members, from Science magazine.

The letter signed by 16 “scientists” in the Wall Street Journal.

How The Wall Street Journal’s Climate Coverage Fails Businesses
by Alexander C. Kaufman. Huffington Post

The Wall Street Journal may want to consider some editorial input from its advertisers.

Such a thing would be journalistic sacrilege. But the full-page that ran last week in the country’s biggest newspaper by circulation — a call from nearly 70 big-name companies for a strong deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions — seems more in touch with scientific reason than much of anything found on the editorial and opinion pages.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs wrote in a blog post that appeared in The Huffington Post on Monday that the job of business leaders is to look ahead and around corners, to see what is coming next.

“Taking The Wall Street Journal editorials as fact would cost the U.S. its global leadership in the era of the high-tech, low-carbon world economy,” he wrote. […]

Major corporate players from an array of sectors have pledged to convert their operations to use 100 percent renewable energy within the next two decades.

Therein lies the most significant change here — big business is behind the deal. That’s what made the 21st Conference of the Parties, or COP21, so different from similar global gatherings in Kyoto in 2001 or Copenhagen in 2009. Corporations realized that the extreme and increasingly unpredictable weather and climate changes that come of global warming were bad for business.

“Serious businesses need serious help with analysis because these are complicated issues,” Sachs, who teaches at Columbia University, told HuffPost by phone on Tuesday. “It has really done a disservice to businesses.” […]

The editorial board’s view sets it apart from just about every major intellectual institution with the exception of one: the Grand Old Party — the only major political party in the world that denies climate change outright or that it’s a problem that should be addressed, according to Eric Roston, the sustainability editor at Bloomberg.


The Establishment Speaks

I noticed three opinion pieces at The Wall Street Journal. They were published over the past couple of weeks.

Trump, Sanders and the American Rebellion
by Peggy Noonan

Trump’s America
by Charles Murray

The Young and the Economically Clueless
by Daniel J. Arbess

They are fairly typical mainstream views. And all of the authors are fully part of the Establishment. These are the voices of the ruling elite. They speak with authority and are taken seriously in the mainstream. Each author attempts to explain those crazy commoners, the great unwashed masses.

These people are worldly, smart, and highly educated. They have worked and hobnobbed among the wealthiest and most powerful. They do understand much about what is going, far from being entirely clueless. They occasionally make valid points and they are capable of describing some of the major problems.

Yet they never venture far from the mainstream views that rationalize away the deeper challenges and justify the status quo. I have to wonder if they understand more than they let on. Are their opinion pieces a form of propaganda? They are telling the stories that those in power want to be told. It’s part of the attempt to control the narrative. But have they repeated their lies so many times that they’ve come to believe them? Or are they genuinely so disconnected from the experience of most people that they simply can’t comprehend?

These are people who have access to all kinds of info. They even can contact insiders. And, of course, they are part of the intelligentsia. They know how the world works, at least on the level of power and wealth. They know how the rulers think and they know how the system is designed. But I get the sense that average people are mostly just demographic numbers to them. Their focus is extremely narrow, lacking any larger context and deeper insight. They know intimately the world they are a part of, even as they know so little of what happens outside of that reality tunnel and echo chamber.

What is odd is that I sense that people like this don’t see themselves as insiders, as part of the Establishment. The way they talk makes them seem like neutral observers and disinterested analysts. Yet their lifestyles and careers are part of the problems they describe. They are expressing concern that the boat is taking on water, which is why the last thing they want to do is to rock the boat.

Obama and Our Post-Modern Race Problem

Obama and Our Post-Modern Race Problem
By Shelby Steele

The article begins with this premise:

America still has a race problem, though not the one that conventional wisdom would suggest: the racism of whites toward blacks. Old fashioned white racism has lost its legitimacy in the world and become an almost universal disgrace.

The problem is that the premise isn’t true.  Either the author is being dishonest for political reasons or he simply is uninformed.  It doesn’t really matter which.  Polls, statistics and psychological research prove beyond the slightest doubt that racism still exists and still influences people.  Yes, racism is less overt, but that isn’t what the author stated.

The rest of the article takes this race denial position and runs with it.  For the most part, the article is just ideological preaching to the choir… which is fine for whatever it’s worth.  My gripe is that it lacks substance or insight.  Combined with the beginning false premise, the author can accomplish nothing other than spinning a pretty web of rhetoric.  He even trots out good ol’ Reagan as if that will scare away all the boogeymen.

I don’t care if an ideological hack wants to write propaganda for the GOP.  More power to him.  But on the level of intellectual respectability this article is both sad and disappointing.  This is the best to be offered by the “senior research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution”.  Really?

It irritates me.  The author hasn’t added any new insight, hasn’t made any reasonable arguments.  The worst part is just the false premise.  Shouldn’t someone who is apparently a respectable scholar actually do some research on a subject before making absolute statements?  It’s easy to dismiss racism, but back up your assertions.

I don’t mind Obama being criticized.  I love good criticism, but the only insightful criticism of Obama that I’ve seen actually has come from liberals (Cenk Uygur, Bill Maher, etc).  Conservatives have just been playing the role of obstructionists and so they feel obligated to simply repeat the party line.  The author of this article hasn’t said anything that a hundred other conservatives have said.  Yes, I understand.  Republicans don’t like Obama.  Okay, now forget the political talking points and please some conservative come forward with some original thoughts.  Quit trying to look good for future elections and just for one moment say something honest, something authentic.

Where are the intelligent conservatives?

Re: Man vs. God

Man vs. God

I’m not sure exactly what use there is in placing these two authors together.  They’re mostly focusing on separate issues.  I suppose it’s helpful just to demonstrate the distance between two views.  Both Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins are criticizing literalist religion.  The difference is that Dawkins also dismisses non-literalist religion.

I’m in favor of Karen Armstrong’s position as she has a better grasp of history and societal development.  She seems to comprehend what the real issue is.  However, Richard Dawkins does have a point.  Literalism is still a popular view, but the even more fundamental point is that it’s ever becoming less popular.  Polls show that traditional religion is waning and alternative interpretations of spirituality are increasing.

It’s true that it might take a while for literalism to become a minority position especially in the US.  Even so, Karen Armstrong has written about how fundamentalism is a reaction to modernity.  Both scientific materialism and fundamentalism both tend towards literalism, seeing all of the world through one lense.  Armstrong is suggesting that multiple perspectives will give more understanding.

She points out how the symbolic view of the divine is very old, older than Christianity.  Many of the earliest Christians were influenced by the allegorical interpretations of the Greeks and the Alexandrian Jews, and these early Christians often discounted literalist interpretations of the Old Testament.  It’s only in recent centuries that biblical literalism took its cue from science and became widely popular.  The debate about the historical nature of Jesus is more of an issue today than it ever was at the earliest decades of Christianity.

Dawkins bring up a very important point in his last paragraph, but he betrays a lack of comprehension of the subject.  It seems to me that Armstrong’s view simply goes over his head.  Yes, literalism is popular.  So?  Why does he want to make all people open to religion and spirituality the enemy of his ideological vision of scientific humanism?  His view even seems to discount the value of openminded agnosticism.  You’re either with him or you’re against him… pick a side or else become irrelevant (and lonely).  He is correct that many people don’t understand the views of sophisticated theologians such as Armstrong (himself included), but that doesn’t make such views any less important.  It’s lonely to speak against popular opinion.  However, that was just as much true for atheistic scientists in centuries past.  Popular opinion is always changing.

The problem with trying to compare these two authors is that you need a larger context to judge by.  There are two many issues and too much background info that need to be understood in detail: Axial Age religions, Hellenistic influences on Judeo-Christianity, logos and mythos, literalism and allegory, modernism and postmodernism, etc.  There are these large trends of history that we’re all caught in and it’s hard to see outside of our situation.  This is a very old discussion.  The debate between literalism and allegory, for example, has come up again and again throughout history.  There was a major debate about it in the 19th century, but then was almost entirely forgotten about again in the twentieth century.  This debate has been become active again, but the situation is different.  The literalism of both scientists and fundamentalists is a viewpoint of modernism.  Despite the influence modernist thought has on the world, we are slowly developing towards a new paradigm of understanding.

To understand what is emerging from this cultural conflict, I’d suggest turning to some other ideas.  Personally, I find Ken Wilber’s integral theory helpful and also Beck and Cowan’s Spiral Dynamics.  But there are many models that are helpful.  What Dawkins misses is the human element.  He is idealizing objectivity, but humans are inevitably mired in subjectivity.  If you want to understand why humans believe what they do, you need to understand human nature.  Studying psychology always adds some insight.  To specifically understand the shift society is dealing with at the moment, I think the study of generations is even more important.  Polls show that they younger generations have a very different view of religon.  It’s obvious that we should look to the opinions and attitudes of the young if we want to see where the world is heading.  The youth are less traditionally religious, but interestingly this doesn’t equate to them being non-spiritual.  So, it would seem that the youth are leaning more towards Armstrong’s view.  But time will tell.