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I Like M&Ms

I am still sleepy from all that tryptophan in turkey meat and the Evolution wine, so I don’t think I have the energy to write a big post now – I’ll leave much of my thoughts on the matter for a post-weekend post reviewing Dawkins’ The God Delusion.

But I have to chime in briefly by sending you to the relevant links and copying some of the comments I wrote on those comment threads. Brace yourself for a lot of reading as there are several posts and many comments on each of the posts. Sorry, the links are not neccessarly in order, but you’ll get the gist of the argument anyway.

Ed Brayton starts out here and responds to criticisms here.

Larry Moran fires the first salvo here and responds here.

Pat Hayes pitches in here and here.

John Lynch has three posts on the topic: here, here and here.

Buridan clears up some definitions here.

John Pieret takes his side here and here.

John Wilkins just in with this.

PZ Myers (and a gazillion commenters) responds to the whole brouhaha here.

[Update: Josh Rosenau and Mike Dunford have some thoughts on the issue as well.]

[Update 2: Ed Brayton, John Pieret and John Lynch have added further responses.]

[Update 3: Razib, John and Ed have more…and now Josh again! And a good one from Tyler again. And now also Daniel Rhoads. And also Paul Decelles.]

Whoa! What an internecine war! By now, you know that “M&M” stands for Myers&Moran and my title of this post tells you where I stand.

First, let me copy a little quote from my review of Ken Miller’s talk:

“A few years ago, I was of the mind that something like theistic evolution is a good idea to spread the message that evolution is not evil. I thought that people like Ken Miller are great messengers to soften up the people (step 1) and prepare them for eventual compIete abandonment of the Creator (step 2). And even those who never get to Step 2 are less dangerous than straight-out creationists.

I certainly have no problems with anyone personally believing whatever they want. But I am more and more moving to the opinion that this is not a good strategy. It is just providing the apologia for the believers who have a problem with being perceived as medieval, and allowing them to, then, provide apologia for their more extreme brethren. They – the moderates and the fundies – flock together when the going gets tough and it really counts – the political battles between 15th and 21st centuries.

The moderates are no friends of reason when it counts the most, outside of comfortable chats on panels on campuses. Evolution battle is not a battle of science, it is a battle of mindsets and worldviews: medieval vs. modern. Giving a helping hand to those who give their helping hand to the medieval bigots and authoritarians is not a good strategy. They need to be made uncomfortable – Dawkins-style – and forced to choose and come clear with which side they are on. Otherwise, they’ll play nice with us when it does not matter, and stick their fingers in their ears and sing “la-la-la” when real action is required.”

People who focus narrowly on preventing IDC form entering schools do not see the big picture, i.e., that Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology (go read that post now!). Thus, people like Dawkins, Myers (or me) are fighting against the bad politics of the church.

While Lennonnesque Imaginings of a world without religion are cute fantasies, we are a little bit more realistic. We know that religion is here to stay no matter what we do and we know that even organized religion can be and has been harnessed for change for good (as in Civil Rights movement). So, we want to fight against the political (added clarification: conservative) aggressiveness of churches in all spheres – creationism being just one of the prongs of their multi-prong strategy to roll back Enlightement.

While evolutionary biologists and philosophers of science are best suited to counteract creationism (and reproductive and developmental biologists to counteract abstinence-only education, opposition to abortion, stem-cell research and cloning, and psychologists and others should use their knowledge to counteract other prongs of their strategy), we need to all be aware that there is a big picture and that we need to work on it all together.

Part of the battle is to force the mealy-mouthed “moderates” to choose sides. ‘Mealy-mouthed’ moderates are, for instance, “liberal Christians” who believe in evolution and are generally on right side of issues but do not raise any voices against their fundie brethren and, when push comes to shove, side with them (as they are all Christians) against us. [added: this group also includes closet atheists/agnostics too afraid to speak up]

Different targets will respond to different tactics. Dawkins/Harris/Dennett tactic WILL work as one part of the strategy, targeting particular groups, and moreover changing the environment in which the debate is fought (a little bit of niche-construction). Ken Miller and those folks have their roles and can move over other types of people to choose sides.

The M&M approach is only going to push the true fundies away and they are already as far away as can be. The moderates – those who are culturally religious but on the right side on most scientific, moral and social issues – are unlikely to be pushed away by M&M rhetoric, and may even get a validation from it and get pushed in the opposite direction.

Dawkins, Harris and Dennett are changing the landscape of the discourse, forming an environment in which it is possible to talk about atheism and religion on a level field. Without them, we’d be forced to hide our atheism even more than before and allow the fundies to define us as amoral.

In other words, focusing only on preventing creationism from entering schools is missing the forest for the trees. We have managed to win a bunch of court cases, the latest one in Dover. But we have not won in the court of public opinion. And, if the entire religious plan succeeds, the courts of the future will be filled with clones of Priscilla Owen and all our victories against Creationism (and the Pledge of Allegiance, prayer in school, ten commandments in courthouses…) will be reversed.

Thus, in order to win the war, we have to engage the enemy at all fronts, not just the one where we feel like it. Let’s look at some previous success stories.

Women did not gain equality by being quiet and not rocking the boat. African-Amercans did not gain equality by being quiet and not rocking the boat. Gays did not gain equality by being quiet and not rocking the boat.

What those three groups did, and are still doing, is changing the discourse by being darn loud! A hundred years ago, a woman was a man’s property – not any more, and it is deemed extremely vile to suggest so in this day and age. Fifty years ago, stating that Blacks and Whites should be separated because Blacks are stupid and dangerous was a mainstream position – try saying that today and see what happens to you! Ten years ago, saying you are gay invited getting beaten up. See what just a decade of loud agitation has done – some kind of movement towards the right direction (gay marriage of civil unions) in several US states, Canada, Spain, UK, South Africa, now even Israel!

The first, loud pioneers set the stage for the debate and move the goalposts. They often endanger themselves initially, but their example prompts many others to come out of the closet. There are always those who are too afraid to speak out, to rock the boat. They try to talk the enemy out of destroying them instead of exposing the enemy for the brute it is. Being moderate, playing nice, and appeasing the fundies hellbent on destroying you is not a working strategy. Building a large, loud, uncompromising and powerful movement is. Ridiculing the enemy in the public sphere and changing the discourse – what is mainstream and what is not – gradually wins our wars against the anti-Enlightement forces.

If you go to feminist, Black and LGTB blogs, you’ll see that it is easy for them to make fun of latest rantings by white, rich males, like Brooks, Tierney and Derbyshire. But they have particular ire against people of their own who either side with the enemy or allow to be manipulated by the enemy – the antifeminist women, the Blacks who push (as Republican officials, usually) the anti-Black agenda, the Mehlmans and other gays in the GOP who actively work on anti-gay legislation. Why is it suprising that such a thing would not happen in the, much newer and younger, atheist movement?

The silent reverence for religion is something quite American. You need to read this to understand where I come from. In Yugoslavia, in 1941 everyone was officially religious, in 1951 some people were religious but were too afraid to say so because they feared persecution, in 1961, some people were still religious (although getting older), they went to church on Sunday but did not tout their religiosity in fear of ridicule. By the time I was aware of my surroundings in the 1970s and 1980s, only very few people were religious, those were very old and mostly in the countryside and nobody my age believed in God:

“The resurgence of religion in the area in the 1990s is fascinating to me. I do not believe that most of those people are really religious i.e., believe in God. It is purely a political instrument, as well as a way to use easily recognizable signals to differentiate between ethnic groups that are otherwise indistinguishable. Thus Serbs started sporting Orthodox paraphernalia, Croats Catholic stuff, and Bosnians Islamic symbols.”

The Western pundits, steeped in their own culture, quite erroneously labeled the Balkan conflict a “religious war”. It was more a war between the fans of Red Star, Dinamo and Zeljeznicar soccer clubs. And while the decade of wars and economic sanctions, coupled with migrations of the best-educated abroad and the country-folks into cities, made public religiosity by Right-wing extremists OK, the country is still predominantly atheist and secular. See this if you don’t believe.

Here in the USA, we cannot institute a top-down government-sponsored ridicule of religion. The system works differently here. Big societal changes, including changes in how we think about issues, are brought about by large, loud movements. But if atheists form such a movement – and this looks like a great time for a backlash against the fundamentalist overreaching – the discourse will change. Nobody in the next generation will fall for the idiotic notion that atheists are immoral. And, just like the communist government in the old Yugoslavia realized, there is no need for any kind of legislation banning religion and religious activities – public ridicule does the job marvelously on itself.

In this post (another must-read) I wrote:

Thus, we need to see the battle over evolution not as a separate battle, but as a part of a bigger war between Enlightement and Anti-Enlightement. One cannot be won without the other. And while some battles in this war can be and should be fought at the level of national politics, the battle over education, including the battle over evolution, requires us to get at their kids. For that, we need to go local. Winning cases in court works only for the short term – they will come again and again and, with conservative activist judges being appointed left and right, they will start winning soon. Getting elected to school-boards, teaching in schools, teaching the teachers, pushing for non-test-based educational systems, pushing for tests of critical thinking (including evolutionary thinking) in schools as well as for home-schooled children, …those are the ways to fight them long term, thus the only way to win this battle. Winning this battle – the battle over childrearing and education – will be the key for winning the whole war long term. Without new recruits from the new generations of children, the forces of Anti-Enlightement will dwindle in numbers, lose power, and finally die out. As a liberal, I am an optimist, a believer in progress, and cannot see how, in the long term they can win and we can lose. But in the meantime we need to fight to prevent them from incurring too much damage while they still have the power. Explaining evolution over and over again is not the way to do it.

But the project I describe here can only be succesful if the social and political environment allows it. And to change the discourse, to start getting taken seriously, and to change what is mainstream and what is not we need more M&Ms. If reason prevails and fundamentalism looses, then nobody will ever overturn our legal victories against Creationists. If we keep winning anti-IDC cases but ignore the environment in which it all happens, we will soon start loosing in courts as well. It’s fine if Ken Millers of the world want to help out in IDC cases and to move some minds on their lecture circuits, but in the long run, they’ll have to decide are they on the side of reason or on the side of their religion which also includes the most politically active fundies.

Dawkins is correct:

I tell Dawkins what he already knows: He is making life harder for his friends. He barely shrugs. “Well, it’s a cogent point, and I have to face that. My answer is that the big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism. The sensible” – and here he pauses to indicate that sensible should be in quotes – “the ‘sensible’ religious people are really on the side of the fundamentalists, because they believe in supernaturalism. That puts me on the other side.”

Comments

  1. #1 Tyler DiPietro
    November 24, 2006

    Dawkins, Harris and Dennett are changing the landscape of the discourse, forming an environment in which it is possible to talk about atheism and religion on a level field. Without them, we’d be forced to hide our atheism even more than before and allow the fundies to define us as amoral.

    Absolutely right! And it’s incredibly ironic and frustrating that the E-Team doesn’t get this very simple point. They are totally free to engage the public, steeped in religious ignorance, with the sort of conciliatory appeasement strategy they advocate so strongly. Us M&M’s are of a different mindset, namely that kowtowing to an ignorant public that considers us (at the very least) morally suspect is piss poor idea. And, furthermore, we generally happen to be of the opinion that appeasing one form of religious ignorance (e.g., the dogmas of Christianity) so that you may possibly be able to get rid of another (e.g., creationism) is a bit incongruous.

    Appeasing superstition and ignorance isn’t a valid strategy at all. It’s a self-defeating pipe dream to think that giving such people the idea that their grievances with us godless folk are legitimate is going to somehow wean America off of it’s obsession with anti-scientism, much less advance the position of the godless in society.

  2. #2 caliibre
    November 24, 2006

    Why can Creationists &/or Intelligent Design (ID) advocates solve Sudoku Number Puzzles so quickly?

    THEY JUST PUT A “G” IN ALL THE EMPTY SQUARES.

    It’s just a matter of faith! It’s the same method creationists and now ID specialists resort to in trying to prove their unsustainable “intelligent design theory”. Creationists can just stop searching for reality by just assuming all gaps in current understanding and/or knowledge of evolution must be filled with a (G=god) solution. As Prof Richard Dawkins explains in chapter four of The GOD Delusion; “If an apparent gap is found, it is assumed that God, by default must fill it.” Saves them having to think and question I suppose.

    Much like the progress one makes by eliminating the possible numbers in each square as a Sudoku puzzle is solved, “gaps shrink as science advances and God is threatened with eventually having nothing to do and nowhere to hide.” This of course “worries thoughtful theologians” however the greater worry for scientists (and the rest of us) is that groups through politics or fear will walk away from the “essential part of the scientific enterprise [that is] to admit ignorance.”

    Nothing is more dangerous than a, ‘I have all the answers’ arrogant preacher followed by a bunch of non-thinking ‘god-botherers’ driven by blind faith who absolve themselves from their societal responsibilities with the comfort of unquestioning feeble-minds!

    Although some see Dawkins as a bit of a raver and less scientific in his arguments than he could (should) be, if you read Pascal Boyer’s writings (e.g. “Gods, Spirits and the Mental Instincts that Create Them”), Dawkins’ ‘emotional’ approach to battling the “ID” lobby is also needed. I read recently a quote (can’t remember who’s or where) that goes along the line of: ‘you cannot logic a man out of a point of view that logic didn’t get him to in the first place’. Faith is driven by fear, passion, hardwired avoidance mechanisms and emotion and that is exactly what realists need to stimulate to reverse the current worrying trend by the slick religious nutters to sell their unpalatable and dangerous certainties.

    Its time to organise, its time to fight… I for one don’t want to leave this problem for the next generation to solve alone.

    By the way a good introduction to Boyer (Henry Luce Professor of Individual and Collective Memory at Washington University in St. Louis), can be found here:
    http://artsci.wustl.edu/%7Epboyer/LuceWebSite/LucePeople.html and there are a few notes, quotes and summaries on my own blog.

    caliibre

  3. #3 G. Shelley
    November 24, 2006

    I think this is the best post I have seen on this subject (or at least the one that is closest to my view) and certainly seems less clouded by anger, frustration and irrationality than many of the others.
    I said this before, but there is an idea being put forward that atheists should stay in the closet. It’s fine for the religious to talk about their faith and their belief that God is somehow responsible, but we have to shut up and keep quiet, appease the bigots in case they won’t work with us if they discover we think some of their beliefs foolish. Do the same rules apply to them? Apparently not.

  4. #4 John Pieret
    November 24, 2006

    I’m sorry … I don’t remember signing up for a campaign agaisnt religion, much less a political fight.

    Or is this one of those “if you ain’t fer us, yer agin’ us” thingies that PZ says atheists don’t engage in?

  5. #5 coturnix
    November 24, 2006

    It is a political fight, wishing it to be so or not.

    There is nothing wrong or impolite of saying it is an “us vs. them” fight.

    WWII was an “us vs. them” fight. We did not want it, Hitler did. We won by bold unified action.

    War on Enlightement is an “us vs. them” fight. We do not want it, Dobson/Falwell/Robertson crowd does. We will win by bold unified action.

    Some generals have expertise in particular fights (e.g., against Creationism, or against anti-choice movement, etc.) and do not want to fight all the other battles in the war – this is fine as not everyone has the time or expertise to do everything. But they should not try to silence the generals who do want to fight the whole war. After all, only winning the whole war can help win individual battles. Without the victory over fundamentalists, all the little battles over creationism are for naught, and we’ll start loosing those in the future as well.

  6. #6 JY
    November 24, 2006

    ‘Mealy-mouthed’ moderates are, for instance, “liberal Christians” who believe in evolution and are generally on right side of issues but do not raise any voices against their fundie brethren and, when push comes to shove, side with them (as they are all Christians) against us.

    Question: do such ‘liberal Christians’ that you describe comprise, in your mind, the set of all ‘liberal Christians’? Or are there ‘liberal Christians’ who ‘believe in evolution and are generally on the right side of issue’ but do raise voices against their fundie ‘brethren’, and when push comes to shove, side against them.

    It seems to me that a ‘liberal Christian’ is one who typically sides with the atheists and agnostics against the fundies. And there are plenty of them — indeed, this sort of ‘liberal Christianity’ was once the norm, at least to the extent that the rise of fundamentalism in the USA has been seen as a major change.

    Women did not gain equality by being quiet and not rocking the boat. African-Amercans did not gain equality by being quiet and not rocking the boat. Gays did not gain equality by being quiet and not rocking the boat.

    Nor did women gain equality (to the extent that they have gained it) by eliminating men. Nor did African-Americans gain equality by eliminating whites, or gays by eliminating straights. And none of these groups gained equality by trying to show that it wasn’t okay to be otherwise — gays don’t claim that it is foolish or dangerous to be straight. But the rhetoric from the M&M side sounds eliminationist. Even if they disclaim a desire to eliminate believers, they certainly talk about eliminating belief, of any kind. So the analogy to other civil rights struggles is not apt.

  7. #7 John Pieret
    November 24, 2006

    War on Enlightement is an “us vs. them” fight. We do not want it, Dobson/Falwell/Robertson crowd does. We will win by bold unified action.

    Whatcha mean “we,” white eyes?

    One of those Enlightenment ideals you are so in favor of was respect for people’s religious beliefs as long as they were kept separate from government and weren’t imposed by fiat. I’m more than willing to speak out against what people like Dobson, Falwell and Robertson do but I won’t lump Ken Miller, Francis Collins, George Coyne, etc., etc. in with them and paint them all with the same broad brush.

    One of the reasons I don’t like the Dobson/Falwell/Robertson crowd is that to them, everything is black and white. Why would I want to think like them?

  8. #8 Dennis
    November 24, 2006

    First let me thank you for actually having an intelligent description of your position without descending into the nastiness that everyone else has gotten involved in.

    That said, I would like you to clarify a small point. You say that your goal is to convince liberal Christians to be more vocal in their opposition to the conservative policies of the religious right. However, you also seem to imply that as long as the liberal Christians remain Christians, they by definition reject reason and are your enemy. If I am correct in my reading (and I by no means am sure that I am) could you state whether you believe that theisism is the “enemy” being fought or whether the “enemy” is not simply creationism, but the conservative agenda.

  9. #9 coturnix
    November 24, 2006

    The enemy is conservative agenda.

    As I stated above, I am not interested (and, being realistic, I have no hope for it anyway) in eliminating religion. I am interested in changing the discourse and the environment – making it like one I described in that post I linked to (the “I, Coturnix” one): churches and seminaries are open, people go if they want to, but they keep pretty quiet about it out of fear of ridicule, and certainly do not try to infuse their religion into politics.

    There are preciously few atheists in this country. We cannot do it alone. We have to wake-up the liberal Christians and shows them that we are on the same side – for reason and rationality. Some of them need a dose of Ken Miller first to “warm up” to the idea. Others are more “ready” and need to hear the Dawkins/Harris call to action. It is them who need to be most vocal and most active in sending the fundies under the rock. As long as they keep quiet, they enable the fundies to walk over Enlightment. Obviously, there is nothing eliminationist about this, and if I understand M&M correctly, they agree with me on this as well.

    While I would like to see a greater spread of atheism in the USA, I am not interested in eliminating the religious, just like women are not interested in eliminating men, just re-educationg them. We cannot start re-educating the liberal Christians as long as the environment is such that they have no idea what atheism means (they think it is a dirty word) and believe that atheists are amoral – ideas they picked up from their fundie brethren.

    The fundies already think we are Satan personified and that will not change. But we need to make the liberal religionists (not only Christians) see that we have no horns and tails. That will only happen if there is a vigorous public debate on all types of media. Media will have Dawkins on every day if they think it is a story of the day. It will become the story of the day only if we are vocal and persistent.

    It took women decades, it took Blacks decades, gays had only a decade or so so far – such changes do not happen overnight. But, as long as we “respect” the beliefs of others and do not ridicule religion, the fundies will have the upper hand. We need to hammer our message and have our statements out every day for many years before it sinks in and a kid professing belief in God in a classroom is received with sneeres by his peers. This kind of debate will place liberal Christians between the rock and the hard pkace and force them to respond. How? By trying to redefine what religion is and taking the mantle of religion away form the fundies, making religion acceptable again and putting a new, more benevolent face on it.

  10. #10 Gary Hurd
    November 24, 2006

    My My My.

    I tend to some other interests for a few days and all Hell breaks lose. Ed Brayton, as usual, is throwing accusations around trying to seem important. One of his more absurd statements is;

    But some, like Larry Moran, PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Gary Hurd and others, are involved in an entirely different battle. For them, it’s not enough to protect science education from the attacks of some religious people; religion itself, in any form, is to be attacked and destroyed by any means necessary.

    First, I am flattered to be mentioned together with Moran, Myers and Dawkins, but it is totally inappropriate. I have at best a tiny fraction of the scientific accomplishments of these men, or their public influence. Brayton has never contributed to science or education and has comparatively little influence, so this is clearly a “division by zero” problem.

    Nor have I ever considered it necessary to eliminate religion, regardless of means. I don’t think that science can do this in any event. The only certain path to atheism I know of is to study theology.

    Let me propose a simple analogy; the pro-science education effort is like a dog. There is the wagging tail at one end, and the bark and even teeth at the other. PZ, Dawkins and others are at the front. Pat, Nick and others are the friendly, inclusive wagging tail and Ed Brayton is the little part just below the wag. I’m the little flea whispering that if you don’t want to divide forces, then ignore divisive people like Ed who demand that you have to be on “his” side and don’t step in the mess he leaves on the floor.

  11. #11 coturnix
    November 24, 2006

    Thank you for pasting this here – I was about to copy your dog metaphor here myself LOL

  12. #12 Julia
    November 24, 2006

    You’re an excellent teacher, I think the best on ScienceBlogs. I have enjoyed, appreciated, and learned from your lucid descriptions of biology.

    But now I need to ask you to repeat yourself so that I can be absolutely sure that I’m understanding you. You think it is a good idea that our society be one in which some people “keep pretty quiet about [their views on religion] out of fear,” so long as those who creep about silently in fear are not the ones who share your own particular views on religion? You think that a healthy, desireable education is one in which a teacher permits a child expressing his/her opnion in “a classroom is received with sneeres[sic]” from the other children, so long, of course, as the child being so treated hasn’t been taught to share your own particular views on religion? This is the future that you want us all to join in working for: the same situation we have now, where some people are constantly afraid because of what they think and where children are mocked in a classroom for speaking their thoughts, just as long as those mocked and afraid are not those who agree with your particular opinions about religion? Will you lead out to this brave new world by going to your family next Thanksgiving and mocking the young children while trying to make the adults afraid to say what they think?

    This seems impossible for me to believe, and yet it all seems to be exactly what you just said. As a good educator, you know that it is sometimes necessary to repeat yourself or paraphrase yourself for your audience to understand. If I am not grasping your meaning, I apologize; please help me to understand what you are saying here.

  13. #13 JY
    November 24, 2006

    It took women decades, it took Blacks decades, gays had only a decade or so so far – such changes do not happen overnight. But, as long as we “respect” the beliefs of others and do not ridicule religion, the fundies will have the upper hand

    But it was not through the ridicule of men in general, but of sexist beliefs, and not the ridicule of whites in general, but of racist beliefs, that sexism and racism were (to some extent) overcome. Yet you, and M&M want ridicule of religion of all stripes, whereas by analogy you should restrict yourself to ridiculing the fundamentalist beliefs.

    If the pro-science education effort is like a dog, by the way, there’s no question who is at the front — it’s people like Eugenie Scott and Nick Matzke, who are doing the real work out there.

  14. #14 coturnix
    November 24, 2006

    I grew up in such a place and it was great! Believers did not live in fear, except in fear of teasing (if young) or fear of being ignored (if old). That put religion at its natural place – at the margins: an interesting social activity that some percentage of the population will always need for emotional reasons, as well as an activity that produces great art, takes care of the downtrodden, etc.

    If you have read the “I, Coturnix” post linked above, you know my atheist Dad and I sang in church! You know a friend of mine was in the seminary (his brother was a cop) – we never teased him, just thought he was weird.

    As a teacher I would not like to see any kid sneered at in my classroom and if such a thing happened I would make it clear that the behavior is unacceptable. But kids are mean – they will do it.

    I’d rather live in a society in which kids tease their peers who are religious (and get chastized for disrespect by the adults) than in a society in which kids tease (or worse) their peers who are atheist AND the adults go along. Such a society has its priorities straight – rationality is the order of the day and religion is something that a minority of people indulge in for their own personal reasons which, even if psychopathological, should not be disrespected.

    But to get to that point, we have to start by ridiculing religion. That will get the liberal religionists out of their deep slumber and fight to reclaim the religion away from the fundies.

    And as I stated in the previous post, just below, I made sure that my kids never show disrespect to others who pray etc.

  15. #15 coturnix
    November 24, 2006

    Nobody suggests ridiculing people. Ridiculing silly beliefs is in order, though, and let the people decide for themselves if they want to hold such beliefs any more or not. Without ridiculing, and without information provided by Dawkins et al., many will never self-examine their beliefs in the first place and the fundies will havge an easy time instituting their theocracy.

  16. #16 Gary Hurd
    November 24, 2006

    Thank you for pasting this here – I was about to copy your dog metaphor here myself LOL

    Posted by: coturnix |

    Glad you liked it. It seems appropriate. C’n’P away. I can’t keep up.

  17. #17 Julia
    November 24, 2006

    I’d rather live in a society in which kids tease their peers who are religious (and get chastized for disrespect by the adults) than in a society in which kids tease (or worse) their peers who are atheist AND the adults go along.

    I hope we can agree that it’s fortunate that these aren’t the only choices for our nation’s children’s future. We can do better than either. I managed to raise two children who didn’t tease, sneer at, or insult other children for expressing honest opinions. If I can do it, certainly there are many others, knowing far more about child-raising techniques than I knew, who can do it too. Obviously you do it, and I respect you for that.

    Thank you for your patient clarifications.

  18. #18 coturnix
    November 24, 2006

    It would be nice to expect perfection, and we can do as much as we can to raise our kids well, but in the real world kids tease. Let’s use this as a ‘canary in the mine’ example, something that tells us about the Zeitgeist, not something we actually want to see.

  19. #19 Larry Moran
    November 24, 2006

    Excellent post.

    I wish I had written it. :-)

    I have one minor quibble about ….

    While Lennonnesque Imaginings of a world without religion are cute fantasies, we are a little bit more realistic. We know that religion is here to stay no matter what we do …

    I think you’re being too pessimistic. Many European countries are effectively secular right now (Sweden is the best example). Religion is not a serious force in most of them (e.g. France). The USA is unusual among industrialized nations.

    I currently live in a society where religion is not a prominent part of everyday life and I have every reason to believe that it will be a less important in the future. Look to other countries for inspiration. There’s hope.

  20. #20 choo-choo train
    November 25, 2006

    Perhaps I should go back and reread the whole argument carefully. The impression i got, glancing through all the posts over the last few days was that the argument went something like this:

    1 Larry Moran: they should expel any kid who doesn’t believe in evolution
    2 Ed Brayton and several others: that’s fuckin’ crazy, man. 18 year olds have crazy opinions, you don’t cast them into the wilderness.
    3 Larry Moran: Oh did I say that? I was just kidding.
    4 PZ Myers: (tazmanian devil noises) Brackafrackin Smackablackan Drool Drool! Atheists are great and you cowards are appeasers and Ed Brayton is a mediocre shithead non-professor fatass retard who calls people names! I hate Panda’s Thumb!
    (and so on, and so forth)

    Maybe I should go back and reread everything, but it looks like PZ was confused and lashing out.

  21. #21 coturnix
    November 25, 2006

    Yes, you should re-read the whole thing because the whole school-admissions story is just a small tangent.

  22. #22 John Pieret
    November 25, 2006

    But to get to that point, we have to start by ridiculing religion. That will get the liberal religionists out of their deep slumber and fight to reclaim the religion away from the fundies.

    [Boggle] We are supposed ridicule all religion (as in Larry saying Ken Miller is as bad or worse for science education as young-Earth creationists) to get liberal theists on our side? In what reality do you find people being attacked and sneered at (even while you are hushing your children for being mean to the poor unfortunates) do they then turn around and lick your hand, thank you for your condescension and support your goals? Do you really think Ken Miller and people like him are so stupid?

  23. #23 rjb
    November 25, 2006

    I’ve been following this whole give-and-take, and I’ve been having a hard time understanding it. I read what Ed and “his team” say, and I basically agree. Then I read PZ and “his team”, and I also agree. I think in my mind, I’ve distilled this down to two different fights. Fight 1 is a battle over science education. What is science? What belongs in the classroom? For this fight, anyone who understands and supports the naturalistic investigation of worldly phenomena is welcome. In my mind, I don’t care if they are christian, buddhist, atheist, muslim, or raelian (or liberal or conservative for that matter). If a local school board is attempting to promote ID in high schools, I’ll seek support to fight this from anyone who agrees with my point of view.

    But then there is fight 2, which is in some ways bigger, more all consuming. This is the fight that Dawkins is fighting, naturalism vs. supernaturalism. Again, I find myself completely in agreement with these arguments. In general political discussions, I find myself using this approach as a guiding principle. Supporting the Dawkins approach as a general philosophy is important to make people realize that a) atheists aren’t baby-eating narcissists who are looking for any excuse to act immorally, and b) the naturalistic view of the world works, period. Any time a religious vs. naturalistic argument over a worldly phenomenon has occurred, naturalism has won. And it’s important to point that out at every possible turn.

    I don’t want to choose sides overall, I just want to focus on what is the key battle currently being fought, and use the proper tactics for that battle. I feel that PZ and Ed are arguing about different fights. Clearly, there is no love lost between them, but they’re talking past each other, and now are descending into accusations of lying and quote-mining. Both have a point.

    I for one am not choosing sides. I agree with Ed. I agree with PZ. It just depends on which battle we are talking about.

  24. #24 coturnix
    November 25, 2006

    A couple of people are saying that these are two different fights. No! One is a subset of the other. One is a battle, the other is the war. While we have been lucky with the battle so far, we’ll lose it eventually, unless we win the war.

  25. #25 rjb
    November 25, 2006

    I agree that one battle is consumed by the second, larger war. And we need to use BOTH perspectives–make alliances with groups that will help us in small battles, but don’t become wedded to those groups. There’s a distinction there that I think we can make. We can work with theistic evolutionists under some narrow circumstances. That doesn’t mean we turn off our criticism of their approach as a larger strategy, just that we will work with them when our goals are the same.

  26. #26 Caledonian
    November 25, 2006

    What do you mean, “no one is advocating ridicule”? I advocate ridicule. And sarcasm, and scorn, and mockery, and humor of all types and kinds.

    “Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution — these can lift at a colossal humbug — push it a little — weaken it a little over the course of a century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”

    – Samuel Clemens

    We should ridicule irrationality, and encourage others to do so. We should shame the people who say stupid things about stupid beliefs – and we should shame those people who have stupid beliefs whether they try to publically discuss them or not. We should laugh at willful ignorance, propaganda, self-righteousness, and delusion, because laughter is the most (and sometimes only) powerful weapon we have against those things.

  27. #27 coturnix
    November 25, 2006

    Exactly. Ridicule works. If they don’t want to be ridiculed they should re-examine their silly beliefs and change them. The high visibility of the debate will also serve a function of readily providing the relevant information they need to re-examine their beliefs. Once they change them, no need to get ridiculed any more, and they are welcome to the sane society again.

    As I said in the main body of the post, it is a very American idea that religion should be treated with respect. While I will respect a person, I will tell the person to his/her face why I think his/her beliefs are wrong. That is ridiculing the belief while respecting the person. Persons suffering from mental illness deserve our respect – their mental illness does not.

    Unfortunately, it is the deeply religious who get personally offended when someone criticizes their religion. I do not know if this is their game, or if they really feel so personally wedded to their religion. In any way, it is their problem, not ours, and they need to grow up.

  28. #28 Nathanael Nerode
    April 18, 2007

    “My answer is that the big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism.”

    Perhaps Dawkins is using the words in different ways than I would…. but I would say

    The big war is not between naturalism and supernaturalism, but between empiricism and blind faith. Empiricism is winning, and blind faith is resorting, in desperation, to outright lies and ad hominem attacks. Which are pretty effective.

    Supernaturalism happens to have been largely discredited by evidence, but that’s a side effect. The most fundamental problem is people who believe in things *despite evidence to the contrary*. The “Believe me, not your own lying eyes” thing.

    If you dig down, the worst of this anti-empirical behavior is attributable to outright brainwashing techniques, such as are used by many Christian groups.

    Interestingly, the attitudes of many literalist fundamentalist Christians lend themselves well in some ways to being “deconverted” by reading aggressive atheist works like Dawkins’s. Once you break the very powerful brainwashing cycle, and they notice that neither their holy book nor anyone else’s is literally true, they are quite capable of grabbing onto empiricism and rationalism really really tight.

    This is because they’re not mystics. Mystics require a different, mellower approach. In the case of anti-scientific mystics, the gap isn’t lack of empiricism, it’s lack of rationalism. I’m not sure how to address this.

    “Unfortunately, it is the deeply religious who get personally offended when someone criticizes their religion.” It’s because of the brainwashing. Seriously. _Leaving the Fold_ covers, not very deeply but quite comprehensively, the brainwashing methods used by most Christian organizations.

    Breaking through brainwashing requires fairly aggressive tactics.

  29. #29 89
    November 13, 2007

    What do you mean, “no one is advocating ridicule”? I advocate ridicule. And sarcasm, and scorn, and mockery, and humor of all types and kinds.

    “Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution — these can lift at a colossal humbug — push it a little — weaken it a little over the course of a century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”
    – Samuel Clemens
    We should ridicule irrationality, and encourage others to do so. We should shame the people who say stupid things about stupid beliefs – and we should shame those people who have stupid beliefs whether they try to publically discuss them or not. We should laugh at willful ignorance, propaganda, self-righteousness, and delusion, because laughter is the most (and sometimes only) powerful weapon we have against those things.

  30. #30 tsc1963
    December 24, 2007

    asdas

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