Dispatches from the Creation Wars

For those who are interested, Richard Dawkins has posted a retraction of his support for the petition I criticized so strongly yesterday. You can find his retraction in the comments on that post. Unfortunately, you can also find several examples of PZ Myers flat out lying about what I’ve said and done, which is hardly a surprise given his past behavior toward me.

Update: Please read this post, my letter to Richard Dawkins, which I hope brings this whole affair to an end.

Comments

  1. #1 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    I hope we can expect that Dawkins will be having this petition removed from his web site post haste, preferably to be accompanied by an explanation.

  2. #2 Martin Wagner
    December 30, 2006

    We’ve also been having some interesting discussion about this in the most recent couple of posts over at The Atheist Experience. I hope Dawkins is more circumspect in the future about lending his name and the considerable weight it carries to anything, before making sure he’s fully read and understood what it is he’s endorsing. I’m glad to see him willing to admit to his mistakes. Now if only creationists could pick up that habit.

  3. #3 J. J. Ramsey
    December 30, 2006

    With all due respect, you really should note in your previous post that Dawkins retracted his comments (and possibly link to your current post on Dawkins).

    Also, I don’t think it is fair to say that Myers is lying. It looks more like he is just too angry to think straight and thus keeps misreading what you are writing. The fact that he cites one of your posts as confirmation of he is saying about you would tend to confirm that he is just not thinking.

  4. #4 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    No, I’m thinking quite clearly. That cited comment should show you who is really upset to the point of irrationality here.

    I am really baffled, though, by all the people who are saying that Brayton has backed off of his claims. He hasn’t. He has announced that Dawkins has retracted his signature and admitted that it was a mistake to sign it. Brayton has nowhere admitted that he was wrong to claim that Dawkins wants to coerce religious people into abandoning their beliefs.

    It’s rather amazing to see him saying “Dawkins was wrong!” and everyone interpreting that as Brayton admitting error. So let’s be clear about this: Ed Brayton has retracted none of his accusations of Dawkins’ favoring a totalitarian atheist state, and has instead only reiterated that he was absolutely correct in his original post. He’s welcome to change that and make a sincere admission that his interpretation was wrong, but I suspect it won’t happen.

  5. #5 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    Brayton has nowhere admitted that he was wrong to claim that Dawkins wants to coerce religious people into abandoning their beliefs.

    So you’re apparently going to assume that Ed disbelieves Dawkins’ retraction until he (Ed) says otherwise? That’s very logical.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    I have said that I accept Dawkins at his word that he does not favor such policies and that it was thus a mistake to sign a petition that called for such policies. Given that A) the petition does call for them and B) Dawkins did sign it, everything I wrote yesterday was entirely accurate prior to his repudiation of it. To any rational human being, that would be obvious. To PZ, who is crazed in his obsession to insult and demean me with his lies, reality takes a bizarre turn when entering his mind.

  7. #7 DuWayne
    December 30, 2006

    PZ Meyers -

    He was not wrong. Even if you give Dawkins credit for retracting his signature, not having read the details of the petition, the petition on it’s face calls for government coercion to restrict parents from identifying their children as members of a religious sect or indoctrinating them into said religion. I can appreciate that he claims not to support such coercion and hope he does. But in the face of signing a petition that clearly states legal coercion, I must assume that either he does favor such coercion, or he didn’t read it before signing it at all.

    All that aside, I do not take Ed’s saying that Dawkins was wrong as an admission of his mistake. It is an admission of Dawkins’ mistake, Ed did not in fact make a mistake in posting what he did.

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    No Gretchen, he’s not just assuming that I disbelieve Dawkins’ retraction, he’s lying – again – when he says that I haven’t accepted it. In rel=”nofollow”>this comment I explicitly say that I do accept Dawkins at his word that he does not support such repressive policies, and that I’m quite happy to hear that he does not. But surely he has no one to blame for believing that his prior endorsement of that petition meant he actually had read it and understood it and supported what it said. PZ just has this juicy bone in his mouth and he can’t let it go; that is how rabid dogs, rather than rational people, behave.

  9. #9 oku
    December 30, 2006

    One thing that seems to make this discussion difficult is defining what is intoctrination and what is merely teaching a religion. I would define it as follows:

    Indoctrination in religion is telling children that a particular religion (or atheism) is true beyond any possible doubt, and that not believing in it (or even doubting) will have grave consequences (like burning in hell).

    Teaching would be just telling about the belief, but admitting that it really might not be true at all. For a parent that may mean that [s]he believes it is true, but leave the decision open for the child.

    I am an atheist. I tell my children that I do not think that there is a god and the reasons why I think so, but they can make up their own mind. I also tell them that lots of people do believe there is a god. My ten year old son says he is agnostic. I think every parent, religious or not, should do the same. Sadly though, fundamentalists believe that even doubting will bring you to hell, which makes this difficult.

    Schools would have the possibility to teach about a lot of different religions and non-belief, and from a neutral perspective. I think they should do so.

  10. #10 J. J. Ramsey
    December 30, 2006

    Ed Brayton: “everything I wrote yesterday was entirely accurate prior to his repudiation of it.”

    Yes, but it isn’t quite accurate now, and appending to yesterday’s post a notice of Dawkins’ retraction would only be fair.

  11. #11 Valhar2000
    December 30, 2006

    And you figure that comparing Dawkins to a consporatorial, terrorist, megalomaniacal theocrat is one of those things that reasonable people take in their stride?

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    Valhar-

    If he actually did support that petition, then yes I think such a comparison is absolutely apt, though where you got the idea that Rushdoony is a terrorist, I have no idea; he’s never blown up anything that I know of, or advocated such. What he advocates is repressive policies that would transform society into a totalitarian nightmare; that petition, if it means what it says, would do the same thing.

  13. #13 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    JJ-

    for crying out loud, the previous post contains his own retraction, and my acceptance of that retraction, and I even put a brand new post at the top of my blog to point people to that retraction. What else must I do, take out a full page ad in Variety supporting him for Best Actor in a Supporting Role?

  14. #14 SteveF
    December 30, 2006

    To play devils advocate on this one Ed, the charge you laid at Dawkins feet was a pretty strong one. The petition on his website did suggest that he held to fairly repressive views, but before making your mind up and comparing him to Rushdoony et al, maybe it might have been an idea to dig a little deeper? I generally get the impression you look into things before commenting, it might have been appropriate to do so here.

  15. #15 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    Hmmm.

    PZ, you really are just about the biggest asshole I have ever known…You’re a liar, PZ, and a first class, double-barrelled, fully automatic asshole.

    And I am the one “who is crazed in his obsession to insult and demean”?

    You now have information that reveals the interpretations you made yesterday were incorrect. That you were ignorant yesterday does not excuse your reluctance to admit that you are wrong today. And in particular, the most damning accusations you made in that post were not directed at the petition, but at Dawkins himself. I can agree entirely that the petition was badly worded and impracticable and ugly if it were somehow implemented, but that was not what your post was about: it was about how you were convinced that Dawkins wished to establish a dystopian atheist state and was a mirror-image Christian Dominionist.

  16. #16 Skemono
    December 30, 2006

    for crying out loud, the previous post contains his own retraction, and my acceptance of that retraction

    In the midst of 238 comments at last count.

    and I even put a brand new post at the top of my blog to point people to that retraction.

    Which is fine for people who read your entire blog, but if they’re linked just to that post, and don’t have the time to sift through hundreds of comments, then what?

  17. #17 Russell
    December 30, 2006

    J. J. Ramsey:

    Yes, but it isn’t quite accurate now, and appending to yesterday’s post a notice of Dawkins’ retraction would only be fair.

    This blog is open to comments. Dawkins himself appended his retraction to Brayton’s post from yesterday. Brayton appended to that the fact that he had verified through backchannel that the retraction was from Dawkins, that Brayton believed it, and that that pretty much undid the basis for Ed’s comments. This thread moves that correction to the top of Ed’s blog. I’m not sure what more Ed is supposed to do here. How much more furor does this deserve?

  18. #18 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    How hard is this for you to understand?

    Putting a post at the top of your blog that says, “Dawkins admits he was wrong!” is not the same as admitting that your accusations against Dawkins were wrong.

  19. #19 Dave Carlson
    December 30, 2006

    Ed –

    I consider myself to be a rational human being, but I did not think it “obvious” or “entirely accurate” that it was appropriate–even yesterday before Dawkins’ retracted his support for the petition–to remove Dawkins “from any discussion among reasonable people.”

    While I’m not sure whose “side” to come down on on this issue, I really think some of the hyerbole you used in your initial post was unnecessary and over the top.

  20. #20 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    Every single statement I made about Dawkins as a result of his signature on that petition was justified, by your own admission, by the fact that he signed that petition. Every conclusion drawn from it was perfectly logical. That he has now repudiated that signature is wonderful, but it does not mean that everything I said yesterday was unjustified; given the facts at the time, it was entirely justified. Again, for any sane, rational person that would be the end of it. Which explains quite well why you won’t let it end now, PZ.

  21. #21 Andrea
    December 30, 2006

    “Given that A) the petition does call for them and B) Dawkins did sign it, everything I wrote yesterday was entirely accurate prior to his repudiation of it. To any rational human being, that would be obvious.”
    Up to a point. Already yesterday you should have known that, despite his signature on the petition, Dawkins had been quite explicit in his stand on the matter, and that nothing in his writings or words suggested he approves of draconian laws banning all forms of religious education, as the petition seem to do, and you accused him of. So, the most sensible reaction would have been befuddlement, and a clear doubt as to whether Dawkins really signed the petition with full understanding of its implications. In other words, before of openly accusing him of being the atheist counterpart to Christian reconstructionists, it would have been wise and reasonable to apply caution and wonder aloud whether he may not have made a trivial (if stupid) mistake in signing the petition.

    This is relevant because there is an important difference between claiming that Dawkins repudiated the petition after coming to the realization that the petition was wrong (or being shamed into it, as the fools at Telic Thoughts now claim, taking credit for it), vs his admitting he would have never signed the petition to start with, had he realized its implications, because they do not conform to his ideas.

  22. #22 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    For pity’s sake, PZ, Ed’s accusations against Dawkins weren’t wrong.

  23. #23 SteveF
    December 30, 2006

    Ed, you made a perfectly logical inference on the basis of that petition. However, I do think it would have been more appropriate to do a little digging around before making such definitive accusations against Dawkins. I think this is where you may have gone a little wrong here.

    Just my 2 cents….

  24. #24 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    And I have now added an update to the previous post pointing out (how’s that for alliteration?) that Dawkins has withdrawn his signature from that petition. Hopefully that will end at least some of the sniping going on.

  25. #25 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    I don’t think it was at all uncharitable or illogical to believe that Dawkins would support such policies. As Gretchen points out in the other thread, this is a guy who has said many times that parents teaching their kids about eternal damnation is child abuse. And he approvingly quoted someone else in his book saying “we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe in the literal truth of the Bible than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out.” (pg. 326 of the book) It’s hardly a stretch to believe that he would support such policies given his past statements, and given the clearly repressive policies that such a petition would require be put in place. I am happy to hear that he does not support them, but that hardly means that I was “jumping to conclusions” in thinking that he did. His past statements certainly make it a very reasonable conclusion to draw.

  26. #26 justawriter
    December 30, 2006

    This is the part of original post that Ed has yet to address:

    As far as I’m concerned, this pretty much removes Dawkins from any discussion among reasonable people.

    If Dawkins signature wasn’t on the petition but all other things being equal, would you have paid any attention to a DI schill saying this was proof that athiests want to create, for want of a better word, an atheocracy? And would you have been as quick to throw out the comparison to a reconstructionist vision?

    You can argue all you want that the petition was the important thing, but it strikes me much the same as the special pleading YECs use when they say they only want to “teach the controversy.”

  27. #27 J. J. Ramsey
    December 30, 2006

    Brayton: “And I have now added an update to the previous post pointing out (how’s that for alliteration?) that Dawkins has withdrawn his signature from that petition.”

    Thanks. :)

  28. #28 Russell
    December 30, 2006

    Andrea writes to Ed Brayton:

    Already yesterday you should have known that, despite his signature on the petition, Dawkins had been quite explicit in his stand on the matter, and that nothing in his writings or words suggested he approves of draconian laws banning all forms of religious education, as the petition seem to do, and you accused him of.

    This gets into the issue of how much one should know about an author before commenting on a work. I think it is pretty much ridiculous to say that one should know all of an author’s “writings or words” before speaking up. Ed pretty clearly was commenting on the petition at hand. On the other hand, a petition is not the work of those who endorse it, it often is weasel-worded, and its endorsements may be less than whole-hearted. In some circles of discourse, Ed’s last paragraph, where he “removes Dawkins from any discussion among reasonable people,” would seem rash and ahead of the game. Given the subsequent discussion, it seems pretty much par for the course here. ;-)

  29. #29 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    justawriter wrote:

    If Dawkins signature wasn’t on the petition but all other things being equal, would you have paid any attention to a DI schill saying this was proof that athiests want to create, for want of a better word, an atheocracy? And would you have been as quick to throw out the comparison to a reconstructionist vision?

    If you’ll go back and read the post, you’ll see that in fact I had just gotten done defending Dawkins against that very charge. Despite the fact that he had previously said that he considered parents “indoctrinating” their children into their religion was child abuse, I didn’t believe that he really would support a policy to make it illegal. Then I was pointed to the petition, which explicitly demands that the government do exactly that. So no, if his signature was not on that petition, I would not – indeed, did not – believe that he would actually advocate such a policy. But his signature was on that petition, and he was promoting the petition on his website, and the petition clearly does advocate just such a repressive law. Given all of that, is it really unreasonable to believe that he actually does support that? Of course not. You can try and put the blame on me for jumping to a false conclusion, but the facts simply do not support that charge. And yes, I would still say that if he did support such policies, it would remove him from all discussion involving reasonable people on the issue.

  30. #30 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    If Dawkins signature wasn’t on the petition but all other things being equal, would you have paid any attention to a DI schill saying this was proof that athiests (sic) want to create, for want of a better word, an atheocracy?

    When did Dawkins become “atheists,” now?

  31. #31 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    Never mind, I misread. Still, the petition is evidence at least that some atheists apparently want to fight against religion using the force of law, or else at least are as cavalier and careless about signing petitions as Dawkins was, and that’s still unfortunate even without the signature of somebody widely viewed as atheism’s spokesperson.

  32. #32 A Reasonable Kansan
    December 30, 2006

    So Dawkins thinks it was a mistake to sign?

    Or it wasn’t his signature?

    Either way, who cares? He was promoting it on his site.

    The fact that he is trying to get out of it and avoid the backlash is irrelevant.

    The cat is already out of the bag.

  33. #33 Coin
    December 30, 2006

    When did Dawkins become “atheists,” now?

    Oh, Dawkins stopped being a person and started being a movement some time ago.

  34. #34 Observer
    December 30, 2006

    And he approvingly quoted someone else in his book saying “we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe in the literal truth of the Bible than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out.” (pg. 326 of the book) It’s hardly a stretch to believe that he would support such policies given his past statements.

    Man, Ed, you don’t quit when you’re slightly ahead (at least at face value). I have the book in front of me, and following Nicholas Humphrey’s quote that you cite, Dawkins immediately says, “Of course, such a strong statement needs, and received, much qualification.” (pg 326). He goes on to explain a case of ritual sacrifice, Amish people, and so on, but it appears to me that he is putting these ideas out there to emphasize the issue that children have no say in what religious manner they are raised; I don’t see that he explicitly says anywhere that laws should be enforced prohibiting parents from free speech, but rather “really think about this.” In theory, it appears he would not like children to be religiously indoctrinated, for sure, and they ought to be taught how to think, not what to think, until they are mature enough to sort it out for themselves. And perhaps it was that strong feeling that caused him to wig out regarding the actual wording of the poll without thinking how it would be perceived. (I wish no guns existed, but I’m not for taking them away from people.)

    I hope this discussion moves on to something more fruitful. You threw out inflammatory remarks to PZ, which is nothing to be proud of either. Mea culpas should go all around, for one reason or another. :-)

  35. #35 island
    December 30, 2006

    I’ve been thrown out of forums for less than what’s gone on here.

    Right, Ed?… ;)

  36. #36 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    Observer says:

    I have the book in front of me, and following Nicholas Humphrey’s quote that you cite, Dawkins immediately says, “Of course, such a strong statement needs, and received, much qualification.” (pg 326).

    Indeed he does, but that’s rather light distancing in my eyes. It’s not a strong statement to be qualified, but rather an appalling statement to be renounced. Dawkins quotes Humphrey at length in his book, but doesn’t seem willing to use language quite as harsh. One gets the feeling, however, that he is continually nodding in the background. It’s actually kind of funny that Richard Dawkins, of all people, would be able to quote a public figure in this day and age willing to be more anti-religion than he is.

  37. #37 Andrea
    December 30, 2006

    As Gretchen points out in the other thread, this is a guy who has said many times that parents teaching their kids about eternal damnation is child abuse. And he approvingly quoted someone else in his book saying “we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe in the literal truth of the Bible than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out.” (pg. 326 of the book) It’s hardly a stretch to believe that he would support such policies given his past statements, and given the clearly repressive policies that such a petition would require be put in place.
    First of all, you may want to read the original sources rather than relying on third-removed quotes, because you are now really scaring me in the way you seem to be channeling Mike Gene.

    Dawkins does not say that teaching kids about eternal damnation is child abuse, but that terrifying kids with views of hell and their own damnation if they fail to comply with certain strict religious standards can be psychologically damaging and, as such, child abuse. Whether you agree or not, that’s neither extreme nor insane. Similarly, the “teeth” quote is from the following article by Nicholas Humphrey, which is worth reading in its entirety:
    http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2267/is_4_65/ai_54098119
    and was quoted by Dawkins in a very specific context and marking it is a controversial statement that must be carefully qualified, which it certainly is.

    Regardless, neither position is akin to advocating anything like “coercion to try and stamp out religion”, or that
    “no one could take their children to church, which means you’d have to literally police the churches to make sure no children went in. Nor could they teach their children about religion at home, read the Bible with them, say prayers with them before they go to bed.”, which is what you accused Dawkins of arguing for based on his signature on a dumb petition.

    Even less, they imply nothing like the need “to create a society that would make Orwell’s 1984 seem optimistic by comparison”, unless you think that the purpose of all laws is to completely and absolutely eliminate all minimally offending behaviors, disregarding all civil liberties in the process. Because in that case, you must also believe that the legal ban on furnishing alcohol to minors is sufficient to invite “jack-boothed thugs” to every family New Year’s party tomorrow night to make sure no sip of bubbly passes children’s lips.

    Basically, you jumped the gun on that signature and overreacted to it, accusing Dawkins of ideas he never had, never argued for, and in some cases explicitly rejected. From some obsessed fundamentalist this is expected, because all they are looking for are chances to reinforce their stereotypes about atheists. But from a rationalist like you, I humbly suggest that a little more humility and caution would be in order.

  38. #38 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    Andrea-

    We’re just gonna disagree on this one. I think the conclusions I drew were perfectly rational in light of the text of the petition and Dawkins’ prior statements comparing parental religious teaching to child abuse. Now, if you want an irrational conclusion, you can look at PZ’s email where he claims that because I don’t want to accuse the park service of doing something there is, as yet, no evidence they’ve done that I am therefore “hesitant to call out creationists.” That, in light of my nearly 2 decades of calling out creationists, is an irrational conclusion.

  39. #39 Kevin
    December 30, 2006

    I read both blogs everyday at work, but if I have to pick sides here, I’m going with PZ. My problem with Ed and his position here is that he seems far to eager to jump to conclusions to seemingly try to show “which side” he is on.

    The fact that Ed takes something from a DI hack at face value without finding out anything more shows this. Then, he goes on to quote someone else selectively quoting Dawkins book (which he still hasn’t read)that makes his statements far more inflammatory then they actually were. Ed, for someone who has spent so much time fighting creationist stupidity (and I think your blog does a great job of this), this was the very “quote mining” tactic that they are so fond of which you have nailed them for countless times in the past.

    I guess in the end it comes down to the deist/libertarian “above it all” act that you seem to slip into now and then. Always have to make sure everyone knows that you and only you are so much better then the rest (anyone remember the ridiculous “liberals are hypocrites because of Mark Foley” debacle a few months back? To my knowledge, he never went back and said, “know what? this whole thing was stupid. My bad”)

  40. #40 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    As Gretchen points out in the other thread, this is a guy who has said many times that parents teaching their kids about eternal damnation is child abuse.

    Well, as Gretchen just acknowledged in that other thread, she herself believes that teaching children to believe that the Bible is literally true causes “harm” to those children, and since “harm” is a synonym of “abuse,” it’s hard to know exactly why she objects to Dawkins’ statements. Apparently, Dawkins’ awful offense here is to refer to the religious indoctrination of children as “child abuse” rather than “child harm.” What a ridiculous criticism.

  41. #41 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    Well, as Gretchen just acknowledged in that other thread, she herself believes that teaching children to believe that the Bible is literally true causes “harm” to those children, and since “harm” is a synonym of “abuse,” it’s hard to know exactly why she objects to Dawkins’ statements.

    And as I made more than clear in the other thread, I was talking about abuse as a crime. For someone all upset about Ed not giving Dawkins a charitable reading, you sure don’t seem to have any compunction about doing so yourself.

  42. #42 Orac
    December 30, 2006

    PZ & Ed,

    I’m going to regret this, but reading through this sad exchange on both of your blogs this afternoon has irritated me to the point where I don’t really care anymore if I piss both of you off. So…could you guys do everyone a favor and both keep your personal animosity towards each other to yourselves, rather than inflicting your extreme distaste for each other on your readers?

    Please?

    At this point you’re both being childish and should both be embarrassed. I realize that probably neither of you will see it that way or ever admit to it, so much does your personal animosity color your interactions now, but that’s the way it now appears to me.

    Dawkins clearly fucked up. He signed a truly idiotic petition without reading the whole thing and then promoted said idiotic petition with a link near the top of the homepage on his website. There is no doubt about either of those facts. There is also no doubt that, when faced with what the rest of the petition said, Dawkins fairly promptly admitted that he had, in fact, fucked up and acted to repudiate his previous signature. That about sums up this whole incident.

    Shouldn’t that be the end of it?

    [Dons asbestos suit to wait out the replies.]

  43. #43 Coin
    December 30, 2006

    The fact that Ed takes something from a DI hack at face value without finding out anything more shows this.

    Wait, don’t you mean taking Richard Dawkins at face value? The petition was linked at the top of his website. It’s still linked at the top of his website.

    I mean, apparently people are supposed to be able to read Richard Dawkins’ mind and know that just becuase he endorses something on his website doesn’t mean he actually endorses it, but still.

  44. #44 Leni
    December 30, 2006

    Ed wrote:

    Given all of that, is it really unreasonable to believe that he actually does support that? Of course not. You can try and put the blame on me for jumping to a false conclusion, but the facts simply do not support that charge. And yes, I would still say that if he did support such policies, it would remove him from all discussion involving reasonable people on the issue.

    Obviously you wouldn’t have said it if you thought it was untrue or undeserved on Dawkins’ part. You justifiably thought you were right. Nevertheless you were not and you said some pretty harsh things in the meantime.

    Still, it is customary to apologize for saying unflattering things about a person when those unflattering things are later found out to be wrong (even though you didn’t know that when you said them). Especially when the recipient of the unkind remarks makes an attempt to correct their mistake.

    It might have been more diplomatic for you to explicitly retract those unkind remarks, even if you thought they were justified at the time. You could have said something like
    “I was wrong and I apologize for the unkind remarks. I appreciate that you understand why and I hope we are both more careful in the future. Next time if I see something that troubles me maybe I will just ask you first. For your part, I think you understand your mistake and I hope you make all efforts to avoid repeating it or making similar mistakes”

    Instead you said “I accept that you admit you were wrong”. And while I personally think it’s funny (Apology of The Week material), you could have been nicer about it. I mean, it’s not as if you just said he was wrong. You called him an unreasonable, dystopian, totalitarian and didn’t make any effort to retract it. (So far as I saw. Please correct if I’m wrong.)

    /Miss Manners.

  45. #45 gregonomic
    December 30, 2006

    After some thought, I agree with Andrea. Making something illegal does not necessarily lead to a totalitarian society. That you were so quick to put that spin on the petition, and Dawkins’ signature on that petition, forces me to seriously question your motives, Ed.

  46. #46 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    What matters is not what you mean by the term but what Dawkins meant by it, since it’s his statements you are attacking. You are no more justified in assuming that Dawkins seeks to criminalize the religious indoctrination of children because he calls it “child abuse” than anyone else would be in assuming you that you seek to criminalize it because you call it “child harm.” In fact, from looking at the prevailing technical definitions of “child abuse,” it appears that many forms of such abuse currently recognized would not qualify as crimes either.

  47. #47 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    What matters is not what you mean by the term but what Dawkins meant by it, since it’s his statements you are attacking.

    When you ask me what my beliefs are about whether religious indoctrination is harmful or abusive, then it absolutely matters what I consider abuse.

    You are no more justified in assuming that Dawkins seeks to criminalize the religious indoctrination of children because he calls it “child abuse” than anyone else would be in assuming you that you seek to criminalize it because you call it “child harm.”

    “Abuse” is a legal language-laden term. Child abuse is illegal in most countries. “Child harm” is not. I really don’t think it’s at all bizarre to conclude that if someone claims a thing is child abuse, they believe it should be illegal (unless of course they clarify otherwise).

  48. #48 J. J. Ramsey
    December 30, 2006

    gregonomic: “Making something illegal does not necessarily lead to a totalitarian society.”

    It does if it would take a totalitarian society to enforce it. As Brayton pointed out:

    Just imagine what you would have to do to actually enforce such a law. No one could take their children to church, which means you’d have to literally police the churches to make sure no children went in. Nor could they teach their children about religion at home, read the Bible with them, say prayers with them before they go to bed.

    How would you stop parents from teaching their children about religion at home?

    I don’t see Dawkins as a man who would be willfully tyrannical. I do see him as someone who is careless enough to pave the road to you-know-where with his good intentions.

  49. #49 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    Orac wrote:

    Dawkins clearly fucked up. He signed a truly idiotic petition without reading the whole thing and then promoted said idiotic petition with a link near the top of the homepage on his website. There is no doubt about either of those facts. There is also no doubt that, when faced with what the rest of the petition said, Dawkins fairly promptly admitted that he had, in fact, fucked up and acted to repudiate his previous signature. That about sums up this whole incident.

    I agree completely with both of those things, and that should have been the end of it. The only thing that prevented that from being the end of it was PZ’s decision to keep on attacking me and saying that my post saying that Dawkins fucked up was horrible and uncalled for. That is utter nonsense. There is only one person to blame for Dawkins’s fuckup in signing that petition and that is Dawkins himself. Unfortunately, PZ can’t accept that so he continues to attack me, both privately and publicly, for my completely justified statement against Dawkins for signing that petition. So please put the blame squarely where it belongs. There’s no point in playing the “who started it” game, but he came to my blog and told flat out lies about what I’d said and attacked me for entirely justified criticism. There’s a reason why I don’t like the guy, and it’s because of behavior like that. And if he chooses to engage in that kind of behavior toward me, I’m not going to sit by and be a passive victim of it.

  50. #50 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    Indeed he does, but that’s rather light distancing in my eyes. It’s not a strong statement to be qualified, but rather an appalling statement to be renounced.

    You’re going to have to explain why exactly you consider it “appalling,” and why even a “much qualified” version of it would also be appalling, or necessarily objectionable at all, for this claim to make any sense.

    Characteristically, you neglected to mention Dawkins’ statement about qualification when you mentioned his quoting of Humphrey’s statement in the other thread. Another attempt to misrepresent Dawkins by omitting important parts of what he actually said.

  51. #51 chriss
    December 30, 2006

    Orac, thank you for the reasoned intervention These exchanges and those in early December are discouraging. The personal temper of this discussion demeans the participants and does not at all reflect their usual intelligence and passion.

    Is this what is meant when it is said that trying to move atheists in a common direction is like herding cats…cranky cats to boot it seems.

  52. #52 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    When you ask me what my beliefs are about whether religious indoctrination is harmful or abusive, then it absolutely matters what I consider abuse.

    I didn’t. I pointed out the absurdity of you objecting so strongly–or at all–to Dawkins’ statement referring to the religious indoctrination of children as “child abuse” when you yourself describe it as “child harm.”

    “Abuse” is a legal language-laden term. Child abuse is illegal in most countries. “Child harm” is not.

    As I just explained to you, even many forms of treatment currently recognized as child abuse by child welfare authorities do not qualify as crimes. So for you to jump to the conclusion that Dawkins was implying that the religious indoctrination of children should be a crime because he considers it a form of child abuse is ridiculous. And causing “harm” to children most definitely has legal implications also. In fact, most of the technical definitions of child abuse I have seen explicitly describe it in terms of causing harm.

  53. #53 Emanuel Goldstein
    December 30, 2006

    I love the smell of atheists bashing each other in the morning.

  54. #54 gregonomic
    December 30, 2006

    J. J. Ramsey:

    It does if it would take a totalitarian society to enforce it

    This has already been dealt with on the first thread. We have a lot of laws that could potentially lead to totalitarianism – laws against domestic violence, laws against providing minors with alcohol – but which don’t. Intervening in the few cases where indoctrination is obvious – where a child acts on that indoctrination – could provide a sufficient deterrent to reduce (but obviously not completely eliminate) the occurence of indoctrination.

    How would you stop parents from teaching their children about religion at home?

    Again, no-one is suggesting that parents be prevented from teaching their children about anything.

  55. #55 Russell Blackford
    December 30, 2006

    I’m sorry, but you were, indeed, being uncharitable. You were also quite dogmatic in your responses to the British posters who explained carefully how the petition might be read more narrowly in the British context.

    As I said on the other thread, Dawkins made a mistake in signing something because he was in general agreement with the sentiment behind it – but without first thinking about it like a lawyer. It was obvious to me that something like that at least could have been going on (and I went to bed last night quite confused about what was really going on, and what must have been in his mind when he signed it). Why wasn’t it obvious to you, even after people pointed out the different cultural context? Your initial post on the other thread was not that of someone trying to get a handle on what was going on, in a confusing situation, but was full of inflated rhetoric. You did not look good, and your continued stubborn refusal to admit this does not make you look any better.

    Richard Dawkins has admitted his mistake, even though he has lost face over the issue to an extent. Why can’t you admit yours?

  56. #56 gregonomic
    December 30, 2006

    Russell Blackford:

    Richard Dawkins has admitted his mistake, even though he has lost face over the issue to an extent

    Ironic, isn’t it, that although he was the one who sparked this whole fiasco, Dawkins may end up looking the best out of all the major players?

  57. #57 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    J.J. Ramsey,

    That statement by Brayton doesn’t make any sense either. Absent draconian intrusions by the state, all laws against the abuse of children are difficult to enforce, because unless the abuse leaves clearly visible signs it is often easy to hide. A law against the religious indoctrination of children might be even harder to enforce than laws against certain other kinds of abuse, but that obviously doesn’t mean “it would take a totalitarian society to enforce it.” The claim that “you’d have to literally police the churches to make sure no children went in” is especially silly. We don’t “literally police” bars and strip joints to “make no sure no children go in,” but I doubt many people would claim that that deficiency renders laws prohibiting children from bars and strip joints unenforcable.

    That’s not to say that making religious indoctrination of children illegal in most or all contexts would be just or practical, just that it wouldn’t have to be the totalitarian nightmare of government intrusion that some are claiming it would be.

  58. #58 GMH
    December 30, 2006

    The error by Dr. Dawkins was that he signed a petition that superficially represented something he favoured without carefully reading the fine print which advocated a policy he expressely (as in has repeatedly expressed in public) does not favour. Oops. His bad. He has since admitted the error.

    The error made by Mr. Brayton was to make exceedingly invidious and unkind conclusions about the motivations, character and opinions of Dr. Dawkins based on a single data point – the signed petition. This in despite of other evidence directly contradicting these conclusions. Having seen the same cherry-picking, fallacious approach applied to other posts in the same thread I assume that this is representative.

    No admission of error seems to be forthcoming. Merely bluster and imprecations.

    To be clear: It was NOT an error to call the world’s attention to the petition, decry it’s contents and question Dr. Dawkins support of it. I think that was a public service worthy of broad commendation and thanks. Thank you.

    It WAS an error (not just rude, intemperate and a bit foolish) to jump to conclusions about the man himself and his positions; particularly when so much countervaling evidence is already extant. This was severely compounded when those conclusions were not modified in the face of reason by other contributors and additional clarification from the man himself. Instead we get a post facto justification:

    “I think the conclusions I drew were perfectly rational in light of the text of the petition and Dawkins’ prior statements comparing parental religious teaching to child abuse.”

    No sir, those conclusions were not ‘rational’, as they were based on a single (and somewhat inconsistent – as had already pointed out) data point ‘supported’ (if one could so call it) by ‘prior statements’ cited uncritically out of context from an avowedly inimical source.

    More to the point, those conclusions have since been demonstrated as incorrect. As they were also offensive on a personal level, it seems appropriate that they should be actively retracted (as opposed to reinforced and justified) and apologized for.

    But hey, suit yourself!

    Peace

  59. #59 Andrea
    December 30, 2006

    It does if it would take a totalitarian society to enforce it. As Brayton pointed out

    “Just imagine what you would have to do to actually enforce such a law. No one could take their children to church, which means you’d have to literally police the churches to make sure no children went in. Nor could they teach their children about religion at home, read the Bible with them, say prayers with them before they go to bed.”

    How would you stop parents from teaching their children about religion at home?

    Once again, not even in the wildest interpretation of his statements has Dawkins even suggested that teaching about religion is an issue. In fact, he has explicitly stated that there is value in religious education.

    As for the enforcement part, I hardly see it as an issue. Restrictions against sex with underage persons do not entail the minute-by-minute monitoring of every kids’ sexual life. Restrictions against the furnishing of alcohol to minors are not an invitation or a license to install cops at every New Year’s party. Heck, even the clearly unconstitutional and purposefully oppressive Sodomy Laws did not result in the installment of penile monitors on every known homosexual.

    You can take the paranoid, “1984″, black helicopter take on all sorts of laws already currently in the book, if you so wish, but you do end up sounding like a conspiracy crackpot.

  60. #60 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    I pointed out the absurdity of you objecting so strongly–or at all–to Dawkins’ statement referring to the religious indoctrination of children as “child abuse” when you yourself describe it as “child harm.”

    Well Jason, I’ll just comment that I think you’re being silly. Firstly, I never claimed that Dawkins describes religious indoctrination as child abuse. If he did, however, I would react strongly to it because “child abuser” is a label we traditionally apply to people who deserve to have their children taken from them– not simply people who take their child to McDonald’s a little too often, or let them stay up too late watching TV.

    Secondly, and following that, I hope you will agree with me that there are degrees of harm, and hopefully you will also remember the point I made much earlier, which is that it is possible for something to be harmful without being abusive. My position has been manifestly clear all along, and if you consider it hypocritical then it must be because you haven’t bothered to read very closely.

  61. #61 Boo
    December 30, 2006

    The only thing that prevented that from being the end of it was PZ’s decision to keep on attacking me and saying that my post saying that Dawkins fucked up was horrible and uncalled for.

    No, the only thing keeping this from ending is everyone being obsessed with the who said to he said but then he said the who said to why said that what said was said and then said some more. If PZ wants to act like a baby, why do you care?

  62. #62 DuWayne
    December 30, 2006

    Adrea -

    Then do you arrest the parents of a child who says they are a Christian? How do you know that they aren’t just claiming to be that which their parents are? I claimed to be a republican when I was a child, not because my parents indoctrinated me, but because they were, for all intents and purposes. Hell, my son tells everyone he meets, that he is a construction worker. Do you arrest the parents of a child who prays, or otherwise mimics the rituals of their parents?

  63. #63 Yiela
    December 30, 2006

    GMH, I’m with you. Very well put. I was going to start reading this blogg but I think I’ll skip it.

  64. #64 SLC
    December 30, 2006

    I would suggest to both Mr. Brayton and Prof. Myers that their continuing acrimony is giving aid and confort to the enemy. Mr. Mikegene and Mr. Heddle, among others, are probably doubled over with laughter at this spectacle. I think it would be in the best interest of the cause if they both ceased and desisted and buried the hatchet (preferably not in each other).

  65. #65 J. J. Ramsey
    December 30, 2006

    Andrea: “Once again, not even in the wildest interpretation of his statements has Dawkins even suggested that teaching about religion is an issue. In fact, he has explicitly stated that there is value in religious education.”

    You are equivocating. It’s pretty clear that when Brayton was talking about parents from teaching their children about religion at home, he was describing what Dawkins would call indoctrination, not anything resembling lessons in comparative religion.

  66. #66 gregonomic
    December 30, 2006

    J. J. Ramsey,

    I think it is you (and perhaps Ed) who is equivocating.

  67. #67 Boosterz
    December 30, 2006

    Ed, you jumped the shark today. You’re comments about PZ make it pretty clear that you have some kind of bug wedged pretty far up your bum.

    On the plus side, this means one less blog to read every morning, so maybe I’ll get a little more work done. :-)

  68. #68 doctorgoo
    December 30, 2006

    This just seems to be PZ being PZ to me. The original post involved Ed and Dawkins. So why didn’t PZ just let Dawkins defend himself?

    Like Orac (and many others), I’m getting really tired about these ongoing arguments. But it isn’t just between PZ and Ed, it’s between PZ and anyone who might suggest that a theist might be a great proponent of evolution. Anybody remember the brouhaha last February between him and Chris Mooney?
    reference: http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2006/02/defending_evolution_as_a_matte.php

    The only difference between Mooney’s and Brayton’s points is that Ed didn’t mind being rude about it. (In this respect, Ed can be much like PZ.)

    But anyway, for both Ed and PZ, here’s a quote from Mooney (from the link above):

    Permit me to use an analogy. Some years ago, IDists sought to make peace with Young Earth Creationists by deferring a battle over the age of the Earth until such time as evolution was defeated. It didn’t work perfectly, but it was, strategically, a smart move. And it’s something we could learn from. If evolution defenders are wise, they will do something very similar: Defer a battle over the existence of God until ID and creationism are defeated.

    Believe me, it would do wonders for our political chances in this contest.

    So for the sake of defending evolution, can we get back to dissing Davescot and the DI??

  69. #69 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    Firstly, I never claimed that Dawkins describes religious indoctrination as child abuse.

    So when Ed Brayton said…

    “As Gretchen points out in the other thread, this is a guy who has said many times that parents teaching their kids about eternal damnation is child abuse”

    …do you think he was lying, or just mistaken?

    …”child abuser” is a label we traditionally apply to people who deserve to have their children taken from them

    Once again, you provide no evidence whatsoever for this assertion. One might also say that we traditionally believe that parents who harm their children deserve to have their children taken away from them, and yet you yourself called the religious indoctrination of children harmful to children and damaging to society. Really, this idea you have that it’s okay to call it “child harm” but not “child abuse,” especially given that child abuse is defined in terms of causing harm, is just ridiculous.

    Secondly, and following that, I hope you will agree with me that there are degrees of harm, and hopefully you will also remember the point I made much earlier, which is that it is possible for something to be harmful without being abusive.

    Yes, of course there are degrees of harm. There are also degrees of abuse. In fact, the degree of abuse is basically defined by the degree of harm it involves. And I really don’t know what it’s supposed to mean for a parent to treat a child in a way that is “harmful without being abusive.” How is the religious indoctrination of children “harmful” but not “abusive?”

  70. #70 Leni
    December 30, 2006

    Yiela, I wouldn’t be so quick to condemn.

    Things are not usually this snarky around here and Ed is great writer with a lot of worthwhile things to say. Like the rest of us, he is unfortunately prone to periodic fits of human-like behavior.

    Doesn’t mean he isn’t worth reading.

  71. #71 MJ Memphis
    December 30, 2006

    Well, I read both blogs regularly and don’t care for the flamefest. However, I do love a well-crafted term of abuse, and I must say that “double-barrelled, fully automatic asshole” is one of the best ones I’ve heard.

  72. #72 Russell
    December 30, 2006

    Orac, I think it’s pretty clear that this pissing contest has gone far beyond reasoned speech. I expect any week to hear that a couple of friends and seconds escorted Brayton and Myers to some sandspit off Lake Superior some damp, gloaming dawn, where “honor is satisfied,” and hopefully both return a bit more circumspect, if also bruised and sprained. I’m willing to serve as referee, if the parties will spring for my airfare. ;-)

  73. #73 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    DuWayne,

    Then do you arrest the parents of a child who says they are a Christian?

    Probably not, no.

    How do you know that they aren’t just claiming to be that which their parents are?

    You don’t. And your point is….?

    Do you arrest the parents of a child who prays, or otherwise mimics the rituals of their parents?

    Probably not, no.

    Your questions are pretty bizarre. Your assumption seems to be that if the religious indoctrination of children were illegal then the discovery of a child who claimed to be a religious adherent or who displays any signs of religious belief or practise would be sufficient evidence for the summary arrest of his parents on a charge of unlawful religious indoctrination. Is that it? How does that follow?

  74. #74 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    Jason says:

    “As Gretchen points out in the other thread, this is a guy who has said many times that parents teaching their kids about eternal damnation is child abuse”…do you think he was lying, or just mistaken?

    He is slightly mistaken. I pointed out that Dawkins has said that parents teaching their kids that they will be eternally damned if they are bad is child abuse. He has not said so “many times” to my knowledge (though it’s certainly possible) and it’s not just “about” damnation. Additionally and more importantly, there is a difference between “indoctrination” generally and “telling children they will go to hell if they do X” specifically. The latter Dawkins identifies as abuse, the former he does not– as I know from reading his book.

    Once again, you provide no evidence whatsoever for this assertion.

    Do I really need to? Honestly, you’re the only person I have ever met who does not hear “child abuse” and automatically connote “harm to the extent that justifies the law stepping in” or something of that nature. Abusive behavior is a serious subset of harmful behavior in my understanding, as I have tried to make painfully clear.

    How is the religious indoctrination of children “harmful” but not “abusive?”

    In the sense that religious indoctrination, like indoctrination in most other beliefs, is done because the parent believes it will genuinely benefit the child (that is, there is no malicious intent) and does not generally result in what could be described as severe and quantifiable emotional damage. Indeed, one man’s “indoctrination” is another man’s “education,” so claiming that religious indoctrination is abusive is actually so vague as to be almost meaningless.

  75. #75 Emanuel Goldstein
    December 30, 2006

    This is funnier than shit!

    Atheists in action!

  76. #76 GMH
    December 30, 2006

    “Doesn’t mean he [Ed Brayton] isn’t worth reading. ”

    I concur.

    I could accurately be described as ‘pissed off’, or even ‘pissed off at Ed Brayton’ right now. I disliked the aggression and obstinacy displayed in the original post and in the subsequent discussion. I also strongly oppose his seeming antipathy towards the ideas of Dr. Dawkins and others who question the special and protected status of religion.

    Despite this, I have often found his blog posts to be interesting, informative and useful and I respect the passion he brings to the process.

  77. #77 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    Do I really need to?

    Of course you do. My own sense is that people attach enormous importance to the parent-child relationship and are reluctant to endorse the forced removal of a child from his parent without very serious cause. I very strongly doubt that any and every form of mistreatment that qualifies as child abuse under either the official definitions of the term or as it is used in popular discourse would meet that burden. So yes, you most definitely need to substantiate your claim with evidence.

    Honestly, you’re the only person I have ever met who does not hear “child abuse” and automatically connote “harm to the extent that justifies the law stepping in” or something of that nature.

    And you’re the only person I’ve ever met who thinks that any act that qualifies as child abuse, no matter how weak or how small the harm involved, means that parents deserve to have their children taken away from them. As I said, no official definition of the term I have seen remotely suggests such an exacting standard.

    How is the religious indoctrination of children “harmful” but not “abusive?”
    In the sense that religious indoctrination, like indoctrination in most other beliefs, is done because the parent believes it will genuinely benefit the child (that is, there is no malicious intent) and does not generally result in what could be described as severe and quantifiable emotional damage.

    Again, your conception of child abuse is clearly contradicted by the medical literature. There is no requirement that the abuser intend to harm the child for the mistreatment to qualify as abuse. There is no requirement that the harm caused by the mistreatment be either “quantifiable” or “severe” for it to qualify as abuse. You are simply making up your own definition of the term and trying to substitute it for the ones used by medical and child welfare authorities.

    And the harm caused by religious indoctrination may be severe, anyway. An obvious example is gay people who are indoctrinated as children to believe that homosexuality is a sin. That kind of religious indoctrination can cause severe emotional and psychological harm, and in some cases has led people to commit suicide. That’s obviously an extreme example, but even for otherwise “normal” individuals, the harmful effects of being indoctrinated in a religion as a child can be severe.

    Indeed, one man’s “indoctrination” is another man’s “education,” so claiming that religious indoctrination is abusive is actually so vague as to be almost meaningless.

    This is about the silliest thing you’ve said yet, and that’s saying something. Just because some people may call indoctrination “education” doesn’t mean its harmful effects are any less real. The abuse lies in the effects of the mistreatment on the recipient, not on what someone calls it.

  78. #78 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    *sigh*

    I give up. I don’t even know what the hell we’re arguing about anymore.

  79. #79 Andrea
    December 30, 2006

    You are equivocating. It’s pretty clear that when Brayton was talking about parents from teaching their children about religion at home, he was describing what Dawkins would call indoctrination, not anything resembling lessons in comparative religion.
    Well then it is you guys who are equivocating. If Dawkins makes the distinction between indoctrination and education, and states that talking about religion (without indoctrination or coercion) is no problem at all, in fact should be encouraged, then it is just fair to respect his argument as it is. To change his words so that they give the impression that he is asking to make it a crime to even mention religion to children, or for them to go to Church with their parents, or to light up the Menorah at Hanukkah is something you would expect from some fundamentalist propagandist, not a rational and honest person. Seriously now.

    I don’t even really agree with Dawkins on the matter, but this is just silly. Face his argument for what it is, not some make-believe-really-really-scary-slippery-slope-oh-my-God-what-is-the-wolrd-coming-to figment of your imagination.

  80. #80 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    There is no distinction between parents teaching their children their own religion and “indoctrinating” them into their religion. The only possible distinction in this situation is between government indoctrination in schools and parental indoctrination. Any law which makes it illegal for parents to “indoctrinate” – meaning only “teach them that it’s true” – their children into their religion is a flagrant abuse of governmental authority and a prescription for an Orwellian nightmare of thought police. And that is exactly what the petition called for. It did not say that it should be illegal for the government to indoctrinate kids (which I would be entirely in favor of), it said for the government to make it illegal for others – which can only mean parents and churches – to do so. If that isn’t totalitarian, then that word has no meaning.

    That really is the crux of the entire issue. If the petition advocated such a policy, and it clearly did, then promoting and signing that petition advocates the same. You can claim that the petition didn’t advocate that, but since Dawkins himself has now agreed that the petition advocates very bad things he didn’t intend to support, that’s a pretty untenable position. Or you can argue that such laws aren’t really so bad, but frankly that argument is so absurd that I see no point in bothering to argue over it.

  81. #81 DuWayne
    December 30, 2006

    Jason -

    Your questions are pretty bizarre. Your assumption seems to be that if the religious indoctrination of children were illegal then the discovery of a child who claimed to be a religious adherent or who displays any signs of religious belief or practise would be sufficient evidence for the summary arrest of his parents on a charge of unlawful religious indoctrination. Is that it? How does that follow?

    How the hell else do you determine a child is being indoctrinated? A few people have argued that one can have these laws, without totalitarianism, Andrea (whom I was responding to, in your quotes of me) among them. She and others have explained that we look to public behaviors to judge. What other public behaviors would we have to judge by?

    Of course, in the context of what those questions were in response to, it is not remotely bizzare. If you are going to respond for someone else, check the context.

  82. #82 Andrea
    December 30, 2006

    There is no distinction between parents teaching their children their own religion and “indoctrinating” them into their religion.
    Of course there is. If you are teaching your child that your religion is the only absolutely correct one, that if they don’t conform they can be punished now and will be damned for eternity, if you ignore, distort or put down other religious traditions, if you use brain-washing techniques like the folks at Jesus Camp, then you are indoctrinating your children in religion.

    If you teach your children about your religious heritage, but also let them understand about and respect other traditions, if you make clear that religious expression is something people are free to pursue (or not) as they grow old enough to make that choice freely and informedly, and if you make it clear that while you would like them to share your beliefs, the choice will eventually be theirs, then you are not indoctrinating them.

    Look, parents already do not have carte blanche in the religious education of their children. A Taleban follower in the US could complain about religious discrimination and violation of his parental rights when he is forced to send his daughter to school against his accepted religious practices, but sure one would have to be nuts to argue that the government has no right to step in and demand that girl receive a proper education.

    Again, that does not mean that Dawkins’s argument about religious indoctrination is necessarily correct or convincing or even applicable in principle, but it’s neither fascistic nor crazy.

  83. #83 decrepitoldfool
    December 30, 2006

    I read both blogs and this pissing match between Ed and PZ confounds me. Two smart guys… well maybe it’s proof of evolution.

    The best sense I can make of it is that Ed favors making common cause with theists when possible (there being a lot more of them than of us) and PZ will have none of that. Neither seems to be able to respond with equanimity.

    C’mon, guys, act like educated adults with a disagreement to work out instead of like monkeys flinging dung at each other. Out of self-respect if nothing else, but the religious nuts are lining up chairs and selling popcorn.

  84. #84 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    Andrea wrote:

    Of course there is. If you are teaching your child that your religion is the only absolutely correct one, that if they don’t conform they can be punished now and will be damned for eternity, if you ignore, distort or put down other religious traditions, if you use brain-washing techniques like the folks at Jesus Camp, then you are indoctrinating your children in religion.

    And that is precisely the same thing as teaching their children that their religion is true. Their religion says that if you don’t believe as they do, you go to hell, just like Hinduism says that if you don’t follow the rules you’ll be reincarnated as some lowly animal. The notion of punishment for what we do on earth is common to most religions. To pass a law that says you cannot teach your children your own religion is unjust repression and it really is that simple. Just as you can argue that this is child abuse, a Christian can argue that you not teaching your children Christianity, because it might send them to hell, is child abuse. The government simply has no business enforcing either of those views. And as I keep saying, if you want to give government that power, you have to believe that it is your views, not theirs, that is far, far more likely to be made illegal. No one in their right mind can possibly dispute that fact, and no one has tried. By any sane criteria, this legal proposal is unjust, it is repressive and it is almost certain to backfire. I simply cannot imagine how any sane human being could not recognize that.

    If you teach your children about your religious heritage, but also let them understand about and respect other traditions, if you make clear that religious expression is something people are free to pursue (or not) as they grow old enough to make that choice freely and informedly, and if you make it clear that while you would like them to share your beliefs, the choice will eventually be theirs, then you are not indoctrinating them.

    And it would be wonderful if all parents did that. But that has nothing to do with whether government should mandate it and enforce it. It cannot possibly be enforced without a police state, and the analogies to physical child abuse simply don’t work. You can require a teacher to report a child who comes to school with bruises on his arm or a black eye. Do you really want the government coming into someone’s home and investigating everything they might say to their children about religion to make sure they haven’t crossed this line, impossible to define coherently and objectively, between teaching their kids about religion and “indoctrinating” them? By the criteria you are laying out, 90% of all parents of every religion are guilty of “child abuse” and would be subject to punishment. But as I said, that’s not likely to happen at all. Because they’re the 90% and you’re the 5 or 10%, once you grant government the power to determine what religious teachings are and aren’t child abuse, guess which ones are likely to be investigated? It ain’t them, it’s you. And if you can’t see that, you are living in a fantasy world.

    Yes, this idea is crazy and it is fascist and it is beyond my ability to comprehend how anyone could possibly think otherwise no matter what their beliefs about religion are.

  85. #85 Elf Eye
    December 30, 2006

    The explanation offered for the petition at the e-petition website: “In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought.”

    An excerpt from one of Ed’s latest comment: “..that is exactly what the petition called for. It did not say that it should be illegal for the government to indoctrinate kids (which I would be entirely in favor of), it said for the government to make it illegal for others – which can only mean parents and churches – to do so.”

    Ed, you use the word “exactly,” and I would like to suggest that the explanation for the petition is too vague to permit the use of the word “exactly.” The statement that “children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians” is perfectly consistent with the notion that the petitioners want the *government* of the UK to get out of the business of assigning children to denominational classes based upon parental/guardian religious identification. The statement in support of the position does not in fact *explicitly* call for the following: “it said for the government to make it illegal for others – which can only mean parents and churches.” One *can* argue that the wording is so vague that it would *allow* for someone to make the case that parental religious teaching could be outlawed, but it is far from obvious that this was the intention of the petitioners–and it seems highly unlikely that this was Dawkins’ intention. In short, the use of language along the lines of “which can *only* mean” to discuss the petition seems unjustifiable, given that the wording of the petition does in fact permit at least two interpretations. It is simply not the case that “only” one reading is possible. I suppose the ambiguity of the wording in support of the petition has presented us with the verbal equivalent of a Rohrchach test–people are seeing what they are inclined to see.

  86. #86 Perry Willis
    December 30, 2006

    I’ve spent a good chunk of my day reading the comments both here and on PZ’s blog, and I’ve finally come to a conclusion.

    I respect most of Mr. Dawkins’ work a great deal, but he has done more wrong than simply signing a poorly worded petetion. The term “child abuse” has strong legal connotations. When I hear those words I think that I am supposed to call the police. I find it hard to imagine that anyone thinks they should call the police when they hear of a parent sharing their religious convictions with their child. The parent may be mistaken in what he or she is teaching, but the parent is not guilty of child abuse.

    Mr. Dawkins has engaged in hyperbole by writing in such a fashion. By so doing he has set himself up for having the worst possible judgement placed on his involvement with that petition.

    Communications is a bitch. It is very hard to say what we mean. Harder still for others to always understand what we mean. If our goal is also to persuade, and not merely communicate, then there are additional burdens we must carry, such as adopting the proper tone so that people will be receptive to our message. Much of what I’ve read here today has been tone deaf with regard to persuasion.

    We need to be careful what we say. All of us. Me included. I hope I have been careful in what I have written here. Peace.

  87. #87 DuWayne
    December 30, 2006

    Andrea -
    Of course there is. If you are teaching your child that your religion is the only absolutely correct one, that if they don’t conform they can be punished now and will be damned for eternity, if you ignore, distort or put down other religious traditions, if you use brain-washing techniques like the folks at Jesus Camp, then you are indoctrinating your children in religion.

    What about people who truly and deeply believe that their religion is the only right religion and all others are hell-bound? Do they lie when their child asks them what they believe? Because if they do not, it doesn’t matter how much they talk about other religions or other beliefs, their child will believe that theirs is right. They will also probably want to learn more about their freshly assumed religion and want to follow it closely, if hell is the alternative. Liekwise, such parents are also going to believe that if they do not ensure their child is raised in a godly fashion, they would be commiting the worse of all possible sins, sending their child to hell.

    I grew up fundy, I know fundy – this is far more complex a problem than you make it out to be. The only possible solution is to continue to improve education, as it continues to unravel the stranglehold of religion on society. The better educated our society becomes, the less impact religion has on it. While the demographic of atheists seems to be stagnant, the percentage of church going, hell and brim-fire, fundamentalists is declining.

    Even so, rhetoric, such as that expressed in this petition, will sway some who are moving out of funamentalism, right back in. When state restrictions on teaching children about their parents religion are discussed, people who were waking up to the fact that there really is no conspiracy to outlaw religion, are going to suddenly learn that yes there is – and this is just the first step.

  88. #88 Elf Eye
    December 30, 2006

    That should of course be “Rorschach.”

  89. #89 Ed Brayton
    December 31, 2006

    Elf Eye:

    If the petition said anything at all specific to schools or government indoctrination, that might be a plausible argument. But it doesn’t. And given that it was being promoted by someone (several someones, actually) who has spent the last few years arguing that “indoctrinating” (which just means “teaching them it’s true”) their children into their religion is child abuse, and worse than priestly sexual abuse, it is hardly a stretch to give it that plain reading. The fact that there are some here actually defending that idea is evidence, I think, that there are many who would actually support such a proposal, which is absolute madness. If the petition had said that government indoctrination in schools should be outlawed, I’d be all for it. It doesn’t say that.

  90. #90 SmellyTerror
    December 31, 2006

    On one hand, Dawkins is a bit more of an extremist than people generally give him (dis)credit for. Even the “occasional lapse” is often and consistent enough to show us what he really thinks and may be to politic to more clearly pursue. Ed’s right (IMO) to hold the view, and right to point it out. I’ve seen enough off the cuff remarks to suggest that Dawkins makes an effort to hide his least politically acceptable views (but then, don’t we all?).

    On the other hand, Ed *was* too quick to use this example as evidence of Dawkins’ guilt. PZ is not lying when he says Ed failed even cursory examination beyond the single point – I haven’t seen any of the “several examples of PZ Myers flat out lying”. Calling people names is not helpful, not mature, and not professional.

    So I must form the conclusion that in this particular situation, though by no means in general: Ed, you are being a big pooh-pooh head.

  91. #91 SmellyTerror
    December 31, 2006

    PS: Plus, PZ is being a self-righteous tosser.

    I’m permitted to fling childish insults, because I’m not a blogger.

  92. #92 Andrea
    December 31, 2006

    What about people who truly and deeply believe that their religion is the only right religion and all others are hell-bound?
    I guess they would be allowed to say what they think, and still be at least officially compelled to provide a pluralistic religious education to their children.

    Just like Taleban followers would be compelled to violate their religion’s prescriptions and send their daughters to school, and Jehova’s Witnesses can be compelled to have blood transfusions given to their children, and so on. As I said, we already recognize that, as much as the parents’ rights on their children are respected and held in highest consideration, parents cannot impose just any religious prescription and practice to their children, because children have rights of their own independent of their parents.

    The issue Dawkins’s arguments raise – and anyone may agree with them or not – is that one additional right children should have is to be able, when they are capable, to freely choose their own metaphysical belief system without familial indoctrination and pressure. By all means, this is a very debatable position, but for Pete’s sake debate it, and not some other thing.

  93. #93 anon
    December 31, 2006

    Thank you Observer. The qualifying remarks Dawkins made after his very strong statement were needed in order to counter Ed’s use of the hyperbolic statement in an improper way.

    Like I said at Pahryngula, this is funny. This is certainly not how theologians fight, calling people assholes and the like, and I am actually very hesitant now to say what I am going to.

    In Britain, they have you identify your kid by their religion. They also teach religion in school. Proper Anglican teachings and hymns and prayers.

    In Canada, where I am from, I must identify if I am Catholic or not in order to make sure my money goes to the proper school board.

    Children are being identified by religion and inculcated into it in their PUBLIC schools. My guess, in knowing how this works, is that this petition was a response to those practices.

    Should public money be used to perpetuate religion, Ed?

    Maybe that would have been a better, more palatable way to frame this so that you might have understood it better. The USA is different than Britain in many respects, partly because they do have an official state religion that is allowed to do its thing with kids who have no choice, and despite what there parents may want.

  94. #94 anon
    December 31, 2006

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/features/mike_baker/1199054.stm

    Just in case you think I was just pulling this out of my butt… read the whole article and note the stuff surrounded by stars.

    Do religion and schools mix?

    Is the government in danger of ignoring the lessons of history? The rumblings over the plans to create new Church schools in England suggest it may be.

    So far the discontent is merely simmering, but religion and education can be an explosive mixture.

    The rumblings have been triggered by the Church of England’s proposal to create 100 new secondary schools and the government’s recent green paper on reforming – to quote the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary – England’s “bog standard” comprehensives.

    The Green Paper promised £42m of taxpayers’ money towards the capital costs at church schools over next two years and encouraged churches and other groups to set up new schools or take over the management of those which are struggling.

    Behind this lies the prime minister’s enthusiasm for the “sense of mission” often found at church schools. The Blairs chose the Roman Catholic London Oratory school for their sons.

    Proportion has been falling

    The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church currently run around one quarter of all secondary schools.

    For the past century the proportion of church-run schools has been falling as education became a state, rather than church, responsibility. Do we want to reverse this trend in the 21st Century?

    Few would deny the excellence of many church schools. Many would also accept the right of groups to run their own schools. But should taxpayers foot the bill for denominational schools dedicated to particular spiritual and moral codes?

    More church schools runs the risk of religious polarisation. Look at Northern Ireland where the vast majority of schools are run by the churches. Living separately, and being educated apart, does not facilitate better understanding between communities.

    US amazement

    The United States – founded by escapees from religious intolerance – ensures its public school system is religion free. Denominational schools do not exist within the taxpayer-funded system and no religious worship is allowed in public schools.
    ************************************
    They are aghast that our government requires head teachers (many of them atheists) to conduct daily worship in schools.
    **************************************
    There is also a risk of social polarisation. While many church schools serve deprived communities, and educate children from other faiths or no faith at all, this is not always so.

    Popular and over-subscribed church schools often select on the basis of families” religious commitment or church attendance. It is not unknown for parents to start attending church as admission deadlines approach.

    Might you not feel aggrieved if you lived close to a good church school, funded from your taxes, but which refused your child because its places were taken up by churchgoers who live further afield?

    Social disorder

    There is also the wider concern over the influence the churches should have over schools within a democratic, state-funded system. History has a few lessons on this score.

    Mass education in England began with the churches responding to concerns at the immorality and lack of faith amongst the growing urban working classes. There was a real fear of social disorder.

    Teaching children to read was seen as a prerequisite to scripture studies and the teaching of morality and obedience. As Thomas B Macaulay said in Parliament in 1848: “education of the common people is the most effectual means of protecting person and property”.

    But once they got a hold, the competing church school societies were reluctant to loosen their grip on the minds of the young.

    Drag on progress

    One effect was to hold back educational development in Britain. While France and Prussia pressed ahead with compulsory schooling and a national curriculum, British schools remained the preserve of paternal voluntarism.

    Even the famous Foster Act of 1870 – seen as the foundation of a national school system – was a compromise allowing the state to fill in the gaps left by the church schools.

    The biggest obstacle to RA Butler’s 1944 Education Act, which created the modern school system, was the opposition of the churches reluctant to give up the requirement for denominational worship and teaching in school in exchange for desperately needed state funds. It led to a typically British compromise over “aided” and “controlled” church schools.

    More recently, Kenneth Baker had to reach his own church settlement to guarantee progress on his 1987 Education Reform Bill. Its first clause states clearly that spiritual education is one of the main purposes of schooling.

    Role of schools

    This raises the fundamental question: What are schools for? It’s a topical issue. Chris Woodhead marked his transition from chief schools inspector to columnist by accusing the government of promoting “utilitarian” education policies.

    Is the main aim of schools to prepare the future workforce? Or is it to foster religious belief? Or to promote personal development? Or to ensure the transmission of a core of culturally specific knowledge from one generation to the next?

    By promoting state-funded church schools the government is tilting the answer in a religious direction. That could cause problems if their other reforms want to go in a different direction.

    A hundred or so extra church schools may not be a lot but they take us, with little fanfare, to a significant cross-roads in the history of our school system.

  95. #95 dirk
    December 31, 2006

    You’re not going to apologise for your remarks about Dawkins, are you Brayton? Had I placed myself in such a predicament, I hope I would have the cojones to do the right thing.

  96. #96 Elf Eye
    December 31, 2006

    Ed, the problem is that the petition doesn’t *have* a “plain reading.” True, it doesn’t “sa[y] anything at all specific to schools or government indoctrination,” but then it also doesn’t say anything at specific to parental or church indoctrination, either. Now as to the intentions of its supporters, the only one who has been discussed in great detail is Dawkins, and his writings, unless quote-mined, are much less radical than initially represented. On the other hand, we do have the BBC article, provided above by anon, which suggests a context that would support the less radical interpretation of the petition, one along the lines of getting the UK government out of the business of religious education–not *comparative* religious education, mind you, but education in which children are divided into classes by the religion of parent or guardian and are instructed in the tenets of one faith and one faith only. Given that context, and given the misrepresentation of Dawkins, why is the interpretation that the petition is directed at parents and churches to be preferred over the interpretation that it is directed at government-sponsored religion classes?

  97. #97 GMH
    December 31, 2006

    Isn’t it interesting that while there is a clear line between indoctrination and education generally, there does not seem to be such a clear line between ‘indoctrination’ and the methods religious parents/clergy et al. use t, ahen, ‘raise’ children?

    What does that tell us? Doesn’t it show that there’s something deeply, horrifically ugly at the heart of the process?

    Ed’s point (accompanied by much high dedgeon and, I imagine, spittle) is that making such indoctrination simply ‘illegal’ is wrong(fascist, dystopian, whatever) to contemplate. I agree. As per George Washington:

    “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

    So, we all agree with that position – even Dawkins as per his retraction. Since that retraction (and even before it, to reasoning people), the dystopian fascist police state argument is CLEARLY a straw man – arguing against the worst possible excesses of a hypothetical position is TOO easy! Do better!!

    Yes, some of us DO feel that parents who indoctrinate their children with baseless, irrational fears and prejudices ARE being abusive and destructive. There’s lots of evidence of this. It does not, however, automatically follow that we must employ the raw force of gov’t to make them stop.

    Likewise, it similarly does not follow from that that we have to simply shut up about it (which seems to be Ed’s underlying suggestion). On the contrary: we ought NOT to give undue respect and comfort to parental, institutional or ANY religious indoctrination. It is an ugly, destructive and unethical process and ought to be something not broadly condoned in a civilized society

    And it IS condoned. Basic respect for religion and the religious underlies a number of basic assumptions brought to bear in these discussions. At least the ‘major’ religions – ‘whacko’ cultists (Waco etc.) get less deference. The distinction has always been rather vague to me…

    There is also the widespread ‘faith in faith’ thing. The sense that while (of course) we’re all too smart to REALLY believe in thundering sky fairies, stoning adulterers, eternal damnation, 5000 year old planets, fossils left as some kind of divine ‘gotcha!’ et al., that we should nonetheless defer to the pious and faithful who promulgate this nonsense to their defenseless and utterly enthralled (as in enslaved) children. Not only in their homes, but in churches that we encourage by providing general societal approval, broad freedoms and generally tax-free status, and in schools that we pay for and rely utterly on for producing members of our future societies.

    We should just shut up about this? I do not think so.

    So while main force (via gov’t or other means) IS the wrong remedy for this, other methodologies for change ARE available: The ‘consciousness raising’ advocated by Dawkins seems to me to be a vastly important part of that. Encouraging and educating parents to do better in the raising of ‘their’ children (which should be seen as distinct from ‘their’ TV, ‘their’ car etc.). Innoculating children against it through better public education. Encouraging gov’t to stop supporting the religious at our expense. Basically calling B-ll Sh-t! when we see it.

    The Jesuits say: “Give us a boy, and we shall return you a man, a citizen of his country and a child of God”

    I say: Give a boy the tools to think well, outside the shadows of irrationality (and its accompanying fears and prejudices), and he shall return a man, a citizen of his world and a steward worthy of the creation.

    We can do all of that without resorting to jackbooted thuggery. If for no other reason because it would not work. We must… We will… Or, you know, die trying :-)

  98. #98 GH
    December 31, 2006

    a Christian can argue that you not teaching your children Christianity, because it might send them to hell, is child abuse.

    I don’t see this being equivalent at all. At some point you have to have reality. Are they also teaching them that if they don’t believe in Allah they are going to hell or that jews don’t believe in hell?

    A Christian might argue it but it is an irrational argument and in reality the child is not harmed at all. No nightmares, no fear, no harm.

    we ought NOT to give undue respect and comfort to parental, institutional or ANY religious indoctrination. It is an ugly, destructive and unethical process and ought to be something not broadly condoned in a civilized society

    Excellent comment. I simply can’t believe that some folks find it perfectly acceptable to teach young children such horrific ideas as hell while at the same time shielding them from horror movies and naked bodies. The dicotomous mind. Apparently they think nude humans are more harmful that continually reinforced images and fears of damnation at the hands of those who they trust the most.

  99. #99 Brian X
    December 31, 2006

    I must add myself to the list of people calling for some sort of truth. Both of you are making yourself look ridiculous by leveling accusations at each other over what looks suspiciously like a doctrinal spat. I really, really thought rationalists were above this kind of thing. As far as I can tell, both of you are quite sincere in your beliefs, making accusations of dishonesty quite unfounded. And I know you both have profound philosophical differences, but really, can’t you just agree to disagree?

    I live with my parents, and my mother is very absolutist on religious issues. I can’t tell you how uncomfortably similar this situation is. Girls, you’re both pretty.

  100. #100 FishyFred
    December 31, 2006

    Both of you are making yourself look ridiculous by leveling accusations at each other over what looks suspiciously like a doctrinal spat.

    Bulls-eye. None of the readers of either Pharyngula or Dispatches like to see this fighting.

    “Fully automatic asshole” isn’t even that funny.

  101. #101 Eugene
    December 31, 2006

    It is obvious that Dawkins has only backed out of supporting the petition because he realized he was CAUGHT!

    His hatred of religion is plain, as is his calling religious education child abuse.

    And what do you do with child abusers?

    You lock them up.

    Who do the defenders of Dawkins’ think they are kidding?

  102. #102 Leni
    December 31, 2006

    DuWayne wrote:

    What about people who truly and deeply believe that their religion is the only right religion and all others are hell-bound? Do they lie when their child asks them what they believe?

    The problem with this argument is that it isn’t how strongly the parent believes what they are saying which determines whether or not what they said was abusive.

    We would never condone a parent telling their child that they were worthless scum, born stained and bound for eternal torture. (Unless of course, it was for deeply held religious reasons. Then it’s ok.) Normally we call this sort of thing “verbal abuse”.

  103. #103 Elf Eye
    December 31, 2006

    Nick Matzke has a truly illuminating post on this “kerfluffle” up over on The Panda’s Thumb.

  104. #104 J. J. Ramsey
    December 31, 2006

    Ed Brayton: “By any sane criteria, this legal proposal is unjust, it is repressive and it is almost certain to backfire. I simply cannot imagine how any sane human being could not recognize that.”

    Human beings, though, are not consistently sane. It occurs to me that when you blasted Dawkins for signing the petition, you presumed that he read the petition and realized what it would take to enforce it. Upon more recent reflection, I’d say that the first presumption makes sense, but the second assumption, not so much. The way Dawkins so often makes sophomoric mistakes about religion in spite of his brilliance suggests that, no, he wouldn’t necessarily think it through. Dawkins is just not that consistently rational.

  105. #105 GuLi
    December 31, 2006

    Ed,

    Any law which makes it illegal for parents to “indoctrinate” – meaning only “teach them that it’s true” – their children into their religion is a flagrant abuse of governmental authority and a prescription for an Orwellian nightmare of thought police.

    Emphasis not mine.

    This is no fact, only your opinion; what’s more, many countries have some laws “which makes it illegal for parents to “indoctrinate” [...] their children into their religion” in some cases – those contradicting the UN’s convention on the children’s rights.
    Feel free to blame every state having signed this convention of being an “Orwellian nightmare of thought police”: they don’t include Somalia… and neither the good ol’USA :)

    I don’t know whether your sweeping generalizations stem from some libertarian blindness or just bad rhetorics, but I do know they’re not doing you any service.

  106. #106 FhnuZoag
    December 31, 2006

    Is there really any point to this war?

    PZ and Ed are *both* being assholes. This continued argument elevates no one, and brings no insight.

  107. #107 Dave S.
    December 31, 2006

    Elf Eye says:

    Given that context, and given the misrepresentation of Dawkins, why is the interpretation that the petition is directed at parents and churches to be preferred over the interpretation that it is directed at government-sponsored religion classes?

    It seems to me from reading it that it’s directed at every authority – government, church and family. Government was not singled out…nor can we simply assume that’s what was most likely meant in context and go with that. The stated goal is “In order to encourage free thinking …”. Now if institutional indoctrination is contrary to that goal, how can that goal be met if only indoctrination from one institutional source is restricted? It seems resonable to read the petition as it is written as restricting any form of authoritarian interference. Whether or not that was the actual intent, its not totally unreasonable to read it that way. One is not duty-bound to read the positions of every signatory to glean the net intent. If that is not really what they mean, then retract the petition itself and write another one more specific.

    One might argue that it makes more sense that they are talking about government coming from the British perspective, but it’s hardly fair to excoriate Ed Brayton for daring to attach a plain reading to a text which does not explicitly make that connection. Dawkins is responsible for his own actions, as are we all. Kudos to him for clarifying his position and repudiating his signature.

    I notice that his name(s) (both copies) have now been expunged from the list. Perhaps the sponser of the petition should withdraw it and try again.

  108. #108 Chris Ho-Stuart
    December 31, 2006

    In these debates, I would normally find myself on opposite sides with Paul. In the whole brouhaha about Miller and creationism, I was very critical of Paul in a number of posts; and I remain unsatisfied with his position there.

    But here I find myself mostly agreeing with Paul. Ed is the primary problem; behaving like an ass and pursuing a highly destructive animosity with what would otherwise be two of the best blogs on the net.

    Ed, you need a retraction that goes beyond saying something along the lines of “aha — I was right; the petition was bad and Dawkins should not have signed it.” You also made statements about Dawkins in the earlier post that you should now be able to acknowledge as being invalid, predicated as they were on Dawkins supporting the petition.

    Dawkins was foolish to sign it. He should have checked it more carefully. We all agree with that — Dawkins included. I’d agree that Dawkins’ position is sufficiently extreme that it was perfectly fair to call attention to the petition as you did. But as it turns out, Dawkins is not quite as bad as you described in your first post. He was foolish and careless; not totalitarian. And that means you should — in the interests of fairness — acknowledge that some of your comments about Dawkins were not actually valid. Fortunately.

    Instead, you have taken a low and ugly road. It’s up to you to try and correct the situation. Can you? Do you actually have that kind of stature?

  109. #109 xebecs
    December 31, 2006

    To PZ and Ed: Please stop, both of you. You are both among my favorite writers, and I hate to see you doing this.

    You are both partly right and partly wrong in your basic views of this topic and of the nature of this exchange. But you are both entirely wrong in the tone you have jointly adopted — all it does is make you look unbalanced.

    Please go back to your corners. Write about squid and poker for a while. Lighten up. Yes, it’s hard, but do it. Otherwise, you’ll be left with no readers but those who enjoy car wrecks and professional wrestling.

  110. #110 Dave S.
    December 31, 2006

    Write about squid and poker for a while.

    Or squid playing poker!

    ‘Sam, are you using your ink to mark the cards again?’ :)

  111. #111 decrepitoldfool
    December 31, 2006

    Well said, Xebecs. I have a couple readers who won’t go anywhere near Dispatches or Pharyngula for that very reason. (a depressingly high percentage of my total readership!) It’s a shame because both writers offer deep and useful insights so much of the time, and have many ideas in common. And a bigger shame because as one commenter on PZ’s blog noted, this looks “suspiciously like a doctrinal scism”. There’s a reason the US has something like 4,000 Protestant denominations and this is it – failure to focus on central issues and tolerate differences.

    That South Park episode doesn’t just apply to Dawkins.

  112. #112 Dave S.
    December 31, 2006

    Instead, you have taken a low and ugly road. It’s up to you to try and correct the situation. Can you? Do you actually have that kind of stature?

    There seems to be some ugly undercurrent of internecine warfare here involving private messages coupled to long-standing animosities. I don’t think it does anyone much good and is to neither man’s credit.

  113. #113 Andrea
    December 31, 2006

    Test – sorry

  114. #114 Ed Brayton
    December 31, 2006

    Chris-

    I will certainly apologize and retract my conclusions about Richard Dawkins; indeed, I just sent him a letter doing just that and have published it at the top of my blog. However, I will still point out, as I think I should, that my conclusions, though thankfully wrong, were reasonable in light of what even Dawkins now agrees is a petition that endorsed coercive and, in his own words, “horrifying” policies.

    However, let me say this: I do not apologize for anything I said to or about PZ Myers, because I think everything I said was true and justified in that regard. This situation did not involve him at all, yet he chose to get involved and begin the personal attacks on me. Those attacks began with his ludicrous and insulting claim, in private email, that I am “hesitant to call out creationists” but I’ll gladly call out Dawkins, which he then compounded by calling me a “moron.” Then he came here and lied about what I’d said in private as well. In my book, that, on top of volumes of previously bad behavior on his part, makes him a major league asshole. I said it last night, I still believe it today, and I do not apologize for it.

    Nor am I at all alone in this judgment, I might add. PZ is often treated the way Manny Ramirez is treated by Boston Red Sox fans, who often can be heard saying “that’s just Manny being Manny.” When he goes off on a completely unjustified attack on me like that and even dares to question my commitment to an anti-creationist movement that I have spent the better part of two decades fighting for, as he has several times in the past, I get numerous private emails from our mutual colleagues that say, in essence, “Look, we all know PZ is a jerk, he’s always been a jerk, but that’s just the way he is. You can’t let him provoke you like that.” Well, to be honest, I’m just not built that way. I have never initiated a personal attack on him, but if he starts it I have not the slightest inclination to play the passive victim. If you behave like an asshole to me, I have no problem calling you an asshole; if that bothers you, stop being an asshole. If you don’t want to be called out for lying about what I said, then don’t lie about what I said. It really is that simple. As far as I’m concerned, that is a completely separate issue from the situation with Prof. Dawkins, who clearly acted far more graciously than either of us. But I have no desire to take PZ’s nasty attacks on me graciously, nor do I think I ever will do so; I won’t start the firing, but I’m certainly going to return it. I simply do not believe for a moment this silly idea that it doesn’t matter who started it; if someone walks up and punches you in the face, you are absolutely justified in punching them back. The blame for the confrontation lies squarely with the one who started it, not with the one who responds. And since this whole situation had nothing at all to do with Myers and he was the one who chose to start the personal (and just as importantly, highly dishonest) attacks on me, I think the blame should be put squarely where it belongs.

  115. #115 Observer
    December 31, 2006

    And since this whole situation had nothing at all to do with Myers and he was the one who chose to start the personal (and just as importantly, highly dishonest) attacks on me, I think the blame should be put squarely where it belongs.

    No. I’m going to sound like how my old boss lectured me once: You are responsible for your behavior and how others perceive you.

    I felt you were not unreasonable in how you read the poll and I totally agree with your thoughts on not wanting to make teaching (indoctrination) in the home illegal, but I do now see after reading your well-written e-mail to Dawkins why PZ was bothered by your hyperbole. Thanks Anon, reading your comments earlier this morning, I am now inclined to think I thought Dawkins goofed worse than he did. It definitely was a PR goof from an American’s standpoint, but I can better see why it happened. But even though I was disappointed by Dawkins signing the badly-worded petition, as an admirer I would have said, “I’m a hardcore atheist, I don’t agree with that, has Dawkins lost his mind?” And that’s it.

    Perhaps PZ should have stayed out of the fray and let you and Dawkins go at it, and I understand the past baggage, but everybody else doesn’t. But PZ had stopped posting about you and here you are this morning still sticking the knife in his back and including third-party insults!
    You could have taken the high road and that’s what’s bothering some readers, it appears.

    It doesn’t matter whether you and PZ call eachother ***holes or morons in your e-mails – knock yourself out. But succumbing to this level on both blogs that readers appreciate is painful to watch. You may not care what I think, but calling one of my favorite bloggers an ***hole looks ugly. And if he called you an ***hole on his blog, I’d say the same thing. And I really do think he’d back down on it based on his blogging history. If you can’t bring yourself to apologize to PZ for that, then at least apologize to your readers for airing your anger in such an unattractive manner. No one expects you to be a Pollyanna, but c’mon…

    As an aside: I empathize with Dawkins’s position. Even his supporters scrutinize him. When I saw him on The Colbert Report and he started to get edgy at one point, I was trying to send him “telepathic” messages – “Relax, evidence is on your side!” I think he did a good job, but even in my mind I was comparing him to Ken Miller’s previous gig on the show. I like Miller, and he’s a good communicator, but he has the easier position of getting to have his logic and reason regarding evolution and also having millions of people support his continued belief in God. Dawkins is in a defensive position and even his fellow atheists have such high expectations of him. Not easy shoes to fill, and I’m glad he’s doing it.

    I think the conversation about what constitutes child abuse should be further clarified. There is some definite religious child abuse behavior that is already covered by child endangerment laws here in the US. Perhaps “abuse” and “assaults on self-esteem” or being a general repressive parent should be futher explained by Dawkins since it doesn’t sit well with everybody. Dawkins has the right to make mistakes and be persuaded as anyone else. What he privately thinks doesn’t really matter – if I could make religion go away tomorrow with a magic wand, I’d do it, just because I’m so curious as to what it would be like. I know this isn’t possible. The most I can hope for is that young people know that it’s OK to reject their parent’s religion…and so on.

    Take the high road. Peace.

  116. #116 island
    December 31, 2006

    this looks “suspiciously like a doctrinal scism

    Didn’t PZ say somewhere that Ed’s position is the “grey”, middle-ground? Because that’s not a denominational argument, it’s a clearly different position from either “side” of the debate.

    Maybe this isn’t true in Ed’s case, but a valid scientific example of this position would be that of Paul Davies’, who believes that there is purpose in nature, but without supernatural forces nor intelligent designers, AND we are not here by accident!

    Einstein held a similar position, and so does John Wheeler, as well as other scienitist who don’t believe that evolution doesn’t move toward a definable intrinsic goal.

    This being the case, why should Ed be nice to *either* enemy of science? Is it really important enough to call it a “war”, or is everybody just playing on the internet… agian!?

  117. #117 J. J. Ramsey
    December 31, 2006

    Ed Brayton: “if someone walks up and punches you in the face, you are absolutely justified in punching them back.”

    That may be true, but often the fight ends badly no matter who started it. Sometimes it’s better to just duck or, even better, to maneuver so that the other guy hits himself with his own punches. Ok, physically speaking, that works better in cartoons, but it’s not too bad a metaphor for rhetoric.

    If you took the high road when PZ cussed you out and called you a moron, he would have looked like an idiot. If you hadn’t mentioned that PZ had hectored you in e-mail, then if he were the one who mentioned it first, he would have taken all the heat for that. It probably wasn’t correct to call him a liar as such, since when he had pointed to evidence to vindicate his accusations, he pointed to stuff that was damning to him. That points more to blinding irrationality than intentional dishonesty. On this, it is probably more politic to simply point out where PZ is wrong, and let others judge for themselves if he is mendacious or just not thinking straight.

  118. #118 Kevin
    December 31, 2006

    I don’t know why people keep saying “PZ isn’t involved”. If it weren’t for him, Dawkins wouldn’t have cleared the air as PZ was the only one mature enough to actually ask him to clear his position.

    I think it is in poor taste to say something like “my colleagues also say he is an asshole in private emails”. Which colleagues? The same colleagues who are so against any and all criticism of religious beliefs? Bringing up these comments doesn’t serve your case at all. We have no idea of the context or the people involved. Hell, from your recent posts, your colleagues could be Mike Gene and others in the discovery institute. More probably, it is “theistic evolutionists” or others in the “never criticize our friends beliefs no matter how stupid they are” crowd.

    Frankly, this could just get into a pissing match where he says that he has emails from people saying similar things about you (which I wouldn’t doubt. Both of you have very strong opinions that are bound to rub many the wrong way).

  119. #119 Jim in STL
    December 31, 2006

    Ed Brayton: “if someone walks up and punches you in the face, you are absolutely justified in punching them back.”

    Perhaps Mr. Brayton will take time to ponder these words before launching his next inflammatory and ill-proportioned attack on someone such as he did on Dawkins. Especially when based on such a flimsy and unsubstantiated pretense.

    If there’d been a true intent to advance the discussion on this issue he could have invited Dawkins to participate – this could have led to an honest exchange from the beginning. This really reminds me of the hit-piece “journalism” so prevalent on Fox News…O’Reilly, Hannity, et al. It took PZ Myers to do the right thing. As far as all the “yeah, Myers is the biggest asshole in the universe” bull, remember, everyone’s an asshole to someone. It neither adds nor subtracts from the substance of the discussion – it may be goodly bloginess but it’s poor journalism and poor science.

    If I were scoring this “debate” Myers would win on substance and credibility.

  120. #120 J. J. Ramsey
    December 31, 2006

    Jim in STL: “If I were scoring this ‘debate’ Myers would win on substance and credibility.”

    Considering that he misrepresented Brayton and is still doing so, he does not win on credibility.

  121. #121 Observer
    December 31, 2006

    I thought I was a stubborn person. I have met the Energizer Bunny of Obstinacy!

    JJ, in this unattractive personal “war” between Ed and PZ, Ed had much opportunity to come up big. He can’t even acknowledge the elementary schoolyard tactic of using blind third-party insults. Somebody does that to me, and it’s a cheap shot and he did so after writing a nice letter to Dawkins. HE KEPT DIGGING THE KNIFE IN WHEN HE SHOULD HAVE WALKED AWAY!

    Of course, PZ is now commenting on this bizarre behavior. This is really ridiculous. Yes, I’m partial, I think PZ is a good guy and I almost always agree with him, but really, here Dawkins posted on THIS blog and it’s just crazy that Ed further stoked the fire with third-party insults.

    OK, I’ll go away now, but I feel disappointed that people far more intelligent me can’t come up big, swallow their pride or whatever. It’s not a win or lose situation, but I’m going back to Pharyngula now, because at least I have a better grip on PZ’s thinking and MO. :-(

    Obstinacy!

  122. #122 Jim in STL
    December 31, 2006

    Considering that he misrepresented Brayton and is still doing so…

    At the risk of opening a can of worms, what misrepresentation do you refer to? I followed the discussion from the beginning and, unless you can point out a specific instance of willful misrepresentation, what I said above stands.

  123. #123 Ed Brayton
    December 31, 2006

    Observer-

    You don’t have a clue about PZ’s “M.O.”. His MO is to start the personal attacks and then pretend to be above it all when they’re returned and he clams up. This isn’t the first time it’s happened and I doubt it will be the last. I’ve had this behavior aimed at me multiple times and I’m simply not going to play the passive victim. When he starts the shooting, you can be damn sure I am going to return fire. If he doesn’t want to be called an asshole, he can stop being an asshole.

  124. #124 Observer
    December 31, 2006

    You don’t get it Ed – you had the ball practically in your court and you could have chosen to drop the matter. We could all see PZ’s poking, but you hit lower publicly. (I don’t care about the past, there are new readers to the blogs). But after you wrote that letter to Dawkins, who came on your blog no less, and then you go back into insulting PZ with blind third-party insults when PZ had moved on, that’s an amazingly stupid move on your part.

    Life is often like a chess game, and your strategy sucked here. I am inclined to believe now that when you jumped on Dawkins you really did relish it as I initially wondered. I am questioning your sincerity now, too. It’s not because of anything PZ said, but because you wrote this nice letter to Dawkins and then went right back into insulting, bad behavior and you can’t even friggin acknowledge the childishness of third-party insults. Your pride has turned you from an unpassive victim to a victim of yourself now. Think about it.

    And the person who said Dawkins comes out the best in this scuffle was right.

    Strategy! Based on good intentions! For optimal result!

  125. #125 J. J. Ramsey
    December 31, 2006

    Jim in STL: “At the risk of opening a can of worms, what misrepresentation do you refer to?”

    In the current flame war, the main misrepresentation is this: “Brayton has NOT retracted his claim that Dawkins supports coercion.”

    Another one is this: “Brayton has a history of doing his best to urge atheists to silence,” a claim I find hard to square with a post of Brayton’s like “Anti-Atheist Bigotry by Texas Republicans“. Brayton certainly is against atheists whose behavior is far too close to the stereotype of the “arrogant atheist,” but that is not the same thing as urging atheists to silence.

  126. #126 Ed Brayton
    December 31, 2006

    Observer wrote:

    You don’t get it Ed – you had the ball practically in your court and you could have chosen to drop the matter. We could all see PZ’s poking, but you hit lower publicly. (I don’t care about the past, there are new readers to the blogs). But after you wrote that letter to Dawkins, who came on your blog no less, and then you go back into insulting PZ with blind third-party insults when PZ had moved on, that’s an amazingly stupid move on your part.

    No, you don’t get it. I don’t care whether you think I should have dropped it; I care what’s true. If what I said was accurate, and it was, that is all that matters to me. I’m not running to get “most popular” in the class yearbook and I frankly don’t care whether you or anyone else likes me. And I certainly don’t respect the opinion of anyone who thinks the person who defends themselves is out of line but not the one who started the fight in the first place. Every word I said was true, and truth is all that really matters to me.

    I am questioning your sincerity now, too. It’s not because of anything PZ said, but because you wrote this nice letter to Dawkins and then went right back into insulting, bad behavior and you can’t even friggin acknowledge the childishness of third-party insults.

    I treat Dawkins graciously because he treated me graciously. That has absolutely nothing with how PZ deserves to be treated after his repeated and consistent behavior toward me. I can’t imagine what would make anyone think that we should treat all people the same way. People with a track record of bad behavior deserve to be treated worse than those without such a track record. People who don’t lie about us deserve to be treated better than people who don’t. People who make ridiculous attacks on us deserve to be called assholes for doing it; those who don’t, don’t. As for the alleged childishness of “third party insults”, it had nothing to do with insults at all. It simply has to do with the fact – yes, it’s a fact – that PZ has a long history of this behavior that far too many people have just rolled their eyes at and excused it away because “oh that’s just the way he is”. Well screw that. The way he is isn’t acceptable to me, and when he aims that behavior at me he’s gonna get it blown right back at him. Too many people act like parents who don’t care about which child was wrong in a fight, they just want quiet. I don’t care about getting along; I care about what’s right. My conciliatory reaction to Richard Dawkins was warranted by his behavior in this situation; my angry reaction to PZ is warranted by his behavior, not only in this situation but in many previous ones as well.

  127. #127 J. J. Ramsey
    December 31, 2006

    Observer: “JJ, in this unattractive personal ‘war’ between Ed and PZ, Ed had much opportunity to come up big. He can’t even acknowledge the elementary schoolyard tactic of using blind third-party insults. Somebody does that to me, and it’s a cheap shot and he did so after writing a nice letter to Dawkins. HE KEPT DIGGING THE KNIFE IN WHEN HE SHOULD HAVE WALKED AWAY!”

    I would agree. The trading of insults is getting old and petty. That said, saying that Myers has more credibility is stretching it. Yes, Brayton is digging himself a hole with the insults. However, I judge credibility by the tendency of someone’s statements to conform to reality. With Brayton, we have him initially conclude, based on what Dawkins himself did, that Dawkins supported something that would require an ugly dystopia to enforce. When the known facts exonerated Dawkins, he retracted. One may argue that Brayton was too quick to assume the worst of Dawkins, but given Dawkins’ own rhetoric on religious indoctrination as child abuse, this is by no means clear. By contrast, Myers continued to misrepresent Brayton’s opinions, as noted above. If you’ll pardon the bad rhyme, Brayton loses on tact, but Myers loses on tact and fact.

  128. #128 J. J. Ramsey
    December 31, 2006

    Brayton: “The way he is isn’t acceptable to me, and when he aims that behavior at me he’s gonna get it blown right back at him.”

    The problem is that it is blowing back at you, like it or not. I know it’s easier to give advice like this than practice it oneself, but you needed to let PZ do all the huffing and puffing, while you stuck to just pointing out his nonsense. If you had done that, it would have been pretty obvious who is the first-class jerk. As it stands, you’ve let him drag you down to his level.

  129. #129 Ed Brayton
    December 31, 2006

    JJ-

    I disagree. His level is the level of unprovoked and unwarranted attacks; my level is provoked and warranted attacks. For those who can’t see or don’t care about the distinction, I can’t help them, nor do I care to. An accurate and justified insult is far superior to an inaccurate and unjustified one; that seems incredibly obvious to me but seems to escape a lot of others. Their misconceptions, however, aren’t my problem and their disapproval doesn’t really concern me.

  130. #130 Ed Brayton
    December 31, 2006

    And appended to that last: I think it should be obvious by now that Heddle’s speculation that I was somehow pressured into writing what I did to Dawkins is nonsense. When I believe I’m right, I don’t back down regardless of who thinks I should or why. Convince me that I’m wrong and I will happily retract a false claim or apologize for bad behavior (and I’ve done so many times on both accounts, as I would hope any honest person would have done given how often we all make mistakes). But calls to back down in the name of some false unity fall on deaf ears with me. If I believe I’m in the right, whether on a matter of fact or principle, it’s pretty difficult to get me to stop defending what I think is right.

  131. #131 Observer
    December 31, 2006

    Ed, you could be right, but you’re not being smart.

    Have a Happy New Year.

  132. #132 Jim in STL
    December 31, 2006

    J.J.,

    At the time that Myers said “Brayton has NOT retracted his claim that Dawkins supports coercion” I agreed with the statement. I don’t see this as a misrepresentation but rather a defensible personal judgement of what had been entered into the record and it certainly doesn’t rise to the level of a lie.

    As far as Myers saying, “Brayton has a history of doing his best to urge atheists to silence” this is outside of the substance of the original argument regarding the petition and I have no way of assessing the veracity of the accusation. I had/have a tendency to gloss past the extraneous BS since, as I said above, it adds nothing to the substance of the discussion regarding the petition and the initial inciteful statements in the original post. I mean who had/has time to check out the validity of the charges of assholitude that were/are flying in both directions? And, since these charges are a matter of personal opinion on a personal matter they had no bearing on the substance or facts under discussion and do not rise to the level of misrepresenting the substance or facts under discussion (again, regarding the petition), which is what I was referring to (OK OK – which is what to which I was referring.)

    As far as I know they are both right about each other being unbearable assholes – at least from their own points of view. For what it’s worth, my so called “scoring” called the personal attacks as equally representative and/or misrepresentative and unverifiable and thus a draw. Consequently, I still see the greatest misrepresentation of the sunject of the discussion as being that of how the initial post handled Dawkin’s motives and intentions. That was and is in my judgement a knee-jerk conclusion asserting an absolute proof on little data and was unduly inflamatory and unessesarily demeaning to Dawkins (either an intentional or unintentional first strike).

  133. #133 Henrik P
    January 1, 2007

    Cool! The lurkers support Ed in e-mail.
    ROTFLMAO!

  134. #134 Mike Haubrich
    January 1, 2007

    I am forever trying to hammer into my kids the point that escalations continue unnecessarily because people have to be “right.”

    This particular social object escalated far beyond the tempest in a teapot that it really was, and could have been ended with a simple “sez you.” And then moving on, but I read your post here and was especially dismayed that you brought out the old “Lurkers Support me in E-mail” gambit to support your case that PZ is an asshole.

    PZ was involved because you didn’t do any fact-checking before posting something that you got from a non-reliable source. Your post attacked his friend and he called you on it.

    What you did was akin to hitting “forward” on the chainletter e-mail, like the ones we get from our friends to sign a petition to prevent Madalyn Murray O’Hair from convincing the FCC to pull religious programming off the air. While it is obvious to anybody that pays attention that she couldn’t do this in her current condition, it is not obvious to people that only pay marginal attention to these issues. “Oh, yes, that lady that stopped school prayer is going too far. I better let everyone I know get in on this crusade,” and they hit forward to everyone in their address list. Except it was easier for you to do becuase you only needed to cut and paste, put in your comments and hit send.

    One of the positive developments of the blogging culture is that it democratizes the media, and so in order to find news we aren’t limited to the traditional media. It’s a double-edged sword in the sense that misinformation can spread incredibly fast, and you facilated its spread in this case, especially since no one has to run their post through fact-checkers and editors. The folks that are opposed to everything that Dawkins stands for now have a weapon to use in the rhetoric war, and the retraction and correction will be ignored by those who hate him.

    I think it behooves you in having a popular blog, to check things out before going off half-cocked. Your personal war with PZ can be trotted out anytime your hit counter drops.

  135. #135 Kevin
    January 1, 2007

    Can someone point out where PZ lied about Ed for me? I’ve re-read his post on his sight, and nothing there is a lie that I can see. his first point is about a creationist bait and switch, a point that he retracts when he confirmed that there was a prominent link to the petition. After that, his following points were about something Dawkins wrote in the comments on the petition saying that there is value in religious education, which is very inconsistent with the militant-jail all the theist reading given by some.

    PZ the goes on to describe part of Dawkins book that deals with religious education to highlight his lack of authoritarian views on the topic. He notes that Ed wouldn’t know this since he has failed to read the book, which Ed has admitted many times already.

    Where exactly where the lies that Ed mentions in the initial post? The lies that led to some really childish name calling, and pathetic talk about lurkers agreeing in email with him? Sorry, maybe someone can enlighten me.

  136. #136 Ed Brayton
    January 1, 2007

    Kevin-

    The lies are:

    1. That I’m “hesitant to call out creationists” because I (along with every other PT contributor who commented on it other than PZ, by the way) suggested that we should not publicize PEER’s press release claiming that Grand Canyon park interpreters had been told not to tell visitors the true age of the canyon because they had not provided any evidence to support that charge (PZ, on the other hand, seems to think that if it makes the other side look bad, then facts be damned, start firing; he seems completely unaware of the fact that doing so undermines our credibility when we do, as we usually do, have the evidence on our side).

    2. That I had not accepted Dawkins’ retraction.

    3. That I take the position that atheists should not advocate atheism; I have never said anything of the sort. I have said that they shouldn’t call all religious people stupid or deluded, and I will continue to say that (just as I will continue to say that not all Muslims are suicide bombers and not all atheists are brilliant; such generalizations are inevitably wrong, even irrational).

    Those are all lies. There are more, but I think that’s enough for now.

    One more thing, on the subject of whether, prior to his retraction and repudiation of the petition, it was reasonable and logical to conclude that Prof. Dawkins did indeed support the repressive law that I object to. There are nearly exact parallels to the recent Sternberg controversy here. Immediately after the publication of the Meyer article, we first became aware of Richard Sternberg and we immediately began digging around to find out who the heck he was. We assumed that he was an ID advocate, and we were right of course. We also found out that he was a member of the Baraminology Study Group, a group of young earth creationists (Baraminology has no meaning outside a young earth creationist framework; it is a term inherent to Biblical literalism only). We therefore concluded that he was also a young earth creationist. It turns out that we were wrong; He is a creationist but not a young earther. The DI, the OSC and the Souder report all condemn the NCSE for telling one of his colleagues, in a private email, that he was a YEC. They all claim that this was part of a conspiracy to spread “vicious rumors” and “lies” about Sternberg; but in reality, it was merely a logical inference given the information at hand.

    The same thing is true here, and I’ve already explained why. Given Dawkins’ repeated argument that “indoctrinating” one’s children into one’s religion (particularly if that religion believes in hell, which means pretty much all Christians) is child abuse, that the text of the petition clearly goes far beyond regulating what schools may teach but implicates restrictions on churches and parents as well (as Dawkins himself now agrees, so there’s no point in arguing otherwise) and that Dawkins was promoting that petition on his website and had signed it, it was a perfectly logical conclusion to reach. That it turns out to be false and merely a result of his not having read the petition carefully enough is a great relief to me, but it does not make my initial conclusions any less rational or justified. Indeed, I would argue that the fact that he now agrees that the text of the petition supports the repressive policies that I objected to (and agrees that those policies are appalling and horrifying) only supports the reasonableness of my initial conclusion. It’s a simple 4 step argument:

    1. The petition advocates making it illegal for parents and churches to “indoctrinate” their children into their religion.

    2. Such a law is repressive and totalitarian.

    3. Richard Dawkins supports that petition.

    4. Thus, Richard Dawkins supports those repressive and totalitarian policies.

    Since Prof. Dawkins, after giving the petition a more careful reading, agrees with one and two, the only step in the arguments up for dispute are 3 and 4. And given that, prior to his repudiation here 2 days ago, he had signed the petition and was promoting it on his website, those were no-brainers at the time. This is very simple logic and it is unassailable. Sometimes logical inferences turn out to be wrong because there is missing data. In this case, the logical inferences were 100% correct; the problem was that Prof. Dawkins had not read carefully the petition that he signed. And honestly, I am very relieved by that; I am happy that it turned out to be wrong. But it is simply not defensible to argue that my initial conclusion was not fully reasonable and supported by the evidence at the time.

  137. #137 Gretchen
    January 1, 2007

    Here’s another one:

    Brayton loathes atheists, and would like to see them silenced.

  138. #138 Ed Brayton
    January 1, 2007

    Yeah, that’s perhaps the most ridiculous lie of all. I have written volumes on this blog defending atheists against the accusations of (mostly fundamentalist) Christians, and even more volumes defending free speech for absolutely everyone. The notion that I, of all people, wants to see atheists silenced is too ridiculous for words.

  139. #139 Kevin
    January 1, 2007

    OK, those I can see. They weren’t in the post I was talking about. It was probably in one of his comments elsewhere.

    I don’t agree with him on those points and think he is engaging in a lot of hyperbole with them, taking your position on him and saying it applies to all atheists. His position here is quite ridiculous as you have spent many time blasting idiotic creationists and exposing negative stereotypes of atheists for what they are.

    I’m still gonna read the both of you. Other then your dealings with each other, these are my favorite blogs, along with Digby and Glenn Greenwald. I’ll just be more careful to avoid reading the pissing contests. Both positions add value to the debate, despite what both Ed and PZ think. So both should keep up the good work.

  140. #140 Tristram Shandy
    January 1, 2007

    1. The petition advocates making it illegal for parents and churches to “indoctrinate” their children into their religion.

    2. Such a law is repressive and totalitarian.

    3. Richard Dawkins supports that petition.

    4. Thus, Richard Dawkins supports those repressive and totalitarian policies.

    Your argument falls apart when one considers the fact that a petition is not a policy nor a law.

    The last time simply signing a petition was taken as evidence of fealty to a totalitarian philosophy, it was called “The McCarthy Era”.

    Get a grip.

  141. #141 Ed Brayton
    January 1, 2007

    Tristram Shandy wrote:

    Your argument falls apart when one considers the fact that a petition is not a policy nor a law.

    The last time simply signing a petition was taken as evidence of fealty to a totalitarian philosophy, it was called “The McCarthy Era”.

    What a ridiculous argument. If the petition advocates a policy or a law, and that policy or law is repressive, then clearly the person who signs it is advocating a repressive policy or law. If James Dobson signed and promoted a petition saying that all atheists should be thrown in prison, I doubt you’d make the argument that the petition is “not a policy nor a law” and therefore claiming that he is advocating what the petition advocates is an example of McCarthyism. Seriously, that is just an idiotic argument. This is really basic reasoning, it shouldn’t be that difficult to grasp.

  142. #142 doctorgoo
    January 1, 2007

    This is also from the PZ quote that Gretchen referenced above:

    I am pleased to see, though, that no possible evidence from Ed or his pals can show me to be wrong on that — it’s true now from all of the evidence I have at hand, and therefore I am absolutely correct, forever and ever.

    And here is another quote from PZ, partially in response to me:

    And no, I have no respect for Brayton’s stand on anything: I regard it to be as insincere and self-serving as his position on graciousness, nothing but a mask for his hypocrisy.

    source: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/going_straight_to_the_source.php#comment-303505

    While I won’t go as far to say that he’s totally deluded, I think it’s safe to say that his judgement is clouded right now when it comes to you and the positions that he should find in common (such as civil liberties and fighting ID/creationism).

  143. #143 Ed Brayton
    January 1, 2007

    doctorgoo:

    It should be clear right now that PZ has reached the point of being absolutely crazed in his antipathy to me and he has thrown all reason to the wind. This is what those with an extremist mentality do, they identify their enemies and seek to demean them and destroy them, not caring whether their attacks are rational and justified or not. Ironically, that’s the same behavior he no doubt finds appalling when done by the Jerry Falwell crowd.

  144. #144 doctorgoo
    January 1, 2007

    I understand and appreciate exactly what you’re saying Ed.

    But even though it might be irrational for me to do so, I’m still hoping against hope that once he calms down that he’ll be able to see you as the ally against ID/creationism that you are.

  145. #145 Tristram Shandy
    January 1, 2007

    What a ridiculous argument. If the petition advocates a policy or a law, and that policy or law is repressive, then clearly the person who signs it is advocating a repressive policy or law.

    Or the person didn’t read it closely, or wasn’t thinking of implementation, or the person has conceptualized it in such a way that it is not necessarily repressive, as is the case with laws against drunk driving, child abuse, and thousands of other things. E.g., it would be repressive to put surveillance cameras wired for sound and video in every corner of a person’s house in order to make sure they didn’t beat their children, but simply holding that child abuse should be illegal doesn’t mean one is in favor of such draconian surveillance.

    If James Dobson signed and promoted a petition saying that all atheists should be thrown in prison, I doubt you’d make the argument that the petition is “not a policy nor a law” and therefore claiming that he is advocating what the petition advocates is an example of McCarthyism.

    Speaking of not reading closely, I said that calling someone totalitarian just because they signed a petition is reminiscent of McCarthyism. I didn’t say it is McCarthyism, which would be a historical absurdity.

    Seriously, that is just an idiotic argument. This is really basic reasoning, it shouldn’t be that difficult to grasp.

    It’s basic ‘reasoning’ which leaves out all other relevant options so that one may come to the favored conclusion. I’m very impressed with the depth and breadth of your education in logic. My logic class didn’t encompass learning that begging the question is acceptable.

  146. #146 Gretchen
    January 1, 2007

    Tristram, you’re making two different arguments. The first is that maybe the petitioner-signer didn’t read the petition very closely (we’ve acknowledged that, and Ed has pointed out that before knowing that such a thing is the case, it’s entirely rational to assume that people actually support petitions they sign) and the second is that signing a petition which supports making something illegal somehow cannot be totalitarian because a petition is not itself a law. Is it your position that people are not capable of supporting totalitarianism unless they are law-makers themselves?

  147. #147 Ed Brayton
    January 1, 2007

    Gretchen accurately points out the problem. Your original argument was that my conclusion wasn’t warranted because a petition is not a law or a policy; that is, as I said, an idiotic argument. Now you’ve changed the argument, perhaps recognizing the idiocy of the previous one, and are claiming that it’s not warranted because perhaps the person misread the petition. That’s an entirely different argument, and of course it is entirely true; but it has no bearing at all on whether the conclusion was justified given the evidence at the time. And again I will point out that you would not, in a billion years, make the same assumption if the petition in question was one aimed at you and if the person who signed it was someone you regard as being on the other side. If this was James Dobson signing a petition to put atheists in jail and someone criticized him for advocating a totalitarian law, I think we can all predict that redwood trees would fly out of your ass before you would be heard saying, “Hey, that’s not a warranted conclusion; maybe Dobson just read it wrong.” What you are engaged in here is a logical fallacy called special pleading.

  148. #148 Tristram Shandy
    January 1, 2007

    Is it your position that people are not capable of supporting totalitarianism unless they are law-makers themselves?

    No, but I would hesitate at saying someone supports a totalitarian system until there is clear evidence that said person does so. Saying someone signed a petition and is therefore is a supporter of a totalitarian system is absurd on its face when the only basis for claiming totalitairianism is one’s worst and most uncharitable reading of what what would be required to implement the petition’s proposal. Pointing out that a petition is not a law is relevant in this case, because by not being a law it indicates nothing about implementation.

  149. #149 Tristram Shandy
    January 1, 2007

    Gretchen accurately points out the problem. Your original argument was that my conclusion wasn’t warranted because a petition is not a law or a policy; that is, as I said, an idiotic argument. Now you’ve changed the argument, perhaps recognizing the idiocy of the previous one, and are claiming that it’s not warranted because perhaps the person misread the petition.

    Wrong again! Do you practice at consistently misreading or is it an inherent talent?

    I gave three options, not one, and the last of the three deals precisely with what I meant when I said that a petition is not a law. Because it’s a petition, it need not carry anything in it about implementation as this one does not, and therefore concluding that what is being proposed is totalitarian is based on one’s worst and most uncharitable assumptions about what the implementation would entail and could be used against any number of uncontroversial ideas (like making child abuse illegal is good). That’s begging the question entirely.

    That’s an entirely different argument, and of course it is entirely true; but it has no bearing at all on whether the conclusion was justified given the evidence at the time.

    You reached your conclusion by excluding at least three other options without justification.

    And again I will point out that you would not, in a billion years, make the same assumption if the petition in question was one aimed at you and if the person who signed it was someone you regard as being on the other side. If this was James Dobson signing a petition to put atheists in jail and someone criticized him for advocating a totalitarian law, I think we can all predict that redwood trees would fly out of your ass before you would be heard saying, “Hey, that’s not a warranted conclusion; maybe Dobson just read it wrong.” What you are engaged in here is a logical fallacy called special pleading.

    I see. I’m engaging in special pleading because you’ve made up your mind about my position for me. If I had seen something where Dobson signed a petition calling for the imprisonment of atheists it would a) not be analogous to this case, since this does call for specific penalties, and b) I would assume that something was up with it because I don’t think Dobson would be such a damn fool.

    Of course, if I wanted to assume that Dobson is a fascist hiding behind a cross, I could always jump to the conclusion that the proposal does in fact represent his views, which is the inverse of what you did here. You assumed that Dawkins views were totalitarian not because you know them (in fact, you have repeated often that you haven’t read The God Delusion), but because they fit what you wanted to be true about Dawkins, just so you could engage in a bit of self-aggrandizing scolding and maybe tear off a few more from the ever more invisible “center” for the side of evolution. It’s inane. It’s tedious. And it’s unworthy of anyone who wants to be taken seriously.

  150. #150 Gretchen
    January 1, 2007

    Tristram, I understand what you’re saying, but it would seem to me that for any person concerned with civil liberties, the idea of a law against “religious indoctrination” is a) so vague and hence so vulnerable to abuse, and b) in direct conflict with freedom of speech, as to be totalitarian on its face. The word “illegal” in the petition at the very least means that signing it supports using government force in some way against people who are determined (by the government) to be doing something that can be called “religious indoctrination,” something that should set off warning bells in anyone’s mind. No “worst” and “uncharitable” reading is required.

  151. #151 Ed Brayton
    January 1, 2007

    For crying out loud, someone is still here defending the notion that the petition might not really prescribe a horrifying legal reality even after Dawkins himself has agreed that it does. The irrationality of some people who fancy themselves rationalists is really quite frustrating.

  152. #152 Tristram Shandy
    January 1, 2007

    Gretchen, in that case, I hope that Ed, as someone who is concerned with civil liberties, can get out of a country as repressive as the United States with all dispatch.

    After all, we have many regulations against religious indoctrination when applied to government workers. Surely this is the equivalent of suggesting that they be sent to the gulags, since they are not free to indoctrinate on the public dime. That’s flippant, I admit, but it goes to a serious point: regulations against indoctination already exist in a country whose partisans like to think of as a beacon of freedom to the world. Nobody seems to feel as if this is the thin end of the wedge for a totalitarian government, except the most deluded fundamentalists. Having such an example all around him, Ed did discard other reasonable conclusions for the most sensationalistic and least charitable one possible.

  153. #153 Tristram Shandy
    January 1, 2007

    For crying out loud, someone is still here defending the notion that the petition might not really prescribe a horrifying legal reality even after Dawkins himself has agreed that it does. The irrationality of some people who fancy themselves rationalists is really quite frustrating.

    Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware that whatever Dawkins says is the gold standard for reason. It seems you disagree with him often enough–is that a closet admission of your own irrationality?

    The fact is that one can construct a nightmare totalitarian fantasy for any law, but that doesn’t make the nightmare totalitarian fantasy a probable end of the proposal. I will say that the petition is troubling, but I would assume that the authors of the petition just didn’t think it through. However, it is a fact that many people, those working in the public sector, in the United States, Beacon of Freedom to the World and so on, are not allowed to indoctrinate certain other people over whom they’ve been given some measure of control (students, prisoners, the needy, etc.) and yet this is not widely regarded as a totalitarian nightmare. Therefore the link between totalitarianism and the proposal in the petition is tenuous in fact as well as in theory.

  154. #154 Dave S.
    January 1, 2007

    No, but I would hesitate at saying someone supports a totalitarian system until there is clear evidence that said person does so.

    Which one can provide by signing a position exactly like the one that was signed, can they not?

    Saying someone signed a petition and is therefore is a supporter of a totalitarian system is absurd on its face when the only basis for claiming totalitairianism is one’s worst and most uncharitable reading of what what would be required to implement the petition’s proposal.

    It merely requires a plain reading of the text of the petition. That someone signed a petition that asks for a totalitarian system be set up is reasonable grounds to call that person a supporter. That’s why people sign petitions, because they support the advocated position. One reason anyway. In this case he repudiated the position and withdrew his signature. Fair enough. But that doesn’t prove the initial inference was unfair.

    What would you think of people who signed a petition like the following —

    We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make it illegal not to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.

    In order to encourage a strong moral centre, children should be subjected to regular religious teachings and be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought.

    Would the people who signed that be guilty of supporting totalitarianism, or would that be absurd on its face since only an uncharitable reading would lead you to conclude that?

    Pointing out that a petition is not a law is relevant in this case, because by not being a law it indicates nothing about implementation.

    We’re talking about support of a position. I support freedom of speech in Iran, even if I can’t do anything in the legal sense.

    Call me crazy, but I think its reasonable to conclude that someone of Dawkin’s stature and intellect would read, understand and explictly support the postion before attaching his name. Whether that conclusion is wrong (and here it was, but Dawkins himself was mainly to blame), it was reasonable.

  155. #155 Tristram Shandy
    January 1, 2007

    Which one can provide by signing a position exactly like the one that was signed, can they not?

    Obviously I don’t agree, so what was the point of asking?

    It merely requires a plain reading of the text of the petition. That someone signed a petition that asks for a totalitarian system be set up is reasonable grounds to call that person a supporter.

    I’m sorry. Did it say “We call upon the Prime Minister to establish a totalitarian government”?

    Would the people who signed that be guilty of supporting totalitarianism, or would that be absurd on its face since only an uncharitable reading would lead you to conclude that?

    Neither. It’s not clear that anything more totalitarian than the existing system of Religious Education in the UK is being aimed at, and I never said it was “absurd” to conclude that Dawkins had totalitarian sympathies, merely that such couldn’t be determined based on a single signature of that petition alone, so I would say precisely the same in the poorly written converse situation.

    We’re talking about support of a position. I support freedom of speech in Iran, even if I can’t do anything in the legal sense.

    And yet if your idea of establishing freedom of speech in Iran were to murder all the Iranians, take over the area, and establish Iran as a Persian theme park for Americans, with all the American freedoms guaranteed for those Americans, then I would say you are a monster. I doubt that’s the case, but implementation is a relevant consideration, even when support of a position is being discussed. All I know from him signing this position is that he opposes children being indoctrinated and being identified with the religion of their parents, nothing I didn’t already know.

    Call me crazy, but I think its reasonable to conclude that someone of Dawkin’s stature and intellect would read, understand and explictly support the postion before attaching his name.

    As a graduate student, I work daily with biologists and have met many famous ones, and I wouldn’t make that assumption about any of them, no matter how brilliant or high-profile.

  156. #156 hoody
    January 1, 2007

    Myers is an asshole. I have seen evidence of this ad nauseaum on his reprehensible blog.

    It is REALLY sad that he is treated thusly by members of the same thought bloc:
    PZ is often treated the way Manny Ramirez is treated by Boston Red Sox fans, who often can be heard saying “that’s just Manny being Manny.” When he goes off on a completely unjustified attack on me like that and even dares to question my commitment to an anti-creationist movement that I have spent the better part of two decades fighting for, as he has several times in the past, I get numerous private emails from our mutual colleagues that say, in essence, “Look, we all know PZ is a jerk, he’s always been a jerk, but that’s just the way he is. You can’t let him provoke you like that.”

    It really is too bad that Myers does this now to his erstwhile comrade in arms, Ed Brayton, though it does well illustrate his unworthiness in representing himself as he does, the Arbiter of All that is True and Good. Only make Brayton and Orac look that much more balanced, and PZ that much more needing to be institutionalized.

  157. #157 hoody
    January 1, 2007

    And as for Dawkins signing that insane petition, it does not surprise me one whit. Dawkins and Myers are of a type -faith-based followers of scientism (this does not qualify them as scientists)-, who then fall prey to the very totalitarian urges they claim they see in their relgious counterparts.

  158. #158 Kevin
    January 1, 2007

    I think their PHD’s and body of work qualify them as scientists. And I doubt they much care what someone who refuses to see Dawkins admit his error and instead goes on to still act as though he favors some totalitarian atheist state thinks. I’d say, in the words of Ed, that removes you from any rational debate.

  159. #159 Dave S.
    January 1, 2007

    Obviously I don’t agree, so what was the point of asking?

    Then petitions must have no significance at all to you. Even if it were better written, according to you, we’d have no reasonable basis to think the signatories supported the position they signed.

    I’m sorry. Did it say “We call upon the Prime Minister to establish a totalitarian government”?

    As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what it looks like it’s calling for to me. The government would have to do so in order to implement the policy as written. There’s a reason Dawkins repudiated the petition and had his signature removed. He recognized that it indeed implied support for a position he did not mean to endorse.

    Neither. It’s not clear that anything more totalitarian than the existing system of Religious Education in the UK is being aimed at, and I never said it was “absurd” to conclude that Dawkins had totalitarian sympathies, merely that such couldn’t be determined based on a single signature of that petition alone, so I would say precisely the same in the poorly written converse situation.

    Are you sure it was poorly written? Or was it well written, but Dawkins missunderstood the broadness of the position? I haven’t seen the originaor make any clarifications. A plain reading of the language makes it pretty clear to me. It was apparently a reasonable conclusion to Dawkins as well, since he removed his signature.

    And yet if your idea of establishing freedom of speech in Iran were to murder all the Iranians, take over the area, and establish Iran as a Persian theme park for Americans, with all the American freedoms guaranteed for those Americans, then I would say you are a monster.

    If I signed a petion saying that, then you’d have a reasonable basis to make the claim that I support such a thing. Maybe I’d have a good explanation on why it’s not what it seems, but that wouldn’t make your initial inference unreasonable.

    All I know from him signing this position is that he opposes children being indoctrinated and being identified with the religion of their parents, nothing I didn’t already know.

    If it’s really just nothing he hasn’t said before, why repudiate his participation and claim it was a badly written petition? Is Dawkins a wallflower who shrinks at the first sign of dissapproval?

    As a graduate student, I work daily with biologists and have met many famous ones, and I wouldn’t make that assumption about any of them, no matter how brilliant or high-profile.

    The question is not do they always read understand and agree, but if it’s reasonable to think they do. You have some interesting biologists there if this is simply not a reasonable assumption.

  160. #160 Tristram Shandy
    January 1, 2007

    Then petitions must have no significance at all to you. Even if it were better written, according to you, we’d have no reasonable basis to think the signatories supported the position they signed.

    I see. So either I agree with you that signing this petition inevitably indicates totalitarian sympathies or else no petitions have any meaning whatsoever, no matter how clearly written.

    As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what it looks like it’s calling for to me. The government would have to do so in order to implement the policy as written.

    And it’s all right for you to assume what would be required for implementation in the most sensationalistic way possible, but if I point out that the petition itself didn’t call for any form of implementation, that’s out of bounds because the petition can be subjected to a “plain reading”. Apparently “plain reading” encompasses inferring things from the text that aren’t there, if I’m not engaging in plain reading and you (and Ed) are.

    If I signed a petion saying that, then you’d have a reasonable basis to make the claim that I support such a thing.

    Irrelevant. The subject was implementation. I was pointing out that unobjectionable positions can be rendered horrifying if implemented in a certain way, and coversely that positions one might find objectionable may either not be implemented at all or implemented in a way which makes them mostly harmless. Since this petition doesn’t cover implementation, I have no idea what the originator meant by it, and one has even less basis for concluding anything about Dawkins’ thought based on nothing more than a signature. Of course, he has put his thought out for public consumption in lengthy texts, and unfortunately the blog owner hasn’t read his most recent and seems proud his ignorance in that respect. If he had, this would have been a non-issue.

    Are you sure it was poorly written?

    I’m sure that your parody text in the converse situation was quite poorly written. That’s what I was referring to, and said so explicitly. If you didn’t realize that, then you’re in no position to be claiming that you’ve made a “plain reading” of anything.

    If it’s really just nothing he hasn’t said before, why repudiate his participation and claim it was a badly written petition? Is Dawkins a wallflower who shrinks at the first sign of dissapproval?

    How should I know that? Ask him yourself if you want to know.

    The question is not do they always read understand and agree, but if it’s reasonable to think they do. You have some interesting biologists there if this is simply not a reasonable assumption.

    I hardly think they’re exceptional. Do you have some basis for thinking that most biologists are any different from anyone else when it comes to not reading things of scant importance with their full attention?

    The more famous they are, the less likely they’re going to give nonsense like this their full attention, because they have new literature to read, perhaps as a reviewer, they have papers to grade, theses to read, invitations to interviews, speeches, symposia, etc. to read through, their own papers to read over and edit, galleys to read and correct, etc. I don’t know exactly where impotent internet petitions come in order of importance for someone like Dawkins, but I really don’t think it would be in the top hundred.

  161. #161 Dave S.
    January 2, 2007

    I see. So either I agree with you that signing this petition inevitably indicates totalitarian sympathies or else no petitions have any meaning whatsoever, no matter how clearly written.

    I did not say “inevitably”. I said it could reasonably be seen as support. In fact I accept Dawkins explanation fully. It was a mistake. End of story.

    And it’s all right for you to assume what would be required for implementation in the most sensationalistic way possible, but if I point out that the petition itself didn’t call for any form of implementation, that’s out of bounds because the petition can be subjected to a “plain reading”. Apparently “plain reading” encompasses inferring things from the text that aren’t there, if I’m not engaging in plain reading and you (and Ed) are.

    Sensationalism has nothing to do with it. And the petition did call for indoctrination to be made illegal. There were no details, but presumably this means some sort of punishment for non-compliance, otherwise ‘illegal’ becomes meaningless.

    Irrelevant. The subject was implementation. I was pointing out that unobjectionable positions can be rendered horrifying if implemented in a certain way, and coversely that positions one might find objectionable may either not be implemented at all or implemented in a way which makes them mostly harmless. Since this petition doesn’t cover implementation, I have no idea what the originator meant by it, and one has even less basis for concluding anything about Dawkins’ thought based on nothing more than a signature. Of course, he has put his thought out for public consumption in lengthy texts, and unfortunately the blog owner hasn’t read his most recent and seems proud his ignorance in that respect. If he had, this would have been a non-issue.

    For some people, any form of governmental intrusion (e.g. punishment in the form of the act being made illegal) against a free expression of religious belief is oppresive. If there were no punsihment, then the petition is meaningless.

    I’m sure that your parody text in the converse situation was quite poorly written. That’s what I was referring to, and said so explicitly. If you didn’t realize that, then you’re in no position to be claiming that you’ve made a “plain reading” of anything.

    But then how are you in a position to know what I meant by the parody text? Are you a mind reader? Maybe I meant it exactly as written.

    How should I know that? Ask him yourself if you want to know.

    I don’t have to. He’s already told us “In my all too cursory reading of the petition (if I had read the whole thing more carefully, I would have noticed the coercive phraseology and would not have signed it) I of course assumed that it referred to schools, not parents in the privacy of the home.” Sounds to me like he agrees that the phrasology could be reasonably read as generally coercive. Now he himself did not read it that way, and he assumes the sponsor also did not write it that way, but he does acknowledge it could be read as coercive in a general sense, and hence withdrew.

    I hardly think they’re exceptional. Do you have some basis for thinking that most biologists are any different from anyone else when it comes to not reading things of scant importance with their full attention?

    Yes. My experience, which is not at all the same as yours apparently.

    The more famous they are, the less likely they’re going to give nonsense like this their full attention, because they have new literature to read, perhaps as a reviewer, they have papers to grade, theses to read, invitations to interviews, speeches, symposia, etc. to read through, their own papers to read over and edit, galleys to read and correct, etc. I don’t know exactly where impotent internet petitions come in order of importance for someone like Dawkins, but I really don’t think it would be in the top hundred.

    Important enough to affix his name to it and have it linked to his own personal site to direct others to it apparently (note: the petition in question has since been removed from his site). Important enough to then withdraw his name and take time from his busy day to respond to bloggers here, to PZ, and to Nick Matzke at Panda’s Thumb.

  162. #162 Tristram Shandy
    January 2, 2007

    Sensationalism has nothing to do with it.

    Of course it does. Dave Scot latched onto it because of the sensationalistic possibilities of “OMG! ATHEIST WANTS 2 BAN RELIGION!!! OMGWTF!!!”, which is exactly the same thing which keeps spam-mail churning on the subject of how Madalyn Murray O’Hair wants to ban religious programming (apparently from beyond the grave).

    And the petition did call for indoctrination to be made illegal. There were no details, but presumably this means some sort of punishment for non-compliance, otherwise ‘illegal’ becomes meaningless.

    No, it does not presumably mean some sort of punishment for non-compliance. That is an assumption, not a probable inference. There are many situations where things are illegal but overlooked, e.g. selling marijuana wholesale in the Netherlands.

    For some people, any form of governmental intrusion (e.g. punishment in the form of the act being made illegal) against a free expression of religious belief is oppresive.

    Those people are idiots. Free expression of religious belief is restrained and intruded into all the time in the United States and other democratic nations. In the U.S. one can’t proselytize on the job, sound ordinances may forbid broadcasting long religious harangues (or anything else) from loudspeakers at 2 a.m., etc.

    If there were no punsihment, then the petition is meaningless.

    Finally you’re on the right track. The petition is meaningless.

    But then how are you in a position to know what I meant by the parody text? Are you a mind reader? Maybe I meant it exactly as written.

    This is such a non sequitur that it doesn’t merit a response, even if one were able to decode it, which I confess I am not.

    Yes. My experience, which is not at all the same as yours apparently.

    What is your experience? I find it difficult to believe that any scientists you know (if any) would give the same level of attention to a journal article they were reviewing as to a spam mail about Viagra, or offers to insure their life for a small monthly fee. Internet petitions are much more in the class of the latter than they are the former.

    Important enough to affix his name to it and have it linked to his own personal site to direct others to it apparently (note: the petition in question has since been removed from his site).

    Which tells me nothing about its order of importance at all in terms of what Dawkins has to deal with, nor does it tell me if he considered it worthwhile to read fully. The material you quoted is far more revealing: he speaks of giving it a “cursory reading”, implying that he didn’t consider it important enough for any deeper reading and your assumption was wrong in this case (and I would suspect many others).

    Important enough to then withdraw his name and take time from his busy day to respond to bloggers here, to PZ, and to Nick Matzke at Panda’s Thumb.

    This is not an indication of the petition’s importance in his mind, but allaying the controversy that Dave Scot and Ed Brayton stirred up together.

  163. #163 Dave S.
    January 2, 2007

    Of course it does. Dave Scot latched onto it because of the sensationalistic possibilities of “OMG! ATHEIST WANTS 2 BAN RELIGION!!! OMGWTF!!!”, which is exactly the same thing which keeps spam-mail churning on the subject of how Madalyn Murray O’Hair wants to ban religious programming (apparently from beyond the grave).

    I don’t give a flip about what DaveScot thinks. Those morons at UD will sensationalize anything for their own purposes. What’s that or Madalyn Murry O’Hair got to do with the price of tea in China?

    No, it does not presumably mean some sort of punishment for non-compliance. That is an assumption, not a probable inference. There are many situations where things are illegal but overlooked, e.g. selling marijuana wholesale in the Netherlands.

    If there is no enforcement in this case, then how does the law they demand bring about freedom of thought (the stated goal)? I think you are reaching for an unreasonable conclusion and I think its very reasonable to assume that when someone demands something be made illegal, that there is some sort of punishment envisioned for non compliance. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    Those people are idiots. Free expression of religious belief is restrained and intruded into all the time in the United States and other democratic nations. In the U.S. one can’t proselytize on the job, sound ordinances may forbid broadcasting long religious harangues (or anything else) from loudspeakers at 2 a.m., etc.

    Religious expression is not being singled out in the later case. Noise laws apply across the board. And one can proselytize on the job in the U.S., provided they are not a government agent appearing to be acting in some official capacity. What the government cannot do is to make laws coercing people into what they can or can’t teach their kids with regards to beliefs. This petition appears to do that. Yes, that was probably not the intent, certainly not as far as Dawkins was concerned, but it could resonably be read that way. Even Dawkins agrees.

    Finally you’re on the right track. The petition is meaningless.

    Only meaningless if we accept your contention that the word “illegal” is not meant to mean anything except as a symbol. I see no reason to accept that, let alone to conclude the alternate reading is unreasonable.

    What is your experience? I find it difficult to believe that any scientists you know (if any) would give the same level of attention to a journal article they were reviewing as to a spam mail about Viagra, or offers to insure their life for a small monthly fee. Internet petitions are much more in the class of the latter than they are the former.

    Twenty-six years in the science business both in university and government. And please stop bringing in red herrings. Nobody is talking about Viagra spam mail. The scientists I know take petitions seriously when they know their name will be attached as a supporter. An electronic petition is no less serious than a paper one.

    Which tells me nothing about its order of importance at all in terms of what Dawkins has to deal with, nor does it tell me if he considered it worthwhile to read fully. The material you quoted is far more revealing: he speaks of giving it a “cursory reading”, implying that he didn’t consider it important enough for any deeper reading and your assumption was wrong in this case (and I would suspect many others).

    I already said the conclusion that Dawkins supported the petition was wrong, based on Dawkin’s own words to that effect. He made a mistake and retracted, and I accept his explantion. However, that does not make the original inference that he was a supporter when the petition first came to light any less reasonable. It’s interesting how Dawkins seems to get this, and yet some of his supporters do not..

    This is not an indication of the petition’s importance in his mind, but allaying the controversy that Dave Scot and Ed Brayton stirred up together.

    Of course it is. If it were unimportant he would not have bothered to sign and not have bothered to have it linked to his personal website. And if it were unimportant he would have ignored the response generated.

    And frankly, its absurd to link Ed Brayton and DaveScot in this episode. They certainly didn’t do anything “together”.

    Did Brayton use breathless capitalized multiexclamationed phrases? Did DaveScot link to Dawkins retraction and write a public letter addressed personlly to him thanking him for clearing things up and explaining his initial response?

    Feel free to reply, but I’m done with this issue.

  164. #164 Raging Bee
    January 3, 2007

    The error made by Mr. Brayton was to make exceedingly invidious and unkind conclusions about the motivations, character and opinions of Dr. Dawkins based on a single data point – the signed petition.

    The error was Dawkins’, for creating that “single data point” and giving it prominent placement on his own blog. Stop trying to blame Ed for something Dawkins explicitly admitted was his own fault.

    Also, stop trying to pretend that Ed and PZ are equally wrong. Ed’s behavior has been consistently more civil and evenhanded, and more accomodating of a changing reality, than PZ; and while Ed has posted Dawkins’ own words on his blog, PZ has repeatedly insisted on misrepresenting Ed’s words, in the face of obvious and clear evidence. Long story short: Ed is right and PZ is wrong; there’s no need to “teach the controversy” here.

  165. #165 Dead Horse
    January 3, 2007

    Hi! Please stop beating me. Thanx.

  166. #166 Ed Brayton
    January 3, 2007

    LOL. Great comment, Dead Horse. I agree 100%.

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