Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Atheism and Civil Rights

I thought I should probably jump in to the ongoing dispute over whether atheism is a civil rights issue, prompted by Matt Nisbet’s post on the subject a few days ago, which was itself prompted by an article in Free Inquiry. Let me set some ground rules for this post. First, I am going to group together not only atheists but also agnostics, deists and every other type of non-believers for the purpose of this post because I think they are all viewed as essentially the same from the standpoint of the kind of people who are likely to look down upon such things and engage in some form of discrimination or civil rights violations. Second, I am going to distinguish between civil rights or legal violations and the more common cultural disapproval of skeptics of all kinds; while they may have the same root, they function differently and one has potential legal solutions while the second does not.

The first thing that jumped out at me about Nisbet’s post was his first comment. After someone pointed out that some atheists have been treated horribly, to the point of being hounded out of town, in places all over the country, Matt essentially dismissed the whole idea that atheists had ever been so treated:

I refer you to Grothe’s column. Care to offer evidence for your claim?

To our knowledge, there is no such thing as “atheist bashing.” If there were cases of such harm, one would expect to hear about them in the media and the courts, or at least in the common knowledge of unbelievers. So, where are the cases? On many occasions we have put this question to leaders in the nonreligious community and have never been presented with a single compelling example.

The last part is a quote from Grothe’s column. I can only say that Grothe is abysmally ignorant if he really believes that there is no such thing as atheist-bashing. All he has to do is talk to the plaintiffs in practically any church/state lawsuit filed in the last century. He will find that each of them, almost without exception, received harassing and threatening phone calls, emails, letters and comments. Here’s a recent example that involved not atheists but a Jewish family who was challenging Christian prayers being offered in the schools there.

This goes back a long, long way. The families that filed lawsuits to end the mandatory pledge of allegiance, forced prayer in schools and other forms of Christian hegemony almost invariably received death threats and required police protection. Their homes were vandalized (one had dog feces smeared all over their porch), they were told that if they didn’t leave town “something bad might happen.”

In some cases the harassment has been so bad that the courts have allowed suits to be filed anonymously, as in Doe v Santa Fe (which still didn’t stop the harassment; they simply went after anyone they thought might be involved, including a Baptist family that literally had to get up and leave the church after being pointed out by their own pastor during a sermon). Even a Federal judge, himself a Christian, came in for the same treatment in the Dover trial. To pretend that such harassment does not go on is folly.

Grothe spends a great deal of time in his column listing the ways that atheists don’t suffer the way that women, blacks and gays in the past have suffered. He’s right, of course, but he is beating up a straw man; no one that I am aware of, including the most militant atheists, has ever claimed that atheists suffer the kind of discrimination that those groups have suffered. But that hardly means that they don’t endure any discrimination at all.

Grothe and Nisbet both point to hardcore atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and argue that their vehemently anti-religious rhetoric feeds the very discrimination and mistreatment that they are complaining about. Nisbet writes:

On occasion, atheists are discriminated against because they have a public image problem, and the Dawkins/Hitchens’ PR campaign, by radicalizing a movement of attacks and complaints, only makes this public image problem worse, generating more discrimination.

Which also gets at a point I made in an earlier post this week: Instead of mobilizing a movement of sophomoric attacks and complaints that paints as black all religious Americans, atheists need to focus on offering a positive vision of what it means to live life without religion; both in the popular entertainment media but also as leaders who span divides in our communities, (instead of just generating further polarization.)

And Jason Rosenhouse responds:

Atheists don’t face a public image problem because of the books of Dawkins and Hitchens. They face a public image problem because of the bigotry and ignorance of so many religious people. Not all religious people, certainly, as the strawman version of their arguments would have you believe. But a much higher percentage than people like Matthew care to admit. You do not break through such bigotry by polite discussion. You break through it by being loud and vigorous. That’s one of the lessons you learn from the civil rights struggles of the past. Social progress is not made when the downtrodden ask politely for their just due. That women, blacks and gays faced greater oppression than what atheists face today does not alter that fact.

Matthew’s comment that such discrimination as exists against atheists is caused in part by the writings of Dawkins and Hitchens is nothing more than plain, vanilla blaming the victim. (And it’s unsubstantiated to boot). It is an old cliche that gets trotted out every time a minority group starts getting a bit too vocal. The argument conjures up preposterous images of large numbers of non-bigots going over to the dark side when the victims of discrimination start rhetorically attacking the bigots. It is to laugh.

Let me try and navigate my way between these two positions. Obviously, my readers know that I have often taken issue with the more extreme anti-religious rhetoric of Dawkins, Myers and others. I do believe that such rhetoric, calling all religious believers either stupid or deluded, is false and that it undermines our ability to work with reasonable Christians on a range of issues. But this does not, of course, mean that such rhetoric justifies, in any way, the mistreatment of non-believers and skeptics.

Where Nisbet is wrong, I think, is in not separating the really hardcore anti-atheists – the ones who are likely to engage in discrimination and harassment – and the much larger body of Christian believers who do not have an inherent dislike of atheists (disagreement need not be hostility) but who are likely to be pushed more toward a fearful and negative reaction if they see, for example, that PZ Myers has called for the “obliteration” of religion from the planet.

The real nuts will hate atheists without such rhetoric. They hate and fear all non-Christians as a matter of presumption and there is likely nothing that could persuade them otherwise. But for a more moderate, reasonable Christian who just doesn’t understand why anyone would be an atheist, likely because they’ve never known any, seeing militant pronouncements like that is certainly going to reinforce their fears of atheists rather than help reduce them. I think Jason is flat wrong to say that such rhetoric is not part of the “public image problem” of atheists. Such statements are amplified through the megaphone of the religious right’s media outlets specifically for the purpose of damaging that public image – and it works.

But here is where I make a distinction between actual acts of harassment and discrimination and negative cultural attitudes toward atheism. While the kind of militant rhetoric I object to does, I believe, help reinforce negative attitudes toward atheists, it is not a cause of harassment and discrimination for the reason I stated above, because those who would engage in such harassment would do so regardless. It is atheists themselves that they hate and fear and no amount of nice rhetoric would change that.

To make an analogy to the struggle for civil rights for blacks, the most militant elements of the black community did not achieve much of anything for that struggle. Those who were calling for “death to whitey” were not the ones who helped affect change; indeed, I would argue that they undermined that struggle by giving ammunition to those in opposition and reinforcing the fears of those moderates on the other side who might have been swayed by more reasonable engagement.

I think the same thing happens with this issue. The most strident voices do reinforce the worst stereotypes pushed by the other side and I do think this undermines our ability to win hearts and minds. You simply aren’t going to convince the vast body of Christian believers that they shouldn’t be afraid of you or opposed to you while you’re accusing them of child abuse for raising their children in their faith and calling for the obliteration of religion. If you actually believe that, fine; but don’t pretend that saying those things actually helps the cultural standing of non-believers.

But again, let’s also not pretend that this is the cause, or even a cause, of anti-atheist harassment. Those who would actually engage in discrimination and harassment against atheists don’t need any such inducement. Like the hardcore bigots who saw blacks as sub-human, there is nothing that’s going to convince them. The only solution for such behavior is serious law enforcement, something that is unfortunately lacking in many places around the country.

So to no one’s surprise, I think the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. I do think we have problems with extremist rhetoric from some camps in the non-believing community, but I think it is absurd to point to such rhetoric as a cause or justification for anti-atheist harassment and bullying. I think it’s even more absurd to pretend that such harassment does not go on. As anyone who has followed the inevitable threats that follow virtually any attempt to challenge Christian hegemony over the last century can tell you, such harassment is very real and all-too common.

Comments

  1. #1 frank
    July 2, 2007

    Excellent post, I was looking forward to your take on the matter.

  2. #2 frank
    July 2, 2007

    Excellent post, I was looking forward to your take on the matter.

  3. #3 you
    July 2, 2007

    it’s sad to see that your example of atheist bashing is actually jew bashing

  4. #4 Brandon
    July 2, 2007

    As a Jew, I usually put the argument this way: Pat Robertson has been much kinder to my religion than Richard Dawkins. If I didn’t know better, which one would I rather sympathize with?

    You may have noticed that I’m an advocate of getting what you want through kindness. And I can’t help but ask myself, if you weren’t either an athiest or a religious person with serious doubts, why would you possibly want to support this movement? How many fans does PZ Myers have that didn’t already have that militant mindset (or at least, weren’t already resentful to religion) before discovering his blog?

  5. #5 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    I was hoping you would say something as well. About nobody is taking the middle ground, and it has been tearing me apart to point out in half a dozen places that Nisbet was half-wrong (discrimination exists) and half-right (the frame in which activist atheists present themselves is often highly damaging.) It’s heartening to see someone you respect agree with you partially. ;)

    I continue to think that the fact that the activist science-atheists are looking at the public actions of race/womens rights activists to justify their behavior, and not the motivations or theories of them, is particularly significant. Religious belief is not the same as sexism/racism, and calling religious people crazy/deluded/irrational is very much a PR problem. And not just a PR problem, but it creates very anti-freedom concepts. (Go look over in Zuska’s post on this subject, in the comments, if you want to see someone argue… I won’t even paraphrase it, lest I mischaracterize. I’ll let you read it or not as you will.)

    -Mecha

  6. #6 Peiter
    July 2, 2007

    “Militant” atheist is a poorly chosen label for the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens, PZ Myers etc. They don’t advocate any form of violence contrary to the hardliner theists they most despise. They surely don’t mince words but how does that equal being militant?

  7. #7 Soren
    July 2, 2007

    To brandon

    Does PZ have a militant mindset?

    I must have missed the pictures of him suiting up and loading his rifle. I thought he just argued with words?

  8. #8 DuWayne
    July 2, 2007

    I don’t have time to res[ond to the post, as I would like. Not until I get home from Seattle. But I would like to resond quickly to the question of militancy.

    Being militant does not dentote the person advocates the use of violence to achieve their ends. It is used to refer to people as extremists, which Meyers and many others most certainly are. When people are advocating the abolition of anything, regardless of the means they advocate to achieve those ends, they are being militant. Meyers and many other extreme atheists (i.e. fundamentalists) would love nothing more, than to see religion eradicated. I’m sorry if you don’t like the term militant, to describe that position, but that is exactly what it is.

  9. #9 tharding
    July 2, 2007

    PZ wants religion abolished? Have any of you actually read Dawkins or Meyers? Militants may indeed want to abolish religion, but I personally don’t know and have not read a single atheist who wants that. We all are atheists because we believe we are right in our beliefs. We would like others to agree with us. We are willing to debate the issue. That is the extent of it. No force, either physical or legal is involved. Equating atheists to blacks who wanted whites dead is far more extreme than anything the “militant” atheists have ever said or even implied.

  10. #10 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    “When people are advocating the abolition of anything, regardless of the means they advocate to achieve those ends, they are being militant.”

    Martin Luther King advocated the abolition of segregation. Ergo, MLK was a militant.

    No, really, that’s what you are saying: advocating the abolition of ANYTHING, regardless of the means, makes you a MILITANT. Would you like to amend your broad, sweeping claim now?

    See, it doesn’t make any sense to call someone a “militant” for demanding “death to whitey” and then someone else a militant as well solely for calling for an end to a system they perceive as unfair, unjust, and irrational. I’ll bet there’s something out there you’d like to see abolished, so you’re a militant as well. We’re all militants now, and thus the word loses any real meaning.

    How about comparing the so-called “militant” atheists not to the “death to whitey” militants, but to the “militants” who used similar language, tactics, or rhetoric in other movements? Or is that too obvious?

    Ed says “Those who were calling for “death to whitey” were not the ones who helped affect change,” but there are no analogous atheists. If there were, Ed would be justified in saying that they won’t affect real change. Instead of making a false comparison, then, why not make a genuine comparison based on similarities of rhetoric and tactics rather than on the basis of a disputed label? Are those activists in the past who are most like the “militant” atheists today ones who “helped affect change” or not?

    Or is it simply easier to make false comparisons in order not to have to do any real work and engage in serious inquiries which might lead to the wrong conclusions? Are we really at the point where it’s legitimate to compare two disparate, unrelated groups solely because we think we can apply the same label to them?

  11. #11 Brandon
    July 2, 2007

    Yes, the word “militant” has more than one meaning. One definition is loading up firearms and planting car bombs. Another is attempting to make everybody conform to your beliefs through hostility, whether that hostility be the written word or violence. Dawkins, Hitchens, and Myers fit well into that latter definition. We could spend all day arguing about this (and I’m sure somebody is going to quote a dictionary) but it really has nothing to do with the main point: whether the atheism movement is a civil rights or public relations issue.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    you wrote:

    it’s sad to see that your example of atheist bashing is actually jew bashing

    I didn’t have one example, I had many; that was one of them. I also explained why I included it as an example, because it is triggered by exactly the same mindset that triggers anti-atheist harassment.

  13. #13 DuWayne
    July 2, 2007

    No, really, that’s what you are saying: advocating the abolition of ANYTHING, regardless of the means, makes you a MILITANT. Would you like to amend your broad, sweeping claim now?

    No. Though I would amend it to clarify that militancy denotes the use of hostility, to achieve the desired abolition. I would also add, that it is not always bad or unnecessary. I am militant about gay rights, when it is warranted, for an example.

  14. #14 DuWayne
    July 2, 2007

    I would also like to add that I definately think that atheists are in a civil rights struggle. Historically speaking, it has not been very different than race rights, women’s rights or gay rights. I look forward to seeing where this goes, when I get home this evening. . .

  15. #15 H. Humbert
    July 2, 2007

    Neither Dawkins nor PZ wants to see religion “abolished.” They would love, however, to see it abandoned by people of their own accord. That’s a pretty big difference.

  16. #16 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    On the use of the word “militant”:

    I mean this in the broadest sense, of course; I doubt Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris is stockpiling munitions. But PZ Myers, at least, has used violent rhetoric in the past, rhetoric that has, unsurprisingly, been repeated over and over again in the Christian media. When he says things like this:

    I say, screw the polite words and careful rhetoric. It’s time for scientists to break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, and get out there and hammer on the lunatics and idiots. If you don’t care enough for the truth to fight for it, then get out of the way.

    He isn’t helping the cause, he’s hurting it. It may fire up the hardcore followers by throwing them red meat, but it also reinforces the worst stereotypes of atheists. I can’t imagine why this isn’t obvious to anyone with any sense at all.

    When he says things like this:

    You’re in a bad situation when you ask me for suggestions, since my answer is the overly ambitious mission of obliterating all religion. Would the NCSE like to join me in working towards that goal?

    He isn’t helping, he’s hurting. As I said, this is not really relevant to the hardcore bigots who harass and bully atheists and any other non-believers; those nuts are motivated only by their own mental illness. But for the average decent Christian who might otherwise at least listen to your arguments, he’s gone once he hears things like that. And the folks who mold opinion among the believers know this and use it to their advantage. They publicize statements like that to act as a prophylactic; once they’re exposed to such statements they will no longer be open to more reasonable statements from other non-believers. Again, I think this should be obvious to anyone with good sense.

  17. #17 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    Austin Cline wrote:

    Ed says “Those who were calling for “death to whitey” were not the ones who helped affect change,” but there are no analogous atheists. If there were, Ed would be justified in saying that they won’t affect real change. Instead of making a false comparison, then, why not make a genuine comparison based on similarities of rhetoric and tactics rather than on the basis of a disputed label?

    You’re taking the analogy much further than I intended it to be taken. The comparison is not between those who call for the deaths of their opponents; no atheist that I know of has called for the death of Christians. What is analogous is the fact that extreme rhetoric chases people away from more rational perspectives and is used as an excuse to dismiss everyone on the other side. When a Christian hears someone say that they want to “break out the steel toed boots and brass knuckles” and “obliterate all religion”, it creates precisely the same response in them that blacks screaming “death to whitey” did to many white people in the past. It forms an insulative barrier between them and everyone on the other side, not just the extremists, because it is used as a convenient means of dismissing everyone over there all as out to destroy them.

  18. #18 Sastra
    July 2, 2007

    When people are advocating the abolition of anything, regardless of the means they advocate to achieve those ends, they are being militant. Meyers and many other extreme atheists (i.e. fundamentalists) would love nothing more, than to see religion eradicated. I’m sorry if you don’t like the term militant, to describe that position, but that is exactly what it is.

    I think there is a lot of emotional baggage attached to your use of the word “eradicated.” As others have pointed out, it brings up images of jack-booted thugs.

    Atheists like Dawkins and Myers classify religion on the continuum with pseudoscience and the paranormal. It’s not true, it can be harmful, and a culture which encourages the idea that such beliefs are the mark of a sophisticated, mature, or kindly nature is ultimately being intellectually dishonest and cultivating poor values. Atheists usually want to see religion “eradicated” the same way you might want to see belief in superstition “eradicated.” It’s about education and shifting the way society views a behavior and belief.

  19. #19 Paul Hutchinson
    July 2, 2007

    I have been following this debate since Nisbet’s post last week and I’ve been hoping you would address it Ed, thank you.

    I haven’t seen anyone point out that the DJ Grothe article is over three years old, February-March 2004, and there were two opposing responses printed in Volume 24, No. 4, June-July 2004.
    Discrimination Against Atheists The Facts by Margaret Downey
    http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=downey_24_4

    Atheism is Indeed A Civil Rights Issue by Eddie Tabash
    http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=tabash_24_4

  20. #20 Ebonmuse
    July 2, 2007

    As a Jew, I usually put the argument this way: Pat Robertson has been much kinder to my religion than Richard Dawkins. If I didn’t know better, which one would I rather sympathize with?

    I think the phrase “if I didn’t know better” is the key one there, Brandon. Robertson and others “support” the Jews because they think their continued existence is a crucial prop in God’s plan for the end-times scenario, in which one-third of the Jewish people will convert to Christianity and the rest will be slaughtered. This hardly sounds like the kind of thing a friend would wish for you.

  21. #21 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    What is analogous is the fact that extreme rhetoric chases people away from more rational perspectives and is used as an excuse to dismiss everyone on the other side.

    For your analogy to work, it would be necessary that there be no one who used harsh rhetoric similar to PZ’s, who wasn’t a literal “death to whitey” militant, and who was effective in creating change. In other words, all the people who were effective in creating change not only had to not be “death to whitey” types, but also had to be “non-extreme-rhetoric” types. If there have been people who used extreme rhetoric and who also affected positive change, then your attempt to compare PZ to genuinely violent militants not only fails, but it will turn out that using such rhetoric is not in fact a barrier to achieving change.

    Now, have you even looked at this or are you just assuming? Are you, for example, just assuming that everyone not in the “death to whitey” camps (and I’m not just thinking of the black Civil Rights movement – I’m using the phrase in as broad a manner as possible to include all genuine militants who advocate real violence) never used extreme rhetoric? Are you assuming that none of those who used extreme rhetoric ever affected real change, even if they weren’t “death to whitey” types?

    I’m not denying that extreme rhetoric can turn some people off – both people who disagree with you and people who agree with you. What I don’t get is where you obtained the idea that extreme rhetoric is necessarily more of detriment than a benefit. I don’t think anyone will deny that there are disadvantages to extreme rhetoric, but I’m also surprised to find people insisting that it never does any good, either. In my readings of past civil rights movements – which I admit is certainly not exhaustive – there seems to be some advantage in having some activists using more extreme rhetoric and some not. There may even be some benefits to a few real militants around, though I wouldn’t want to advocate that.

    Neither extreme rhetoric alone nor conciliatory rhetoric alone seem to get very far. Extreme rhetoric helps because if people were willing to give up their privileges merely by being asked politely, there’d be no need for civil rights movements. Indeed, privileges that have been around long enough get treated as inherent rights. People have to fight for equality and you can’t advocate the need for fighting without occasionally using words like “brass knuckles.” Conciliatory rhetoric helps because one people wake up to the reality of unjust privileges, they have something less extreme to latch on to. Not everyone wants to fight, after all.

    …it creates precisely the same response in them that blacks screaming “death to whitey”

    Really? Precisely the same response? There were people who sincerely thought that their lives might be in danger from those who repeated such rhetoric, weren’t there? Here I think you are the one taking the analogy too far – but part of the reason, I think is that “death to whitey” is the only sort of extreme rhetoric you’ve offered as an analogy. There are lots of other things that have been said which have been perceived as “extreme” and threatening by those on the privileged side. Unfortunately, so much of that will appear very tame and reasonable today. What’s truly “extreme” depends a lot upon one’s own social and cultural context, making comparisons very difficult.

    A person saying “we need to obliterate patriarchal power structures” or “we need to obliterate racial segregation and white supremacism” is far closer in rhetoric to PZ than someone saying “death to whitey.” Now, were people saying such things perceived as extremists? Where they perceived as threats? Did they help to achieve change? If the answer is “yes” to all three questions, then how does the criticism of PZ retain much if any validity? If the answer is “yes” to the first two and “no” to the third, then you’d actually have sound empirical evidence for your thesis – but I sincerely don’t think you’d find that.

    …it is used as a convenient means of dismissing everyone over there all as out to destroy them.

    If it’s “convenient,” then it is serving a goal that was already desired. If this means isn’t used, won’t another means be found to achieve the desired goal? Do you believe that if no “convenient’ means is found for “dismissing everyone over there,” then no dismissing will be done because now it will take some effort? That doesn’t strike me as very plausible.

  22. #22 llewelly
    July 2, 2007

    … a more moderate, reasonable Christian who just doesn’t understand why anyone would be an atheist, likely because they’ve never known any …

    People who think they have never known an atheist are like people who think they’ve never known any one who is gay, or anyone who smokes pot; it’s likely they have friends or family which are atheist, gay, or pot-smokers, but they just don’t know them as well as they think they do.
    That’s why ‘gay pride’ has worked so well – it made many people who thought they’d never met anyone who was gay, realize they had good friends or family who were gay. That’s why anti-gay groups are up in arms about any expression of homosexuality. Applying this lesson to atheism is left as an exercise for the reader.

  23. #23 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    Paul: I posted a link to Tabash’s response as well as my own blog post on the subject (I tend to agree with Grothe, actually). Curiously, my comment was never appeared on Nisbet’s blog.

    Anyway, if you define “civil rights movement” as a movement against organized, official, institutional discrimination, then it’s fair to say that atheism isn’t a civil rights movement. That doesn’t mean that there are no civil rights issues involved, though. The presence of so many civil rights issues is a fair reason for people to say that atheism is a civil rights movement. I just lean towards using the concept more as an attempt to overturn institutional discrimination.

    On the other hand, it might be more legitimate to say that it’s a “civil rights movement” to overturn the privileging of Christianity and religion – just as civil rights movements in the past were organized to overturn the privileging of whites, men, heterosexuals, etc. If you turn it around to talk about who is being privileged, the situation seems to shift a bit.

  24. #24 Dave H
    July 2, 2007

    Ed, have you read Dawkins’ book yet? I can’t imagine you have, because Dawkins addresses all of this in The God Delusion.

    He argues that respecting moderate religion gives support for extremism because they’re built on the same foundation, faith, which he argues is an irreconcilable enemy of reason and science.

    It’s a little grating to see you commenting on Dawinks’ views without having read the source material. Most of the book is his case for why we should be openly critical of all religion (and any beliefs founded on faith alone, with no evidence), and why we should advocate that people abandon their faith.

  25. #25 twincats
    July 2, 2007

    A threat doesn’t have to involve death to be a threat.

    Anti-atheists, wherever they may be on the atheist-bashing scale, are reacting to a perceived threat to something that they hold dear. In many cases it doesn’t matter whether atheists, militant or not, are merely hoping for the voluntary abandonment of religion or actively calling for its obliteration, it’s seen as a threat and will be likely to garner a reaction from a spectrum of unpleasantness ranging from verbal attacks to actual violence.

    Regardless, the atheists must always be able to expect protection from reactions that cross the line into illegality and/or violation of civil rights.

  26. #26 Lint
    July 2, 2007

    People with diabetes and no health insurance have no grounds for bemoaning their ill health. I mean, it ain’t like they got cancer or lupus or ALS.

    Do I have the reasoning here down?

  27. #27 Inoculated Mind
    July 2, 2007

    Thanks for your post, Ed.

    I’m rather perturbed that Nisbet has decided not to correct his statements about how atheists don’t face discrimination – his silence on the matter of his mistake is deafening. The article that he cited was probably the result of searching to find something that confirmed the conclusion he already had. Thus, it was old, already refuted, and thoroughly wrong.

    The nonreligious need to present more of the positive aspects of life without religion, and I recently decided that it would be more productive for me to do so rather than poke holes in other worldviews. Maybe I’m reading a different Dawkins than everyone else, but he clued me into a very significant concept: that most religious people don’t get their morality from their religious texts.

    By focusing on how things valued by humans such as morality, aesthetics, happiness, wonder, etc, have come to exist independent of religion, I believe it would be possible to properly present those positive aspects about living without religion. I think that Dawkins, Dennett, etc, have raised a huge amount of awareness, and people are listening and paying attention. I think the next step should be to focus on the positive. (And organizing!)

    In some senses, the media probably wants to focus on negative aspects of Dawkins, Hitchens, etc, because it reinforces the use of the “militant” language. I have not seen Any one of the well-known atheists listed here or anywhere do anything more than an outspoken religious person would do, and the fact that they are described as “militant” and the religious person is not bothers me. Apparently, you can’t be an outspoken atheist without being labeled as being “angry” or “militant”.

  28. #28 Suze
    July 2, 2007

    Austin Cline made my points before I could (and much better). I’m not a USAF veteran who worked overseas on fighter jets, or an MBA, because women stood by meekly and asked politely if they could be freed. The radical second wave feminists raised enough hell that compromise was inevitable, and my generation was able to enter the workplace in significant numbers because of it and demonstrate why the myths were wrong. The third wave feminists like Amanda Marcotte and Pam Spaulding are continuing that tradition with a somewhat different philosophy, and their generation is benefiting even more. Somewhat improved conditions or continued compromise are not the same as equality or freedom. Let PZ and Dawkins raise hell and draw out the extreme reactions to be examined and discussed. Why shouldn’t religion be challenged? That’s the main point I get from Dawkins.

  29. #29 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    Dave H wrote:

    He argues that respecting moderate religion gives support for extremism because they’re built on the same foundation, faith, which he argues is an irreconcilable enemy of reason and science.

    An argument I’ve heard a million times and don’t find the least bit compelling, for reasons I’ve given a thousand times.

    It’s a little grating to see you commenting on Dawinks’ views without having read the source material.

    I’ve heard the same argument from dozens of others, and from Dawkins himself in other books and articles. Do I really need to read this particular book to disagree with that argument? I hardly think so.

    Most of the book is his case for why we should be openly critical of all religion (and any beliefs founded on faith alone, with no evidence), and why we should advocate that people abandon their faith.

    I have no problem with people being critical of any idea they think is wrong; for crying out loud I spend at least 1/3 of my time on this blog criticizing religion. And I have no problem with anyone telling someone else “I think you’re wrong and you should believe what I believe instead.” That is what everyone means in every argument they have in their entire lives. I am not saying, nor have I ever said, nor will I ever say that it’s not okay to criticize someone else’s beliefs; I am saying that extremist rhetoric, particularly rhetoric that uses metaphors of violence, are inevitably going to be used by the other side to dismiss not only those who engage in such rhetoric but those who do not do so but who are allied with them. How do I know this? Because I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve had those statements thrown in my face as a means of dismissing me because I’m perceived as being on the same side as them.

    And I’ll give you one more reason – because we do it too. Yes, those on our side love to publicize the most extreme statements from the other side, just as we love to publicize the stupid and careless things they say. We do this to impeach their credibility, just as they do it to impeach ours. The way to prevent them from quoting stupid things we say in order to discredit us is obvious: stop saying stupid things. Likewise, the way to prevent them from quoting extreme rhetoric full of violent metaphors is to stop saying things like that. It only damages our credibility.

  30. #30 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    Boy do I get tired of being accused of saying that religion should never be challenged or criticized. If you came here to beat up that straw man, do it somewhere else. No sane human being reading my blog could possibly think that I advocate any such position.

  31. #31 Caliban
    July 2, 2007

    I agree that from the thousands of pages of text Dawkins and PZ have written, it is possible to find a few quotes from each that from a PR perspective, could be construed as shrill or “militant” speech.

    However, the outright mockery of religon commonly performed by folks like George Carlin, Ed, Hitchens, etc. could also be viewed as being shrill militantism by those offended by thier jokes.

    When Carlin broadly claims that religon is “the grand champion of bullshit” (or something like that) does he not consider that such statements might be offensive to the liberal or moderate Christians who might otherwise agree with his views on society? Come on…

    When it comes to exposing the absurdity of Christian homophobia or ID, Ed doesn’t hesitate to loudly mock and ridicule such beliefs. I think millions of Christians would consider this just as offensive to thier “values” as the quotes from PZ that Ed posted above. What’s the difference?

  32. #32 Brandon
    July 2, 2007

    Suze, you are completely correct about the value of outspoken feminists. The difference, though, is that feminists were, and are, fighting for equal rights under the law. First they were fighting for the right to vote, then for Title 9. Obviously, women deserve the same opportunities as men, and they earned those rights whether the men liked it or not.

    Athiests already have equal rights. There is nothing stopping an athiest from living out his life the way he sees fit. Yes, there is still discrimination against athiests, and there is still sexism as well. But these are individual cases of people either acting unethical or outright breaking the law, and they need to be handled on a case-by-case basis. It is an unfortunate fact of life that there will always be people who want to take away the rights of others, and these people will never listen to reason. They are bigots, and there’s really nothing to do except to take away their power and wait for them to die out.

    Dawkins and Co. don’t just want equal rights and respect. They want other people to conform and think like them. Whether they’re right in wanting that is besides the point. When you want something for yourself, like laws supporting your rights, then yes, fight all you want. But if you want people to join your movement? Belittling them is not the best way to go about it.

    I’m going to repeat what Ed said earlier. No matter your opinions on religion, or what should be done about them, his statement is an undeniable truth. I still have yet to see an even remotely decent refutation of this.

    When he says things like this:

    You’re in a bad situation when you ask me for suggestions, since my answer is the overly ambitious mission of obliterating all religion…

    He isn’t helping, he’s hurting. As I said, this is not really relevant to the hardcore bigots who harass and bully atheists and any other non-believers; those nuts are motivated only by their own mental illness. But for the average decent Christian who might otherwise at least listen to your arguments, he’s gone once he hears things like that. And the folks who mold opinion among the believers know this and use it to their advantage. They publicize statements like that to act as a prophylactic; once they’re exposed to such statements they will no longer be open to more reasonable statements from other non-believers.

  33. #33 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    I am saying that extremist rhetoric, particularly rhetoric that uses metaphors of violence, are inevitably going to be used by the other side to dismiss not only those who engage in such rhetoric but those who do not do so but who are allied with them.

    I’m not sure that anyone has disputed this. What you have not done, however, is provide an argument for why this is sufficient reason to not use the stronger rhetoric. Specfically, you have not constructed an argument which would show that disadvantages like this outweigh any advantages.

    You tried to do that with an analogy to very violent rhetoric, but I think I provided good reasons for why that analogy doesn’t work so well. Moreover, you undermined your own case when you noted that people will find such rhetoric a convenient means for dismissing others — but if it’s merely convenient, then they wanted to dismiss others all along.

    The rhetoric in question is thus just an excuse, not a reason, and that would mean that abandoning it would change nothing. Is there some reason to think that they would not have dismissed others at all if there were never any extremist rhetoric at all? Did the people in past movements who used extremist rhetoric, but without meaning genuine violence, do more to harm their movements than help? Would those movements have gotten farther and faster if all extremist rhetoric had been eliminated? Do you have any evidence of any of this being even vaguely true? If not, then aren’t you just guessing?

    Is there perhaps any reason to think that without the stronger rhetoric, far fewer people would even be discussing the subject at all? This is what I’m talking about regarding the balance between advantages and disadvantages. If Dawkins’ rhetoric turns some off, but gets so many to even discuss the matter at all, in which direction are the scales tipped? I know, there’s surely no way to quantify that, but you aren’t even trying to weigh them against each other. You’re just declaring that it’s so bad that it has to end. I see no consideration of historical examples or possible benefits.

    Even if you’re right, then, it would be unreasonable right now to agree with you.

  34. #34 D.J. Grothe
    July 2, 2007

    Because a couple of my rejoinders to PZ were likely lost in the other chatter (and because he says he actually agrees with me on the major points), one of them bears being repeated here. And as for being a straw-man, many atheist leaders have said exactly what we’re arguing against in our piece (I cite some over at Pharyngula), equating “atheist rights” with “gay rights” or the struggle for civil rights for racial minorities, etc.

    Comment #43 on his post:

    PZ: Atheists certainly should not surrender, and should never cease being uncompromising on the issues. Rather than surrender, we should work to more effectively win over the culture. But I think that we can only do do so by promoting alternatives to the religious and supernatural worldviews that so plague society, rather than only attacking religion. I think Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett and others would agree. Dawkins et. al. do a magnificent job of rallying atheists, and in pronouncing far and wide that it is perfectly sensible to be an atheist. But to win over the culture, more is needed than merely to attack religion and “faith-heads,” making it seem like just a pitched battle between the smart atheists and the dumb religionists. (I think that Hitchens does this beautifully in the end of God is Not Great, calling for a “New Enlightenment.”)

    I should admit that I am just as much an angry atheist as I hunch you are. But speaking strategically, we should also just admit that our moral indignation, our anger, is not on par with those who marched on Washington in 1963 to end public school segregation, and for legal protection against police brutality, and to make it illegal to racially discriminate in public and private hiring, and the like. Our indignation is not about how oppressed we are in society, but about how wrong we think society is to believe destructive nonsense. Even so, many atheist activists have put the beleaguered atheists’ plight on par with sexual or racial minorities. The same goes for many Christian activists who are these days talking about Christians themselves being the last oppressed minority in America. Both are wrong. Being popular is not a civil right. It is our job to make atheism and secularism more popular, and wrapping ourselves as a “movement” in the cloak of being an oppressed minority whose civil rights are under attack won’t do that trick.

    As we concluded that first piece on this topic in Free Inquiry:
    “We [as atheists] do have to stand up and fight. However, we are fighting not for our civil rights, but for our intellectual integrity and moral dignity. Incredible analogies with the plight of the truly repressed will further neither cause.”

    Might also want to take a gander at comment #84 and P.Z.’s responses (and agreement?), as well as our final response to both Downey and Tabash (cited in a comment above): http://www.djgrothe.com/Response_to_Tabash_and_Downey.pdf

  35. #35 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    Caliban wrote:

    When it comes to exposing the absurdity of Christian homophobia or ID, Ed doesn’t hesitate to loudly mock and ridicule such beliefs. I think millions of Christians would consider this just as offensive to thier “values” as the quotes from PZ that Ed posted above. What’s the difference?

    The difference is that I also make clear that I do not think that belief in God itself is inherently stupid or deluded. Yes,, it’s true that my words could also be taken out of context to make it appear that I’m saying the same thing they are, but I can prove that I’m not. Those folks, on the other hand, really do think that anyone who believes in God is delusional or stupid. I just don’t believe that and I make that clear. That’s why my many Christian friends don’t tune me out the way they do PZ or Dawkins, because they know that when I criticize the crazy and stupid beliefs of some religious people I’m not also calling them stupid in the process.

  36. #36 Troublesome Frog
    July 2, 2007

    I’m always surprised to hear Dawkins on the top of the “militant atheists who can’t play nice” list. In my experience reading his work and hearing him speak, he’s always logical and reasonable rather than extremist or intimidating. I think that people are confusing the fact that he treats religion like any other idea with the possibility that he’s some sort of militant nutball. Sure, treating religion as an idea to be evaluated rather than something to be treated with unquestioning deference may confuse some people, but I just don’t see him as over the top. That kind of reaction really seems to me to be a byproduct of the fact that some people are all about debate and discourse until one of their preferred beliefs is called into question.

    That’s not to say that people don’t get out of line. PZ can be over the top at times, and he’s certainly willing to get out the brass knuckles sooner than necessary. I think that he also gets a lot of flak for simply making factual statements that upset people when others think it would have been more prudent to politely keep his mouth shut. Hitchens, as smart and articulate as he is, can be colossal jerk in the process of selling his book and image. He’s clearly a showman. That being said, “Your extremist fringe is meaner than our extremist fringe” is not a battle that religion is likely to win.

  37. #37 Brandon
    July 2, 2007

    Come to think of it, why am I giving advice to these people? They want to upset my way of life when I’ve done nothing wrong to them. And frankly, if they keep up this attitude, I have no reason to be worried.

    Hey, angry athiests? Let me know if you get any political power. Until then, I’m just gonna sit back and watch the show.

  38. #38 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    Troublesome Frog wrote:

    That being said, “Your extremist fringe is meaner than our extremist fringe” is not a battle that religion is likely to win.

    Certainly true, but I don’t think it’s relevant to the point I’m making. It’s certainly better not to have an extremist fringe, regardless of whether it would win a battle of comparative meanness.

  39. #39 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    Austin Cline wrote:

    What you have not done, however, is provide an argument for why this is sufficient reason to not use the stronger rhetoric. Specfically, you have not constructed an argument which would show that disadvantages like this outweigh any advantages.

    As soon as someone gives me a compelling argument that there are any advantages to using the rhetoric of violence in such instances, this will concern me. But no one has and I doubt anyone will. It’s all downside and no upside.

  40. #40 Caliban
    July 2, 2007

    Ed wrote: “Those folks, on the other hand, really do think that anyone who believes in God is delusional or stupid.”

    I could be mistaken, but i remember reading from both Dawkins and PZ that they don’t think that all theists are stupid simply for believing in God.

    The tone i get from them is that they believe that theism may be a stupid belief held by nontheless by some very intelligent people. PZ has explicitly stated that his “enemy” isn’t Christians or even Fundamentalists but rather “bad ideas” and that’s what i think he tries to attack and ridicule. Sometimes his remarks may go “over the top”, but i think you could say that about most critics of religon.

  41. #41 Poly
    July 2, 2007

    Ed wrote:… no atheist that I know of has called for the death of Christians.

    You apparently do not “know of” modern history. I’ll just mention a few counter-examples for you to chew on: the Mexican Christiada, the Spanish Red Terror, the Hoxha regime in Albania, the Khmer Rouge.

    Ed wrote(referring to extremist anti-Christian rhetoric): But for the average decent Christian who might otherwise at least listen to your arguments, he’s gone once he hears things like that.

    You seem to be implying that there is something untoward in such a reaction. Are you saying that people should simply ignore threatening rhetoric? If someone is threatening physical harm to those who disagree with them, is it unreasonable to take them at their word? Is there any justification for enabling these threats, whether they be explicit or implicit?

    The problem is if one answers yes – or even maybe – to any of these questions with respect to any one situation, they have no cause to complain about the same sort of sort of behavior by anyone else in any other situation.

    In other words, the pragmatic argument against intolerance is that once you embrace it as an acceptable position for yourself or those who think as you do, you can’t argue against those who don’t think as you do from embracing it as well – it merely becomes a question of who has the power to carry out the acts of intolerance.

  42. #42 Chance
    July 2, 2007

    Here is the deal, say something about religion that the religious don’t like-your a militant.

    State the very obvious fact that although not stupid many, many religious beliefs are stupid and your militant.

    Basically I think Austin Cline has this debate correct. Rhetoric is rhetoric, noone takes PZ and his occasional rant as ‘let’s kill whitey’ and those that do or even manke analogy between the two aresimply out to lunch. There is a context to consider.

    And it never ceases to amaze me the things people say about Dawkins. He holds his ground and asserts his position but a better orator or a kinder soul one will not find. Neither he nor PZ call the religious stupid, just their belief in superstition. That is intellectual fair game.

    I also make clear that I do not think that belief in God itself is inherently stupid or deluded.

    This is an interesting comment. Then what is it wishful thinking? There is no evidence for any of it let alone a particular version and you don’t see a problem with this per se? I just don’t see how you seperate this line of thought from those who view all manner of superstiiton all legit. It’s all part of the same tree.

  43. #43 gary l. day
    July 2, 2007

    But how much of a civil rights issue is this, in actual practical terms of tangible discrimination–that is, what is provable in court, as opposed to First Amendment-protected expressions of prejudice? Granted, atheists and agnostics are in a sense disenfranchised in that, if they are open about their belief system, national elective offices are essentially closed to them due to public prejudice. But how do you fold that into a civil rights discussion? Much less how does one combat it, other than with a generations-long PR campaign similar to the one blacks and gays have been waging?

    It seems to me, in practical terms, the “militancy”–such as it is–is focusing (rightly) on combatting erosions to the separation of church and state. The related battle, of course, is constant, personal battle each of us must wage in keeping the forces of theistic irrationality at bay, on whatever level we choose to wage that battle. I’m aware that phrasing things in terms of “battle” probably makes me a “militant atheist”–oh well, after six years of being characterized as a “militant pinko liberal fag” I suppose one more level of militancy is inevitable. I’m just happy that a well-tailored set of battle fatigues does wonders for one’s sex appeal on a Saturday night.

  44. #44 Poly
    July 2, 2007

    Ed wrote (again referring to extremist anti-Christian rhetoric): As soon as someone gives me a compelling argument that there are any advantages to using the rhetoric of violence in such instances, this will concern me. But no one has and I doubt anyone will. It’s all downside and no upside.

    This is a somewhat weaker statement of the pragmatic argument against intolerance. Actually, the argument can be stated even more strongly then this – see my previous message. But I am glad you see the issue.

    Also, if I haven’t already made it clear, let me say that I generally agree with your views as expressed in this thread. On the other hand, I do think you are being entirely too accomodating to anti-religious intolerance, including the intolerance expressed by some of your commenters.

  45. #45 Austin Clien
    July 2, 2007

    As soon as someone gives me a compelling argument that there are any advantages to using the rhetoric of violence in such instances, this will concern me.

    Let’s just be clear, here:

    First, I notice that you are now saying “rhetoric of violence” whereas just a few minutes ago it was “extremist rhetoric, particularly rhetoric that uses metaphors of violence” and in your original post it was “the more extreme anti-religious rhetoric…calling all religious believers either stupid or deluded.” You’ve smoothly moved from discussing non-violent rhetoric about believers being “stupid or deluded” to “rhetoric of violence,” but without acknowledging, explaining, or justifying the shift. I won’t accept that without comment and challenge. Your claims started in one place and I challenged them; now you are asking for a “compelling argument” for something that wasn’t part of your original claims.

    Second, there is “rhetoric of violence” which occurs in a context where violence is implicitly intended and violent actions are a real possibility, then there is “rhetoric of violence” where violent images or words are used metaphorically. You don’t say which you want to see a “compelling argument” for. In context you should only be talking about the latter, but given how you’ve shifted your words here I refuse to make that assumption. Moreover, I haven’t noticed where you’ve contextualized your argument as part of a general principle of never using such imagery and metaphors under any circumstances, or at least in any reigious / political / ideological debates.

    Third and finally, we must all be absolutely clear about the fact that you are the one who is asserting the strong position that all such rhetoric — malleable as it is, depending on what you happen to be posting — must end. You aren’t merely saying that it has drawbacks, that people should be careful, that its use should be limited, etc. Such statements would be rather restricted and wouldn’t require much argument to defend. Your much stronger stance, though, obligates you to a strong defense. You cannot adopt such a strong position with such an absolute recommendation about others’ behavior and then say “it’s up to you to prove to me that there are any advantages.” If you are going to tell people that what they are doing is wrong, harmful, and counterproductive, you’d better be able to offer more than just “I haven’t seen any compelling arguments for why your tactics have any advantages.”

    So, if you want to hear any compelling arguments about whether there are any advantages to using the “rhetoric of violence,” you’ll first have to explain what that means, then explain how that relates to your original claims, then explain why you didn’t do any work to investigate the question before adopting such a strong and absolutist position in the first place. With regards to the latter, if you don’t take your own position seriously enough to have evidence to support it, I’m not going to take it seriously enough to provide evidence to refute it.

  46. #46 H. Humbert
    July 2, 2007

    Chance has it right.

  47. #47 bigdamnhero
    July 2, 2007

    As soon as someone gives me a compelling argument that there are any advantages to using the rhetoric of violence in such instances, this will concern me.

    Malcolm X is reported to have said that his role in the civil rights debate was “to make Martin Luther King look like a moderate.” Occassionally, someone has to shout loud enough to get people’s attention before they can even hear the discussion. In general, I tend to agree that extremist — and particularly violent — rhetoric does more harm than good. But honestly, would we (as a country) even be having a discussion about atheism if it wasn’t for Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris?

  48. #48 Caliban
    July 2, 2007

    I’ve read all of the books from the “new atheists” and i read Dispatches and Pharyngula every day and i have never once wittnessed any atheist advocating violence toward theists of any spripe. There is an obvious difference between “attacking” ideas and attacking people.

    This talk about a “rhetoric of violence” seems to occupy no more than two quotes taken out of context. Anyone who reads PZ knows that he’s is not condoning violence against anybody.

  49. #49 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    Anyone who reads PZ knows that he’s is not condoning violence against anybody.

    You’re missing something here. Anyone who reads PZ regularly knows that stuff. But when the first things someone hears PZ say is like the two examples Ed gave in his comment at July 2, 2007 11:56AM, then people just tune him out and consider him a crazy person who just wants to use “brass knuckles” to “obliterate” religions… lol

    I can’t see how any reasonable person cannot realize this.

  50. #50 Keanus
    July 2, 2007

    All the discussion of atheists and civil rights begs one fact: That most atheists are in the closet. When a large majority of this country’s voting population says it wouldn’t vote for an atheist, by extension, they also wouldn’t buy from, deal with, or be civil to an atheist. As a life long atheist, I’ve learned the hard way to keep my religious beliefs, or rather lack thereof, to myself. I’ve heard too many rail and rant about atheists without their knowing they were speaking right at one. This was especially true when I was producing science text books for American schools. Were most of my fellow workers (some did know becuase they were open minded souls) or prospective customers to have learned I didn’t worship any god, I would have lost my job, lost a sale, or worse. That’s just a fact of life in our “open” society. I applaud the outspokenness of PZ and Dawkins, but both have the security of tenure and a nice podium from which to speak. And for all their language, neither can be called a bigot. They just make it clear that they think little of religious beliefs and want people to know that they don’t take kindly to the all too frequent efforts of the religious, both zealots AND moderates, to impose their views on others.

  51. #51 Brandon
    July 2, 2007

    any reasonable person

    doctorgoo, what does this have to do with PZ Myers and his fans?

  52. #52 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    ummm… Brandon, could you clarify your question?

    I’m referring to moderate Christians who aren’t strongly against atheists at first, but then become that way because they hear influential people like PZ go off against ALL Christians and their beliefs.

    It should be obvious how he alienates the moderates more than he attracts them.

  53. #53 Sean
    July 2, 2007

    There have only been two places where a nonregular PZ reader would come across those two quotes.

    1. Dembski class proreligious sites. Does the wording manner? That pack of droolers get worked up simply by encountering someone who does not believe in Jesus.

    2. Threads saying PZ and Dawkins should tone down the rhetoric. Generally the people in these threads already know that PZ is not literally forming the underground atheist army and stockpiling weapons.

    Until I start hearing of pamphlets being distributed in my local church with a firebrand PZ quote… And even then, he will simply be filling the bad cop/Malcom X role.

  54. #54 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    doctorgoo, what does this have to do with PZ Myers and his fans?

    This sounds remarkably like the sort of rhetoric which Ed originally criticized as being so wrong. Brandon at first seemed to express agreement with Ed’s position, but now it appears that he doesn’t object to this kind of rhetoric at all. Funny how that works.

  55. #55 Sean
    July 2, 2007

    I’m referring to moderate Christians who aren’t strongly against atheists at first, but then become that way because they hear influential people like PZ go off against ALL Christians and their beliefs.

    And where are these moderate Christians hearing of PZ and turning against atheism?

    Hell, most atheists I have met in real life have never heard of the man. Zero Christians I have met in real life have ever referenced him. PZ is the most unknown bogeyman in the world.

  56. #56 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    Austin Cline @3:04pm…

    It seems to me that you’re just arguing over semantics here. Whether “rhetoric of violence” or any other phrase is the appropriate way to describe PZ’s language doesn’t seem all that imporant to me.

    After all, the bottom line is that it’s very obvious that PZ’s rhetoric is very negative and considered unfriendly towards moderate Christians… the very people who PZ should be trying to convince to accept atheists as being decent, moral human beings.

  57. #57 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    It seems to me that you’re just arguing over semantics here. Whether “rhetoric of violence” or any other phrase is the appropriate way to describe PZ’s language doesn’t seem all that imporant to me.

    Maybe, maybe not – but “rhetoric of violence” is a very strong label which carries with it very strong negative conotations. The shift from no discussion of violence to a near-exclusive focus on nothing but violence is arguably significant precisely because it might represent an attempt to “win” through the use of those negative conotations. It might not, of course, and it might be entirely unconscious, but it’s enough of an issue that I think the dramatic shift should be explained and justified.

    Remember, we’ve essentially gone from “such extreme rhetoric (“you guys are deluded”) is wrong and should be completely eliminated” to “No, I’m not going to support this position until you provide a compelling argument for how rhetoric of violence has any advantages.” That sort of shift simply cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.

    After all, the bottom line is that it’s very obvious that PZ’s rhetoric is very negative and considered unfriendly towards moderate Christians… the very people who PZ should be trying to convince to accept atheists as being decent, moral human beings.

    So, when someone thinks that PZ is not a decen, moral human being simply because he doesn’t believe in their god, PZ has an obligation not to denounce that and be unambiguous in how he feels not only about that attitude, but about the reigious ideology behind it? I’m sorry, but I don’t see how that works. I don’t have a problem with people who want to tried a more conciliatory tactic, but I can’t figure out what basis you have for thinking that a strong, negative response is inappropriate.

  58. #58 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    Sean: Really? You don’t consider PZ to be a strong voice for atheism here in America? Well, maybe not, I’m not in a place to judge one way or the other…. but he certainly is here on scienceblogs.

    Ed’s blog has plenty of Christian fans as well as atheist fans. I can debate them and point out what I consider errors in their thought processes without being as condescending as PZ often is.

    I mean, I agree with PZ’s overall message most of the time. And if he’s more concerned with ‘Rallying the troops’… then sure, he is GREAT when it comes to preaching to the choir (so to speak, lol). But let’s not kid ourselves and think that his way of expressing himself is winning over moderates to his position.

  59. #59 K. Signal Eingang
    July 2, 2007

    Not sure if you were aware of this but PZ already rebutted your whole point about 2 months ago..

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/04/we_aim_to_misbehave.php

    I’d say more but I’d just be repeating what Austin Cline has already elaborated on nicely. I think the key point I agree with is right here:

    there seems to be some advantage in having some activists using more extreme rhetoric and some not.

    Carrot, meet stick.

  60. #60 Chance
    July 2, 2007

    On the other hand, I do think you are being entirely too accomodating to anti-religious intolerance, including the intolerance expressed by some of your commenters.

    What the hell does this even mean? Anti-religious intolerance? You mean people who think religious superstion and it’s practice deserve no respect? I have read no one on this thread who bashes the religious as people just the ideas they hold. These ideas don’t get special protection and it’s not intolerance to say so.

    the bottom line is that it’s very obvious that PZ’s rhetoric is very negative and considered unfriendly towards moderate Christians… the very people who PZ should be trying to convince to accept atheists as being decent, moral human beings.

    This is silly. I read PZ most days and find his blog humorous, informative and occasionaly challenging and I’m not an atheist. The truth of the matter is very simple, moderates allow those less moderate to operate successfully in the USA. They are part of the problem. It’s the general acceptance of superstition as legitimate that is the problem. The protection of superstition that is the problem. It doesn’t matter if one is moderate or not, that is the problem.

    In truth most people in the USA give nary a passing glance to religous thought and doubt most of that, but as Dennett says they have faith in faith. Only and I mean only when someone appears to be attacking the tribe do they feign concern. Unless of course the extremists seek to malign some group such as homosexuals.

  61. #61 Chance
    July 2, 2007

    he is GREAT when it comes to preaching to the choir (so to speak, lol). But let’s not kid ourselves and think that his way of expressing himself is winning over moderates to his position

    I think your wrong about this. I know he has won over more than a few. He isn’t preaching to the choir which is one reason his blog is so popular. He is saying outloud what many many people actually think. Many of those are the ‘moderates’ we are speaking of.

  62. #62 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    But let’s not kid ourselves and think that his way of expressing himself is winning over moderates to his position.

    Is this one of his stated goals? If not, then even if you are correct it may not be relevant. It’s hard to critize someone for failing achieve a goal they are not aiming for. You might still have a point if you could argue that this should be one of his goals, but why should it? Are there not perhaps other goals as well which are also important and which might be achieved through tactics not entirely consistent with those necessary to this one?

  63. #63 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    Austin Cline wrote:

    First, I notice that you are now saying “rhetoric of violence” whereas just a few minutes ago it was “extremist rhetoric, particularly rhetoric that uses metaphors of violence” and in your original post it was “the more extreme anti-religious rhetoric…calling all religious believers either stupid or deluded.” You’ve smoothly moved from discussing non-violent rhetoric about believers being “stupid or deluded” to “rhetoric of violence,” but without acknowledging, explaining, or justifying the shift. I won’t accept that without comment and challenge. Your claims started in one place and I challenged them; now you are asking for a “compelling argument” for something that wasn’t part of your original claims.

    Second, there is “rhetoric of violence” which occurs in a context where violence is implicitly intended and violent actions are a real possibility, then there is “rhetoric of violence” where violent images or words are used metaphorically. You don’t say which you want to see a “compelling argument” for. In context you should only be talking about the latter, but given how you’ve shifted your words here I refuse to make that assumption. Moreover, I haven’t noticed where you’ve contextualized your argument as part of a general principle of never using such imagery and metaphors under any circumstances, or at least in any reigious / political / ideological debates.

    All this verbiage and it says nothing. The issue is simple: give me a compelling argument for why such extreme rhetoric might be a good thing. Tell me what it accomplishes other than to undermine the credibility of those who use it and force those of us who are perceived as being on the same side to have to defend it or explain it away. If you can’t do that, you have no argument worth hearing.

  64. #64 MartinM
    July 2, 2007

    When he says things like this:

    I say, screw the polite words and careful rhetoric. It’s time for scientists to break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, and get out there and hammer on the lunatics and idiots. If you don’t care enough for the truth to fight for it, then get out of the way.

    He isn’t helping the cause, he’s hurting it. It may fire up the hardcore followers by throwing them red meat, but it also reinforces the worst stereotypes of atheists. I can’t imagine why this isn’t obvious to anyone with any sense at all.

    Might reinforce the stereotypes of those too stupid or lazy to check the context. Do we care?

  65. #65 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    So, when someone thinks that PZ is not a decen, moral human being simply because he doesn’t believe in their god, PZ has an obligation not to denounce that and be unambiguous in how he feels not only about that attitude, but about the reigious ideology behind it? I’m sorry, but I don’t see how that works. I don’t have a problem with people who want to tried a more conciliatory tactic, but I can’t figure out what basis you have for thinking that a strong, negative response is inappropriate.

    As I said @3:46, moderate Christians typically aren’t strongly against people who don’t agree with their beliefs. It’s the more fundamentalist Christians who are apt to discriminate against atheists and other non-Christians. So yes, a strong negative response against this fundamentalist mindset is often very appropriate. But this doesn’t mean that he should alienate the mostly ambivalent moderates. If he wanted to, he could be quite capable of getting his point across without trying to alienate the middle ground.

    It’s just that for the most part, he seems to be more interested in rallying the atheist troops than he is in gaining acceptance.

  66. #66 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    Caliban wrote:

    This talk about a “rhetoric of violence” seems to occupy no more than two quotes taken out of context. Anyone who reads PZ knows that he’s is not condoning violence against anybody.

    I certainly do not believe that PZ advocates violence toward anyone, Christian or otherwise. All the more reason, then, to stop using rhetoric that clearly implies otherwise and allows others to paint him that way. Again, someone tell me what actual good such rhetoric does for anyone and I’ll listen to it. No one has. And no one can. It serves no good purpose. The only thing it does is undermine our position and make it more difficult to argue for it by wasting our time having to explain away such hyperbolic rhetoric. We are better off without it.

  67. #67 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    All this verbiage and it says nothing.

    Pointing out and challenging how you have dramatically changed your own rhetoric is “nothing”? No, I don’t think so – especially since it cuts right to the heart of your request. You don’t even have the basic decency to acknowledge that you have a significant shift in your words. I expected better of you – I know you wouldn’t let someone else get away with such behavior.

    The issue is simple: give me a compelling argument for why such extreme rhetoric might be a good thing.

    “Such” extreme rhetoric? You’ve changed your own rhetoric far too often for it to be clear anymore what, exactly, you have in mind by that label. Do you mean saying that theism is “delusional”? Do you metaphors about “brass knuckles”? Do you mean somethign else? I’m not askin for much here – just the courtesy of defining terminology which you yourself have muddied and rendered too ambiguous. As I made very clear, you can’t expect an answer to this request until you explain what that means, then explain how that relates to your original claims, then explain why you didn’t do any work to investigate the question before adopting such a strong and absolutist position in the first place.

    If you can’t do that, then you have no argument worth rebutting.

  68. #68 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    Austin Cline wrote:

    “Such” extreme rhetoric? You’ve changed your own rhetoric far too often for it to be clear anymore what, exactly, you have in mind by that label. Do you mean saying that theism is “delusional”? Do you metaphors about “brass knuckles”? Do you mean somethign else? I’m not askin for much here – just the courtesy of defining terminology which you yourself have muddied and rendered too ambiguous.

    All of it. Every example I’ve mentioned, all of which deserves to be put under the label of “extremist rhetoric.” Separate them out and try and justify each one if you’d like. My argument is that none of it serves any purpose.

  69. #69 MartinM
    July 2, 2007

    Again, someone tell me what actual good such rhetoric does for anyone and I’ll listen to it.

    You already identified one benefit yourself; it fires people up. What’s wrong with that?

    And if it shifts the Overton window at the same time, so much the better.

  70. #70 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    You don’t even have the basic decency to acknowledge that you have a significant shift in your words. I expected better of you – I know you wouldn’t let someone else get away with such behavior.

    Austin, I already pointed out to you that his so-called “significant shift” is just a minor change in semantics. This isn’t moving the goalposts (or whatever), so just get over yourself and argue the (rather obvious) point instead of what you consider to be his poor choice of verbiage.

  71. #71 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    MartinM:

    You already identified one benefit yourself; it fires people up. What’s wrong with that?

    What’s wrong is that while it rallies the fellow atheists, it gives ammo to the other side, and just pisses off the moderates in the middle. If you want to convince other people that your side is correct, then being nice about it always works better. Isn’t this obvious?

    And if it shifts the Overton window at the same time, so much the better.

    A reference to the Overton Window? … hadn’t heard of that one in a long time… lol… But it’s still not convincing.

    Or do you think that the Kent Hovind’s of the world now look credible just because there’s some guy even wackier (like Fred Phelps) that’s even crazier? … of course not.

  72. #72 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    My argument is that none of it serves any purpose.

    You’ve already admitted that it can fire people up – though you limit that to “hardcore followers,” which seems too narrow since if you’re hardcore you probably don’t need much to be fired up. I think that less-than-hardcore people may be fired up by such language at times. So, that’s one purpose. Another is to attract attention and get people talking about something which has been neglected. A third is to set the goalposts further down the field in order to prepare the ground for future discussions of compromise. A fourth is to push people who are in the closet to become more self-confident by saying openly, in strong and unapologetic terms, some of the things they have been thinking privately.

    I’m afraid that I can’t be any more specific because you haven’t defined what you mean by “extremist.”

    You’ve been quite absolute and extreme in your own rhetoric here, which means that your in a tight corner. You haven’t simply claimed that none of the benefits come close to the disadvantages, or that none of the goals served by such rhetoric are worth the cost. No, you’ve been unambiguous in stating that the only thing they do is undermine “our position” and that they don’t serve any purpose. So, no matter what you think of the value of the four examples above, it seems to me that your only choices are to argue that they aren’t served by the rhetoric, or that they aren’t “real” purposes at all. Neither strikes me as very easy.

  73. #73 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    I already pointed out to you that his so-called “significant shift” is just a minor change in semantics.

    You’ve made this assertion, yes, and I’ve explained why I think you are incorrect. You haven’t offered any arguments for why you are correct.

  74. #74 MartinM
    July 2, 2007

    What’s wrong is that while it rallies the fellow atheists, it gives ammo to the other side, and just pisses off the moderates in the middle.

    Does it? Tell me, have you read the article from which the ‘brass knuckles’ quote is pulled in full? I don’t see anything in there a moderate theist couldn’t get behind. Some of them might even get fired up by it themselves.

    If you want to convince other people that your side is correct, then being nice about it always works better. Isn’t this obvious?

    No, I think it’s an enormous unsupported generalization. Different people require different approaches.

    A reference to the Overton Window? … hadn’t heard of that one in a long time… lol… But it’s still not convincing.

    Or do you think that the Kent Hovind’s of the world now look credible just because there’s some guy even wackier (like Fred Phelps) that’s even crazier? … of course not.

    Well, what do you suppose is the purpose of AiG’s ‘arguments you shouldn’t use’ page?

  75. #75 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    What’s wrong is that while it rallies the fellow atheists, it gives ammo to the other side, and just pisses off the moderates in the middle.

    Does it? It’s certainly possible, and it should be assumed that it happens to at least some, but we clearly lack any information about how much of a problem it really is. There has also been absolutely no effort to look at how this compares to whatever benefits are gained from attracting more attention generally and encouraging more activism narrowly.

    Maybe the overall balance is against such rhetoric – I don’t know. Neither do you, however, but at least I’m not telling people using a particular tactic to completely stop because it has no value whatsoever. On the contrary, I encourage a variety of tactics because what will work with some people at one time won’t work with others at another time. Because I have no hard, unambiguous data about what will definitely accomplish what, I prefer to let people try different things to see what happens – just as they did and needed to do in the past. I’m not going to take an absolutist stance based on absolutely no data, nor would I ever dream of telling of despised, distrusted minority just to play it nice and not express strong moral outrage. That’s arrogant on too many levels for me to count – or to stomach.

    If you want to convince other people that your side is correct, then being nice about it always works better. Isn’t this obvious?

    No, it’s not. First, if what you are saying is true then shouldn’t you be able to offer some historical examples of how always being nice has led to more and faster improvements for a socially despised minority than using a combination of being nice and being aggressive? I mean, if it’s so obvious and unambiguous, then shouldn’t we see some evidence? Surely someone has tried it and succeeded wonderfully?

    Second, were atheists doing better before a couple of in-your-face atheists started making headlines? That doesn’t seem to be the case. Public perception of atheists has improved over the decades, but at a slower rate than for other groups. During that time, there was little in the way of “extremist” rhetoric from atheists. Why didn’t the situation improve at the same rate as for other groups, then?

  76. #76 Caliban
    July 2, 2007

    As to what good the imfamous PZ quotes do, i think for some people they will be a turn off and for others not. I was reading Dispatches for a full year before i ever even went to PZ’s site. When i did go, it was with the expectation that we was this horrible monster who wants to eat Christian babies for breakfast or something. In short, i was prepared to hate him after reading all of the anti-PZ rhetoric i enountered from so many posters. Then, having actually read what he has to say (not out of context) he pretty much won me over. I doubt i’m the only convert. So, for me, that’s one good thing i can attribute to PZ’s rhetoric.

    Furthermore, i don’t think this desire to appeal to the moderates is all it’s cracked up to be. In my states’ (wisconsin) last election the “moderate” democrats joined hands with the conservatives to easily win a refferendum to put language into the state’s constitution that would forever ban the possibility of legal, gay marriages from ever occuring here. Not to mention stripping all vestiges of domestic partner benefits as well.

    I think moderates are only as “moderate” as they have been forced to become after loosing ideological battles to previously maligned groups.

  77. #77 Dave H
    July 2, 2007

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen someone so clearly an intellectual like Ed to task, like Mr. Cline has here. Wow.

    And Ed, I apologize if I came off as claiming that you don’t support religious criticism, because obviously you do, and I enjoy reading it.

    But while there’s a case to made for PZ using “extremist,” “militant,” or “violent” rhetoric, I don’t think the same for Dawkins.

    Dawkins hasn’t advocated, to my knowledge, that all religious people are stupid. Rather that the belief is stupid, and that it deserves no respect just because it’s held by a lot more people than, say, Scientology. (Well, he didn’t say that, but it’s my explanation of what I read in his book.) It’s The God Delusion, not The Delusional Theist.

    Yes, he does say things like teaching children religion can be a form of child abuse. But he explains that pretty well in both the book and his documentary.

    I didn’t want you to read his book just because I thought you’d change your mind on the use of types of rhetoric, but also because you might see that you often construct a straw man of Dawkins to fit your argument (as hurling insults at religious people, not the religion itself).

    Oh, and I don’t have it front of me, but The God Delusion does offer examples and arguments for why moderation lends hand to extremism in religious communities, and why faith and science are irreconcilable (something I’m not sure whether you agreed or disagreed with).

    One thought I remember from the book was that a concept like faith stops scientific inquiry; because why explain something if you’ve assumed the (ill-reasoned) answer? I don’t think that really happens, but it’s a good reason to not respect a concept like faith.

    Anyway, I’d still like to read your reactions to Dawkins’ book, and it can only help your arguments to have at disposal specific passages of his to criticize, right?

  78. #78 Dave L
    July 2, 2007

    “The only thing it does is undermine our position and make it more difficult to argue for it by wasting our time having to explain away such hyperbolic rhetoric. We are better off without it.”

    Ed, I have to point out that you have at least on two occasions you have indulged in, well, they were almost threats of violence against Fred Phelps and his fellow clowns (and believe me, I applaud you for it) if they showed up outside the funeral of someone you cared for. I absolutely don’t bring it up accusing you of hypocrisy, as the situations are certainly different in extremity among other things, but I doubt that it helped your position against Phelps idiocy either. Sure, there are very few people who support specifically what Phelps is doing, but you move those protests away from funeral grounds and change ‘God hates fags’ to ‘God thinks homosexuality is wrong’ and you’ve got many people who believe just that, and who likewise would tune you out if they heard your desire to kick their asses. Personally in that case I’d say screw em they’re unreachable anyway if they find anything in common with Phelps, but I don’t know why someone like PZ cannot enjoy the same flexibility of, if nothing else, venting their anger and frustration (or whatever was accomplished by your own venting) and why they have some greater underlying responsibility to ‘the cause’.

    I do think it’s important to distinguish between ‘militant’ atheists thinking that religious belief is stupid, as opposed to religious people are stupid. I don’t have much desire to keep up with the pace of PZ’s anti-theism posts so I’m not sure about him, but I’m pretty sure that Dawkins at least has clarified that religious *people* are not stupid, and I don’t know off-hand many atheists who do think that (although Hitchens wouldn’t surprise me).

  79. #79 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    I’m all for having atheists stand up against both actual discrimination and the widespread and clearly false perception that without belief in God they must be immoral people. I have argued loudly and often against both of those problems and I will continue to do so. But my argument is simple: having atheists use the kind of extreme rhetoric I’ve detailed above not only doesn’t help solve those problems, it makes them worse. It makes those negative perceptions more likely, not less. I know this because I’ve spent 20 years talking to Christians of all types and I’ve heard it time and time again. I know this because I know that our side does exactly the same thing, me included. We love it when someone from the other side says something crazy, stupid or extremist. We love it because we know how effective it is to use those things to impeach the credibility of our opponents. Yet far too many of us can’t see the same problem in our own behavior. We are giving them ammunition against us and we’re doing it without getting any benefit for it. We need to stop. It really is that simple.

  80. #80 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    But my argument is simple: having atheists use the kind of extreme rhetoric I’ve detailed above not only doesn’t help solve those problems, it makes them worse.

    Please, that’s not an argument, it’s an assertion. You haven’t offered an argument on behalf of this and, when challenged to do so, you insisted that others provide any purpose which the rhetoric in question might serve. That’s backwards, but you were indulged anyway. Now, you simply repeat the original assertion as if nothing were said. You don’t explain if those purposes aren’t really purposes, if they aren’t served by this rhetoric, or some other means of objecting which I can’t think of. Rather than rebut, you ignore.

    And, no, personal anecdotes are not evidence that will support your argument. Once again I must call this as a tactic that you’d never accept coming from someone you oppose, so it’s disappointing to see you thinking you can use it yourself here.

    It really is that simple.

    That’s not “simple,” it’s simplistic, but when you ignore both your own obligation to support your arguments as well as the counter-arguments which others provided you on your request, what else is there but the simplistic and superficial?

  81. #81 Poly
    July 2, 2007

    Chance opines:

    On the other hand, I do think you are being entirely too accomodating to anti-religious intolerance, including the intolerance expressed by some of your commenters.

    What the hell does this even mean?

    It means what it says. You’re certainly entitled to disagree with that opinion if you want to. But don’t assert a vacuous claim that it is meaningless.

    Chance continues:

    Anti-religious intolerance? You mean people who think religious superstion and it’s practice deserve no respect?

    You seem to be answering your own question.

    I don’t think you can speak for all the “people” that you refer to. However, you in particular can achieve a minimal level of honesty if you will at the same time admit that non-religion is equally a superstition and that the non-practice of religion equally deserves no respect.

    It wouldn’t relieve any of the essential intolerance of that statement, of course, because it is simply intolerant on its face. But at least you would be intellectually honest about it.

    Chance continues:

    I have read no one on this thread who bashes the religious as people just the ideas they hold.

    You can’t be making that statement seriously, can you? I mean, you must be making some sort of attempt at irony here.

    And the irony would be, of course, that this is precisely the sort of distinction without a difference that is made by those who are intolerant of atheists – that they don’t bash atheists as people, they simply have total disdain for all their ideas, and that those who hold those ideas don’t deserve a hearing.

  82. #82 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    Austin, in response to me:

    If you want to convince other people that your side is correct, then being nice about it always works better. Isn’t this obvious?

    No, it’s not. First, if what you are saying is true then shouldn’t you be able to offer some historical examples of how always being nice has led to more and faster improvements for a socially despised minority than using a combination of being nice and being aggressive? I mean, if it’s so obvious and unambiguous, then shouldn’t we see some evidence? Surely someone has tried it and succeeded wonderfully?

    A rather obvious example is how the Black Panthers tended to alienate the white persons who would typically support issues of integration, racemixing, &c. Compare this to MLK who (mostly) fought the exact same fight, but was known for always keeping his rhetoric positive and uplifting. Which way succeeded and which way failed? (Hint: Who’s the one with the holiday named after him?) lol

    Now I’m half expecting someone to make an absurd Overtone Window argument, claiming that MLK was as successful as he was only because there were those, like the Panthers, who were more extreme and therefore made him look moderate in comparison. Nope. Sorry, but MLK was successful because his message appealed to the masses. If he had turned negative, the moderates would have stopped listening.

    So yes, Austin, this is the perfect example of “someone has tried it and succeeded wonderfully”.

  83. #83 Skemono
    July 2, 2007

    What has PZ done? Well, he converted me, for one. It’s really simple: after actually reading what he’s said, I understand that there’s a tendency to treat religious beliefs as special and, well, sacred, as opposed to any other superstitious codswallop.

    But you seem to be saying that he should tone down his stridency because people might–nay, will–quote-mine him to make him and atheists at large look bad. You have no problem in calling, say, Glib Fortuna a raging moron without worrying that people will quote-mine you and use this to demonstrate that you should be ignored as an invective-vomiting hate-monger. Why then should PZ not call the absurd the absurd, and the irrational the irrational?

  84. #84 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    Oh, and I’m not gonna let this slide Austin…

    You’ve made this assertion, yes, and I’ve explained why I think you are incorrect. You haven’t offered any arguments for why you are correct.

    You didn’t explain why you thought I was incorrect, you basically just repeated your original assertion.

    But to go even further, let me build on something that you pointed out yourself… his original phrase was “the more extreme anti-religious rhetoric…calling all religious believers either stupid or deluded” and he simply shortened it to “rhetoric of violence”.

    Now could he have found a better (but still short) phrase to use that encapsulated his original meaning? Possibly. But it’s absurd to claim that he’s trying to shift his position here.

    You seem to find yourself very clever for trying to prove that he’s moving goalposts here. But really, you aren’t anything of the sort when you try to pick apart such a tangential topic like this. Quite absurd, actually.

  85. #85 kehrsam
    July 2, 2007

    In general, the public is blissfully unaware of PZ, Harris, or even Dawkins. Carl Sagan was much better known. So in a real sense, we are debating nothing here of importance.

    That being said, on the rare occasions when I do discuss evolution or science generally with people at my church, a surprising number have heard the “brass knuckles” quote and bring it up as a reason to dismiss scientific points of view. So does that rhetoric piss people off who are otherwise sympathetic? Yes, and I know that they are being quote mined out of context.

    So I am not teaching third grade Sunday School this year because a parent didn’t think someone who believed in evolution could possibly teach her child about feeding the hungry and caring for the widow and orphan. Yes, that is an ignorant parent, but I’m losing the opportunity to teach her child to think better. And I’m not getting to do one of the things I really love. So yes, it pisses me off.

    I also appreciate the condescension as to how I am deluded, rather than stupid. I would suggest not jumping to conclusions as to the bases of my belief; perhaps I really do have reasons to believe.

    Austin Cline: I fail to see how Ed has been in any way deceptive in his presentation: He has had the same position consistently in this thread, and in many such threads in the past. The fact that he changes the wording of his terms slightly from one post to another may seem important, but if you view a larger sample it goes away. Ed is making general arguments, not logical propositions.

  86. #86 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    Oh, and I’m not gonna let this slide Austin…

    Given how many questions and challenges to your comments you have let slide, I’m frankly shocked. Shocked!

    A rather obvious example is how the Black Panthers tended to alienate the white persons who would typically support issues of integration, racemixing, &c.

    That’s an example of genuinely violent militants alienating people, not of people who go further and faster by just being nice, as opposed to those who prevent a movement form going as far or as fast for using “extremist” rhetoric. I asked for something very specific: an example of always being nice leading to more and faster improvements for a socially despised minority than using a combination of being nice and being aggressive.

    MLK doesn’t serve your purpose unless he was perceived as “always being nice” by those who opposed him. If he was perceived as being militant or extremist, it doesn’t matter if you think he was nice (relatively speaking). Moreover, the presence of aggressive activists means that the Civil Rights movement is actually an example of a combination of more and less aggressive tactics.

    You didn’t explain why you thought I was incorrect, you basically just repeated your original assertion.

    Yes, I did explain. First, I pointed out how it can be used to “win” a discussion illicitly and the possibility is a good reason to explain why the shift was made. You are free to dispute that, but not to claim that it wasn’t stated. Second, I asked you a direct question based on your objection… and you never answered.

    The original statement is not “shortened” to “rhetoric of violence” because there’s nothing remotely violent about the original statement. You can’t “shorten” an expression of disapproval of non-violent rhetoric into a disapproval of violent rhetoric. They are completely different animals.

  87. #87 Caliban
    July 2, 2007

    How tedious these sorts of decents are. Rest assured, 30 years from now, someone in the blogsphere will be offering up the same two PZ quotes to prove how “violent” or “intolerrant” the militant atheist is.

    Ed, all arguments aside, aren’t you tired of beating this horse?

  88. #88 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    What has PZ done? Well, he converted me, for one. It’s really simple: after actually reading what he’s said, I understand that there’s a tendency to treat religious beliefs as special and, well, sacred, as opposed to any other superstitious codswallop.

    But you seem to be saying that he should tone down his stridency because people might–nay, will–quote-mine him to make him and atheists at large look bad. You have no problem in calling, say, Glib Fortuna a raging moron without worrying that people will quote-mine you and use this to demonstrate that you should be ignored as an invective-vomiting hate-monger. Why then should PZ not call the absurd the absurd, and the irrational the irrational?

    Skemono, PZ could easily point out that religious beliefs shouldn’t be treated special without being rude and claiming to want to “obliterat[e] all religion”

    And furthermore, it isn’t the quote-mining of PZ’s comments that should be worrisome as much as the content and context of what he’s actually saying sometimes.

    I mean, if not extremely negative and very insulting towards ALL Christians (including moderates who don’t discriminate against atheists and other non-Christians), then how else do you interpret the last paragraph of his comment on 14 May 2007 at 6:06 pm, found here: http://austringer.net/wp/?p=561#comments ?

    I mean think about it… obliterate all religion? That’s his goal?? Are you going to claim that it’s sarcasm here? The part about NSCE joining him in his goal certainly is, but there’s nothing at all to suggest he was just kidding about obliterating religion.

  89. #89 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    Given how many questions and challenges to your comments you have let slide, I’m frankly shocked. Shocked!

    LOL (really)

    Sorry, but between work, travelling home, and running errands for the wife… I honestly haven’t been able to respond to as many comments as I want to.

    Besides that, about an hour ago, I had the really unfortunate incident of hitting Backspace instead of Enter for a new paragraph… and thus deleting an entire reply I had almost completed.

    Frustrating, idinit! lol

  90. #90 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    I fail to see how Ed has been in any way deceptive in his presentation: He has had the same position consistently in this thread, and in many such threads in the past.

    His overall position has been similar throughout; he has, however, radically changed the target of his complaints. You cannot shift from complaints about non-violent rhetoric to complaints about “rhetoric of violence” and expect people to act like nothing has happened. That isn’t a “slight” change in wording. I think that if I shifted from accusing Christians — or you — of using rhetoric that is “extreme” to rhetoric that is violent, you might object just a little.

    They aren’t the same and it’s inappropriate to make such a shift without notice, explanation, or justification. If it’s accidental, fine, but the absence of any explanation make it difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt. I’ve been in far too many debates where people slowly and subtly shift the terms of their claims until they expecting you to argue against something very different from what I originally challenged and I won’t let that sort of thing pass without comment. If you don’t personally see any difference between violent and non-violent rhetoric, fine — but I do and will challenge it.

  91. #91 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    I had the really unfortunate incident of hitting Backspace instead of Enter for a new paragraph… and thus deleting an entire reply I had almost completed.

    Oh… I hate that. I have a spell checker which of course tells me some names are spelled wrong. Well, in some online forms, the ESC key which dismisses spell check box also empties out whatever I’ve been writing. I never know which sort I’m in, and it’s frustrating to wonder if I should hit ESC (which I usually do in the programs I’m using) or keep typing.

    More than once, I’ve just given up on writing a comment that had been nearly complete, but which I didn’t feel like re-typing.

  92. #92 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    I had the really unfortunate incident of hitting Backspace instead of Enter for a new paragraph… and thus deleting an entire reply I had almost completed.

    umm… I meant “Page Back”, not “Backspace”… for those who cannot read my mind properly… lol

  93. #93 Caliban
    July 2, 2007

    doctorgoo: Is the word “obliterate” what bothers you? Okay, PZ and Dawkins and Harris and a lot of other atheists probably wouldn’t be shedding any tears if future generations end up abadoning traditional religon.

    Do you have the same reaction to this when George Carlin declares religon the Grand champion of bullshit? Obviously, there are people out there, myself included, who have no love of religon and would consider it’s abadonment to be a positive thing.

    I doubt anyone would consider it horrible if the populace came around to thier way of thinking reguardless of what one believes.

  94. #94 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    I mean think about it… obliterate all religion? That’s his goal?? Are you going to claim that it’s sarcasm here?

    To be more specific, PZ describes it as his answer, not his goal. But answer to what? It’s difficult to follow exactly, but it seems like it’s his “answer” to ensuring that books promoting religious pseudoscience don’t get introduced into science classrooms. Would that do the job? Yes. Does he think that it’s something that will really happen? Doesn’t sound like it, since he prefaces it by saying “You’re in a bad situation when you ask me for suggestions, since my answer is…”

    Sounds a lot like he regards his “answer” as too extreme to be taken seriously by most, to be likely to happen, or both. Or, I suppose, something else – but that preface doesn’t give me the impression of someone making a proposal which they expect or hope will be transformed into a serious, deliberate program.

  95. #95 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    Second, I asked you a direct question based on your objection… and you never answered.

    You mean the question you asked @4:09pm?

    So, when someone thinks that PZ is not a decen, moral human being simply because he doesn’t believe in their god, PZ has an obligation not to denounce that and be unambiguous in how he feels not only about that attitude, but about the reigious ideology behind it?

    So is it your claim that I didn’t answer it directly enough in my response at 4:30? I still fully stand by that answer.

    (If you’re referring to some other direct question, please point it out, because I looked through the thread and cannot figure out what other question on this topic to which you might be referring.)

  96. #96 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    PZ could easily point out that religious beliefs shouldn’t be treated special without being rude…

    Rude is a nebulous concept. Being rude normal involves violating standards of social courtesy and manners, as opposed to laws, but those standards vary from situation to situation. What’s “rude” in a conversation with your mother may not be rude at a bar, or at a scientific conference. Which standards is PZ violating, and why are they appropriate in his context?

    Moreover, we seem to be back at an earlier disagreement. You seem to be working from the premise that we always have an obligation to not be rude. I honestly don’t buy it. I’ll accept that “not being rude” is a good starting place, but I don’t accept that it’s never legitimate to move towards being rude. On the contrary, I’ll argue that if you aren’t rude in the face of injustice, you are being complicit in the injustice. There is a long history of people soberly and sagely calling for “politeness” and “civility” in the face of indecency, but that only serves to perpetuate injustice.

    Civility is no substitute for decency, and I don’t think it’s right to tell people that the only way to fight indecency or injustice is through civility.

  97. #97 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    Caliban @7:33…
    It matters little what an atheist like me thinks about “obliterating all religion”. But for me, it’s a personal choice. If others were religious without it negatively impacting me personally or the ones that I care about, then no, I don’t support the sentiment of it being a good thing to end all religion. If people want to believe in sky fairies, it’s a free country, and it’s nothing to me…

    But if like me, you care about discrimination that atheists and other non-Christians face here in America, then you realize that the important question should be:

    How do virtually all moderate Christians (who have the philosophy of “live and let live” when it comes to non-believers) react to some of PZ’s rhetoric like this that clearly goes too far?

    The answer is plainly obvious… they tune us out. Not just PZ (and his ilk), but every atheist who they feel comfortable lumping in with him. And further more, it makes it more likely that they’ll listen instead to the nutcases who DO discriminate against us, because they now have an example, directly from an atheist, that they feel supports such discrimination against us.

  98. #98 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    Sorry I didn’t see that post of yours…

    As I said @3:46, moderate Christians typically aren’t strongly against people who don’t agree with their beliefs.

    Given the numbers of people who would not vote for an atheist, and who would object if an atheist dated their daughter, I frankly don’t believe this. There are too many not to include a great number of “moderates.”

    Moreover, you seem to be caught in a contradiction here: you referenced “the very people who PZ should be trying to convince to accept atheists as being decent, moral human beings..” Those are the “moderates,” right? Well, if the “moderates” don’t already consider atheists to be “decent, moral human beings,” then I don’t think it’s legitimate to say that they “typically aren’t strongly against” atheists.

    “Moderates,” of course, aren’t monolithic. As for those who don’t already think atheists are moral, decent human beings, then I have trouble seeing how anything PZ says is inappropriate. If they do already think atheists are moral, decent human beings, then they should treat what PZ says as reasonable given who they are directed at.

  99. #99 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    How do virtually all moderate Christians (who have the philosophy of “live and let live” when it comes to non-believers)

    Oh, this is their philosophy?

    From the University of Minnesota Study:

    This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society… Atheist: 39.6%
    I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group…. Atheist: 47.6%

    Now, if we assume that liberals and moderates all generally have at least neutral feelings towards atheists, this means that nearly half of all Americans are what you call “the more fundamentalist Christians.” Frankly, I don’t believe this. I think that those numbers have to include a significant number of “moderates.”

    A “moderate” who disapproves of their child marrying an atheist either does not have a “live and let live” attitude, or that attitude is so compatible with outright bigotry and discrimination that I’m not the least bit heartened to hear that “moderates” have it. Personally, I think the latter is more likely — in my experience, “live and let live” isn’t uncommon among those who quietly add “just don’t live near me.”

  100. #100 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    Austin,

    First you were nitpicky about “rhetoric of violence”, and then about “PZ describes it as his answer, not his goal. But answer to what?”… and now about “Rude is a nebulous concept. [...] Which standards is PZ violating, and why are they appropriate in his context?”

    Now I’m a frequent reader of the website under your name, and have even been known to reference it and quote from it here at Ed’s place and other scienceblogs… But really, I must say this… you really are anal when it comes to arguing semantics and other tangential verbiage issues.

    While I respect you and appreciate many of your essays, you’re kinda irritating to have a discussion with sometimes… kinda makes me wanna give you a cyber swirly for being anal like this. Can you try to focus on the main topic instead of getting sidetracked on non-sensical side issues? ;-)

  101. #101 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    Yes Austin, many Christians (and also, unfortunately, even many who are considered moderate or liberal in most other aspects of religion) feel in the way that you’ve quoted:

    This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society… Atheist: 39.6% I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group…. Atheist: 47.6%

    … But these otherwise liberal/moderate Christians who don’t trust atheists should be the primary target audience to try to convince that we atheists are mostly good, moral people.

    So how do we do this convincing? Certainly not with overblown rhetoric like “obliterating all religion”! Of course not… you show, preferably by personal example, that atheists are good people too.

    But all that would be impossible if I expressed myself similar to PZ and start insulting their religion instead of trying to convince them that my lack thereof really isn’t any big deal.

  102. #102 Leni
    July 2, 2007

    kehrsam wrote:

    So I am not teaching third grade Sunday School this year because a parent didn’t think someone who believed in evolution could possibly teach her child about feeding the hungry and caring for the widow and orphan. Yes, that is an ignorant parent, but I’m losing the opportunity to teach her child to think better. And I’m not getting to do one of the things I really love. So yes, it pisses me off.

    I’m truly sorry to hear about that. I would bet those kids are going to lose someone who is probably great at it. And who isn’t a anti-science nut-job.

    That said, you can’t possibly blame PZ for this? I’m sorry, but your finger should be squarely pointed at the parent. I don’t care if she heard the brass knuckles quote from an atheist who was wearing brass knuckles and about to punch her lights out. If she is as small-minded, stupid, and cruel to use that as a bludgeon against someone in her own church than she’s only got herself to blame. It’s her responsibility to be a decent person, no one esle’s.

    If I were you, I’d be pissed at my church too, but whatever. I think you’re required to be more forgiving than I am.

    Anyway, regarding Ed’s question about what the purpose of the “rhetoric of violence” is (to be honest, I agree with Austin. I do think that has a much more sinister ring to it. Unnecessarily so, given we’re talking about PZ and science teachers, not Charles Manson.):

    It should be obvious- it’s the same purpose that all other miltaristic or otherwise mannish, tough-guy rhetoric serves. To get people riled up. To encourage a strong, take-charge response. It’s supposed to sound strong, in a “God dammit we’re not gonna take it anymore” (but NOT Dee Snyder-y) kind of way.

    When I want to sound like that I just cuss like a sailor, and I think that sufficiently conveys the magnitude of my irritation. Maybe PZ, like a lot of other people, thinks that tough guy talk serves a similar purpose. Frankly, I don’t love it, but I don’t see a big problem with it either. It does serve tha purpose, since I and many of his regular readers) knew exactly whar he meant and agreed with it.

    And let’s be serious. He said this about a bunch of scientists! I actually laugh when I think about it. A gang of poindexters with brass knuckles? Oooh. Scary.

    I think we’re pretty much safe; at least until they build the little tiny brass knuckle catapults and calculate the correct launch angles, lol.

  103. #103 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    you really are anal when it comes to arguing semantics and other tangential verbiage issues.

    Honestly, I don’t think it’s “anal” to care about using language in a manner that clear and consistent. It’s not “anal” to insist that if you are going to accuse a person of doing wrong — and of hurting a movement they are active in — then you should be very clear and precise in the language you are using to make that accusation. If you aren’t going to be careful in your use of accusing language, then I can’t trust you to be careful in your use of accusations.

    Given that language can be very imprecise, it’s really inappropriate to complain when attempts at clarification and precision are made. In such a context, complaints about “semantics” sound disturbingly like an effort to avoid revelations that one’s accusations don’t hold as much water as the original rhetoric made them sound.

    Moreover, complaining about what I have said doesn’t actually address any of the substantive points I have raised. You level a complaint about PZ’s rhetoric, but somehow it’s “anal” for me to point out that his use of words (rhetoric) may not support your complaint. You raise a complaint about rudeness in what is said, but I point out that rudeness is not a simple concept and requires social context to understand.

    You are not justified in saying that I am “getting sidetracked” simply because I don’t focus on nothing but the few words you want to focus on. This entire discussion is about the use of words, their connotations, etc. If we’re going to have a discussion about the proper use of words and language, it’s not “getting sidetracked” to discuss the proper use of words and language. Unless, of course, it’s only OK for you and Ed to complain about others’ use of language, but not for me and others to object to your use of language.

    You may want to focus on just the word “obliterate,” but I will insist on bringing in nearby words which provide context and asking how they affect the meaning. You may want to focus on “rudeness,” but I will insist on bringing in the social context which gives the concept of “rudeness” any substance and which is necessary to give your concerns any substance as well.

    … But these otherwise liberal/moderate Christians who don’t trust atheists should be the primary target audience to try to convince that we atheists are mostly good, moral people.

    So, do you now withdraw your earlier suggestion that it’s only the “more fundamentalist Christians” who feel this way?

    Anyway, this takes us back to the disagreement over your apparent insistence on civility in the face of indecency. I’ve already explained by objection to that, but you bypassed them when you objected to my raising concerns about the nature and context of “rudeness.”

    So how do we do this convincing? Certainly not with overblown rhetoric like “obliterating all religion”! Of course not… you show, preferably by personal example, that atheists are good people too.

    This brings us back to an earlier comment of mine which I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer – 4:19PM (unlike the one you did respond to yet I missed – that was entirely my fault). I’ll add to this one that even if this were one of PZ’s stated goals, I hardly think that he’d be working hard to achieve it in every single comment on every blog he posts on – nor would I accept the claim that every single comment made on every blog should be held to the standard of whether it helps or hurts that goal.

  104. #104 kehrsam
    July 2, 2007

    Leni: I agree with you, the religious extremists are far worse, and PZ is hardly to blame: I am quite certain the mother in question has never heard of him. My point was simply its bad enough to fight overheated rhetoric coming from one side, especially when it is supposed to be “your” side. When they can come back with, “The other side is just as bad” there is not even a chance at dialogue.

    My first Sunday School class went to college this year, and there is still one student who called or emailed at least once a week for help with her chemistry and calculus. But that will stop if science becomes synonymous with religion-hater. Inflammatory rhetoric is bad for relationships, period. Poor relationships make for poor education, and poor education is our problem.

    Yes, many religious people say and do stupid things, and they too frequently justify them by appeals to that religion. The same can be said about white people, ivy leaguers and rotarians (who the hell do they have to look down on, Moose?). Atheists need to break from the mold. Robert Ingersoll was wildly popular despite not insulting anyone.

  105. #105 Austin Cline
    July 2, 2007

    Robert Ingersoll was wildly popular despite not insulting anyone.

    Are you telling me that no Christians of Ingersoll’s day were insulted by any of the following quotes? I’ve highlighted some of the choicer selections.

    The doctrine of eternal punishment is in perfect harmony with the savagery of the men who made the orthodox creeds. It is in harmony with torture, with flaying alive, and with burnings. The men who burned their fellow-men for a moment, believed that God would burn his enemies forever.

    Who can over estimate the progress of the world if all the money wasted in superstition could be used to enlighten, elevate and civilize mankind?

    We have already compared the benefits of theology and science. When the theologian governed the world, it was covered with huts and hovels for the many, palaces and cathedrals for the few.

    Only a few years ago there was no person too ignorant to successfully answer Charles Darwin; and the more ignorant he was the more cheerfully he undertook the task.

    The doctrine that future happiness depends upon belief is monstrous. It is the infamy of infamies. The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation, and can be relieved only by that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance, called “faith.”

    We are satisfied that there can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven.

    Only the very ignorant are perfectly satisfied that they know. To the common man the great problems are easy. He has no trouble in accounting for the universe. He can tell you the origin and destiny of man and the why and wherefore of things.

    Every pulpit is a pillory, in which stands a hired culprit, defending the justice of his own imprisonment.

    The inspiration of the Bible depends upon the ignorance of the gentleman who reads it.

    Many people think they have religion when they are troubled with dyspepsia.

    Is there an intelligent man or woman now in the world who believes in the Garden of Eden story? If you find any man who believes it, strike his forehead and you will hear an echo. Something is for rent.

    Christianity has such a contemptible opinion of human nature that it does not believe a man can tell the truth unless frightened by a belief in God. No lower opinion of the human race has ever been expressed.

    If there is a God who will damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than to go to heaven and keep the society of such an infamous tyrant. I make my choice now. I despise that doctrine. It has covered the cheeks of this world with tears. It has polluted the hearts of children, and poisoned the imaginations of men…. What right have you, sir, Mr. clergyman, you, minister of the gospel to stand at the portals of the tomb, at the vestibule of eternity, and fill the future with horror and with fear? I do not believe this doctrine, neither do you. If you did, you could not sleep one moment. Any man who believes it, and has within his breast a decent, throbbing heart, will go insane. A man who believes that doctrine and does not go insane has the heart of a snake and the conscience of a hyena.

    Strange but true: those who have loved God most have loved men least.

    As long as every question is answered by the word “God,” scientific inquiry is simply impossible.

    I don’t believe it. I think that lots of Christians probably found the above insulting — and I don’t doubt that many today would have much the same reaction. The above isn’t less “insulting” than what PZ has written.

  106. #106 doctorgoo
    July 2, 2007

    The comment at 4:19…

    But let’s not kid ourselves and think that his way of expressing himself is winning over moderates to his position.

    Is this one of his stated goals? If not, then even if you are correct it may not be relevant. It’s hard to critize someone for failing achieve a goal they are not aiming for. You might still have a point if you could argue that this should be one of his goals, but why should it? Are there not perhaps other goals as well which are also important and which might be achieved through tactics not entirely consistent with those necessary to this one?

    Remember what I said about staying on topic? … ie, “Atheism and Civil Rights”… Is this not a worthy enough reason to have this as a goal? Are you incapable of admitting as such?

    As for the rest of your long comment, let me quote that certain (lowercase l) libertarian blogger we all know and love:

    All this verbiage and it says nothing. The issue is simple: give me a compelling argument for why such extreme rhetoric might be a good thing. Tell me what it accomplishes other than to undermine the credibility of those who use it and force those of us who are perceived as being on the same side to have to defend it or explain it away. If you can’t do that, you have no argument worth hearing.

  107. #107 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    I’m going to repost a comment I just left over at Jason Rosenhouse’s blog; perhaps it will help make my position more clear:

    I just want to correct a couple of misconceptions. First, my objection is not to “public atheism” or “public atheists”; not even close, in fact. My objection is to the extremist rhetoric that sometimes accompanies it and that is particularly common among certain people. Second, I do not ask Jason to imagine a “hypothetical moderate Christian.” There is no need to imagine them. I’ve dealt with hundreds of them over the last 20 years and found that extremist rhetoric really does push them away and make them less receptive to an alternative viewpoint, just as extreme rhetoric from the other side, publicized widely and gleefully by us all in order, is effectively used to impeach their credibility. When the other side demonizes us and uses outrageous rhetoric, calling us “Stalinists” or “jackbooted thugs”, we reprint those words on every blog because we know it makes them look unhinged and loony. When those on our side talk about breaking out the brass knuckles and wanting to obliterate religion and accuse them of abusing their children by teaching them the tenets of their faith, they do exactly the same thing to make us look bad and to help insulate their followers from the influence of “them.” Stopping that sort of rhetoric won’t stop the really hardcore folks on the other side from believing what they believe, but I see no reason to supply them with the ammunition. And I frankly get really tired of having to explain away such rhetoric in order to get the door to someone’s mind to open a bit and let me in. I don’t think this is an unreasonable position at all. Lastly, let me make clear that I do not believe that such rhetoric is the cause of anti-atheist sentiment; I just think it helps reinforce it and does nothing for our side except undermine our ability to influence those who might otherwise be persuaded to examine their presumptions.

  108. #108 kehrsam
    July 2, 2007

    Yes, I have read a lot of Ingersoll, including much of the above. And I feel like I would have got along well with him. Rather like Sam Harris today, I feel like we could get along well over a couple of beers.

    While Ingersoll was certainly no friend of religion (particularly organized religion), the above is a bit of quote-mining. He made his living through his lectures, and a bit of hyperbole was called for; this was the age of P.T. Barnum. Dawkins and Harris also have books to sell, perhaps they use the same reasoning.

    I brought up Ingersoll because in his time most people could hardly believe that such a thing as an atheist existed, much less could be an upright individual. He drew them to his lectures, and if they left unconvinced, at least they had to admit that he had made them think. It was a different age, and I doubt there were too many sermons preached around Ingersoll’s pithier statements, whereas I have heard two about the “brass knuckles” paragraph. I walked out of one of these, the only time I have ever done such a thing, but the idiot also criticized Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the same sermon, so he deserved the insult.

    Besides, I think I can agree with 90 per cent of what he says above: Most religious people are sheeple who have little understanding of what they believe or why. However, this is probably true of 90 per cent of any given population — ScienceBloggers excepted, of course.

  109. #109 brtkrbzhnv
    July 2, 2007

    I see I’m very late to the party, but anyway, I’d like to offer my view: I think this “extreme rhetoric” is nothing more than not being dishonest and hiding one’s views, and I’m referring specifically to the “religious people are deluded” and “religion should be obliterated” sentiments. If one is an atheist, one believes that there are no gods, and, thus, one must pretty much believe that people who think there are gods are deluded. If an atheist does not believe that the religious are deluded, she’s not much of an atheist, if you, as no one does, ask me. Furthermore, from basic morality follows that one would wish for the deluded to come to their senses, i.e. for religion to be obliterated, so if an atheist does not want this, they’re either not very moral or haven’t thought things through very much at all.
    So, to conclude, I think that atheists who (when facing these issues) do not express themselves using this allegedly extreme rhetoric are being dishonest about their beliefs. Maybe being dishonest is a good tactic in this case – I don’t know much about these things – but I nevertheless don’t think we should be, because honesty is important.

    Since Ed does not think that God-believers are necessarily deluded, I don’t think he really should be telling us who do whether or not we should speak up about it. Rather, he should be telling us why we’re wrong. When dealing with those who do not agree with you, trying to convince them of your viewpoint is really always much nicer than telling them to keep quiet about their extremist one.

    The violent rhetoric is a totally different issue, completely about tactics, and as I said, I don’t know much about that, so I’ll just keep quiet thereabout.

  110. #110 Ed Brayton
    July 2, 2007

    brtkrbzhnv wrote:

    I think this “extreme rhetoric” is nothing more than not being dishonest and hiding one’s views, and I’m referring specifically to the “religious people are deluded” and “religion should be obliterated” sentiments. If one is an atheist, one believes that there are no gods, and, thus, one must pretty much believe that people who think there are gods are deluded. If an atheist does not believe that the religious are deluded, she’s not much of an atheist, if you, as no one does, ask me.

    This is true only if one presumes, falsely, that wrong is synonymous with stupid or deluded. One can certainly believe that someone else is wrong about something without thinking them stupid or deluded. I think you’re wrong about this equivalence, but that doesn’t mean I have to also think you’re stupid or deluded. You’re just wrong.

  111. #111 DuWayne
    July 2, 2007

    Interesting thread, as I expected it would be.

    Oddly enough, (as I am a theist) I rather think that both atheists who are more accommodating and the more militant, are important to the struggle against dominionists, religiously motivated bigotry and attacks on science education. I do take issue with many of the things that Dawkins and Meyers say, but that makes sense, me being a theist. I tend to think that I would love to see Meyers tone down his rhetoric at times, the quotes Ed posted upthread being good examples.

    However, there is nothing wrong with people expressing what they believe and what they would like to see happen. I daresay that Dawkins and Meyers (and many other non-theists) would love to see religion disappear, why then, shouldn’t they say that? Some would claim that it makes more moderate non-theists look bad, well join the club. I have a lot of really horrific, foul people making me look bad too. My response is to turn around and disassociate myself from such people and their message of hate. None of the atheists mentioned in this thread even come close to the vile rhetoric of the worst religionists.

    The thing is, both sides have their effectiveness. My gay friends would probably still be in the closet, were it not for the “in your face” attitude of the pride movement. Of course, if all it was, was the “fuck you” stance, my gay friends would also still be in the closet.

    What I do think is counterintuitive in the extreme, is the fighting between militants and moderates. It is a waste of energy and righteous indignation. Too, it’s the sort of thing that really does make non-theists look bad. While it does rather piss me off when people make claims that I am “enabling” religious extremists and that my beliefs are anti-science, I am perfectly capable of arguing that point (not to say that I don’t appreciate non-theists arguing that along side me). However, I am more than happy to ally myself with people like Dawkins and Meyers, when it comes to the larger fight against the truly evil things that religion too often excuses.

  112. #112 Molkien
    July 2, 2007

    “they tune us out. Not just PZ (and his ilk), but every atheist who they feel comfortable lumping in with him. And further more, it makes it more likely that they’ll listen instead to the nutcases who DO discriminate against us” – doctorgoo

    I find it HILARIOUS that “moderates” will be so shaken and scared away by PZ’s “rhetoric” that they would turn to people who really do have a “violent rhetoric” towards gays and other minorities just because they both label themselves as Christians.

    And I’m going to agree with Austin on the importance of clearly defining terms here. So while we are talking about moderates can we define what a moderate is?

  113. #113 DuWayne
    July 3, 2007

    Molkien -

    I find it HILARIOUS that “moderates” will be so shaken and scared away by PZ’s “rhetoric” that they would turn to people who really do have a “violent rhetoric” towards gays and other minorities just because they both label themselves as Christians.

    They don’t need to turn to those who use violent rhetoric against anybody. They have plenty of people to turn to, who speak in terms of peace and love. Who speak of the need to love the sinner and hate the sin and who are quite genuine about it. That they also speak out against gay rights, feminism and the teaching of evolution, is what is scary. They do not use hostile language, indeed, quite the opposite, to promote very evil ideas. These are people who firmly believe that those who do not accept their religion, are going to burn in hell and damnation, for all of eternity. They believe that it is absolutely necessary to do everything they can, to bring as many people into their religion as possible, including making many “sins,” illegal.

    No, most of them do not use violent rhetoric. Most of them use a warped notion of love and compassion. That is what makes it so easy for moderate religionists to reject the rhetoric of people like Myers and embrace dangerous ideas. It is because those dangerous ideas are wrapped up into a message of compassion, while those atheists are just trying to destroy and abolish religion.

    As far as defining moderates, I would say that is mostly people who don’t really take their religious sentiments seriously, people who don’t attend church, or if they do, it’s only on holidays. Moderates are also those who don’t put their beliefs, ahead of the facts and evidence in front of them. Moderates are people who don’t really believe that their dogma should be shoved down everyone’s throats, with the force of law. Moderates are people who believe that everyone has a right to make their own choices, whether it be their faith or their lifestyle choices.

    Me, I’m an unabashedly liberal theist.

  114. #114 Ed Brayton
    July 3, 2007

    Molkien wrote:

    I find it HILARIOUS that “moderates” will be so shaken and scared away by PZ’s “rhetoric” that they would turn to people who really do have a “violent rhetoric” towards gays and other minorities just because they both label themselves as Christians.

    That’s a mighty fine straw man you’re kicking the shit out of there. No one has claimed that extreme rhetoric from our side makes moderate Christians “turn to” violent anti-gay Christians. What has been claimed is that they become less receptive to rethinking their mistaken presumptions about atheists or rethinking their own beliefs in light of the arguments of the other side. If you’re going to argue, at least argue with a position someone has actually taken.

  115. #115 Skemono
    July 3, 2007

    PZ could easily point out that religious beliefs shouldn’t be treated special without being rude and claiming to want to “obliterat[e] all religion”

    Are you serious? It’s okay to think that religion is a bad thing but not to dream that someday we’ll be rid of it? Or are you just assuming that when he says he wants to “obliterate” religion that means he wants to torture religious people into unbelief?

    Yes, PZ’s goal is to obliterate religion, as Dr. King’s goal was to obliterate racism. And yes, that’s going to piss people off, just like segregationists were pissed off by people trying to make changes. So what?

  116. #116 Molkien
    July 3, 2007

    “That’s a mighty fine straw man you’re kicking the shit out of there. No one has claimed that extreme rhetoric from our side makes moderate Christians “turn to” violent anti-gay Christians.”

    Straw man my ass! Somehow you skipped the quote from doctorgoo in which he claimed because of the rhetoric of PZ and his ilk, moderates would be more likely to listen to the NUTCASES. His words, not mine, it’s a position someone has actually taken, in these very comments, not something I pulled out of thin air. Maybe that’s not your position, but don’t claim that it’s NO ONE’S.

  117. #117 Ed Brayton
    July 3, 2007

    Reprinting another comment I just left at Jason Rosenhouse’s blog:

    Jason wrote:

    I’m glad you clarified the part about whether Dawkins and Hitchens are causing anti-atheist sentiment. Readers of some of your earlier posts could easily have gotten the impression that you thought they were, indeed, the cause, at least in part, of such sentiment. There’s a big difference between making new bigots, and providing old bigots with a new peg to hang their coat on.

    See, I don’t think most of them are really bigots. That’s why I made a distinction in my post between the really hardcore anti-atheists and what I think is probably a much larger group of people for whom their distrust and dislike of atheists is just an unexamined assumption that has never been dislodged because they’ve not had positive experiences with real atheists. I think there are many parallels to the earlier civil rights struggle for blacks and the current one for gays and lesbians. We’ve made remarkable progress in what is really a short period of time in both of those areas, precisely because for most of those who harbor such bigotries, they run very shallow and are based primarily on ignorance.

    40 years ago last month the Supreme Court handed down the extremely controversial Loving decision that overturned laws against interracial marriage. There were howls of outrage and surveys showed that a massive majority of Americans were repulsed by the idea of interracial marriage. Take a similar poll today and you’d find very little of that sentiment left, only among the really hardcore racists. The same is rapidly becoming true for gays and lesbians. As more and more of them come out of the closet, people find out that they’ve known gay people all along – and they like them. Those kinds of personal interactions, even if they are as distant and shallow as finding Ellen Degeneres funny, make an enormous difference in people’s perceptions and negative feelings toward all gays and lesbians. That’s why survey after survey finds that younger people, who are used to seeing gays and lesbians on TV and used to being around them in everyday life, are much more accepting of equality for gays.

    I think the same thing will prove true for atheists. I do think it’s important for atheists to engage in the same kind of “out and proud” behavior that gays have done for the last few decades. I absolutely do not want atheists to hide their atheism or pretend to be something they’re not. And I do think that’s where prominent atheist spokesmen like Dawkins and Dennett and Harris being out there, on TV and in the media, is a very good thing. A few celebrities coming out as atheists would be even better and would do a lot of good. As more atheists come out, that large group of mushy but not thought out anti-atheists will undergo the same kind of transformation that those who harbored a shallow, unconsidered bigotry toward gays and blacks have undergone. They’ll find out that they knew atheists all along, they’ve worked with them, played softball with them, etc, and they like them. That’s when those negative attitudes break down, as they always have with previous groups seeking to overcome negative cultural attitudes.

    You see those surveys where some astonishing percentage of people wouldn’t want their daughter to marry an atheist or wouldn’t vote for an atheist and I’d wager that 2/3 of them hold a bigotry that is shallow in the sense I stated above. Given time to get used to the idea, given personal interaction with someone they come to hold in some regard, their negative image of atheists will fade into nothing. And I think those are exactly the people we should be reaching for one obvious reason – they’re the ones we can reach. The hardcore bigots, there’s nothing to be done to change their mind and it’s not worth trying. But that large “mushy middle” is reachable and I still maintain that it becomes harder to reach them when we engage in the kind of extreme rhetoric I’ve been talking about. It does not create their negativity, but it does reinforce it. I’ve talked to so many people like this over the last 20 years and I base my views largely on those experiences.

  118. #118 Ed Brayton
    July 3, 2007

    Molkien wrote:

    Straw man my ass! Somehow you skipped the quote from doctorgoo in which he claimed because of the rhetoric of PZ and his ilk, moderates would be more likely to listen to the NUTCASES. His words, not mine, it’s a position someone has actually taken, in these very comments, not something I pulled out of thin air. Maybe that’s not your position, but don’t claim that it’s NO ONE’S.

    You’re reading far too much in to what he said. What he surely meant by that is that those moderate Christians, when faced with what appear to be violent, threatening (in the cultural sense, if not the physical sense – wanting to obliterate something they hold dear is very threatening to someone) comments are more likely to listen to the really hardcore anti-atheists when they tell them what those bad atheists are really like. The only ones in that scenario who are reachable at all are the folks whose anti-atheist perceptions are shallow, as I wrote in my comment immediately above this one. And at the very least, we certainly do not help our ability to reach those people by engaging in such rhetoric.

  119. #119 llewelly
    July 3, 2007

    Those arguing about whether religion is a ‘delusion’ should note, that due to the verb ‘delude’, ‘delusion’ can imply that the deluded individual has those beliefs not due some fault intrinsic to the person, but because they were deluded by another person (e.g. a preacher or missionary) who may in turn spread false belief due to delusions instilled from the outside. Note that charlatans and hucksters of all stripes often accused of deluding their victims – and while some are less vulnerable than others, no-one is immune.

  120. #120 Ungodly Cynic
    July 3, 2007

    Yes, excellent post. I see the point, however I would raise the question. What indeed does drive militant atheism? I would wager that it is not some kind of hatred or vilification of religion caused by some horrible experience with it. On the contrary. Most outspoken atheists probably see how religion blinds people and how sometimes (most times?) it makes religious people behave in very irrational ways. I wish I could think of some personal anecdote but I’m still drinking my coffee. But, whatever irrational behaviour I refer to does seem to pass for the norm (which is sad). However, militant atheism is “militant” you don’t see them blowing up airplanes, beheading people, stoning women or blowing up abortion clinics.

  121. #121 doctorgoo
    July 3, 2007

    skemono, are you trying to be silly here? Of course I know that obliterate in the phrase “obliterate all religion” is just an inpolitic way to say “end all religion” and that it’s not about torture or violence.

    So ending religion is a worthy goal? It’s one thing for us atheists to agree that we shouldn’t be discriminated against, but I cannot agree that ending religion is necessary to end such discrimination.

    Perhaps you think that religion (in any form) is an evil that must be erased off the earth. Me? Not so much. As long as they don’t discriminate against me, I really don’t care whether or not they believe some god or another.

    And further more, while I applaud your honesty, telling people that you think their religion shouldn’t exist, (especially when you use the word obliterate) certainly isn’t going to convince these people not to discriminate against you.

    As for those who want to nitpick over the phrase “moderate Christians”… get over yourselves. A person can be moderate in most other respects but still take less moderate positions in a few others.

    So if wanna be anal about verbiage, then yes… I have no problem changing that phrase to something else. Ed @1:32am used the phrase “mushy middle”. This good enough?

    The bottom line (which fits nicely from Ed’s original post… and has yet to be refuted effectively) is still this:

    If you want to end discrimination against atheists, attacking people’s religion isn’t the way to do so. If you have another goal in mind, then fine… certainly be honest about it and do what you think is right (within reason of course). …Just realize that you’re often bolstering those prejudices against atheists that you should be fighting against.

  122. #122 MartinM
    July 3, 2007

    As long as they don’t discriminate against me, I really don’t care whether or not they believe some god or another.

    What do you think is the difference between those who don’t discriminate against you based upon their religion and those who do? What produces the different results?

  123. #123 doctorgoo
    July 3, 2007

    What do you think is the difference between those who don’t discriminate against you based upon their religion and those who do? What produces the different results?

    The difference is in their behavior. I really don’t care about their personal reasons for not discriminating against me as long as they don’t.

  124. #124 Matthew Young
    July 3, 2007

    I do often baulk a little at some of the more vehement statements that come out of Hitchens in particular, but people like him, Dawkins and their ilk have actually achieved an awful lot for the atheist cause.

    In times of tragedy or debate or whenever social commentary is required it has always been hugely common for opinion to be sought from religious leaders, despite their being utterly unqualified in terms of any sort of relevant expertise or knowledge, and in fact for no other reason than their religion.

    What, I can’t help but wonder, is the opinion of the head of the Witchcraft Society? Or the Association of Master Plumbers?

    Now, thanks to the efforts of the vocal and strident atheists (I am not condoning threats of violence, calm down), people like Dawkins and Hitchens and their sort are indeed invited to participate in this public debate and answer questions such as what solace atheism can actually bring to people in times of tragedy, for example.

    Now partly this is so that news networks can generate some controversy and garner attention for themselves, but I also think it is an enormously important step forward in terms of atheism being able to present itself as a legitimate, compassionate world-view which is in no way incompatible with leading a moral, emotionally fulfilling life of integrity.

    Without the bombastic rhetoric that some have bandied about, which I agree does very occasionally go too far, with Hitchens in particular, I think it is hugely unlikely that these advances would have been made. It was necessary to make people take notice, and it was necessary to make direct and challenging statements to generate controversy. Without that controversy the mass media, and indeed much of the population, would never have tuned in to see what all the fuss was about in the first place. So yes, there have been positive effects, very positive ones.

  125. #125 MartinM
    July 3, 2007

    The difference is in their behavior. I really don’t care about their personal reasons for not discriminating against me as long as they don’t.

    But if the goal is to end discrimination, then surely the reasons are important? Perhaps I shouldn’t have personalized the question; does it make a difference if we consider it in the abstract?

  126. #126 Soldats
    July 3, 2007

    I just want to make a few observations regarding your post Ed:

    Such statements are amplified through the megaphone of the religious right’s media outlets specifically for the purpose of damaging that public image – and it works.

    The religious right will twist even a moderate theists words to the worst. They’ll even twist scientific research to mean exactly the opposite of what the researcher concluded. You’ve seen plenty of examples of how they do this for gays. No matter what kind of fighting words atheists use or don’t use, they’ll still get burned by the religious right and their noise machine.

    So it really is a very unpersuasive argument that atheists run the risk of alienating the middle when no matter how well behaved they are, the religious noise machine will condemn them to the moderates, repeating their message and spreading it far enough to completely drown out whatever the supplicant theists would try to get across.

    Also worth mentioning is that gays seem to be nowhere near as protected in federal laws as much as atheists are under ‘religion’. No ENDA protection, no Hate Crime protection, no marriage rights, etc for gays while atheists still have this because SCOTUS has interpreted lack of belief as still falling within religion. So when atheists are beaten, hounded, etc. they still have the law on their side despite the widespread prejudice.

  127. #127 Cheeto
    July 3, 2007

    I have seen Ed win a lot of arguments on this blog, but this thread shows Ed getting his ass kicked retorically. In the Austin/Ed debate, Austin won hands down.

    Put some ice on it. After that, there’s nothing a few beers won’t take care of.

  128. #128 Leni
    July 3, 2007

    Ed wrote:

    …when faced with what appear to be violent, threatening (in the cultural sense, if not the physical sense – wanting to obliterate something they hold dear is very threatening to someone) comments are more likely to listen to the really hardcore anti-atheists when they tell them what those bad atheists are really like.

    Except they only appear violent when they are deliberately taken out of context. I’m sorry, but the problem here is still the irrational distrust of atheists by moderate christians.

    They are the ones who listen to the noise machine, indeed, they are the ones propping that machine up. They are the ones with the prejudices that make them assume that atheists are bad people, and they are the ones disregarding the truth in favor of what makes them feel comfortable and smugly superior.

    Last, part of being considered equal is that your faults don’t get blamed on your minority status. When you see a gay man being effeminite, do you think “Ugh. I hate it when gay men reinforce stereotypes!”

    Of course not, because we all know how stupid and nasty that kind of bigotry is.

  129. #129 JuliaL
    July 3, 2007

    DuWayne,

    What I do think is counterintuitive in the extreme, is the fighting between militants and moderates. It is a waste of energy and righteous indignation. Too, it’s the sort of thing that really does make non-theists look bad. While it does rather piss me off when people make claims that I am “enabling” religious extremists and that my beliefs are anti-science, I am perfectly capable of arguing that point (not to say that I don’t appreciate non-theists arguing that along side me). However, I am more than happy to ally myself with people like Dawkins and Meyers, when it comes to the larger fight against the truly evil things that religion too often excuses.

    I have to disagree with you here on two points.

    One is in suggesting that for Dawkins and Meyers the fight against certain specific evil things is the “larger fight.” No, I think they’ve made clear that for them the larger fight is against the existence of any religion, all religion, including yours. The existence of individual evil things is, I understand them to say, drawn from the mere fact of the existence of religion itself, so that your own beliefs are, no matter what you say, anti-science almost by definition and to some degree directly responsible for those evil things. Therefore, in some significant sense, it isn’t possible for you to be of more than temporary and superficial help in the struggle against the evil things. I think they are saying that if the present specific evil things disappear, your own religious beliefs are likely to support and encourage the almost inevitable appearance of new evil things, and therefore the larger fight must be to eliminate all religion. Yours is no exception.

    Given that interpretation, and assuming that you include Myers and Dawkins in your comment about militants, then my other disagreement is with the idea that it is a bad thing for various moderate non-theists, who disagee, to disassociate themselves from the belief that religion itself, all religion without exception by virtue of its very existence, is anti-science and inevitably supports the existence of various specific evil things. For Myers and Dawkings, I think that is not just one point to be argued; it is the point in the sense of the being the bedrock of all the other points they make. People who disagree do well to make their disagreement clear.

    I do agree that it’s good that those atheists who believe that religion itself is an evil thing that needs to be eliminated should say so, and I don’t believe that the moderates who argue against the helpfulness of that rhetoric are saying anyone should refrain from saying what they believe.

    I also disagree with one of your comments about moderate Christians:

    As far as defining moderates, I would say that is mostly people who don’t really take their religious sentiments seriously, people who don’t attend church, or if they do, it’s only on holidays.

    Many moderates take their beliefs very seriously indeed; and, in my experience, some of those who attend church only occasionally have very narrow prejudices, the more powerful because unexamined.

  130. #130 DuWayne
    July 3, 2007

    Leni -

    Except they only appear violent when they are deliberately taken out of context. I’m sorry, but the problem here is still the irrational distrust of atheists by moderate christians.

    They are the ones who listen to the noise machine, indeed, they are the ones propping that machine up. They are the ones with the prejudices that make them assume that atheists are bad people, and they are the ones disregarding the truth in favor of what makes them feel comfortable and smugly superior.

    Ok, like I said, I am all in favor of people expressing what they want and what they believe would be best for society, but lets not sit back and blame moderates for taking them at their word when they say it. You have a lot of prominent atheists, stating categorically, they would like to see an end to religion. That doesn’t make the fear and distrust of atheists all that irrational, now does it? When you couple that with the occasional rhetoric of violence, is it really such a leap for religionists to buy it? Especially when you have the history of governments that claim to be atheist, violently repressing religion.

  131. #131 Kevin
    July 3, 2007

    Ed said: “You’re reading far too much in to what he said. What he surely meant by that…”

    Note the hypocracy. Ed gladly clarifies someone elses comments, telling us what he “really meant”, and giving us the proper context. But PZ? Nope. And Dawkins? Ed can’t even get past the title of his book to the actual thesis. I can’t be the only one seeing the double standard. As long as your on Ed’s “side”, you get the utmost respect. But if you aren’t (well, at least in his view), then he’ll attack you and incomplete caricatures of what you said. This just reeks of dishonesty and poor should be beneath someone so obviously intelligent.

  132. #132 Ed Brayton
    July 3, 2007

    Kevin, you are completely missing the point. Even if PZ does not mean his violent metaphors literally – and I’m quite certain he doesn’t, he’s not that kind of person – what is the upside of using such rhetoric? Other than handing valuable ammunition to the other side to impeach our credibility, what does it achieve? Absolutely nothing. It can only result in negative things. That’s why it should not be used.

  133. #133 Skemono
    July 3, 2007

    So ending religion is a worthy goal?

    It may be.

    It’s one thing for us atheists to agree that we shouldn’t be discriminated against, but I cannot agree that ending religion is necessary to end such discrimination.

    What on earth are you talking about? Who said that we needed to end religion to end discrimination against atheists? PZ has given his reasons for wanting to end religion–he thinks it is a bad thing in and of itself–that have nothing to do with discrimination against atheists.

    Even if PZ does not mean his violent metaphors literally – and I’m quite certain he doesn’t, he’s not that kind of person – what is the upside of using such rhetoric?

    So, Ed, I assume this means you’re going to stop calling people like STACLU and the DI imbeciles because “It can only result in negative things” by “handing valuable ammunition to the other side to impeach our credibility”? Or does this insistence on carefully screening one’s posts to take out anything that can be quote-mined and used against one apply only to PZ?

  134. #134 Ed Brayton
    July 3, 2007

    Skemono wrote:

    So, Ed, I assume this means you’re going to stop calling people like STACLU and the DI imbeciles because “It can only result in negative things” by “handing valuable ammunition to the other side to impeach our credibility”?

    First, let’s make a distinction: I do not call the DI stupid; they are not stupid, not by a longshot. And I don’t like terms like “IDiots” because it just isn’t accurate. I’ll gladly call them dishonest because they are, but stupid they are not. STACLU, on the other hand, is full of people who lack even the most basic reasoning skills and are thus deserving of such a label. This is not at all the same thing as using violent metaphors or calling every theist in the world stupid or deluded; those are rhetorical statements that either serve no purpose or are flatly untrue.

  135. #135 THobbes
    July 3, 2007

    Skemono, did you read Ed’s posts at 5:40pm, 10:02 pm, or 11:20 pm? Simply because someone is wrong does not mean that they are stupid, nor should we stop criticizing them when they are obviously wrong (or stupid!), nor is criticizing them for inaccuracy or stupidity equivalent to using the kind of violent rhetoric that has been debated here.

    If you wouldn’t tolerate Pat Robertson calling for “brass knuckles” against atheists (figuratively, of course), then don’t support it when someone with whom you agree says the same thing. Now I am fairly sure–absolutely sure, in fact–that you would criticize such rhetoric quite harshly if Pat Robertson said it. That would certainly not be handing ammunition to anyone, in your view; why would criticizing PZ Myers, STACLU, or the DI for variously being wrong or imbecilic do the same thing? I am not suggesting here that Dr. Myers is in any way an idiot.

  136. #136 doctorgoo
    July 3, 2007

    What on earth are you talking about? Who said that we needed to end religion to end discrimination against atheists? PZ has given his reasons for wanting to end religion–he thinks it is a bad thing in and of itself–that have nothing to do with discrimination against atheists.

    In my opinion, PZ is focused on the wrong thing if he wants to end religion at all (regardless of the reason). The reason why I phrased that statement the way I did was simply because discrimination is what I care about. And since ending religion isn’t necessary to end the discrimination, I find it quite absurd to learn that anyone considers it a worthy goal.

    I mean really… whatever happened to live and let live? Have you ever met a Christian who didn’t discriminate against you? (if you live in America, I’m sure the answer is yes)

    So if a few people who don’t share our (non-)beliefs don’t react in a discriminatory way towards us, then why would you insist on claiming that ending their religious practices is a good thing. Let’s try to encourage such behavior by convincing the mushy middle, through example, to realize that non-Christians and atheists are, on average, good moral people like everyone else.

    The goal should be to end discrimination and have the freedom to believe or not believe in sky fairies if one so desires.

    Enjoy the fireworks people… and if I’m typing a bit slower the next time, it’s probably because I lost a couple fingers………..

  137. #137 DuWayne
    July 3, 2007

    JuliaL -

    One is in suggesting that for Dawkins and Meyers the fight against certain specific evil things is the “larger fight.” No, I think they’ve made clear that for them the larger fight is against the existence of any religion, all religion, including yours.

    What their larger fight is, is irrelevant to my own. Ultimately, we share a common goal, whatever their larger goal might be. If they were interested in passing anti-theist legislation, or were interested in violently repressing religion, I would accept that they are my enemies. However, as their methods for achieving those goals are rhetorical in nature, I really don’t have a problem with that, indeed, I welcome the discussion.

    Therefore, in some significant sense, it isn’t possible for you to be of more than temporary and superficial help in the struggle against the evil things. I think they are saying that if the present specific evil things disappear, your own religious beliefs are likely to support and encourage the almost inevitable appearance of new evil things, and therefore the larger fight must be to eliminate all religion. Yours is no exception.

    Specifically, this is the exact discussion I am most interested in perpetuating. This is a discussion that I think is particularly healthy for theists to engage in, as it forces us to examine both the nature of our beliefs and the dogma we may subscribe to. It forces us to examine who and what we believe in and to decide whether or not those perpetuating this notion that all religion leads to evil, might not be right. Indeed, this very discussion (not the one the took place here, I have engaged in it several times before) has made a significant contribution to the evolution of my own beliefs.

    Many moderates take their beliefs very seriously indeed; and, in my experience, some of those who attend church only occasionally have very narrow prejudices, the more powerful because unexamined.

    Sorry, I didn’t differentiate that list very well. I was not trying to say that all moderate religionists fit into that one category. Indeed, I am beyond what I would call moderate, yet I take my faith very seriously indeed. I was also not trying to say that those who do not go to church regularly are always moderate either. Believe me, I am well aware of the bigotry that comes from theists who do not attend church regularly or take their faith all that seriously.

    Indeed, the most bigoted person attending my own church, is very occasional with his attendance. I daresay that the fact that he misses out on our pastor’s central message of love and compassion, is a part of his ability to remain as bigoted as he is.

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