Tarnishing the Brand?

Have a look at this interview with Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero. It contains a number of interesting nuggets, but this is the part that jumped out at me:

Baer: Proselytizing atheists like Dawkins have carved out a niche within a largely religious public sphere. Would a less emotional, less evangelistic atheism be capable of maintaining even this degree of influence?

Prothero: I feel quite certain that a less emotional and less evangelistic atheism would garner far more influence. Atheism has a brand problem. Lots of the people who do not believe in God refuse to call themselves atheists. Why? Because they don’t want to be associated with proselytizers.

Where is the evidence to support this canard?

There is, after all, an obvious data point against what Prothero is saying. Rampant hostility towards nonbelievers long predates the arrival of the New Atheists. This hostility is the result of mindless religious bigotry. More precisely, it is the result of the commonly held belief that atheists have no foundation for morality. It is not a response to anything atheists have actually done.

The public opinion polls do not record any backlash against nonbelievers in the last few years. In fact, the numbers are slowly but surely going in the right direction. From where does Prothero derive his certainty that a more understated approach would put atheists in a better position? A more likely scenario is that an understated approach would sell fewer books and produce less public conversation.

As for nonbelievers eschewing the term “atheist,” I very much doubt that has much to do with distaste for “prostletyzers.” Another possible explanation is that people do not want to associate themselves with a social group that is despised in many parts of the country. Yet another is that the term “atheist” tends to imply, somewhat unfairly in my view, a level of certainty that many people do not feel.

I honestly do not know what people like Prothero think atheists should be doing. If Dawkins and the rest are tarnishing the brand by being so outspoken, then what is the more sensible strategy that would put the shine back on?

Are atheists better off today than we were prior to the publication of the New Atheist books? It looks to me like the answer is an obvious yes.

Comments

  1. #1 Michael the little boot
    June 8, 2010

    People like Prothero only like the nice, quiet atheists who are very sad about having no belief in supernatural things. I’d really like to hear one of these geniuses say something new. I can’t understand why that’s asking too much when most of them write for at least part of their income.

    I’m willing to bet he knows one or two nonbelievers who won’t call themselves atheists for the reasons stated. Once again: why do supposedly smart people think the exception is the rule?

  2. #2 NewEnglandBob
    June 8, 2010

    Prothero wants to believe his own dogma, based outside reality (funny how theists do that a LOT). The largest growing group is non-believers or in polls on religion.

  3. #3 Scott Belyea
    June 8, 2010

    Are atheists better off today than we were prior to the publication of the New Atheist books? It looks to me like the answer is an obvious yes.

    And yet his assertion is a “canard.” Got any evidence for your assertion?

    I’m one atheist for whom Dawkins et al have done nothing other than annoy me occasionally. My unbelieving life goes on as before …

  4. #4 Deepak Shetty
    June 8, 2010

    @Scott
    Can you spot the difference between
    “It looks to me like the answer is an obvious yes”
    and
    “Why? Because they don’t want to be associated with proselytizers.”

  5. #5 Scott Belyea
    June 8, 2010

    Of course. Can you spot the similarity … which is what I commented on.

  6. #6 Tex
    June 8, 2010

    I’m one atheist for whom Dawkins et al have done nothing other than annoy me occasionally.

    Riiight, Scott. ’cause it is all about you, and none of the other atheists.

    My unbelieving life goes on as before …

    Got any evidence for your assertion?

  7. #7 Tyro
    June 8, 2010

    Jason,

    Bill Maher is an atheist by any definition yet he repeatedly and adamantly denies this: “I’m not an atheist, though, because the belief that there is no God only mirrors the certitude of religion.” I’m sure people have talked to him about this, yet his line is largely unchanged after many years of talking, and after creating a film which mocks religions. It sounds an awful lot like he denies the “atheist” label because of how atheists act and not because of what the word actually means.

    Of course, having pointed him out, I can’t think of any other examples. I have heard atheists talk with distaste of the outspoken atheists but haven’t met anyone who rejects the label outright because of it. To the contrary, I’ve met several people (and I’m sort of an example myself) of someone that probably wouldn’t be calling themselves an atheist at all if it hadn’t been for the publicizing and discussion which arose because of these outspoken atheists. While there may be examples like Maher, I would guess that the weight is strongly in their favour.

  8. #8 JonJ
    June 8, 2010

    This sort of “kind advice” to atheists by religious folks is concern trollery, pure and simple. They just want atheists to shut up, which of course is not going to happen.

    And why is that atheists don’t have a right to get emotional, when religious people can get as emotional as they want?

  9. #9 Tyler DiPietro
    June 8, 2010

    Guys, Scott Belyea is a whiner who rarely offers anything but smarm and snideness. Ignore him.

  10. #10 Lenoxus
    June 8, 2010

    Although I haven’t done the research to know for sure, I imagine the first Gay Pride parades met a huge amount of resistance from Mr. and Mrs. Mainstream America. There they were (and are today), flaunting their gayness! What the hell?!

    Naturally, that’s why so many more gays are closeted today than in the 1970s: Who wants to be associated with such in-your-face behavior?

    In seriousness, this is one fascinating paradox for any group to get acceptance: You have to have your “bad cops” in order to become liked. If nobody ruffles any feathers, things won’t change. If enough feathers are ruffled in the right ways, things will come closer to universal tolerance — more members of the group in question will not be assumed to be feather-rufflers.

    The irony of Gay Pride parades and similar phenomena is that by spurring a minority to be open and unashamed, you get a response of short-term shock and confusion, but a long-term acceptance to the point that the minority is seen as “normal”, with its own bell curve of varying traits. The mental sphere of Mainstream America has come to incorporate several different “kinds” of gays and lesbians (not to mention an infinite spectrum of “kinds” of women and African-Americans). I think we’re also getting that way with atheism.

    In fact, I would argue exactly the opposite of Prothero here: Pre-New-Atheists, anyone calling herself an atheist is assumed to be making a statement, assumed to be one of those proselyteyzers. I mean, how could you stand it, being so alone, surrounded by us theists? Surely you want to lash out? Surely everything you do is colored by your atheism? Surely I can classify you as an atheist foremost and a human being second? I mean, maybe I shouldn’t treat you as immoral, but darn it, you are certainly exotic!

    But post-New-Atheists, after the logical and moral arguments get widely disseminated (causing sparks and such all along the way) the self-declared atheist is part of a completely “normal” group. The average theist doesn’t assume the atheist to be religion-hating-or-whatever, any more than the average straight man would assume that an open gay man must want to kiss him. This benefit of the doubt isn’t so certain before the in-your-face movements happen.

  11. #11 Lenoxus
    June 8, 2010

    To condense my last post a bit: Celebrities don’t individually and quietly admit their atheism until you get atheists who loudly become celebrities. The loud atheists are the ones who bell the cat. Then the coordination and networking can begin.

  12. #12 Scoot
    June 8, 2010

    Tyro, I think you’re a bit out of date on Mahr’s position. The following is from the Nov. 1, 2009 edition of Imus:

    “Neither me nor my girl believe in God or marriage, so there’s not gonna be a big church wedding… I always say I don’t know. Even Richard Dawkins a man whose name has become synonymous with atheism says he puts a scale of 1 to 7, 1 being absolute certain there is a god and 7 being absolutely certain there isn’t, and he says even he’s a 6.9. Because no one knows for sure what’s out there. He says yes there could be a god and there could be a spaghetti monster out there, but it doesn’t look like it. To me it was always great fodder for comedy. There isn’t a week that goes by that there isn’t something hysterically funny if it’s not tragic, having to do with religion. My recent favorite example was at the Michael Jackson Memorial Stevie Wonder said ‘we needed Michael but God needed him more.’ And I thought really God needs people, God needs singers, God is up there saying ‘Jesus, nothing on, get that Michael Jackson up here.’

    Imus then asks if Hitchens is a 7. Bill Maher responds “he may be, I think we’re just talking semantics at some point, we are all atheists (referring to Dawkins, Hitchens, and himself), which means we don’t believe in a deity, we don’t believe in a magic spaceman, and we think people that do, have a neurological disorder and they need help.”

    When you compare that to his previous quotes, such as the one that you quoted, it seems that he didn’t label himself as an atheist precisely because he was unclear on what the word meant.

  13. #13 Pseudonym
    June 8, 2010

    Lenoxus:

    The irony of Gay Pride parades and similar phenomena is that by spurring a minority to be open and unashamed, you get a response of short-term shock and confusion, but a long-term acceptance to the point that the minority is seen as “normal”, with its own bell curve of varying traits. The mental sphere of Mainstream America has come to incorporate several different “kinds” of gays and lesbians (not to mention an infinite spectrum of “kinds” of women and African-Americans). I think we’re also getting that way with atheism.

    Yes, I completely agree.

    It was only a couple of decades after women got the vote that everyone agreed to forget that the actions of some suffragettes were criminal acts.

    Today, we’ve all decided (with good justification) not to say that a significant minority of those in the gay rights movement of the 70s were just loud, obnoxious arseholes who enjoyed provoking people. Hell, the movement of today has reached the point where Mike Jones is shunned by the mainstream homosexual community, despite doing a great service for that community in exposing Ted Haggard, because he doesn’t fit the modern desired picture of what a homosexual man should be.

    So if history is any guide, in 20 years’ time, when it’s okay to be atheist in the mainstream of the United States, “new atheism” will no longer be useful and people like Christopher Hitchens will be of historical interest only.

    Most of those who object to the “new atheists” of today are idealists who think that it’s possible for these social movements for change don’t need to go through the obnoxious phase and can just skip straight to being mainstream. I admire the idealism in a way. Hell, I’d take it as a compliment!

    But, of course, it’s as naive as those on the atheist side who co-opt the great non-theists of the past and future into a movement which is very much about this time in history. “New atheism” is a necessary movement today, but will be obsolete before you know it. The Stephen Protheros of the world should chill and let it run its course.

  14. #14 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 8, 2010

    In the past Bill Maher has said explicitly that he does believe in God, just not religion. Considering that he is the one that made the film Religulous I don’t think he really has a problem with vocal advocacy on this subject.

  15. #15 Sigmund
    June 9, 2010

    Jason, I’m afraid you make a basic mistake in logic on this one. Prothero can be perfectly correct in his statement because he says the term “lots of atheists”. This can mean two things – one, a significant proportion of atheists, such as 50%. Or 2, simply a number larger than, say 10, perhaps 80 atheists, for instance. It is the ambiguity of the phrase “lots” that allows his statement to be possibly true (since there undoubtedly are a certain number of atheists that fit into this category and simply call themselves agnostics or non-believers). This number doesn’t have to be a statistically significant proportion of atheists as a whole or reflected in polling results.
    Its hardly a shock that a religious person would argue in such a jesuitical manner.

  16. #16 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 9, 2010

    Sigmund, I don’t doubt that some nonbelievers reject the term “atheist” for the reason Prothero gives. That’s why I said I don’t think that motive has much to do with it, as opposed to saying it has nothing to do with it. I just think it is such a small part of the explanation that is hardly the thing I would single out in a short interview.

  17. #17 Lassi Hippeläinen
    June 9, 2010

    IMHO this is an issue only in the USA, where all religious terms have also a political colour. An atheist is a faithless leftist liberal commie bastard. Some atheists don’t want to get involved in that peeing contest, and stay away from political movements like New Atheism. In that sense Prothero has a point.

    Here in Europe being an atheist doesn’t reveal much about one’s political stance.

  18. #18 John Kwok
    June 9, 2010

    While this is slightly off topic, I should remind readers here that Jason Rosenhouse thought that any World Science Festival session on Science Faith should have someone like eminent philosopher of science Philip Kitcher as a participant, simply because Kitcher has written eloquently about the differences between science and religion and why they are not completely compatible, most notably in his “Living with Darwin”. However, let me note that I heard him speak at a church on Darwin, evolution and Intelligent Design creationism on the evening of February 12, 2009, and he observed in his talk that he believes that Richard Dawkins has been quite harmful in sowing the seeds of needless – and unnecessary – conflict between science and religion.

    I’ll have to read again Jason’s post here, but it seems as though Stephen Prothero may be echoing evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson’s sarcastic observation that atheism should be seen as a stealth religion, presumably in light of the fervor displayed by “adherents” such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

  19. #19 John Kwok
    June 9, 2010

    Just a grammatical correction to my prior post, in which I should have said this:

    However, let me note that I heard him speak at a church on Darwin, evolution and Intelligent Design creationism on the evening of February 12, 2009, and he observed in his talk that he believes that Richard Dawkins has been quite harmful in sowing the seeds of senseless – and unnecessary – conflict between science and religion.

  20. #20 Gary Killpack
    June 9, 2010

    As I understand it, these are the points of view presented.

    atheistic means toward ( skeptical )
    atheism means a study of ( proselytizer )
    atheist means a follower ( creed )

    yet they seem to be interchangeable. I’ve had a hard time following the connections in the conversation.
    Could my understanding of the words be incorrect?

  21. #21 Dan L.
    June 9, 2010

    @Lassi Hippeläinen:

    MHO this is an issue only in the USA, where all religious terms have also a political colour. An atheist is a faithless leftist liberal commie bastard. Some atheists don’t want to get involved in that peeing contest, and stay away from political movements like New Atheism. In that sense Prothero has a point.

    I don’t think this is a fair characterization. I think I see what you’re getting at, but I would put it more like this:

    In the US, there are many politically conservative Christians who believe that to be legitimately politically conservative you must be a Christian and vice versa.

    “New Atheism” is not at all a political movement, as far as I can tell. It seems more like a rhetorical ploy to dismiss certain prominent atheists as being “strident” or “militant” or “extreme” or otherwise not worth listening to. You could argue — I think it would be a stretch — that “New Atheism” is in part defined by the opposition of religiously-motivated political positions, but I don’t think that makes it a political movement even if I conceded to the validity of such a statement.

    There’s also the problem in the US that “conservative” can refer to libertarian and civil libertarian positions (usually oriented towards freedom of religion; many such conservatives are atheists) or to socially conservative folk, most of whom probably do think of religious affiliation as having immediate bearing on political affiliation.

    When you say that in the US, “New Atheism” is a political movement, I really do have to object; it’s too reductionist and its insulting to atheists like me who CAN separate their metaphysical beliefs from their political beliefs (to the extent it makes sense to do so) and further reinforces the notion that being an atheist is enough to disqualify someone from public debate, which IS a big problem in this country. And of course, the “New Atheism” label is still a bit of a touchy subject. You might want to be clear about what you mean by it, or better yet, just say what you mean instead of using the phrase at all.

  22. #22 Your Name's Not Bruce?
    June 9, 2010

    I’ve noticed in a series of stories dealing with the lives of women and girls appearing recently in the Toronto Star that some of the writers (usually women themselves) have noted that at least some (sometimes one gets the impression it’s most) of the women and girls being interviewed or written about do not consider themselves (and do not wish to be considered as) feminists. Usually this is said by the writer to have some connection to or reaction against the loud, radical “bra burning” (I’ve noticed this phrase several times) feminists of the sixties. Not sure if there’s a connection here, but just a curious observation inspired by the earlier parallel with the Gay Rights movement. I have no idea if this sort of thing is happening with atheists or not, but I think Prothero’s comments are more concern trolling than anything else. I’m suspect that being mistaken for one of those “shrill” “strident” uppity New Atheists is much farther down the list of reasons people have for not “coming out” as an atheist than Prothero would like. There are, after all still places in the world where being an atheist can be dangerous or at the least ostracizing.

  23. #23 Wowbagger
    June 9, 2010

    Two words: Overton window.

    Really, considering that the reaction of many theistic-types to someone simply admitting to holding a position of – without even advocating in any way – atheism is considered offensive and ‘militant’, I don’t see why there’s any reason not to be outspoken about it.

    They’re going to hate us and attack us and misrepresent us anyway; why not do what we can to get the message across first?

    John Kwok, you’ve been repeating that same idiotic (not to mention inaccurate) ‘stealth religion’ comment by David Sloan Wilson for years now; it’s no more insightful, clever or helpful now than it was the first dozen times you used it. Change the record.

  24. #24 Chris Phillips
    June 9, 2010

    Here in the UK the state church is the Church of England. This benign body of well meaning do-gooders is an absolute boon for the atheist as there is no need to be loud and insistent about the assinities of belief as it all so calm and well mannered. Not that it was always so as the blood letting from Henry VIII through to James II & VII demonstrated. Until that is, the invasion of Islamic idiots who proclaim themselves insulted when anyone questions their belief stupidities, ignoring the fact that their observances are supremely insulting to everyone else. This lack of debate possibilities with hardened believers is just a focus for more and more heat and no light. I see here an analogy with the US and the type of dialogue that this article demonstrates.

  25. #25 John Kwok
    June 9, 2010

    @ Wowbagger -

    No it’s not inaccurate. Moreover, I asked several prominent philosophers if it is an apt description and they said yes, that it could be seen as such. I also made a comment about this to a member of the World Science Festival staff, and that person thought that the atheists condemning the World Science Festival acted as if they were religious zealots (Just for the record, I did not speak about this to either Brian Greene or Tracy Day, the founders and organizers of the World Science Festival.).

  26. #26 John Kwok
    June 9, 2010

    @ Wowbagger -

    Starting in December 2007 at the Huffington Post, David Sloan Wilson wrote at least five blog entries with the title “Atheism as a Stealth Religion”. Here’s the link to the first one:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sloan-wilson/atheism-as-a-stealth-reli_b_76901.html

    Recently when he moved his blog over to Science Blogs, he had those blog entries reposted there. Here’s the link to the sixth one:

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolution/2009/10/atheism_as_a_stealth_religion_5.php

    Of course I don’t think that you have the decency or the humility to admit you’ve made a mistake (But that seems to be the standard modus operandi of each and every militant New Atheist I have encountered online or in person with one notable exception, who shall remain nameless.).

  27. #27 P Smith
    June 9, 2010

    While some atheists can be overly confrontational, what’s really at issue is the rabidly religious falsely equating Dawkins, Hitchens, et al, to “proselytizers”, or worse, fundamentalists.

    The rabidly religious are falsely asserting that atheists are using the same tactics that religions use, which simply isn’t the case. They can’t (or don’t want to) bring themselves up by amending their own behaviours (e.g. stopping their violence). Instead, the rabidly religious seek to “bring atheism down” to their level by making unfounded accusations.

  28. #28 John Kwok
    June 9, 2010

    @ P Smith -

    I’m not one of the “rabidly religious”, but instead, a Deist, whose philosophical framework is probably closer to atheist and agnostic skeptics. However, I have encountered too many times from New Atheists posting online, behaviors and attitudes which are consistent with those who are rabid religious zealots. Clearly the still ongoing debate on whether the World Science Festival should host again a “Science Faith” session or accept future funding from the Templeton Foundation has demonstrated how rabid some of the New Atheist critics have been toward the World Science Festival.

  29. #29 Wowbagger
    June 9, 2010

    John Kwok wrote:

    No it’s not inaccurate.

    It is, at least if you are speaking English since by defintion, atheism cannot be a religion.

    You – and Wilson, for that matter – can dislike atheism and those seeking to have how it’s perceived in a cultural context changed as much as you like; that doesn’t mean it’s a religion, any more than that fact lots of people watch American Idol mean it’s a religion.

    Moreover, I asked several prominent philosophers if it is an apt description and they said yes, that it could be seen as such.

    Argument from authority and therefore irrelevant.

    I also made a comment about this to a member of the World Science Festival staff, and that person thought that the atheists condemning the World Science Festival acted as if they were religious zealots (Just for the record, I did not speak about this to either Brian Greene or Tracy Day, the founders and organizers of the World Science Festival.).

    Perhaps they – like you and Wilson – need a refresher course on what the word ‘religion’ means. Here’s a hint: feeling strongly about something, and agitating for it (or against something orthogonal to it) does not make it a religion.

    Of course I don’t think that you have the decency or the humility to admit you’ve made a mistake…

    What on earth are you blathering about? What ‘mistake’? My use of the term ‘innacuracy’ refers to how it’s inaccurate to describe atheism as a religion, stealthy or otherwise; I used the term ‘idiotic’ because, well, only an idiot would use that line of argument; I used the term ‘years’ because you have been aping Wilson’s statement for more than one year – and, as you yourself have noted, he first used the term in 2007 – three years ago.

    Where’s the ‘mistake’, precisely?

  30. #30 John Kwok
    June 10, 2010

    @ Wowbagger -

    Why is it then that a World Science Festival staffer voluntarily suggested that New Atheist critics condemning the World Science Festival acted like rabid religious zealots? Why has Wilson referred to the New Atheist version of Atheism as a “stealth religion”.

    Dictionary definitions are absolutely meaningless if those who profess to be such instead act in a manner far more consistent of that which they claim not to be.

  31. #31 John Kwok
    June 10, 2010

    @ Wowbagger -

    Am sure one of my uncles, a retired Methodist minister, and my cousin James Yee, the well-known former United States Army Muslim chaplain can give me invaluable instruction in discerning what is – and what isn’t – religion. I’ll be certain to enquire the next time I speak to them.

    Dictionary definitions are meaningless if those who contend that they are not instead act accordingly in such a way that one can conclude that they are what they claim they are not. Hence, that’s why we can view New Atheism as a “stealth religion”.

  32. #32 Wowbagger
    June 10, 2010

    John Kwok wrote:

    Why is it then that a World Science Festival staffer voluntarily suggested that New Atheist critics condemning the World Science Festival acted like rabid religious zealots? Why has Wilson referred to the New Atheist version of Atheism as a “stealth religion”.

    For the same reasons a Protestant might choose to describe a Catholic religious ritual (or vice versa) as ‘Satanic’ – because, while demonstrably wrong, it’s hyperbolic and insulting and a cheap, lazy way to score rhetorical points.

    That, or ignorance.

    Dictionary definitions are absolutely meaningless if those who profess to be such instead act in a manner far more consistent of that which they claim not to be.

    Except that dictionaries – at least any I’ve ever owned and/or used – contain any number of words that can be used, should the user choose accuracy and intellectual honesty, to convey a description of the perceived actions of atheists without stooping to such pathetic, transparent tactics. Considering these same shoddy descriptions come from those who – like yourself – decry atheists for not adhering to some bizarre, non-specific code of behaviour, it’s more than a little hypocritical.

  33. #33 Wowbagger
    June 10, 2010

    Am sure one of my uncles, a retired Methodist minister, and my cousin James Yee, the well-known former United States Army Muslim chaplain can give me invaluable instruction in discerning what is – and what isn’t – religion. I’ll be certain to enquire the next time I speak to them.

    More argument from authority. Perhaps you should consult the Wikipedia page on the topic to remind yourself why it’s a fallacy and that continued use of such makes you look (even more) foolish.

    That you admit you don’t already know what religion is – yet keep on insisting you are qualified to pass judgement on atheism for being a religion – is interesting. And by ‘interesting’ I mean ‘profoundly disingenuous’.

    But don’t let that stop you from asking your relatives – hey, for fun, why don’t you get them in a room and see if they reach a consenus? And, once you have your answer(s), let us know if any words or terms like ‘god’, ‘gods’, ‘divinity’, ‘purpose of the universe’, ‘meaning’, ‘messiah’, ‘supernatural’, ‘ritual’, ‘dogma’, ‘afterlife’ come up and then explain to us how any such words could be used to describe atheism.

  34. #34 PeterCJ
    June 10, 2010

    To me religion, at it’s best is how we FEEL about reality, and the admittances of our involuntary anthropomorphization of reality (come on, have you ever yelled/cursed at at your computer, car, ect?).

    Science should be about how reality WORKS. Otherwise it broadens in to a general Philosophy.

    When religion and science try and do the others job, it is a abomination (Philosophy merely tries to integrate the two).

    If your telling others how to feel about reality,or how to cope with our anthropomorphization of reality you are either ecclesiastical or an artist. Nether is incompatible with being an Atheist.

  35. #35 Lassi Hippeläinen
    June 10, 2010

    @Dan L. (#21)

    You seem to have missed that the first paragraph of my comment was oozing with sarcasm.

    When you say that in the US, “New Atheism” is a political movement, I really do have to object; it’s too reductionist and its insulting to atheists like me who CAN separate their metaphysical beliefs from their political beliefs…

    Sorry, but your opinion doesn’t count. The public image of New Atheism depends on how the opposition sees it. The theocrats definitely see it as a political movement. Anything that tries to interfere with their grab on political power is political.

    And of course, the “New Atheism” label is still a bit of a touchy subject. You might want to be clear about what you mean by it, or better yet, just say what you mean instead of using the phrase at all.

    I cannot see any difference in “old” and “new” atheism in terms of philosophy, but I can see a difference in loudness and lack of political correctness. Therefore I see New Atheism as as a political tool that was born as a response to the loudness and lack of political correctness of theocratic movements.

  36. #36 Sigmund
    June 10, 2010

    “To me religion, at it’s best is how we FEEL about reality, ”
    If that’s the case then why not simply call it feelings rather than complicate it by calling it “religion”, a term synonymous for worldviews that, in their most common forms, very much describe their own versions of how and why the natural world works.
    To mix up “feeling” with “religion” places religion in a special position that it doesn’t deserve. Why should ‘religion’ have any more authority than, say, the love of jazz, modern art or romantic poetry, all of which affects our feelings? This is not to say it has no place, simply not the special unique position advocated by Gould in his NOMA proposal.

  37. #37 John Kwok
    June 10, 2010

    @ Wowbagger -

    Unlike you, Ophelia Benson, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, and countless other militant New Atheists out there blogging away with your ample hatred and disdain for any form of religion, I have found far more rational and thoughtful responses about religion from people like my uncle, Ken Miller, Guy Consolmagno and Frank McCourt (And sorry if I am name-dropping, but in Frank’s csse, he was among those I have known who could appreciate equally well religious ceremonies in various Christian, Jewish, and other religious faiths, always emphasizing tolerance. I still find that quite astonishing in light of the fact that Frank had suffered at such an early age, ample physical and mental abuse from the Roman Catholic Church in Limerick (as recounted in his bestselling memoir “Angela’s Ashes”).).

    At this point I don’t care whether you criticize me again for invoking some kind of “argument of authority”, especially since I have seen similar arguments from you and others, though in your cases, you would cite the very prominent New Atheists I have cited above as well as far more prominent ones such as David Dennett, Christoper Hitchens, and of course, Richard Dawkins (And when you do cite and refer to them for justification, then you’re no different than accusing me of invoking some kind of “argument from authority”.).

  38. #38 Sigmund
    June 10, 2010

    “I have found far more rational and thoughtful responses about religion from people like my uncle, Ken Miller”
    Ken Miller is your uncle?

  39. #39 Wowbagger
    June 10, 2010

    John Kwok wrote:

    Unlike you, Ophelia Benson, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, and countless other militant New Atheists out there blogging away with your ample hatred and disdain for any form of religion…

    Citation needed.

    And sorry if I am name-dropping

    Liar.

    but in Frank’s csse, he was among those I have known who could appreciate equally well religious ceremonies in various Christian, Jewish, and other religious faiths, always emphasizing tolerance.

    Irrelevant.

    I still find that quite astonishing in light of the fact that Frank had suffered at such an early age, ample physical and mental abuse from the Roman Catholic Church in Limerick (as recounted in his bestselling memoir “Angela’s Ashes”).).

    See previous comment above.

    At this point I don’t care whether you criticize me again for invoking some kind of “argument of authority”, especially since I have seen similar arguments from you and others, though in your cases, you would cite the very prominent New Atheists I have cited above as well as far more prominent ones such as David Dennett, Christoper Hitchens, and of course, Richard Dawkins (And when you do cite and refer to them for justification, then you’re no different than accusing me of invoking some kind of “argument from authority”.).

    Is that so? It’s news to me. But feel free to provide a link to – or details of – a post where I have done any such thing.

    Oh, and it’s Daniel Dennett.

    Really, John, I’m just trying to help you to look like less of a blithering idiot. It’s no skin off my nose if you keep on choosing to recite the same laundry list of people rather than actually present anything resembling a cogent argument to support whatever point it is you’re failing to make – unless that point is that you, John Kwok, have met some people who don’t like atheists. But I’m yet to come across a discussion where that’s the topic of debate.

    Buy hey, you knock yourself out; I’m having fun either way.

  40. #40 John Kwok
    June 10, 2010

    @ Sigmund -

    No, Ken Miller isn’t my uncle, but instead, a friend, whom I had the privilege of assisting at his very first debate against a creationist when I was an undergraduate eons ago. The uncle I refer to is a retired Methodist minister.

    @ Wowbagger -

    Speaking of “knocking yourself out”, you seem to be doing a great job acting like the hysterically rabid New Atheist that you are (But I will credit you only for reminding me that it is Daniel – not David – Dennett, who actually does sound far more reasonable than any of the other New Atheist fanatics I have cited, having heard him speak over a year ago – if I am not mistaken – at a New York City Skeptics meeting.).

  41. #41 tomh
    June 10, 2010

    Wowbagger wrote:
    Really, John, I’m just trying to help you to look like less of a blithering idiot.

    You have taken on an impossible task. He has not changed his tune in years, still justifying his opinions by referencing his famous friends, his high school, and his false claim to be a former scientist. Since he seems unable to change he will always look like a blithering idiot.

  42. #42 John Kwok
    June 10, 2010

    @ tomh -

    Thought I might except something intelligent and profound from you for once, but that was too much to ask.

    Anyway, I could pick out, at random, ten people in a New York City subway car, and am certain that they would all agree with the observations made by myself, some people I have worked with over at the World Science Festival, and others that, regrettably, Militant Atheists can and do behave like the fundamentalist religious nuts thaty they condemn. Absence of any belief in a Deity does not make one morally superior.

  43. #43 John Kwok
    June 10, 2010

    typo in my last comment -

    Thought I might expect something intelligent and profound from you for once, but that was too much to ask.

  44. #44 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    June 10, 2010

    Bill Maher is an atheist by any definition yet he repeatedly and adamantly denies this: “I’m not an atheist, though, because the belief that there is no God only mirrors the certitude of religion.”…
    Of course, having pointed him out, I can’t think of any other examples.

    Bart Ehrman, on page 125 of God’s Problem:

    “I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t call myself an atheist, because to declare affirmatively that there is no God (the declaration of atheists) takes far more knowledge (and chutzpah) than I have.

    It’s a pity that someone who is so good at his speciality, namely criticism of the Bible, is so unsophisticated in other areas.

  45. #45 Sigmund
    June 10, 2010

    “his high school”
    What high school was that? I haven’t seen him mention any on this thread.
    (Sorry, but it’s the only one missing on my bingo card!)

  46. #46 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    June 10, 2010

    Kwok: Why has Wilson referred to the New Atheist version of Atheism as a “stealth religion”.

    I have thought for years that David Sloan Wilson is campaigning for a Templeton prize. That would be just one of his statements which contribute to my thinking so.

  47. #47 Dan L.
    June 10, 2010

    @Lassi whatever:

    Yes, I missed the fact that your first paragraph was “dripping with sarcasm.” Maybe I don’t have that font installed.

    Sorry, but your opinion doesn’t count.

    Oh, well, I’m glad to see we atheists are committed to respectful, open-minded discourse.

    Yes, that one was also dripping with sarcasm.

  48. #48 John Kwok
    June 10, 2010

    @ Mustafa -

    You have to read the Nation article on the Templeton Foundation, in which Wilson claims he isn’t biased simply for having received Templeton Foundation support:

    http://www.thenation.com/article/god-science-and-philanthropy

    (Incidentally, over at his blog, PZ Myers has claimed that this article is a “whitewash” view of the foundation, but it strikes me as a more nuanced overview which tries to cover all the issues regarding the Templeton Foundation and does a resonably good job at it.)

    While AMNH astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson did express his disdain for the Templeton Foundation at a surprise public appearance he made last Friday night at the World Science Festival, his colleague, AMNH physical anthropologist has a more ecumenical view, and, in fact, has had a book published recently by the foundation’s press:

    http://templetonbookspark.com/

    Personally I am an agnostic with regards to the Templeton Foundation, though, in light of the fact that it is controversial, I would hope that Brian Greene and his wife Tracy Day – the founders and organizers of the World Science Festival – would seek other, more religiously-neutral, contributors for the festival in succeeding years (Indeed, as luck would have it, Brian and I know the deputy director of a New York City-based foundation who might be in a position to render such assistance. I found out serendipitously when I saw that director at last weekend’s Science and Faith session, and had a brief conversation with afterwards.).

    @ Sigmund -

    They are referring to this school, which is the one of the only two American high schools – public or private – that can claim to have at least four Nobel Prize laureates as prominent alumni (the other is its arch rival, which has seven, all in physics):

    http://www.stuy.edu

  49. #49 Sigmund
    June 10, 2010

    “They are referring to this school, which is the one of the only two American high schools – public or private – that can claim to have at least four Nobel Prize laureates as prominent alumni (the other is its arch rival, which has seven, all in physics):
    http://www.stuy.edu
    House!

  50. #50 John Kwok
    June 10, 2010

    Postscript to my last comment -

    The unnamed AMNH physical anthropologist is Ian Tattersall, whom, I would describe as a skeptic, not a religiously devout person. And yet, he apparently has no major issues toward the Templeton Foundation and agreed to write a book on hominid paleontology for their press.

    @ Sigmund -

    Who cares about bingo? Both of the high schools in question have produced many scientists, engineers and doctors, of which, in the case of my alma mater, one of the most prominent is the co-founder of the World Science Festival.

  51. #51 Pseudonym
    June 10, 2010

    Mustafa Mond:

    It’s a pity that someone who is so good at his speciality, namely criticism of the Bible, is so unsophisticated in other areas.

    Dunning-Kruger effect, most likely.

  52. #52 PeterCJ
    June 10, 2010

    dear Sigmund,
    you ask “Why should ‘religion’ have any more authority than, say, the love of jazz, modern art or romantic poetry, all of which affects our feelings?”
    This is because the love of jazz is a self limited paradigm not a world view, it is not about authority or what merely affects our feelings, but viewing the world as a whole through feelings. – now asking is this overall a good thing (sometimes in moderation) or really avoidable (no) is quit a different question.

  53. #53 PeterCJ
    June 11, 2010

    Sigmund,
    And as for the “argument of authority”, we homosapiens tend to be egocentric about our emotional outlook, and find that to be authority enough to bully others.

  54. #54 Sigmund
    June 11, 2010

    PeterCJ, you have switched your argument from your previous point of how you see the ideal function of religion (“religion, at it’s best is how we FEEL about reality, and the admittances of our involuntary anthropomorphization of reality”) to how it is ACTUALLY practiced in the world – as a world view (that we know, in its most common forms, entails descriptions of how a supernatural being created, interacts and alters the natural world.)

  55. #55 PeterCJ
    June 11, 2010

    Sigmund,
    no switching,if you don’t make a dogma (get rigid, literal) out of religion, it is primitive, all encompassing, conceptual art. Post 53 was a pot shot at (ironically enough) self righteous atheists (who are often dogmatic). I as an artist see atheism as reaction to outdated religion, that no longer connects. the subconscious/contextual part of our mind needs a story (as are dreams)to help us live in the world, and you ignore this need at your peril.

  56. #56 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    June 11, 2010

    You have to read the Nation article on the Templeton Foundation, in which Wilson claims he isn’t biased simply for having received Templeton Foundation support:

    Mr. Kwok: I am not obligated to believe Wilson’s self-assessment. In other news, OJ Simpson’s reward for finding the “real killer” of his ex-wife goes unclaimed.

  57. #57 John Kwok
    June 11, 2010

    @ Mustafa -

    Your logic escapes me. It is as though you contend that my cousin, former United States Army Chaplain James Yee, must still be a Lutheran Protestant Christian, even though he converted to Sunni Islam and attended a madrassa in Damascus to become a Sunni Muslim cleric.

  58. #58 Lenoxus
    June 11, 2010

    PeterCJ:

    I as an artist see atheism as reaction to outdated religion, that no longer connects. the subconscious/contextual part of our mind needs a story (as are dreams)to help us live in the world, and you ignore this need at your peril.

    Any religious assertion about the world, even fuzzy and loosely-held ones like “God loves you!” is a form of “dogma”. Even if you think God’s existence is somehow super-”subtle”, so long as you think he probably exists, you are a believer in a particular dogma — namely, that there probably exists some sort of phenomenon or entity which can be reasonably described as “God”.

    Nearly all believers attach many more assertions to this one. For example, they will talk about the power of prayer, which strongly implies the dogma that prayer has real “power” beyond mere talking-to-oneself (and not that prayer is just a nice meditative ritual). This is not an “outdated” belief, in terms of the sheer number of adherents. These adherents do not think prayer is figurative or metaphorical, but very much real.

    “Dogma” need not be “dogmatic”.

  59. #59 Sigmund
    June 12, 2010

    PeterCJ, if you are suggesting that religion, devoid of its supernatural elements and treated as a myth is the best way to regard it then I have to agree. If you remove the miracles from any religion then I suspect most atheists will cease to have problems with them. It is only the ‘certainty’ of a supernatural creator revealed by those miracles that emboldens the religious to try to run everyone else’s lives. Nobody in modern times tries to dictate policy based on the stories of Thor or Zeus even though we might appreciate them as mythological tales that might throw some light on human behavior.
    The same cannot be said of stories of Moses, Jesus and Muhammed.
    The atheists who are commonly termed ‘new atheists’, Dawkins, Coyne, PZ Myers etc, have no problem with using metaphorical imagery or appreciating the beauty of religious music or poetry for instance.
    What exactly is the dogmatism of which you are accusing them?

  60. #60 John Kwok
    June 12, 2010

    @ Sigmund -

    Of the three New Atheists you cite, only Dawkins doesn’t have “no problem”. Coyne I don’t know, but Myers has expressed his disdain in the past.

  61. #61 Sigmund
    June 12, 2010

    Myers expresses disdain for the use of metaphorical imagery?
    What utter nonsense.
    What is his ‘Courtiers Reply’ if not the use of metaphorical imagery to make a cutting point about theology?
    What about his excellent article about the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ and its relationship to mortality?
    He might hate some examples of religious music,art or literature but, so what, who doesn’t. Its ridiculous, however, to extrapolate that to suggest he has a disdain for all metaphorical imagery.

  62. #62 John Kwok
    June 12, 2010

    @ Sigmund -

    Yours is a fair point. I retract my prior observation.

  63. #63 L.E. Alba
    June 13, 2010

    If we are to believe the assumptions about the demure muteness of atheists how are we to reconcile the current level of animated discourse about the subject?
    My experience has shown me that multitudes of atheistic fellow travellers are being encouraged by the open forum call generated by all this manifesto activity. In fact, recruits are coming out of the woodwork everywhere! Medieval retro-shamans like my crystals-loving cousin can’t even get a good bonfire or a Pan flute dance going before some wiseguy holding a copy of Hitchens or Dawkins comes along to disrupt the liturgy! Jeez Louise! Kids today.

  64. #64 John Kwok
    June 13, 2010

    @ Sigmund -

    With respect to ‘Courtiers Reply’, I believe Jason Rosenhouse had a more extensive post – noted by PZ Myers himself – in which one of Jason’s most important points really hits the nail on its head:

    “This, alas, is correct, One of the weaknesses of Dawkins’ book [The God Delusion] is that he frequently writes as if the really important distinction in forging a civil, livable society is theism vs. atheism. It isn’t. The important distinctions are secular society vs. government involvement in religion, and rational thought and evidence vs. irrational faith and revelation. You can reasonably say that theism is more closely associated with the bad parts of those last two dichotomies, and atheism is more closely associated with the good parts. But atheism good / theism bad is not born out by the evidence.”

    Here’s the rest of what Jason wrote here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2006/12/orr_on_dawkins.php

    And here’s the link to Myers’s observation:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php

    Of course, Jason alludes to his 2006 post in the points he has made in the original entry in this thread.

  65. #65 roadrider
    June 22, 2010

    I do not call myself an atheist because 1) I don’t think that there needs to be a special term attached to the lack of a god belief. I don’t believe in leprechauns, mermaids or Santa Claus either – what’s the special term(s) that correspond my lack of belief in those things? The use of word atheist to distinguish non-believers elevates god beliefs to a status they do not deserve on their own merit. 2) God believers do not apply the term atheist to themselves for their lack of belief in god figures other than the one they have been conditioned to believe in by their upbringing or social milieu.