Update: Saturday, 2:48 am. The original version of this post contained an unkind remark directed towards Josh Rosenau. My intention was facetious hyperbole, but upon further reflection I’ve decided that my remark is too easily misunderstood as personally acrimonious. For that reason I have revised that sentence, while leaving unchanged the substantive points I was making.

 

That’s the title of a new study (PDF format) by psychologist Wll Gervais, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Here’s the abstract:

Although prejudice is typically positively related to relative outgroup size, four studies found converging evidence that perceived atheist prevalence reduces anti-atheist prejudice. Study I demonstrated that anti-atheist prejudice among religious believers is reduced in countries in which atheists are especially prevalent. Study 2 demonstrated that perceived atheist prevalence is negatively associated with anti-atheist prejudice. Study 3 demonstrated a causal relationship: Reminders of atheist prevalence reduced explicit distrust of atheists. These results appeared distinct from intergroup contact effects. Study 4 demonstrated that prevalence information decreased implicit atheist distrust. The latter two experiments provide the first evidence that mere prevalence information can reduce prejudice against any outgroup. These findings offer insights about anti-atheist prejudice, a poorly understood phenomenon. Furthermore, they suggest both novel directions for future prejudice research and potential interventions that could reduce a variety of prejudices.

None of this will come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog, since it completely vindicates the argument I made in this epic post from last year:

Likewise, if you want to mainstream atheism you have to make it visible. You have to make it ubiquitous, so that gradually it loses all of its mystique and scariness and becomes entirely ho hum and commonplace. It is not so much about making an argument that will cause conservative religious folks to slap their foreheads and abandon their faith, as though that were possible. It is about working around them, by making atheism part of the zeitgeist.
It is a long-term strategy, one starting deep within its own endzone thanks to years of more effete strategies. Will it work? I don’t know. But I am confident that nothing else will.

Of course, I am not saying that the rational arguments don’t matter. Of course you have to make a good point. Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris all have numerous e-mails to offer from people who credit their books with changing their minds on this issue. So persuasion via rational argument should not be underestimated. I am simply noting that the importance of books like those of the NA’s goes far beyond the people who actually buy them and read them. It goes far beyond the people sitting in the audiences during their public presentations. It extends to the fact that four years after the publication of Dawkins’ and Hitchens’ books everyone is still talking about them. Atheism is a part of the public conversation to a degree that was unheard of prior to the publication of those books. Keep it up and pretty soon you have a generation of people who think there is nothing bizarre about atheism, just as today we have a generation of teenagers growing up in an environment in which homosexuality is visible and largely accepted.

As Gervais explains, the broader context for his research is this: the general wisdom in studies of prejudice is that hostility towards an outgroup tends to increase as the size of that outgroup increases. But a more nuanced view recognizes that the truth of this generality depends on the basis for the prejudice. In cases where the prejudice is the result of fear, it makes sense that hostility towards an outgroup would increase with the size of the group. But with atheists the prejudice is based on distrust. Gervais explains the possible significance of this:

Although prejudice characterized by fear is positively related to outgroup size, prejudice characterized by distrust may instead be negatively related to outgroup size. There is some inherent tension between distrust of atheists on one hand and the collective inconspicuousness of atheists on the other hand. One would expect that such an untrustworthy group would be readily apparent, as their widespread immorality would leave obvious effects. These two facts could be reconciled if atheists were rare: Even an untrustworthy group can escape notice if it is small enough. But atheist distrust may not be able to persist if atheists are both inconspicuous and believed to be numerous. In other words, it is possible that knowledge that atheists are both inconspicuous and numerous could force a reappraisal of the incompatible view that they are untrustworthy. This pattern would lead to a negative relationship between anti-atheist prejudice and perceived atheist prevalence.

This possibility is precisely what has now been borne out.

This research pretty obviously strengthens the case for the effectiveness and usefulness of what the New Atheists have been doing. As I argued in the epic post, their main contribution is to make atheism visible, and to make it far more mainstream than it was previously. Chris Mooney graciously notices this fact:

In general, I believe what we know about human psychology runs contrary to the New Atheist approach and strategy. However, I do my best to follow the data, and here’s a study that suggest at least one aspect of their approach may work. The tactic finding support here is not necessarily being confrontational-that would tend to prompt negative emotional reactions, and thus defensiveness and inflexibility towards New Atheist arguments-but rather, making it more widely known that you’re actually there-as “out” atheists try to do:

The tactic that receives support from this study is that of doing what you can to make atheism visible. The problem for Mooney’s argument is that it is precisely the confrontational nature of the NA books that make them so effective at getting the word out.

Josh Rosenau is less gracious:

I actually think Chris is being too nice to New Atheism here, which is rather remarkable. As I’ve said before, it’s hardly surprising that making a group more visible is a better way to build public acceptance than being less visible, and I support efforts to increase atheism’s visibility. But New Atheism is hardly the only way for atheists – or nontheists more generally – to get the word out that they’re here and want to be taken seriously. It’s a myth that there’s no such thing as bad publicity: if no one knows who you are, it’s all the more crucial to present yourself well. And for the reasons Chris alludes to above, and for reasons I’ve laid out ad nauseam, I don’t think New Atheism is the best way to present atheism.

For the record, the place where Josh said it before was in reply to my epic post. And since this new research is far more supportive of my argument than his, you can understand why he now grimly tries to turn lemons into lemonade.

Please tell me the better method for getting the word out about atheism. Consider that sales of NA books are numbered in the millions. Then factor in the millions more who have attended NA presentations or who have watched videos of those presentations on You Tube. And then factor in all of the media coverage given to atheism as a result of the NA’s efforts. Consider that years after the publication of the major NA books people are still talking about them. You really have an alternative method for getting the word out that can match those results? I doubt it.

As I suggested a moment ago in my reply to Chris Mooney, we seem to have a conflict here. On the one had, it is not in doubt that being excessively confrontational can turn people off from your point of view. On the other, some degree of confrontation is necessary to attract attention to your cause. If we are trying to assess the impact of the NA’s, we need to decide which of those aspects is the most important.

Since I am not aware of any hard data that would help us answer this question, all I can say is that it just seems dead bang obvious to me that it is the latter aspect of their writing that dominates the former. That is, their success in getting the word out vastly outweighs the offense they may have given to some people. Simply put, I do not believe religious folks are anywhere near as delicate as many of the NA critics suggest.

Frankly, my strong suspicion is that the notion that the NA’s are terribly rude and obnoxious is far more prevalent among a small group of preening academics than it is among the public at large. Anyone who reads the more vitriolic NA critics prior to reading the NA books is likely to be disappointed by how tame those books really are. You can go pawing through them looking for the juicy bits, but they are nowhere near as fiery as their reputation. And in their public presentations, the behavior of the most prominent NA’s is impeccable.

It is just empty rhetoric to suggest that the prevalence of atheism can be made clear to people without also ruffling some feathers. The simple fact is that the NA’s are a new arrival on the scene. For rather a lot of years prior to their arrival hostility towards atheism was at a fever pitch, but that attitude certainly could not be blamed on excessive militancy on our part. There has been ample opportunity to prove that more mild-mannered approaches could get results, and the verdict is in. It is a bit rich to be told, after the NA’s have successfully made atheism part of the public conversation to a degree that was inconceivable just a few years ago, that a handful of bloggers know a better way.

Comments

  1. #1 Martin
    April 22, 2011

    The tactics of ActUp gays shouting “We’re here and we’re queer” were considered load, obnoxious and in-your-face back in the 90s. BUT it worked – LGBTs are (in the main) no longer hiding in the cracks and the acceptance of LGBTs has soared.

    If atheists can get the same increase of visibility and acceptance with with less obnoxiousness (compared to the 90s gay campaigns) then the Gnus are on the right track. Otherwise we’re going to need “Atheist Pride” marches and a suitable chant.

  2. #2 Uncle Bob
    April 22, 2011

    Perhaps the NA critics extreme exaggeration has a similar effect to the anti-marijuana campaign. It has a habit of arousing curiosity and skepticism, and overall has a “positive” effect (at least, as the NA’s would view it).

    I figure this has a strong possibility being true. I base this opinion on the amusement I would find in the irony of it. Call that wishful thinking if you must.

  3. #3 CarlosT
    April 22, 2011

    As we all know, if the Gnus were writing about sports or show business, then their writing wouldn’t cause anyone to bat an eyelash. It’s only because religion is supposed to be insulated from any and all criticism that they are perceived as “shrill” or “militant”.

    Compare pretty much any of the arguments in The God Delusion and you can probably find a Bertrand Russell quote that says the same thing. Ditto for pretty much anything by Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, or most any other Gnu. That’s not a criticism, it’s just that this argument has been going on for centuries.

    So what makes the Gnus new is what they’re saying, but how their saying it, which is what the accommodationists are constantly harping on about. Yes, tone matters, and now we know that the proper tone is the one the Gnus have taken, which is of firmly and forthrightly defending your views.

  4. #4 Josh Rosenau
    April 22, 2011

    Jason: You’ll recall that I replied to your claim quoted above by writing:

    I knew that already [that an emotional connection matters], which was why I cited research on the emotional biases people bring to bear on evaluating scientific claims. But rather than emphasize that point, which tends to argue in favor of identifying shared values, he boldfaces the statement: “Emphasizing that ‘everyone else is doing it’ also helps.” To which I say, “No shit.” It’s called the bandwagon effect, and everyone knows about it. But the paper I cited pointed out that people discount views of people with differing values, which reduces this bandwagon effect unless you overcome those divergent values.

    Which is to say, the argument which you now call “pig ignorant” is in fact agreeing with your claim, but observing its obvious limits. If that’s pig ignorant, then so is your last post, and so is this one.

    Now I don’t think we’ll get anywhere with namecalling, so I’ll stipulate that neither of your posts was ignorant, and neither was mine. I will continue to argue that it’s foolish to think that the content of the message doesn’t matter, and I’ll continue to worry that your position is drifting toward that flawed position (though I hope it’s not there yet).

    In my recent post, I contrast billboards from Coalition of Reason with those from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. COR’s billboards say “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone”; FFRF’s say, among other things, “As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion.” I wish there were empirical data on the relative effects of these billboards, and my post suggests a way to gather such data (which is more than I’ve seen any NAs do). Absent such surveys, a plain reading of the research under discussion suggests strongly that the FFRF billboard will be less effective than the COR billboard. FFRF’s billboard doesn’t emphasize that other atheists are around, and takes a position that religious people are slaves, which is not a position likely to dispel the unfair mistrust of atheists. COR’s billboards could do more to emphasize how common nontheism is, but strike me as pretty close to the message Gervais studied.

    To choose another example: In the God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says that raising children to be religious is like child abuse. Does that seem likely to make people think atheists are trustworthy?

    He also, by the way, likens people like me to Nazi-appeasers. Though it may shock you to hear this, that was not a tactic that made me want to join in his campaign. Obviously, his books and talks have reached lots of people and had various effects on various folks, but if his rhetoric turned off people like me who were basically sympathetic to his mission, it hardly seems likely that that message would work well for people less predisposed towards him.

    I know I’m not the only person who might’ve been inclined towards New Atheism but who turned away because of how (at least some) New Atheists behaved. I know Orac has described a similar transition, as has Jean Kazez. None of us are opposed to a secularist agenda, all of us would be happy to see more atheists, all of us want to see better science education, etc. Heck, Chris Mooney has no problem with that agenda. I’m sure if I asked around, I could get more examples. But what of it?

    Sure, lots of people have read those books, watched the videos, attended speeches, listened to radio programs, etc., but until we know something about who that outreach reached, and how that outreach influenced people, all we have are scattered anecdotes. And to treat anecdotes as scientific data is, well, pig-ignorant.

    You claim “some degree of confrontation is necessary to attract attention to your cause.” I don’t know what you base that on. The Gervais study which we’re discussing doesn’t strike me as reliant on confrontation, and indeed a tactic of confrontation seems likely to feed into the distrust that Gervais identifies as the cause of anti-atheist prejudice. Which was the whole point of my response.

    If you have counterevidence, offer it. But you don’t get to call me ignorant when you’re in the midst of ignoring the central point of my post, and of the research you’re trying to discuss.

  5. #5 Norwegian Shooter
    April 22, 2011

    Thank you for putting Josh in his place. “a wretched excursion into blinkered pig-ignorance” Awesome!

  6. #6 Norwegian Shooter
    April 22, 2011

    Sorry for double post, but software hung on me. As for data, Josh, millions of people bought the gnu books and a percentage of them, still numbering millions, read all of at least one. I think Jasons point that if you read a whole gnu book, you would see the putative terrible parts for the small snippets they are. So millions of people are exposed to good arguments against theism, at the least, no matter who they are or how they took the good arguments.

    Now, what non-gnu writer has done anything that has exposed millions of people to good arguments against theism?

  7. #7 Norwegian Shooter
    April 22, 2011

    “Sure, lots of people have read those books, watched the videos, attended speeches, listened to radio programs, etc., but until we know something about who that outreach reached, and how that outreach influenced people, all we have are scattered anecdotes. And to treat anecdotes as scientific data is, well, pig-ignorant.”

    So typical of you. If you read it fast enough, it seems like a good argument. But if you don’t, you’re left with: Admit opponents point, Set an impossible hoop for point to jump through, Denigrate point for not jumping through your hoop, Misapply obvious truthful statement to point. QED.

  8. #8 Jeff Hebert
    April 23, 2011

    Josh,

    Not to speak for Jason, but I took confrontation in this sense not as “two people fighting” but rather “to be confronted with”. It’s almost impossible to confront a theist in the latter sense of the word with the fact that you are an atheist without them also taking it as confrontational in the latter sense of it. These are, after all, two diametrically opposed world views (at least fundamentally, if not necessarily in practice).

    On another note, you chide Jason for using anecdotal evidence to support his view that the “New Atheist” style of confrontation is a net benefit, but your argument on that score also seems to be anecdotal — “Me and Orac got offended, therefore probably so are lots of other people”. It doesn’t seem reasonable to chide your opponents for stating an opinion despite a lack of hard data while doing the exact same thing yourself.

  9. #9 bad Jim
    April 23, 2011

    One of the implications of this survey is people perceive atheists as less threatening the more common they are. Perhaps when they’re invisible they’re considered a bizarre aberration like Satanists. When they come out in the open and present their message they turn out to be nerdish and fairly boring.

    It may well be that other changes in our society have diminished the threat that atheists once presented. Back in the 50’s divorce was difficult, abortion illegal, blacks segregated, women were in the kitchen and gays were in the closet. All of that has changed, and most would agree that it has been for the better.

    Atheism no longer presents as great a challenge to our values as it once did. Once the specter at the feast, it’s now just another choice in the buffet.

  10. #10 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 23, 2011

    Josh —

    Obviously I was having some fun with you with the “pig-ignorance” remark. Of course I don’t really think you’re ignorant, and I don’t think your argument is stupid. I had hoped that my tone in that sentence was so over the top that it would be clear I was being facetious, so I apologize for my excessive enthusiasm. But can you blame me for being a bit triumphalist, considering that the abstract of the paper sounds nearly identical to what I said in the quote from my earlier post?

    I won’t go point by point through your comment, since I think it mostly covers ground we’ve discussed before. I’d simply note that it’s your side of the debate that routinely claims the NA;s are actively harming the cause by their tone and their nastiness. The burden of proof is on you to back that up, and I don’t think you have been successful in that project. I see many reasons for thinking that the NA’s are having a significant impact towards making atheism socially acceptable, but even if I’m wrong about that, even if their only contribution to the discussion is to write books I happen to enjoy reading, then, in the spirit of Passover, I say dayenu.

  11. #11 Josh Rosenau
    April 23, 2011

    Bad Jim: It isn’t even that people in the study have to personally know an atheist, let alone have them “present their message.” People just have to know that atheists are prevalent in their community. In other words, Gervais wasn’t looking at what happens when atheists talk about atheism with theists, or anything like that. All the people did was “read one of two brief articles about the numbers of atheists world- wide as well as among undergraduates at their university.”

    Jeff Hebert: Again, the study at hand was not about “confronting” a theist in any sense, except telling them that there are a lot of atheists around. And there’s nothing inherently confrontational about that.

    And while it’s definitionally true that “These are, after all, two diametrically opposed world views,” there are lots of ways to express that. Protestants don’t take it as confrontational when someone says “I’m a Catholic,” even though Catholicism rejects major parts of Protestant doctrine. The difference is that a) there’s a clear set of shared beliefs and values (including a shared theism), and b) Catholics and Protestants stopped trying to convert one another by force a while ago. There’s a pluralistic understanding that’s been reached between the groups that essentially defuses the implicit confrontation. Nothing stops the same thing from happening between atheists and nontheists.

    You also rightly note that my observation about people being turned off by NAism is only anecdotal, and argue “It doesn’t seem reasonable to chide your opponents for stating an opinion despite a lack of hard data while doing the exact same thing yourself.”

    Ah, but I’m using those counterexamples to point out the flaws in the sort of evidence he was trying to offer (and that Norwegian Shooter tries to employ in a comment above as well). It’s true that lots of people have read NA books, but that doesn’t mean they’ve all been convinced. Some undoubtedly have, and there are NAs quite fond of pointing to their list of converts. But they never try to assess the number of people they’ve pushed away, and do all they can to ignore the possibility that such folks exist. I point out those counterexamples not to claim they are more representative, but to insist that they (we) be considered in these discussions.

    Norwegian Shooter: I’ll grant the “awe,” but think it’s not “some,” but “ful.” Aw-ful. And not only unjustified, but unjustifiable. I don’t keep careful track of the anti-apologetics literature, but I’m confident it wasn’t invented by Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. I do note that quite a few of their arguments were made famous (and made better) by Hume, ~250 years ago.

  12. #12 Rieux
    April 23, 2011

    Rosenau:

    It’s true that lots of people have read NA books, but that doesn’t mean they’ve all been convinced.

    Boy, you got amnesia about the study being discussed awfully fast.

    As Jason and said study just explained, there is no need for believing or fence-sitting readers of Gnus’ books to “be convinced” that theism is false or religion is bad. It is more than sufficient for those readers to “be convinced” that atheists exist, that we aren’t freakish monsters, and that we—including Gnus—are actual participants in the social conversation on these issues. The silencing of Gnu-ish advocacy you seek would have the exact opposite effect.

    The willful blindness you and your fellow accommodationists bizarrely maintain toward the very concept of Overton Window effects was laid bare and called out by January 2010 Order of the Molly laureate Paul W in a (typically lengthy) comment at WEIT:

    I think the conflict between accommodationism and gnu atheism is largely based in these different ideas of effective political strategy.

    Accommodationists, by and large, think that there’s a central “best position” to take, for political purposes, and that their strategic goal is to get as many people as they can to espouse it.

    Gnu atheists don’t think that. They think that if everybody on “our side” is pulling in the same general direction, a diversity of particular positions—some more accommodating, some more “strident”—is often quite a good thing, and backlash against extreme views is often less of a problem than you’d naively think.

    Why that’s true has a lot to do with how people self-select political messages. Everybody has their own internal window of reasonable-seeming views—e.g. from moderately to the left to moderately to the right of their own political position—and people mostly seek out opinions within that personally “acceptable” range to consider seriously and discuss with others.

    For example, consider what happens when a rabid right-wing conservative politician spouts off and offends people with liberal views. Do most moderate Republicans then leave the party? No.

    More importantly, do most politically moderate swing voters (e.g., Reagan Democrats) then decide not to vote for a more moderate conservative on that basis?

    No, they clearly typically don’t. They continue to dismiss the rabid religious conservative as they generally dismiss such people, and continue to take more moderate conservatives seriously, for the same reasons they did before. The fact that an extreme conservative seems unreasonable to them doesn’t make a moderate conservative seem much more unreasonable. There may be some backlash against the Republican party generally, but often not much, and more moderate Republicans manage to avoid most of it. They’re still seen as the relatively good guys, having to put up with the cranks in their own party, and who swing voters may well vote for when it comes up.

    Gnus don’t generally deny that there’s some useful truth to truisms like “you catch more flies with honey.” They don’t generally think it’s a good idea to go around just gratuitiously pissing people off and generating nothing but backlash, as accommodationists seem to think they do.

    They’re just more optimistic that unvarnished atheistic messages will reach some people—after all, that’s how a lot of current atheists became atheists—and that the backlash won’t be too bad, and there won’t be too much collateral damage to our less extreme allies. In the long run, and in the big picture, we can shift the Overton Window somewhat, and the net effect is likely good for everybody on our side….

    Josh, I’m afraid Paul (or perhaps Joseph P. Overton) has you dead to rights. Your constant fixation on your own arbitrary guesses about “the number of people [gnus]’ve pushed away,” without the slightest gesture at the Overton processes at work here, is becoming awfully silly. (Not incidentally, Overton processes dovetail exceedingly well with the results of the study Jason is citing.)

  13. #13 Rieux
    April 23, 2011

    Okay, Scienceblogs ate the URL I posted. The Paul W. WEIT comment I quoted is at http://tinyurl.com/3r9p4v7 .

  14. #14 MartyM
    April 23, 2011

    “Simply put, I do not believe religious folks are anywhere near as delicate as many of the NA critics suggest.”

    I’m glad you said this. The uber religious people will be confrontational. Ever attend a revival? How more confrontational can you get? I’ve attended church for a long time as an adult and I always cringed when pastors tell their congregation that if you don’t believe how he/she said you should, then there’s something wrong with you (or your heart, but I don’t see the difference). How more confrontational can you get? There’s something wrong with me because I don’t react on que as expected? I don’t think so!

  15. #15 Alan
    April 23, 2011

    I’m in my 50’s and have been an Athiest all my life, I can honestly say I have have never experienced any predjudice other than religious zealots on the internet. However I also live in a country where the prime minister is a red-headed, single, deliberately barren, female, athiest, and nobody so much as bats an eyelid.

  16. #16 Marta
    April 23, 2011

    On a previous post on your website, Dr. Rosenhouse, I was unnecessarily objectionable. I stand by my disagreement with you, but apologize for the way I made my argument. (I posted as Helen Wise.)

    My tone notwithstanding, I have read your blog with a great deal of appreciation over the past year or so. Thanks very much for being on the front-lines in this ideological fight.

  17. #17 Jeff Hebert
    April 23, 2011

    Jason said:

    Protestants don’t take it as confrontational when someone says “I’m a Catholic … Jeff Hebert: Again, the study at hand was not about “confronting” a theist in any sense, except telling them that there are a lot of atheists around. And there’s nothing inherently confrontational about that.”

    I think you misread me there — I was defending your choice of the word “confront” that Josh quoted. The two alternate definitions of “confront” are, again, the root problem here.

    In the example quoted above, the Protestant is being confronted with the fact that Catholics exist; “confront” as in “to come face to face with”.

    That seems to be the sense that you’re using it in in your extended comments in reference to the study, which is making the same point. That is also the sense I meant when I used it, but as Josh did, you too read it as “To come face to face with, especially with defiance or hostility.”

    The point of the study under discussion is that atheism becomes less scary when people become aware that atheists exist — when they are confronted with (i.e. come “face to face with”) the mere fact of atheists’ existence. It does not mean atheism becomes less scary when atheist are confrontational in the hostility sense nor is that what either you or I were claiming by using that word, although Josh took it that way (and so did you, ironically).

    Lesson: English sucks :-)

    I was trying to say that in exactly this way, that to admit to your existence as an atheist necessarily entails that level of confrontation for a theist — because you say “I am here”, they are confronted with — they come face to face with — the fact of your existence. That’s inherent in the coming out. When people like me hear people like Josh say “confrontation is bad”, we hear him in essence saying “don’t come out, because we don’t want theists to notice — to be confronted with — the fact of our existence.”

    I think when people like Josh hear that, though, what they hear is “you have to get in the theist’s face and tell them they’re wrong and people don’t like that.” Which is true, but misses the point that simply by saying we exist, there’s that minimal level of “face to face” confrontation with the simple fact of our existence.

    You also rightly note that my observation about people being turned off by NAism is only anecdotal, and argue “It doesn’t seem reasonable to chide your opponents for stating an opinion despite a lack of hard data while doing the exact same thing yourself.”

    That was directed at Josh, not you, Jason. See English, sucking, from before.

    Also, if you guys are going to continue your blog fights, I’m going to have to ask one of you to change your name to something that doesn’t sound so much like the other one.

  18. #18 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 23, 2011

    Marta —

    No problem! Glad you like the blog.

  19. #19 Uncle Bob
    April 23, 2011

    “Also, if you guys are going to continue your blog fights, I’m going to have to ask one of you to change your name to something that doesn’t sound so much like the other one.”

    I second this motion.

    I think we need an internet poll.

  20. #20 Sigmund
    April 23, 2011

    Josh Rosenau said:
    “To choose another example: In the God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says that raising children to be religious is like child abuse. Does that seem likely to make people think atheists are trustworthy? ”
    The actual quote from Dawkins on page 318.
    “I am persuaded that the phrase ‘child abuse’ is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell”
    In other words he is referring to one particular type of religious instruction (the threat of eternal torture in hell).
    This is either a disgusting misrepresentation of Dawkins remarks by Josh or an admission by him that he doesn’t see anything untoward about the idea of threats of eternal pain and torture being made to children.
    Which is it Josh?

  21. #21 Jeff Hebert
    April 23, 2011

    Just to jump on what Sigmund said in comment 20, my understanding is that Dawkins does argue that children should not be put into a “religious” category by the government before they are of an age to decide for themselves what religion they are (if any). It’s the checking of the box “Catholic” or “Protestant” or whatnot on the birth certificates that he objects to.

    I think that gets conflated with the passage Sigmund posted so instead of “The government shouldn’t call children too young to decide for themselves any particular religion and also, teaching children they’ll burn in hell if they’re bad is abusive” we get “Teaching children religion is child abuse and the government should stop it.”

  22. #22 Ichthyic
    April 23, 2011

    It’s called the bandwagon effect, and everyone knows about it.

    No, Josh, you’re way off here, as usual. It’s not a bandwagon effect unless there are already a LOT of people joining in. Funny, but last I looked, atheism is still in a huge minority in the States.

    With your logic, the LGBT Pride parades should have gotten more people wanting to be gay, not appreciating that all people should have the same rights.

    so, no, you’re still an ignorant dolt.

  23. #23 Stephanie Z
    April 23, 2011

    Not only are there Overton window effects to take into account, but there is also the influence of the louder, more confrontational atheists (whatever you call them and whether or not the people you like to criticize fall into that group) have on the mass of formerly silent atheists. Speaking out as atheists even to announce our presence is a pain in the ass. Would we even do it if there weren’t a group defending us when we do?

  24. #24 Josh Rosenau
    April 23, 2011

    Jason, thanks for the clarification. In a conversation as heated as this one can be, even rhetoric meant to be comedically over the top can seem serious.

    Sigmund: I haven’t got TGD at hand, so I was going by memory above, and am working from Google for now. Yes, Dawkins places his emphasis on hellfire, but he writes here, for instance:

    The threat of eternal hell is an extreme example of mental abuse, just as violent sodomy is an extreme example of physical abuse. Most physical abuse is milder, and so is most of the mental abuse inherent in a typical religious education.

    That passage, and the rest of that essay, make clear that he is not referring only to hellfire preaching. Claiming that’s all he’s talking about is absurd and inaccurate.

    And yes, Jeff, he does ask (via Google books, p. 354): “Isn’t it a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about?” I agree with him that it’s foolish, but to say that it’s a form of child abuse stretches things a bit too far.

    Ichthyic: I know you think you’re disagreeing with me, but nothing you said contradicts anything I said.

    Rieux: The problem with the Overton Window is that, last I checked (a year or so ago) there isn’t any actual research on whether it works, and if so, how. There’s Glenn Beck’s book, and there’s some stuff from the ultraconservative Mackinac Institute where Overton worked, but little (if any) actual social science backing it. So I don’t take it very seriously.

    Also, you say “It is more than sufficient for those readers to ‘be convinced’ that atheists exist, that we aren’t freakish monsters, and that we—including Gnus—are actual participants in the social conversation on these issues.”

    That’s all fine, but a few points to add: First, if those books/videos/etc. are preaching to the (de)converted, then it’s not having that effect. Second, no one needs to be convinced that there are atheists out there, the key that the Gervais study points out is the need for information on the diversity and pervasiveness of atheists, which the Four Horsemen don’t inherently get at (their books don’t demonstrate the number of atheists, and their white maleness doesn’t demonstrate diversity). Nor, through the extreme rhetoric they employ, do they do much (IMHO) to dispel the notion that atheists are untrustworthy (“freakish monsters,” as you put it).

    I could be wrong on that last point. A study like that Gervais does, and which I’ve called for before, could test whether NA rhetoric does more to break down anti-atheist prejudice, or if a gentler approach works better.

  25. #25 Sili
    April 23, 2011

    But New Atheism is hardly the only way for atheists – or nontheists more generally – to get the word out that they’re here and want to be taken seriously.

    Could someone please direct me to a Gnu who’s suggested that Gnu Atheism is the only way?

    To the best of my knowledge the ones to suggest there’s one and only one way to be a public atheist are the Accomodationists. They are the ones telling the Gnus to STFU, not the other way around.

  26. #26 Chris Granade
    April 23, 2011

    @Josh Rosenau, #24: The word “abuse” is not binary. It is not so simple as lumping some behaviors under “abusive” and making another stack of behaviors that’s OK. Rather, we are recognizing, as Dawkins points out, that there is a wide range of severity in the behaviors to which we apply the label “abusive.”

    It is manifestly obvious that it is severely detrimental to the mental health of a child to actively convince them of the existence of a perpetual and literal hell, and to moreover convince them that there is a literal and actual god that will judge them and condemn them to this horrible fate. It thus follows that such behavior is, indeed, abusive to that child. With that much being uncontroversial (at least amongst those that use a definition for the word “abuse” that is even close to that with which I am familiar), what do we call it if you back somewhat away from such a horrible extreme? Is it magically not abusive any longer if you merely convince the child that other people will go to hell, but that they are safe? It’s clearly less abusive, but still would be detrimental to their mental health.

    Continuing in this way, we can well recognize that there are many behaviors inherent in most religious education programs that we can and should consider to be abusive, if only more mildly. Take, for instance, what some other commenters have pointed out about the effects on a child’s mental health if they are convinced that properties of their biology (such as their sexual orientation) beyond their control are repugnant to God? But such a position is still the official position of the Catholic Church, as Jerry Coyne recently pointed out, and is thus a component of Catholic education.

    To take another example, it is a key responsibility of a parent or guardian to ensure that their charge is equipped with the knowledge required to live their lives effectively. We consider it extremely abusive, for instance, to raise a child in isolation of public, private or home education. If by negligence, a parent causes their child to remain illiterate, then we rightfully condemn that parent as being abusive in their negligence. What, then, of creationism? Is it not abusive to isolate a child from the facts of biology, including evolution? Surely, such an isolation is less abusive than depriving them of the literacy required to break through such a lie, but is it really so much better that the word “abuse” no longer applies?

    Speaking of isolation, it is integral to many programs of religious education that a child remain isolated from not just other ideas, but also from those who hold different ideas. I cannot help but think that raising a child in such a narrow environment is only detrimental to their mental health, such that inflicting that kind of isolation on a child is abusive.

    I could go on for quite a while in this vein, but the point is that we should be willing to recognize that Dawkins is right to refer to the “mental abuse inherent in a typical religious education.” He is right in precisely the same sense that a therapist might advise a patient that an over-bearing and over-controlling parent is abusive, even if their intentions are for the best, and even if that abuse is much milder than what the word typically conjures from our imaginations. To my mind, then, my concern for the mental well-being of children leads me to conclude that you have merely accused Dawkins of saying something manifestly true. It is of great concern to me that the religious nature of abusive behaviors is seen by anyone as a potential excuse for that behavior, and so I must emphatically reject your statement that Dawkins “stretches things a bit too far.”

  27. #27 Wowbagger
    April 23, 2011

    Sili wrote:

    To the best of my knowledge the ones to suggest there’s one and only one way to be a public atheist are the Accomodationists. They are the ones telling the Gnus to STFU, not the other way around.

    Agreed. I’ve only ever seen one side trying to shut the other side down, and it ain’t the one the Gnus are on.

  28. #28 Jeff Hebert
    April 23, 2011

    Josh said:

    And yes, Jeff, he does ask (via Google books, p. 354): “Isn’t it a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about?” I agree with him that it’s foolish, but to say that it’s a form of child abuse stretches things a bit too far.

    Yeah, that’s the one. However, I think you said in comment 4 (emphasis mine):

    To choose another example: In the God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says that raising children to be religious is like child abuse. Does that seem likely to make people think atheists are trustworthy?

    Needless to say, talking about labeling children as members of a religion is a very different thing than the raising of those children in that religion.

    And of course, Dawkins is talking here not about parents calling their children Catholic (for example) at all, as you claim, but about the government requiring that children be so labeled officially at birth (or while very, very young). These are very different things.

    I hope you would agree that what you claim in the second statement above is much different than the reality of what Richard Dawkins actually wrote.

    I would furthermore hope that in the future you will no longer be claiming “Richard Dawkins believes raising children to be religious is child abuse” as an example of the kind of calumny the New Athiests are guilty of. Because I can guarantee you, if there’s one thing that will be unlikely to “make people think atheists are trustworthy”, it’s engaging in the perpetuation of this kind of quote mining.

  29. #29 Norwegian Shooter
    April 24, 2011

    Josh said:

    I’m confident it wasn’t invented by Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. I do note that quite a few of their arguments were made famous (and made better) by Hume, ~250 years ago.

    That point and a dollar won’t buy you a medium coffee.

    You can get An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding free right now on Kindle. It’s #398 in the free category. Nobodys talking about it. In fact, nobody talks about Hume much at all. A google news search for “David Hume” gets 201 hits. “Charlie sheen” AND “crap” gets more.

  30. #30 Alan
    April 24, 2011

    Speaking of Hume, can someone tell me what is “new” about so called “new athiests”, their basic reasoning and their desire to eliminate religion have been around since Democratus was executed for holding the same ideas in ancient greece.

    I’ve been an athiest all my life an am now in my 50’s, I take offence to a term that implies I base my beliefs on a fad.

  31. #31 Sigmund
    April 24, 2011

    Jeff, if you read the entire chapter that Josh quote-mined you’ll find that Dawkins’ argument that labeling very young children as believers applies to more things than religion. He also thinks it abusive to label them marxists, monetarists, secular humanists or atheists!
    His second point, as you noted above was about differing grades of abuse. It’s blatantly obvious that he is not claiming labeling a child by the religion or political belief of its parents is as bad as child molestation.
    Scaring children with threats of hell, on the other hand, he did compare as being in a similar category (or at least being as bad, if not worse, than some forms of sexual abuse). Considering that threats of hell often go hand in hand with condemnation of homosexuality is it any wonder that there is such a problem with high suicide rates of homosexual teenagers in the religious community.

  32. #32 Wowbagger
    April 24, 2011

    Alan wrote:

    I’ve been an athiest all my life an am now in my 50’s, I take offence to a term that implies I base my beliefs on a fad

    It – that it’s a ‘fad’ – is just the sort of thing that anti-atheists (be they religious, agnostic or self-loathing faitheist) use in their lame attempts to shame people into silence. It’s the same sort of thinking that led to the term ‘new atheist’ in the first place, much in the way certain kinds of people once used ‘new money’ or ‘new Americans’.

  33. #33 Egbert
    April 24, 2011

    I don’t think the stereotyping of gnus is representative of them at all. The implication is an obvious one: if someone says something offensive, then they must be a horrible hateful person.

    And that is indeed ignorance and immaturity. There are nasty people in all movements and organizations, including among the accommodationists, as well as gnus.

    It is also a mistaken to presume that gnus are only confrontational, when in fact they’re more nuanced and sophisticated, depending on the audience and emotional maturity of those they engage with. Sometimes they get the language wrong, and aren’t afraid to admit their mistakes.

    The entire point of the new atheism is to overcome ignorance and therefore prejudices.

  34. #34 benjdm
    April 24, 2011

    @ Alan #30

    can someone tell me what is “new” about so called “new athiests”

    Not sure…the phrase originated with this Wired.com article: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html

  35. #35 Jeff Hebert
    April 24, 2011

    The New Atheists themselves aren’t terribly fond of the label for the same reason, Alan. They readily agree that the only really new thing about them is that they’ve sold a lot of books at all the same time, which is kind of nice.

    You’ll probably see someone saying “Gnu Atheists” soon, which is what a number of them have started using as a tongue-in-cheek twist on the whole concept.

  36. #36 Alan
    April 25, 2011

    @benjdm #34. Thanks for the link, really interesting read. I think what the authour sees as “new” is the refusal to bow to unreason for fear it may piss some people off. If so I think it’s neither new or a bad thing, even if it does introduce some tension at dinner parties.

  37. #37 Paul W., OM
    April 25, 2011

    Alan,

    You are quite right that there’s nothing particularly new about being forthright atheists, or the major arguments for atheism—whats “new” is mainly that it’s popular.

    All the major “New Atheists” have pointed that out repeatedly, and complained about the term “New Atheist,” which they did not come up with.

    That’s a major reason why people are using the homonym “gnu atheists”—accepting that the label “New Atheist” has stuck, but making fun of the idea that there’s anything particularly new about, e.g., the Euthyphro Dilemma, or the Problem of Evil, or Kant and Hume’s refutations of the major proofs of God’s existence. (And even those were crystallizations of much older ideas.)

    So far as I know there are only three major developments that are “new” since Kant and Hume:

    1. Darwin showed that you don’t need supernaturalist teleology to explain apparent teleology or morality, and the science just keeps getting better. Recent developments (e.g., in evolutionary genetics) do brilliantly confirm what was already pretty obvious before.

    2. Cognitive science and neuroscience keep making it clearer and clearer that substance dualism is very probably false, undermining the metaphysics underlying almost all religion, including very theologically liberal religion. (Even Karen Armstrong’s supposedly science-compatible apophatic theology, which contains thinly-veiled supernaturalist ESP for Deep Truth about Ultimate Reality.) It’s also increasingly clear why people tend to believe supernaturalist and religious ideas even though they’re false. (E.g., cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained.)

    3. Secularization in first-world countries over the last 60 years (e.g., Western Europe and Japan) has shown that decreasing the prevalence of religion does not generally lead to social dysfunction, as most people fear. If anything, less religious societies work significantly better than more religious ones, which is a far cry from descending into moral and social chaos. It also shows that major decreases in religiosity of societies are possible within a single human lifetime.

    None of that is especially “new” on the timescale of the “New Atheism,” i.e., the last few years, and it all goes back at least decades. Most of it goes back centuries or millennia.

    Gnus have always known and acknowledged that. The unfortunate term “New Atheists” was mostly popularized by their critics, who needed a convenient handle for bashing a newly popular phenomenon, sometimes making false contrasts with older waves of atheism to make the current one look bad.

  38. #38 Steve Esser
    April 25, 2011

    Thanks to Jason for highlighting the paper. I’m not an atheist, but neither do I belong to a religion: my primary feeling toward NA’s is one of gratitude for making it easier to openly hold non-traditional views in our society.

  39. #39 Verbose Stoic
    April 25, 2011

    Jason,

    I would suggest that you not use this to support the “New Atheist” approach too quickly; it may not support that approach as well as you think.

    A reasonable way to combine the known effects of outgroup size and these results — as well as the distinction between fear-based and non-fear-based outgroup in the former — is to posit that the hostility shown to an outgroup is based on perceived threat. If one fears a specific group and considers them a threat to them — and, really, fearing a group is pretty much considering them a threat by definition — then increasing the size of that outgroup increases their hostility, as more of them means that they are a larger threat. If they are a small group with little perceived power, they are not seen as being as great a threat and the hostility decreases.

    For outgroups that are not inherently seen as a threat by their mere existence, it seems reasonable that any hostility that comes from any notion of threat is based on the unknown; the fear comes from an inability to understand what they stand for or what they will do. Proving prevalence reduces this, as long as that prevalence is done — I’d hypothesize — in the right way, meaning in a way where people understand that they do indeed — or must — interact with them everyday and that other than the trait that makes them part of the outgroup they are the same as everyone else, and understandable.

    For the most part, atheists seem to fit into the latter category, as in a world where most people have some religion atheists are puzzles, especially when it comes to morality (if they don’t get it from where everyone else gets it, what is their morality?). So it then makes sense that they’d fit nicely into the latter category, and so we’d see these effects.

    Things get interesting, though, when we try to see how the “New Atheists” fit into this. If we can claim that there is one thing that separates “New Atheists” from “accommodationists”, in general, it is that the “New Atheists” advocate a more aggressive approach than “accommodationists”. But their approach and their works are not the sort of things — I’d wager, but if the study shows otherwise, please correct me — that would be used to get the right sort of perceived prevalence. So this study probably isn’t using their methods to get that prevalence and, therefore, to get atheists noticed.

    This isn’t a problem if there’s no reason to think that how you get noticed matters. But I suspect there might be. As I said, it works best when one learns that the outgroup is just like them, and so they become understandable. But the “New Atheist” approach does not really do this; it’d be by osmosis if it happened at all. But an overly aggressive approach may have an unintentional side effect: it may move atheists into the first category, where atheism itself is seen as a threat. Challenging religion aggressively means challenging a deeply held belief and belief system, which is likely to cause a perception of threat. If this becomes the perception of atheism in general, then you may see the more traditional effects of size versus hostility as opposed to this one.

    To me, it seems that the accommodationist approach is likely to promote the right sort of prevalence … but won’t reduce the number of those who are religious. At the end of the day, the “New Atheist” approach would be more likely to reduce religions and possibly even help eliminate it … but at the risk of making atheism seem like a threat.

    Anyway, this is just my analysis, based on what was said in what you quoted and my armchair philosophizing. I think it’s something worth considering.

  40. #40 Marcel Kincaid
    April 27, 2011

    None of this will come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog, since it completely vindicates the argument I made in this epic post from last year.

    A remarkably illogical non sequitur. Suppose that numerous new studies showed that prayer is effective or Noah built an ark or Jesus walked on water or …. That would vindicate the arguments made by people who claim those things, but our awareness of such arguments would be no reason not to be surprised. Even you yourself said that you don’t know that such a strategy would work, so even wholeheartedly accepting your view that nothing else will is no reason not to be surprised. Pleased, yes, but whether to be surprised is a matter of what could be inferred from prior evidence. Conflating what is desired with what is evidenced is a faithy mode of thought.

  41. #41 Marcel Kincaid
    April 27, 2011

    This possibility is precisely what has now been borne out.

    This too is extremely unscientific. “This possibility” was a highly speculative hypothesized mechanism to explain a statistical observation; it has not been “borne out”, it merely remains in contention.

    This research pretty obviously strengthens the case for the effectiveness and usefulness of what the New Atheists have been doing.

    Yes it does, but it is not the final word in research.

    The problem for Mooney’s argument is that it is precisely the confrontational nature of the NA books that make them so effective at getting the word out.

    The problem for you (and me and all other confrontational atheists, but you’re the one making bad arguments) is that that is not what is “borne out” by this research or by Gervais’s comments generally. If confrontation produces fear, then prejudice can increase by his argument. While the NA books are good for visibility in the ways you note, you need a different argument than Gervais’s work to justify confrontation. (And there are such arguments.)

  42. #42 Marcel Kincaid
    April 27, 2011

    The tactics of ActUp gays shouting “We’re here and we’re queer” were considered load, obnoxious and in-your-face back in the 90s. BUT it worked – LGBTs are (in the main) no longer hiding in the cracks and the acceptance of LGBTs has soared.

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc. “Will and Grace”, Ellen DeGeneres, and numerous other non-confrontational mainstreaming of gays may well have had a lot more to do with it than Queer Nation their slogans like “We’re Here! We’re Queer! Get used to it!”

  43. #43 Marcel Kincaid
    April 27, 2011

    to say that it’s a form of child abuse stretches things a bit too far

    That, Mr. Rosenau, is your opinion, but at least it’s about the truth or falsity of the claim, as opposed to your concern that Dawkins voicing his opinion might increase distrust of atheists. Personally, I prefer that he tells the truth about his views regardless.

  44. #44 Verbose Stoic
    April 27, 2011

    Marcel,

    The issue is that if we consider Richard Dawkins to be an intelligent and educated person, saying something so seemingly outlandish makes us wonder if he really feels that or if he’s engaging in strong rhetoric. Since he relies on a “child abuse” argument in other cases in that chapter, this is critically important: is he calling it child abuse because he believes he can — or can — actually justify it as such, or is he calling it child abuse just to invoke a strong emotional reaction in the readers, thus allowing that reaction to make his point as opposed to his rational arguments?

    The same thing could be applied to the recent “Nazi” flap about that one slide and comparison in one of his speeches. Dawkins is certainly an experienced enough speaker to know that what he did WOULD engage the stronger association than he claims to be making, so did he do it only because he couldn’t think of a better example, or was he relying on the extra emotional oomph to make his case more easily accepted?

    None of these entail that any of these positions actually reflect his real views, and thus don’t entail that he actually tells the truth about his views.

  45. #45 Paul W.
    April 27, 2011

    Josh Roseanau:

    The problem with the Overton Window is that, last I checked (a year or so ago) there isn’t any actual research on whether it works, and if so, how. There’s Glenn Beck’s book, and there’s some stuff from the ultraconservative Mackinac Institute where Overton worked, but little (if any) actual social science backing it. So I don’t take it very seriously.

    I don’t think that this is a fair characterization of the relevant research.

    I entirely agree that there isn’t a lot of very direct scientific testing of Overton’s hypothesis, but here’s a lot of indirect evidence for it—and the “scientific” evidence for accommodationist strategies isn’t any better, and is IMO worse.

    There’s wealth of generally applicable research in cognitive biases and social belief fixation going back to the 1960s and 1970s—about anchoring, bracketing, conformity, groupthink, deference to authority, diffusion of responsibility, etc.

    Given several well-known biases in how people and especially groups change their opinions, it’s hard to see how Overton effects could fail to occur, or fail to be important. They are a predictable consequence of things we do know about human psychology and especially social psychology.

    It is quite clear that even in “non-social” belief fixation, people are heavily biased by the range of salient options. That is one of the most important facts social scientists get drummed into them, because it’s tremendously important methodologically. You can’t design a non-terrible survey or test without knowing that.

    For example, on any multiple choice test with a range of available options, involving any sort of guesswork, you can quite heavily bias the responses by biasing the range of answers given to choose from. If the correct answer is the lowest given value, people will systematically guess too high, on average—and the higher the modal and highest values are, the higher they will guess, on average. (Many will be adamant that they did not take the given range into account, when in fact they demonstrably did.)

    Social belief fixation is heavily biased in a similar way. People consciously or unconsciously triangulate and adjust their opinions to the range of opinions expressed in the group. Sometimes they actually internalize group opinions, and sometimes they don’t, but fake it—they self-censor their views for various reasons—and that leads many others to accept and internalize the views that are expressed. The triangulated center shifts away from the self-censored views and toward the expressed views.

    Overton was clearly right that that general sort of thing goes on. We have thousands of controlled studies over several decades showing that much.

    Whether that applies in the way Overton said—and as strongly as Overton said—to something as complicated and multileveled as national politics is a somewhat different question. It’s really hard to do definitive studies of such things, for the usual reasons social science is hard.

    But that problem applies in spades to the kind of “scientific evidence” accommodationists cite as evidence that you catch more flies with honey, and that centrist triangulation is the best long-term strategy.

    Overton wasn’t just some right-wing kook, as you could easily be read as suggesting. His hypothesized pattern of social opinion-shaping is at least consistent with a half century of research in the social sciences, which accommodationists tend to conveniently ignore.

    It seems like you guys have never even heard of Asch and Milgram and Kahneman and Tversky, or the Bandwagon Effect, or Herd Behavior, or the Holocaust or the Bay of Pigs. (If Overton was simply wrong, how did those things happen, anyhow?)

    It also seems to me that accommodationists are at least as subject to confirmation bias and groupthink as the supposedly “tribalistic” gnu atheists. There’s a whole lot of evidence out there that you all seem to be ignoring, intentionally or not, because it doesn’t fit conveniently into your chosen frame.

  46. #46 eric
    April 27, 2011

    Paul W.: It also seems to me that accommodationists are at least as subject to confirmation bias and groupthink as the supposedly “tribalistic” gnu atheists.

    Near as I can tell, accommodationists and NAs are making what amounts to the same type of Overton argument but getting upset when the other uses it.

    NAs: lets make people aware of the real number of atheists, which is higher than what they are brainwashed to think, so that atheism becomes more acceptable.

    Accommodationists: lets make fundamentalists aware of the real number of theistic evolutionists, which is higher than what they are brainwashed to think, so that theistic evolution becomes more acceptable.

    First – am I missing something here? Do we have two sides complaining that an argument which is okay for me but not for thee?

    Second – its worth pointing out that the two educational efforts are not mutually exclusive. Its not an either-or situation here folks. One can support efforts to educate the general population on the number of atheists AND efforts to educate fundamentalists on the number of evolutionary theists.

  47. #47 Hate hate
    May 2, 2011

    I used to be an atheist for a while, and always felt bad about the fact that there is predjudice against atheists. So one time, I decided to take the religious perspective as an experiment, and approached atheists in the “skin” of a believer in god’s existence.

    Guess what happened – the same thing! Atheists were making me feel really bad about being a believer, calling me dumb, crazy, delusional and everything else you can possibly imagine.

    So the question is – how can people complain about being hated and discriminated against, when they do exactly the same to the ones that are discriminating against them?

    If it’s simply fun to hate the different ones, and therefore, differences exist, then I’ll become agnostic and stop believing both sides.

  48. #48 brian
    May 31, 2011

    Paul W. – brilliant comments, sir. in hindsight, it turns out i didn’t need to read the “overton window” wiki article, after all: your description of the phenomenon was extremely edifying.

    Hate hate – hate to break it to ya, but the moment you “stop believing”, you become an atheist. don’t feel bad about there being bigoted assholes who also happen not to believe in god. your beliefs/non-beliefs are always going to overlap with some cross-section of the population who are bigoted assholes. i submit that you should decide what to believe based on reason and evidence, not how comfortable those beliefs(or absences of belief) make you feel amongst others.

  49. #49 Alphabet Soup
    July 11, 2011

    It’s amazing that a lot of atheists call religious people crazy and insane, while forgetting that religious people constitute at least %90 of the world’s population, meaning that the world, for the most part, was built and is run by a bunch of these loonies, who institute their laws and policies and make decisions for you.

    Also, atheists claim that there is no need for the spiritual because this world is beautiful enough as it is.

    How can it be beautiful and enjoyable, when it’s run by such a tremendous majority of insane people?!

    Also, as far as I know, truely crazy people have a very difficult time functioning. If religious people are crazy, how are they capable of building this world?

    Or, may be this world is disfunctioning because of the fact that it was build by a bunch of loonies.?

  50. #50 What kind of truth are you looking for?
    July 22, 2011

    I don’t understand why people always ask for the truth, but when you tell it to them, no matter what it might be, even some mere fact about you, which is also part of one universal truth, if there is such, there are always people, who will hate you for it.

    So there it goes… why do people need the truth, if they can’t handle it?

  51. #51 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 17, 2011

    Awesome! I had missed to read this follow up; now duly read and bookmarked with the earlier research.

    I do like how Josh flails, but gets dragged back in the current of actual data.

    FWIW to future readers:

    @ eric:

    First – am I missing something here? Do we have two sides complaining that an argument which is okay for me but not for thee?

    Yes, you are missing something. The accommodationists _also_ wants to use the existence of creationist evolution, aka “theistic evolutionism”, as evidence that religion and science is compatible areas (and not compatible through suppression of cognitive dissonance).

    That is what gnus complains about, not by accommodationists adopting and thus recognizing the same strategy that gnus does.

    @ Alphabet Soup

    It’s amazing that a lot of atheists call religious people crazy and insane,

    Way to go on the anti-atheist prejudice! Gnus, among others, are saying that religion is ” crazy and insane”, not that the religious are.

    While accommodationists and religious hear what you claimed are said, what they want to hear to shore up their prejudice.

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