Shermer on “In God We Trust”

Your homework for today is to go read Michael Shermer’s op-ed in the L. A. Times about the big “In God We Trust” vote. Shermer’s take?

As risible a reason as this was for knocking out a few bricks in the wall separating state and church, it was at least understandable in the context of the times. But today, what is the point of having this motto? There are no communist threats, and belief in God or a universal spirit among Americans is still holding strong at about 90%, according to a 2011 Gallup Poll. The answer is in the wording of the resolution voted on: “Whereas if religion and morality are taken out of the marketplace of ideas, the very freedom on which the United States was founded cannot be secured.”

What is troubling — and should trouble any enlightened citizen of a modern nation such as ours — is the implication that in this age of science and technology, computers and cyberspace, and liberal democracies securing rights and freedoms for oppressed peoples all over the globe, that anyone could still hold to the belief that religion has a monopoly on morality and that the foundation of trust is based on engraving four words on brick and paper.

And later:

It’s time to drop the God talk and face reality with a steely-eyed visage of the modern understanding of the origin of freedom on which the United States was founded and continues to be secured. God has nothing to do with it.

Well said!

The vote in favor of the bill was 396-9. Two further members voted “Present.” It’s sad to say, but in this country that constitutes eleven profiles in courage. Here’s the list:

Lawmakers voting against “In God We Trust” include Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich), Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA). Voting present were Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC).

Especially noteworthy is Justin Amash as the only Republican to vote against the measure. He’ll probably get primaried for his trouble.

I was pleased to see that one representative from my state was on the list, though not, alas, my representative. At his website, Rep. Bobby Scott posted this explanation for his vote:

Today we face the highest deficit in U.S. history; an unemployment rate of 9.1% and a growing number of people losing access to unemployment insurance each day; schools that lack the resources to give our students a proper education; 17.2 million households that are food insecure; and children who by the very circumstances of their birth are injected onto a Cradle to Prison Pipeline. Instead of facing these challenges and creating jobs to help American people make sure they have a roof over their head and food on their table, we are debating whether or not to affirm and proliferate a motto that was adopted in 1956 and is under no threat of attack. In addition to diverting attention away from substantive issues, the resolution is unconstitutional.

When we were sworn in as Members of Congress, we took an oath to uphold the Constitution. This resolution is inconsistent with that oath and therefore I voted ‘no’ on the resolution.

Again, well said! Also included at Scott’s website is a statement he made as a member of the Judiciary Committee during the markup of the resolution. That’s well worth reading too.

Comments

  1. #1 dean
    November 5, 2011

    Here in west MI nobody can understand why Amash voted against this. He is usually as right wing crazy as they come.

  2. #3 Reginald Selkirk
    November 5, 2011

    “Whereas if religion and morality are taken out of the marketplace of ideas

    The power of the AND statement. With a hammer AND a banana, I can pound in a nail.

  3. #4 harrync
    November 6, 2011

    I signed the White House petition to remove “In God We Trust” from our currency. This was the response I got:

    Religion in the Public Square   
    By Joshua DuBois, Executive Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

    Thank you for signing the petition remove “In God We Trust” from currency.” We appreciate your participation in the We the People platform on WhiteHouse.gov.

    The separation of church and state outlined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is an important founding principle of our nation. Our nation’s Bill of Rights guarantees not only that the government cannot establish an official religion, but also guarantees citizens’ rights to practice the religion of their choosing or no religion at all.
    Throughout our history, people of all faiths – as well as secular Americans – have played an important role in public life. And a robust dialogue about the role of religion in public life is an important part of our public discourse.

    While the President strongly supports every American’s right to religious freedom and the separation of church and state, that does not mean there’s no role for religion in the public square.

    When he was a Senator from Illinois, President Obama gave a keynote address at the Call to Renewal conference where he spoke about the important role religion plays in politics and in public life.  

    A sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation – context matters.

    That’s why President Obama supports the use of the words “under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance and “In God we Trust” on our currency. These phrases represent the important role religion plays in American public life, while we continue to recognize and protect the rights of secular Americans. As the President said in his inaugural address, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.” We’re proud of that heritage, and the strength it brings to our great country.

  4. #5 secular holy man
    November 6, 2011

    Affirming the motto In God We Trust is the Religious Equivalent of Marking Territory

    The next time someone asks why are atheists so strident–so militant? Just hold up the headline–Congress passes the nonbinding (unnecessary) resolution reaffirming “In God we Trust” as the national motto.

    But why are atheists so angry? Because it’s RUDE. It’s Believers Behaving Badly.

    In every other sphere we suppress our antisocial and baser instincts for the good of society, harmony. But religion gets a pass. NO, not really religion, just Christianity. The one that claims the Golden Rule even though similar sentiments were expressed before it came along.

    How shall we observe the Golden Rule in your seeming violation of it? Do you want the same treatment in return? Is this the treatment you want from nonbelievers or the other religions?

    On the face of it, they say the resolution before congress wasn’t divisible, but those who should know say it was. Boehner probably didn’t get my email. He governs me, but evidently doesn’t represent me. Why should I pay taxes to a religious organization–the U.S. government?

    This action is an outstanding example of what’s wrong with modern day Christianity especially in politics. This is an act of religion. Worse, religion is so confusing to the victim’s mind, and yet it dopes them with neurochemicals to the effect that they feel confident in their action. Perhaps, they feel a tiny nano-rapture.

    This is the kind of thing that goads us to make our rhetoric sound almost as programmed as theirs. This is what makes us crazy.

    Are they crazy? A lot of us think so. Or maybe they’re just deluded? That’s closer. They are undeniably under the effect of religion and guilty of VUI–voting under the influence. Obviously, they need an intervention. A 396 member intervention. Let’s plan one for March. Peaceful though, only First Amendment solutions. None of that stuff that their sacred text recommends they do to us.

    It’s sad that they can’t differentiate God from Country. Nor do they seem capable of admitting they have a problem. (See elsewhere my thesis of how radical God & Country really is in this brand of believer. And believe them when they invoke it, because the people come in a distant third.

    If you go deep enough, though, in the soul of the believer, you’ll find at the final depth, that they’ll throw over Country in favor of God. It’s only at the last, though, when they must stand as Christian soldiers and reveal themselves as being for God over country or people. You may have heard Newt Gingrich describing how his leader of the freeworld couldn’t be trusted if he didn’t pray. That might take you nostalgic folk back to George H.W. Bush’s comment that he made while he was president that he didn’t think atheist were citizens of the U.S.

    Because religion is so intertwined in our genes and there fore in our minds, a majority of people are unable to see these actions as the unAmerican activities that they are.

    It is the invasion of the body snatchers and they are screaming God. If this was an alien presence invading our citizens we wouldn’t let them suffer. But the snatchees have control. How do they rationalize it–with the cry, Christian Nation! Yes, sadly Christianity has had its fist around the heart of the nation since the beginning. True patriots–those who didn’t think someone’s religion should come before our country–struggled to birth the nation in religious freedom.

    If you’re not sure that they are talking only about the Christian God, ask them if you can display the name of every god below “our” motto as they will display it in public schools and public buildings. No, they’ll say, that would be tantamount to prayer in the schools. Oh right. But wait! What’s the difference between a religious affirmation on the school building and a prayer inside? Nothing if we do it right, they’ll whisper.

    It promotes our one religion at the expense of everybody’s beliefs and for that matter, at everybody’s expense–and they buy it because they’ve never been able to break our grip on our government, it’s a tradition, you know, like slavery and has to continue.

  5. #6 eric
    November 8, 2011

    Secular holy man: This action is an outstanding example of what’s wrong with modern day Christianity especially in politics. This is an act of religion…

    Well, no, it was primarily an act of political gamesmanship. Congress has no realistic plan for solving the budget problem or increasing jobs. But they don’t want to be seen as being totally incompetent/irrelevant going into a voting year, so they pass symbolic legislation in order to try and improve their standing with their constituents.

    IOW, better to pass this than pass nothing. This is not (an example of) religious belief, its religious demagogery.

  6. #7 Wow
    November 8, 2011

    It’s also something that, unlike anything else on the table, the republicans couldn’t fillibuster. Obama want’s to pass *something*, and the republicans are adamant that Obama pass NOTHING.

    The republicans are willing to halt goverment if it’s not them in charge.

    How petty is that?

  7. #8 heddle
    November 10, 2011

    secular holy man,

    That might take you nostalgic folk back to George H.W. Bush’s comment that he made while he was president that he didn’t think atheist were citizens of the U.S.

    Link please–that he made this comment while president.

    Link please, to someone (other than the reporter for an atheist paper who reported the comment) actually heard it.

    I am not saying that he didn’t say this (although if he did it wasn’t as president.) I am saying you are reporting as fact something that has not met a reasonable person’s standard of authentication. Not just mine. I recall atheists being skeptical of this report–or at least asking for confirmation.

  8. #9 Wow
    November 10, 2011

    “Link please–that he made this comment while president.”

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_H._W._Bush

    Or google for “GWB atheists aren’t citizens” yourself.

    Or is work too much for you?

  9. #10 Wow
    November 10, 2011

    Or:

    http://www.robsherman.com/information/liberalnews/2004/0204.htm

    PS “I am not saying that he didn’t say this “, yes, all you’re doing is being a pain in the arse.

  10. #11 heddle
    November 10, 2011

    Wow,

    You prove, once again, that you are a dipshit of biblical proportions, The wiki page you linked lists the alleged statement (and, btw, dates it before the Bush presidency) under the category “attributed” (as opposed to verifiable quotes, which it lists under “sourced”) and writes about the statement:

    Attributed by Robert I. Sherman, reporting in American Atheist about a public press conference Bush held at O’Hare Airport on 27 August 1987.[1] No other journalist confirmed that Bush made the remark. (emphasis mine)

    Exactly my claim.

    Oh, and it is very convincing that your second link is directly to the reporter who made the claim. (Rob Sherman).

  11. #12 Wow
    November 10, 2011

    Ah, excellent. Without anything to add, Hedless turns to his true colours and goes all FundaMentalist.

    So, knobgobbler, do you think GWB believed differently as soon as he became president?

    Or are you just whining because you have to defend your fellow xtinan Mass Murderer by picking nits?

  12. #13 heddle
    November 10, 2011

    Wow,

    Neither, and I know this is beyond you, recalling your refusal to back up your claims (churches, prostitutes, ring a bell?) that many of us took you to task for on Brayton’s blog. But let me try:

    If you are going to report a quote as fact, you need supporting evidence.

    That generally means it was recorded or there are at least two independent credible witnesses.

    The Bush statement should not be reported as fact. It should be qualified with: It was reported but unconfirmed…

    This is a principle that any reasonable person lives by, regardless of whether they hope the quote is true.

    Ed Brayton has achieved admiration from people (like me) who often disagree with him, precisely because he holds everyone to the same exacting standards. You could learn a lot from him.

  13. #14 Wow
    November 10, 2011

    So, the answer is “There’s no difference”, Hedless.

    I guess that if it’s not 100.0000000000% correct, then it must be 100.00000% wrong, hmmm?

    Unless, of course, it’s your whacko theories about some sky spirit. In which case because it’s 0.00000% correct, it must be 0.000000% wrong, therefore right!

    So sad to see a brain being used as grey goop.

    “If you are going to report a quote as fact”

    And did Shrub say it?

    Yes.

    Was Shrub president?

    Yes.

    I guess you got it wrong, Hedless.

  14. #15 heddle
    November 10, 2011

    Wow,

    And did Shrub say it?

    Even if is an accurate quote, it wasn’t shrub it was shrub’s father.

    And no, I really didn’t expect you to grasp the ethical concept of only reporting confirmed quotes as, well, confirmed quotes.

  15. #16 Wow
    November 10, 2011

    George Herbert Walker Bush?

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_H._W._Bush

    And you’re the reason why the Stasi were so effective in the USSR: if your government refuses to give the transcript, then you won’t accept it was said.

    Very good, Comrade. Toe the party line.

  16. #17 Dan L.
    November 10, 2011

    In this letter, Mr. Murray describes the news conference that I attended, quotes exactly the conversation between Mr. Bush and myself, and then states:

    Subsequent to these astonishing statements, I wrote to (then) Vice President Bush demanding a clarification of these remarks. More than two months later, on February 21, 1989, C. Boyden Gray, Counsel to the President, wrote to me from the White House as follows:

    Your letter of December 19, 1988, to President Bush has been referred to me for reply. As you are aware, the President is a religious man who neither supports atheism nor believes that atheism should be unnecessarily encouraged or supported by the government. Needless to say, the President supports the Constitution and laws of the United States, and you may rest assured that this Administration will proceed at all times with due regard for the legal rights of atheists, as will as others with whom the President disagrees.

    This letter was a clear admission by the President, through his counsel, that he had indeed made the remarks and was not backing down from them.

    The corroborating evidence is somewhat circumstantial, but Sherman’s argument that Bush’s counsel would have denied the statement rather than trying to justify it had he not said it rings pretty true. The alternative would be that Bush couldn’t remember whether he HAD said it in which case he might not deny it because of the possibility of it having been captured on tape. But if that’s the case then it’s at least something Bush acknowledges he might have said.

    Your other option, heddle, is to go ahead and call Sherman a liar and adduce some evidence for that claim. I’m quite satisfied G.H.W. Bush made the remark in question.

    Blockquoting is appropriate to the context. Source is the link supplied by Wow.

  17. #18 heddle
    November 10, 2011

    Dan L.

    What are you talking about? Why is my other option to call him a liar? I am not saying that Bush did not make the statement in question. I have no opinion.

    How hard is this concept: A quote without a clear pedigree should be attributed as such, not presented as factual.

    It doesn’t matter if you believe the person. The fact that you are quite satisfied is irrelevant.

  18. #19 eric
    November 10, 2011

    Heddle: I am not saying that Bush did not make the statement in question. I have no opinion.

    So, the whole point of your comment @8 was just “you didn’t source your comment well enough?”

    Personally, I find off-topic pedantry to be less appealing than admitting incorrectness. IMO you would’ve come out looking better by saying ‘I didn’t think Bush said that, I was wrong’ rather than saying ‘whether Bush said that or not never interested me, I was making a point about blog netiquette.’

  19. #20 Dan L.
    November 10, 2011

    heddle@18:

    You’d be right that my satisfaction would be irrelevant if it were not the case that my satisfaction is predicated on exactly the corroborating evidence whose existence you are denying. But since it IS predicated on such corroborating evidence I’m actually making a positive claim that the quote is — certainly more likely than not — accurate.

    Since there IS corroborating evidence, your whinge that there isn’t any is simply false. I’m telling you that if you still perversely want to maintain it ain’t so your best recourse is to discredit the original source of the claim by demonstrating that the source is unreliable.

    Very simple reasoning from evidence here. “What are you talking about?” indeed. Try to keep up.

  20. #21 heddle
    November 10, 2011

    Eric,

    IMO you would’ve come out looking better by saying ‘I didn’t think Bush said that, I was wrong’

    WTF? Why do I need to “look better”?

    My opinion of whether Bush said that has not changed–not that you even know what my opinion is. No new information was revealed today that I was not aware of. The fact the the reporter uses the Glen Beck argument: Well, he has not denied saying it is well known–I researched this claim some time ago, because it keeps getting repeated.

    My view is the same as wikipedia–that this should be under the category of “attributed to” not treated as a verified quote. Or does wikipedia also need to “look better”?

    The bottom line remains that at a news conference one reporter, from an atheist paper, reported the remark. Nobody else heard it,

    Why would I admit incorrectness? If you can demonstrate that the quote has been corroborated, then I would gladly say: “Oh, I didn’t know it was corroborated, my bad, I stand corrected.” Can you demonstrate that it was corroborated–that is, has anyone, other than the reporter in question, verified the quote?

    Do you have such a low standard for burden of proof for any claim, or just claims you’d like to be true?

    The ball is in your court.

  21. #22 heddle
    November 10, 2011

    Dan L,

    if it were not the case that my satisfaction is predicated on exactly the corroborating evidence whose existence

    What corroborating evidence? Please tell me the evidence–but it had better not be that Bush did not deny making the statement, because that is never evidence–unless you are Glen Beck.

    If someone else heard it (it supposedly took place at a news conference) or it was recorded–then I stand corrected. And wiki should bump it up into “sourced” grouping. Are they behind the curve on this?

  22. #23 eric
    November 10, 2011

    Heddle:

    WTF? Why do I need to “look better”?

    I thought you wanted your posts here (and elsewhere) taken seriously. I’m telling you that your retreat makes it less likely you’ll be taken seriously in the future.

    Right or wrong, if you were posting on Bush-era policy on atheism, that’s interesting. Right or wrong, if you were posting about proper use of citation on thread responses, that is not interesting. And so due to your argument here, the next time I see you comment on another post, I’m likely to say to myself “probably an off-topic rant about the proper use of adjectives or something equally pedantic. Skip.” I hope that answers your ‘why’ question sufficiently.

    And now I find myself spending too much time/thread space responding to a post of yours I have opined was not worth reading in the first place. So if you want the last word on this issue, have at it.

  23. #24 Dan L.
    November 10, 2011

    @heddle:

    I cited the evidence in a previous comment, and it was right there to read in the link provided by Wow.

    Because you’re being obstinate about it, I’ll summarize for you: an atheist spokesperson wrote to the white house to try to corroborate whether or not Bush made the statement in question. Bush’s counsel’s reply pretty clearly implies that the statements were accurately reported.

    I admitted that the evidence is circumstantial. But we’re not trying to convict the guy in a court of law, we’re trying to figure out if he made a particular utterance. For most reasonable human being a presumption of fair play on the part of journalists is enough but if it’s not the fact that Bush responded to the allegations to justify rather than deny them certainly makes it more likely than not that he said it.

    You’d have a point if Murray hadn’t gotten ANY response — then it would be a Beck tactic to point out that Bush didn’t deny it. But he replied without denying it. I don’t know how to interpret that except as implicitly admitting that he did say it.

    You’re no doubt aware that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Well, this is not an extraordinary claim and it doesn’t require extraordinary evidence.

  24. #25 Anton Mates
    November 10, 2011

    The corroborating evidence is somewhat circumstantial, but Sherman’s argument that Bush’s counsel would have denied the statement rather than trying to justify it had he not said it rings pretty true.

    Actually, the corroborating evidence is remarkably good. We have two internal memoranda from Bush’s counsel to his superior, effectively admitting that they couldn’t deny that Bush had made the statement, and that it was too embarrassing to defend, so the only option was to refuse to discuss it.

    From the memo of 2/21/89:

    “The letter alleges some campaign remarks by the President and his Illinois campaign chairman that might not be too easy to defend, if in fact they were made. I thought it best to ignore these specific allegations.”

    From the memo of 6/1/89:

    “Because I do not believe that we can defend the remarks allegedly made during the campaign, and because I assume that you would not recommend that the President issue an apology, I think the best course is to ignore this follow-up correspondence: continuing to exchange letters would only make it increasingly obvious that we are refusing to address the issue he is raising.”

    Copies of these memoranda are available on SourceWatch.

    We also have a relevant news report from September 4, 1984, printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald and Dallas Morning News. A campaigning (for VP) Bush was asked whether an atheist could be “a patriotic American and a Reagan-Bush supporter.” He responded with “I guess we need all the votes we can get….But we believe there is an underpinning that comes from faith. It’s not denominational. It’s not exclusive. It simply reflects the craving for a return to the values that made this country strong.”

    So Bush had a prior history of responding very grudgingly even when asked if he’d accept Republican atheists as proper Americans.

    Based on all that, yep, I too am quite satisfied that he said what Sherman reported him saying.

  25. #26 heddle
    November 10, 2011

    Anton Mates,

    Again, it is irrelevant if you are satisfied. It is irrelevant if Bush said many similar things. It is irrelevant for the voracity of this claim if Bush, on another occasion, said exactly the same thing in front of a million people. That quote would be verified and corroborated, but this instance would remain uncorroborated.

    It is quite simple: there are agnostic standards for verifying a quote that have not been met. As wikipedia clearly and correctly grasps.

    Brayton dealt with something similar the other day. An atheist billboard that used a quote that Jefferson could have said, might have said–he probably said similar things– but nobody can be sure he actually said what was on the billboard. Again, it doesn’t matter if anyone who may or may not be “satisfied” that Jefferson said that.

  26. #27 heddle
    November 10, 2011

    DanL,

    Bush’s counsel’s reply pretty clearly implies that the statements were accurately reported.

    The letter from the Bush lawyer stated:

    Your letter of December 19, 1988, to President Bush has been referred to me for reply. As you are aware, the President is a religious man who neither supports atheism nor believes that atheism should be unnecessarily encouraged or supported by the government. Needless to say, the President supports the Constitution and laws of the United States, and you may rest assured that this Administration will proceed at all times with due regard for the legal rights of atheists, as will as others with whom the President disagrees.

    That letter is explicit regarding Bush’s low opinion of atheists. But how does it “pretty clearly imply” that Bush made the statement?

    And just out of curiosity,

    1) Why did no other reporter from the news conference verify the quote?
    2) Why did he not use a tape recorder so that he could be sure to get an accurate quote?

    That is also circumstantial evidence–to counter your circumstantial evidence that “Bush did not deny the claim”.

    And finally, why do you think wiki separates that quote from others and writes:

    Attributed by Robert I. Sherman, reporting in American Atheist about a public press conference Bush held at O’Hare Airport on 27 August 1987.[1] No other journalist confirmed that Bush made the remark.

    Do you think they are a right-wing rag?

    For most reasonable human being a presumption of fair play on the part of journalists is enough

    It is not journalist[s] it is journalist. The p[resumption of fair play is again irrelevant–quotes should be corroborated. But personally, I would never give a journalist from a magazine with a specific agenda, whether it was atheist or Christian, the benefit of the doubt when he reported something that was so explosive and advantageous to his cause–when nobody else heard it. If that makes me unreasonable–which I don’t think it does, then so be it.

  27. #28 Peter
    November 11, 2011

    Quite right, Heddle.

  28. #29 Anton Mates
    November 11, 2011

    The last response fell into moderation, so:

    Again, it is irrelevant if you are satisfied. It is irrelevant if Bush said many similar things. It is irrelevant for the voracity of this claim if Bush, on another occasion, said exactly the same thing in front of a million people.

    Don’t be silly, heddle. Basic inductive reasoning says, if there’s a prior history of Bush saying such things, it’s more plausible that he said them on the occasion in question.

    Brayton dealt with something similar the other day. An atheist billboard that used a quote that Jefferson could have said, might have said–he probably said similar things– but nobody can be sure he actually said what was on the billboard.

    No, that wasn’t similar at all. There was no eyewitness testimony that Jefferson said that, or anything like it. Nor did Jefferson’s spokesmen react to a deluge of questions about the quote by admitting to one another that they could neither defend it nor ask the president to apologize for it, so they had no choice but to ignore the issue.

  29. #30 heddle
    November 12, 2011

    Anton Mates,

    Don’t be silly, heddle. Basic inductive reasoning says, if there’s a prior history of Bush saying such things, it’s more plausible that he said them on the occasion in question.

    Sigh. I’ll try again. Plausibility (or even reproducibility–as in “he said virtually the same thing on another occasion”) does not permit you to abandon the standards for quote corroboration. The ancient standard of “two witnesses” (or a recording) still applies.

    Suppose Jesse Jackson gave a press conference. Suppose a reporter from the Jewish Daily reported that Jackson said that he hoped the Palestinians pushed the Jews into the Sea. Suppose that no other reporter confirmed the statement and that it was not recorded. Would you accept it as face value and give it the imprimatur of a verified quote just because it is plausible given Jackson’s anti-semitic statements of the past?

    I wouldn’t even though I can easily imagine Jackson making such a statement.

    Plausibility can and surely does affect whether you or I believe that Bush said that. It should not, however, affect how we treat it when reporting it. Again, as wiki clearly grasps.

    Without subjecting the Bush quote to the same standards as any other quote you are, in my opinion, committing textbook confirmation bias. I think that makes you the sillier of the two of us.

  30. #31 tomh
    November 12, 2011

    heddle wrote:

    The bottom line remains that at a news conference one reporter, from an atheist paper, reported the remark. Nobody else heard it

    You probably didn’t mean to say this, since you can have no idea if anyone else heard it. No other journalist reported it, which Shermer thought was because they didn’t feel it was important, but obviously that doesn’t mean they didn’t hear it. There was no recording of the statement, but since the Bush White House would never explicitly deny it, it remains controversial to this day. On balance, he probably said it or something close to it. So what?

  31. #32 tomh
    November 12, 2011

    heddle wrote:

    when he reported something that was so explosive

    That’s just silly. While it might raise a few eyebrows today, in 1987 it was a complete non-issue. Bush (and others), had made similar statements before this and 95% of the country took no notice. Atheism was hardly an explosive issue – just the opposite, in fact.

  32. #33 heddle
    November 12, 2011

    tomh,

    On balance, he probably said it or something close to it. So what?

    So..since he probably said it or something close to it… let’s just treat it as a confirmed quote. And, you know, so what?

    I rest my case about confirmation bias.

    Will you be changing the wiki page of Bush’s quotes?

  33. #34 tomh
    November 12, 2011

    heddle wrote:
    let’s just treat it as a confirmed quote. And, you know, so what?

    Exactly, so what? So some random commenter on a blog overstated the case. That means that we’re all treating it as a (gasp) confirmed quote? You think you might be overreacting a bit? Claiming as a fact that, “nobody else heard it,” which you can’t possibly know, that it was “explosive,” an obvious overstatement, and the rest of your breathless posts. I say again, so what?

  34. #35 heddle
    November 12, 2011

    tomh,

    Exactly, so what? So some random commenter on a blog overstated the case. That means that we’re all treating it as a (gasp) confirmed quote?

    Um no– the string of posts is not because a random commenter overstated the case. The string of commenters is because after pointing out the rendom commenter overstated the case, several other commenters, including you, made the same mistake.

    And it was explosive, even in 1987, if a vice president were to state that atheists were not citizens. True I can’t be sure nobody heard it (what a standard!)–but if you think other reporters heard it and said–“eh, so what?” then you are fooling yourself.

    And do really think there is no difference between an unconfirmed quote and (gasp) a confirmed quote? Really?

  35. #36 Anton Mates
    November 12, 2011

    aaand it fell into the mod filter again. Two-parting!

    heddle,

    Plausibility (or even reproducibility–as in “he said virtually the same thing on another occasion”) does not permit you to abandon the standards for quote corroboration. The ancient standard of “two witnesses” (or a recording) still applies.

    Yeah, it doesn’t sound any less silly when you put it that way. “Ancient standard?” When your friend tells you that his wife says hello, do you demand a retraction unless he can provide a second witness or an audio recording?

    We judge the authenticity of quotes based on the evidence available. If we can get several witnesses or a recording to prove or disprove it, fantastic. But for 99% of what we know anybody said about anything, the evidence is less conclusive than that. That’s fine, as long as you don’t misrepresent the strength of the evidence. And “secular holy man,” so far as I can see, made no claims whatsoever on that score.

    Suppose a reporter from the Jewish Daily reported that Jackson said that he hoped the Palestinians pushed the Jews into the Sea. Suppose that no other reporter confirmed the statement and that it was not recorded. Would you accept it as face value and give it the imprimatur of a verified quote just because it is plausible given Jackson’s anti-semitic statements of the past?

    Well, first, it’s not actually plausible at all. Despite Jackson’s history of both antisemitic statements and heavy criticism of the Israeli government, he also has a consistent history of publicly advocating for the survival and stability of Israel, so this would be very out of character for him.

    But if that wasn’t the case, and if he had been reported saying things like “I hope the Palestinians drive off/kill all the Jews” in the past…and if the Jackson campaign had been repeatedly asked about this quote, and had privately reacted with “Ohshit–we can’t possibly defend this, so nobody’s allowed to discuss this topic!” Then yeah, I’d accept it.

  36. #37 Anton Mates
    November 12, 2011

    continued,

    I wouldn’t even though I can easily imagine Jackson making such a statement.

    It’s amusing that you say that, because you and I and everyone else do accept most of Jesse Jackson’s antisemitic statements as authentic, with no better evidence than this. His famous “Hymietown” remark was reported by a single reporter, from a private conversation, which was not taped–the reporter didn’t even take written notes. Jackson initially claimed to have no recollection of making that remark, but a week or two later he finally admitted to it. And he admitted to it because he had to…because most of the country had already figured out that he said it.

    Jackson’s statement that he was “sick and tired of hearing about the Holocaust?” That was relayed by a single non-reporter, Philip Blazer, who had heard him say it when they were on a flight to Israel together.

    Jackson’s statement that there are “very few Jewish reporters that have the capacity to be objective about Arab affairs?” That comes from a 1979 press conference, apparently, but I can’t find any news reference to it before 1988.

    Jackson’s statement that Nixon’s advisors ignored American poverty because they were mostly “German Jews” obsessed with Europe and Asia? That was first reported by the national media in 1984, based on a third-hand allegation from the Anti-Defamation League, made over ten years after Jackson (allegedly) said it. I haven’t been able to find either the name of a witness to the remark, nor the specific group of “supporters” to whom he was supposed to have said it.

    And yet the great Wikipedia, and I, and probably you, still accept that he said these things. The evidence is not ironclad, but it’s good enough.

    Plausibility can and surely does affect whether you or I believe that Bush said that. It should not, however, affect how we treat it when reporting it.

    That makes no sense. If plausibility affects our beliefs, and we’re not completely irrational, then it should affect the beliefs of our audience as well. That means it should affect how we report it; otherwise we’re omitting evidence our audience would find relevant.

  37. #38 Peter
    November 14, 2011

    Bottom line.

    How many sources? One.

    Not good enough, the rest is word salad.

  38. #39 Wow
    November 14, 2011

    “Not good enough, the rest is word salad.”

    A source for that being one persons word?

    Not good enough.

  39. #40 eric
    November 14, 2011

    Peter: How many sources? One. Not good enough, the rest is word salad.

    No, the bottom line is that SHM was claiming religious political leaders would be biased against atheists if they had their choice in the matter. He cited TWO comments – from Gingrich and Bush – as background evidence.

    Heddle has insisted that the Bush comment is unsubstantiated. But nobody has argued SHM is incorrect in his point. Nobody has argued that the Gingrich quote is fake. Nobody has argued that these tyes of comments are not generally reflective of the way religious political leaders view atheists.

    Heddle may be genuinely interested in discussing the minituae of proper blog citation standards. But in terms of the actual point being made by SHM, what Heddle did was take us on an OT wild goose chase.

    I think SHM may be over reaching if he’s making the claim that every single religious person who holds office is biased against atheists and would implement that bias into law if they could. But there’s certainly evidence suggesting such attitudes aren’t that unusual. Here’s one of my favorite quotes on the matter:

    [Atheism is] dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!

    Monique Davis, Illinois state legislator. Stated on record during an official legislative session, April 14 2008.

  40. #41 David Stoeckl
    November 16, 2011

    They said things like that before, therefore I believe that they said this. That just illustrates how difficult it is for a repeat offender to get an impartial jury.

    Reviewing the evidence presented here, it seems quite likely that GHW Bush could have said the quote attributed to him. But I see nothing that proves that he did. And a journalist with an agenda being the only person at a press conference who heard the quote does wonder me.

    Nobody’s cause of truth and reason is furthered by relying on hyperbola, exaggeration and generalization to advance an argument. If one has a sound argument, there is no need to rely on a questionable quote.

  41. #42 Wow
    November 16, 2011

    “But I see nothing that proves that he did”

    Well, if you can use government secrets to hide evidence, of course you’re not going to see evidence.

    Have you seen anything that proves that man Landed on the Moon?

  42. #43 eric
    November 16, 2011

    If one has a sound argument, there is no need to rely on a questionable quote.

    He didn’t rely on it. SHM gave a line of reasoning about the motto affirmation vote, plus two supporting quotes. His detractors, like you and Heddle, seem to think that by disputing one of those quotes you invalidate the whole argument. At best, this is an incorrect conclusion. At worst, its a shell game meant to try and win an argument by distracting people from the relevant poins you haven’t addressed.

  43. #44 Anton Mates
    November 16, 2011

    They said things like that before, therefore I believe that they said this. That just illustrates how difficult it is for a repeat offender to get an impartial jury.

    A jury isn’t supposed to be impartial, it’s supposed to be strongly biased in favor of the defendant’s innocence. That’s why “innocent until proven guilty” is a widely-accepted legal principle, whereas in science, “this claim is correct until proven otherwise” would be an appalling admission of bias.

    Nonetheless, even juries are expected to take into account whether you’re a habitual offender. Propensity is a factor in determining guilt. If you’re on trial for car theft and you’re known to have stolen six other cars in the last year, ignoring that fact isn’t impartial, it’s dumb.

    Nobody’s cause of truth and reason is furthered by relying on hyperbola, exaggeration and generalization to advance an argument. If one has a sound argument, there is no need to rely on a questionable quote.

    C’mon, “secular holy man’s” post was almost a page long. The Bush quote was mentioned in a single sentence: “That might take you nostalgic folk back to George H.W. Bush’s comment….” His argument didn’t rely on it and he said nothing about it being proven authentic beyond a shadow of a doubt. Like eric says, this is a red herring.

    I don’t even agree with half of SHM’s post–I think it stereotypes believers, and the “neurochemical doping” and “mini-rapture” stuff is somewhere between unsupported and nonsensical. But attacking him for invoking a quote which might possibly be apocryphal–like almost all quotes–doesn’t address his argument at all.

  44. #45 heddle
    November 16, 2011

    eric,

    His detractors, like you and Heddle, seem to think that by disputing one of those quotes you invalidate the whole argument.

    Eric,

    Sorry no. Please don’t assume my motives. I have no interest in the points his is trying to make or in invalidating his whole argument–in fact I don’t what they are/ it is. My interest started and stopped with the validity of that one quote. Period. As I said, I researched it before and found that it was not substantiated. Pointing that out that it should not be used as if it were was my only motivation.

  45. #46 Wow
    November 17, 2011

    “Please don’t assume my motives.”

    We’re not assuming them. Were using evidence to inform ourselves what your motives could be.

    “in fact I don’t what they are/ it is”

    Ever thought of keeping your yap shut if you don’t know what’s going on?

    “My interest started and stopped with the validity of that one quote”

    Why?

    “As I said, I researched it before and found that it was not substantiated.”

    Only by refusing any evidence other than a recording (which you chose knowing that no recording was made).

  46. #47 eric
    November 17, 2011

    Heddle: Sorry no. Please don’t assume my motives.

    Okay, my apologies.

    I have no interest in the points his is trying to make or in invalidating his whole argument

    Kudos to you. Most pedants don’t like to admit that’s what they are.

  47. #48 Peter
    November 21, 2011

    Of course, if after the questionable nature of the quote was brought up, someone simply said, “Good catch, I’ll avoid that in the future, my argument still stands”, we wouldn’t have this “OT goose chase”.

    Which was kind of what I was expecting, rather than bizarre arguments that single sources are fine and dandy, or that pointing out questionable sources is a diversionary tactic to drag something off-topic.

    Generally, pointing out a questionable source for a quote doesn’t have this reaction. I suspect the accusation of dragging things off-topic and pedantry are flying in the wrong direction.

    Bottom line.

    How many sources? One.

    Not good enough, the rest is word salad.

  48. #49 Wow
    November 21, 2011

    > Generally, pointing out a questionable source for a quote doesn’t have this reaction

    However, you haven’t shown that it IS a questionable source.

    And how many sources? Several.

    Therefore, why isn’t it good enough?

    Because you don’t like the consequences of it?

  49. #50 tomh
    November 22, 2011

    The bottom line is that there was no recording of the alleged quote, and only one reporter documented it, so there will never be agreement on it. Besides the reporter, there is circumstantial evidence supporting it, but obviously that isn’t good enough for some. Personally, I believe it, mainly because I have found Rob Sherman to be a reliable reporter in other circumstances.

    People may forget that the 1980’s were soaked in fundamentalism, with Falwell’s Moral Majority a huge political force, so one more conservative like Bush, trashing atheists, was hardly a blip on the radar. At an outdoor press conference, on an airport tarmac, where people may or may not have heard what was said, the fact that no one else reported it is unsurprising. But there will never be agreement on whether he actually said those exact words or not.

  50. #51 Wow
    November 22, 2011

    The bottom line is that there is no requirement for a recording.

    Ever heard of “off the record”, tom?

  51. #52 Wow
    November 22, 2011

    Bottom line: there’s more evidence than just one man’s word.

    But it’s being painted as such TWICE.

    Why?

    Because of denial.

  52. #53 tomh
    November 22, 2011

    The bottom line is that there is no requirement for a recording.
    Ever heard of “off the record”, tom?

    I don’t know what you mean. This was an outdoor press conference on an airport tarmac, between flights, there was probably no opportunity for a recording, but a recording is the only evidence some people will accept. I already said that I believe he said it. Why wouldn’t he? It was no big deal at the time.

  53. #54 Wow
    November 22, 2011

    “but a recording is the only evidence some people will accept.”

    Except that isn’t what’s going on, is it.

    Some people are not accepting that there are records of more than just one person saying he said it.

    And that’s being ignored.

    Why?

    Because it IS NOT that they’ll only accept a recording, it’s that, knowing there wasn’t one, they can demand one and refuse to believe any evidence.

    Like creationists asking for “the missing link”. Whenever one is supplied, they refuse to accept that as the missing link.

    The point is that they will refuse all evidence.

    They’ll just change what they will say they’d accept as evidence based on what they believe will be impossible to find.

    If it turns out to be possible to find, they’ll find another reason to reject.

    It’s basic denial.

  54. #55 tomh
    November 22, 2011

    Some people are not accepting that there are records of more than just one person saying he said it.

    I haven’t seen such records. As far as I know only Sherman reported that he heard it. There is indirect evidence, i.e., the White House refusing to deny it, etc., but no one else from the press conference reported the quote.

  55. #56 Wow
    November 23, 2011

    “I haven’t seen such records.”

    Go back and look at the thread above. There is more than one person’s testimony being used as evidence.

    Or were you doing a “I see no ships” there?

  56. #57 heddle
    November 23, 2011

    tomh,

    Notice Wow stated:

    Some people are not accepting that there are records of more than just one person saying he said it.

    He is correct. Plenty of people, some in this thread, are on record as “saying he [VP Bush] said it.”

    You are, I believe, asking him for the testimony of someone else who heard Bush say it on that occasion, the one being quoted. How unreasonable! Anyway, Wow has no such record.

  57. #58 Wow
    November 23, 2011

    And still ignoring the facts in evidence (as usual).

    Three times people have claimed now “only one source”.

    Except that the evidence isn’t only one source.

    It’s like Bush supporters can’t count beyond one.

  58. #59 tomh
    November 23, 2011

    Wow says:
    Except that the evidence isn’t only one source.

    I don’t know why you keep saying this unless you’re just confusing “source” with “evidence.” There is one direct source, Rob Sherman, and plenty of indirect evidence, Gray’s email and so on. You think I’m a Bush supporter? I’ve said all along, that taking all the evidence together, I believe he said it. Rob Sherman alone is a reliable source. There could be several reasons other reporters didn’t bother with it, if they even heard it. Heddle is way off base when he claims this would be an “explosive” issue at the time. It’s all upthread. But to keep claiming there is more than one source is just wrong. There is one documented, direct source and that is Rob Sherman’s account.

  59. #60 Wow
    November 24, 2011

    “I don’t know why you keep saying this”

    +++
    He didn’t rely on it. SHM gave a line of reasoning about the motto affirmation vote, plus two supporting quotes. His detractors, like you and Heddle, seem to think that by disputing one of those quotes you invalidate the whole argument. At best, this is an incorrect conclusion. At worst, its a shell game meant to try and win an argument by distracting people from the relevant poins you haven’t addressed.

    Posted by: eric | November 16, 2011 11:00 AM
    +++

    +++
    Don’t be silly, heddle. Basic inductive reasoning says, if there’s a prior history of Bush saying such things, it’s more plausible that he said them on the occasion in question.
    Posted by: Anton Mates | November 11, 2011 11:38 PM
    +++

    +++
    From the memo of 2/21/89:

    “The letter alleges some campaign remarks by the President and his Illinois campaign chairman that might not be too easy to defend, if in fact they were made. I thought it best to ignore these specific allegations.”

    From the memo of 6/1/89:

    “Because I do not believe that we can defend the remarks allegedly made during the campaign, and because I assume that you would not recommend that the President issue an apology, I think the best course is to ignore this follow-up correspondence: continuing to exchange letters would only make it increasingly obvious that we are refusing to address the issue he is raising.”

    Copies of these memoranda are available on SourceWatch.

    We also have a relevant news report from September 4, 1984, printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald and Dallas Morning News. A campaigning (for VP) Bush was asked whether an atheist could be “a patriotic American and a Reagan-Bush supporter.” He responded with “I guess we need all the votes we can get….But we believe there is an underpinning that comes from faith. It’s not denominational. It’s not exclusive. It simply reflects the craving for a return to the values that made this country strong.”

    So Bush had a prior history of responding very grudgingly even when asked if he’d accept Republican atheists as proper Americans.

    Based on all that, yep, I too am quite satisfied that he said what Sherman reported him saying.

    Posted by: Anton Mates | November 10, 2011 3:50 PM
    +++

  60. #61 tomh
    November 24, 2011

    OK, I guess I see what you mean. When you say “there is more than just one source,” what you really mean is, ‘there is more evidence than just the one source.’ Of course, I agree with that, as I’ve been saying all along. It’s just that you confuse things when you say “there is more than one source.”

  61. #62 Wow
    November 24, 2011

    ‘there is more evidence than just the one source.’

    Since we were talking about evidence for the statement that Bush said it, why would I have to say anything else?

  62. #63 tomh
    November 24, 2011

    Because I’m not too bright?

  63. #64 Wow
    November 24, 2011

    It’s the persistence of perception. Momentum of memes.

    When you think you know what’s being said, you stop reading what’s being said.

    The thread on the thursday birthday problem shows how widespread it is.

    All it needs (and it’s hard to do all the time) is occasionally wondering “Well, is there a way that person COULD be right?”.

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