The Island of Doubt

PZ Myers: more harm than good?

One question keeps rising out of the ScienceBlogosphere muck: Are PZ “Pharyngula” Myers and his ilk doing more harm than good by relentlessly and mercilessly attacking religion? Rob “Galactic Interactions” Knop apparently has had it up to here with Myers’s brand of anti-faith rhetoric, and started one of those neverending comment wars on his blog yesterday — except that he did end it by removing the post. Fortunately, I saved a copy first because the exchange really does get to the heart of the question.

Out of respect for Rob, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt University, I’m not going to repost too much of what he said about PZ, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota. Except for his headline, which was “More evidence that PZ is a blowhard and a jerk,” and a few small snippets.

Rob’s problem is that PZ keeps describing Christians like Rob, and other people of faith “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies.” As the journalist responsible for a blog originally created to address the battle between science and superstition, I share PZ’s basic point of view, although I try to avoid calling people “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies” too often.

While the phrase does represent a fairly comprehensive list of the possible explanations for why someone would believe in a god, lots of my friends and many members of my family do believe in a god, and I don’t see much point in offending anyone. None of them are ignorant, wicked, foolish or particularly oppressed. So are they deluded? Maybe a wee bit, but the reality is most of them were simply brought up to believe and “deluded” is an awfully strong word to use. It might be technically accurate, but in the world of real, human psychology, things are a bit more complicated. I wish there was another word that better described the state of mind most decent, fair-minded, socially concerned, politically progressive, compassionate, reasonable, intelligent but nevertheless religious, people share. But I can’t come up with one.

If you read my posts about religion and atheism, you’ll notice that I try to describe the situation without resorting to insult. I write about how religion doesn’t seem to make society a better place, but I don’t then add that all religious people are therefore evil. The facts should speak for themselves. But it’s a fine line, and PZ, Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris (The End of Faith), Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great) and Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell) all make different distinctions between fair description and insult. None of them use unreasonable language in my opinion, but for Rob, and many other people of faith, they often cross the line into offense.

In Rob’s fleeting post, he writes of PZ’s “buffonery [sic] and assholism, suggests that PZ’s monstrous popularity is due specifically to his penchant for rude remarks, and then compares him to Rush Limbaugh. Now that’s crossing the line.

I think most of us here would disagree. PZ is popular because he is a smart and prolific writer and has a good sense of humor. But still we are left with the question: does calling a spade a spade, to use Rob’s metaphor, do more harm than good in the fight to spread reason among the people at large, most of whom are religious?

I don’t have a good answer for that. I like PZ’s work, and Richard Dawkins’ and Dan Dennett’s (and that of non-Iraq war Christopher Hitchens). I think we need people who dare to challenge what they perceive as foolishness. I think there is a place for such stuff. And ScienceBlogs, which is meant to attract readers interested in a scientific, rational approach to the universe, is one such place. Of course, there are times and places where it is not productive to be so blunt, and sometimes inappropriate language is used.

When I wanted my little city council to stop including prayer in their monthly meetings, I didn’t write a letter noting that “Whereas prayer is a product of people who are ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies….” Instead I wrote about the First Amendment’s Establishment clause and noted that a comparable town ended up paying $55,000 in legal fees when they lost their attempt to hold onto prayer during their council meetings. It seems to have worked, as city council meetings in Saluda, NC, no longer begin (or end) with a prayer.

But ScienceBlogs is not Saluda City Council. It’s a place where we can call a spade a spade. And although I hope Rob doesn’t mind me saying so, those who hold to superstitions can expect to take a little heat in this here kitchen.

Comments

  1. #1 ctenotrish, FCD
    July 13, 2007

    Nice post, and well said, all of it.

  2. #2 nit
    July 13, 2007

    By “…Maybe a weed bit,” you don’t mean that your family is on drugs, do you?

  3. #3 nit
    July 13, 2007

    The value of the rude and unthinkable things that extremists like PZ might say is that they help move the Overton Window to provide more space for thought in the middle. A vocal cephlophiliac enables people to embrace and understand the natural world around them as an alternative to its purpose in being there is solely for our dominion.

  4. #4 David
    July 13, 2007

    Overall, a nice post. Just one comment (hopefully I won’t be throwing a match on the fire here).

    I find myself being in the unfortunate position of being a Christian, and thinking ID/creationism is well… bull (to put it lightly). To many Christians, I lack enough faith. To people like PZ Meyers, (and I guess to yourself), I’m deluded.

    So to answer the title of this post, in some ways I think P.Z. does do some harm as I think he just perpetuates the idea that there is a definitive conflict between Christianity and science.

    I don’t really mind the remarks so much as I mind that. I’ve been called worse.

  5. #5 David
    July 13, 2007

    By “throwing a match on the fire” I mean “throwing a match on a puddle of gas”. If you throw a match on a fire… not all that much tends to occur.

  6. #6 Warren
    July 13, 2007

    I don’t see evidence of extremism in what PZ posts. He’s not advocating slaughter and he’s not warning of eternal perdition if his edicts are not adhered to meticulously.

    The problem, as I see it, is that most of the religiously deluded are so used to being treated with respect and kindness for their fantasies that a cold, wet dose of reality is shocking to them.

    Hence, any form of comment that doesn’t begin with something like “Well, you have your beliefs and I sure do respect them, but…” will always seem out of line and over the top to such believers. There is no amount of careful milquetoast self-Bowdlerization which will help them nurse their poor, hurt little feelings; any comment denying the reality of their gods will always be seen as the gravest of insults.

    That’s just the way it is. My advice to the religious is: Toughen up. Grow thicker skins. Deal with it. If you and your gods can’t take a little criticism, just how all-powerful is this miracle-working force of yours to begin with?

  7. #7 Jeb, FCD
    July 13, 2007

    This monring, I was going to post a comment similar to this one Rob’s post but, alas, he took it down.

    He really missed the mark on PZ, and certainly has no clue about us angry, in-your-face atheists in general. I am angry, and maybe even a little despairing, that this world and these lives are being eaten away by the malignancy of religion.

    I will not go back into the closet, which is what the moderate theists would certainly like us to do. If our outspoken-ness causes those people to question their carefully crafted cognitive dissonance, then that is just swell.

    We atheist have been marginalized (and worse) too long. We recognize that THIS life is too precious to stand by quietly while theists would gladly flush it all away.

  8. #8 Andrew S.
    July 13, 2007

    WHOA. Never read your blog before (hit it from the front page) but, I’m from Saluda – that was YOUR doing? AWESOME.

    (Really, could the odds be any lower?)

  9. #9 tharding
    July 13, 2007

    PZ’s quote is awfully close to Dawkins ?It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I?d rather not consider that).? I think that PZ, by offering “deluded” and “oppressed” softens it up a bit, if anything. These may not be the gentlest of words that could have been used, but PZ pretty much covers all of the available options.

  10. #10 G. Shelley
    July 13, 2007

    It seems to me the issue is that many religious people (and even the non religious) believe that religious views and opinions are special, and shouldn’t be criticised. Other views – political, scientific, financial, sporting or whatever are fair game. Someone can call a delusional political belief for what it is, but to do the same about a religious one is not allowed. People such as Dawkins and Myers refuse to accept this convention, which inevitably causes tensions.

  11. #11 Oscar
    July 13, 2007

    The Theists need to do two things if they want to not be called “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies”:

    1.) Stop claiming that ‘God’ is objectively real. I do not mind if they consider ‘God’ to be real, or if they make their personal decisions as if ‘God’ is real and their understanding of ‘God’s Will’ is correct, but it is extremely annoying and insulting when they claim that ‘God’ is objectively real and that – despite their inability to provide objective proof for their claim – I _must_ believe them….

    2.) Stop lying about science, stop lying about atheists. It is fine for theists to disagree, disbelieve, or otherwise speak their minds – but stop saying things that are _not true_.

  12. #12 Occam's Trowel
    July 13, 2007

    I don’t get the impression that PZ Myers sees himself as atheism’s public relations guy with an obligation to put a conciliatory face on his writing. And I don’t think that we can require him to be. He’s popular because he’s provocative, but I find his writing to be provocative to the point of being irresponsible, so I’ve stopped reading him. Others will keep going back, because that’s what they enjoy… more power to them, I guess.

  13. #13 David
    July 13, 2007

    Here’s one “moderate theist” who doesn’t want you to “go back into the closet”, and who doesn’t view the denial of God’s existence as the “gravest of insults”. As I said, I’ve been called worse.

    On the other hand, what in the world do you think you actually… accomplish? Beyond of course, pushing those with any religious beliefs further and further from accepting any sort of science.

  14. #14 Ahcuah
    July 13, 2007

    You know what, when I first read that phrase in PZ’s entry, I read it much the same way I might use the phrase “evil, money-grubbing capitalist pigs” in talking about big business. That is, a deliberate exaggeration using catch-words to highlight the most egregious examples. But I would be doing it rather whimsically, and with the understanding that others understood that whimsicality. I guess in PZ’s case, that concept gets past quite a few people.

  15. #15 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    On the post by Rob you mention I made a post in which I pointed out that PZ, Dawkins et at (For the rest of the post can you just assume when I refer to PZ I mean, et al ? Unless I say I don’t!) differ in how they respond to religion. Fair to say none of them, and Rob Knopp for that matter, have any time for creationism and its ilk and they are all extremely vocal in their condemnation. PZ of course has issues with religion in toto but it is fair to so he would not take the tone he does if religion was overwelmingly the moderate “cuddly” Anglican kind which accepts that religion does not have right to special consideration. In Europe most religion is just like that but in the US it is not.

    I have heard creationism described not only as bad science ( which it is, and then some) but bad theology as well. I asked in the post Rob made about why there is so little theological objections to creationism in the US. Why are there no theists publishing the equivalent of “The God Delusion” to let their co-religionists know that thinking the earth is a few thousand years old is bad religion ?

  16. #16 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    I think what I am really trying to say to theists like Rob who think PZ does harm to their moderate position is this:

    Get of your backsides and sort out your co-religionists yourself. If cannot or will not do not then do not complain when us “angry” atheists get pissed of at you for not doing so.

  17. #17 chris
    July 13, 2007

    I wish there was another word that better described the state of mind most decent, fair-minded, socially concerned, politically progressive, compassionate, reasonable, intelligent but nevertheless religious, people share.

    How about “conditioned” rather than deluded. As you note, most of these folks were simply brought up that way. It’s comfortable for them to continue their beliefs, although they haven’t really thought about them. If they’d been born in Syria they’s be Muslims, etc.

    I know that’s the situation with my wife, who was born into a German-Norwegian Lutheran family in Minnesota, says simple prayers at night with our kids (which does bother me though), and goes to church because she feels she ought to. And for the social life. I asked her recently how she feels about same-sex marriage and she replied, “Meh, as long as it doesn’t hurt me, I guess I don’t care.”

    “buffonery [sic]

    Maybe this is not an error and Rob meant to compare PZ to Georges de Buffon, who has been described as “an outstanding scientist in 18th-century France with a flair for publicity and grand public debates on a wide variety of topics now called natural science.” Swap 18th century France with 21st century Minnesota and there you go!

  18. #18 David
    July 13, 2007

    –I have heard creationism described not only as bad science (which it is, and then some) but bad theology as well. I asked in the post Rob made about why there is so little theological objections to creationism in the US. Why are there no theists publishing the equivalent of “The God Delusion” to let their co-religionists know that there thinking the earth is a few thousand years old is bad religion?–

    I’ve given my two cents on this before here, I’ll do so again. Being a Christian and believing in evolution/science in general is about the most unpopular position you can take nowadays. Christian publishing houses wouldn’t publish the book because its not sufficiently in tune with what Christianity has become in today’s time to sell well. I doubt if any secular/atheistic/whatever publishing houses would publish it for the same reason.

    Publishing books cost money. If I had money I would consider it. I’m a 24 yr old PH.D student. I barely have enough to pay for gas sometimes.

  19. #19 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    “I’ve given my two cents on this before here, I’ll do so again. Being a Christian and believing in evolution/science in general is about the most unpopular position you can take nowadays.”

    I think that just shows what I have been saying, that moderate theists have failed. Given that they need to let the likes of PZ have a go.

  20. #20 David
    July 13, 2007

    “I’ve given my two cents on this before here, I’ll do so again. Being a Christian and believing in evolution/science in general is about the most unpopular position you can take nowadays.”

    I think that just shows what I have been saying, that moderate theists have failed. Given that they need to let the likes of PZ have a go.

    –At least a moderate theist would try to bridge the gap. I don’t think PZ would succeed in doing anything but making the gap worse.–

  21. #21 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    David,

    Moderate theists have NOT bridged the gap, that is the whole point. We have had decades of waiting for them to do say and they failed. They no longer have the right to complain when the “big boys” wade in.

  22. #22 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 13, 2007

    I wish there was another word that better described the state of mind most decent, fair-minded, socially concerned, politically progressive, compassionate, reasonable, intelligent but nevertheless religious, people share. But I can’t come up with one.

    How about brainwashed?

    If Mr. Knop had any hope of establishing that he is less of an asshole than PZ, he failed miserably. Some while ago he took his shot at establishing that religious folk are not irrational, and he failed miserably. Look, if he doesn’t want to be called irrational and deluded, he should stop acting irrational and deluded. “Shoot the messenger” is a time-tested method of dealing with the bearer of bad tidings, but it failed all those tests.

  23. #23 Scott
    July 13, 2007

    Re: G. Shelley

    I think you meant to say, “…that many religious people (and even the non religious) believe that their religious views and opinions are special, and shouldn’t be criticised.” People don’t seem to have any problem criticising the religious views of others, particularly if they happen to be at war with them.

  24. #24 David
    July 13, 2007

    So lets see if I can understand you Matt.

    I don’t have the right to complain about the fact that people like PZ are pushing the gap wider, because I and the few other religious moderates didn’t succeed in bridging the gap. Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

    If I thought that PZ was trying to bridge the gap and was just using some harsh words I wouldn’t have any problem. The issue is that he, and you, and all the people who equate religious belief with irrationality/delusion are just drawing a big line in the sand and saying “You have a choice. You can be a Christian, and be irrational, and delusional. Or you can be a sane, rational, atheist. That’s it”.

  25. #25 hibob
    July 13, 2007

    I’ll throw my lot in with Nit upthread.
    I won’t call PZ an extremist, since I think outspoken atheism is unpopular rather than radical, and his methods (blogging and talking) aren’t outside of the norm. But I do think his forcefulness helps stretch the Overton window towards accepting science.

  26. #26 Fred Ross
    July 13, 2007

    I personally regard the atheism stuff on Pharyngula as a bit of a bore. The science is great, though.

    But then, I was raised in an extended family where no one had any religion whatsoever, and we were way back in the mountains where being religious generally meant you lived in a double-wide trailer, kept a dog on a chain out front, and beat your wife. Thus in my mind “religion” is somehow deeply equated with “inbred redneck.” When you come from this background, PZ, Dawkins, et al seem incredibly mild. I find it hard to believe anyone is actually offended by them.

  27. #27 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 13, 2007

    If I thought that PZ was trying to bridge the gap and was just using some harsh words I wouldn’t have any problem.

    Do you also criticize him for not “bridging the gap” with Flat-Earthers? With astrologists? Bigfoot believers? Why is it that belief in the big sky pixie gets special treatment?

  28. #28 David
    July 13, 2007

    –I find it hard to believe anyone is actually offended by them.–

    Yes, because there’s absolutely nothing offending about being called irrational or delusional or foolish. No… that’s just peachy. I mean, you would hardly be offended if people called you that would you?

  29. #29 Macht
    July 13, 2007

    “I wish there was another word that better described the state of mind most decent, fair-minded, socially concerned, politically progressive, compassionate, reasonable, intelligent but nevertheless religious, people share. But I can’t come up with one.”

    The word most people use when the believe somebody is wrong about something is “wrong.” Just a suggestion.

  30. #30 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    “I don’t have the right to complain about the fact that people like PZ are pushing the gap wider, because I and the few other religious moderates didn’t succeed in bridging the gap.”

    Finally you have got it. Exactly right.

    The moderate theists had their chance, for decades. Rather than reducing the level of radical theism in the US it ended up increasing. That is a big, big failure and one that is currently have severe consequences not only for the US but for many other places as well. The moderate theists have had their chance and it does them little credit to complain when others say “Move over, it is our turn”. You, and your fellow moderates owe the rest of us a huge apology. Rob refused to give one, clearly you won’t either so do not act surprised when atheists critcise you.

    As for you not liking being irrational, delusional or foolish, the answer is simple. Stop being one, or more, of those things. Belief in a god is NOT rational, at least not by any normal meaning of the word. Rob actually said he believed in god not becuase there was evidence for god but becuase there was none. That is not a position arrived at by use of reason and logic, in short, it IS irrational and I for one am getting sick of the likes of you complaining about it.

  31. #31 Oran Kelley
    July 13, 2007

    I’ve had my wrangles with PZ’s people on occasion. My biggest beef with the whole culture over at Pharyngula is its deeply adolescent feel. There seems to be a lot of folks there with a deep need to be reassured that not believing in God is OK, and ostentatious attacks on religion and what I call “atheistic Kumbaya” is just their ticket. It has the feel of an adolescent clique.

    There is very little interest in, say, finding out how religion works psychologically or sociologically, or in speculating realistically about what a post-theistic world might look like.

    What PZ and company are interested in is condemning religion. Period. They stay on message with all the avidity of a Bushie or an IDer. What exactly this has to do with science, I don’t know, as it looks to me to be mere bigotry.

    They’re right: there is no God and religion is to blame for many bad things. But if you take these as mere facts rather than as the core of your sensitive new identity, the tone and content of the conversation about religion becomes quite different than what you see on Pharyngula.

  32. #32 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    Macht,

    Wrong covers part of it but it is not sufficient. Scientific hypotheses can end up being wrong but there can have been a rational basis for thinking they were possibly correct.

    What we are talking about here goes beyond being wrong but with good reasons for thinking you were right.

  33. #33 Orac
    July 13, 2007

    I personally regard the atheism stuff on Pharyngula as a bit of a bore.

    “A bit” of a bore? Now that’s an understatement. it’s become quite tedious, actually.

  34. #34 El Christador
    July 13, 2007


    PZ is popular because he is a smart and prolific writer and has a good sense of humor.

    Maybe true, but that’s nothing to do with his popularity. Smart, prolific and good sense of humor doesn’t get popularity.

  35. #35 apy
    July 13, 2007

    Over time I have, for the most part, stopped paying attention to PZ. Not because I disagree with anything he says, for the most part, but rather because I do agree so his posts have little substance for me. I don’t see him reaching out to the middle ground people and offering them some useful words as advice to help them start thinking rationally. Instead I see him basically insulting the intelligence of anyone who might believe in a creator. Given that most people I know who will answer ‘yes’ to “Is there a god?”, they generally haven’t really thought about it that much and are just going with what they have been raised to think. We, at science blogs, are NOT your average person. We look around us and ask questions. Your average person is busy with the mundane details of their life which generally involves turning their brain off for 8 – 10 hours a day, going home, and turning it off some more watching TV then going to bed. These people won’t start listening to you if you are barking at them, you have to talk softly, encourage them, help them come to conclusions on their own instead of presenting your own conclusions infront of them. This is what I think PZ lacks. He does not come off as a compassionate thinker who is out to help people, it comes off as an iron fist who wants people to agree with him. Perhaps that is what he wants? I don’t know, but if that is the case don’t expect anyone to start agreeing any time soon.

  36. #36 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 13, 2007

    There is very little interest in, say, finding out how religion works psychologically or sociologically, or in speculating realistically about what a post-theistic world might look like.

    Those are different subjects. This is as silly as David Sloan Wilson complaining that Richard Dawkins did not write the book he hoped to read. Religious incursion into government continues. Religious attacks on science continue. Bogus claims that religion is rational continue. Are we just supposed to ignore it? Continued criticism of religion and religous people is justified by their continued actions.

  37. #37 Steve LaBonne
    July 13, 2007

    People can no longer expect a free pass exempting them from criticism of their irrational beliefs just because they’re of a variety traditionally labeled as “religion”. This taboo has done immense harm to clear thought and those of us who identify with the “new atheists” are simply not going to go back into the the closet and start observing it again. Deal.

  38. #38 El Christador
    July 13, 2007

    I doubt that PZ’s tactics are effective at persuading anyone. But I get the impression that PZ would prefer that people be not persuaded because he enjoys the ranting.

    If I recall correctly from social psych, one tactic that is actually effective at persuading people — unsurprisingly, the diametric opposite of PZ’s approach — is “foot in the door” tactics. The textbook’s example was of American POW’s in … uh, oh, either Vietnam or Korea … who “converted” to communism and voluntarily stayed in the country where they had been captured after their captivity ended. The captors didn’t use harsh, pushy “brainwashing” techniques, instead they used very gentle, low-pressure tactics, with the first step simply being to ask the POW to write a short essay about ways in which capitalism was not perfect, (note, not an essay arguing that communism was better than capitalism, but merely that capitalism was not devoid of any flaws whatsoever). And all steps were similarly low-key, but at the end you had someone who was genuinely persuaded that communism was better. (And that’s for an ideology where it’s largely subjective. In the case of atheism-theism, you’ve got, like, actual objective logic and reasonable arguments on your side — which may or may not help, come to think of it.)

    I recently read an article in (I think) Slate, which was discussing Hume and said (not their observation, mine) that he was successful at promoting atheism by essentially the same tactics, that he never put “all his atheist eggs in one basket”, but in any work he would only focus on one, reasonable, criticism of belief in God, merely opening the crack of doubt.

    I expect that actual effective promotion of atheism would use a similarly non-confrontational approach, but would focus on getting people to first accept small criticisms of theism that they would find reasonable e.g. no experimental evidence, or scriptures don’t prove anything because anyone can write a scripture. But of course, that wouldn’t be as much fun, would it?

    I guess “thin end of the wedge” is a good metaphor for the approach, too.

  39. #39 Dave S.
    July 13, 2007

    Matt Penfold writes:

    The moderate theists have had their chance and it does them little credit to complain when others say “Move over, it is our turn”.

    And how do you propose to solve this problem using your “turn”? For instance, how do you define success, and what practical steps do you envision we need to take to acheive that success? Please respond carefully, as I would be adamantly opposed to any response that smacks of totalitarianism.

    Even a totalitarianism that espouses the same views as I hold.

    As for you not liking being irrational, delusional or foolish, the answer is simple. Stop being one, or more, of those things.

    Yes, this is conceptually simple, but it seems to me rather unlikely people are simply going to stop being religious. I hope your plan is better thought out than this. Given that oh, 99+% of all those in political power and the vast majority of the electorate count themselves as religious in some manner, it would seem to me unwise to base your strategy on eliminating religion in any meaningful way. But I will reserve judgement until I see the plan you and the rest of the voiciferous atheists have.

    Surely its more than going on about how silly and irrational religion is, right?

    Belief in a god is NOT rational, at least not by any normal meaning of the word.

    So?

    Rob actually said he believed in god not becuase there was evidence for god but becuase there was none. That is not a position arrived at by use of reason and logic, in short, it IS irrational and I for one am getting sick of the likes of you complaining about it.

    Your getting sick about it doesn’t make a difference, does it? Besides making you feel better, how exactly does this meet the religious threat to science or otherwise?

    How specifically can you succeed where the religious moderates have failed in your view?

  40. #40 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    El Christador,

    The tactics you say work have been tried. It is only in the last couple of years that “angry” atheism has become vocal. It seems to have started with Sam Harris, with Dawkins, Hitchens, PZ contributing. The gentle tactics have failed for decades. Why should we listen to you, Knopp etc who say they will work ?

  41. #41 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    Dave S,

    You replied “So ?” when I pointed out believing in a god for which there is no evidence is not rational. The “So” is that some theists are complaining that they are called irrational. They have no grounds for such complain if they are irrational.

    “How specifically can you succeed where the religious moderates have failed in your view?”

    “And how do you propose to solve this problem using your “turn”? For instance, how do you define success, and what practical steps do you envision we need to take to acheive that success? Please respond carefully, as I would be adamantly opposed to any response that smacks of totalitarianism.”

    As I have said, as Dawkins as said, as PZ has said, as Moran has said and you failed to hear, EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION. Success will be defined as not having idiots thinking that they can tell a women that she cannot have an abortion because their god does not like it. Success will be when science funding is not based on the whims of a president who has no understanding of embryology. Success will be when an American can be elected to political office without his religious views being an issue. Success will be when the religious stop thinking that what they think their god says about something matters to anyone else and has no place in making laws. Success will be when people can get married regardless of the fact they happen share the same type of genetalia. In other words success will be when religion is regarded as a private matter that has no place in public debate. It can be done. Much of Western Europe is nearly there. The US is being rather backward.

    Education. It works. The more educated a person the less likely they are to be religious in the first place, and the less likely they are to hold fundamentalist views if they are. If you bothered to read PZ, Dawkins et al you would find education is what they advocate.

    There is chance it will fail of course. That is not a reason for not trying. The moderate theist route has clearly failed. It is time for something different.

    “Your getting sick about it doesn’t make a difference, does it ?”

    No, but it does mean I will be more likely to treat you with contempt. If, as some have claimed, this is a “framing” issue then the moderate theists are just as bad as they claim PZ is.

  42. #42 Warren
    July 13, 2007

    You know, it occurs to me that there’s no attempt being made by PZ to “convince” anyone of anything. The tone and approach I’m getting from my fellow atheists is more along the lines of: We’re here, we’re atheist, get used to it.

    This reminds me so strongly, in some ways, of various other civil rights language that’s been used over the years it’s almost causing a sense of deja vu.

    That is, there might be a burgeoning wave of demands for recognition going on here (in a civil/social-rights sense), not any attempt to persuade the goddishly deranged that they’re deranged.

    Put another way, atheists don’t care what others believe in, as long as they don’t try to ram it down our — or anyone else’s — throats.

    And in that context, it is abundantly clear there are certain radical religious adherents who have absolutely crossed the line.

    That, I think, is what we’re really fighting against. And it’s not just prayer in schools; it’s “God camps” and bombing abortion clinics and flying planes into buildings. The difference, to my mind, is simply one of degree.

    Religion short-circuits intelligence. Every time.

  43. #43 Mecha
    July 13, 2007

    I am not going to be on topic for this. But since Matt Penfield is over here, I want to point out to him, in his question to me, that I _directly linked PZ saying what I quoted him saying_. If I link something and say ‘for reference’, I really do mean it. Hopefully you see this.

    Now, on topic, being relevant on the initial post, it was said, “I wish there was another word that better described the state of mind most decent, fair-minded, socially concerned, politically progressive, compassionate, reasonable, intelligent but nevertheless religious, people share. But I can’t come up with one.”

    This is sarcastic, but here’s a novel concept. How about ‘Decent?’ ‘Fair-minded?’ Heck, you use ‘reasonable.’ Why not that? Do activists have to tack on a little bitty jab, to make it known that someone may be good, but they are still inferior? Really?

    -Mecha

  44. #44 matt
    July 13, 2007

    Occam’s Trowel: “I find his writing to be provocative to the point of being irresponsible, so I’ve stopped reading him.”

    FFS: “irresponsible”?

    I can accept that a blogger has some responsibility to something other than decent writing and his or her self. If they were inciting violence or hatred, for example. Posting mocked-up images of someone being garrotted and leeringly saying how much they wanted that to happen. Along with an address and phone number, say. Then again, to my mind, that’d be a betrayal of the writing part too, and even of the self.

    What I can’t accept is the idea that someone with essentially no power making the rational, correct and only sometimes insensitively-stated observation that some incredibly fucking stupid beliefs are, you know, incredibly fucking stupid, is in some way failing in their responsibility. What responsibility? To whom?

    Sooner or later, someone has to point out that the emperor has been prancing around naked for a couple of thousand years. It’s a pretty poor show when others who’ve noticed the same thing start jumping on him for potentially embarrassing the tyrannical nudist autocrat.

    Get some perspective, for crying out loud. People are being slaughtered in Darfur, but self-proclaimed “moderate theists” — and even some moderate atheists — would rather get worked up about perfectly accurate uses of the word “irrational”. If there were a Hell, there’d be a warm place in it for such berks…

  45. #45 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    Mecha,

    You are correct, PZ did say that. However you seem to have missed the part when PZ said “almost”. I also note you failed to take Rob to task for accepting support from joining ScienceBlogs from PZ.

    “This is sarcastic, but here’s a novel concept. How about ‘Decent?’ ‘Fair-minded?’ Heck, you use ‘reasonable.’ Why not that? Do activists have to tack on a little bitty jab, to make it known that someone may be good, but they are still inferior? Really?”

    In one aspect of their life, yes they are inferior. This is what PZ, Dawkins et al have been telling you all along. Is it really that hard to comprehend that beleiving in a god for which there is evidence, or more, believing in a god because there no evidence, is not a rational position ? Finally I think you might be getting there. It has taken long enough.

  46. #46 Mecha
    July 13, 2007

    … your first paragraph is absolutely devoid of any actual argument, support, proof, or coherent concept. The two things are in no way related. You missed the point completely. PZ was specifically being insulting, dismissive, and even a little threatening. He brought up his support of Rob specifically to cut him down in a multitude of ways. If you can’t see that, then that’s fine. It’s OT here, and I will not argue it further.

    And the second paragraph is almost as bad, except it adds prejudice, condescension, and assumption (Surprise! I’m not religious!) into the mix. The fact that you made that assumption is further proof of the conflation of ‘disagrees with PZ’s position’ and ‘religious/evil/bad/stupid’, which is antithetical to debate, discussion, or anything else which is supposedly good. Sorry. That strawperson doesn’t apply to me.

    The response was meant for James, and James alone. Because I like to contribute.

    -Mecha

  47. #47 JimV
    July 13, 2007

    IMO, the problem may in part be that we need different words for different kinds of religion. I think the kind that PZ Myers objects to is the authoritarian, word-from-on-high, mediated by high priests, thou-shalt-obey kind. There may be another kind which seeks principles and processes for how people should decide how to behave, without claiming absolute authority. That seems to be more the sort that Rob Knopp espouses – although I write from limited knowledge. If so, perhaps PZM isn’t seeking to attack people like RK when he writes about religion, and RK should not be taking personal offense. Just a thought. The following youtube link shows what I think is an example of the authoritarian vs. principle/process mindsets.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlSIwJgX5J4

    (Sara Taylor’s oath to the President vs. Senator Leahy’s oath to the Constitution.)

    I read RK’s post this morning and considered an angry reply, but decided to take a walk and think about it first. I have some sympathy for RK for feeling himself to be under constant attack, and hope that in future PZM will add some footnote or something to exempt those call themselves religious without believing in ancient mythologies. I will also agree that the tone at Pharyngula can be adolescent at times; but I take exception to the personal characterizations. In the past couple years since I have been reading PZM’s blog, he has set a policy on not attacking suspected trolls until they have had three chances to justify themselves; has twice set up special threads to give young creationists a chance to explain their positions; and has several times pointed his readers to sites where charitable contributions are needed. And I love the Monty Python references.

  48. #48 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    Mecha,

    You are correct, PZ probably did intent to cut Rob down. Rob had intentionaly insulted someone who had previously supported him. Hardly being very grateful, or Christian for that matter.

    OK, so you are not religious. But you do not like the way PZ et al want to proceed. What have you done that is better ? In short Mecha, put up. All I have seen you do in whine. Tell us what you would do instead, and why it is better.

  49. #49 Steve LaBonne
    July 13, 2007

    The tone and approach I’m getting from my fellow atheists is more along the lines of: We’re here, we’re atheist, get used to it.

    That’s right on the money.

  50. #50 llewelly
    July 13, 2007

    This is sarcastic, but here’s a novel concept. How about ‘Decent?’ ‘Fair-minded?’ Heck, you use ‘reasonable.’ Why not that? Do activists have to tack on a little bitty jab, to make it known that someone may be good, but they are still inferior?

    Trouble is, we live in culture so strongly enamoured of Never Being Wrong and Never Being Fooled and Never Being A Victim that it is impossible to describe a belief as ‘mistaken’, ‘ignorant’, ‘deluded’, ‘misled’, etc, without offending most of those who hold said belief. Adding in words like ‘fair-minded’ results in odd combinations like ‘fair-minded, yet deluded’ which are accurate, but no less insulting. Note that you seem to be quite sure that anyone who refers to another as ‘deluded’ considers the ‘deluded’ person to be ‘inferior’.

  51. #51 The Ridger
    July 13, 2007

    No, Mecha, “decent” doesn’t cut it. They may be decent, but NOT because of their religion, and too many people are decent who are NOT religious. As for “fair-minded” – ditto, at the very least. We’re looking for a word that separates the religious from the non, and if you’re saying “decent” is it, you AREN’T.

    “Deluded” may be harsh, “conditioned” may bug you … they’re both pointing at what we mean, though. I like “believer” as opposed to “fanatic”, myself. But that you think you can claim “decent” shows how intolerant you really are.

  52. #52 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    JimV,

    You are correct in saying there does seem to be a split in religious belief between some of the more moderate theists who look on the religion as way of trying to find out how to live a good life and the more traditional sort. Dawkins makes it quite clear he sees such a distinction in “The God Delusion” where he says that were most religion the former he would not have written the book as it is. PZ has also made it clear he take a similar view. The problem seems to be that a number of those moderate theists have not taken that message on board. That some have is evidenced by the fact that many Anglican clergy are happy to be work with Dawkins’ in attacking the teaching of creationism. Brayton makes the same mistake, but he does have the excuse that he refuses to read “The God Delusion”. I am not sure if the reason is one of poor comprhension skills or principle.

    I also do not think it unreasonable to ask those moderates who oppose PZ, Dawkins et al what their alternative is. I have asked several of them that question. It either gets ignored or I get told it is not their problem. That there is problem with religion in the world is not in question as far as I can tell. Rob, Brayton et al all say that radical religion is a problem. They are just a bit quiet when it comes to explaining how they will deal with it.

  53. #53 PZ Myers
    July 13, 2007

    You missed the point completely. PZ was specifically being insulting, dismissive, and even a little threatening.

    If you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about, no, you’re wrong.

    I thought Rob would be a good addition to Sb, and I still do. But every time he has one of these little meltdowns, I wonder if it’s really doing him a favor to be here — he seems to take my very existence as a horrific and personal insult. There’s not a thing I can do about that, because I’m not going to stop existing, and I’m not going to stop expressing myself because someone here gets the vapors every time he reads my blog.

    And no, I wasn’t threatening. I can’t be threatening. None of us has the power to evict a member of Sb, and even if I did, I wouldn’t exercise it.

  54. #54 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    If PZ did have the powers to evict someone, and felt like using it I rather suspect Rob would not be his first target.

  55. #55 decrepitoldfool
    July 13, 2007

    One can call a spade a spade, without being a jerk about it.

    PZ looks fondly toward a world without religion, but bristles at the merest suggestion that he might not be on the right track for getting there from here. He and many of his regular readers seem to live in a false dichotomy between the status quo and deliberate provocation.

    People have their defenses because they need them. Religion obviously fills some human need, and atheism is not a substitute for whatever it is that religion does. PZ seems not to have mapped out a clear strategy for convincing believers that they should abandon their entire network of friends and family, their political afiliations, and their rationale for all public policy whatever, and forever wander in what seems to them a wilderness.

    So short answer, if “good” is defined as believers becoming more accepting of atheists in public life, and more likely to seek nonreligious rationale for public policy, then it seems likely to me that PZ does more harm than good.

  56. #56 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    “PZ seems not to have mapped out a clear strategy for convincing believers that they should abandon their entire network of friends and family, their political affiliations, and their rationale for all public policy whatever, and forever wander in what seems to them a wilderness.”

    I think the point PZ makes is that none of those are things that should be effected by their religious views. Public policy should not be decided on religious grounds. If someone’s family would disown them because they became an atheist then that is one seriously dysfunctional family and it is quite possible the person would be better of out if it.

    If there is harm being done here it is not by PZ, but by those who advocate such religious behaviour and by those who do nothing to stop it. The religion is the problem, not PZ. You want to shoot the doctor who diagnoses the diease rather than cure the disease.

  57. #57 Steve LaBonne
    July 13, 2007

    We’ve been trying the “keep our heads down and maybe they won’t hurt us” approach for a long, long time- with the marvelous result that most Americans seem to think that atheists are baby-eaters with two heads. Enough! We’re here, we’re atheist, get used to it. Concern trolls like decrepitoldfool are cordially invited to bite me.

  58. #58 decrepitoldfool
    July 13, 2007

    I think the point PZ makes is that none of those are things that should be affected by their religious views. Public policy should not be decided on religious grounds.

    I completely agree. That’s exactly how it should be.

    If someone’s family would disown them because they became an atheist then that is one seriously dysfunctional family and it is quite possible the person would be better of out if it.

    Possibly right, but it’s a hard sell. I’m just sayin’ that, having come from a nonreligious background, PZ seems to underestimate how hard.

    I don’t hide my atheism, but I look as hard as I can for common ground with religious people on issues that can’t wait for the whole world to drop their religious beliefs.

  59. #59 Matt Penfold
    July 13, 2007

    And as for HOW PZ would change things ? He has been pretty clear on that I thought. Education. High quality education based on secular values.

  60. #60 Oran Kelley
    July 13, 2007

    And as for HOW PZ would change things ? He has been pretty clear on that I thought. Education. High quality education based on secular values.

    And this, to my mind, is precisely what he doesn’t provide on the subject of religion.

    I am really amused by the atheists as gay activists line being taken up here. It’s ridiculous.

    Are there people who would discriminate against atheists? Yes. Is it anywhere near as pervasive as prejudice against gays? No. Is the threat of violence against atheists anywhere near as severe against atheists? Who is the atheist Matthew Sheppard? Who were the gay activists who continually, tiresomely attacked heterosexual practices?

    I’ve been around. I’ve worked with religious Christians and Jews. I’ve worked for them. The worst I’ve gotten is pity and condescension, and generally believers simply don’t care what I believe. I return the favor: unless they make it an issue, I don’t give a damn what they believe about god. Any more than I care about their what they like to do in bed.

    Now, personally, I’m perfectly satisfied to live life as a religious minority. I don’t need support groups. I don’t need exacerbated/exaggerated conflicts and make-pretend solidarity with my fellow non-believers. To hell with all that. Why stop believing in religion if you aren’t going to give up on the mindless zealotry and the inquisitions.

    It almost seems to me that certain atheists believe that the only genuine religious belief is that which is maximally stupid (fundamentalism) and the only genuine form of disbelief is an equally frothy-mouthed version of atheism.

    Sorry, you’re wrong. And if you asked me most of you folks seem to have more of a will to believe than you are willing to admit.

    Nothing worse than a reformed drunk as my dad used to say. (There’s hardly anything in the world they want more than another drink, and all they ever do is bend your ear about the evils of the demon rum you are trying to enjoy.) Please folks, admit it: “I am a beliefoholic. I love having common beliefs with other people, much more than I love curiosity or the truth. I hate difference and would dearly love to stamp it out.” This is the first step to becoming a true atheists.

    I just love PZ’s lament that someone can’t stand his very existence. As if it were inscribed in his genes that he should behave like an abrasive jerk. That he cannot but be a tiresome busybody constantly trying to ferret out backsliders. That he cannot avoid making other people’s beliefs his business, even when he has to scour the Internet to find out about them. No PZ, I just cannot support you in this shameless genetic determinism: You can be humane and liberal-minded. And you can even be scientific in your discussion of religion, rather than chauvinistic.

  61. #61 decrepitoldfool
    July 13, 2007

    And as for HOW PZ would change things ? He has been pretty clear on that I thought. Education. High quality education based on secular values.

    Great, I’m all for it. Magic wand? Or exemplary persuasion that secular policy is best for everyone, and that stereotypes of atheists are generally not true. Social ties and perceptions, like it or not, do play a huge role in curriculum choice and school district management.

    Lots of religious people already believe in the value of secular public education, and others can be persuaded. It’d be nice to have them on our side – essential, even – and with far greater chance of success than trying to get everyone to abandon religion up-front.

  62. #62 Mike
    July 13, 2007

    “But still we are left with the question: does calling a spade a spade, to use Rob’s metaphor, do more harm than good in the fight to spread reason among the people at large, most of whom are religious?”

    Depends on how many of us Christians who are on the side of science as a means of knowing our material world are willing to be big enough to make common cause with people who openly hold us in contempt. It’s certainly made me a less frequent visitor to, and much less frequent commenter at, Pharyngula and much less likely to commend it to others. Cost PZ a free meal or drink if he’d ever made it to Ottawa, since life is too short to spend it with people who think you’re nuts. It saddens me that people with whom I otherwise have much in common hold me in contempt, even if they wouldn’t express it to my face. I’m not sure folk like PZ can be particularly proud of that effect of their contempt.

    BTW, if you want a word to describe religious folk who are allies in the fight against pseudo-science, why not try “mistaken” instead of “deluded”. It’s how I view you atheists and there’s no particular shame in being mistaken.

  63. #63 Steve LaBonne
    July 13, 2007

    MIke, I live in a country in which polls say that only a minority people would be willing to vote for an atheist for president. I couldn’t care less if your tender sensibilities are bruised when I give my candid opinion (not high) of adults who still believe in fairy tales. Again, atheists have been trying the “get along to go along” approach for a hell of a long time, and it hasn’t worked any better for us than it did for any other previously despised minority. So some of us are through with that. Deal.

  64. #64 Oran Kelley
    July 13, 2007

    Deal.

    What the deal with this? Are you trying to prove that you are thirteen? Or does it serve some other function?

  65. #65 decrepitoldfool
    July 13, 2007

    Steve, ‘going along to get along’ is a straw man. We’re not just trying to survive; we need to change the world together with the majority. Time is short so we don’t have the luxury of getting in a pissing match with a supermajority just to placate our tender feelings. If it means we need to exercise a little patience and some empathy with people whom we believe are – let’s say, “mistaken”, we can do it. You never know, they might turn out to be OK, and they may decide we’re OK. But first we have to stop shouting past each other.

    We’re all human. We get lonely, scared, we’re gregarious and our social/cultural connections exert a powerful gravitational tug on our sense of reason. You’re not above all that, none of us are. Our society is not above all that. But we all inhabit the same small world so we had better find common cause to whatever extent is possible.

    For starters, many religious traditions resist governmental interference, so they side with us on the establishment clause. That’s a good thing. Many evangelicals believe in caring for the Earth. Also a good thing.

    Mike, if you’re ever in Normal, Illinois, look me up.

  66. #66 decrepitoldfool
    July 13, 2007

    Oh, and Steve, a ‘concern troll’ is someone who advocates insincerely to undermine a point of view. You don’t even know me but if you call anyone with a disagreement over strategy a “troll” you make it impossible to discuss strategy.

  67. #67 Steve LaBonne
    July 13, 2007

    YOUR strategy for “changing the world” has been tried for a long time and has resulted in the US being one of the most disgustingly religiose (and atheism-intolerant) countries on earth. Try taking those facts on board before presuming to lecture others.

  68. #68 OPK
    July 13, 2007

    Steve:

    Why all the self-pity and exaggerated victimhood? You sound precisely like those whiny Christians who are always finding reason why they are so oppressed. Mostly because everyone refuses to toe their line.

    I’ve been an atheist for 30 years, and don’t feel discriminated against or threatened in the least.

    I don’t like the way this country is going, but neither do my believer friends. And I can tell you to an absolute certainty that liberal, humane, caring Christians are more, not less, susceptible to being harassed by zealots than you are.

    But the contempt of fools no doubt buoys their spirits somewhat.

  69. #69 Rob Knop
    July 13, 2007

    Rob actually said he believed in god not becuase there was evidence for god but becuase there was none.

    Dude, you can rant on, but please don’t claim I’ve said stupid things that I never said. There’s no need for that. You seem to be perfectly capable of insulting me to no end without resorting to prevarication.

  70. #70 nit
    July 13, 2007

    I’ve been treated to the well intentioned, inherently contemptuous paternalism of religious folk who think I’m a deluded lost soul in need of saving. The common denominator of all of good things about religion is shared by many atheists, PZ included. Religion doesn’t have some magic monopoly on good, to the contrary the contempt that PZ shows towards religion is something in common with lots of religion. Consider the Pope’s recent edict about the non-catholic christians being deluded about the object of their worship. PZ’s meanness is no more strident than the ‘respectable’ Mennonite who told me the only thing keeping him from throwing me out the window was his belief in God.

    If you want some alienating extremism, try Kourda’s Church of Euthanasia or Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church. PZ is nowhere close to being in their league.

  71. #71 Mondo
    July 13, 2007

    “A bit” of a bore? Now that’s an understatement. it’s become quite tedious, actually.

    Man it is if everyone with a problem with PZ’s blog has it as their home page and constantly hits F5. Don’t like him, don’t read him.

  72. #72 Caledonian
    July 13, 2007

    I think P.Z. does do some harm as I think he just perpetuates the idea that there is a definitive conflict between Christianity and science.

    There’s a definitive conflict between all religions and science. The scientific method of inquiry doesn’t recognize faith as valid depends on doubt and skepticism to function; religions either implicitly require faith in their doctrines or explicitly require it.

    Christianity is an suitable example of the latter – it views doubt as a form of failure and stresses the acceptance of statements without concern for suitable evidence.

    I presume you are a Christian. You need to acknowledge that your faith is incompatible with the skeptical and doubting perspective needed for science.

  73. #73 decrepitoldfool
    July 13, 2007

    YOUR strategy for “changing the world” has been tried for a long time and has resulted in the US being one of the most disgustingly religiose (and atheism-intolerant) countries on earth. Try taking those facts on board before presuming to lecture others.

    Steve, you might want to work on your reading comprehension. Or, your preconceptions are getting in the way, I don’t know. The reason atheists are so hated in this country is that we’ve stayed in the closet and let the most repugnant religious haters define us. Coming out of the closet only to behave exactly as the stereotype dictates is hardly an improvement. It makes it easy for people in the middle to conclude the haters were right.

    Most Christians, by the way, are in that middle.

    Rabid Christians are Christian first – it’s the only fact they’ll allow that matters about them. By taking the same approach we take on the same rhythm of discourse as them, and just as easy to dismiss. By refusing to 1) stay in the closet and 2) refusing to fit the stereotype, we can break the stereotype.

    Unless you really are, at your core, just an angry jerk. Then it would be disingenuous of you to treat anyone who disagrees with you respectfully. Be yourself, man! But don’t pretend it’s any kind of effective strategy.

  74. #74 Caledonian
    July 14, 2007

    Dude, you can rant on, but please don’t claim I’ve said stupid things that I never said.

    Mr. Knop is correct: that isn’t the stupid thing he said.

    What he did say was that he didn’t believe because there was no evidence, but in spite of the lack of evidence. That’s clearly a completely different stupid thing to say.

    Please, when you’re pointing out how dumb Knop is, be sure to be both specific and precise.

  75. #75 Caledonian
    July 14, 2007

    The reason atheists are so hated in this country is that we’ve stayed in the closet and let the most repugnant religious haters define us.

    I think you have that backwards, decrepitoldfool: atheists stayed in the closet because they were so hated.

    Rationalists tend to get good results when they go out of their way to combat superstitious thinking. Look at Carl Sagan, or James Randi. They didn’t accomplish what they did by being shrinking violets. They accomplished it by challenging foolishness directly.

  76. #76 Jeb, FCD
    July 14, 2007

    Caledonian,

    Rob is not stupid. Misguided, programmed, deluded perhaps, but the man is not stupid.

    I pity him as a scared little boy. He dipped his toe in the ocean and ran back because he realized this is for real and perhaps he can’t swim with the sharks.

    I do believe we seriously challenge his cognitive dissonance, and that scares the shizzle out of him. In his position, who wouldn’t be scared. Like Francis Collins, I don’t believe the man has ever seriously comtemplated his believes, or lack thereof.

    That being said, Cal, Rob is not stupid. Please don’t think he is because he may cotton to stupid beliefs.

    (I hope this doesn’t make me some sort of concern troll. I think I may need a shower).

  77. #77 Mike
    July 14, 2007

    “I’ve been treated to the well intentioned, inherently contemptuous paternalism of religious folk who think I’m a deluded lost soul in need of saving.”

    Ah, so you know what it feels like to be a theist reading Pharyngula, eh.

  78. #78 Macht
    July 14, 2007

    “Ah, so you know what it feels like to be a theist reading Pharyngula, eh.”

    It’s funny because it’s true.

  79. #79 CH
    July 14, 2007

    Posted by: nit | July 13, 2007 11:13 PM

    nit .. top post .. said well and links to back it up ….

    Herd mentality of god fearing folk , will always have issues with PZ Myres .. and any rational thinker . PZ Myres site is tops , same as this site … Its all a choice guys .. in our free countries its a free choice most times , same you have a choice not to read the posts or blogs that offend your certain beliefs or non beliefs …..Why waste the intelligent energy you are all gifted with , on putting a site or author through the wash , because of his choice …. Seems they still throw the non believers to the lions den ….. must make them feel more god like .. from a proud atheist …

  80. #80 Ron Hager
    July 14, 2007

    Of course you should call them every name they deserve, good and bad. They certainly don’t have this kind of discussion about what they call us. They use every vile name in the dictionary and make up a few more along the way just because we deny the presence of one or more of their gods. That is nothing compared to what the Pope just said about all other religions, and they piously accept his declaration. Idiots, all of them!

  81. #81 baryogenesis
    July 14, 2007

    PZ’s blog for me is to educate–I learn from nearly every posting. I wouldn’t expect this site to exist to speak to middle America or gently try to “convert” anyone to atheism.It’s PZ’s site and he “tells it like he thinks it.” Why should he feel obligated to cater to ,eg, southern religious sensitivities? If those Xtians think they are defending their canon of beliefs out of some moral righteousness…well, there are alternatives to religion for that… Otherwise they are expecting me to buy into a superstitious, frightened mindset I left behind. I don’t have to harangue the religious members of my family or others, but this is NOT that. Cheers PZ. Go for it!

  82. #82 Pseudonym
    July 14, 2007

    It might be technically accurate, but in the world of real, human psychology, things are a bit more complicated.

    Here’s the thing that gets me. The term “delusion” is a real technical human psychiatric term, and it most definitely does not mean what you think it means.

    A delusion is not a mere false belief (hell, everyone has a few of those), or even a persistent one. It’s a mental illness, and it has specific diagnostic criteria. Indeed, the actual technical definition of “delusion” specifically rules out any belief that is culturally (or subculturally) normal. If you live in a society that has theists in it, then being a theist is not delusional.

    Yes, I know that Dawkins et al are using the term in its dictionary definition, but it annoys psychiatrists just as much as it annoys physicists when new agers misuse terms like “energy” or “vibration”. We’re scientists, and we should know better.

    So no, “delusion” is not technically accurate. I like “mistaken”. We should start using that.

  83. #83 Ian
    July 14, 2007

    “I wish there was another word that better described the state of mind most decent, fair-minded, socially concerned, politically progressive, compassionate, reasonable, intelligent but nevertheless religious, people share. But I can’t come up with one.”

    How about “Spiritually Challenged”?!

  84. #84 DuWayne
    July 14, 2007

    Ron Hager -

    Of course you should call them every name they deserve, good and bad. They certainly don’t have this kind of discussion about what they call us. They use every vile name in the dictionary and make up a few more along the way just because we deny the presence of one or more of their gods.

    And this shows you’re better than them how exactly? Not to mention that many of us refer to atheists as, well, atheists. The strongest language I use to refer to any atheists, would be when I call them anti-theists, neither harsh nor inaccurate when I use it. But please, feel free to insult and degrade me, because I don’t accept your world view. It goes a long way towards showing your moral and intellectual superiority, really.

    That is nothing compared to what the Pope just said about all other religions, and they piously accept his declaration. Idiots, all of them!

    They did? Who did exactly, and how do you know? Please, enlighten my poor, deluded, self.

  85. #85 DuWayne
    July 14, 2007

    Steve LaBonne -

    MIke, I live in a country in which polls say that only a minority people would be willing to vote for an atheist for president. I couldn’t care less if your tender sensibilities are bruised when I give my candid opinion (not high) of adults who still believe in fairy tales. Again, atheists have been trying the “get along to go along” approach for a hell of a long time, and it hasn’t worked any better for us than it did for any other previously despised minority. So some of us are through with that. Deal.

    So that excuses being a complete and utter ass, to those of us that share most of the same values? I guess it makes sense. You can’t actually alienate us from supporting many of the same causes you do, as our support is not contingent on being treated nicely. So by all means, berate and insult those of us who are fighting dominionism, ignorance and bigotry, including the bigotry directed at atheists. We’ll keep fighting it, in spite of assholes like you.

  86. #86 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    Rob said here:

    “Dude, you can rant on, but please don’t claim I’ve said stupid things that I never said. There’s no need for that. You seem to be perfectly capable of insulting me to no end without resorting to prevarication.”

    In reply to my saying:

    “Rob actually said he believed in god not becuase there was evidence for god but becuase there was none.”

    On the blog he took down he said the following:

    “I don’t believe in God because there is no evidence. I believe in spite of that.”

    So sorry Rob, it seems you did say it.

  87. #87 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    DuWayne,

    Why not instead of criticising others try telling us what you would do different, bearing in mind the “being nice” strategy has been tried for years with very little in the way of success. So you need a new program to combat the extemists in your midsts. What do you propose ?

  88. #88 Dave S.
    July 14, 2007

    Matt Penfold writes:

    You replied “So ?” when I pointed out believing in a god for which there is no evidence is not rational. The “So” is that some theists are complaining that they are called irrational. They have no grounds for such complain if they are irrational.

    But they don’t believe in God with no evidence. They think they do have evidence. It’s just that that evidence would not pass the bar that we set as ‘scientific’. Althouth of course some of them insist on that too. Wrongly as we’d both agee.

    As I have said, as Dawkins as said, as PZ has said, as Moran has said and you failed to hear, EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION.

    Actually I hear it quite plainly. But simply saying education, even repeating it in ALL CAPS, isn’t a plan. It’s a slogan. Furthermore, pretty much every reasonable person can get behind better education. For instance religious moderates can and do get behind that. What’s your plan for getting this EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION and how does it differ from what the religious moderates want? For instance, would you move to require teachers in high schools read some sort of religious statement to their biology classes? Or would you support making education cheaper? Would you mandate certain subjects and the content of those subjects? Would you change the law?

    I’m trying to determine what it is you want to actually do, rather than what you wish were done.

    Success will be defined as not having idiots thinking that they can tell a women that she cannot have an abortion because their god does not like it.

    In a democracy there will always be idiots who think and say idiotic things. Democracy is not free. The price is eternal vigilence.

    Success will be when science funding is not based on the whims of a president who has no understanding of embryology.

    I can accept a President who is not knowledgeable in this field. However I would want one who actually listens to the best science rather than one who makes policy first and then looks for whatever science he can to support it later. Legislators and the press share much of the blame for letting the current President obtain unheard of powers and turning the Constitution into a rag with nary a whimper of protest.

    Success will be when an American can be elected to political office without his religious views being an issue.

    I support this ideal too. If the candidate were an atheist it shouldn’t matter. But it also implies that if a candidate were a fundamentalist Christian it shouldn’t matter.

    Success will be when the religious stop thinking that what they think their god says about something matters to anyone else and has no place in making laws. Success will be when people can get married regardless of the fact they happen share the same type of genetalia. In other words success will be when religion is regarded as a private matter that has no place in public debate. It can be done. Much of Western Europe is nearly there. The US is being rather backward.

    Education. It works. The more educated a person the less likely they are to be religious in the first place, and the less likely they are to hold fundamentalist views if they are. If you bothered to read PZ, Dawkins et al you would find education is what they advocate.

    But don’t the moderate religious types like Ken Miller and Francis Collins also advocate education? How is your education plan different from what they want to do? Is it only the projected end result (a more literate population verses a more literate and less religious population) thats different?

    There is chance it will fail of course. That is not a reason for not trying. The moderate theist route has clearly failed. It is time for something different.

    O.K. You want to do something different. I get that. I’m trying to determine what that ‘different’ is supposed to be.

    No, but it does mean I will be more likely to treat you with contempt.

    Why would you treat me with contempt? I personally wouldn’t be favourably disposed to someone who wants to affect education (somehow?) of my children and my childrens children who right off the bat treats me with contempt. How does being contemptuous help?

    If, as some have claimed, this is a “framing” issue then the moderate theists are just as bad as they claim PZ is.

    I think eveyone frames. The question is can we have both science and religion, or must it be science or religion?

    I don’t know the answer.

    That doesn’t mean I have to simply defer to those who claim they do have the answer.

  89. #89 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    Dave S,

    “But don’t the moderate religious types like Ken Miller and Francis Collins also advocate education? How is your education plan different from what they want to do? Is it only the projected end result (a more literate population verses a more literate and less religious population) thats different?”

    They do advocate education, but in the case of Miller he openly admits to belonging to a church that has a policy with regards condom use that contributes to the spread of HIV and a policy of actively seeking to deny gays human rights. Now Miller may not support those policies himself, but he cannot escape the consequences of belonging to a church that does. When it comes to teaching evolution Miller is on the same side as I am. When it comes to preventing the spread of HIV or allowing gays to marry he is not. Miller belongs to a church that is part of the problem, not part of a solution.

    As to whether science and religion are compatible, the answer is no, at least as far as the type of religion that is prevalent today. Most mainstream religions accept some kind of divine intervention. For a scientist to think that god can intervene in the universe is a problem. It means that they must reject some aspects of science, although strangely they do not allow for divine intervention in their own field. I guess making it someone else’s problem is OK though. If you want to talk about the kind of religion that is only about how to live a good life then the answer is different. Of course that type of religion is not what I, PZ, Dawkins et al have an issue with.

  90. #90 Caledonian
    July 14, 2007

    Indeed, the actual technical definition of “delusion” specifically rules out any belief that is culturally (or subculturally) normal. If you live in a society that has theists in it, then being a theist is not delusional.

    That definition is arbitrary. You’re also reporting it improperly.

    Yes, I know that Dawkins et al are using the term in its dictionary definition, but it annoys psychiatrists just as much as it annoys physicists when new agers misuse terms like “energy” or “vibration”. We’re scientists, and we should know better.

    Psychiatrists aren’t scientists. Their field is not scientific. Dawkins and the dictionary are correct – you are not.

  91. #91 Caledonian
    July 14, 2007

    Rob is not stupid. Misguided, programmed, deluded perhaps, but the man is not stupid.

    Stupid is, as stupid does.

    If Rob Knop does stupid things, he IS stupid. If he stops, he ceases to be so. Would you care to make a little wager on how long it will take him to stop?

    He will never give up his cherished delusions. And thusly, he will never cease being stupid. Unlike people who genuinely lack the cognitive capacity for higher thought, Rob chooses his condition – and that makes him a fair target.

  92. #92 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    “Yes, I know that Dawkins et al are using the term in its dictionary definition, but it annoys psychiatrists just as much as it annoys physicists when new agers misuse terms like “energy” or “vibration”. We’re scientists, and we should know better.”

    Dawkins specifically addresses this point in the book. Clearly you missed that part.

  93. #93 Blake Stacey, OM
    July 14, 2007

    nit:

    The value of the rude and unthinkable things that extremists like PZ might say is that they help move the Overton Window to provide more space for thought in the middle.

    It’s funny — way back when, Sean Carroll used the Overton Window to say why Richard Dawkins has been good for us, and then along came the “framers” to say that Richard Dawkins has been bad for us. Windows, frames. . . I think I’m going back to bed.

  94. #94 Blake Stacey, OM
    July 14, 2007

    On the other hand, without all this nonsense, ScienceBlogs: The Movie could never be a summer blockbuster.

  95. #95 Steve LaBonne
    July 14, 2007

    I’m perfectly prepared to work with religious believers on issues of common interest. But not on the bad old terms where I’m supposed to pay homage to their irrational beliefs and share the pretence that they’re either necessary or sufficient to motivate interest in the isssue at hand. I’m not interested in “preaching atheism” at them (a contradiction in terms in any case) and in turn I expect them to refrain from using the issue we’re working on as an excuse for their religious preaching. But many of them seem to regard that deprivation as a terrible handicap (see Jim Wallis and all that lot). Tough, say I.
    I’m not the one making difficulties about how we work together.

  96. #96 Jon Eccles
    July 14, 2007

    There is a connotation to the word ‘delusional’, in its everyday meaning, which ‘mistaken’ does not capture.

    (Most) religious people claim that God exists despite conceding that there is no evidence. They base this on subjective experience. To say that this is wrong is different from saying that an argument contains errors. What we are saying is that you didn’t have an experience of God, you just imagined you did. Depending on context, we might be saying that the voices in your head are not real, or that the tranquil sense of the numinous is a consequence of the way brains work, or that the response to your prayer was just coincidence, etc etc. There is no nice way to say this, and yet it needs to be said, and the word ‘delusional’ says what we mean.

    I appreciate that psychologists may want to reclaim the word for their specialism, but they did co-opt the word in the first place. It originally derives from the Latin ‘deludere’, which means to play false, incidentally. If anyone can suggest a word we could substitute which still carries this sense, I’d be happy to use it, but I think psychology may have co-opted most if not all of them already.

  97. #97 Pseudonym
    July 14, 2007

    Caledonian:

    Psychiatrists aren’t scientists. Their field is not scientific.

    Thank you, L Ron. Where’s Denialism when you need it?

    Matt Romney:

    Dawkins specifically addresses this point in the book. Clearly you missed that part.

    Give us a chance, it’s only just come out in paperback.

    However, it seems pretty clear that people who have read the book don’t have a good answer either (though Caledonian’s isn’t a typical response, thankfully).

  98. #98 decrepitoldfool
    July 14, 2007

    Caledonian: “I think you have that backwards, decrepitoldfool: atheists stayed in the closet because they were so hated.

    Rationalists tend to get good results when they go out of their way to combat superstitious thinking. Look at Carl Sagan, or James Randi. They didn’t accomplish what they did by being shrinking violets. They accomplished it by challenging foolishness directly.”

    The closet is a vicious cycle. Atheism, or just secularism, had a powerful advocate in Robert Louis Ingersoll who packed speaking venues in his time. The backlash to him and kind was a pretty organized campaign to vilify unbelievers. The whole story is compellingly told in Freethinkers, a history of American secularism by Susan Jacoby.

    We’ve been in the closet too long, letting our opponents control the message. In coming out, if we behave like the contemptuous jerks they have portrayed us to be, we hand the message right back to them in the minds of people in the middle, trying to decide.

    Thanks for mentioning Carl Sagan. Like Ingersoll, he spoke frankly and strongly but to the greatest extent possible, without personal insult. Clearly he understood the desire to believe and that understanding opened doors for him in the minds of readers and viewers who would otherwise have rejected him out of hand.

    It is not a choice between being a “shrinking violet” and spewing invective at people with whom we have much in common. Other options exist. We’re trying to convince school boards and legislators and our neighbors to listen to us. Like it or not, style matters and our hurt minority feelings don’t.

  99. #99 Caledonian
    July 14, 2007

    Thank you, L Ron. Where’s Denialism when you need it?

    It’s not exactly a controversial point. Why do you think psychiatry and psychology have historically been grouped in the “Liberal Arts” category instead of the sciences?

    Psychiatry is a subset of applied medicine, a field which is still mostly non-science and was formerly almost completely non-science. There IS science in psychology, but it’s still a fledgeling field.

    I think you’re reading rather more into my statement than it actually there.

  100. #100 decrepitoldfool
    July 14, 2007

    Doh! Robert Green Ingersoll. Sorry, such an unreliable memory…

  101. #101 Jeb, FCD
    July 14, 2007

    Cal, I find your stupid is, as stupid does post compelling. I will certainly give it more thought.

  102. #102 D. Rudmann
    July 14, 2007

    Pseudonym mis-states delusion as having a mental illness status within the field of abnormal psychology. It is usually used to describe symptoms in which someone mistakes a stimulus as meaning something else, such as “Airplanes are flying overhead just to bother me.” Using the term doesn’t imply the believer of the delusion has a mental illness. While the role of societal norms do play into defining what is a mental illness or a delusion, any competent therapist or psychiatrist will base concern about a delusion in terms of what harm it causes to the individual and to those around him or her. If a belief does not interfere with one’s holding a job, being a parent, keeping up existing relationships, etc., what the therapist personally thinks of the delusion is not important. The ability of the individual to function and adapt in daily life is where the focus is.

    Delusions are distinguished from hallucinations, where someone believes something to be present when nothing is present at all (e.g. “The airplanes overhead are bothering me” when there is nothing in the sky). I have not read Dawkin’s book, but if I understand correctly, a title of “The God Hallucination” could be accurate to his thesis.

  103. #103 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    “Give us a chance, it’s only just come out in paperback.”

    If you have not read the book why do you feel you are qualified to comment on what it says ?

  104. #104 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    D Rudman,

    In the book Dawkins makes it very clear he is NOT using the word delusion in the sense that mental health professionals use it. He also acknowledges some have taken him to task for doing so.

    And can I make a plea here to everyone ? If you have not read “The God Delusion” please do not think you have anything worth while to say about. It is true you can get some idea of Dawkins’ view on religion from reading some of the essays he has written but you will be missing a lot as well. Brayton makes this mistake, and others here seem to be doing so as well. The book is much more than just a rehash of his previously published works.

  105. #105 Dave S.
    July 14, 2007

    Matt Penfold writes:

    They do advocate education, but in the case of Miller he openly admits to belonging to a church that has a policy with regards condom use that contributes to the spread of HIV and a policy of actively seeking to deny gays human rights. Now Miller may not support those policies himself, but he cannot escape the consequences of belonging to a church that does. When it comes to teaching evolution Miller is on the same side as I am. When it comes to preventing the spread of HIV or allowing gays to marry he is not. Miller belongs to a church that is part of the problem, not part of a solution.

    But you’re still not telling me what the solution you propose is. Besides repeating the word EDUCATION as some sort of magic mantra that is. We need to educate. Great, I agree. That’s right up there with writing ‘we need more research’ in a scientific paper. It’s a given. Educate how?

    I get it. You’re mad as hell and not going to take it any more. OK…It’s your turn Matt (and PZ’s and Dawkin’s). What’s your next move? Don’t just complain about what the other guy does. I’m sure everyone holds views or is linked to a group which holds views that you don’t agree with. It’s what you and those like minded are going to do that I’m interested in.

    Don’t support your side by simply complaining about the other guys. That’s what the Creationists do. Tell us what you want to do that’s different. Surely there is more than exercising more strident language and vague pronouncments about needing more education (which no-one is contesting) to your position. Has does your approach succeed where the others have failed? How do you know it just doesn’t make things even worse? It’s not like you can force education on someone.

    As to whether science and religion are compatible, the answer is no, at least as far as the type of religion that is prevalent today. Most mainstream religions accept some kind of divine intervention.

    We already know that some religious models (e.g. a 6-10,000 year old planet) don’t accord with the evidence. Science deals with testable models, and since supernatural models are often not testable, they are generally pretty useless as scientific models. And the ones that are testable (like young earth), tend to fail pretty miserably. Of course that doesn’t stop the advocates, who deny such failure and carry on.

    For a scientist to think that god can intervene in the universe is a problem. It means that they must reject some aspects of science, although strangely they do not allow for divine intervention in their own field.

    If they say that God intervenes in some non-testable way then they are not making a scientific statement at all.

    I guess making it someone else’s problem is OK though. If you want to talk about the kind of religion that is only about how to live a good life then the answer is different. Of course that type of religion is not what I, PZ, Dawkins et al have an issue with.

    OK fine. So what do you want to do about it?

  106. #106 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    “If they say that God intervenes in some non-testable way then they are not making a scientific statement at all.”

    Correct, they are talking complete bollocks. The problems is they get upset when that is pointed out to them.

    “Don’t support your side by simply complaining about the other guys. That’s what the Creationists do. Tell us what you want to do that’s different. Surely there is more than exercising more strident language and vague pronouncments about needing more education (which no-one is contesting) to your position. Has does your approach succeed where the others have failed? How do you know it just doesn’t make things even worse? It’s not like you can force education on someone.”

    We cannot force education on people but we can force standards of behaviour. We can work to make sure that discrimination is no longer tolerated. We can work to make sure that anyone who says that a particular public policy should not be adopted because their religion opposes are given a hearing but instead are laughed at. In short we will no longer give a religion a free ride.

  107. #107 eckstam
    July 14, 2007

    Let me state this: I agree with Dawkins’ and others basic criticisms towards religion.

    However, Dawkins favourite thing to do is to say something like this, ‘Well, I can criticise someone’s religion just like I can criticise their economics or politics, or, just about anything debatable’:

    “We should feel a frisson when we hear about a Catholic child or a Muslim child or a Protestant child,” he says. “It should grate like fingernails on a blackboard. A child has no more choice in that than being a Marxist child or a Keynesian child or a monetarist child.” – Dawkins

    Rightly so.

    But then he or PZ (or fill in name of author) will turn round and call religious people insane, ignorant, stupid, deluded … I could probably put in 20 or 30 more tender, kind words – but my point is that they DON’T use name calling when talking politics or economics or whatever, and if someone did call you those names when talking politics, or anything, wouldn’t you consider that person a royal prick?

    If Dawkins had published a book, The Keynesian Delusion, and called all the Keynesians ignorant and stupid and deluded during public call-ins, lectures, etc. – serious thinkers wouldn’t consider it good scholarship and more of a joke and for me that would only severely handicap and discount Dawkins’ comments – as they’d appear to be drivel from a 9 year old.

    It’s not a matter of being over-sensitive in regards to religion – debate it all you want – debate anything all you want – just be gentlemenly about it, as if you’re talking to someone in front of you. Why be an ass? The keyboard numbs people in an unsociable way.

    Now, atheists look like non-understanding jolts.

    Would Darwin or any respectable scholar use such wording?

    Look it up.

    I think not.

    Dear popular atheist hate-monger: If your opinion is correct, then in time, it will show itself to be true.

    So, AAA (Angry Atheist Authors), if you’re not interesting in letting the truth show itself in time, than you are up to something else.

    Which makes me think that you’re trying to (yawn) change the world by shifting the Zeitgeist (I like the term Overton window myself) or to sell books. I’m voting for the latter.
    Dawkins has stated that as an author (as any author would be), upon his death he wishes to be known for his books.

    Strange, I’d like to be known by the people around me as a nice person. Who cares, otherwise, you’re dead.

    And our conception of natural selection of today – 200 years from now will be outdated and more sophisticated.

    Think you know it all? It’s a closed book, heh?

    Please remember this:

    Nature is cleverer than you are.

    With the advent of the Human Epigenome Consortium – we’re just getting started.

    Now, similarly and unfortunately, there are others out there like PZ (basically a loser and a slob with a fat, loud mouth like Rosie O’Donnell but with testosterone bathing his little testes) that are easily identifiable as agenda-driven with more time to add to his blog than shower from what I hear. Sure, he’s a scientist no one hear heard of a year or so ago and he uses shock-words for attention, as do others.

    However, in style, PZ needs to get in the real world (he is a professor (not full) and of course, a democrat, one can’t be one without the other) and learn gentlemenly, academic discourse – he’s making a fool of himself and eroding any credibility and respect he once had, of what little of it there was to feverishly burnish to begin with for the attention he so wants. Did you know he’s coming out with a new book, Natural Revelation? In stores soon!

    Instead of all the empty religious ranting, please, please thrill us, PZ, with YOUR research. Impress us. Change the world.

    Are the octupi just not doing it for you?

    Did you know he’s coming out with a new book, Natural Revelation?

    Peculiar how he didn’t speak his mind until recently (tenure / NEW BOOK?); now, the cowardice has somehow lifted only to have him hiding behind his laptop and getting fat – tweaking insults along the way.

    Calling him fat is not an insult, it is a scientific fact, no? Calling a spade a spade, as I see it.

    Why then, PZ, are you offended? It is just a fact, right? Even if it were an opinion, I have every right to think you are a chubby wubby teddy bear.

    Did you know he’s coming out with a new book, Natural Revelation?

    And why are popular atheist bloggers & authors appear so angry?

    Cause it sells.

    Did you know he’s coming out with a new book, Natural Revelation?

    And they’re making a bundle off of you.

    It’s my Natural Revelation.

    Think for yourself.

    http://gooutside.org/

    Did you know he’s coming out with a new book, Natural Revelation?

  108. #108 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    “But then he or PZ (or fill in name of author) will turn round and call religious people insane, ignorant, stupid, deluded … I could probably put in 20 or 30 more tender, kind words – but my point is that they DON’T use name calling when talking politics or economics or whatever, and if someone did call you those names when talking politics, or anything, wouldn’t you consider that person a royal prick?”

    I think you will find PZ, Dawkins et al call people who advocate silly ideas all of those things. Maybe you have missed what Dawkins’ has said about Bush and Blair and their policy in Iraq ? He did not say nice things about them.

  109. #109 Mike
    July 14, 2007

    “What we are saying is that you didn’t have an experience of God, you just imagined you did.”

    Your problem is that you can’t demonstrate it by your own standards without assuming the truth of what you would demonstrate.

  110. #110 Ira Fews
    July 14, 2007

    Tegumai Bopsulai…

    “How about brainwashed?”

    This may be news to you, but religious people bristle at such terms. My more senstitive believing friends prefer these adjectives:

    infected
    poisoned
    tainted
    damaged
    inoculated
    dehumanized
    non-surgically lobotomized
    cranially sodomized

    Any will do, but try not to use more than two in the same sentence, as this tend to ruffle faith-filled feathers.

  111. #111 PZ Myers
    July 14, 2007

    What a strange little rant.

    Go ahead, you can call me a “chubby wubby teddy bear”. I’m not offended at all.

    Yes, I’m working on a book. This is not a fact that should elicit outrage in anyone.

    I’ve been speaking my mind on the internet since the early 1990s, before I got a tenure-track job. I started my blog 4 years ago, before I got tenure.

    I think the injunction to “just be gentlemenly about it, as if you’re talking to someone in front of you. Why be an ass?” is worth noting simply for its astounding lack of self-awareness.

  112. #112 DuWayne
    July 14, 2007

    I would like to second the appreciation of bringing up Sagan. I was first introduced to Carl Sagan when I was seven years old, well on my way to becoming fundy. I then met him again when I was eleven, seeing him speak for the second time at UofM. By this time, I had rather strongly integrated into my mother’s fundy faith.

    Before going to see him the second time, I watched the series Cosmos and came up with several questions for the Q&A at the end, to make sure I would have at least one – in case some got answered during the presentation. Indeed, every single question I had come up with did get aswered before the Q&A. Of course by that time I had come up with several more. Something about me rather struck him, possibly the fact that I prefaced my question with the fact that he was one of my favorite heros – he invited me to chat with him a little more after the meet and greet.

    One of the questions that I asked him, when given the opportunity, was; “Do you think that extra terrestrials worship God, the same way we do, is our God even likely the same as theirs?” Instead of laughing at me, or holding my very naive question in contempt, he said simply, “I don’t actually believe in God. But if their evolution was anything like ours, they probably have their own Gods.” This lead to a bit of discussion about how he could get by without believing in God. He was very frank and honest about it, not treating me with kid gloves. Nor did he insult or berate me, though he was quite clear that he thought it sad, that a child as intelligent as myself, would so simply accept religion on faith.

    Polite, gracious and kind, Sagan started me on the path that led to my rejection of fundamentalism and revealed religion. Watching Bill Moyers, interview Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth series, moved me further along that path. If those men just ranted and raved about the stupidity of the faithful, berating believers, I wouldn’t have been exposed to any alternatives to my beliefs.

    That said, I think the ranting and railing against Dawkins is way overblown. I have no doubt that I would have had any different reaction from Richard Dawkins, than I had from Carl Sagan. Dawkins, like Sagan, is gracious, polite and personable. There is a world of difference between the rhetoric of Dawkins and the rhetoric of Hitchens, Harris or PZ Myers. Although I would dare say that Myers is someone that I would probably get along with just fine in person – not so much with Hitchens, who appears to be an insufferable asshole, no matter the context.

    Too, I should be clear that I think it’s important that one be and say, who they are and what they think. The stronger rhetoric has it’s place and purpose. Indeed, it is just as important in the battles that I am a part of, as the rhetoric of accommodationists on either side of the theistic fence. Lunatics like Dobson, Robertson, Falwell and Kennedy, demand a response. Unfortunately, the only responses that actually get out there are the responses of more extreme rhetoric. Short of an all out change in human nature or the media, we need the extreme rhetoric, because it is the only response that gets any play.

  113. #113 DuWayne
    July 14, 2007

    PZ -

    Go ahead, you can call me a “chubby wubby teddy bear”. I’m not offended at all.

    Could I call you a “cubby wubby, plush cthulu” instead? The affects about the same, but the irony is far more delicious. At least the affects about the same, if you’ve seen a big plush cthulu, such as the one my son has.

  114. #114 mtraven
    July 14, 2007

    You have to ask what PZ, Dawkins, et al are really trying to accomplish.

    Are they trying to rally the troops of non-believers to fight a political and intellectual battle with hard-core believers, OR are they actually trying to influence people to change sides, or pick a side if they are in the muddled middle?

    Both of these are legitimate goals for an atheist, I guess, but they require different styles of presentation. For the first, you want to be aggressive, passionate, entertaining, and charismatic. For the second, you want to be patient, tolerant, empathetic, and inquisitive.

    The discomfort some people feel about Dawkins and PZ comes from an expectation that distinguished academics should have a tone more in keeping with the second goal than the first. Partly this is just due to some obsolete sterotypes of gentility, but it’s also because their mission is supposed to be educational, and you don’t educate people by insulting them.

  115. #115 Jon Eccles
    July 14, 2007

    “Your problem is that you can’t demonstrate it by your own standards without assuming the truth of what you would demonstrate.”

    Of course we can’t prove that your internal personal experience doesn’t transcend evidence. What we can do is point out the incredible variety of unprovable things humanity has blindly asserted on the basis of personal experience, most of which have to be wrong, the experimental evidence of a connection between spiritual states and brain function, the lack of any real world data which conventional models fail to account for, the correlation between belief and socio-economic indicators, the people who have asserted different and contradictory mystical ‘truths’ at different times in their life, the susceptibility of the mind to physical events affecting the brain, the prevalence of subjective spiritual experience which mysteriously coincides with the prevailing attitudes of that historical period, etc etc.

    I could go on.

  116. #116 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 14, 2007

    Dude, you can rant on, but please don’t claim I’ve said stupid things that I never said. There’s no need for that.

    No need, because there are so many stupid things Mr. Knop has said. For example, he said that something could exist for one person, but not for another.

    I’m wondering, does Rob Knop do more harm than good to the cause of theism?

    Does Rob Knop do more harm than good to the cause of science, by being an example of a scientist who could not think his way out of a paper bag?

  117. #117 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    I try very hard to not respond on threads like this. I did want to give Rob a little bit of support, but then he closed comments before I got there.

    For the record, I would classify myself as an agnostic-semi-theistic Secular Humanist-Buddhist. I have my own reasons for this, and frankly, they’re no-one’s bloody business but my own.

    I would also like to point out that I have functioned perfectly well in the world as a (relatively) sane, productive and intelligent member of society for thirty-*mumble* years, and have even made a few very small contributions to the advancement of human knowledge and technical ability which I am nonetheless proud of. And I would further like to point out that Rob Knop is another one like that. Being characterised as being “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies” because I (and others) do not stand up and say “THERE IS NO GOD” with sufficient conviction is a direct, personal insult and a smack in the face. Rob is absolutely right to be pissed off. I think PZ is frankly a right prick for taking the attitude that there are no other possible reasons why people might come to differing conclusions than he did, and for taking the attitude that the insults are perfectly ok because his reasons are obviously right.

    He plays well to his fan base on this one, and I understand the deep anger which underlies his attitude (too many people in my family were Southern Baptist, so I really do understand); but it really does widen the culture gap, and smack other decent people in the face just as collateral damage.

    There are a lot of reasons why people reach the conclusions they do regarding the existance of God. It isn’t always imposed on them from outside, nor is it the result of wilful ignorance. If you want people to reach different conclusions, address the real reasons and the real people, instead of using the Coulter/Limbaugh type tactic of dehumanizing and demeaning the ones who don’t agree with you. That can work to shift public opinion, but is that the kind of person you want to be? Is it worth the collateral damage that tactic also causes?

    There are better ways than Rob’s of saying, “PZ, you’re wrong and you can just f*** off”, but the sentiment is one I can share. PZ is hardly convincing the people who don’t already believe him to sing in his choir this way, and I honestly don’t believe that it will be nearly as successful in shifting public opinion as violent suffragettes were, either.

  118. #118 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    MTraven,

    The former. PZ, Dawkins et al see religion as problem, and the more fundamentalist the religion the greater the see the problem. If most religion was of the moderate kind they would not be fighting the battle using the tactics they are. If moderate theists want to help in their fight against the worst excesses of religion they will happily accept their support but they will not pretend they do not have a problem with religion in total. This I think is the crux of the issue. PZ, Dawkins et will not stop stating their position loudly and clearly just to avoid upsetting potential allies in some aspects of their battle. For a rather crude analogy look at it like the relationship between the USSR and Western allies in the second war. There was a common enemy, the Nazis (read creationists), but different agendas that sometimes coincided and sometimes did not (read what happens after the creationists are dealt with).

  119. #119 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    Luna,

    The simple fact is that belief in a deity for which there is no evidence is foolish at best. Belief in anything for which there is no evidence is foolish. And the thing is, Rob thinks that as well, as long as it is not about god. He would consider anyone who believes that aliens are visiting the earth to foolish, or worse, and rightly so. He wants
    special consideration for his belief in something that lacks evidence because he calls it “god”. There is no evidence that there is not an invisible pink unicorn sitting in the room I am in now, but you would think me foolish if I claimed there was. If people really want to believe in things for which there is no evidence fine, but it does no behove them to complain when the rest of us say such belief is rather silly and irrational.

  120. #120 Jon Eccles
    July 14, 2007

    If we’re talking about political strategy, then I would suggest that these are some goals to be thinking about:

    1. To make sure that everyone hears counter arguments to religion, especially those who live in places like Karachi or Arkansaw where this may be difficult.

    2. To offer support to people who want to oppose religion under difficult circumstances. This might mean difficulties with parents, or at work, or from a repressive government.

    3. To differentiate clearly between religions, and between different shades of opinion within those religions, and to be clear exactly who you’re talking about. Dawkins, for instance, always does this, and you’ll notice a distinct difference in tone between his conversation with Ted Haggard and his video chats with the Bishop of Oxford. Some criticisms can be levelled against supernatural belief in general, and when they can be they should be.

    4. To protect children from religious indoctrination as far as possible.

    5. To support secular political policies. In the UK, to argue for the separation of church and state. In the US, to defend it.

    6. To undertake international research into the correlation between religious belief and various factors – income, education, parental belief, aiming towards a thorough understanding of the social underpinnings of religion.

    This is just off the top of my head. Any others?

  121. #121 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    Tegumai, I have yet to see evidence that you have either contributed as much to society, education and science as Rob Knop has, or that you have the sort of thinking ability that you claim to value.

    Certainly something can exist for one person and not for another. I have a stuffed rabbit toy from my toddler-hood which has, to me, both a personality and a deep emotional significance. Are you telling me that you have the same perception of Mr. Bun-bun? Wow. How did you ever even meet him?

    Unless you can demonstrate yourself objectively superior to Mr. Knop, keep your insults to yourself, please. They add nothing constructive.

    I would also add that the civility and, dare I say it, gentility that Sagan displayed even while exposing irrational beliefs to the harsh light of logic and irrationality was far more influential than this sort of thing.

  122. #122 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    Matt Penfold –

    There is a vast difference between saying “you DO realise you have no rational reason for believing this, right? So why do you believe it? I think it’s silly.”
    and
    “you are ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or an oppressed victim of obsolete mythologies!”

    …now isn’t there?

  123. #123 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    *ahem*
    In my post addressed to Tegumai, where I said

    …that Sagan displayed even while exposing irrational beliefs to the harsh light of logic and irrationality …

    I of course meant

    …that Carl Sagan displayed even while exposing irrational beliefs to the harsh light of logic and rationality

    …fingers going on autopilot, there. Whoops.

  124. #124 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    Luna,

    Only in tone. The content is the same. And the solution is simple, if you, Rob et al do not like being called foolish then STOP BEING FOOLISH. Why is that so hard to understand ?

  125. #125 Caledonian
    July 14, 2007

    There are a lot of reasons why people reach the conclusions they do regarding the existance of God. It isn’t always imposed on them from outside, nor is it the result of wilful ignorance.

    We call the third possibility ‘delusion’.

  126. #126 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    Matt Penfold – So you think that your tone is irrelevant?

    That no matter how you say what you say, it’s up to the other person to react sensibly, as you deem sensibly?

    Do you argue with your friends/family/partner that way? Does it end well?

    I suggest that your understanding of human psychology is a little lacking, here, and you need to take these reactions into account if you are trying to communicate. Or, as you would have it, “you’re an idiot about how humans think and react. If you want to make your point, then STOP BEING AN IDIOT.” There, same content, basically…does that last make you particularly inclined to examine the possibility that I’m right?

  127. #127 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    Caledonian — at which point many people simply stop listening.

    It has roughly the same level of validity as saying, “terrorists hate America because they hate freedom!” You have decided what you think the reason is, because you obviously know everything relevant, so what those people think their own reason is, is irrelevant, right?

  128. #128 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    Luna,

    I find the whole idea of people believing in things for which there is no evidence offensive. Are you going to stop believing just to placate me ? I doubt it.

  129. #129 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    Luna,

    You also are missing the whole point. PZ, Dawkins et al are not trying to be nice to theists. Theists are not their audience. Dawkins’ is quite clear about this, “The God Delusion” was not written to persuade theists to stop believing in god, it was written as a call to arms to fellow atheists saying it was time to get angry and tell the thiests we will not take their crap any longer. No longer will we sit back and allow the catholic church to kill people by its policy on condom use. No longer will we allow people to get away with being illiberal and intolerant just becuase they say that is what their god wants. Ifpeople want to argue about public policy fine, but no longer will faith be an adequate reason for opposing a policy. If theists want to oppose abortion then they can, but not by saying it violates their religious beliefs.

    So now do you understand why our tone might be a bit angry. It is because we are. We are pissed off at being dictated to by theists.

  130. #130 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    Matt Penfold — I understand your point, but it is a red herring – it sidesteps the issue of directly insulting people. Do you understand my point?

    This is something I learned about dealing with people a long time ago, and you don’t have to take my word for it — it’s well documented. There are times and places where you can legitimately say to or about someone “you’re crazy/you’re an idiot/you’re an a**hole”, but that should probably be limited to those situations where you have incontrovertable evidence which would be considered “reasonable” by most courts and where you genuinely hold that person in complete contempt. Maybe my expectations for how other people (on the science blogs, especially) are viewed are unrealistic, here, but in situations with anyone for whom you have any respect at all — and I really would hope that this would include most colleagues and/or educated, intelligent and literate people who contribute positively to society — then you take issue with the belief or attitude, not with the person. Unless you are perfectly happy for there to be an angry backlash, of course.

    When I say “you believe in something silly”, although you may think it is the same as saying “you’re silly”, qualitatively it is NOT the same, nor will it evoke the same kind of emotional response. And if you don’t think that emotional responses play into the decision-making and beliefs of even the most rational of people, then seriously, you need to study a bit more current psychology.

  131. #131 Oran Kelley
    July 14, 2007

    Matt Penfold:

    How does what someone else believes, in itself, constitute an offense to you?

    You sound like a terrorist for who all non-believers are fair game. Except of course, in this case believers are fair game.

    Frankly, I find the eagerness to take offense at things that aren’t any of your business–or the inability to distinguish between someone else’s business (their religion) and what you may justifiably complain about (what they do or actively facilitate–to be pathological.

    Have you ever heard of the first amendment? Do you have any notion of why people value the ability to live life by their own lights, even if other people consider them to be delusional? Do you have any idea what tolerance is? Do you know what the world liberalism means and has meant through the years? How do you feel about a state like Iran, only atheistic, with people like you in charge, stamping out all wayward beliefs? Would that suit you? By the sound of you last few posts, I think the answer to this last question is “yes.”

    Myself, I think life in a liberal democracy necessarily involves quite a bit of indifference and/or eyerolling tolerance to other people’s private beliefs (and before you start blabbering on: most people DO NOT make a public issue of their religious beliefs). How about you?

  132. #132 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    Incidentally, Matt — it may surprise you, but I don’t disagree with anything in that post which appeared just before my last, about Dawkins. I agree absolutely that the imposition of public policy on religious grounds is unacceptable — I object to the imposition of public policy on any grounds other than “the maximum long-term physical benefit to the maximum number of lives possible, without undue penalisation of any innocent creature” — but there is a gigantic gap between saying “I think what you believe in has no rational justification and should not be the basis for public actions” and “you’re a deluded fool.” I have no argument with the first, and few moderate, reasonable people would. The second raises my hackles and is more likely to get you a response that you will find…unpleasant, and unproductive overall.

    In this particular case, people like Rob Knop and myself ARE PZ’s audience, by virtue of being here and being interested in other things he has to say, as well. Therefore, tone of address and issues of respect are relevant.

  133. #133 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    Oran,

    “How does what someone else believes, in itself, constitute an offense to you?”

    Maybe becuase I value rationality ?

    “Have you ever heard of the first amendment?”

    Yes. Clearly you have not heard I am not American though. I like the idea you think as a Briton the US constitution is of importance to me as it informs me of your nationalistic agenda. Nationalism is not a nice trait, and one of things I oppose. Thanks for identifying yourself as the enemy so readily.

  134. #134 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    Matt Penfold — ah, for someone who values rationality, you are clearly reacting entirely emotionally. Someone who mistakes you for American, or perhaps who is simply trying to point out the value of one of the principles of American government (or do you think that this principle has no value anywhere else because it isn’t written down the same way) is “nationalistic” and “[your] enemy”? Wow.

  135. #135 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    Matt Penfold — I understand your point, but it is a red herring – it sidesteps the issue of directly insulting people. Do you understand my point?

    No. It seems you want to be allowed to believe foolish things without being called foolish. Sorry, but I will not accommodate your wish. You are foolish if you believe in things for which there is no evidence and no blathering by you changes that. As I have already said, if you do not like, stop believing in those thing. Moderate theists have said for years that angry atheists should keep quiet as it harms their attempts to moderate their more extreme co-religionists and until recently we have done so. No longer. You have had your chance, you failed. Extreme religion is on the increase in the world, and nothing the moderate theists have done has made a difference. Time for you to move aside.

    The thing about the “new” atheists is that we have decided it is time to call religious belief what it is: something that is a delusion and foolish. This is the time and the place for doing that.

  136. #136 PZ Myers
    July 14, 2007

    How does what someone else believes, in itself, constitute an offense to you?

    Hilarious. In case you hadn’t noticed, this whole recent flare up of indignation has been the result of people taking offense at what I believe. What some people believe does seem to be a very potent incitement to take offense.

  137. #137 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    Matt Penfold — ok, good for you; you have achieved your apparent aim. You have made an enemy, and ensured that I will (a) be far more likely to ignore anything else you have to say, and (b) actively oppose you by defending people’s rights to believe things that you deem foolish. That is what you wanted, right?

  138. #138 DuWayne
    July 14, 2007

    Matt Penefold -

    Loathe as I am to address you, I have to concur with Mr. Kelley, your ability to take offense at the mere existence of the beliefs of others is nothing short of pathological.

    Honestly, I could care less what you say about the nature of those beliefs. If you think they are stupid, indeed if you think those who have them are stupid, by all means say so. Just don’t expect everyone to sit back and let it slide. But the notion that you find the mere existence of religious or spiritual beliefs to be offensive, rather than the nasty things some people do in the name of their religious beliefs, raises serious questions about your sanity.

  139. #139 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    PZ, I should think that the issue is less of “what do you believe”, and more one of “what do you do with it, and what names do you call people”.

  140. #140 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    Luna,

    I did react emotionally to Oran’s nationalism bordering on Xenophobia, you are correct. It angered me. If his point was about freedom of speech then he should have said that, not referred to a constitution that does not apply to me. Ask yourself why he mentioned the first amendment.

    As for freedom of speech, that is fine. It does not mean you have the right to force your beliefs on others by passing laws that accord with your particular religious views. I live in the UK, and we have freedom of speech here as well. What we do not have in anything like the degree there is in the US are religious groups thinking that are due special regard. When they try that, and they do sometimes, they mostly get ignored or told to come up with rational reasons for their proposed policy. A recent example was with the catholic church. The catholics wanted an exemption from a UK law that required anyone providing services to the public to not refuse to provide those services to gays. The catholics run an adoption agency and wanted to be allowed to refuse to consider gays as potential adoptive parents. They would told they would have to abide by the law like everyone else. Clearly Oran would think they were badly treated. I doubt you would, but can you not see why their very arguement pisses atheists like me off ? I would point out that there were no religious groups opposing the catholic position, and the C of E supported it. And the C of E is supposed to be moderate. So I ask you this, why did none of your fellow theists speak up ?

  141. #141 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    Duwayne,

    So people having irrational beliefs is not something that concerns you ? Fine. I already knew that you were an apologist.

  142. #142 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    Matt — I cannot speak for the C of E, but hello? *I’m* one of those “moderate theists” who spoke up, as were the members of the Presbyterian church in Newburgh.

    Why, I must ask, do you assume that I am in America?

  143. #143 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    Incidentally, it is your characterisation of Oran as “nationalistic” which is emotional and irrational, since you seem to be thinking a bit too emotionally to pick that up. It concerns me that you are irrationally willing to demonise people.

  144. #144 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    “PZ, I should think that the issue is less of “what do you believe”, and more one of “what do you do with it, and what names do you call people”.”

    Luna, the simple fact is that most theists belong to denominations that hold some pretty unpleasent views. Most christians support a church that actively seeks to deny gays human rights and has a policy on condom use that kills people. There is nothing nice to be said about such policies. Now individual catholics may oppose those polcies but then as far as I am concerned they have a choice. They can leave the church, and avoid being guilty of supporting such a policy by the very fact of their membership, or they can stay and accept the guilt that comes with that.

    The simple fact is that most religious people do NOT just believe something, they act on those beliefs. And far to many want to impose those beliefs on others. Some, like Oran, clearly think that is OK and those that oppose them should shut up.

    Believing in something for which there is no evidence suggests something is wrong with that person’s ability to be rational and evaluate evidence. I possibly overstated my position when I said I found religous belief offensive. What I prehaps should have said is that I find it a reason for thinking that person has something wrong with their critical faculties.

  145. #145 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    “Incidentally, it is your characterisation of Oran as “nationalistic” which is emotional and irrational, since you seem to be thinking a bit too emotionally to pick that up. It concerns me that you are irrationally willing to demonise people.”

    Actually I would consider that be a rational view. Why do you think he referred to the first amendment ? Is he so stupid he does not know there are other countries beside the US ? Is he unaware that even if they are they do have not the US constitution ? No, what seems likely to me is that he just assumed everyone here is American. And that IS nationalistic.

    “Matt — I cannot speak for the C of E, but hello? *I’m* one of those “moderate theists” who spoke up, as were the members of the Presbyterian church in Newburgh.”

    I am glad to hear you did. There were not enough of you though. If you want us “angry” theists to shut up you need to be more vocal. Where is your Dawkins ?

  146. #146 DuWayne
    July 14, 2007

    Luna_the_cat -

    In this particular case, people like Rob Knop and myself ARE PZ’s audience, by virtue of being here and being interested in other things he has to say, as well. Therefore, tone of address and issues of respect are relevant.

    I have to disagree with you here. No one is forcing you to be a part of PZ’s audience, least of all him. If you don’t like the tone, don’t read him, or at least the posts that carry that tone. Even better, call him on it. Yeah, it will get you hammered and really amounts to an exercise in futility, but if the principle is that important to you, then it is not entirely futile.

    I also think that it’s important to realize that he is not trying to make any theist feel comfortable, when he discusses religion. That is not his goal. I think he understands full well, that those of us with theistic beliefs, who also support similar political goals are not going to stop, just because he says mean things about our beliefs and occasionally us. Nor is he going to do much to hurt “the cause” as it were, because fundamentalists wouldn’t listen to him if he were being nice either. Sure, it might take away a tiny bit of ammo they use to paint atheists as evil ogres, but in the scheme of things it really doesn’t make a bit of difference.

    On the other hand, it probably makes a lot of difference to some people who are already atheists. Helping them feel like they aren’t alone, that they needn’t hide in the closet. Too, it probably does jolt some of those who haven’t taken the final leap out of religion. Certainly, my brother Ed, when he first left his faith, was far worse in his rhetoric, than PZ. While it pissed me off to no end, it was also rolling around in my head, even while I met with Sagan, who was very congenial. I knew, that not all atheists were assholes about it. At the same time, I had to sit and wonder why my brother was. I can’t say how much Ed being an asshole influenced me, but it certainly had an effect.

    Finally, the best thing to do, when being accused of being stupid, is to prove that one is not.

  147. #147 DuWayne
    July 14, 2007

    Matt -

    So people having irrational beliefs is not something that concerns you ? Fine. I already knew that you were an apologist.

    No, what concerns me is what people do.

    PZ -

    It’s not what you believe that offends people, it’s how you express it. Carl Sagan believed the same as you. While I would assume that had I run into you as a child, with the same questions that I had for Dr. Sagan, you probably would have been fairly polite and gracious about it, Sagan was that way all the time – or at least in public and in his writing.

    I am not knocking you or trying to get you to shut up. But there is a difference between being offended by what people believe and being offended by what they say.

  148. #148 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    What PZ actually said was “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies”. Note that despite what DuWayne said above he did not mention stupid. That DuWayne misrepresented what PZ said is no surprise. He has done it before about PZ, and about Dawkins. In fact when it comes to Dawkins DuWayne is on record as saying he will not read “The God Delusion”. Not that it stops him from thinking he knows what Dawkins’ says in the book. Honesty and DuWayne need to get better aquainted me thinks.

  149. #149 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    DuWayne — this is going to have to be my last post for a while, since it is nearly 11pm here and I have other things to do before sleeping. But note — I said I’ve tried hard to keep out of discussions like this — it’s mostly because the internet sucks up too much of my time. I had meant to comment on Rob Knop’s rant, and later his retraction of said rant, though, but didn’t simply because those got closed off before I got there. Oh well.

    I have never claimed that PZ isn’t entitled to his opinion. I never would claim that. Like I said in one of my early posts, I’ve had too many Southern Baptist relatives not to have sympathy. But because we are here, and are his audience, the tone and insults thing is a relevant topic to take up. It isn’t about any expectation that he will persuade us or not, really, it’s more (to me, anyway) about the fact that the broad-brush insults catch people who shouldn’t be targets, and they are around to be pissed off by it.

  150. #150 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2007

    Incidentally, DuWayne, I do appreciate the ideas you’ve expressed, including the one about stupidity.

    Matt — get over yourself. You have taken the tack that you have The Truth, and people who think differently are offensive to you, no matter what they actually do, and support. And you seem unaware of the problems with this position. Who died and made you God, anyway?

  151. #151 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    “No, what concerns me is what people do.”

    Then do something about it. Instead of complaining about us atheists being mean to you, go sort out your co-religionists. Why are you not on a Christian blog calling for your fellow believers to do something about the bigotry and intolerance that pervades your faith. I have made this point several times over the last few days to various people saying the same thing as you do. One told me it was not his problem, others said nothing, apart from Luna who did at least speak out about the issue I raised with her. Maybe if more theists were like her we would not Dawkins and PZ ?

  152. #152 Matt Penfold
    July 14, 2007

    “Matt — get over yourself. You have taken the tack that you have The Truth, and people who think differently are offensive to you, no matter what they actually do, and support. And you seem unaware of the problems with this position. Who died and made you God, anyway?”

    I am well aware of the problems of my position. I simply do not give a toss if I upset theists. As for “The Truth”, you mistake me for a theist. I have no claim to know the truth. I do not have answers for the ills of society, except I do know “faith” based solutions are not the answer. When trying to find solutions to problems such as the spread of HIV in Africa is tough enough for the people charged with doing so. To have others say that using condoms, an effective way of preventing infection, is wrong does not help and just wastes time. Those trying to combat HIV then have to battle with th e Catholics, and various evangelical groups rather than getting on with stopping people getting infected.

  153. #153 DuWayne
    July 14, 2007

    Matt Penefold -

    First, I did not specifically say the PZ used the word stupid. However, stupid, is good shorthand for ignorant, deluded and foolish.

    As for doing something about it. I am capable of doing more than one thing. I am part of an interfaith alliance for the seperation of church and state, where, with theists from many different religions and a number of atheists, I help develop strategies and arguments, to bring back to our respective places of worship, our workplaces, to dinners or other situations where we might be in the presence of those who might be dominionists. In the process, I have to learn a lot about other beliefs, so we can develop strategies, specific to the situation. In the process we also have to develop strategies for addressing the bigotry and intolerance, from which dominionist attitudes pervade.

    I have also managed to get some of the kids in my churches youth group to do the community service they commit to, to help out a dis-organization I am involved with, that cares for HIV positives and persons with AIDS. This provides a double whammy of exposing them to a number of homosexuals and (since not all who we help are gay) also showing them, up close and personal, the dangers of unsafe sex.

    Finally, I do my best to expose the believers that I’m around, to atheists and people of other faiths. I invite people from my church to the picnics and other gatherings that the interfaith alliance sponsors for that purpose. I invite atheists and people of other faiths, to my own churches events. I also attend events at the mosques and other places of worship, to which my family and I are invited.

    So what do you do, besides ranting, insulting people and questioning their integrity?

    By the way, I have both here and often in other venues, said that I have a profound respect and appreciation for Richard Dawkins and even PZ. Nor have I once tried to quote The God Delusion or even referred to it. Every characterization that I have made of Dawkins, was based on writing and statements that I have read. Unlike some people, I have the intellectual honesty to admit that I was mistaken, when I realize that my attitude was wrong.

  154. #154 Ira Fews
    July 14, 2007

    To Luna_the_Cat and other theists:

    If your beliefs in gods are not rooted in evidence, then where do they come from? Please be specific – i.e., when did you begin believing in your god of choice and what inspired it? What maintains it? Specifics please!

    If you cannot answer these questions succinctly, then you have in fact earned the label of idiot, moron, dolt, dullard, dunderhead, ditz, dingbat, dumbass, putz, fool, airhead, bozo, boob, tool, joker, jester, clown, shit-for-brains, or what have you.

    Now, this does not mean you deserve to be called nasty names. But you see, the names do not matter. They are not the point. The point is that the combination of clinging to an evidence-lacking belief and failing to rise to the challenge of defending or explaining that belief does mean you are admitting to having an intellect that cannot be taken seriously, at least in this one realm and perhaps in many more.

    Whether your insane beliefs “hurt” anyone, and plenty of theistic beliefs do harm others, also does not matter. If you and Rob Knop andthe rest of the loud wounded theists would either zip your lips or inject something reasonable into these discussions, rather than whine like spoiled toddlers about not having your unsupported and apparently unsupportable beliefs treated cordially by scientists (people who are in the evidence and observations game, just so you know) then Dawkins and Myers and Sam, oh my, would not say the things they do, and just as importantly they themselves would not become the personal targets of rabid and angry attacks like Rob Knop’s. That is to say, if people would wise the heck up, there’d be a lot less of this fighting. And yes, there is only one right answer, so if you want a “fair” shake, pick up your toys and beat feet toward church.

    This isn’t to say that we should all think alike. But as many have suggested, if you offer a reasonable person a crazy, sterile, and demonstrably harmful (in the wrong hands) idea, then he or she is not obliged to rub your head and give you tender little pecks on the cheek as you sputter on about it. I would probably be laughed at if I filed a petition to enter that big bicyckle race in France with my little brother’s old Huffy three-speed with a banana seat and a playing card in the spokes going WHIRRRRRRRRRRRRRR, and would surely be laughed at and insulted all the more vigorously were I to then declare haughtily that all bicyckles and all bodies deserve an equal likelihood of gaining admission to the Tour de France, skills be damned, all the while calling the organizers of the events arrogant jerks and assholes. This is what Rob Knop did, and this is why he is being called names himself. He picked a fight with Paul Myers, quickly saw that he was in a setting where people were more likely to be of a Myersian bent than not, and evidently deleted the thread when he saw himself being pummeled like the devil.

    Anyone who fails to grasp the simple dynamics of what has transpired here in the past couple of days has got to have advanced brain rot, a drug problem, or faith intoxication, and it is a tossup as to which is the most crippling.

  155. #155 Caledonian
    July 14, 2007

    Knop didn’t delete the post, exactly. He merely took it off the page.

    It can still be found at this link.

  156. #156 oran kelley
    July 14, 2007
    How does what someone else believes, in itself, constitute an offense to you?

    Hilarious. In case you hadn’t noticed, this whole recent flare up of indignation has been the result of people taking offense at what I believe. What some people believe does seem to be a very potent incitement to take offense.

    Well, I never said I was offended, did I? Fact is I’m not. One need not be offended to disagree, you realize that don’t you? I am disagreeing with you. Pretty vigorously, maybe. But precisely how are you supposed to have offended me?

  157. #157 oran kelley
    July 14, 2007

    Matt:

    And where do you think the ideas behind the first amendment came from but from British ideals and British values?

    John Locke, I believe, was a major source for the belief in religious tolerance. Not wholly influential in the formation of British political thinking. Or am I wrong?

    Or do you believe in state religion? I wouldn’t be surprised.

  158. #158 Pseudonym
    July 14, 2007

    Ira:

    If your beliefs in gods are not rooted in evidence, then where do they come from?

    I believe that murder is wrong. This belief is not rooted in evidence. Nobody has yet come up with a scientific double-blind controlled test to determine whether or not murder is wrong and, if you think about it for a moment, such a test is impossible.

    A fundamentalist would argue that without a deity, there is no basis for ethics, such as determining that murder is wrong. This is obviously wrong; the question is entirely within the grasp of human reason. But it’s not scientific and it’s not based on evidence. To claim that all (non-scientific) beliefs must be based on evidence is to concede the fundamentalist’s argument.

    Rob has pointed out that if humans didn’t exist, then “God” probably wouldn’t exist. This indicates to me that his god is more like the “god of the philosophers”, which is more like an ideal, or a social/mental construct, rather than the “god of the believers”. (I won’t put words in Rob’s mouth, but one way to think of the “god of the philosophers” is to understand that the ontological argument is true, in the sense that the “perfect being” does indeed exist, as “something that we can conceive of”, or an ideal, though probably not as a sentient magic man in the sky. There is nothing wrong with believing in ideals, but if they were fully realisable, they wouldn’t be “ideal”. One theologian once told me that the phrase “God is Love” could be understood as a definition rather than a description.)

    Rob’s religion, like that of every Christian that I personally know, is the liberal “decent, understated religion” that Dawkins claims (without proof, and crucially, without statistics) is “numerically negligible”.

  159. #159 Caledonian
    July 14, 2007

    Nobody has yet come up with a scientific double-blind controlled test to determine whether or not murder is wrong and, if you think about it for a moment, such a test is impossible.

    If such a test is impossible, then the concept of ‘wrong’ you’re using is meaningless.

  160. #160 DuWayne
    July 14, 2007

    Pseudonym -

    You just made a point that I hadn’t really considered in that light before, one that I really appreciate and hope you won’t be annoyed if I use in the future.

    The most moral, ethical and honest person I know, is my atheist father. His morals are based entirely on secular humanist principles. While his values are not based on biblical principles, nor does he have any scientific basis for believing he should be so freely giving of his time, energy and skills to help others. It was not science that led him to believe he should take in my brothers best friend for a couple years, because he was getting his ass kicked by his guardian or that we should do the same for his brother, when he was diagnosed with AIDS. Not to mention the myriad others my folks have taken in over the years, including a couple from my mother’s church.

    And to think, I’ve only ever used my dad as an example of atheists being perfectly capable of having morals, without any basis in religion.

    One theologian once told me that the phrase “God is Love” could be understood as a definition rather than a description.)

    My pastor, who is a fundamentalist, just said exactly that last Sunday. Indeed, to John Wesley (my strongest theological influence when I was younger), this was central to his understanding and explanation of God. This is probably, more than anything else in my life, why I hold so tenaciously to my belief in God. It is certainly what has shaped and guided my life. Absolute love, compassion and empathy are my goals in life. While they are probably unattainable, I find great joy in the striving.

  161. #161 oran kelley
    July 14, 2007
    Nobody has yet come up with a scientific double-blind controlled test to determine whether or not murder is wrong and, if you think about it for a moment, such a test is impossible.

    If such a test is impossible, then the concept of ‘wrong’ you’re using is meaningless.

    Umm. I’m afraid whatever you think wrong means is wrong. Wrong as in morally wrong with no scientific test required or wanted has quite a long provenance and probably has priority over whatever you think wrong means.

  162. #162 Ira Fews
    July 14, 2007

    “I believe that murder is wrong. This belief is not rooted in evidence.”

    It is easy enough to empirically demonstrate that a human society in which unrestrained or gratuitous killing, or killing (for revenge or material or sexual gain) that goes unpunished, will break down or at the very least will fail to thrive in the manner of societies in which the kind of killing we call murder is outlawed and duly punished. Obviously no one can do an interventional study to determine just how “bad” free-for-all murder is, just as neuroscientists can’t stick knives in specific portions of people’s brains to see what behavior modaility is affected. So the kind of evidence I’m taking about isn’t the graphable or neatly quantifiable kind, but it’s evidence, and at the very least even if you disagree you must accept that the sort of evidence I’m talkign about is conceivable. Contrast that with evidence for god, which is not only lacking but difficult to even conceptualize.

    The ontological “proof” is a load of horseshit. I can conceive of the “ideal” running back: Seven feet tall, 900 pounds, 0% body fat and runs a 0.7 second 40 yard dash. Or the idea sex partner: A woman with Jennifer Garner’s face, Angie Everhart’s hair, and two dozen vaginas. But what are thechances of such beings existing? Just because we can fantasize about something doesn’t mean it does or even could exist except in raw, meaningless philosophical terms, and most god believers, at least the ones in the USA trying to urinate all over everything, aren’t coming from that vague angle, they make specific truth claims about God’s views on gay sex, euthanasia, and more.

  163. #163 oran kelley
    July 14, 2007

    On the first amendment deal: sorry I did think Matt Penfield was American. I’ll now commit ritual suicide for having been mistaken.

    Does that make me nationalist? No. It makes me someone who presumed too much. Matt Penfield sounds a lot like an American at first read, aged perhaps 17 years, with a great deal of social insecurity. But I’ve been wrong about this sort of thing before. Sorry! I must have gotten you mixed up with the other guy wingeing about never being able to get elected President as an overt atheist.

    But one need not be an American to have heard of the First Amendment to the American constitution. I think freedom of speech, thought, conscience and the press are fine things. Principles I presume other folks here–American or not–stand by. These freedoms aren’t American ideas, after all. Though Americans have helped spread the ideal that people ought to have them.

    What, precisely, is nationalistic about inquiring into the familiarity with the first amendment makes me nationalist, I don’t quite know. Especially since I’m not very nationalist, really.

    You may say I assume too much.

  164. #164 Pseudonym
    July 15, 2007

    It is easy enough to empirically demonstrate that a human society in which unrestrained or gratuitous killing, or killing (for revenge or material or sexual gain) that goes unpunished, will break down or at the very least will fail to thrive in the manner of societies in which the kind of killing we call murder is outlawed and duly punished.

    True enough. You can show that societal acceptance of murder has certain consequences. But you can’t show that it’s wrong, because “wrong” isn’t a scientific term. It’s a term from moral philosophy.

    I can conceive of the “ideal” running back: Seven feet tall, 900 pounds, 0% body fat and runs a 0.7 second 40 yard dash.

    Sure you can! And now that you’ve described this hypothetical athlete, we have a common point of reference that we can use to talk about it.

    This person doesn’t “exist” in the sense that you could actually see him/her play, but the fact that we can discuss the same idea shows that there is a common referrent.

    This idea should be very familiar to scientists. We talk about ideal gas, the Galois field of order 2, or frictionless relativistic railway carriages, or even Euclidean space, none of which physically exists. These things “exist” as nothing more than mathematical models.

    No, the ontological argument doesn’t “prove” what it was intended to prove (though, I might add, the precise logical flaw in the argument is actually quite subtle and very interesting), but it does give you something you can philosophise about.

  165. #165 Tyler DiPietro
    July 15, 2007

    “This idea should be very familiar to scientists. We talk about ideal gas, the Galois field of order 2, or frictionless relativistic railway carriages, or even Euclidean space, none of which physically exists. These things “exist” as nothing more than mathematical models.”

    But to invoke those examples is to admit to a conclusion theists would hardly be comfortable with. You’re essentially saying that “god” is nothing more than an internally consistent syntactic contrivance, or at most the concept of one. It validates the claim that god is “imaginary”. It’s why I argue that the Ontological Argument is really a backhanded argument for atheism.

  166. #166 Pseudonym
    July 15, 2007

    But to invoke those examples is to admit to a conclusion theists would hardly be comfortable with.

    Many theists, perhaps. But, I’d wager, a minority (if any) of the theists who have blogs hosted here.

  167. #167 Dave S.
    July 15, 2007

    Matt Penfold writes:

    Correct, they are talking complete bollocks. The problems is they get upset when that is pointed out to them.

    And how does that help advance the cause? If you call people deluded, I would think they’d tend to tune you out and won’t really care that at least you aren’t calling them stupid. They’re not going to care that Dawkin’s takes great pains to distinguish various belief systems if he also makes sweeping indictments against belief in general.

    You might say your comments are aimed at other atheists and hang (metaphorically of course) the theists. I’m an atheist, and I’d like to know what you have to offer besides a more blusterful tone and a slogan.

    We cannot force education on people but we can force standards of behaviour.

    Yes, we can have laws and regulations. But these are written and codified into law mainly by theists with a theistic constituency. If they percieve some regulation as an attack on that theism, would they likely be receptive? I hate to drop the “F” bomb, but they can always frame it that way by pointing to strident anti-religious statements of the supporters.

    We can work to make sure that discrimination is no longer tolerated. We can work to make sure that anyone who says that a particular public policy should not be adopted because their religion opposes are given a hearing but instead are laughed at. In short we will no longer give a religion a free ride.

    Do the math. There are far more of them then there are of you. The battle is already uphill. How does it help the situation to aggravate and jettison even the most moderate of them?

    I guess I have to wait and see if there’s more to the plan than brass knuckle rhetoric and venting. I just hope we don’t end up with a weaker hand than we have now.

  168. #168 Caledonian
    July 15, 2007

    The vast majority of people aren’t looking for abstract truth or consistency in their positions – their thinking processes are dominated entirely by their emotions, and they try to minimize unpleasant feelings and maximize pleasant ones.

    Among the various consequences of this is the result that they’ll reject any claim that makes them anxious, confused, or upset. It doesn’t matter how one presents the arguments for rationality, because they don’t want rationality itself. How you dress up the bitter pill is irrelevant.

  169. #169 Luna_the_cat
    July 15, 2007

    Pseudonym is correct. I’m perfectly happy to say that “God” is a human concept for an ideal which we can, in reality, only imperfectly grasp at best. An invention to be used. Is there any objective reality behind this conception? Don’t know. Sometimes “I don’t know” is a perfectly legitimate answer, too.

    I’ve been intrigued by one particular question for a long time. I believe that it is well accepted, now, that stimulation of certain areas of the brain (especially electrical storm type stimulation, such as in seizures) results in a feeling of the “divine”, in a feeling of religious imminence, or something described similarly (my mother experienced several such seizures and described it as “it felt like God put His fingers in my skull”). Ok, physiological stimulus results in this particular sensation. But why — why this perception of the stimulus? Why does a perception, or a description of a perception, exist as “religious” or “divine” at all? What prompts us to label this perception as “deity” or “imminence”? What is the real reason for the existance of both the physiological perception and our labelling that perception as we do?

    I don’t claim to have any answers to that, either, but I think it’s an interesting question.

    Ira — I can’t be bothered to dance to your tune, as it stands. If you would like to ask again — politely, although I realise that might be a stretch for you — why I think the way I do, I would be happy to explain. If you genuinely want to know why somebody thinks something, then I suggest you start by simply asking them, not by characterising them as loud, whiny, unreasonable dolts with insane beliefs. In short, it’s obvious that you weren’t really asking the question, you were just looking to rant, fling (in your opinion!) deserved insults and score points. However, I’ve had enough experience with self-righteous fire-breathers who resort to insult pretty much off the bat, that I don’t particularly seek out any conversation with them, regardless of whether they are atheists or Christian fundamentalists. I hope you understand that. Are you able to contribute anything constructive to the discussion, or to discuss at all, or would you rather sit in your corner and fling poo? Far be it from me to stamp on your fun if you would rather just fling poo; just don’t expect me to participate.

  170. #170 Caledonian
    July 15, 2007

    Pseudonym is correct. I’m perfectly happy to say that “God” is a human concept for an ideal which we can, in reality, only imperfectly grasp at best.

    The whole point of ideals is that the human mind can describe them. If we can’t grasp this concept, then there is no ‘concept’ to be grasped, because our references to it have no referent.

  171. #171 Luna_the_cat
    July 15, 2007

    Caledonian, I’m perfectly happy to say that I have an incomplete and imperfect grasp of “infinity”, as well, based on the fact that I don’t think human brains in general are really built to make sense of such a thing as infinity. Does this mean to you that “infinity” is not a concept to be grasped? OR used?

  172. #172 Luna_the_cat
    July 15, 2007

    Drat, I wish there were an edit function here. I could have phrased that better: Caledonian, because I (and probably other humans) can only imperfectly grasp the concept of “infinity”, does that mean to you that there is no concept of infinity to be grasped?

  173. #173 oranpkelley
    July 15, 2007

    The vast majority of people aren’t looking for abstract truth or consistency in their positions – their thinking processes are dominated entirely by their emotions, and they try to minimize unpleasant feelings and maximize pleasant ones.

    Among the various consequences of this is the result that they’ll reject any claim that makes them anxious, confused, or upset. It doesn’t matter how one presents the arguments for rationality, because they don’t want rationality itself. How you dress up the bitter pill is irrelevant.

    So, by your way of looking at things atheists will always be a minority.

    How does castigating and insulting theists come in? How is that helpful in this situation?

  174. #174 Caledonian
    July 15, 2007

    Caledonian, because I (and probably other humans) can only imperfectly grasp the concept of “infinity”, does that mean to you that there is no concept of infinity to be grasped?

    In the human mind? No. By definition, a concept you cannot encompass is not within you.

    In the case of the word ‘god’, you cannot explain what concept the word is supposed to refer to, nor can you offer a clear example of a process that the word names. If you have no concept, and no example, you have nothing.

  175. #175 Luna_the_cat
    July 15, 2007

    My personal definition for “god” as deity in the traditional sense: a power less limited than human beings, which acts to cause frightening, powerful, or simply poorly understood physical phenomena. In this sense, I think that “god” is an outdated concept and one that we are well rid of.

    My personal definition of “god” as it can be in philosophy and as I have been known to use it: a personification of the interactional aspects of the universe which provide an impulse towards development, and at higher levels of thought and self-awareness form the impetus towards reaching out mentally and behaviourally for something “beyond ourselves”.

    You can disagree — actually, I rather expect you will, or that at the very least, you will argue that there is no necessity to define this as “god”, which I can accept — but your argument that I “got nothing” because I can’t encompass a concept completely is false.

  176. #176 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 15, 2007

    Certainly something can exist for one person and not for another. I have a stuffed rabbit toy from my toddler-hood which has, to me, both a personality and a deep emotional significance. Are you telling me that you have the same perception of Mr. Bun-bun? Wow. How did you ever even meet him?

    Luna_the_cat: Your example is not comparable to Mr. Knop’s claim. Knop was writing of existence, not perception or attitude. These are different words; that’s why the collection and order of the letters are different.


    Unless you can demonstrate yourself objectively superior to Mr. Knop, keep your insults to yourself, please. They add nothing constructive.

    Too bad you cannot even follow your own advice.

  177. #177 Caledonian
    July 15, 2007

    Reaching out behaviorally? As opposed to what, exactly? ‘Reaching out’ is a behavior, even in its most abstract senses.

    I don’t think anything useful or interesting can come from conversing with a person who mangles languages as badly as you do. Your points are incoherent; your arguments, inane.

  178. #178 Luna_the_cat
    July 15, 2007

    Tegumai — let me try with another example, perhaps I can make this more clear to you.

    On the thankfully very rare occasions when I am in a tightly restricted space (i.e. I can’t move my arms freely), I have to fight off panic. It isn’t claustrophobia, but the inability to move freely is a fear stimulus, to me, and the terror — although a subjective experience, entirely — is as real as pain, and has its physiological component.

    However, there are people out there who go potholing — not just voluntarily crawling through tightly restricted spaces, but hey, doing it underwater and in the dark. Personally, I think they are lunatics, especially since many of them sustain serious injury or die that way.

    Obviously, though, the fear stimulus which exists as far as I am concerned does not exists for them. Vice versa for whatever the pleasure stimulus is that motivates them. I suppose that you will argue this is nothing more than perception and reaction, but there is an external existance of this which exists (or not) as well. Please try to understand.

    I also call on you to point out anywhere that I have flung names and insults at anyone in the manner that you have. (I called Matt Penfield an idiot once to illustrate the point of how people react when called idiots; please do not point to that.)

  179. #179 Luna_the_cat
    July 15, 2007

    As opposed to reaching out mentally Caledonian; I’m sorry you are unable to grasp the concept. Thanks for saving me time, though. As I now know that you are either unable or unwilling to try to engage with other’s ideas honestly, and seem to prefer sophistry and insults, I can move on.

  180. #180 Caledonian
    July 15, 2007

    Since Rob Knop has closed yet another thread, and is now withholding comments for processing, this will have to go here.

    He didn’t go “trolling for a flamewar”, he got mad and lashed back at someone he perceived in calling him names.

    Wrong again, Luna. Let’s take a look at that post again, shall we? Rob’s words:

    It’s been a while since I’ve had a good flamewar here, so it’s probably time for one.

    If you’ve begun to forget what he said, his words are available for anyone on SB to read.

  181. #181 Luna_the_cat
    July 15, 2007

    Hm, he did say “time for a flamewar”, didn’t he. I think this was probably more an acknowledgement that one would happen, rather than a desire for one, though.

    He got mad. He lashed out. He regretted it, and not solely because he invited a great deal of nastiness in his direction. I suppose you’ve never gotten mad and said something stupid, either? I know I have; that is why I hesitate to condemn other people for it. Something about glass houses and stones. I prefer to remain aware that the people on the other side of the keyboard and monitor are actually people, with all the stresses and follies involved, and to interpret accordingly.

    Just curious, are you able or willing to acknowledge my point about the fact that we are able to define and use concepts which we cannot fully grasp? Or would you rather continue to quibble? I’m always curious to see if it would be worth continuing to hold conversations with someone, but I do hold to “good faith” standards of discussion. If they expect me to back down and acknowledge whenever they’ve made a point, but aren’t willing to do anything like that in return, that isn’t a good faith discussion.

  182. #182 Caledonian
    July 15, 2007

    Hm, he did say “time for a flamewar”, didn’t he. I think this was probably more an acknowledgement that one would happen, rather than a desire for one, though.

    I can lead a horse to water, but I can’t make it drink.

  183. #183 Luna_the_cat
    July 15, 2007

    Ah, so that would be a “no good faith discussion” vote then. Ok.

  184. #184 Spaulding
    July 15, 2007

    Caledonian: I think Luna’s examples are intended to indicate that she considers “God” to be a subjective mental experience, such as fear or nostalgia.

    Luna: That’s not what the word “God” means, and if you’re referring to an emotional event as “God”, then you’re not a theist in any precedented sense of the word. Such misuse of a term would presumably be done more for purposes of sentiment than description.

    Perhaps I’m misinterpreting you, but in any case I’ve heard numerous others take the angle I’m describing. When Pseudonym suggests “God is love” as definition rather than description, it’s the same semantic trick. I could name my cat “God”, and therefore God would be real in an arbitrary sense, but not in a sense that bears any relevance to standard, relevant definitions of “God”.

    Reasonable atheists aren’t arguing that love doesn’t exist, or that emotional experiences don’t happen; but when a person arbitrarily labels those things, which have preexisting names, as “God”, which has a different, preexisting meaning, it serves as a trojan horse for Sky Daddy worship.

    That’s one of the reasons that many atheists are not eager to play along with moderate theists. Nobody likes the two-step argument:

    Atheist: “Stop making poor decisions out of an irrational belief in a Sky Daddy!”

    Theist A: “Hey, that’s a straw man. We believe that God is love. You believe in love, don’t you?”

    Atheist: “Yeah, but…”

    Theist B: “Good, then stay out of the way while we sabotage science policy and education, indoctrinate children, oppose condom use, and persecute homosexuals. Sky Daddy demands it.”

    The tricky thing is that Theist A and B need not even be the same person for them to enable each other.

  185. #185 Luna_the_cat
    July 15, 2007

    Are you working from the definitions of “god” which I explicitly stated here?

    If so — I understand that “god” in the sense that I use it is not at all the same as “god” in the sense that traditional religion uses it, and I thought I made that clear. However, I do believe that it is a useful term for the reification of a concept, which I also thought I explained.

  186. #186 Caledonian
    July 15, 2007

    However, I do believe that it is a useful term for the reification of a concept, which I also thought I explained.

    Oh, it certainly is. That’s the point – reification is what you’re not supposed to do.

  187. #187 DuWayne
    July 15, 2007

    Caledonian -

    Since Rob Knop has closed yet another thread, and is now withholding comments for processing, this will have to go here.

    He closed comments because like the colossal ass that you are, you insist on carrying it on in threads that have nothing to do with this discussion. Tell me, are you just going to infest every thread he starts with your inane ranting, rev phelps?

  188. #188 Caledonian
    July 15, 2007

    Perhaps he should have given his plan of shutting down threads where people are pointing out how inadequate his arguments are a little more thought.

  189. #189 Jason
    July 16, 2007

    pseudonym,

    I believe that murder is wrong. This belief is not rooted in evidence. Nobody has yet come up with a scientific double-blind controlled test to determine whether or not murder is wrong and, if you think about it for a moment, such a test is impossible. A fundamentalist would argue that without a deity, there is no basis for ethics, such as determining that murder is wrong. This is obviously wrong; the question is entirely within the grasp of human reason. But it’s not scientific and it’s not based on evidence.

    It’s not a claim of objective truth at all. It’s just a statement of subjective preference, like “I believe that caviar tastes good.”

    Rob’s religion, like that of every Christian that I personally know, is the liberal “decent, understated religion” that Dawkins claims (without proof, and crucially, without statistics) is “numerically negligible”.

    The Christians you personally know are highly unrepresentative of Christians in general, then.

  190. #190 Pseudonym
    July 16, 2007

    Jason:

    It’s not a claim of objective truth at all. It’s just a statement of subjective preference, like “I believe that caviar tastes good.”

    Congratulations. Not only have you proven the fundamentalist morons of the “without god, there is no basis for morality” variety correct, you’ve also insulted several millenia worth of philosophers who devoted their lives to the goal of ansering hard moral questions with human reason.

    The Christians you personally know are highly unrepresentative of Christians in general, then.

    So you’re saying you don’t have any proof or statistics either, then?

  191. #191 oranpkelley
    July 16, 2007

    Atheist: “Stop making poor decisions out of an irrational belief in a Sky Daddy!”

    Theist A: “Hey, that’s a straw man. We believe that God is love. You believe in love, don’t you?”

    Atheist: “Yeah, but…”

    Theist B: “Good, then stay out of the way while we sabotage science policy and education, indoctrinate children, oppose condom use, and persecute homosexuals. Sky Daddy demands it.”

    The tricky thing is that Theist A and B need not even be the same person for them to enable each other.

    “Sky Daddy demands it.” Did you ever consider that Sky Daddy doesn’t exist, and so cannot issue demands of any sort? And that therefore the sabotaging of science and educational policy, the opposition to condom use, the persecution of homosexuals, blah blah blah represents a constellation of social attitudes for which missives from fictive sky gods are not the causative agent?

    Perhaps we ought to be thinking not so much about religion and a little bit more about the common psychological attachment to paternalistic and authoritarian social orders, tradition, and a high degree of social compliance and homogeneity. Missives from sky gods and the rise of inquisitory atheistic loyalty checks may both be a product of this mindset.

  192. #192 Jason
    July 16, 2007

    pseudonym,

    Congratulations. Not only have you proven the fundamentalist morons of the “without god, there is no basis for morality” variety correct,

    I have? How did I do that, exactly? Perhaps you could go over this alleged proof.

    So you’re saying you don’t have any proof or statistics either, then?

    No, I’m saying what I said: The Christians you personally know are highly unrepresentative of Christians in general. I’m not sure why you thought I said something different.

  193. #193 mgr
    July 16, 2007

    Pseudonyn said: “A fundamentalist would argue that without a deity, there is no basis for ethics, such as determining that murder is wrong. This is obviously wrong; the question is entirely within the grasp of human reason. But it’s not scientific and it’s not based on evidence. To claim that all (non-scientific) beliefs must be based on evidence is to concede the fundamentalist’s argument.”

    I fully agree, however, I think you have conflated Christian with fundamentalist. A Fundamentalist is a member of a certain set of protestant cults that privileges god’s omnipotence over his benevolence– this is the basis behind belief in the infallible word of the Bible. A liberal Christian would be one that privileges benevolence over omnipotence, but still needs the connection between the omnipotence to support the benevolence. I am not quite sure where or what a moderate theist may be, but I do recall the proscription against being lukewarm.

    This gets at that most of the theists or atheists having issues with PZ’s position regarding science education and religion fail to acknowledge is that they have built strawmen Christians, and are flogging him with them. The stridency of PZ should not trouble moderate to liberal Christians, because privilegeing god’s benevolence is not being questioned, as ethical behavior is inherently irrational (there may be partial scientific explanations for altruism) as both theist and atheist proscribe to its general dictates (e.g. it is best to act ethically). It is prima facie evident that the argument for biblical inerrancy is the target.

    Mike

  194. #194 Pseudonym
    July 16, 2007

    Jason:

    I have? How did I do that, exactly? Perhaps you could go over this alleged proof.

    Point taken, the word “proof” is too strong. More correctly, you’ve conceded their argument that without a deity, there is no strong for morality.

    I think their argument is wrong, and that morality is a problem that’s solvable using human reason.

  195. #195 Pseudonym
    July 16, 2007

    Mike:

    I fully agree, however, I think you have conflated Christian with fundamentalist.

    No, I understand the difference. I’m making a slightly different point.

    The fundamentalist argues that there is no basis for morality without a deity; to be precise, their deity. That is a fundamentalist argument; most theists wouldn’t argue this. The argument is, quite clearly, nonsense, and we have three millennia of the work of moral philosophers to show that it’s nonsense.

    It also betrays a misunderstanding as to what moral philosophy is. Jason’s comment that morality is a “subjective preference” shows the same misunderstanding, and it effectively concedes the argument to the fundamentalist. It’s also highly insulting to several generations of Secular Humanist moral philosophers who have worked on the issue.

  196. #196 DuWayne
    July 17, 2007

    Mike -

    I know fundamentalists that wouldn’t argue that one. It is the very extreme that make claims like atheists have no basis for morality. I certainly don’t know any non-fundamentalist Christians that would make that claim.

  197. #197 Jason
    July 17, 2007

    pseudonym,

    It also betrays a misunderstanding as to what moral philosophy is. Jason’s comment that morality is a “subjective preference” shows the same misunderstanding, and it effectively concedes the argument to the fundamentalist.

    I wasn’t talking about moral philosophy. I was talking about moral beliefs and statements. Moral beliefs are matters of subjective preference, not objective truth. I’m not “conceding” anything to the fundamentalists.

  198. #198 Pseudonym
    July 17, 2007

    I wasn’t talking about moral philosophy. I was talking about moral beliefs and statements.

    I rest my case.

  199. #199 Oliver
    July 19, 2007

    @mike (mgr)

    The stridency of PZ should not trouble moderate to liberal Christians, because privilegeing god’s benevolence is not being questioned, as ethical behavior is inherently irrational (there may be partial scientific explanations for altruism) as both theist and atheist proscribe to its general dictates (e.g. it is best to act ethically). It is prima facie evident that the argument for biblical inerrancy is the target.

    But that’s precisely what PZ does: He doesn’t bash fundamentalists, he bashes anyone with a religion and implies that indeed, there is no significant difference not only between liberal Christians and Fundamentalists, but between anyone with any given religion, period.

  200. #200 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 19, 2007

    Tegumai — let me try with another example, perhaps I can make this more clear to you.

    Obviously, though, the fear stimulus which exists as far as I am concerned does not exists for them. Vice versa for whatever the pleasure stimulus is that motivates them. I suppose that you will argue this is nothing more than perception and reaction, but there is an external existance of this which exists (or not) as well. Please try to understand.

    Oh, I do understand. You are trying to finesse your way around a distinction. (Perhaps you don’t realize you are doing it; this is not a concern of mine.) I do not deny that your fear exists in your mind, even if I do not possess that fear in my own. I do not deny that pleasure exists in a potholer’s mind, even if I do not share that pleasure. I don’t get the bit about “external existence” – the fear is in your mind, not outside it. That fear actually exists as a state of mind does not make it external to the mind. I challenge you to provide any example of fear existing outside a mind.

    Here’s an important point: believing in something does not make it true, with the exception of a few abstract things covered by the Tinkerbell effect. Deities are not included.

    I acknowledge that theists experience belief in God. Their belief exists. That does not make God exist. When you, or Mr. Knop, say that “God exists for a theist”, this is merley verbal shorthand; what you should really be saying is that theists have a belief which exists. This is independent of whether God actually exists.

    I also call on you to point out anywhere that I have flung names and insults at anyone in the manner that you have.

    .

    Tegumai, I have yet to see evidence that you have either contributed as much to society, education and science as Rob Knop has, or that you have the sort of thinking ability that you claim to value.

    What is your point, that the manner of your insults differs from mine? Whoop-a-dee. Since I am using a pseudonym, I’m not surprised that you don’t know anything about me, positive or negative. I do think i have acquitted myself adequately as far as thinking ability in the present discussion.

  201. #201 mgr
    July 19, 2007

    Oliver:”But that’s precisely what PZ does: He doesn’t bash fundamentalists, he bashes anyone with a religion and implies that indeed, there is no significant difference not only between liberal Christians and Fundamentalists, but between anyone with any given religion, period”

    No that is what is claimed by so called “neville chamberlainists”, who from what I read here, have made better strawmen of moderate to liberal christian sensibilities, than PZ. I tend to see liberal to moderate Christians as a little more secure in their beliefs to take umbrage. Of course there is always the subset of bluehairs to get their pantaloons in a bunch.

    There are two prospects to a secular humanist critique of chritianity, as I tried to lay out above. The critique from science best attaches to characterization of the diety’s omnipotence and omniscience; it leaves the diety’s benevolence somewhat intact.

    However what the scientific approach does, is it strips away christianity’s metaethical justification, leaving the subjective evaluation of just what Jesus’ teachings mean, and it leaves one with the logical inconsistency of the Good Samaritan and teachings of the base nature of man due to original sin. The liberal to moderate balances this by invoking faith in a diety, quite possibly not all that omnipotent or omniscient.

    Therefore, I would say that in response to those who hold these ideas, as a fundamentalist or as a moderate or a liberal christian, one could conclude one is either deluded, not very smart or self aware, or dishonest. You can see how this is a continuum can’t you?

    Now that I made this argument, am I entitled to a kind of Wittgennsteinian laddar, where I don’t have to make this argument everytime I make this assertion, and I can universalize this to apply to other religious species?

    If not, can you provide a model of theistic religious belief that is immune to this class of critique?

    Now the question is, can you tell the diffence between a baby and bathwater, does PZ bash the person, or the person’s religious belief?

    Mike

  202. #202 uriel
    July 20, 2007
    “But that’s precisely what PZ does: He doesn’t bash fundamentalists, he bashes anyone with a religion and implies that indeed, there is no significant difference not only between liberal Christians and Fundamentalists, but between anyone with any given religion, period”

    No that is what is claimed by so called “neville chamberlainists”, who from what I read here, have made better strawmen of moderate to liberal christian sensibilities, than PZ.

    Dross.

    For the purpose of the post in question, the related posts following, Myers clearly does not differentiate between believers of any stripe, sect, or religion. The original map made no references to the flavor of religious belief- only the prevalance of some belief. Thus, P.Z.’s comments based on the map are universally applicable to all believers- if the maps make no distinction, and P.Z. makes no distinction, than no distinction exists.

    And since neither map measures the belief in “biblical inerrancy,” his comments on those maps have nothing to do with the issue- regardless of how you might like to wave your hands after the fact and claim “It is prima facie evident that the argument for biblical inerrancy is the target.” Note P.Z.’s Own further commentary:

    with the lighter colors being the most enlightened and the dark reds being the most repressed and misinformed. Oh, it’s labeled as the frequency of religious adherents, but it’s the same thing.

    Nothing about fundamentalism, inerrancy, or religion there- apart from the fact that it’s all the same thing. His words.

    About all you done here is to 1) prove that you are further able to offend other atheists as well as theists, and 2) prove that you are either “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed” – at least in terms of your defense of Myers. Let us know which one.

    I tend to see liberal to moderate Christians as a little more secure in their beliefs to take umbrage.

    As has been mentioned many times, what you feel has little or nothing to do with the situation. Since this entire, multi-blog debate has been primarily driven not by ‘Neville Chambelain atheists’ but by moderate believers who were, in fact, offended, its clear your assumptions are incorrect. Myers has at least had the integrity to say he doesn’t actually give a damn, several times.

    Again, since you seem to be so willing to ignore the objective reality of the situation in favor of your unsupportable assumptions, about both theists and P.Z., I have to ask: is it ignorance, or wickedness that drives you? Or is it the oppressive idea that disagreeing with Myers might get you labeled an ‘appeaser.’

    Therefore, I would say that in response to those who hold these ideas, as a fundamentalist or as a moderate or a liberal christian, one could conclude one is either deluded, not very smart or self aware, or dishonest.

    Or perhaps they are merely wrong. Or misinterpreting evidence. Perhaps it a biological drive. Or maybe they’re right and its the atheists and fundamentalists that are wrong, and god is less than omniscient of omnipotent. Or maybe its some other reason.
    Neither the non-existence of a deity nor the biblical errancy says anything about the reasons for belief in that (possibly) non-existing deity- and arbitrarily conflating the possibilities to a handful of negatives based on nothing more than your prejudices is not only un-scientific, its clearly dishonest.

    Now that I made this argument, am I entitled to a kind of Wittgennsteinian laddar, where I don’t have to make this argument everytime I make this assertion, and I can universalize this to apply to other religious species?

    Not until you’ve proven your limited set of possible explanations is based on anything more than rhetoric and wishful thinking, no.

    If not, can you provide a model of theistic religious belief that is immune to this class of critique?

    Absent solid evidence that this class of critique is valid, that’s a meaningless question.

    Also, since your entire argument still rests on the validity of biblical inerancy- through some assumed frisson, in the absence of various omnis, between the good Samaritan concept (by which I’ll assume you refer to the benevolence of the deity in question) and original sin are both of which are biblical concepts, – Diesim. Theistic rationalism. Hinduism. Cthulhuism. Moorcockism.

    Now the question is, can you tell the diffence between a baby and bathwater, does PZ bash the person, or the person’s religious belief?

    Well, lets look at the world according to P.Z. Again:

    It says that more than 75% of the people who live here are bible-wallopers � I believe it. On the bright side, I can hope that somewhere around a quarter of the people living here are sensible and unafflicted.

    Pretty clear to anyone without industrial strength blinders, he’s doing both. But it’s not your fault you don’t see this- you’re most likely just ignorant. Or deluded. Or….

  203. #203 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 23, 2007

    Darn, the conversation seems to be lagging. I was hoping to see Luna_the_cat demonstrate the existence of fear outside a mind. That’s a trick you don’t see every day.

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