Mixing Memory

You’re No Suffragist

This is the way it always works. I quit the nouveau atheist blogs cold turkey, and their nonsense starts popping up elsewhere so that I can’t escape it. That’s how I learned that some of them are now comparing their movement to the suffragists. The comparison seems to have been first made by Larry Moron Moran in a comment at yet another blog (see, they’re everywhere!), and was subsequently endorsed by PZ Myers, who writes in a comment:

When we compare atheists to feminists, the labor movement, gays, or civil rights, we are not saying these are identical; in this case, it is to a narrower similarity, that these are movements to change a social attitude, and the question is whether past movements have accomplished this with deference to the existing situation, and whether “rudeness” played a role in breaking down barriers.

It’s difficult, at this point, to say anything other than, “Are you kidding me?” Watching white, middle-class, mostly ex-Protestant males (the dominant new atheist demographic) compare themselves to feminists, labor movements, gay and civil rights activists, or the members of any other persecuted group fighting for their social, political, and economic lives is just plain surreal. Or worse, as Trinifar notes, it’s just plain manipulative. It does, however, reinforce my armchair psychoanalysis of the new atheists: members of a privileged class who decided to create an identity simply to justify their own persecution complexes.

Despite my incredulity, I will try for a moment to take PZ’s comment seriously, in order to determine whether there’s some justification for the comparison. It is true that the new atheist movement is about social change, but is the sort of social change the movement advocates analogous to the social change fought for by the group’s PZ mentions? Those movements were about creating a society in which marginalized and persecuted groups could participate on an equal footing. New atheists, despite their eagerness to believe that they are somehow marginalized or persecuted, aren’t fighting for social change aimed at inclusion. Their movement is aimed, rather, at a more ambitious form of social change: the complete abolition of religion (if you don’t believe me, read the comments in the posts above, or those at some of my previous posts on religion and science). For this reason, a different comparison is more appropriate. As Tinifar puts it:

This neo-atheist goal falls into the same class as the Christian Theocracy movement’s goal for a Christian planet (which, we should note, is not something many Christians want to support). It’s a ridiculously far-reaching, Quixotic quest.

This is why, perhaps unwisely, some of us have been known to call the new atheists “fundamentalist atheists.” Their goal, methods, and their either-or world views are often indistinguishable from those of religious fundamentalists. But even if that label is unfair, their eagerness to compare themselves with suffragists in an attempt to justify their hostility, their utter contempt for pretty much everyone on the planet, and their broad feelings of superiority, is nothing more than dishonest propaganda.

UPDATE: Alright already! You’ve managed to make me feel bad about deleting Larry Moran’s comment (though you haven’t made me feel bad about calling him a moron — I’ll never feel bad about stating the truth). I’ve undeleted it, and it’s back where it originally was. Or at least it should be. Wait, let me look. OK, it’s there. I won’t delete any further comments by Larry, either, but my position that he’s a dishonest ass with a reading comprehension problem stands, and I won’t be reading any of his comments, so don’t look for any responses to them from me.

UPDATE: Since we’re now approaching 100 comments, which means most people won’t read the early comments, and since people keep repeating the same misunderstandings (misunderstandings I suspect are encouraged by some of the blogs they’re coming from), let me reiterate what I’m trying to say but didn’t say clearly enough in the body of the post.

First, I think it’s pretty clear that Moran, Myers, and others who’ve run with their analogy are trying to compare themselves to suffragettes and other groups (gay rights, civil rights, labor movements, etc.). It’s a nice and ironic act of framing. But while they’ve chosen the groups to which they compare themselves quite purposively, in order to paint their own cause in a better light, the explicit substance of their comparison is pretty simple,. It starts with the recognition that the suffragettes were successful by being rude, in a variety of ways. The next step is to note that both the suffragettes and the “new atheists” (who are really just “old atheists“) are after social change in a broad sense. Since they both have the same abstract goal, the success of rudeness for the suffragettes justifies the use of rudeness (and disrespect — was that a suffragette method?) by the “new atheists.” Some people seem to think I’ve missed this argument entirely, so I thought I’d spell it out for you.

Now here’s what’s wrong with this comparison: while similar in the very abstract, at no other level of analysis are the “new atheist” and suffragette causes even remotely similar. As i said in the post, the suffragettes were fighting to be included in society as equals. The “new atheists” are, according to their own words! fighting to rid the world of religion. Those are two radically different types of social change. One is fighting for inclusion in a society basically as it is before that inclusion (with that one obvious differences and any ancillary differences it might entail), while the other is fighting to exclude a very broad range of ideas from society. My argument was and is that this radical difference makes it impossible to justify the use of suffragette methods for the cause of the “new atheists” simply by pointing out that it was effective for the suffragettes.

To show how bad the comparison is, let’s assume for a moment that we really can just say that both the suffragettes and new atheists wanted social change, no matter how different the social change the two groups wanted are, and that this abstract similarity justifies the new atheists’ use of methods that were successful for the suffragettes. All we need for comparison and justification, in this case, are two things: the goal of social change (any kind), and a method that has achieved some success. The new atheists will then be justified in using that methodology. At this point, all sorts of analogies suggest themselves. In addition to the suffragettes, gay rights movements, and 19th century anti-slavery and abolitionist movements, there’s also Stalinism, Nazism, and racist movements in the American south in the late 19th century. All effective at creating and sustaining social change using violence, imprisonment, and other methods of suppressing dissent. And since effectiveness in achieving social change is the sole basis for justifying a method, new atheist should feel entirely justified in using those groups’ methods as well.

Obviously they shouldn’t, and wouldn’t. This is because effectiveness isn’t the only measure of the validity of a method for achieving social change. The “new atheists” aren’t aiming for the complete suppression of dissent (oh wait, they want to eradicate religion, so yes they are, but we can ignore that for a moment), so violence, while it could be effective, is not a justified method. We could of course argue that the suppression of dissent is itself not justified, and that therefore no method is justified simply because it can achieve this goal, but that would mean dealing with the details of the type of social change desired, and Myers et al. would have you believe that’s not important for the comparison. So that counter to my extreme examples won’t work. Unless they are willing to admit that the details matter,in which case, the analogy between the new atheists and suffragettes ceases to justify their use of suffragette methodologies, too, because the detail of their goals are so different. Unless, that is, Myers et al. really are trying to compare the two groups’ goals in the details, despite their protestations to the contrary.

In short, they can’t have it both ways: either the analogy is about the details, in which case it fails miserably (as the original post points out), or it’s dangerously abstract, in which case any method is justified simply by it having been successful at some point in history.

Comments

  1. #1 razib
    April 22, 2007

    simultaneous trivialization (of suffragists) & aggrandizement (of themselves).

  2. #2 charlie
    April 22, 2007

    whats so wrong about getting rid of religion? Fewer fanatic suicide bombers, beheadings, religious wars… Christian Islamic Jewish it does not matter. Religion causes more violent death than anything else. Religion of peace my ass. I am bombarded with “well meaning” prayer and other forms of social manipulation every day. If you decline to partisipate you are in the very least looked at funny at worst targeted for gossip or even worse evangalized. Offensive you bet, and just try to complain about it. that makes it worse as you are now not part of the social club going to heaven.

  3. #3 Matt Platte
    April 22, 2007


    Moron… hostility, … utter contempt for pretty much everyone on the planet, and … broad feelings of superiority

    Project much?

  4. #4 Larry Moran
    April 22, 2007

    When I was in 5th grade some kids used to deliberately misspell my name in order to make me angry. It didn’t work for ten year olds and it won’t work for you either.

    Why not read my posting [Suffragettes] to see why this analogy came up? Turns out it was because some of your friends kept telling us that militancy never works. Here’s the exact sentence I was responding to.

    The more militant approaches can be enchanting for a moment, but eventually easily dismissed precisely because of that militance, feeding the conflict frame

    Do you agree with that sentence? Do you think the women’s suffrage movement is relevant to that issue?

  5. #5 Mike Haubrich
    April 22, 2007

    I am just curious as to how atheists should respond when we are told to “sit down and shut up” because we don’t really matter? Should we just sit down and shut up? Or should we stand up and defend ourselves?

    Do you consider Dawkins a “meanie” atheist?

    No, the affronts to our civil rights are nowhere near as egregious as those of the suffragettes, American blacks, gays, etc, but they are there nonetheless. And as much as casual atheists would like to believe that the Christians will live and let live as long as atheists are quiet, it really doesn’t work that way in real life.

    Meanie atheists are pushing back in self-defense, and they are certainly not out standing on street corners making nuisances of themselves. If there is a militance, it is a militance of words.

  6. #6 Richard
    April 22, 2007

    The dialectic as I see it…

    PZ: We’re not claiming to be suffragists, but these historical cases may be relevant to the question of whether “rudeness” can advance one’s cause.

    Chris: You’re no suffragist!

    Me: *confused*

  7. #7 Orac
    April 22, 2007

    When I was in 5th grade some kids used to deliberately misspell my name in order to make me angry. It didn’t work for ten year olds and it won’t work for you either.

    That’s why I don’t do it when you parrot the vile “Neville Chamberlain atheist” spin. Just pointing out how bad that historical analogy is is enough for me.

  8. #8 TheChristianCynic
    April 22, 2007

    New atheists, despite their eagerness to believe that they are somehow marginalized or persecuted, aren’t fighting for social change aimed at inclusion. Their movement is aimed, rather, at a more ambitious form of social change: the complete abolition of religion (if you don’t believe me, read the comments in the posts above, or those at some of my previous posts on religion and science).

    I think this is definitely true – where this motivation is not explicit, it seems to undergird most of the struggle and in fact defines it for the most part. This is quite relevant to the issue at hand because, even granting Dr. Moran that the context of the discussion was tactics, it might be permissible to use militant tactics for the acquisition of rights but never – absolutely never – for the denial of rights. Anyone who wants any proof of this needs look no further than the KKK for a fine example.

  9. #9 Chris
    April 22, 2007

    First, my apologies to anyone who’s responded to Larry’s comment. I deleted it, because I don’t want him dirtying up my blog.

    Next, Matt, I have nothing but contempt or the nouveau atheists (I use that phrase to convey their tackiness, in case that wasn’t apparent). I have been saying as much for about 6 months now, and will continue to do so. I won’t apologize for it, either. They deserve nothing but contempt. And it should be noted that contempt for a relatively small, privileged group does not entail contempt for anyone else (I do have contempt for other groups, of course, but most people on the planet I’m OK with) or a broad sense of superiority. Do I feel superior to them? Anyone who’s read a few books would. Do I feel superior to everyone else? Certainly not.

    Mike, atheists should respond by pointing out how insane that kind of talk is. They should note that saying a group is not really American, or doesn’t matter, sounds more and more like, say, Nazi antisemitic rhetoric when it’s used by people in power (and that includes people in the media, who are, obviously, in positions of power). Of course, one doesn’t have to call all religious people stupid, and advocate for the eradication of religion (which, I should add, also sounds a lot like Nazi rhetoric) to do so. I have nothing against being mean by itself. I have something against being mean, stupid, and totalitarian (little “t”).

    Richard, my point is that, by and large, they aren’t even being “rude” in the same way. Instead, what they’re trying to do is force their narrow world view on the entire rest of the world (go read Moran and others’ talk of ridding the world of superstition, by which they mean all religious beliefs, on their blogs), through aggression and violence. Granted, it’s rhetorical aggression and violence, but it’s still aggression and violence. And perhaps worst of all, it is rhetoric with no obligation to facts or truth. Perhaps a better name for the nouveau atheists would be “evangelical” or “proselytizer” atheists.

  10. #10 Wonders for Oyarsa
    April 22, 2007

    Hi Chris,

    As an evangelical proselytizer, I do regret that comparing people to me is the worst insult one can come up with. ;-)

  11. #11 Macht
    April 22, 2007

    I find it interesting that the “New Atheists” tend to view religious moderates as giving cover to “religious fanatics” but they view moderate atheists such as yourself as “appeasers” who also give cover to the religious. I also wonder when religious fundamentalists are going to start using the “Overton Window” argument.

  12. #12 Clark Goble
    April 23, 2007

    Chris, interestingly while you’d think I’d be in agreement with you here I have to disagree ultimately. What bothers me ends up being, I suspect, the idea that what counts is the power of the person making an assertion. This reminds me too much of the idea that when an African-American says the same thing a white Protestant does it might be wrong for the white Protestant but not for the African-American simply because the white Protestant has power. I really hate that kind of relativizing of discourse.

    Now of course we can’t neglect power. Clearly, for instance, if a person in power says you’re stupid it has a different effect than if your co-worker does. But if the rhetorical tricks the so-called “nouveau atheists” use are bad, surely it is because of the rhetoric and not simply because they, as a class, happen to come from a privileged class.

    Put an other way, while I often object to silly rhetoric of atheist critics of religion, it is on logical grounds and not on grounds of power.

  13. #13 Chris
    April 23, 2007

    Clark, if I understand you correctly, I think we’re probably in agreement. I don’t think the fact that the positivist atheist are, by and large, white middle class males affects the validity of their message. I don’t even think it affects the validity of their methods. I do, however, think it affects the attempt to justify those methods by comparing themselves and/or their task to that of the suffragists or any other activist group fighting against injustice. Their task is quite different, and so the measures of the validity of their methods will be different as well.

  14. #14 Colugo
    April 23, 2007

    And I thought that I was critical of the New Atheists, and it seemed to me that I was being fairly tough on them. I lack the passion I suppose, or I’m just a pathological reconciliationist.

    My characterization of New Atheism
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/04/conflict_sells_use_it.php#comment-411127

    Some representative quotes by New Atheists
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/04/we_aim_to_misbehave.php#comment-410867

  15. #15 Richard
    April 23, 2007

    Chris, I’m worried that you might have misinterpreted them. Here are two possible interpretations of Moran’s/PZ’s invocation of the suffragist comparison:

    1) It’s an attempt at virtue-by-association, to beef up the perceived justice of their cause “by comparing themselves and/or their task to that of the suffragists or any other activist group fighting against injustice.”

    2) They’re merely interested in the empirical/historical question whether “aggressive” tactics can be instrumentally useful for a social movement.

    You’ve attacked them on the basis of reading #1. But PZ’s quoted comment reads like an attempt to clarify that he merely means #2, and Moran’s comment (before you deleted it) was even more explicit about this.

  16. #16 Jon
    April 23, 2007

    While I’ll admit that the suffragist analogy does seem like a bit of a stretch, keep in mind that there are still technically laws on the books in several states that make religious belief a requirement for holding public office. And while I don’t honestly believe that any such law would hold up if, say, an atheistic mayor were to come forward and subsequently be impeached for that reason, the fact that the laws are still on the books does mean that there is still legal progress to be made.

    I think the analogy with the gay movement is more apt. I’ll freely admit that it’s less of a problem for atheists, given that I’ve never heard of anyone being beaten to death in recent years for being irreligious, but still, as an open atheist I still feel as though there’s tremendous social pressure to keep my ‘deviant’ religious views to myself. I think that the vast majority of atheists can truly sympathize with the gay community in what it’s like to be in the closet, afraid to tell friends and family that you’re different.

    I also want to mention that I strongly take issue with your portrayal of “New Atheists” as a bunch of white, middle class ex-Protestants with a persecution complex. Only one of those labels applies to me personally (that being the “white”), and while the most prominent New Atheists are certainly going to be middle class if not flat out wealthy (which will be true of the most prominent of any group), the rest of us who aren’t privileged or looking for something to whine about appreciate Dawkins and company pushing the envelope and making atheism more mainstream and acceptable. The more the extreme atheistic views are expressed in the media, the more the general atheistic views are acceptable. You don’t have to agree that religion is evil or that all Christians are stupid to recognize that Dawkins and Myers and all the others like them are doing a tremendous service to all atheists, Neville Chamberlain type included.

  17. #17 Jon
    April 23, 2007

    I also want to mention, for the record, that “Neville Chamberlain type” was not meant insultingly. I myself would probably be lumped into this category by Dawkins, Myers, et al. if they saw me on a daily basis.

  18. #18 Chris
    April 23, 2007

    Jon, I don’t mean to imply that all nouveau atheists are white, middle class males, but it’s pretty clear that the bulk of them are (if you could be classified as a Chamberlain, you aren’t in the group I would call new atheists).

    Richard, I do understand that they’re trying to justify the use of a particular tone in promoting their message, but I think there’s a position between your 1.) and 2.), and that’s the position I’ve argued against. Position 1.5 is: both the new atheist and previous civil rights movements have had abstractly similar causes, namely social change, and the effectiveness of aggressive rhetoric and action in the previous movements therefore justifies the use of such methods by new atheists. My argument is that the success of those methods in previous movements doesn’t justify their use by new atheists, because the conditions in which they were previously used were radically different from the conditions in which new atheists use them. The suffragists, for example, didn’t hold back because if they did hold back, they wouldn’t have achieved equality. If the new atheists don’t hold back, they’ll still have pretty much the same rights and freedoms as everyone else (in fact, with the exception of not being elected president or senator, I’m not sure there are any they currently lack), and they could still, if they were effective communicators, enhance public perception of atheists and atheism. They couldn’t, however, abolish religion (they won’t anyway, but without rhetorical violence, it is even less possible). Because the goals are different, the validity of the methods they use can’t be judged by the same criteria: their effectiveness.

    To further demonstrate this point, the new atheists could justify any methodology just by pointing out that it was effective in the past. The new atheists would be justified in imprisoning or killing anyone who disagrees with them, because it worked well for the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Stalin’s tactics worked well in suppressing dissent and thereby creating social change (in the form of a populous scared shitless to criticize its government), so new atheists can use it too. We could compare new atheists to Nazis, slaveholders in the American south, the Spanish Inquisition (or the Catholic church in pretty much any century prior to the 16th), and so on and so forth. If we make the comparison so abstract — the desire for social change — then any previously successful comparison can be justified by historical comparison.

    Of course, it’s unlikely many new atheists would advocate such methods, largely because the type of social change they want is different, even if one could argue that it’s more similar to Stalin’s than the suffragists’ (the abolition of religion sounds a lot like the stifling of dissent). In other words, the details of the message and goals of the movement matter in determining whether a particular method for conveying and accomplishing them is a valid one.

    I’m aware that one could argue that Stalin’s methods are never valid, but again, if the argument is simply that they are effective, therefore they are valid, that counter doesn’t work. In short, if your #2 is the case, then the new atheists are making a very, very dangerous argument. Then again, I’ve long said that the new atheists are pragmatists in rationalist clothing, so maybe they are making that dangerous argument.

  19. #19 windy
    April 23, 2007

    I’m aware that one could argue that Stalin’s methods are never valid, but again, if the argument is simply that they are effective, therefore they are valid, that counter doesn’t work. In short, if your #2 is the case, then the new atheists are making a very, very dangerous argument.

    The framing debate was all about what’s effective! In your eagerness to prove that new atheists are bad, you’ve just equated Nisbet and Mooney with Stalin. Or maybe Zhdanov :)

  20. #20 Chris
    April 23, 2007

    Windy, if the only reason for using framing is that it’s effective, then perhaps, though I don’t think Nisbet and Mooney were in the business of making historical analogies.

  21. #21 frances
    April 23, 2007

    ^Jon

    Normally I would keep my opinions to myself, but your remarks are either wilfully naive or intentionally misrepresenting.

    To be quite clear, GLBT and atheists have nothing in common in terms of analogy, social, legal or political (etc) issues. You could make a more convincing argument by aligning atheists with urban bicycle lobbyists.

    Just to reinforce what the vast disparity of of legal rights that render GLBT people as 2nd class citizens in America (and other countries), I suggest you have a read of this post from (en)Gender

    Do you still want to compare atheism with the GLBT movement?

  22. #22 John B
    April 23, 2007

    You could make a more convincing argument by aligning atheists with urban bicycle lobbyists.

    At the risk of lowering the level of rhetoric here to something nearer high school melodrama: That, my friend, was a wicked burn.

  23. #23 windy
    April 23, 2007

    Windy, if the only reason for using framing is that it’s effective, then perhaps,

    ??? Clearly that was the main reason given in the Science article. Obviously Nisbet and Mooney focus much more on effectiveness than PZ.

    Neither does effectiveness seem to be the only reason used to defend assertiveness in the present discussion, it seems that intellectual honesty is seen as at least as important.

    …though I don’t think Nisbet and Mooney were in the business of making historical analogies.

    ??? Tactics only become dangerous when you start making historical analogies?

  24. #24 Davis
    April 23, 2007

    First, my apologies to anyone who’s responded to Larry’s comment. I deleted it, because I don’t want him dirtying up my blog.

    Larry Moron

    You have got to be kidding me — deleting posts and middle school name-calling? Did this blog suddenly turn into Uncommon Descent?

  25. #25 J. J. Ramsey
    April 23, 2007

    “First, my apologies to anyone who’s responded to Larry’s comment. I deleted it, because I don’t want him dirtying up my blog.”

    I remember him commenting on the mispelling of his namme, which Orac has preserved above, but I don’t remember him saying anything too ridiculous. Or has it gotten to the point where you think his mere presence is dirty, which even I would find a bit extreme, though I think he has an unfortunate tendency to be intellectually sloppy when it comes to atheism.

  26. #26 Dan S.
    April 23, 2007

    Chris: “ . . . sounds a lot like the stifling of dissent.

    Chris: “First, my apologies to anyone who’s responded to Larry’s comment. I deleted it, because I don’t want him dirtying up my blog.

  27. #27 llewelly
    April 23, 2007

    Chris:

    To further demonstrate this point, the new atheists could justify any methodology just by pointing out that it was effective in the past. The new atheists would be justified in imprisoning or killing anyone who disagrees with them, because it worked well for the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

    You are uncomfortable with PZ justifying purely rhetorical aggression based in part on the effectiveness of broken windows, judo moves, as well as rhetorical aggression on the part of suffragists. But then you compare PZ’s justifying rhetorical aggression with a hypothetical justification of Stalin’s deliberate campaigns of induced famine, forced labor, mass murder, and purges. When commenters at PZ’s place accused you of this ahistorical hypocrisy, I initially ignored it because I was sure it just more irresponsible exaggeration. But no, you insist on living up to it.

  28. #28 Chris
    April 23, 2007

    First, Dan, don’t be silly. Obviously the majority of the commenters have dissented, and I haven’t deleted them. I deleted Larry’s comment because, while Larry might be a nice guy in person, online he’s a lying, reading-challenged asshole who will never get a direct link from my blog, nor a voice on it. If he wants to say something about any of my posts, he can do so on his own blog.

    Anyone else can feel free to say whatever the hell they want, even if they think I’m a lying, reading-challenged asshole.

    llewelly, I don’t actually read Pharyngula anymore (see the beginning of this post), so you’ll have to forgive me for not having read his commenters (I only linked to his blog ’cause it was linked elsewhere). However, I’m not sure how I’m being ahistorical. Historically, the similarities between the suffragist position and the new atheist position were, pretty much, one in number: they both were in the business of social change. So, if we’re going to make that comparison, why can’t we make any other comparison involving the goal of social change? Unless, that is, PZ is trying to say that there’s similarity over and above the goal of social change between the suffragists and the new atheists, in which case, all of the differences I note are relevant.

  29. #29 bend
    April 23, 2007

    So you don’t think criticizing someone and then not allowing them to reply to that criticism is a trifle unfair?

  30. #30 Chris
    April 23, 2007

    Bend, he’s allowed to respond. He’s got his own blog, and he’s a frequent commenter at Pharyngula, where these issues are also being discussed.

    Ordinarily, of course, I would agree with you. I’ve never deleted a non-spam comment before, and with the exception of anything Larry decides to write here, probably never will again. That’s because I believe blogs are places for discussion, and I think everyone should be able to participate, even if they strongly disagree with me. In fact, as I’ve said in the past, I prefer disagreement, because it is what makes good discussion, it provides opportunities for me to learn (it’s hard to learn from people who agree with you 100%), and it occasionally even causes me to change my mind. However, over and over again, Larry has shown himself incapable of honest discussion, or interpretation in good faith (and in case you think I’m not interpreting him in good faith, I gave him multiple opportunities, on this blog and his own), and for that reason I’ve arrived at the belief that he has nothing to offer any discussion. If you disagree, that’s fine, and you can say why you disagree here (again, I won’t delete your comment just because you disagree). However, that’s my position, and until Larry decides that being a curmudgeon and willingly misinterpreting and misrepresenting people are not the same thing, it will remain so.

    And to cut off potential snarky replies: if you think that I have willingly misinterpreted or misrepresented the new atheist position on the new atheist-suffragist analogy, please read through these comments. I have gone to great lengths to defend my interpretation. You may disagree with it, but I think I’ve given sufficient evidence that I’m arguing in good faith.

  31. #31 Martin Wagner
    April 23, 2007

    Their goal, methods, and their either-or world views are often indistinguishable from those of religious fundamentalists.

    Let’s see…I don’t recall myself or Dawkins or Harris or PZ or anyone either blowing people up with bombs, crashing airplanes into skyscrapers, mowing them down with machine guns, or just plain lecturing them that they deserve an eternity of horrible torture in a lake of fire simply because they don’t believe as we do.

    …their utter contempt for pretty much everyone on the planet, and their broad feelings of superiority, is nothing more than dishonest propaganda.

    I call this a by-product of something called “conviction,” which clearly makes you uncomfortable when opinions are expressed that differ from your own. Perhaps what you cannot handle from the “neo-atheists” is that we like to argue with passion and conviction (which you oddly claim is “dishonest”), and your response is pure Bill O’Reilly: “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”

    Here’s an idea, Chris: when theists prove God exists, all us meanie atheists will go away. Until then, I see no reason to remain silent and suppress my own freedom of speech simply because I make intellectual cowards uncomfortable and embarrassed.

  32. #32 J. J. Ramsey
    April 23, 2007

    “you haven’t made me feel bad about calling him a moron — I’ll never feel bad about stating the truth”

    No. Don’t make the same mistake as the so-called “New Atheists”: If you can’t say something nice, say something accurate. Moran is not a moron. With regards to his attempts to advocate for rationalism, I can and have said that he does the equivalent of f*cking for chastity. That is an unflattering description, but it sizes him up well. Calling him a moron, however, is morally no different than calling religious people morons.

  33. #33 Chris
    April 23, 2007

    I don’t think he’s a moron because he’s a rationalist or a new atheist. I think their position is pretty stupid, but I think some of them are quite smart. Hell, I think PZ and Dawkins are smart guys. I think Larry’s a moron because he’s repeatedly displayed that fact on his blog and elsewhere.

  34. #34 Kent Kauffman
    April 23, 2007

    But even if that label is unfair, their eagerness to compare themselves with suffragists in an attempt to justify their hostility, their utter contempt for pretty much everyone on the planet, and their broad feelings of superiority, is nothing more than dishonest propaganda.

    So, how do you justify your hostility, contempt, and broad feelings of superiority? I mean obviously, it can’t be for a social cause, since you’re arguing against a group that doesn’t even rise to the level of a social cause.

  35. #35 Chris
    April 23, 2007

    Kent, my hostility comes primarily from being associated with them by label, from watching them misuse and abuse science and philosophy, and from the fact that I think they actually hurt atheism in general.

  36. #36 Clark
    April 23, 2007

    I think that a fair comment Chris. Look at how the actions of fundamentalist Christians hurt other Christians in the eyes of less devout or non-believers. Every time I hear of some ridiculous display of bigotry by these folks I roll my eyes and think, “thanks. That sure made things easier for us believers who aren’t zealots.” Zealotry of any stripe is ultimately counter-productive.

  37. #37 ERV
    April 23, 2007

    Watching white, middle-class, mostly ex-Protestant males (the dominant new atheist demographic) compare themselves to feminists, labor movements, gay and civil rights activists, or the members of any other persecuted group fighting for their social, political, and economic lives is just plain surreal. Or worse, as Trinifar notes, it’s just plain manipulative. It does, however, reinforce my armchair psychoanalysis of the new atheists: members of a privileged class who decided to create an identity simply to justify their own persecution complexes.

    Ohhh! This is why I dont read your blog. Now I remember, thanks.

  38. #38 Wonders for Oyarsa
    April 23, 2007

    Wow Chris, you’re getting pummeled. Now I feel bad for my comment, however tongue-in-cheek it was. Thanks for reminding the more religious among us that there are atheists out there who are decent reasonable people who don’t necessarily want to take my kids away to social services to protect them from indoctrination.

  39. #39 Chris
    April 23, 2007

    Clark, exactly. The analogies between “new atheists” and fundamentalist Christians are pretty much endless.

    ERV, sorry to hear that.

    Wonders, this ain’t nothing. You should check out some of the previous discussions of religion here. In those, I really get pounded. On a couple I think there were more than 100 comments, with almost every single one critical of my position. It’s enough to make a sane person stop talking about this stuff. A sane person.

  40. #40 Observer
    April 23, 2007

    Granted, it’s rhetorical aggression and violence, but it’s still aggression and violence. And perhaps worst of all, it is rhetoric with no obligation to facts or truth. Perhaps a better name for the nouveau atheists would be “evangelical” or “proselytizer” atheists.

    Chris, you’re engaging in hyperbole – violence? Actually, your responses here appear hysterical (as in hysteria). I resent your use of the word violence very much. You’re a cognitive psychologist? What’s going on with you here? You’re too off base. Way too off.

  41. #41 Stogoe
    April 23, 2007

    Once again, Chris at Muddling Memory throws a hissy fit and stomps his feet around. Quite the Little Lord Ponchartrain impression you got going on there.

    Seriously, dude. This ‘New Atheists’ thing is kind of like a marker for cloying pomposity and overbearing deference to the frame of religion. Yeah, the f-word, yo.

    By all means, think we’re big meanies, or whatever. The ‘meanies’, the ‘New Atheists’, those of us who know that unbridled deference(i.e, your kneeling, bowing, scraping, toadying) to religion cannot work, short or long term.

  42. #42 Jeff Hebert
    April 23, 2007

    Wonders Said:

    Thanks for reminding the more religious among us that there are atheists out there who are decent reasonable people who don’t necessarily want to take my kids away to social services to protect them from indoctrination.

    I assume this is in reference to Richard Dawkins, but I believe you are setting up a straw man here. If I’m not mistaken, Dawkins’ position is that parents should absolutely be able to teach their children their religious beliefs (or whatever other beliefs they like), but that the State should not be allowed to classify children below a certain age as being of a particular religion.

    His reasoning as I understand it is that children don’t have the intellectual or emotional maturity to “choose” what religion they are any more than they have the maturity to choose a spouse or a political party. We don’t mark children down in the school rolls as “Republicans” or “Democrats”, nor should we (according to Dawkins) mark them as “Catholic” or “Reformed Baptists” or what have you. Having the state force a child into a category like that is what Dawkins is against, not “take[ing] … kids away to social services to protect them from indoctrination.”

    I have to be honest, Chris, this is the first post I’ve read by you, and it’s very disappointing. Deleting comments, calling people names (however deserved), churlishly refusing to read opposing viewpoints, and mischaracterizing the positions of others, that’s not what I’ve come to expect from ScienceBlogs.

  43. #43 Chris
    April 23, 2007

    Wonders, see? They’re back. It’s a law of physics that as the number of comments you get goes up, their quality and intelligence goes down. With a link from Pharyngula, this thread should be at the bottom of an abyss by this time tomorrow.

  44. #44 Amy
    April 23, 2007

    “Watching white, middle-class, mostly ex-Protestant males (the dominant new atheist demographic)”

    You sure about that? I may be white but I’m hardly middle-class or ex-Protestant and I don’t think I’m the only working-class atheist out there…

  45. #45 Colugo
    April 23, 2007

    It might be helpful if all sides (New Atheists, reconciliationist atheists, theistic evolutionists, even IDists) could reach some consensus on two things regarding New Atheism:

    1) What are the defining characteristics of New Atheism? Of special interest are those characteristics that distinguish New Atheism from atheism in general and mainstream atheist rights advocacy.

    I do not believe that tactics, public relations, the “framing” debate etc are central to understanding New Atheism. In fact, while these issues have gotten a lot of attention, I think they are peripheral.

    I suggest that the most important features are:
    a) The scientific goal of making atheism and, more broadly, metaphysical naturalism (in addition to methodological naturalism) foundational components – core tenets – of science, as opposed to merely philosophical or aesthetic preferences that lie outside of science.
    b) The social goal of ending faith (through peaceful, legal advocacy of course); they perceive the heightening of an ideological “war” (a hyperbolic and unfortunately too-common metaphor) between faith/irrationalism and reason/civilization that can only be resolved by one side triumphing.

    Some who share both the scientific and social goals of New Atheism may advocate very different tactics than Harris et al. Perhaps that is enough to put them outside of the New Atheist movement. I am not so sure about that, however.

    2) Who are the New Atheists? The most important figures: Michel Onfray, Sam Harris, Victor Stenger, Richard Dawkins. Reconciliationist nonbelievers who provide a contrasting approach include Scott Atran and E.O. Wilson.

  46. #46 Colugo
    April 23, 2007

    I hasten to add that of course methodological naturalism is uncontroversial and universally accepted – except for the ID camp, who are way out on the fringe in any case.

  47. #47 Brian
    April 23, 2007

    Hey Chris, I too am probably a chamberlain atheist. Though I love Dawkins, Harris et al for having the balls to write thier books. It’s probably been said innumerable times before, but isn’t terming of these guys as atheist fundamentalist just wrong? I mean, unless Dawkin’s is lying his arse off, he really would accept the validity of religion or existence of god if there were evidence to support them. I don’t think a christian fundamentalist or devout muslim, when presented with evidence of the sillyness of their beliefs would do the same. They would probably still have us living in serfdom, fearing demons if it weren’t for people who broke the mold….Just a thought.
    P.S. I have a cog-psy prac due in a week, could you do it for me? Just muckin’ about. Cheers.

  48. #48 Orac
    April 23, 2007

    I have to say, Chris, although PZ’s and Larry’s rants about atheism get on my nerves too at times, I think it’s a huge mistake to start calling Larry a moron and banning him from commenting. It’s petty, and you don’t really give a good reason for it, as far as I can tell. True, it’s your blog, and you can do whatever you want to do, but reading the comments here and the blogospheric reaction has led me to think that you’ve really shot yourself in the foot here.

    I say this as someone who, as you may know, finds Larry’s enthusiastic parroting of the whole vile “Neville Chamberlain atheist” or evolutionist epithet to be such offensively stupid and bad history that I find it hard to believe that such an otherwise intelligent scientist thinks its a good “spin” to use for his arguments–and has repeatedly said so about his use of the term. (Indeed, I find his use of the term to be virtually indistinguishable from the way that neocons in the leadup to the Iraq War used the “Neville Chamberlain” epithet against those who had the temerity to oppose the war.) Even with that as by background, I think you look quite childish going on and on about how you’re banning Larry–and only Larry, not anyone else who criticizes you!–from commenting here.

    But, hey, once again, it is your blog, and if you want to make yourself look petty and foolish on it, that is, of course, your prerogative.

  49. #49 Wonders for Oyarsa
    April 23, 2007

    Brian –

    As long as we define our terms correctly (which no one does when it comes to the word fundamentalist), I think the parallels are striking.

    Dawkins says that he would accept the validity of religion or existence of God, if there were evidence. But, having heard him speak, I’m just convinced that this is disingenuous – a statement for rhetorical effect. No argument is too bad to beat religion with – his continuing use of the ridiculous “who designed the designer” trope when there are a host of actually reasonable arguments for atheism demonstrates this quite clearly.

    As far as comparison to fundamentalism – well – you need to compare apples to apples. I think it works, but rather than talk about what a fundamentalist would do in the face of “evidence” against God, try to imagine what a fundamentalist would respond to evidence that the Bible has no problem with (and in fact celebrates) the moderate consumption of alcohol. The so-called authority structure is rejected to sure up the party line. It’s the same with Dawkins.

  50. #50 Kseniya
    April 24, 2007

    Hmmm.

    Debbie Schlussel on CNN: “Atheists should shut up.”
    Atheists: “Sorry, no.”
    Popular Conclusion: Atheists are shrill.

    *

    George Herbert Walker Bush: “I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.”

    Atheists: Say what?!? What about the establishment clause? What about Article 11 of the treaty with Tripoli?

    Thomas Jefferson: “All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution.”

    Article VI, Section 3, The Constitution of the United States: [N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

    Popular Conclusion: Atheists are untrustworthy and unelectable.

    *

    Theists: Atheists are amoral. Look at Hitler!

    Atheist: Uh… but Hitler was Catholic.

    Thomas Jefferson: “If we did a good act merely from the love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? It is idle to say, as some do, that no such thing exists. We have the same evidence of the fact as of most of those we act on, to wit: their own affirmations, and their reasonings in support of them. I have observed, indeed, generally, that while in Protestant countries the defections from the Platonic Christianity of the priests is to Deism, in Catholic countries they are to Atheism. Diderot, D’Alembert, D’Holbach, Condorcet, are known to have been among the most virtuous of men. Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than love of God.”

    Popular Conclusion: Atheists lack a moral compass, believe people are nothing more than animals, and are therefore discompassionate (or worse) towards their fellow man.

    *

    Debbie Schlussel on CNN: “Atheists should shut up.”
    Mixingmemory: “Okay.”
    Popular Conclusion: Atheists are easily silenced, and those who are not are strident radicals who damage their cause.

    And what is this “cause?” It is, of course, nothing more than self-aggrandizement and pathological self-persecution. At least, that’s what the cognitive psychologists and their sychophants say.

    *

    Thanks for reminding the more religious among us that there are atheists out there who are decent reasonable people who don’t necessarily want to take my kids away to social services to protect them from indoctrination.

    So… you think most atheists DO? That makes you part of the problem, Wonders, and I say that with no rancor. Try something for me, and for yourself: Take your statement and run it through a series of noun replacements. That is, replace “atheists” with some other word, like liberals, conservatives, Jews, gays, Ukrainians, Baptists, or Yankee fans — and see how the altered statemtent makes you feel.

    Richard got it right, in the sixth comment on this thread.

    Chris, I have four words of advice for you:

    Type less.

    Think more.

  51. #51 Colugo
    April 24, 2007

    Kseniya:

    I think you are missing what makes New Atheism distinct. It is not just about visibility, persuasion, Stonewall/Suffragette-esqu loud n’ proud activism. What makes New Atheism different are goals that go beyond mainstream atheism, as I discussed above.

    Stogoe simply ignores the fact that there are differences between New Atheism and other freethought/atheist movements and groups – differences recognized by New Atheists themselves – and prefers to conflate New Atheism with generic atheism.

  52. #52 Wonders for Oyarsa
    April 24, 2007

    Kseniya,

    No rancor? Then what is that giant monster heading towards me with the giant claws? Good thing I have the force…I mean, a bone and a rock.

    But surely you, as an atheist, taking your cues only from clear impassioned reason, can see that in fact I never said what you said that I said. But then…perhaps you have the wrong answer to the great question! Tell me – do you eat on tables instead of your perfectly good tummy?

  53. #53 Wonders for Oyarsa
    April 24, 2007

    Hey Chris, let’s defy physics, shall we?

    I’m a Christian theist, and you, it would seem are an atheist. So, just for fun – what do you find to be the most difficult argument against atheism or for Christianity to refute? And I’ll in turn say what I think is the most difficult argument against Christianity or for atheism for me to refute.

  54. #54 Miko
    April 24, 2007

    New atheists, despite their eagerness to believe that they are somehow marginalized or persecuted, aren’t fighting for social change aimed at inclusion. Their movement is aimed, rather, at a more ambitious form of social change: the complete abolition of religion

    Reminds me of all of those quotes I’ve seen along the lines of how feminists weren’t fighting for social change aimed at inclusion, but were instead trying to destroy the concept of family or any other convient vaguely defined word. Hillariously misguided in retrospect, but the dominant position in their time.

    I, for one, want only neutrality of religion in government. To the extent that your beliefs have no effect on me, I really don’t care what they are. I doubt you’d find many (actually, any) people advocating for the abolition of religion by fiat.

  55. #55 Fox1
    April 24, 2007

    Allowing, for the moment, the possibility that the comparison of (New) atheism and the suffrage movement is off base, the oft repeated equivocation of strong atheism and the evangelical movement seems like a far less useful, or honest, comparison, and I sure see it a whole lot.

    You’re comparing a conservative, fundamentalist, biblical literalist movement that has done everything it can to force the social and political infrastructure in this country to fit its mold. To legislate it’s own morality across the land, and exclude anyone who does not convert.

    And this is equivocal to encouraging atheists to strongly advocate for their views, and not pander to the kind of thinking that makes the evangelical movement seem mainstream? Having an expectation that others will eventually hew to your point of view, given education and challenges to their cultural upbringing, is the same as stridently calling for the law of the land to enforce your way of life?

    I’d like someone to explain to me how that’s not a bunch of highly insulting bullshit. If there was any reason for someone to call a person a Chamberlain Atheist, that would certainly be a good start. When Dawkins’ next book calls for the outlaw of prayer in the home, this line of reasoning will be right on target, until then, it’s bollocks.

  56. #56 Brian
    April 24, 2007

    You do think Dawkins is pulling a switfy. That’s cool. I’ve never heard him speak in person and currently take him on his word ’cause he’s seems logical. But, if I have evidence to the contrary, I’ll stop taking him on his word. Probably naive of me.

    “try to imagine what a fundamentalist would respond to evidence that the Bible has no problem with (and in fact celebrates) the moderate consumption of alcohol.”
    Doesn’t the bible celebrate the consumption of alchohol? I mean it’s a major part of the last supper, and at least in the catholic tradition it’s part of the whole transubstantiation thing. Or did I miss something? I’m not being cute, I just didn’t follow your logic (I’m Australian, it’s probably from over exposure to sun and beer) ;-)

  57. #57 Wonders for Oyarsa
    April 24, 2007

    Fox1,

    What about when Dawkins signs a petition to outlaw religious teaching of Children?

  58. #58 Kseniya
    April 24, 2007

    I withdraw my four words of advice, which were needlessly disrespectful. Please accept my apology.

    But Richard got it right. Chris didn’t. That’s all.

  59. #59 Colugo
    April 24, 2007

    Miko: “I, for one, want only neutrality of religion in government. To the extent that your beliefs have no effect on me, I really don’t care what they are.”

    In that case, you are clearly not a New Atheist.

    Have you read Sam Harris? Or Dawkins on the looming war between faith and reason? Or Michel Onfray? You’re just an atheist pursuing a traditional secular social and civil agenda – one which I wholly agree with.

    This is a frustrating aspect of these debates: there is no shared understanding of the issue at hand. Some – Miko, Kseniya, Stogoe – insist that New Atheists, or Churchillians, or Dawkinsians, or whatever they want to call themselves are simply advocates for atheist rights, or share the same social goals with all other freethinkers but their rhetoric is just less diplomatic.

    No, that’s not it at all. That’s not what these debates are about. If that were the case, there would far be less argument within the freethought community about Dawkins et al..

    It does nothing to further the discussion for its advocates to make New Atheism into a slippery moving target – making stirring declarations of fighting a war against faith and scientifically falsifying God one moment, then indignantly insisting that it’s just about atheist rights the next. Be proud of your views, whatever they are. Own up to them. Don’t insist that you’re simply about atheist visibility and secularism in the public sphere if your goals are much grander.

  60. #60 Colugo
    April 24, 2007

    Wonders for Oyarsa: “What about when Dawkins signs a petition to outlaw religious teaching of Children?”

    He said that he misinterpreted the petition and withdrew his signature. Your question, whether its misleading nature is deliberate on your part or not, does not enhance the collective understanding of the real issues at hand.

  61. #61 Wonders for Oyarsa
    April 24, 2007

    Brian –

    It does indeed. But try telling that to a fundamentalist…

    I’m actually using the term fundamentalist in a technical and not pejorative sense. You see, around the turn of the (19th-20th) century in America, there were a group of Christians who were alarmed at the growth of a religious “liberalism” which seemed to throw away all the historic Christian teachings. Everything remotely supernatural had to go – and be left with a vague ethic. In reaction to this, they wrote a document called The Fundamentals – outlining what they saw as non-negociables. People who stood by these principles called themselves fundamentalists.

    The big cause that the fundamentalists rallied around, was, ironically enough, prohibition. Which is a funny little historic anecdote – the fundamentalist movement and the women’s suffrage movement were very much allies on this. Women wanted to outlaw drinking and to get men back in church. Anyway, they actually succeeded in getting an amendment to the U.S. constitution, which was later repealed.

    The movement, however, despite its willingness to champion political causes, really is rather isolationist. Fundamentalists have a tendency to separate themselves from the wicked world and keep pure. They are rather anti-intellectual – as the academy is associated with the very theological liberalism they were founded against. They’d seen how these ivory-tower elites use their golden tongues to melt away everything they’ve always stood for. And so now it’s the Bible said it, I believe it, and that settles it.

    There are actually relatively few fundamentalists in the U.S. today. The larger part of American Christians are Evangelicals – a movement that distinguished itself from fundamentalism by its desire to engage contemporary culture (both popular and intellectual) rather than wall itself off from it. Fundamentalists often consider Evangelicals compromisers, while Evangelicals think fundamentalists are hung up on a great many things that aren’t exactly fundamental.

  62. #62 Tex
    April 24, 2007

    Chris,

    I am an atheist, but I am not sure about the nouveau part since I have happily done with out religious beliefs for the last 40 of my 53 years. I will plead guilty to the white male, middle-class, ex-protestant charges (all character states I had no control over, except that maybe I could have sucked more at schoolwork and fallen into a lower socio-economic group or perhaps risen to become president).

    However, I have no vulva nor well-developed breasts, I don’t even own a long black dress, and my beard is noticeably thicker than that of most suffragettes. Even the most rabid of my fellow atheists, blinded as they are by rage against rampant irrationality, have never mistaken me for a suffragette. You seem to be the only one.

    The analogy was meant to highlight effective tactics by reviewing previous successes by inherently righteous, but initially unpopular movements.

    Your mischaracterization of the suffragette argument uses same discredited (and disreputable) tactics that creationists use when they intertpret an analogy literally and ad absurdum.

    You attempt to deny atheists the right to speak out and vociferously defend our position simply because we will not suffer any major prejudice or loss of privilege. Would you also argue that white people should not have opposed slavery, or that men should not have supported that suffragettes, or that civilians should not oppose the war in Iraq because the targeted changes would not affect their own personal status? If so I suggest you tell the evangelicals to STFU and leave me alone, because they are already going to heaven, and whether I do is immaterial to their chances (except maybe if one of the bastards me converts me, that would be the biggest miracle ever and grounds for instant sainthood.)

    The same goes for you. You will not lose any of your rights or privileges because we refuse to remain quite, so just back off from your insupportable stance of strident moderation.

  63. #63 Wonders for Oyarsa
    April 24, 2007

    Colugo,

    Indeed he did – after there was an outcry. But he does like to use the comparison of religious upbringing to child-abuse. And we do in fact take children away from abusive situations. Dawkins is a smart man, and the choice of words is a little unsettling to say the least. I don’t know if you have kids, Colugo, but if you do – rest assured that I (and every Christian I know of in the country) support your right to raise them in your beliefs. I really don’t get that sense from Dawkins…I do not like his “consciousness rasing” campaign…at all.

    Keep in mind that this is all said at a time when the vast majority of the world’s atheists live where it is indeed illegal to take your children into church with you.

  64. #64 Colugo
    April 24, 2007

    “But he does like to use the comparison of religious upbringing to child-abuse.”

    I know. I personally find that comparison abhorrent, and Mel Konner, an atheist, strongly reprimanded Dawkins for that at the 2006 Beyond Belief conference.

  65. #65 Colugo
    April 24, 2007

    However, I do not for a moment believe that Dawkins is so radical that he would actually endorse taking children away from parents just for raising them in a faith or would otherwise prohibit religious instruction within the home. To understand the context of Dawkins’ error in signing the statement, the United Kingdom does not have separation of church and state – there is both an official faith and religious instruction within the schools. It is that which Dawkins opposes as a matter of public policy – school instruction, not home instruction.

    Dawkins is a hardliner in his goals, and his rhetoric can be intemperate. I have criticized him for both his goals and his rhetoric (and defended him on other issues). But Dawkins is also a humanitarian and part of the Western liberal tradition (liberal in the broad sense, not the narrower left-of-center sense – though he is that true, nor narrower economic meaning) and not a totalizing, illiberal ideologue. I strenuously disagree with him and other New Atheists on some issues, but let’s be careful not misrepresent them, even unintentionally.

  66. #66 Wonders for Oyarsa
    April 24, 2007

    Colugo,

    A fair, reasonable response to be sure.

  67. #67 Kseniya
    April 24, 2007

    Wonders,

    No rancor? Then what is that giant monster heading towards me with the giant claws?

    I don’t see any giant monster. Are you ok?

    But surely you, as an atheist, taking your cues only from clear impassioned reason, can see that in fact I never said what you said that I said. But then…perhaps you have the wrong answer to the great question! Tell me – do you eat on tables instead of your perfectly good tummy?

    I never said I was an atheist.

    Pehaps I misunderstood or misrepresented what you said. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to try again.

    Let’s review. You thanked Chris for reminding “the more religious among us” – am I wrong to assume that you include yourself in that group? – that some atheists are decent and reasonable people who don’t necessarily want to take your kids away.

    Ok so… “the more religious among us” (which may or may not include you) are going to think the following, depending on whether or not they’ve been “reminded” by Chris:

    – WITH reminding: that SOME atheists are decent AND reasonable, and they DON’T necessarily want to take your kids away.

    – WITHOUT reminding: that NO atheists are decent OR reasonable, and they DO necessarily want to take your kids away.

    Any objections so far?

    So, given the above, I had to conclude that unless Chris is constantly “reminding” you, that (by default) you DO think that atheists are indecent, unreasonable people who want to take your kids away.

    But because this seemed to be a rather extreme conclusion for a person such as yourself, who seems pretty reasonable, I phrased the conclusion as a question, inviting you to clarify as you saw fit.

    And how do you know my tummy is perfectly good? Have you been peeking in my window again?!?

  68. #68 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    Here’s my question: if you believe that child abuse is both illegal and immoral, and justifies removing children from their homes, as I suspect most of us, including Dawkins, do, and you genuinely believe that religious education is child abuse, then do you not have a responsibility to advocate removing children from their homes because they are receiving religious education?

    If Dawkins does not believe that he has a moral obligation to advocate that, then it stands to reason that he doesn’t really believe that religious education is child abuse. If that’s the case, then his statement that it is child abuse is dishonest (as hyperbole, propaganda, whatever you want to call it). Either way, he’s an ass for making it.

  69. #69 Wonders for Oyarsa
    April 24, 2007

    I object, your honor!

    First of all, let’s pull out the logic. We have these two statements:

    If P is true, then Q is true.
    P is not true.

    From only this information, we can say nothing about Q. If P were true, we would indeed know Q to be true as well. If we had said “if and only if”, then we could indeed say that Q is false. This is a common mistake.

    But what you are saying is that, regardless of technical logic, I certainly implied a stereotype. And I did indeed. But the stereotype was put up for the purpose of being debunked – and exaggerated for effect. After all, we have on good authority that even Dawkins doesn’t actually plan to take my kids away (he just says some things that seem like he might want to). But the point is that the voices that reinforce the stereotype are rather loud, and its refreshing for one of the more reasonable voices to come through.

    One of my best friends from college is an atheist – one of the friendly reasonable sort. I had another friend who was angry at God for not existing, and angry at me for believing that he did. The stereotype does exist. As do the exceptions. I suppose the exceptions probably outnumber the stereotypes by a good margin…but the stereotypes are so damn loud…

  70. #70 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    Tex, read over the post and my comments here one more time, please.

    I realize that the suffragette analogy is meant to justify a method. My argument is that the method is only justified by the ends at which it aims, and that the ends at which the suffragettes and the “new atheists” aim are sufficiently different that the analogy not only fails, but is offensive. As I said in an earlier comment — either you admit that the goal is relevant, or you admit that any historical analogy will justify any method.

    Plus, you’ve got to be really naive if you don’t think this particular analogy was chosen to add some legitimacy to the cause. Just read the Pandagon comments section to see that the “new atheists” really are trying to paint themselves as similar to the suffragettes.

  71. #71 RichVR
    April 24, 2007

    “It does, however, reinforce my armchair psychoanalysis of the new atheists: members of a privileged class who decided to create an identity simply to justify their own persecution complexes.”

    “I won’t delete any further comments by Larry, either, but my position that he’s a dishonest ass with a reading comprehension problem stands, and I won’t be reading any of his comments, so don’t look for any responses to them from me.”

    How can you be in an armchair with your head firmly planted in the sand? Oh nevermind. Your head isn’t in sand, unless you have a load of it up your… Nevermind again. I figured it out.

  72. #72 Wonders for Oyarsa
    April 24, 2007

    Kseniya,

    By the way – the first joke was from Return of the Jedi. The second was from the southpark episode with Richard Dawkins.

  73. #73 Wonders for Oyarsa
    April 24, 2007

    RichVR,

    Did you just call Chris a poopyhead?

  74. #74 Chris' Wills
    April 24, 2007

    What strikes me clearly from all these debates is that the strident, stalinist, faundamentalist, neo whatever you want to call them atheists see the promotion of Science as secondary to their cause.

    They use terms like cognitive dissonance to try and pretend that theist scientists must be lesser than atheist scientists (they’ve obviously never read Aquinas otherwise they’ld know that methodological naturalism as a way of knowing the physical universe is not irreligious, in fact it is considered a good idea).

    They continually chant that anyone who isn’t an atheist is irrational (i.e. they’ve redefined rational to mean “agrees with my belief set”).

    They , deliberately, confuse philosophical naturalism with methodological naturalism.

    They are happy to curse, insult, and use agressive language against their perceived enemies, but object when people do this against them.

    Some appear to want to exclude those they consider impure from Science (impure being anyone who doesn’t cleave to their beliefs and accept that they know the Truth).
    Loyalty tests, checks that everyone up for tenure affirms that they’re atheists and hold as gospel the writings of whoever is the agreed leader of the faithful at the time.
    An unholy inquisition.

    Oh yes, now they want additional rights; poor oppressed tenured Dawkins; how he must suffer in his multi-million pound house, 1st class travel and having a beautiful wife as well as sycophantic acolytes.

    Now, of course, not all atheists are rich but to have white, middle class, tenured professors bleating about how oppressed they are is laughable. Especially given their obvious contempt for the majority of their fellow citizens who pay their salaries.

    How are they oppressed? Are they dis-enfranchised?
    You might claim, if you reside in the USofA, that some states have rules requiring that elected officials are religious; so challenge the rules they would be struck down.

    Atheists can’t get elected is another claim.
    Getting elected is a popularity contest; get enough of your fellow citizens to vote for you and you’ll get elected, that is how democracies work. If atheists can’t manage that that is their failing.
    If you are short, fat and ugly you aren’t likely to get elected either; should they have seats reserved in goverment for the short, fat & ugly (I know that some short, fat & ugly people are in goverment but they got enough people to vote for them).

    They also want all belief sets (theistic religion especially) excluded from goverment discourse; except their own of course.
    I don’t know if they’ve worked out that this isn’t possible, elected officials bring with them all their experiences and beliefs. What I think they really mean is, do what we say, we’re scientists you are idiots oh and that person over there with the PhDs and decades of peer reviewed articles is a faith-head so don’t listen to her.

    The biggest problem I see is that the loudest of those espousing atheism are also claiming to be promoting science. Sadly, by mixing the two up they are damaging the image and influence of Science.
    Yes, the Creationists also do damage; but guess what, most people don’t vote for them.

    Science is not atheistic (it ignores the questions of theism, maya, platonism and all other philosophies and so is Agnostic.), anyone can do Science.
    Science doesn’t reveal Truth, it shows us how not why, it is always tentative/doubtful and subject to questioning (questioning/doubting of established beliefs in science is part of science so it is agnostic in this sense as well). It doesn’t matter how an hypothesis is arrived at (drunken dream, epiphany or guess).
    If it can make physical predictions and those predictions can be tested (in principle at least) then it is science. Of course the tests might be negative and we would then say that it has failed the test. Fail often enough and the hypothesis is abandoned. Pass often enough and make enough predictions that are better than existing hypothesis/theories and it’ll be adopted by science until a better one comes along.

    In closing, to those atheists claiming to be oppressed (in a western country) you are either being disingenuous with the truth or, as I don’t think you are stupid, deliberatelly trying to provoke. Either way you aren’t helping to promote Science.

  75. #75 Brian
    April 24, 2007

    “They also want all belief sets (theistic religion especially) excluded from goverment discourse; except their own of course”
    I’m an atheist, and I don’t believe in atheism as a religion. I simply see it as nonbelief in a supernatural power. What’s my belief set again?
    “Science doesn’t reveal Truth, it shows us how not why” Depends if you use science to study the why doesn’t it? Religion says why without any backing, I mean it may as well be the FSM, makes as much sense as any other religion….

  76. #76 Colugo
    April 24, 2007

    Chris: “you’ve got to be really naive if you don’t think this particular analogy was chosen to add some legitimacy to the cause. Just read the Pandagon comments section to see that the “new atheists” really are trying to paint themselves as similar to the suffragettes.”

    Agreed. The suffragette analogy is a useful dual device that attempts to work on both an explicit intellectual level (tactics) and an implicit emotive level (lineage of activism). When the analogy is criticized, proponents can expediently protest it’s solely about tactics, but the unsubtle implication is that New Atheism is part of a larger heroic progressive struggle, with all of the moral capital that this status confers. By their asserted inclusion in a progressive, heroic, brave activist lineage (abolition, suffrage, civil rights, Stonewall), New Atheists claim these qualities for themselves. In fact, it’s an unsubtle attempt at ‘framing.’

  77. #77 Kseniya
    April 24, 2007

    I hear you, Wonders. So, in other words, you DID say what I said you said. ;-)

    That it was an intentional exaggeration is irrelevant to that point, but does clarify what you meant. If you’d like to focus on what you meant, that’s fine, but let’s dispense with the P’s and Q’s. Obviously you would never have mentioned it had you not intended to convey that you had some tendency to think ill (more so than is reasonable or fair) of atheists in general.

    Ok then. I understand what you meant. Do you understand what I meant? That perpetuating the stereotype of atheists as, I dunno, as closet Stalinists or whatever, isn’t particularly useful to anybody who’s not trying to fan the flames? Right or wrong, that’s what I meant.

    It’s late, I’m not feeling very lucid, so forgive me if that’s… fuzzy. I guess according to Colugo and others I’m not a “new atheist” but I do have “atheist sympathizer” written all over me.

    Be proud of your views, whatever they are. Own up to them. (Colugo)

    Ok. In brief:

    I’m concerned about the baseless negative perception of atheists. I’m concerned about the loudness and relentless dishonesty of the dominionists who want to re-write history (cf David Barton’s carnival of lies, The Myth of Separation) in an effort to reinvent the United State as a Christian Nation, and by granting Christians institutionally favored status exclude the rest, be they infidel or other. That is very obviously not what the framers intended, and it would be step towards fascism. Those are my primary concerns.

    One of my best friends from college is an atheist

    Interesting… My best friend is an atheist, too. She’s the child of a Christian fundamentalist and an atheist. (They’re divorced. She’s Switzerland.) She’s also pro-choice, and anti-death penalty. And she’s a political conservative and registered Republican. Another of my friends is a devout Catholic. He’s also bisexual, and the most left-leaning of all my friends. Life is strange.

    (Stereotypes are based on something but they aren’t very useful when applied to individuals. Are they ever useful when applied to a higher level of aggregation? I don’t know, but it’s human nature to generalize, so I doubt we’ll ever be rid of them.)

  78. #78 G
    April 24, 2007

    Chris wrote: “Wonders, see? They’re back. It’s a law of physics that as the number of comments you get goes up, their quality and intelligence goes down. With a link from Pharyngula, this thread should be at the bottom of an abyss by this time tomorrow.”

    Dismissing anyone who disagrees with you as an extremist, which you seem to be in the habit of doing, is appallingly cheap rhetoric. But we all give in to the temptations of cheap rhetoric from time to time, including the atheists you’re bitching about here. Fine.

    But dismissing comments and insulting commenters in advance of even seeing their comments really just makes you look like a complete asshat. I second Kseniya’s advice: “Type less. Think more.”

    Now to the substance of your post…

    Message: “You don’t fight any sort of prejudice or bigotry by being meek, polite, and inoffensive to the majority who hold power (and, not incidentally, set the rules for politeness and offense).”

    Interpretation of message, a.k.a. your spin: “How dare you compare yourselves to suffragists!”

    How do you not give yourself intellectual whiplash proceeding from point A to point B here?

    For just one of the many, many things I could say against your ill-considered, off-hand dismissal of the very idea that the prejudice and bigotry directed against atheists might be, I dunno, kind of important and worth getting het up about, here’s a smidgen of research to consider. It seems from your attitude here that you aren’t one to be persuaded by mere facts, at least not on this matter. But maybe some of your readers will follow the link and think a little.

    I’ve been reading my way around various scienceblogs sites for quite a while now, and you are the only writer besides Larry Moran who I’ve seen make such a total ass of himself. But I think you’ve far exceeded Larry by being so pissy as to delete his comment above (even temporarily), which is quite polite and completely to the point. Congratulations for achieving a new low!

  79. #79 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    G, I’m not sure you read a thing I said. First, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that almost every commenter disagrees with me, and I haven’t deleted them, and I haven’t dismissed them. In fact, I’ve engaged as many of them as I can.

    Next, I’m not just saying “You’re not a suffragist.” I’ve actually made arguments about why the differences are important. If you’d like to address those, feel free. I’ll reply in kind, if you do more than say, “Oh look, he’s making an ass of himself again.”

    And finally, I know that people generally don’t like atheists. But that doesn’t mean you’re persecuted and/or discriminated against in any practical way.

    I find it odd, in the end, that I say mean things about other atheists, and I’m considered an ass, but PZ, Larry, etc. run around saying religious people are stupid and irrational, that they have nothing but contempt for their beliefs, and so on, and somehow you folks worship them. Wait, is it OK to be mean to religious people, but not to atheists, if you want social change? Odd.

  80. #80 Sean
    April 24, 2007

    Re: Colugo’s 02:40am post.

    Wow. I would most likely agree if such an analogy had actually been made.

    Please reread the Moran post which started this whole episode. It comprises three sentences of a five paragraph direct rebuttal to the claim that militant approaches are not effective. No analogies made.

    PZ later picked up the meme and wrote three pages on his own blog detailing suffragette methods. Twice he briefly laments that atheists are not anywhere as vocal/militant as pioneering feminists. Contrasting is generally not a tactic used when making an analogy.

    Sean — A happy blue collar conservative who used to consider himself just an atheist and is now confused that apparently he now needs additional labeling to identify with his particular sect of atheism.

  81. #81 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    Sean, you should read the actual post. In it, you will find PZ quoted using these words: “When we compare atheists to feminists…”

  82. #82 G. Tingey
    April 24, 2007

    Dear “mixingmemory” ….

    You try having a whole church full of brain-dead ranting xtian fundies set up close to you home, and see what the middle-claass, “white” (pink) male who merely want’s to be left in peace thinks.
    They certainly helped me turn from a vaguely deistic theist (perhaps) or an agnostic, into a “militant” atheist.

    I have no problem with the religious believing any lying balckmailing claptrap they want to, but will they please not bring it onto the street, anf frighten the ‘orses!

    “Militant” atheism merely consists of pointing out that the beleivers are deluded, and that the would-be theocrats are potential tyrants.
    And to anyone raising the strawman of “atheist communism” I would repeat my own finding, which I have since found out was originally postulated by Bertrand Russell, that communism is a classic religion – which is why it persecutes the competing religions.
    After all, that’s what religions do – persecute people who believe wrongly – according to them, that is.

  83. #83 Fox1
    April 24, 2007

    And finally, I know that people generally don’t like atheists. But that doesn’t mean you’re persecuted and/or discriminated against in any practical way.

    Really? Persecution might set the bar a bit high, but discrimination? You really want to argue that being an “out” atheist cannot lead to negative repercussions socially, or within a business or political career, absent other factors?

    On politics, there’s simple data that seems to disprove your statement, and for business, I have a personal anecdote: I had to pretend to be christian, lead prayer at lunch and lie about attending a church to keep my job, once upon a time. It was at a real estate company.

    I tried to take legal action once, was told “it’s not like you’re jewish or anything, then you might have a case.”

  84. #84 Sean
    April 24, 2007

    Yes, eventually that phrase was actually used.

    After a three page blog entry and forty-eight posts, the second author to use suffragettes as an an example did use the phrase “When we compare atheists to feminists…”.

    That just really strikes me as attacking as strawman when your first reference is to the blog entry at pandagon which does not make the analogy. Moran’s start of this whole mess did not make the analogy. PZ’s three page blog entry did not make the analogy. One phrase buried a dozen pages into the comments does not seem to warrant the headline “You’re No Suffragist”.

  85. #85 Sean
    April 24, 2007

    Chopped in two. Me thinks I was too verbose.

    And finally, I know that people generally don’t like atheists. But that doesn’t mean you’re persecuted and/or discriminated against in any practical way.

    I know, I know. I am no Lenny who has been teargassed and jailed for my economic views so should just shut up about my little snippets of oppression.

    Background first. I am what is considered a nice guy. I have donated time and money to charity. I give a helping hand to individuals in need. I bottlefed the abandoned kittens I found in my garden shed. I am polite, quiet and introspective. Did I mention humble?

    I was dating a girl in high school for over six months. Was in the closet in those days. Finally got tired of hiding and clearly stated why I did not want to attend her church. Dumped. Sweet-talked my way back into, well, not good graces, but willing to engage in discourse. Her parents forced her to cease even that level of communication. The only stated fault was my lack of faith.

    Repeat the above on a smaller scale with a woman in college. Repeat in even smaller scales once I started being completely forthright about my lack of faith.

    I have not talked to my mother in over three years. She will not pick up my number, and I will not trick her by blocking her caller ID. She will not respond to snail mail. One disasterous attempt a physical visitation will not be repeated. The only roadblock was that she realized I was never going to outgrow that ‘phase’ of mine – lack of faith.

    I have been fired from one job in my life. After an unbroken string of glowing performance reviews and less than thirty days after one such review, I was fired. Reasons given were my poor performance and attitude. I was baffled. Later I learned that the owner had learned of my atheism the day before my firing. Coincidence?

  86. #86 Sean
    April 24, 2007

    Ahh, me thinks now that it was those naughty words holding things up.

    Five years ago a friend and I stopped in a small town for a drink and food after scouting some draws prior to hunting season. The sole mention of my lack of faith that evening came during a quiet discussion with my friend. A mutual friend had recently and untimely passed on. We were sharing our memories and expressing grief when he spoke the standard platitude of ‘better place blah blah’. I rolled my eyes and simply replied, “Come on, you know I don’t believe in God. Why would that make me feel better.” My friend agreed that particular cliche would not be a refuge for me. We finished our meal and went outside where a collection of four local boys decided that the “commie” “unamerican” “gay” “god hating” “c0cksucker” “fagg0t” “atheist” needed to be taught the lesson that my kind was not welcome in those parts. Some good bruises, loose teeth, one black eye, five stitches, and gonads which ached a month later I got to hear from law enforcement. Despite four good descriptions, two first names, vehicle descriptions and license plates I was told that there was nothing they could do. Very polite officer, but they just didn’t have the resources to run this kind of thing down. I really shouldn’t have been so outspoken in that Christian bar apparently.

    I am unable to count the number of times I have been told online, in letters to the editor and in person that I should be quiet because this is a Christian country. Or I should convert because this is a Christian country. Or I should be expelled because this is a Christian country. Or in two delightful cases, I should be executed because this is a Christian country. One of those two cases came in response to the letter I wrote my local newspaper detailing my delightful bar experience. The threat came via the phone. Amazingly, local law enforcement did not believe that warranted an investigation.

    Whatever circles you travel in, whatever part of the country in which you live, it does not represent the whole of the American atheist experience. I envy the ease with which you do not believe.

  87. #87 MartinM
    April 24, 2007

    Getting elected is a popularity contest; get enough of your fellow citizens to vote for you and you’ll get elected, that is how democracies work. If atheists can’t manage that that is their failing.

    Excuse me for ignoring most of your idiotic rant, but I thought this was worth pulling out. If people who have never even heard of me decide that I’m not fit for office simply because I’m an atheist, that is their failing, not mine. It’s called ‘bigotry.’

  88. #88 Chris' Wills
    April 24, 2007

    Excuse me for ignoring most of your idiotic rant, but I thought this was worth pulling out. If people who have never even heard of me decide that I’m not fit for office simply because I’m an atheist, that is their failing, not mine. It’s called ‘bigotry.’
    Posted by: MartinM

    That’s OK, ignore what you like you live in a free country.

    If you stand for election and don’t win why decide it is because you are an atheist?
    Perchance you are going bald and your opponent had a full head of hair, it may shock you to realise that looks matter in elections.
    Or, shock horror, perhaps the electorate didn’t agree with your agenda.

  89. #89 wrg
    April 24, 2007

    MartinM:

    If people who have never even heard of me decide that I’m not fit for office simply because I’m an atheist, that is their failing, not mine. It’s called ‘bigotry.’

    What, haven’t you ever heard of “Don’t ask, don’t tell?” If it works for real persecuted groups, we atheists should certainly manage it with all our privileges.

  90. #90 MartinM
    April 24, 2007

    If you stand for election and don’t win why decide it is because you are an atheist?
    Perchance you are going bald and your opponent had a full head of hair, it may shock you to realise that looks matter in elections.
    Or, shock horror, perhaps the electorate didn’t agree with your agenda.

    Again you insist on trying to consider an individual case. I’m not talking about the reasons any particular individual fails to win an election; they’ll always be many and varied. I’m talking about the fact that, when polled, a large percentage of the US population stated that they wouldn’t vote for an atheist. They weren’t told what this hypothetical atheist looked like, or what policies were at issue. That’s irrelevant here.

  91. #91 Godless McHeathenpants
    April 24, 2007

    Wow.

    Of all the topics I could address, I’d like to limit myself to these.

    Of all the reading of nouvaeu (you insult people with a french appellation? How classy! Would that make you a True Atheist, though? As in “No True Atheist puts honey on his porridge, I mean wants to rile up the religious.) atheist blogs I’ve done I can honestly say I have never heard anyone suggest violence toward anyone or legislation restricting access to religion. No one wants to abolish religion. I personally think the world would be better off if no one believed in Magic Sky Fairies. But that is just my opinion. Feel free to disagree. The points that they are all trying to make is that any view not supported by gosh, gee, actual evidence should not be taught as science in publicly funded schools, there is no material evidence for belief in any Invisible Avenger Who Get Angry When You Touch Yourself, and that public policy in the 21st century should not be determined by Bronze Age creation myths.

    Do PZ et al get worked up and get a little hyperbolic now and then. Absolutely. It’s one of the reasons they are so fun to read. I don’t hear them compare people to Stalin, though. Jeebus! Stalin? Get some perspective, guy. That maniac had 30 million people killed. He made Hitler look like a piker.

    And, check it out, the thing about an analogy is it compares two obviously different things. See the word different? If someone compares atheism to any other group (Suffragettes, GBLT pride, Stalin, Civil Rights Movement) you have to consider which goddamned parts are being compared by the analogy. They were comparing how forward we should be in presenting our views vs. the Suffragettes, ferchristssake. Many xians I have talked with had no problems telling me I was a horrible person and was going to be tortured forever, why should I have an issue saying I thought their beliefs were silly and harmful to the long term survival of the human race.

    Can you point out one instance of someone on those blogs saying that atheists were morally equivalent to the gay/ equal rights/ feminist movements because we were as oppressed to the same degree at this point in history? We are significantly farther along the curve in both social integration and persecution. No one is denying that. We’ve gotten off easy since people stopped killing apostates. We don’t get denied jobs because employers can’t ask about religion. We can’t be identified by sight. But anyone who thinks there is no penalty to being an atheist should make a big sign that says “I am an atheist” and stand next to it on a busy sidewalk. Bonus points if it’s down the street from an Evangelic Church. Stay there for an hour or so and see what happens. POTUS43 GWB said on national television that he didn’t think that atheists should be considered citizens or patriots! GODDAMN!!!!!! Replace atheist with any other sub group, feminists, African-Americans, Jews, gays, red heads, democrats. Pick one. What so you think the result would have been? A colossal media shitstorm the likes of which has never been recorded? What happened? Some people blogged about it.

    I’m done.
    [/]rant

  92. #92 Chris' Wills
    April 24, 2007

    “They also want all belief sets (theistic religion especially) excluded from goverment discourse; except their own of course”

    I’m an atheist, and I don’t believe in atheism as a religion. I simply see it as nonbelief in a supernatural power. What’s my belief set again?

    Everyone has a set of beliefs by which they live; the commonest one being belief in your own existence (some Buddhists would argue against that, but it is fairly common) followed by the belief that other people exist and have feelings similar to your own (some autistic people appear not to have this belief but again it is fairly common). Your belief set is simply those ideas & concepts you take as given (your personal philosophy or worldview).

    “Science doesn’t reveal Truth, it shows us how not why”

    Depends if you use science to study the why doesn’t it?

    As to how/why point, I’ld say No. Science explains the how (cause/effect relationships) such as what causes speciation to occur or how the universe developed after the big bang. The questions of why the big bang happened or why our ancestors survived after the last great die off may be non-sensical questions, there may not be a why even if there is science can’t address it.

    Religion says why without any backing, I mean it may as well be the FSM, makes as much sense as any other religion….
    Posted by: Brian

    Yes, most religions do claim to answer the why questions. Yes, the answers given by FSM may be equally valid.

    In none of these cases are they scientific answers.

  93. #93 Chris' Wills
    April 24, 2007

    Again you insist on trying to consider an individual case. I’m not talking about the reasons any particular individual fails to win an election; they’ll always be many and varied….
    Posted by: MartinM | April 24, 2007 06:06 AM

    I didn’t insist on anything, note your use of me and I in your first response (see below). That’s what I responded to combined with the fact that most of the electorate don’t know the candidates but simply vote on image.

    …If people who have never even heard of me decide that I’m not fit for office simply because I’m an atheist, that is their failing, not mine. It’s called ‘bigotry.’
    Posted by: MartinM | April 24, 2007 05:35 AM

    …I’m talking about the fact that, when polled, a large percentage of the US population stated that they wouldn’t vote for an atheist. They weren’t told what this hypothetical atheist looked like, or what policies were at issue. That’s irrelevant here.
    Posted by: MartinM| April 24, 2007 06:06 AM

    Because they see all atheists as being bad people and I would suggest that calling a religious person an idiot is unlikely to change their mind.

    If they only know atheists as being “those godless heathens who denigrate my beliefs” it isn’t suprising that they hold an antipathy to electing an atheist.
    Does it help atheists when the common mantra seems to be believers are idiots, child abusers, look stupid, religion is evil etc?

    As others have stated, you don’t change peoples minds by insulting them.

    In Britain there is state religion, strange to relate atheists get elected to parliament. They don’t get elected as atheists but because of the agenda/promises they espouse.

    Do the atheist politicians call the religious believers idiots to their faces? They may think it, but they are politicians after all and all politicians think the hoi-polloi are idiots anyway.

    They argue on the issues that matter to people; jobs, economy, environment. Their religion or lack of it isn’t an issue.

    I strongly suspect that a number of the elected officials in the USA are atheists; they just didn’t see it as being even a splinter in their platform. They didn’t run on a religious/anti-religious slate so the issue isn’t relevant.

  94. #94 John B
    April 24, 2007

    I just feel like saying this is an excellent read.

    I tend to agree with the poster’s position more than the ‘New Atheist’ one, but I know I haven’t lived some of the experiences described above (thanks Sean, in particular). Like any good agnostic, I’m not positive that I’m correct about this, so the discussion is helpful.

    My belief is that the more people who feel compelled to become strident public atheists, in response to strident public religious people of various sorts, the more secularism is eroded, ie. civic and religious identity begin to elide. Secularism advances when a person’s private beliefs are irrelevant to their participation in their communities/society. This goal is served by developing non-religious discourse, not anti-religious discourse.

    Religious minorities and atheists should be promoting this non-religious approach to social/political issues. From a tactical perspective, engaging in louder and more heated anti-religious rhetoric is precisely what the the religious right would like you to do, they want everyone to understand the choice is between being religious and being an atheist, not between having a religious society and a secular one (again ‘secular’, here, is a society in which your private beliefs are irrelevant).

  95. #95 Luna_the_cat
    April 24, 2007

    Chris’ Wills said:

    If you stand for election and don’t win why decide it is because you are an atheist?
    Perchance you are going bald and your opponent had a full head of hair, it may shock you to realise that looks matter in elections.
    Or, shock horror, perhaps the electorate didn’t agree with your agenda.

    With all due respect, that’s like saying “if you try to get an apartment in a new building and get turned away, why decide it’s because you’re black?”

    Or, “if you apply for funding for new equipment and get rejected, why decide it’s because you’re female?

    In any one given incident, you can’t make a determination based on that information alone. However, the two things that can make a difference are (1) having more information about relative merit, and (2) discerning a statistical pattern over many individual incidents.

    We don’t have (1), agreed. But we certainly have (2). How many in proportion to how many atheists there are thought to be in the general population? (Seems to be 1-5%, depending on who you talk to.) How many open atheists are elected to public office in the US? (I could only find one: Rep. Pete Stark.) I’ve seen repeated in a number of news stories the result of polls which indicated that over 50% of Americans would refuse to vote for an openly atheist presidential candidate, solely because of the fact that he didn’t believe in God and regardless of any other qualification or stance.

    I’d say, there is a good argument that the dice are loaded on this one, and that if someone points to it as a deciding issue, he has at least a good chance of being right.

  96. #96 Luna_the_cat
    April 24, 2007

    Mixed up my sentences.

    How many in proportion to how many atheists there are thought to be in the general population? (Seems to be 1-5%, depending on who you talk to.) How many open atheists are elected to public office in the US? (I could only find one: Rep. Pete Stark.)

    was supposed to be:

    How many open atheists are elected to public office in the US? (I could only find one: Rep. Pete Stark.) How many atheist politicians are there in proportion to how many atheists there are thought to be in the general population? (Seems to be 1-5% of the population are atheists, depending on who you talk to.)

    –Hope that makes it clearer.

  97. #97 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    John B, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and thread. Obviously both I and the people responding me get carried away at times, but I’m glad you found the discussion somewhere in there amongst the rancor.

    Also, I really like the way you put this:

    My belief is that the more people who feel compelled to become strident public atheists, in response to strident public religious people of various sorts, the more secularism is eroded, ie. civic and religious identity begin to elide. Secularism advances when a person’s private beliefs are irrelevant to their participation in their communities/society. This goal is served by developing non-religious discourse, not anti-religious discourse.

    Nicely said.

  98. #98 Greg Laden
    April 24, 2007

    There are too many comments to read, so I apologize if this has already been pointed out.

    Myers says:

    When we compare atheists to feminists, the labor movement, gays, or civil rights, we are not saying these are identical; in this case, it is to a narrower similarity, that these are movements to change a social attitude, and the question is whether past movements have accomplished this with deference to the existing situation, and whether “rudeness” played a role in breaking down barriers.

    and you say:

    their eagerness to compare themselves with suffragists in an attempt to justify their hostility, their utter contempt for pretty much everyone on the planet, and their broad feelings of superiority, is nothing more than dishonest propaganda

    You need to re-read the Myers’ quote.

    This does not invalidate the points you are making. I don’t agree with 99% of what you say, but that is not important. I’m just pointing out here that you’ve mis constructed your argument in this post.

  99. #99 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    You’re right, I didn’t express myself well in the original. I added an update, however, in which I attempt to explain why I think what I said in the original post is relevant.

  100. #100 Brian
    April 24, 2007

    “Yes, most religions do claim to answer the why questions. Yes, the answers given by FSM may be equally valid.

    In none of these cases are they scientific answers.”
    Let’s study them then. If they can’t be studied, the don’t say why…..

  101. #101 Paco
    April 24, 2007

    You’re complaining that white males with fairly secure jobs are the ones comparing atheists to suffragists. That those guys had it fairly cushy, so why are they complaining?

    Well, who were the suffragists? White females with fairly secure sources of income, complaining about issues that most women didn’t have the luxury of worrying about.

    Atheists are discriminated against in most of America, and its up to those who are in safer positions to make a bit of noise.

    Regarding the conflict between secularists who claim to be neutral on religion and those who are against religion, this is a good argument to have! The anti-religion case should be out there, it makes more room in the overall discussion for the neutral secularists and the moderate religionists. Please don’t think that by lopping off the anti-religion extreme you’re going to make the debate “safe”. Even if it were possible, the remaining secularists would look extreme in the narrower field of debate.

  102. #102 hoody
    April 24, 2007

    Atheists are discriminated against in most of America, and its up to those who are in safer positions to make a bit of noise.

    OK. HOW??? “Show me the working” as House says on the blooper reel, which this comment thread is turning into. HOW are atheists so disciminated against? Costs them no jobs, increases no fees or taxes, costs them no housing options. Near as I can tell, Chris is right on.

  103. #103 MartinM
    April 24, 2007

    Because they see all atheists as being bad people and I would suggest that calling a religious person an idiot is unlikely to change their mind

    In other words, the problem is simple bigotry. Which would be precisely my point.

  104. #104 Kseniya
    April 24, 2007

    If they only know atheists as being “those godless heathens who denigrate my beliefs” it isn’t suprising that they hold an antipathy to electing an atheist.

    You’re being astonishingly naive about this. Have you no sense of history? You think that a large number of US voters have stated that they would decline to vote for a atheist, solely on the basis of his atheism, because of their distate for a very small number of outspoken contemporary atheists, and not because of a deep bias bred by millenia of fear and loathing of non-believers instilled by religious dogmatists? I urge you to think again.

  105. #105 MartinM
    April 24, 2007

    Some people seem to think I’ve missed this argument entirely, so I thought I’d spell it out for you

    That certainly isn’t the argument Moran advanced. The suffragettes were not raised as an example of a strategy that is always productive, but as a counter-example to the claim that said strategy is always counter-productive. From Moran’s comment, where this was first raised:

    Now I�m not saying that all militant approaches are going to win in the end. Far form it. Most of them are destined for the dustheap of history. What I am saying is that trying to shut down the �militants� on the grounds that they are counter-productive is not logical. It�s a way of �framing� the discussion to make it sound like your opposition to the militants has a scientific basis.

  106. #106 Kseniya
    April 24, 2007

    John B. has an excellent take on what secularism means to this country, and has expressed it in other threads over on Pharyngula. “This goal is served by developing non-religious discourse.” Yes, but it’s hard to imagine how to pursue that goal in the current political climate, in which (for example) federal funding agencies are instructed to reduce allocations to secular children’s aid organizations like CARE in favor of increasing allocations to faith-based organizations.

    Hoody, discrimination needn’t be institutionalized in order to be discrimination. Anecdotal evidence has been offered, right here on this page. Did you read it?

  107. #107 jimmiraybob
    April 24, 2007

    What, haven’t you ever heard of “Don’t ask, don’t tell?” If it works for real persecuted groups, we atheists should certainly manage it with all our privileges.
    – Posted by: wrg

    Yeah. Good. Good job. It’s always odd to observe those that are in peril from the dominant oppressive worldview whine by complaining that they are themselves distressed and somehow more oppressed by the louder voices of dissent within their own ranks.

    There’s always some segment within every oppressed group – and if you don’t think that atheists are oppressed in a supposedly free nation then I have some real estate to sell you – that become the abetors of their own oppressors by asking, ‘why won’t our louder more passionate brothers and sisters just shut up and stop beating everyone about the head with their/our worldview?…why do they continue to express themselves so openly and loudly and passionately – why can’t they just quietly go along and get along?…do they realize that their raised voices threaten our successful campaign of silence?’

    Yes, don’t ask and don’t tell has always worked well against bigotry and hatred.

    Like I said, good work here.

  108. #108 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    Martin, as my post probably makes clear, I’m mostly responding to PZ’s use of Moran’s analogy, and the uses of that analogy that followed in his and Pandagon’s comments sections. Moran was clearly framing his position by picking that particular analogy, but he seems to have cut it short there. Others ran with it, however, and that’s what elicited this post.

    Kseniya, I’m not sure which history your considering. Prominent atheists, Deists, and anti-religionists have, in the past, been quite popular in this country and Europe. For examples, you can start with the founding fathers and work up to the present from there. I’m not aware of any historical survey data, but I would be willing to bet that distrust of atheists (and most of the survey data is about distrust, these days) is as high or higher now than it has been through most of this country’s history, in part because there has been a religious revival in certain segments of the population.

  109. #109 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    Also, it’s good to see that the atheists who’ve convinced themselves that they really are oppressed have made it out in force. They provide a nice example of how a commitment to reason and reality don’t always lead to reasoned, realistic beliefs.

    Now I’m off to my cushy job, at which everyone is aware of my atheism. On my way, I’ll probably say hi to my neighbors, who are also aware of my atheism (though they’re all Christians), and they’ll say hi back, in a genuinely friendly tone, ’cause they couldn’t care less. And later this afternoon, I’ll pick up my son from school, where no one has ever said anything to him about his religious beliefs or those of his parents. Then it’ll be off to a baseball game with a bunch of Christian parents, and we’ll chat, sometimes even about religion. After that, off to a restaurant for dinner. If I tell my server tha I’m an atheist, I wonder if they’ll still serve me. Oh, no I don’t. Of course they will, though they might wonder why I felt it necessary to tell them. Man, this oppression sucks. It’s a good thing I have you “meanie atheists” looking out for me, or this situation would never change.

  110. #110 Kseniya
    April 24, 2007

    Chris,

    I’m not sure which history your considering.

    Hmmm, how many are there to choose from? (This sounds like a tangent point for a discussion about the multiverse, lol.) I’m talking about The History of Western Civilization in the Christian Era.

    I think your perception of the popularity of deists and atheists is a bit rose-colored. Paine was widely reviled for his alleged atheism, and his peers distanced themselves from that somewhat. Jefferson (for one) went through the motions of observational Christianity because it was politically and socially expedient, even if somewhat at odds with his personal beliefs. Ditto Washington, Franklin, Adams. Lincoln is another, somewhat different, case, but I think it’s accurate to say that whatever his degree of private irreligiousity, which is debatable, his “failure” to ever join a church was a subject of some controversy in his day.

    As for the many others we could discuss… starting with Dawkins, and going backwards through Sagan, Asimov, and beyond into the dim dark past, well…

    It’s a big subject, my knowledge of it is far from complete, and you’ve raised a valid and interesting question that deserves some attention. But not now. I gotta get ready for class. :-)

  111. #111 Kseniya
    April 24, 2007

    I’m glad you don’t get the crap kicked out of you every time you say “I don’t believe in God,” but the lack of empathy displayed by your casual dismissal of stories such as Sean’s smacks of atheistic discompassion. (Irony intended.) You’re effectively chalking his broken teeth up to “unreasoned beliefs.” Please. That’s one step away from blaming the victim.

    I’m glad you live in an area where that’s not an issue. Go ahead, surprise me: Tell me it’s a rural area of a deeply red state.

  112. #112 mikmik
    April 24, 2007

    Posted by: Chris | April 22, 2007 10:42 PM

    Here it is, the ad hominem labelling ‘nouveau’, and:
    – You say, “Mike, atheists should respond thus”, but ‘athiests are the ones trying to push a view, uh-huh;

    “sounds more and more like, say, Nazi antisemitic rhetoric”
    – give me a break, that is so old and lame – but definitely an intended slander, and along with “moron”, that’s three already and just starting;

    “I have something against being mean, stupid, and totalitarian (little “t”)”
    – as long as it infringes on your totalitarianism, which seems to be just fine;

    “Instead, what they’re trying to do is force their narrow world view on the entire rest of the world”
    – the narrow view that we have the right of freedom from religion? The right to dwell in facts, which you so conveniently ignore in favour of accusations without examples, and conclusions that are slanderous?;

    “through aggression and violence. Granted, it’s rhetorical aggression and violence, but it’s still aggression and violence. And perhaps worst of all, it is rhetoric with no obligation to facts or truth. Perhaps a better name for the nouveau atheists would be “evangelical” or “proselytizer” atheists”
    – there’s that ‘newspeak’ labelling again, “agression and violence” – oh not REAL, but we will insinuate all we want, huh?

    There is no “NEW ATHEISM” as a movement, just a tawdry attempt at labelling in order to justify continued discounting of an opinion and world view that is BASED ON FACTS AND NON-VIOLENCE.

    You seem to completely ignore the point, and for my exit, here is more circular reasoning (like I say, give me a break):
    “To further demonstrate this point, the new atheists could justify any methodology just by pointing out that it was effective in the past.”

    Actually, you are not worth it. I didn’t even graduate high school, and I find your reasoning skills pathetic and dishonest, chris.

  113. #113 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    mik, actually, violence is a pretty frequently used term to refer to particular rhetorical flurishes, shall we say. It’s not like I just made it up.

    Kseniya, I’m not disimssing Sean’s experience. Of course, I have no idea what really happened, and I’m not inclined to believe it was all about atheism, but regardless it is unfortunate. I’m not a fan of violence in any form. If it was just about his atheism, then again, that is terrible, but the plural of anecdote isn’t data. I’m sure you could find an evangelical or two who’s had his or her ass kicked for his or her beliefs. That doesn’t mean Christians are persecuted in this country.

  114. #114 J. J. Ramsey
    April 24, 2007

    “I’m glad you don’t get the crap kicked out of you every time you say “I don’t believe in God,” but the lack of empathy displayed by your casual dismissal of stories such as Sean’s smacks of atheistic discompassion. (Irony intended.) You’re effectively chalking his broken teeth up to ‘unreasoned beliefs.’ Please. That’s one step away from blaming the victim.”

    Seconded. Indeed, I’d say that Sean’s belief that discrimination against atheists exists is thoroughly reality-based. Obviously, it varies for different parts of the country, but it’s out there.

  115. #115 Kevin
    April 24, 2007

    You bash Moran for his reading comprehension, yet right away you completely miss PZ and Larry’s point about the feminist movement, even though you explicitly quoted PZ stating that he wasn’t comparing the struggle of atheists to that of women, slaves, or other minorities. You later tried to clarify it, but your clarification leaves much to be desired.

    While you claim that the “new atheists” use lies and leave out facts, you don’t give anything to further your claim, just say that “it is clear that they are comparing themselves”. Uh, no, it isn’t. Especially when they are careful to explicity say they are not comparing their plight, and then go out of their way to say exactly why they are using the feminist movement.

    Now, what facts do they leave out? Is it Dawkins not attacking some mythical, vague “religion” not practiced by anyone, and instead attacking the religion practiced by the vast majority of society? They certainly aren’t misusing science and lying about results to further atheism.

    You are also disingenuous when you say so hysterically “eradicate religion”, and later compare it to Nazi’s squashing dissent. You come off sounding positively insane when you go off like that. Saying “eradicate religion” makes it sound so much worse then what it is, which is simply educating and allowing for the free expression of ideas in hopes of making people see how illogical their beliefs are. “Eradicate” leaves you with images of machine guns and death camps.

    So, I guess you’ll leave this alone, and in a few months when the hits drop, you’ll have a new hysterical rant against those mean ol’ rich white male “new atheists”, eh?

  116. #116 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    Which parts of the country? I’d bet I’ve spent as much or more time in the Bible belt as anyone here.

    Kevin, it seems odd to claim that PZ isn’t comparing his movement to those other groups when he writes, “When we compare atheists to feminists, the labor movement, gays, or civil rights.” Am I interpreting him too literally here? I know, of course, that he next says that he’s not implying an idenity. Of course, I’ve never said he was. I fail to understand your point, then.

  117. #117 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    Also, Kevin, when someone says they want to rid the world of religion, even if they feel like their goal is “education” and “allowing for the free expression of ideas” (though, apparently, not religious ideas, because the goal is to rid the world of them — if you don’t believe me, check out Moran’s archives), it’s difficult for me to interpret them in the positive light that you do. Perhaps you genuinely believe that they want to rid the world of religion only by convincing people of the error of their ways. But when they are so openly hositle to those ways, I’m dubious.

  118. #118 jtdub
    April 24, 2007

    Wow. A post and thread as hyperbole ridden as this one is has me agreeing with Kevin: this is manufactured controversy to boost flagging Technorati ratings. Of course, Razib does the same thing.

    I mean: “white…middle class…ex-protestant white males… persecution complexes”? Hahahaha. Give me a break.

  119. #119 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    Yes, you guys are right. I love all the extra hits and the one or two extra links, and especially all the Pharyngula sycophants who come here and offer oh so much to the discussion (which, even though most people disagreed with me rather strongly, was at least something like a discussion before the Pharyngula link).

    A more accurate description of my behavior would be this: I post on religion and atheism, because it’s a topic about which I’m passionate, and then after an initially interesting though heated discussion, the post gets inundated with stupid ass comments like, “How can you be in an armchair with your head firmly planted in the sand? Oh nevermind. Your head isn’t in sand, unless you have a load of it up your… Nevermind again. I figured it out.” I then decide it’s not worth it to post about religion anymore, leave it alone for a month or two, and then forget my frustration and come back to it, only to be beaten down by people with no real desire to have a dialogue once again. The only thing that changes is that each time I do it, my tone becomes more hostile and less tolerant. In other words, I’m becoming just like the “new atheists,” and using the tactics they’re now trying so hard to justify.

  120. #120 windy
    April 24, 2007

    “Perhaps you genuinely believe that they want to rid the world of religion only by convincing people of the error of their ways. But when they are so openly hositle to those ways, I’m dubious.”

    Many Sciencebloggers seem openly hostile towards American conservatives, especially their leaders. Obviously they would like nothing better than line them up against the wall *snark*

  121. #121 John B
    April 24, 2007

    “This goal is served by developing non-religious discourse.” Yes, but it’s hard to imagine how to pursue that goal in the current political climate, in which (for example) federal funding agencies are instructed to reduce allocations to secular children’s aid organizations like CARE in favor of increasing allocations to faith-based organizations.

    I agree that it is hard to imagine the pursuit of secularism in your country’s current climate. PZ’s blog, among others, has helped me understand the problems in the US, although not always in precisely the way he intends. If this were my city, my province, I know what I would do, but I’m not comfortable assuming americans would even want the kind of secularism we have here.

    Still, I don’t understand how participating in the erosion of secularism in society is considered a virtuous alternative.

  122. #122 Colugo
    April 24, 2007

    Chris, you may find this interesting: the evolution (or is “conversion” a more apt term?) of one scientist’s views from New Atheism (before the term was commonly used) to a more reconciliationist view.

    In 1998, Massimo Pigliucci criticizes Eugenie Scott’s emphasis on the distinction between metaphysical (philosophical) naturalism and methodological naturalism.
    http://www.rationalists.org/rc/1998_spring/provine-scott.htm

    Pigliucci, 1998: “One problem with Scotts dualism is that, even though technically correct, it smacks of political correctness, or at least lacks philosophical courage.”

    Pigliucci’s rhetoric and reasoning is strikingly similar to Dawkins and Stenger’s:

    Pigliucci, 1998: “Since there is no evidence of any god or supernatural design in the universe, the scientific conclusion has to be that there is none. Unless and until such conclusion is falsified by the available evidence.”

    By 2005, however, Pigliucci has wholly embraced the distinction between metaphysical and methodological naturalism, in effect accepting a truce between science and theism.
    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1369219

    Pigliucci, 2005: “The crucial point here is that scientists are by definition methodological naturalists; however, they do not have any specific commitment to philosophical naturalism aside from their own metaphysical views. In other words, science does not necessarily demand atheism, as feared by the fundamentalists.”

  123. #123 Kseniya
    April 24, 2007

    Chris points out:

    the plural of anecdote isn’t data.

    True! And yet you submit your own personal experiences as evidence that this “oppression” is a myth, the invention of illogic or pathos. If that’s not a dismissal of Sean’s experience, your inclination to deny the accuracy of his own assessment of that experience certainly is. And Sean isn’t the only one speaking up.

    I’ve scrolled up, and I don’t see anywhere where you’ve done anything other than express your opinion – reasonably, for the most part yes, but suddenly you choose to devalue first-hand anecdotal evidence, on the grounds that they’re not verifiable data points? On the grounds that they’re not packaged up in a peer-reviewed study? How convenient.

    In a nutshell:

    Sean: I’ve been discriminated against, personally and professionally, and been the victim of violence, all as a response to my atheism.

    Chris: I doubt that. And anyway, I haven’t been. Therefore, neither have you.

    Huh?

    Perhaps we should review Sean’s experiences. Plural. There’s more to his “anecdote” that simply being beat up outside a redneck bar. He was shunned by girlfriends and their families, even by his own mother, and was dismissed from a job without cause – in every instance, simply for coming out as an atheist. And your saying “It ain’t so” doesn’t make it not so.

    One more time: Discrimination and bias don’t have to be institutionalized to be real.

    I’m sure you could find an evangelical or two who’s had his or her ass kicked for his or her beliefs. That doesn’t mean Christians are persecuted in this country.

    *blink* Huh?

    First I find out there’s no Santa Claus, and now you’re telling me there’s no War on Christmas?

  124. #124 Kseniya
    April 24, 2007

    I’d bet I’ve spent as much or more time in the Bible belt as anyone here.

    You call that an answer? That smacks of evasion. I’m not asking you to give me your address and phone number. Are you having these pleasant experiences in the Bible Belt, where you’ve spent so much time? In southeast Tennessee where those little white churches pop up like mushrooms? Or in Manhattan? Cambridge? Seattle? Muncie? Moose Jaw? Medicine Hat? Biloxi? Pensacola? San Diego? No? How about somewhere in rural Alabama? No? How about Casadega? Dover? Knoxville? Cedar Rapids? San Francisco? Skagway? Maybe omewhere in the India River School District?

    You know what they say: Location, location, location. Really, I’m curious. An approximation will do. A profile will do. Your experience is representative of… what, exactly?

  125. #125 jimmiraybob
    April 24, 2007

    Man, this oppression sucks. It’s a good thing I have you “meanie atheists” looking out for me, or this situation would never change.

    Oh yes, now I see. All of reality is rooted in one man’s experience and his perception of that experience. No oppression to see here, move along…..

  126. #126 steppen wolf
    April 24, 2007

    “First, I think it’s pretty clear that Moran, Myers, and others who’ve run with their analogy are trying to compare themselves to suffragettes and other groups (gay rights, civil rights, labor movements, etc.). It’s a nice and ironic act of framing.”

    Chris, well spotted, it is framing. And the fact that people who pretend to know nothing about framing start, all of a sudden, to use it, might be really feeling like a finger up your…ehm, especially if, as I understand it, you are a believer, you consider yourself a rational person, and you see them belittling you at all times. And they got readers, damn it!

    However, I think your anger has gone a little too far (maybe you did want your comment number to increase, and make them feel like you do). It makes sense to say this is framing, and those of them who think that framing is dishonest – well, then they are dishonest. And if they say they do not understand framing – well, then they were liers.

    But you are attacking en masse atheists who might very well be discriminated. PZ and Myers might not be discriminated (unless PZ is planning to run for office in the U.S., that means), but other atheists are. And they are discriminated very intensely in the U.S., and in other places around the world. We are not suffragettes (I think nobody ever actually said that in their posts?) but we are untrustworthy, immoral nonbelievers. Right? We can vote, and what not, but we gotta “be in the closet” and “be nice” or we get despised and (check what happened at Ryerson University, in Toronto) beaten. In some places, atheism is discriminated even by law.

    It is time for atheists to speak up. PZ, me and others simply do not have an agreement on how to do that as a group.

    Trinifar’s challenge – and those who are picking the challenge up – are trying to discuss that, and in civilized terms. PZ and Moran gave their (framed) opinion. Now it is time to give ours.

    And you can give yours, but please keep it civilized, or you will make yourself as rude as those you “preach” against.

  127. #127 Damien
    April 24, 2007

    “Perhaps you genuinely believe that they want to rid the world of religion only by convincing people of the error of their ways. But when they are so openly hositle to those ways, I’m dubious.”

    Chris, would you like to see the world rid of sexism, racism, anti-gay attitudes, Young Earth Creationism, or Holocaust denial? Would you think it fair for someone to read sinister motives into your wanting to rid the world of racism?

  128. #128 Kent Kauffman
    April 24, 2007

    I haven’t faced the persecution of Sean, but I did lose my job because of my atheism. My coworkers liked to talk about church. I didn’t. I was let go because because of my personality conflict. I was happy to talk about anything besides church, but that wasn’t good enough.

    That was the first and only job I’ve ever been fired from, and the first I’ve ever gotten less than good reviews for my work ethic and personality. It’s also the first were religion came up in workplace conversation. So, yeah, I might not be facing a lynching around the corner, but discrimination still exists.

    Oh, and this job was in Research Triangle Park, in biotech, not in the rural midwest. But, I’m white, have a protestant background, and though I’m lower class from being unemployed, I’m sure I can make my way up to middle class, so then I too shouldn’t be allowed to say anything about my past experiences or anyone elses.

  129. #129 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    Damien, I would think that if someone says, “all religious people are stupid and irrational,” and then says they want to change beliefs through education, they’re either lying or not very bright. It really has nothing to do with any of those disanalogous belief sets you mention.

  130. #130 Chris
    April 24, 2007

    Kent, sue ‘em.

  131. #131 J. J. Ramsey
    April 24, 2007

    Chris, I think that you are letting Myers and Moran get to you. If they were insisting that atheists were being discriminated against, I doubt you’d be arguing against that position. If it were still true that a Catholic couldn’t get elected president, I doubt that you’d be saying that this wouldn’t constitute a sign of anti-Catholic bigotry. The problem with Myers and Moran isn’t that they have persecution complexes, but that they respond to bigotry with bigotry in return.

  132. #132 J. J. Ramsey
    April 24, 2007

    Arrgh! That should read “If they weren’t insisting that atheists were being discriminated against.”

  133. #133 Luna_the_cat
    April 25, 2007

    Chris, saying that you wanted simply to talk about subjects you were passionate on, then starting out by calling names, and then blaming the vitriolic tone of comments and supposed disintegration of discussion on a link from Pharyngula, and focusing on the few (inevitable) substanceless rude comments and ignoring all the comments with substantive points and discussion in order to claim that “the post gets inundated with stupid ass comments”.

    Seriously, you’re kind of acting like a troll. On your own blog no less, but geez. At the very least, you should acknowledge that you very much set the tone for the start of this. And you’re being a bit whiny about it now.

  134. #134 MartinM
    April 25, 2007

    PZ and Myers might not be discriminated (unless PZ is planning to run for office in the U.S., that means), but other atheists are

    This seems to be a fairly common sentiment here. When exactly did it become acceptable to discriminate against someone if it turns out that whatever you’re denying them is something they didn’t actually want anyway? If your daughter is told that she can’t study science because it’s a boy’s subject, is it only discrimination if she wanted to study science? If half the US population have prejudged me as unfit for office without knowing a damn thing about me, is it only prejudice if I want to run for office?

    On a side note, I’m unfit for office in the US on account of…you know, not actually being a US citizen or living there. But still.

  135. #135 John B
    April 25, 2007

    As people have already mentioned, it’s not discrimination that you wouldn’t be elected. People are allowed to vote for whoever they want. I hate to pound away on the same drum, but by demanding public recognition and acceptance of your religious beliefs (or lack of them) you are facilitating this state of affairs.

    On a side note, I wanted to ask people if they think the ‘rudeness’ involved in this discussion is tied to its medium. Lots of people have referenced the rudeness of some atheists and religious people, but whenever I see/hear Meyers or Dawkins speak in public they are reasonable and, if firm, fairly respectful of differing views. I have noticed in my own students a tendency to be fairly bombastic in emails and discussion boards but otherwise, when face to face with people, calm if not shy.

    It’s my feeling that there’s something about the anonimity, distance and text-based nature of online discussions that makes people a lot braver and more hasty than in normal conversation. I wonder how much that affects how these comment threads unfold.

  136. #136 MartinM
    April 25, 2007

    As people have already mentioned, it’s not discrimination that you wouldn’t be elected. People are allowed to vote for whoever they want.

    So if a large number of people vote against a black candidate for no reason other than the fact that he’s black, that’s not discrimination? Bollocks.

  137. #137 Kseniya
    April 25, 2007

    JohnB wrote:

    People are allowed to vote for whoever they want.

    Absolutely true. It is neither illegal to decline to vote for someone because they are {female | Jewish | African-American | Catholic | atheist} nor to openly state the reason why. Does it betray bias? Of course. Is it discrimination? Certainly. Is it proof of institutionalized discrimination against the group in question? No.

    It it counter-productive to address the root cause of the demonstrated bias, when the bias extends beyond the realm of politics and sparks social stigmatization, emotional disconnect from family, and assault and battery?

    Is actively addressing the root cause of a bias equivalent to demanding public recognition and acceptance of ones individual beliefs?

    Note that nowhere on this page have I demanded recognition and acceptance of whatever my religious beliefs may be. I have not even stated what they are. Does this surprise you? Have you made the obvious (but not necessarily correct) assumption about me? Have I said, “The world must recognize and accept the atheism of individuals X, Y and Z?” Or have I said, “The world must recognize that atheism does not equate to, nor does it lead to, amorality, discompassion, sociopathy or genocide?”

    You know how strongly I agree with your views on secularlism, John, but I must tell you something that you may not know: There are very few elected officials in America who have “demanded public recognition and acceptance” of their atheism. Very few have even admitted to atheism. The most recent individual to do so is close to retirement. Note that character-assassination of this individual began within days of his disclosure. Contrast with the ostensibly mandatory and shameless declarations of Godliness displayed by nearly every other politician at every level.

    In short, I don’t think it’s reasonable to charge atheists with complicity in the problems which result from the “demand” you correctly identify and criticize. Not in the realm of politics, anyway.

    It’s my feeling that there’s something about the anonimity, distance and text-based nature of online discussions that makes people a lot braver and more hasty than in normal conversation. I wonder how much that affects how these comment threads unfold.

    Oh, there’s no question in my mind that you are right. Lack of something as simple as eye-contact, and lack of any real social consequence for calling someone a Torelian Mindslug, or an asshole, make it soooo much easier to do so.

    Also, of course our minds impose “tone” on text that matches what we imagine the writer was feeling as they wrote – and what we imagine may not be correct. For example, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Chris read the tone of my most recent comments as something other than “spirited” … But if so, the fault would be mine, for that sort of misapprehension usually stems from a fault not in the reading, but the writing.

  138. #138 John B
    April 25, 2007

    Contrast with the ostensibly mandatory and shameless declarations of Godliness displayed by nearly every other politician at every level.

    In short, I don’t think it’s reasonable to charge atheists with complicity in the problems which result from the “demand” you correctly identify and criticize. Not in the realm of politics, anyway.

    As I was reviewing my last comment (unfortunately after posting it) I thought that ‘you’ in “you are facilitating this state of affairs” is not fair. I do understand that, for many people, this new urge to promote atheism and philosophical naturalism as anti-religion is less a matter of pushing their own beliefs on people, and more pushing back against a real imposition: real individual experiences, real cultural norms, real political issues.

    I think, in part, I am still reacting to what i saw in one of my first experiences with a Pharyngula thread, in a thread on scientists and religion. I’m still reacting to the worst of the anti-religious rhetoric, I think. Still trying to resist the trends of exclusion, derision, arrogance, and absolutism that I think are so damaging.

    This is not an issue on a political/social level, but purely a critique of the internal discourse that occurs on sites promoting an athiest view for a largely atheist readership. Maybe you can see the kind of ‘demand’ I meant in the thread linked to above. The demand that people fall in line, the demand that particular private commitments become the topic of public dissection and ridicule… For all that it makes me seem like an ‘appeaser’ who is supporting the ‘privelege’ granted to religious belief in society, really my interest is in protecting my own right to be wrong, to explore seemingly insane ideas, to change my mind.

    I couldn’t be more against the infiltration of religious rhetoric into your public and political sphere. The promotion of secularism makes some demands of its own. It demands all public or civic issues be dealt with in non-religious terms, it dismisses religious commitment as inappropriate ground for public action, or political affiliation. It demands that the language of public debate be one that people of any background can engage with, either in agreement or dissent. You know all this, I assume. Despite the compartmentalization involved, the relativism, the ‘privilege’ granted to private belief, somehow secularism manages to be a much larger threat to religous belief than anti-religion can ever be (what people have called: “the problem of modernity”)

    I don’t, for a minute, think promoting secularism is a solution to the problem of religious extremism. Some would say taken-for-granted 20th century secularism was the cause of the current politicization of religious identity. I don’t know what effects a new, deliberate, sensitive secularism could achieve.

    Also, I could be entirely wrong. It could be that engaging in direct polemics will result in the defeat of religion. I just wonder if the victory of atheism, accomplished in this way, will be any better than its defeat would be.

    Sorry for the long ramble.
    JB

  139. #139 Chris
    April 25, 2007

    John B, no need to apologize. You’re engaging in discussion, and compared to some of these comments (including some of my own), that’s a very good thing.

    Luna, Moran being a first class asshole with a reading comprehension problem is something I’m passionate about, as well :).

    Martin, I’m going to list some groups whose members I would never vote for, simply because they are members of those groups (i.e., not knowing anything else about the people):

    • The KKK
    • Church of Christ
    • Nazarenes
    • Pentecostals
    • Seventh Day Adventists
    • Jehova’s Witnesses
    • Scientologists
    • Any of the various Stalinist groups that still hang around (this despite the fact that my political sentiments are basically Marxist)
    • There are others, as well, but that’s a good start. I wouldn’t discriminate against members of those groups in any other way, except possibly not dating them or making an occasional joke. Like, did you hear the one about the Catholic who gets to heaven, and is being given a tour by St. Peter? They get to a large wall, and the Catholic says to Peter, “What’s on the other side of the wall?” Peter replies, “Oh, yeah, that’s where we keep the Church of Christ people.” Drum taps, please.

      If I were a betting man, I’d say that there are groups whose members you wouldn’t vote for either. Probably some on my list. If that’s the only real or systematic discrimination a group faces, then it doesn’t really have much of a beef. Sure, it’s great to fight against stereotypes, and perhaps if I learned more about Nazarenes, I would vote for one (oh who am I kidding, I’ve known plenty of them, and I wouldn’t even vote for the ones I considered friends). But pretending that I’m fighting against negative beliefs about atheists because I am discriminated or repressed would be a lie, because I’m not, and I’d bet a lot of money that none of you are either, isolated stories (about which we don’t have much information) notwithstanding.

  140. #140 J. J. Ramsey
    April 25, 2007

    Chris: “I’m going to list some groups whose members I would never vote for, simply because they are members of those groups (i.e., not knowing anything else about the people)”

    There is a big difference between

    1) not voting for someone because their membership in a group is a good predictor of their own position, and

    2) not voting for someone because they are a member of a group unfairly regarded as some bogeyman.

    Being a member of the KKK is a good indicator that one is a racist. Being an atheist isn’t much of an indicator of anything.

    “But pretending that I’m fighting against negative beliefs about atheists because I am discriminated or repressed would be a lie, because I’m not, and I’d bet a lot of money that none of you are either, isolated stories (about which we don’t have much information) notwithstanding.”

    Most of us probably don’t want to test whether we’d be discriminated against if our atheism were well known, and those “isolated stories” are a good motivation not to try.

  141. #141 Chris
    April 25, 2007

    J.J., Ummm… no. I wouldn’t vote for members of those groups because they harbor beliefs that are fundamentally at odds with my moral and political views. I suspect that for many, if not most, of the people in this country, a lack of belief in God amounts to the same thing.

  142. #142 Chris' Wills
    April 26, 2007

    Because they see all atheists as being bad people and I would suggest that calling a religious person an idiot is unlikely to change their mind

    In other words, the problem is simple bigotry. Which would be precisely my point.
    Posted by: MartinM | April 24, 2007 10:20 AM

    Correct, if atheists (I mean the ones most often quoted, not all) weren’t bigotted in their beliefs about theists the problem might not be as bad.

    What would be your default opinion about someone who called you a moron & idiot without ever having met you?
    How likely would you be to vote for that person or someone claiming to be from the same party/grouping?

  143. #143 Dan S.
    April 26, 2007

    Tangentially Dan S.

    April 26, 2007

    Oops – messed up the italics. Sorry.

    Anyway, Chris Wills, my impression is that part of the reason for the, ah, uncompromising language basically involves a crude kind of ~peer pressure – the idea that if folks hear many voices loudly mocking religion, the moderate or not-strongly-committed ones will lean towards going along with what they perceive to be the strong and forceful side.

    But I may have misunderstood, or overgeneralized. At least, I hope I have.

  144. #145 Chris' Wills
    April 26, 2007

    If you stand for election and don’t win why decide it is because you are an atheist?
    Perchance you are going bald and your opponent had a full head of hair, it may shock you to realise that looks matter in elections.
    Or, shock horror, perhaps the electorate didn’t agree with your agenda.

    With all due respect, that’s like saying “if you try to get an apartment in a new building and get turned away, why decide it’s because you’re black?”

    Or, “if you apply for funding for new equipment and get rejected, why decide it’s because you’re female?

    Well I couldn’t do either as I am neither.
    But as, you say, I couldn’t make the assumption from one case.

    In any one given incident, you can’t make a determination based on that information alone. However, the two things that can make a difference are (1) having more information about relative merit, and (2) discerning a statistical pattern over many individual incidents.

    We don’t have (1), agreed. But we certainly have (2). How many in proportion to how many atheists there are thought to be in the general population? (Seems to be 1-5%, depending on who you talk to.) How many open atheists are elected to public office in the US? (I could only find one: Rep. Pete Stark.)

    How many politicians have openly espoused atheism whilst running for election?
    Now, if we had an elected official who went into the next election after coming out as an atheist and they lost badly whilst their party wasn’t losing badly then you would have a strong case that is was a deciding factor, assuming that s/he hadn’t been caught stealing.

    I’ve seen repeated in a number of news stories the result of polls which indicated that over 50% of Americans would refuse to vote for an openly atheist presidential candidate, solely because of the fact that he didn’t believe in God and regardless of any other qualification or stance.

    There were people who said that they wouldn’t vote for a papist in the 60s, Kennedy won. Don’t think another RC has been elected since, but I wouldn’t claim that was because people won’t vote for a Catholic.

    I’d say, there is a good argument that the dice are loaded on this one, and that if someone points to it as a deciding issue, he has at least a good chance of being right.
    Posted by: Luna_the_cat

    The dice may be loaded, but the issue to be addressed is why do the hoi-polloi have this immediate distrust of atheists, especially given that atheists aren’t a homogeneous group. I don’t think that it will be resolved by militancy or affirmative action.

  145. #146 J. J. Ramsey
    April 26, 2007

    “J.J., Ummm… no. I wouldn’t vote for members of those groups because they harbor beliefs that are fundamentally at odds with my moral and political views.”

    How does that conflict with the statements that I made about not voting for someone because that person’s membership in a group is a good predictor of his/her own position? You don’t vote for a KKK member because being a KKK member is a very good predictor that one is racist.

    What beliefs do atheists harbor that are fundamentally at odds with one’s moral and political views? Considering that the moral and political beliefs of atheists are all over the map, this question has no well-defined answer, something that could not be said for the question “What beliefs do KKK members harbor that are fundamentally at odds with one’s moral and political views?”

  146. #147 Chris' Wills
    April 27, 2007
    “Yes, most religions do claim to answer the why questions. Yes, the answers given by FSM may be equally valid.

    In none of these cases are they scientific answers.”

    Let’s study them then. If they can’t be studied, the don’t say why…..
    Posted by: Brian | April 24

    We ask “why?” because that is what humans do.
    The fact that science isn’t designed to answer the why question is the reason we have philosophy.
    If one believes that only scientific questions are valid then yes, don’t ask why.

  147. #148 Chris' Wills
    April 27, 2007

    Anyway, Chris Wills, my impression is that part of the reason for the, ah, uncompromising language basically involves a crude kind of ~peer pressure – the idea that if folks hear many voices loudly mocking religion, the moderate or not-strongly-committed ones will lean towards going along with what they perceive to be the strong and forceful side.

    Well if they believe this then my guess is that they would lose both the thoughful & those who care about rational discourse.

    But I may have misunderstood, or overgeneralized. At least, I hope I have.

    Posted by: Dan S. | April 26

    It would answer a lot, but as you I hope this isn’t their reasoning.

  148. #149 Eve
    May 7, 2007

    Hear hear!

    I unsubscribed from PZ about a month ago because I couldn’t take the constant whining and the persecution complex.

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