Pharyngula

Ed Brayton and Mike Gene have gone over the top in accusing Richard Dawkins of wanting to coerce the religious into giving up their beliefs; as is usual for Ed, he has no problem immediately comparing an atheist to R.J. Rushdooney and calling him a totalitarian, on the basis of a rather poorly written petition that Dawkins signed.

I must say, though, that this petition is certainly strange, and I don’t quite see how it could have gotten over a 1000 signatories. I sure don’t approve of it, although I can understand the motivation behind it.

In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought.

I was suspicious immediately. For one thing, Mike Gene pulls a bait-and-switch that Ed fell for without question: he claims that Dawkins endorsed this petition on his website. This is not true. There is a different petition from the same group that is endorsed at richarddawkins.net, which encourages the removal of government support for faith-based schools. There is no link anywhere on that site to the controversial petition (Wait—there is a single link without comment in a list of petitions; Mike Gene was not pulling a bait-and-switch, he was just elevating the significance of the link). When an ID creationist pulls something that sneaky, it’s a good idea to think twice.

For another, the first comment on that article is from Dawkins himself, saying “There is value in Religious Education, including Comparative Religion”. Hmmm…that outright contradicts the anti-indoctrination petition. Perhaps if Mike Gene or Ed Brayton had actually read a little farther they might have noticed a discrepancy with their uncharitable interpretation?

Now I also have the advantage of having actually read The God Delusion, which is a little unfair to Ed, who has not, yet is happy to condemn its author. I’ve also talked very briefly with Dawkins on this subject. I know that religious indoctrination is a major concern, and it is a serious problem with no practical resolution in sight. Dawkins discusses it in his book, and no, he does not propose policing religious people to make sure that they do not teach their children prayers at night. In fact, his specific proposal is to go the other way — to see that more comparative religion is taught.

A good case can indeed be made for the huge educational
benefits of teaching comparative religion. Certainly my own doubts
were first aroused, at the age of about nine, by the lesson (which
came not from school but from my parents) that the Christian
religion in which I was brought up was only one of many mutually
incompatible belief-systems. Religious apologists themselves realize
this and it often frightens them. After that nativity play story in the
Independent, not a single letter to the editor complained of
the religious labelling of the four-year-olds. The only negative letter
came from ‘The Campaign for Real Education’, whose spokesman,
Nick Seaton, said multi-faith religious education was extremely
dangerous because ‘Children these days are taught that all religions
are of equal worth, which means that their own has no special
value.’ Yes indeed; that is exactly what it means. Well might this
spokesman worry. On another occasion, the same individual said,
‘To present all faiths as equally valid is wrong. Everybody is entitled
to think their faith is superior to others, be they Hindus, Jews,
Muslims or Christians — otherwise what’s the point in having
faith?’

What indeed? And what transparent nonsense this is! These
faiths are mutually incompatible. Otherwise what is the point of
thinking your faith superior? Most of them, therefore, cannot be
‘superior to others’. Let children learn about different faiths, let
them notice their incompatibility, and let them draw their own con-
clusions about the consequences of that incompatibility. As for
whether any are ‘valid’, let them make up their own minds when
they are old enough to do so.

It’s all very peculiar. What to do? The obvious thing: I wrote to Dawkins and told him that this particular petition was awfully sloppy and open to nefarious interpretation and asked if he really signed it.

His reply was that yes, he had signed it, but only because he had read just the short version, which mentions opposition to religious indoctrination, a position he shares. When informed of the full text, he agrees that it was a mistake and has asked to have his name removed from it. He has publicly disavowed the petition in a comment on Brayton’s site (yes, I can confirm that that actually is Dawkins), and has also deplored the further misquotation of his comments.

Simple summary: Richard Dawkins does not believe in coercing religious people, and he does not endorse any kind of totalitarian action to separate children from religious instruction. He also does not have horns and a forked tail. Some people, though, are awfully quick to use their ignorance to impose outrageous beliefs on the man.

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua
    December 30, 2006

    What will it actually take for Brayton to be recognized as an enemy of your cause? I’ve seen you hint, insinuate, and imply, but I don’t believe you’ve ever actually renounced Brayton pubically, PZ.

    That hasn’t happened because this unthinking zealot characterisation of PZ is completely and demonstrably untrue. Of course, that doesn’t stop these so-called “Chamberlain atheists” from attacking him and Dawkins at every opportunity.

    As I said over at Brayton’s blog, there’s probably not a single gesture more devoid of meaning than a signature on an online petition. And now Dawkins has come out to specifically repudiate that petition. If Brayton had bothered to drop off an e-mail before ranting on the scantest evidence possible, this whole thing would have not been an issue.

    Really, this is just another hole in the “Chamberlain” analogy. It doesn’t work. After all, Chamberlain didn’t make a career out of sniping and criticising the UK government after Churchill replaced him, as far as I know. Popular history likes to paint him as a weakling, now that it has the benefit of hindsight, but even the most uncharitable characterisation of Chamberlain doesn’t make him out to be petty and divisive, which is precisely what these so-called “Chamberlain atheists” have been, time and again.

    It’s pretty clear by now that the term is an insult to Chamberlain. (As well as, yeah, completely historically inaccurate, but we all already knew that.)

  2. #2 TheChristianCynic
    December 30, 2006

    PZ, I believe you may be mistaken. Dawkins actually endorses two different petitions on his site, “Stop indoctrination and labeling of children (UK)” and “Abolish faith schools (UK)”. The former is the petition in question, and it is far from clear that the purposes of the two are incoherent (one wants the government to disallow schools based on faith, the other wants the government to prohibit parents from giving their children regular religious education and labeling them by religion). You can find this on the main page of his official site, below “The God Delusion unabridged audiobook: iTunes (UK) | download (US) | on CD (Amazon.com)” and above “The Blasphemy Challenge”.

  3. #3 andy.s
    December 30, 2006

    Interesting; a link to the petition that he allegedly disavowed is on the main page at http://richarddawkins.net/home

    I also find it interesting that the petition considers 16 to be the minimum age at which you are allowed to take your children to worship.

    So I presume the Brits will soon be arresting parents for having a Bar Mitzvah ceremony for 13 year olds?

  4. #4 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    No, as I think has been made quite plain by now, Dawkins does not support criminalizing religious ceremonies or instruction. Are you willfully stupid, or is this the result of some terrible cranial accident?

  5. #5 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    Dawkins has also plainly said, “I regret signing it, and I admit that I was wrong to do so.”

    Given the past record of how his words are distorted, though, I suspect someone will turn that into an admission that he drinks the blood of Christian babies.

  6. #6 Russell
    December 30, 2006

    PZ, I think you’re letting the tiff between Ed and yourself get the better of your objectivity. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that Ed would publicly criticize what Richard Dawkins publicly posted on his site. Do you really propose the rule that everyone who would do that should first send the author email asking, “is this really what you meant?” Do you follow that rule, before you criticize what you see on other people’s websites? Say a creationist website?

    That’s not how the blogosphere generally works. I’m glad to see that Dawkins didn’t really intent what that petition says. But I don’t think Ed is to blame, for pointing out what it says.

  7. #7 peanut gallery
    December 30, 2006

    Prof. Myers, how exactly do you identify the Richard Dawkins commenter as authentic?

    “I am the Richard Dawkins who wrote The God Delusion (although I don’t see how I can prove it.)”

    Bit theological, isn’t it? :)

  8. #8 TheChristianCynic
    December 30, 2006

    PZ,
    Would you consider retracting your comment about the “bait-and-switch”? Of course, this would be preceded by the acknowledgment that Dawkins has been promoting this on his official web site (sort of a silly thing for him to do without reading it thoroughly, but mistakes happen to the best of us). It’s pretty unfair to say that Mike pulled any such stunt when he accurately relayed the information that anyone could have found right on the main page of Dawkins’ personal site.

  9. #9 stubie
    December 30, 2006

    No, no, no, Dawkins doesn’t drink the blood of christian babies, he doesn’t drink the blood of babies who have been labeled as christian.

  10. #10 Ebonmuse
    December 30, 2006

    I don’t think Ed did anything wrong by discussing the petition. Its wording was pretty clear, which is why I found it hard to believe that Dawkins would actually endorse the position it seemed to be endorsing.

    Nevertheless, PZ did a very good deed by writing to Dawkins and asking him about it (and it probably helps that he has Richard Dawkins’ personal e-mail address! I’m jealous). I’m very glad that the mistake has been corrected; this will hopefully forestall endless iterations of dishonest creationists using it to drag Dawkins’ name through the mud. I do hope Ed posts a correction.

  11. #11 KC
    December 30, 2006

    For another, the first comment on that article is from Dawkins himself, saying “There is value in Religious Education, including Comparative Religion”. Hmmm…that outright contradicts the anti-indoctrination petition. Perhaps if Mike Gene or Ed Brayton had actually read a little farther they might have noticed a discrepancy with their uncharitable interpretation?

    It wouldn’t have helped with Mike Gene. The fact the petition clearly contradicted what Dawkins has been writing and saying for years only reinforces Mike’s delusion that Dawkins has a hidden, authoritarian agenda. For example, when Dawkins said he regretted signing the petition, Mike writes:

    Of course he “regrets it.”

    LOL.

    KC

  12. #12 writerdddd
    December 30, 2006

    “For another, the first comment on that article is from Dawkins himself, saying “There is value in Religious Education, including Comparative Religion”. Hmmm…that outright contradicts the anti-indoctrination petition”

    Sorry PZ. I’m sure you’ve read The God Delusion. I don’t see how you could have missed the point that Dawkins thinks indoctrination is child abuse. Learning ABOUT religions is not even remotely the same thing as being indoctrinated into a religion.

  13. #13 sharon
    December 30, 2006

    I’m sorry, PZ, but you’re wrong. That petition (as well as the other one) is indeed linked at Dawkins’ site right at this moment (and moreover has been there for long enough to be cached by Google). They’re at the top of his homepage in clear view.

  14. #14 Orac
    December 30, 2006

    Simple summary: Richard Dawkins does not believe in coercing religious people, and he does not endorse any kind of totalitarian action to separate children from religious instruction. He also does not have horns and a forked tail. Some people, though, are awfully quick to use their ignorance to impose outrageous beliefs on the man.

    Let me propose an even simpler summary, PZ: Dawkins was too freakin’ careless to bother to read the whole petition before he affixed his signature to it, and his carelessness came back to bite him. True, he did the right thing by disavowing the petition, but, quite frankly, from my perspective he has no one but himself to blame for signing it in the first place and deserves to get some egg on his face for his mistake.

  15. #15 George
    December 30, 2006

    Ed: The atheist dystopia he seems to favor is no less appalling than the Christian dystopia favored by people like RJ Rushdoony.

    That’s an awful thing to say. About Rushlooney:

    Rushdoony was one of the first members of the secretive Council for National Policy, which the Rev. Tim LaHaye and others started to bring right-wing Christians, other conservative activists, and John Birchers together with wealthy patrons willing to fund them. He also served on the board of Dr. Jay Grimstead’s Coalition on Revival (COR), an umbrella group that attempted to bridge the theological differences of competing sects within an increasing emphasis on dominating secular institutions.

    A Rushlooney quote: “Democracy is the great love of the failures and cowards of life.”

    Take it back, Ed. Dawkins is a reasonable human being. Rushlooney was a fanatical nutcase.

  16. #16 Orac
    December 30, 2006

    PZ, I think you’re letting the tiff between Ed and yourself get the better of your objectivity. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that Ed would publicly criticize what Richard Dawkins publicly posted on his site. Do you really propose the rule that everyone who would do that should first send the author email asking, “is this really what you meant?” Do you follow that rule, before you criticize what you see on other people’s websites? Say a creationist website?

    That’s not how the blogosphere generally works. I’m glad to see that Dawkins didn’t really intent what that petition says. But I don’t think Ed is to blame, for pointing out what it says.

    I have to agree here. Even though, my B.S. detecting antennae started twitching a bit when I read Ed’s post, leading me to wonder if there was more to the story than what Ed posted, I see nothing wrong with his having pointed out that Dawkins signed the petition and what that petition said. Yes, Ed could have tried to contact Dawkins and asked him if he really endorsed the petition, but this is the blogosphere. Who does that, except when it’s one’s friends who screwed up and whom you want to defend? Indeed, I doubt PZ would have gone to the trouble he did to contact Dawkins if Dawkins were not someone he considers a friend and whom he admires.

    And Sharon is correct. There are a links to both petitions right at the very top of Dawkins’ home page.

  17. #17 TWood
    December 30, 2006

    As of the writing of this post both petitions are still on Dawkins site. There are two links in a single line of text. There was no bait and switch, but it’s all irrelevant now anyway since Dawkins retracted support.

    http://i18.photobucket.com/albums/b113/tomwood2/religion/dawkinspetitions.jpg

  18. #18 Caledonian
    December 30, 2006

    Ah, but is Brayton criticizing Dawkins for being sloppy in signing the petition, or is he criticizing Dawkins for supporting the causes listed in the petition?

    Seeing as the rest of the petition supports ideas that contradict much of what Dawkins has said in the past, using this as evidence that Dawkins seeks a totalitarian atheist state seems rather a stretch.

  19. #19 Orac
    December 30, 2006

    So isn’t it time for people to stop assigning opinions to him that he does not hold? It’s fine to accuse him of hastiness and sloppiness, but we’ve got people saying he wants to erect an atheist dystopia, shares fundamentalist attitudes with Christian Dominionists, and wants to coerce religious people into repudiating their beliefs.

    Prior to Dawkins’ disavowal of the petitions he signed, it was not entirely unreasonable to accuse him of such attitudes, based on the wording of the petitions that he signed, petitions that he clearly endorsed, as evidenced by his prominently placing links to them near the very top of his own home page.

    So, yes, now that he’s retracted his support of the petition, it’s time to stop accusing Dawkins of such views, but Dawkins did get caught being embarrassingly careless and sloppy. Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing, and makes me wonder about him a bit, given other episodes of sloppy thinking, such as his continued use of the excruciatingly bad historical analogy known as the “Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists” gambit, which, to my knowledge, he’s never disavowed.

  20. #20 peanut gallery
    December 30, 2006

    Dawkins miswrote, Brayton misrant, PZ misattack’d. Time for apologies and clarifactions all around!

  21. #21 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    Who does that, except when it’s one’s friends who screwed up and whom you want to defend?

    How about someone who has actually read the guy’s book and sees that the sentiments therein do not bear out the accusation that he’s out to establish a Rushdooneyesque atheist fascist state? It would be presumptuous to call Dawkins a friend, but I can tell when someone with whom I share many attitudes is being grossly misrepresented.

    When I ran across the petition last night, I also prepared some comments where I would plainly reject it — I didn’t have to post them because Dawkins himself was very prompt about it, as I expected he would. There’s just no factual basis anywhere to this idea that Dawkins favors legal coercion to interfere with parental rights — while deploring religious indoctrination, he’s also always been quick to say that he finds any mechanism to block it even more intolerable — so that ought to make one wonder about that petition. It fit with Ed’s bigotry, though, so he ran with it.

  22. #22 Observer
    December 30, 2006

    I agree with Orac – Richard Dawkins simply screwed up. Whether it was hasty fervor, carelessness or whatever, the only noble thing is to accept the goof, clarify (as he’s done) and move on…and be more careful in the future. He should also remove the link to that totalitarian poll from his site immediately. Who thought of that poll? It’s so counterproductive I’m embarrassed if it was an atheist who thought of it.

    That being said, I got The God Delusion for Xmas from my religious sister – yay, I’m reading it now. :-)

  23. #23 peanut gallery
    December 30, 2006

    “Seeing as the rest of the petition supports ideas that contradict much of what Dawkins has said in the past, using this as evidence that Dawkins seeks a totalitarian atheist state seems rather a stretch.”

    That seems unfair to me. To someone who knows Dawkins well and is familiar with his positions (such as PZ), yes, it is unreasonable. But to someone coming in from outside, like many of the readers of this blog and that, the wording of the petition was clear, and rather damningly attached Dawkins to an unsavory political position. Unfortunately for him, it’s one he did not actually hold. I suppose after this awful mess of PR, he’ll be far more fastidious with his signature.

  24. #24 Jim in STL
    December 30, 2006

    And I agree with him, this is absolutely evidence that Dawkins does indeed favor coercion to try and stamp out religion. – Ed Brayton

    Brayton brought evidence that in turn was brought to him by someone obviously antagonistic towards Dawkins and then declares the absolute presense of evidence for a conclusion that would seem to reinforce a preconceived bias. At the very least it appears a rush to judgement. It would have been a good idea to test the evidence a bit – I don’t think that a call/email to Dawkins was out of the question.

    It may have been good bloginess to charge ahead and post such a strong, and certain to incite, post but it wasn’t exactly good journalism or science.

  25. #25 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    Orac, read the lengthy quote from The God Delusion that I included in the article above, in which Dawkins’ remedy is to encourage more instruction of comparative religion in the schools. Anybody who had read the book would know that while calling the labeling of children as religious was abuse, he did not propose any totalitarian steps to correct the problem…unless education is now a tool of dictators.

    Brayton’s only excuse is gross ignorance. He’s got a nice fantasy image of the Great Godless Tyrant Dawkins built up in his head, though, formed out of his own distaste for atheists, and we certainly can’t disabuse him of that.

  26. #26 peanut gallery
    December 30, 2006

    Anybody who had read the book would know that while calling the labeling of children as religious was abuse, he did not propose any totalitarian steps to correct the problem…unless education is now a tool of dictators.

    This seems unfair to me. Isn’t it okay to expect someone’s statements or signatures to mean what they say, and not what they should-have-said-if-you-only-new-the-man’s-full-personal-biography? I’m a huge fan of Dawkins, but this appears to be plainly his fault for egregiously misspeaking.

    There *may* be valid criticsm of Brayton as an atheist-phobe (I’m totally unfamiliar with him), but what’s been given in this exchange today certainly doesn’t condemn him as such.

  27. #27 Orac
    December 30, 2006

    How about someone who has actually read the guy’s book and sees that the sentiments therein do not bear out the accusation that he’s out to establish a Rushdooneyesque atheist fascist state?

    I’ve read the guy’s book as well, PZ, plus a lot of other articles he’s written and interviews he’s given. Probably not nearly as much as you have, but still quite a bit. Although I mostly liked The God Delusion, the one argument Dawkins makes that always gave me the creeps and that I see as massive hyperbole is his likening of the religious indoctrination of children to abuse, indeed, here is Dawkins in the chapter “Childhood, Abuse, and Religion” (p. 317):

    Once, in the question time after a lecture in Dublin, I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.

    Also referenced here.

  28. #28 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    And that quote, of course, supports the contention that “Dawkins does indeed favor coercion to try and stamp out religion” and that “The atheist dystopia he seems to favor is no less appalling than the Christian dystopia favored by people like RJ Rushdoony. Both seek to make government the enforcer of their ideological views, to punish those who believe differently or dare to advocate those views.”

    Did you find anything in the book or his interviews to support those claims?

  29. #29 Chris
    December 30, 2006

    Now I’m sure that Dr Dawkins is sorry.

    Though as both the petition links are still up & active on his site I may be incorrect?

  30. #30 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    Dawkins has someone to manage the website, Josh Timonen. It’s a holiday weekend.

  31. #31 Kristjan Wager
    December 30, 2006

    Dawkins has someone to manage the website, Josh Timonen. It’s a holiday weekend.

    I was going to comment on the fact that people seem to be of the impression that people like Dawkins make their own changes to their websites. That’s not how it usually works.

  32. #32 plunge
    December 30, 2006

    Yet again, another scuffle. And people like me, who appreciate both Ed and PZ’s thoughts quite a lot, are left scratching our heads at the huge degree of personal enmity between these two guys, who agree on like 99% of everything important.

    I certainly hope and expect that Brayton will post a follow-up and maybe even an apology for jumping the gun in assuming that Dawkins could not have made a mistake or misjudgment, which was uncharitable… but then, it’s not like PZ is particularly charitable with Brayton either. There’s a lot of uncharitability going around. Dawkins screwed up, and like any good scientist, acted fast to correct his error when notified of it.

    Given that trolls like Dembski and DaveScot are going to spend the rest of their careers ignoring that part of it and trumpeting Dawkin’s supposed support for SWAT raids on youth Bible study groups, I would hope that the bloggers that know better will still be able to move on from each other and keep combating the real asses.

  33. #33 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    Don’t count on Ed to back down. In email, he’s trying to tell me that he has been confirmed to be absolutely right in his original post, that “Dawkins does indeed favor coercion to try and stamp out religion” and that “The atheist dystopia he seems to favor is no less appalling than the Christian dystopia favored by people like RJ Rushdoony. Both seek to make government the enforcer of their ideological views, to punish those who believe differently or dare to advocate those views.”

    Those, apparently, are 100% accurate explanations of the Militant Atheist Position.

  34. #34 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    Let’s look at the facts:

    1. The text of the petition IS obviously totalitarian. The fact that Mike Gene is the one who brought it to our attention made me initially suspicious, but he’s entirely right that signing it is unconscionable.

    2. Dawkins DID link to the petition on his site without comment, which can be reasonably interpreted as an endorsement of it….in addition, you know, to the fact that he signed it.

    3. Ed entirely reasonably concluded that in signing the petition, Dawkins endorsed what it says– which amounts to endorsing anti-religious totalitarianism.

    4. There is absolutely no reason why Ed must first read Dawkins’ book in order to conclude the above.

    Not being privy to the emails you two send each other, we’re in no position to rule on them….but quite frankly, the reports from both of you sound rather less than mature. Why don’t you agree to stop sniping at each other and go on with life?

  35. #35 plunge
    December 30, 2006

    PZ, given that both of you routinely claim to be misrepresented by the other, I don’t want to get involved in trying to judge either of your reports about what the other claims. I don’t trust either of you when it comes to talking about each other. That’s not meant to be a slight against you, but rather a pragmatic position of just not wanting to get into a subject where you guys have all sorts of private information that I can’t judge.

    In any cae, personally, I’d like to see: Ed update and react and restate his position on Dawkin’s retraction. He needs to do this and I’ll be far more inclined to agree with you about him if he continues to refuse to do so.

    I also think that Dawkins could really use a much clearer (mostly by which I mean: a shorter and direct statement that brooks no coy interpretation of his many many writings) explanation on his behalf than he’s already given, less for Ed’s claims than the claims the Telic Thoughts people are still making about him and no doubt whom other ID people will continue to do.

  36. #36 Scott Hatfield
    December 30, 2006

    At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, it almost seems as if Dr. Dawkins was set up with the intent of providing a future ‘gotcha’ for creationists: you know, along the lines of, ‘Richard Dawkins and other evolutionary biologists, if they had their way, would prevent you from bringing up a child in your faith.’

    Let us hope that this was simply a series of honest mistakes by skeptics. It would be just the kind of filthy, underhanded tactic employed by professional creationists.

  37. #37 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006
  38. #38 Chris
    December 30, 2006

    >I was going to comment on the fact that people seem to be of the impression that people like Dawkins make their own changes to their websites. That’s not how it usually works.

    Posted by: Kristjan Wager | December 30, 2006 02:17 PM>

    I apologise for not realising that Dr Dawkins is somehow different from other people.
    Though I do take PZs point that it is a holiday weekend, something I had forgotten.

  39. #39 Caledonian
    December 30, 2006

    Posted by Brayton:

    He has now repudiated his signature on that petition and admitted that he made a mistake, but that fact supports my post – I said it was wrong to support that petition and he now agree.

    So because Dawkins agrees with one of the minor points in Brayton’s original post – that signing the petition was bad – Brayton’s entire post is supported, including the parts where he accuses Dawkins of favoring a totalitarian atheist state.

    Does that seem right to you?

  40. #40 doctorgoo
    December 30, 2006

    PZ, you are incorrect on your interpretation of Brayton’s position.

    Brayton simply said that at the time he wrote his article, all the information he had indicated that Dawkins believed that government coersion is appropriate. (As Gretchen indicated above, his logic was correct)

    Now that Dawkins clarified his position, Brayton HAS backed off on his accusations. But for some reason, you think he hasn’t.

    I think you both need to calm down and think before you post.

  41. #41 Observer
    December 30, 2006

    Ed posted based on what it appeared Dawkins endorsed. Dr. Dawkins has expressed regret over his hasty fervor in signing the poll. Ed has posted a new post linking Dawkins’s apology, but in the same breath accuses PZ of lying. PZ has posted in hasty fervor, too.

    As an observer, this is unattractive, to say the least. Did everyone have too much coffee today? Please don’t let past disagreements cloud every new post. It is what it is – move on and stop throwing mud at eachother.

    I doubt Dawkins will ever sign a poll hastily again! :-)

  42. #42 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    People keep saying Brayton has backed off his accusations against Dawkins. This is simply not true. All he has said is that Dawkins retraction confirms that he was entirely correct in his complaints about the petition in the original post.

    Where I come from, an announcement that “I was right!” does not constitute anything that could be called a retraction.

    And no, his logic was not valid. The original petition — I quoted it in the article above — is a vague, sloppy, impracticable bit of wishful thinking, not a call for jackboots and a prayer police. If it is, then this…

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace

    …is a nightmarish demand for the troops to blow up the churches.

    Arguing that it would require a police state to enforce does not mean that the author was dreaming of oppression, merely that they were not thinking about implementation.

  43. #43 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    All he has said is that Dawkins retraction confirms that he was entirely correct in his complaints about the petition in the original post.

    If Ed’s complaints were not valid, then there presumably wouldn’t have been a need for Dawkins to make his retraction. In his retraction, Dawkins says “In any case, like any decent liberal, I am opposed to the element of government coercion in the wording.” It is the element of government coercion which so sparked Ed’s ire in the first place, and therefore Dawkins did vindicate Ed for having complained as he did.

  44. #44 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    You aren’t getting it. Brayton was correct to complain about the petition, and in my email to Dawkins I told him that I thought it was a terrible idea myself. What you don’t seem to understand is that Dawkins also thinks coercion is intolerable, which is why he was quick to withdraw his support, so all of Brayton’s fantasies that Dawkins favors a totalitarian anti-religious state were false. He has not retracted those.

  45. #45 Caledonian
    December 30, 2006

    And that’s why Dawkins rejected it.

    You’re not introducing new facts. So what exactly is your point?

  46. #46 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    What you don’t seem to understand is that Dawkins also thinks coercion is intolerable, which is why he was quick to withdraw his support

    Of course I understand that– that’s precisely my point. Dawkins apparently didn’t read the petition closely enough to recognize its coercive nature. Ed did, and pointed it out. Dawkins then recognized this and retracted his endorsement, thus proving Ed right.

    so all of Brayton’s fantasies that Dawkins favors a totalitarian anti-religious state were false. He has not retracted those.

    Ed’s complaints were entirely accurate at the time he made them, and he has since acknowledged that Dawkins retracted his endorsement and therefore presumably did not mean to give it. I don’t know what more you could possibly want.

  47. #47 Observer
    December 30, 2006

    Respectfully, PZ, any stranger that looked at the inane poll and saw that Dawkins signed it would think Dawkins endorsed government coercion…I certainly would. Ed jumped on that. Presumably there is past baggage with Ed, and perhaps he “relished” some confirmation of thinking Dawkins is a Militant Atheist – I don’t know – but he accepted Dawkins’s retraction. At face value his post and response to Dawkins’s mea culpa is just fine. He doesn’t need to go back and say “I falsely accused Dawkins” because it was Dawkins’s fault for the impression he gave everyone by signing the poll in the first place. And Dawkins graciously expressed his regret on the matter. As someone said, thankfully, unlike some Creationists, Dawkins is willing to say he goofed. Intellectual integrity…

  48. #48 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    Yes, there is baggage there. Brayton loathes atheists, and would like to see them silenced.

    I see that you’re not, in fact, very attached to your credibility. That’s disappointing. It’s a shame that Dawkins would encourage his readership to go to the blog of someone who apparently would rather senselessly attack people than maintain some integrity and concern for the truth. I’ve long quibbled with Ed for being too abrasive about people he disagrees with, but I place name-calling at least a little above outright lying. Best of luck, from an atheist Ed has never tried to silence.

  49. #49 Chris Chandler
    December 30, 2006

    Ed’s complaints were entirely accurate at the time he made them, and he has since acknowledged that Dawkins retracted his endorsement and therefore presumably did not mean to give it. I don’t know what more you could possibly want.

    I think the broader issue is Brayton’s irritating affection for hyperbolic, self-righteous tantrums. Pointing out that the petition is a steaming pile of dung is one thing, but the ease with which he transitions from there to the assertion that the whole episode confirms Dawkins to be a hardcore totalitarian lunatic is pretty disgusting, no matter how many weasel-word qualifiers he bolts onto the accusations to cover his ass.

    It really doesn’t take more than a passing familiarity with Dawkins to realize that the likelihood of him endorsing a statist solution to the religion “problem” is virtually nil. Frankly, Ed comes off as being suspiciously credulous on this one.

  50. #50 Gerard Harbison
    December 30, 2006

    General comment:

    I’m so tired of this ‘gotcha’ style of blogging. Richard Dawkins views on religion are no secret and are accessible to anyone who cares to pick up his books and read them. There is no credible case to be made that he is an authoritarian. That Ed Brayton, an intelligent and often insightful writer, is now stooping to this sort of thing is a sign how bad it’s all gotten.

    Once again, let me cite Daniel Dennett’s maxim on iontellectual honesty. Before you sit down and criticize anyone’s written text, you are first honor-bound to give that text the most generous possible reading, seeking to put the most favorable possible construction on what he/she wrote. And Dennett, in my experience, lives by that maxim.

    I have said all this and more on Ed’s blog.

  51. #51 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    Tut, tut, Gretchen … you don’t get to introduce new facts into the case, by EdLogic. And speaking as an atheist whom Brayton has told to shut up, I’m still 100% correct on this one.

    Chris, I agree entirely that the petition was just plain bad, and that Dawkins was guilty of not thinking it through when he signed it. What I object to was that in that original noxious post, the bulk of Brayton’s diatribe was not about the nasty petition, but a lot of absolutist statements about Dawkins’ motives — insanely wrong stuff about wanting to establish an atheist state and so forth. You know, if Brayton had merely said this was a stupid petition (and he could have gone on at length about that, as much as he wanted) and if I’d heard about it, I would have agreed entirely with him. He did not. Instead, he went off on Dawkins, and I have a history with Brayton…I know that he has no tolerance at all for atheists who do not sit quietly in the closet.

    And to a accept the accusation on the word of an ID creationist…what was he thinking? Probably that he wasn’t going to pass up a chance to slam an uppity atheist.

  52. #52 poke
    December 30, 2006

    Ed did not merely post that the petition was “totalitarian” and that Dawkins signed it, as some of you seem to think, he used the petition as evidence for Dawkins alleged “totalitarian” worldview. Claiming in a retraction that your accusations are logically sound given the information you had at the time, especially when that “information” is a single piece of ambiguous and unlikely evidence that contradicts other available evidence, is absurd and dishonest.

  53. #53 Tyler DiPietro
    December 30, 2006

    Dawkins made a highly imprudent and impolitic move in signing a petition without being fully aware of it’s contents. Since then he has quickly acknowledged his error and retracted his endorsement of a sloppy petition that implicitly advocated coercion. And he did this on Ed’s own blog nonetheless. That should be the end of it.

    I sense the outbreak of SciBlogs BWII brewing beneath this.

  54. #54 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    And speaking as an atheist whom Brayton has told to shut up, I’m still 100% correct on this one.

    I guess you haven’t considered that perhaps the reason he told you to shut up had nothing to do with the fact that you’re an atheist, but rather….well, the kind of reasoning we’re seeing here?

    And to a accept the accusation on the word of an ID creationist…what was he thinking? Probably that he wasn’t going to pass up a chance to slam an uppity atheist.

    I guess it also didn’t occur to you that the fact that Dawkins signed the petition and posted it on his blog is independently verifiable by anyone who cares to look?

    I hope you don’t teach your classes this way– any student would have grounds for complaining to the administration. Good grief.

  55. #55 Tyler DiPietro
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    I guess you haven’t considered that perhaps the reason he told you to shut up had nothing to do with the fact that you’re an atheist, but rather….well, the kind of reasoning we’re seeing here?

    Or perhaps PZ is completely right that Ed, as the originator of the “camp” mentality, has a certain antipathy to Myers and his intellectual cohorts for their intransigence in criticizing theism. As right as Ed can be on other things, when it comes to religion he is certainly in favor of deference, and made it clear that he perceives a conflict between his “camp” and PZ’s because of that.

    I guess it also didn’t occur to you that the fact that Dawkins signed the petition and posted it on his blog is independently verifiable by anyone who cares to look?

    You can also independently verify that Dawkins does not manage his own website, and that Ed was a bit quick to rush to the most radical judgment possible. Now, I too am a bit guilty of such, so I won’t get holier than thou. But it’s pretty clear that Ed rushed to judgment.

  56. #56 J. J. Ramsey
    December 30, 2006

    Tyler DiPietro: ‘Or perhaps PZ is completely right that Ed, as the originator of the “camp” mentality, has a certain antipathy to Myers and his intellectual cohorts for their intransigence in criticizing theism.’

    Evidence? I have never seen Brayton criticize atheists for critiquing theists’ views as such. Criticizing atheists for arguably distorting a theistic evolutionist’s views? Yes. Criticizing atheists for advocating ideas that would mean that fewer high-school age creationists would learn how wrong they were? Yes. Criticizing atheists for making lazy associations between theism and intelligence? Yes. But criticizing atheists for attacking theism itself? Not so as I’ve seen.

  57. #57 Dave L
    December 30, 2006

    Or perhaps PZ is completely right that Ed, as the originator of the “camp” mentality, has a certain antipathy to Myers and his intellectual cohorts for their intransigence in criticizing theism.

    Uh yea, and PZ has no antipathy toward Ed and his intellectual cohorts for their perceived ‘appeasement’ of theists? C’mon, both Ed and PZ are ridiculously intelligent, but when it comes to each other, they are as irrational as I’ve ever read either of them. On one hand, PZ seems to think that religious belief is inherently irrational and that fighting it will improve science education just by virtue of people being more rational, and he has an obvious point. I think Ed thinks that fighting against theism automatically repels a large segment of people who are the people you’re trying to reach with the importance of science education, and he has an obvious point. So you don’t agree, so what? Anyone who reads both of your blogs knows that you are both far more rational than the caricatures of each other you are both constructing.

    It does seem unfair to blame Ed for Dawkins’ mistake. He signed the petition, it’s on his website; someone is just supposed to know better? Hold the person responsible who made the mistake, Dawkins, if anyone.

  58. #58 Orac
    December 30, 2006

    Did you find anything in the book or his interviews to support those claims?

    Did I say I did? My purpose in posting that quote was merely to point out that it was not so utterly unreasonable as you seem to think it was to conclude that Dawkins may have been sympathetic to the aims of the petition, given that he signed it and that he has frequently compared religious indoctrination to child abuse. Not everyone has read The God Delusion and much of what a lot of people know about Dawkins comes from his talks and interviews, in which he has made such analogies. Even after having read the whole book, try as hard as I might to reconcile it, I still find a troubling logical inconsistency in Dawkin’s comparison of religious indoctrination to sexual abuse of children when coupled with his statements that he is in favor of “consciousness-raising” and education (as in comparative religions and other “non-indoctrinating” religious study) as the “solution” to the problem. After all, if Dawkins truly believes that the psychological consequences of religious indoctrination can be as bad or worse than the consequences of child sexual abuse, then it seems rather incongruous of him not to favor state action to prevent it. That inconsistency is never quite reconciled, despite a fair amount of verbiage in the relevant chapter.

    In any case, I tire of yours and Ed’s recurrent blog pissing matches. Consequently, in the interests of fairness and the equal opportunity potential pissing off of all parties involved, let me post here what I posted as a comment on Ed’s blog a while ago, word for word. It will probably be my last word on the subject for now:

    PZ & Ed,

    I’m going to regret this, but reading through this sad exchange on both of your blogs this afternoon has irritated me to the point where I don’t really care anymore if I piss both of you off. So…could you guys do everyone a favor and both keep your personal animosity towards each other to yourselves, rather than inflicting your extreme distaste for each other on your readers?

    Please?

    At this point you’re both being childish and should both be embarrassed. I realize that probably neither of you will see it that way or ever admit to it, so much does your personal animosity color your interactions now, but that’s the way it now appears to me.

    Dawkins clearly fucked up. He signed a truly idiotic petition without reading the whole thing and then promoted said idiotic petition with a link near the top of the homepage on his website. There is no doubt about either of those facts. There is also no doubt that, when faced with what the rest of the petition said, Dawkins fairly promptly admitted that he had, in fact, fucked up and acted to repudiate his previous signature. That about sums up this whole incident.

    Shouldn’t that be the end of it?

    [Dons asbestos suit to wait out the replies.]

  59. #59 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    There is also no doubt that, when faced with what the rest of the petition said, Dawkins fairly promptly admitted that he had, in fact, fucked up and acted to repudiate his previous signature.

    Yes, that is correct, and I don’t think anyone disagrees with it. Not even Dawkins.

    That about sums up this whole incident.

    No, it doesn’t. You left out the part where Brayton used it as an opportunity to take another potshot at the atheists he despises, and still hasn’t bothered to retract his slander. But that’s OK…you can give him a free pass if you want.

    I won’t.

  60. #60 Jufulu
    December 30, 2006

    While it seems that PZ has been on occation, running a little hot, that was quite a hate fest that Ed had going on at Dispatches (was beginning to thing I was reading Telic Thoughts for shear inanity). People need to chill a little bit.

    My WTF meter was full on while I was reading the posts because what little I know of Dawkins didn’t seem to jibe with the petition he was supposed to be supporting. The fact that he, Dawkins, could come on and said OOPs I FUed, barely slowed it down. Bottom line though, its time to move on.

  61. #61 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    You know, I’m also kind of fed up with this false equivalence, and this constant complaining that we’re both to blame is ludicrous. This is what Brayton says of Dawkins:

    Dawkins does indeed favor coercion to stop religious belief…As far as I’m concerned, this pretty much removes Dawkins from any discussion among reasonable people. The atheist dystopia he seems to favor is no less appalling than the Christian dystopia favored by people like RJ Rushdoony. Both seek to make government the enforcer of their ideological views, to punish those who believe differently or dare to advocate those views.

    And here’s what he says about me:

    PZ, you really are just about the biggest asshole I have ever known, and you are lying through your teeth…You’re a liar, PZ, and a first class, double-barrelled, fully automatic asshole.

    Need I also point out that he has started a thread which he claims is about the Dawkins retraction, but which rather prominently accuses me of lying?

    My response in this article was to point out that he was ignorant of Dawkins’ opinions and was going over the top—both absolutely correct.

    Is there any chance people could stop glossing over the asymmetry in these exchanges?

  62. #62 Russell Blackford
    December 30, 2006

    There’s a lot of blame to go around here. Everyone seems to be acting very hastily.

    Dawkins clearly made a mistake, though as I said in posts on Brayton’s site his mistake was simply that he did not think like a lawyer when he signed a petition that, read literally, is far more broadly worded than he should have been comfortable with. He is not the first famous person to make that mistake. He has now dealt with the issue swiftly, reasonably, and graciously.

    Brayton also made a mistake. There was plenty of room for confusion about what Dawkins intended by signing the petition and about what the petition was really meant to mean in the British cultural and educational context. Brayton went in boots and all without any attempt to clarify the situation. He compounded the error by refused to listen to British posters who tried to explain the context, and he now refuses to admit that he did anything wrong.

    What I don’t understand, PZ – and it’s up to you whether you want to explain – is why you are making public references to private correspondence from Brayton. Where I come from, that is bad manners (to say the least). The public record on his blog speaks for itself, and I would expect you to rely squarely on that to make your point. These references to private correspondence tend to make you look bad, unless Brayton gave you permission to refer to them (I may bave missed your explanation that he did so … there’s been a helluva a lot to take in).

    Like Orac, I am irritated by the whole incident, though I congratulate you on contacting Dawkins to help straighten things out. I am probably being hasty myself in sending posts that will lead both you and Brayton to be pissed off with me, but I guess we are all sometimes swayed by emotion, so I’ll take that risk and regret it later if it comes to that. I do think that there need to be some voices asking for a degree of charity and courtesy, but I fear that in attempting to be one of those voices I may end up inflaming things more.

  63. #63 Louis
    December 30, 2006

    I am perhaps reading that petition slightly less hysterically than some. I agree it CAN be read poorly and the wording leaves a lot to be desired, but I have to say there are elements of it I agree with.

    I would (like Dawkins) never desire the banning or removal of religion. I would (like Dawkins) advocate the teaching of comparative religion in school up to and beyond 16. Perhaps what the poorly worded petition refers to is specific religious teaching designed to indoctrinate children into a specific religion. That I DO think needs to be stopped, but not in any totalitarian sense. Withdrawing publicly funded support for such indoctrination would be sufficient. I do think kids have a right to an unbiased (well, as unbiased as is possible) upbringing and education. I agree with Dawkins that labelling a child a member of religious group X prior to that child having enough education and simple life experience to make that decision itself is abhorrent, although I think “child abuse” however apt is a poor term due to the myriad connotations and confusions it carries.

    As usual I think there’s a great degree of the increasingly inaccurately named “Chamberlain” lot to leap for their evil atheist caricature. In a sad way it’s really funny. Totalitarian state based authoritarian moves for ideological homogeneity are not coming predominantly from even the most frothing of frothing atheist, they are coming from some pretty mild mannered religious groups. What worries me is that in their desire to point out the nuttier sins of a tiny minority of exceedingly rare whackjobs who just happen to be atheists (hey there are whackjobs everywhere people, deal with it), they miss the rather large group of theist whackjobs right behind them. And REALLY sadly it isn’t just the fruitier Robertson/Falwell/Taliban end of the theist spectrum that seem to advocate such totalitarian state based authoritarian moves for ideological homogeneity. How many times has Joe Godsquadder from midtown USA told an otherwise perfectly reasonable atheist that they should leave this “christian country if they don’t like it” or some such thing.

    The terrifying thing is the lack of balance and perspective. Yes of course there are whackjob atheists who want to spread ebola and burn churches (Hi ATBC readers! ;-) ) But they are a teeeeeeeeeensey tiny minority in both numbers and percentage of atheists as a whole. Especially if we consider the otherwise perfectly normal Average Joe Theist who advocates national ideological homogeneity. There’s a LOT of them. Not a few nutters here or there, but a significant percentage of a significantly large group.

    Since this silly conflict usually resolves around tactics, here’s a tactical suggestion for you. Rather than bicker over which person in the besieged compound on the brink of being overwhelmed gets the last fucking cookie, how about we set aside out differences and start smacking some enemy arse? Oh wait, my irony chip just went off. Isn’t that “enemy of my enemy is my friend” stuff EXACTLY what our “Chamberlain” chums propose? Gee, I guess we evil miltant atheists understand it. Wow. Who’d a thunk it?

    How about, instead of misquoting Dawkins and whining about how many eggs he breaks for his omlettes, we all shake hands like grown ups, put teddy back in the pram and get on with the real work. Which is turning back the tide of irrational arseholes seeking to overthrow the extremely hard won values of the Enlightenment. Dawkins’ approach might not, WILL not, reach everyone, but guess what my Chamberlainista chums, neither will yours.

  64. #64 J. J. Ramsey
    December 30, 2006

    Tyler DiPietro: “Brayton has pretty clearly stated (in the most important post you decided NOT to link to) that he is a member of a different “camp” than Myers and the anti-religionists because of a intransigence he perceives on their part (i.e. wishing to “eliminate religion by any means necessary“, as memory serves me). That much we should be able to agree on.” [emphasis added]

    And it’s the “by any means necessary” that he has a problem with, not the atheism. As Brayton clarified, he did not seriously think that concentration camps were part of the means. However, when it came to the Moran debate, he did conclude, quite understandably, that Myers and Moran were endorsing a tactic that might have promoted atheism, but at the expense of having more people educated about evolution.

    PZ Myers: “Is there any chance people could stop glossing over the asymmetry in these exchanges?”

    Yes, there is an asymmetry. You kept falsely accusing Brayton of standing by his assessment of Dawkins even when the known facts had changed. You also kept falsely accusing Brayton of having beliefs that he does not have, such as wanting to keep atheists in the closet. Is it any wonder that he would then call you a liar and an asshole?

    If you simply limited yourself to arguing that Brayton’s initial conclusions on Dawkins went too far, and that he had no reason to presume that Dawkins would approve of such authoritarian tactics, this debate would have been much less heated. At the very least, it might be more productive and perhaps said something about how Dawkins might improve his PR. As it stands, you have–like it or not–grossly misrepresented Brayton, and this is only the latest round of misrepresentation.

  65. #65 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    Bullshit, Ramsey.

    Brayton has a history of doing his best to urge atheists to silence. My evidence for that is much stronger than his that Dawkins wants to jail people for being Christians. This whole nonsense of wanting to “eliminate religion by any means necessary” is yet another example of his anti-atheist attitude — that is not part of our argument, by any means.

  66. #66 Chelydra
    December 30, 2006

    Had his original criticism not been as strongly worded as it was, Brayton wouldn’t have had much obligation to even link to Dawkins’ retraction of the petition. However, he very clearly stated that he considers Dawkins a totalitarian, and if he accepts Dawkins’ explanation of his retraction of his signature (that he failed to read the petition thoroughly and does not in fact support government repression of religion), then an apology for this remark is absolutely required of any decent person. Brayton was absolutely right to criticize Dawkins for signing the petition, and no apology is necessary here as this was Dawkins’ mistake. However, calling Dawkins a totalitarian was Brayton’s mistake, whether or not it was evidence-based. Considering the nature of the accusation, if Brayton does not in fact still consider Dawkins to be a totalitarian, he owes Dawkins an apology. Accepting Dawkins’ apology for having mistakenly held totalitarian beliefs, not for having mistakenly given the (incorrect) impression that he held such beliefs, twists Dawkins’ words and is not in any way an appropriate resolution to this argument.

    PZ may have been harsh in his criticism of Brayton over this issue, but it absolutely pales in comparison to what Brayton has done. PZ accuses Brayton politely, if strongly, of having gone overboard in his criticism; Brayton calls PZ an asshole and a liar (after accusing him of being childish). Make your own judgements about who’s on the civil side of this disagreement.

  67. #67 J. J. Ramsey
    December 30, 2006

    Russell Blackford: “Brayton was the first one to mention the private correspondence”

    Brayton was the first to mention that there was private correspondence. Myers was the first to say what the contents of it purportedly were.

    PZ Myers: “Bullshit, Ramsey.

    “Brayton has a history of doing his best to urge atheists to silence. My evidence for that is much stronger than his that Dawkins wants to jail people for being Christians.”

    All right, then, what is this evidence? You should have no trouble pointing to the relevant blog posts.

  68. #68 jeffw
    December 30, 2006

    Dawkins makes a mistake and graciously admits it. Brayton is quick to assign motives that are out of character for Dawkins (if you read his books), but is partially conciliatory after Dawkins’ retraction. What doesn’t fit after reading that whole mess, is all the “asshole” namecalling. Maybe it’s based on a history of personal animosity or private emails, I don’t know. But it doesn’t seem appropriate in the context of that public thread.

  69. #69 J. J. Ramsey
    December 30, 2006

    poke: “J. J. Ramsey, uh, Brayton refers to its contents in that comment (“attacks” by PZ). It’s probably not a good idea to link to things you’re trying to misrepresent.”

    I think you and I have a different idea of what is meant by referring to content in correspondence. This is all that Brayton said about the correspondence in the comment: “Unfortunately, PZ, in his usual childish and inaccurate manner, has decided now to attack me privately.” This is far closer to a real discussion of the content of the correspondence:

    “Brayton has continued the attacks in email, and further, is still arguing that Dawkins supports “coercion to stop religious belief” — he apparently still does not recognize the rather straightforward denial he has been offered.”

    I suppose that one can say that it was rude for Brayton to mention that Myers was hectoring him privately, though, even if he didn’t say anything about the content except that it was an “attack.”

    jeffw: “Brayton is quick to assign motives that are out of character for Dawkins (if you read his books)”

    Trouble is, Dawkins is such a mixed bag that it’s hard to tell if what Brayton describes is out of character.

  70. #70 Russell Blackford
    December 30, 2006

    JJ:

    Actually, Brayton doesn’t just say there was private correspondence; he says that PZ attacked him in it. That does seem to open up an issue about its contents. Look, if that was indeed the first post on the issue I think my apology to PZ on the point should stand … and I also think that he responded to the point I made in a quite gracious way, by simply asking me to check. I may have made a small error, even an understandable one, but it is still worth admitting it is an error and trying to get that out of the way.

    In any event, the bigger picture is that I agree with PZ on the moral equivalency issue. I also think that Dawkins comes out of this quite well, having been open enough to admit his own (admittedly quite damaging) mistake. Of course, his detractors won’t see it this way, and will use it against him whenever they can.

  71. #71 J. J. Ramsey
    December 30, 2006

    Greg: “Dawkins only admitted it because he realized he was caught in a backlash with his pants down.”

    Now that is uncharitable. Not even Brayton believes that. Neither do I.

  72. #72 J. J. Ramsey
    December 30, 2006

    PZ Myers: “that quote — ‘coercion to stop religious belief’ — was not from any email I was sent, but was directly from Brayton’s article in which the comment was made.”

    That’s all well and good, but you still were the one who indicated that in the private correspondence, Brayton was arguing that Dawkins still supported coercion to stop religious belief, in spite of his retraction.

    BTW, you still have yet to provide evidence that “Brayton has a history of doing his best to urge atheists to silence.”

  73. #73 poke
    December 30, 2006

    From reading Brayton’s comments, he seems to have some odd ideas about what constitutes “coercion,” so perhaps in his mind there is still ample evidence that Dawkins supports coercive measures. His language reminds me of other libertarians I’ve encountered; “totalitarian” tends to be their favourite word and the slippery slope their favourite means of argument. In their mind there’s not much difference between smoking bans and gulags.

  74. #74 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    You quoted him yourself, in that claim that we’re out to “eliminate religion by any means necessary”. I’m not going to quote any of his correspondence, since that would offend you so much, but I’ve gotten the hints that Brayton would be very happy if all of us assertive atheists would just go away, and were replaced by those lovely, friendly, oh-so-widely-appealing theologians.

    And do I have to keep spelling this out? Brayton has NOT retracted his claim that Dawkins supports coercion. He has made some impressive exercises in weasel words to avoid admitting that he got Dawkins’ motives all wrong.

  75. #75 BadAunt
    December 31, 2006

    Although I mostly liked The God Delusion, the one argument Dawkins makes that always gave me the creeps and that I see as massive hyperbole is his likening of the religious indoctrination of children to abuse,

    But it is, or at least can be. I grew up in a fundamentalist sect. My father was kicked out of the sect when I was 13, and it took five years for me to make a friend outside the sect. I was so frightened of ‘worldly’ people that the first time I visited someone’s home I threw up. I knew by then that non-sect people were not all evil, but the fear goes DEEP. For me it had become physical. (Actually this happened the first three times, iirc, and was horribly embarrassing.) I was terrified for most of my teenaged years. What makes it worse is that you are taught to believe that the nicer people are to you, the less you can trust them. Every kind face had the devil behind it. It was absolutely isolating.

    I coped relatively well with the whole thing (imo!), perhaps because I was at the right age when we left, but I personally knew of two people (friends of my father) who committed suicide when they were forced to leave the sect. They were all older people who had never known any other life. My father drank himself to death. It took ten years, but was a kind of suicide. Also, by choosing not to return to the sect when they asked me to, I was choosing to be cut off from half of my family, including my mother, who went back after my father died. At the time they started pressuring me to go back, I was 15. When I was 16 I almost agreed to go, but they wanted me to agree that my parents were evil. My parents went along with this. They accepted it. They were so brainwashed they actually thought it was true, and that I should return to the sect.

    One thing I can say for it all, though, is that being repressed at an early age means that when you do finally break through the fear barrier, life – and freedom – becomes truly exhilarating, and stays that way. (I wrote about that exhileration a little here, in the answer to question two.)

    I am on a mailing list for survivors of this sect, and from what I’ve learned there, from those who also suffered physical abuse, the religous abuse takes much longer to get over. Put the two together (like in the Age story) and you have horror of titanic proportions.

    I could go on and on, but I’ll just give one more example. When I was in my teens my nephew ended up staying with us for two weeks of court-ordered access when my brother-in-law was kicked out (temporarily, it turned out) and was staying with us. The nephew was five. He spent most of the first week running around the house screaming himself into exhaustion, presumably to prevent himself from hearing something evil. When he did speak to us, it was to tell us the devil was in our hearts. He refused to eat with us, and absolutely refused to have anything to do with his father. He was the most disturbed little kid you can imagine. He did calm down a little in the second week – he fell in love with my mother, as most children did, although he was still very wary of her – but still refused to speak to the rest of us. (One of the hardest things was seeing this little boy relax and have a cuddle with my mother and then suddenly stiffen as he remembered, and run away, almost hyperventilating with fear.) The worst thing was that we all knew how he felt but understanding did not help us to deal with it. Anything kind we did or said was suspect, and made it worse, and we knew that. The only thing we could do that did not provoke hysterics was to leave him alone, and it was heart-breaking to see that poor little kid trying to cope by himself in a house full of people he had been told were evil.

    I don’t know how his kids coped when the sect suddenly decided my b-in-law was all right after all and took him back, but he’s still there, and his kids are all grown up now and good little sect members, so I supposed they survived, at least. But at what cost?

    I think Dawkins was absolutely right to say that the religious indoctrination of children can be abuse. It is something I feel strongly about, for obvious reasons.

  76. #76 George
    December 31, 2006

    Dawkins is in good company. Elton John wants to abolish religion.

    “I think religion has always tried to turn hatred towards gay people. Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays.

    “But there are so many people I know who are gay and love their religion. From my point of view I would ban religion completely.”

    “Organised religion doesn’t seem to work. It turns people into really hateful lemmings and it’s not really compassionate.”

    “The world is near escalating to World War Three and where are the leaders of each religion? Why aren’t they having a conclave? Why aren’t they coming together?”

    “I said this after 9/11 and people thought I was nuts. Instead of more violence why isn’t there a meeting of religious leaders?”

    “It’s like the peace movement in the Sixties. Musicians got through to people by getting out there and doing peace concerts but we don’t seem to do them any more.”

    “If John Lennon were alive today he’d be leading it with a vengeance,” he said.

    Sir Elton said people were too busy blogging on the internet to go out onto the streets to stand up for what they believed in.

    “They seem to do their protesting online and that’s not good enough. You have to get out there and be seen to be vocal, and you’ve got to do it time and time again.”

    http://mondaymorninginsight.com/index.php/site/comments/elton_john_i_would_ban_religion_completely

    Makes sense to me.

  77. #77 anon
    December 31, 2006

    Wow- this is the funniest thing i have read this week. And I have read lots. I went to the other sites and I cannot even find the words, I am just vastly amused. PZ and Dawkins have done well not to use vulgarities.

    I do believe that the petition in question was directed towards the practice of ticking off the faith box on school documents, as well as teaching religion in public schools in England. Religion as being the dominant religion in that school- usually Christianity.

    I am not a US citizen. Where I am from I must choose to pay my education taxes to the Protestant or Catholic boards. There is a tick box for each. If I am “other I can choose the other box, IF I remember correctly. On my census form I must declare my religion and the religion of my children. So, I pick- is it my cultural religion, the church I went to when the kids were smaller, or no religion? Some of my kids were baptized- what of the ones that were not? I also must declare my spouses religion. Hmm….. Everything must be made clear and ordered for the government.

    I did not do the census this year. I have no idea what my spouse put down. But it is probably different than five years ago, because there are different ways of looking at this situation. My kids are older, some do not attend church, some do not identify with their cultural religion at all.

    I think it comes down to this- who cares? Why should the government give two hoots about the religion or lack of it in their people if religion is supposed to be separate from public office? Oh- well, one reason is because there are separate PUBLIC school boards that are religious. As well, christian, jewish and moslem schools can get part of their funding through a hybrid of fees and public monies. And other things. Hospitals that are religion based can morally sanction treatments and drugs and yet draw fully from the public funds.

    I agree that religion should be taught comparitively. The history of religion should be taught. Unfortunately, there will still be a bias inherent in that system, because if you are in a predominately Christian area, it will probably still be taught that the other religions are inferior.

    I attended a religious schools in the past. Serious fundamentalist place. Even though the denominations present purported to worship the same god, there were delineations made by teenage students and adult staff members as to whose church was the most bible based. The Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans were at a disadvantage for numerous reasons, infant baptism being one. The OTHER religions were rarely touched upon, unless it was in the Jews For Jesus context. The point is, religion and identifying by religion divides people in ways that other ideologies do- except that there usually are not tick boxes on government documents regarding those things.

  78. #78 tomh
    December 31, 2006

    The only mistake Dawkins made was backing away from the petition. In a perfect world the intent behind the petition would indeed be the law. Why should adults have the right to indoctrinate children, whether their own or any others, into any kind of cult, religious or otherwise? The petition properly says nothing about what adults can or should believe. The hysterical charge of “totalitarianism” is ridiculous – it is no more totalitarian than other laws we have about what adults are allowed to do to children.

    As far as teaching comparative religion, when religion can be taught as a quaint, historical curiosity, then one will be able to say that mankind has made a small step forward. Until then religion, comparative or otherwise, should be kept out of schools.

  79. #79 Chris
    December 31, 2006

    Honestly, I read this post, then Ed’s, when it (this post) was first published, and then reread them both just now, and I just don’t see the problem with either Ed’s retraction or his initial willingness to believe that Dawkins held the views in the post. On the first point, Ed’s made it pretty clear that he no longer thinks Dawkins holds those positions. On the second, since Dawkins has explicitly stated that labeling children religiously is child abuse. In case you doubt me, go here, and click on Session 7. When you get to the beginning of Dawkins talk, he gives the example of the four-year olds, with the religion-economic theory analogy (around 42 minutes), and says, “”It is child abuse to label a child of four with the religion of their parents.” Just before 44:00, he again calls it “child abuse.” Now, perhaps he’s just being hyperbolic (that wouldn’t surprise anyone who’s read his books), in which case, the “child abuse” label is just a powerful, “consciousness raising” framing of religious indoctrination, but not meant to be taken literally. But if we take Dawkins seriously, and believe that he really does think religious indoctrination is child abuse, then not only would we not be surprised that he would sign a petition banning it, but we would, if we consider Dawkins to be a moral person, we’d believe that he should advocate banning religious indoctrination, because child abuse is extremely immoral. The specifics of the petition may be a bit bizarre, but the principle of it –banning religious indoctrination because it’s child abuse — comes straight from Dawkins’ mouth.

  80. #80 Tyler DiPietro
    December 31, 2006

    Chris,

    But if we take Dawkins seriously, and believe that he really does think religious indoctrination is child abuse, then not only would we not be surprised that he would sign a petition banning it, but we would, if we consider Dawkins to be a moral person, we’d believe that he should advocate banning religious indoctrination, because child abuse is extremely immoral.

    I completely agree with Dawkins that religious labeling amounts to both physical and cognitive slavery, but the question is more morally ambiguous than that. Namely, no one knows how to practically implement such a policy in a way makes the cure better than the disease. Thus, as I said in my own blog post on this topic, I agree in the general spirit of the idea, but can’t support a practical implementation. Thus you are correct to say this:

    The specifics of the petition may be a bit bizarre, but the principle of it –banning religious indoctrination because it’s child abuse — comes straight from Dawkins’ mouth.

    But I think Dawkins would say that philosophical principle is always 100% isomorphic to reality. If I could think of some perfect way to ban it with no authoritarian repercussions I would be all for it. I wholly reject the idea, advanced either implicitly or explicitly in this debate, that children are the property of their parents and thus de facto subject to whatever the parents wish to impose upon them.

  81. #81 Tyler DiPietro
    December 31, 2006

    But I think Dawkins would say that philosophical principle isn’t* always 100% isomorphic to reality.

    Fixed*.

  82. #82 Zeke
    December 31, 2006

    I thought this was some kind of creationist parody meant to make atheists look like extremists with totalitarian sympathies, but apparently it’s serious…

    The only mistake Dawkins made was backing away from the petition. In a perfect world the intent behind the petition would indeed be the law. Why should adults have the right to indoctrinate children, whether their own or any others, into any kind of cult, religious or otherwise? The petition properly says nothing about what adults can or should believe. The hysterical charge of “totalitarianism” is ridiculous – it is no more totalitarian than other laws we have about what adults are allowed to do to children.

    If you think for a second about policemen and judges monitoring what parents tell their children in the home, you have your answer. You’d have to post guards outside of churches to keep parents from taking their kids there on Sunday. Such a law would violate freedom of speech and freedom of religion for starters. You might as well just run the Constitution through the shredder while you’re at it.

    Your position deserves every bit of scorn and vitriol that Ed Brayton would aim at it. The ACLU would justifiably sue you for everything you’ve got if you implemented this policy as a governmental official.

    As far as teaching comparative religion, when religion can be taught as a quaint, historical curiosity, then one will be able to say that mankind has made a small step forward. Until then religion, comparative or otherwise, should be kept out of schools.

    Posted by: tomh

    Oh, that makes a ton of sense. Even Dawkins thinks your position is stupid. Comparative religion is important simply to understand world history and current world events. Damaging secular education in some misguided plot to promote your own view on religion? Why don’t you just sign up with the Discovery Institute right now?

    You are as much a crazed fundy as the loons at WorldNet Daily. If atheists wonder why they have an image problem, here is exhibit A. The fact that the New Atheists didn’t give this kind of idiocy a good preemptive stomping just to keep the loons out of their movement is exhibit B, and the likely weak reaction from the New Atheists here on this blog is exhibit C.

  83. #83 Russell Blackford
    December 31, 2006

    Before I read the your correction, Tyler, I assumed that you’d meant to write “orthogonal” rather than “isomorphic”. Now, that would have been a very pessimistic interpretation of Dawkins’ thinking.

  84. #84 Azkyroth
    December 31, 2006

    Ed posted based on what it appeared Dawkins endorsed. Dr. Dawkins has expressed regret over his hasty fervor in signing the poll. Ed has posted a new post linking Dawkins’s apology, but in the same breath accuses PZ of lying. PZ has posted in hasty fervor, too.

    As an observer, this is unattractive, to say the least. Did everyone have too much coffee today? Please don’t let past disagreements cloud every new post. It is what it is – move on and stop throwing mud at eachother.

    Gee, this sounds familiar….

    Well, look on the bright side–at least, to my knowledge, no one has described Ed’s expression of disapproval as a “witch-hunt” yet.

  85. #85 J. J. Ramsey
    December 31, 2006

    PZ Myers: “You quoted him yourself, in that claim that we’re out to ‘eliminate religion by any means necessary’.”

    Which is nowhere near saying that he wants you to be silent.

    PZ Myers: “I’m not going to quote any of his correspondence”

    No one asked you to.

    PZ Myers: “I’ve gotten the hints that Brayton would be very happy if all of us assertive atheists would just go away”

    You’ve gotten what you’ve interpreted as hints to that effect. There is a difference, and not even a very subtle one, between atheists who bluntly point out the flaws in religion and atheists who act like arrogant jerks. Brayton himself used to be the latter, and doesn’t like to see others repeat his mistakes. For whatever reason, you don’t seem to have grasped that Brayton has attacked the latter and not the former. It is the methods, not the message, that he has a problem with.

    PZ Myers: “Brayton has NOT retracted his claim that Dawkins supports coercion.”

    Evidence? From what I see, this is pretty clearly contradicted by the blog post, “Dawkins Repudiates Signature; PZ Continues Lying”. I don’t agree with him that you are lying, but that he would conclude as much is understandable, since you did misrepresent him.

  86. #86 Shmuel
    December 31, 2006

    “Dawkins has explicitly stated that labeling children religiously is child abuse.”

    He repeats this position in the Ed-thread. If he’s being sincere, he’s nuts. If he’s not being sincere he is a prick.

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