Pharyngula

We aim to misbehave

Larry Moran raised an interesting comparison over at Laden’s place. In response to this constant whining that loud-and-proud atheism ‘hurts the cause’, he brought up a historical parallel:

Here’s just one example. Do you realize that women used to march in the streets with placards demanding that they be allowed to vote? At the time the suffragettes were criticized for hurting the cause. Their radical stance was driving off the men who might have been sympathetic to women’s right to vote if only those women had stayed in their proper place.

This prompted the usual cry of the accommodationists: but feminists weren’t as rude as those atheists.

Were the women saying that men were stupid? Were they portraying them as rubes and simpletons? Were they falling into the trap of making themselves resemble the negative stereotypes of women at the time? IIRC, the answers are No, No, and No. Substitute “atheists” for “women” and “theists” for “men,” and the answers are emphatically Yes, Yes, and Yes. It is one thing to be assertive. It is another thing to be gratuitously rude.

This is so blind and ahistorical, I’m embarrassed for the guy. The suffragettes were ferocious firebreathers of a most admirable sort who did not mince words and went far further than atheists have gone — yet. As one example:

To attain the goal of universal suffrage, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU, known colloquially as the suffragettes) engaged in acts of protest such as the breaking of windows, arson, and the “technical assault” (without causing harm) of police officers. Many WSPU members were jailed for these offenses.

Try reading the literature of the feminist pioneers. They weren’t just rude, they were howling at injustice, they were breaking deep social mores, and they were abused, despised, and imprisoned for it — and they still are. Jebus. You think all women had to do to get recognition of their basic rights was to be polite? You think they got the right to vote by asking nicely? That soft voices and meekness are the answers?

I take it back. I should be embarrassed for us atheists. When I look at the history of feminism, I see a ferocity and a record of sacrifice that puts us tame godless people to shame. Maybe we need to get more outraged and outrageous.

If you read some of the great writers of the feminist movement, what you’ll find is an eloquence that people like Richard Dawkins echo today. Their speeches were rousing calls to action, not paeans to passivity. These are words that people found “rude” then, and that we still see deplored by chauvinists today (have you ever heard the word “feminazi”?)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.”

“The whole tone of Church teaching in regard to women is, to the last degree, contemptuous and degrading.”

Lucretia Mott
“The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source.”

“I have no idea of submitting tamely to injustice inflicted either on me or on the slave. I will oppose it with all the moral powers with which I am endowed. I am no advocate of passivity.”

Mother Jones
“I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell-raiser.”

“Whatever your fight, don’t be ladylike. “

Susan B. Anthony
“Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less.”

“The fact is, women are in chains, and their servitude is all the more debasing because they do not realize it.”

“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.”

These women were treated as if they were bomb-throwing anarchists by the press, by politicians, by the wealthy elite, by every institution that had an interest in conserving the inequities of society. Even today we’ve got people like Phyllis Schlafly who decry “intolerant, uncivil feminists whose sport is to humiliate men” — I think everyone can see the similarity to the accusations against those intolerant, uncivil atheists.

Every social movement — and I’d add the labor movement and the struggle for civil rights as equally strong examples — that tries to break the bonds of mindless convention and tradition and that defies established privilege gets accused of being rude and worse, much worse, and there are always weak apologists for the status quo who use that pathetic etiquette excuse to try and silence the revolutionaries. Successful revolutionaries ignore the admonitions about which fork to use for their salad because they care only to grab the steak knife as they launch themselves over the table.

Atheists are calm and mild-mannered, even leaders of the New Atheists like Dawkins and Harris and Dennett — no doubt because our oppression is minor compared to that of women, racial minorities, and labor — but we’re still getting these ridiculous claims that we’re too “rude”. They won’t stop until we’re completely silent, and there’s no point in compromise, so these faint-hearted enablers of superstition are going to have to excuse us if we ever so politely request that they go fuck themselves, beg pardon, and please, use a rolled-up copy of the Republican party platform to do it, if you don’t mind, thank you in advance.

Comments

  1. #1 Ebonmuse
    April 21, 2007

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! The hopelessly god-besotted and the timid, meek appeasers of same may flee from your fire-breathing, PZ, but that same fire fills the rest of us with motivation and pride. 🙂

    Yes, we’re going to stand up and challenge social mores, and we should be proud to do it! These prejudices need to be resisted and changed, and that change will never come about if we concede that they’re basically good ideas but express the hope that a little can be nibbled off around the edges. No, we should take a sledgehammer to the heart of that block, and the sooner the better.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey, OM
    April 21, 2007

    I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

    Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963), Martin Luther King, Jr.

  3. #3 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2007

    Obviously, the message we should take from MLK is that they needed to do a better job of framing.

  4. #4 Leni
    April 21, 2007

    PZ wrote:

    You think all women had to do to get recognition of their basic rights was to be polite? You think they got the right to vote by asking nicely?

    ROFL.

    That was a very, very good answer.

  5. #5 Blake Stacey, OM
    April 21, 2007

    PZ:

    Obviously, the message we should take from MLK is that they needed to do a better job of framing.

    Obviously.

    In fact, I think the message we should take from King is that we need to claim the moral high ground. This is difficult to do when the churches have set themselves up as the arbiters of morality (one way in which King definitely had a tactical advantage). In essence, we have to be more moral than God.

    A quick glance over God’s rap sheet suggests that this is, indeed, possible.

  6. #6 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2007

    OK. I promise to slay all the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, and the Hivites, but I will spare the Jebusites. There! I’m already ahead of God in the mercy and justice department, but I still get to slaughter people!

  7. #7 Stogoe
    April 21, 2007

    Being more moral than God is remarkably easy. Step 1: Don’t commit mass genocide (the most exhausting activity one can engage in, next to soccer).

    The harder part is getting people to recognize it.

  8. #8 llewelly
    April 21, 2007

    A quick glance over God’s rap sheet suggests that this is, indeed, possible.

    Yet it also suggests that one’s morality is not necessarily judged by one’s ‘rap sheet’.

  9. #9 adamsj
    April 21, 2007

    The Letter from Birmingham Jail is one of the great pieces of political rhetoric from the twentieth century.

    It’s also good framing. Instead of calling the moderates racist swine–and a good argument could have been made that residual racism undergirded their hesitancy–he called them on grounds they knew they should inhabit. It worked, too.

    I understand, PZ, why you get so frustrated with the frame of framing, and I won’t say I don’t sometimes agree with you, but I also think it’d be money well-spent for science organizations to hire PR people–and listen to them.

  10. #10 Interrobang
    April 21, 2007

    PZ, you’d probably absolutely love Nellie McClung’s “The Parliament of Women,” which is a play that was performed before the 1914 election by the Manitoba chapter of the (Canadian) Women’s Press Club.

    The “white moderates” King was talking about did a perfectly good job of framing their arguments. So good, in fact, that their arguments have been absorbed whole into the popular discourse and are still being used today. (You just wrote an entire blog post about them, even.)

  11. #11 Leni
    April 21, 2007

    No No. You should kill everyone, but offer to spare the virgins and the children.

    See, it’s the children. They are an impermeable barrier against all arguments.

  12. #12 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2007

    I agree that MLK’s letters are an excellent example of framing, and I also agree that scientists could benefit from PR help.

    My complaint all along has been that the framing pros have preferred to tell us that our message is all wrong, that we should drop any effort to persuade anyone on that sacrilegious subject, and that we should just be silent. Will I listen to suggestions to sway those moderates to my side? Yes. Will I pay any attention to suggestions that I should become one of those moderates, and stop trying to pull the whole world in my direction? NO.

  13. #13 G
    April 21, 2007

    And let’s not forget my very favorite American feminist/suffragette/troublemaker quotation ever:

    “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution.”
    -Emma Goldman

  14. #14 Graham
    April 21, 2007

    The suffragettes were ferocious firebreathers…

    What a ferocious, firebreathing, and inspired post. I tip my hat.

  15. #15 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2007

    Ah, but the question is…was “The Parliament of Women” polite?

    (I’ve never read it, never even seen a copy, but I’ve seen summaries of it.)

  16. #16 natural cynic
    April 21, 2007

    “The rudeness of those damnable colonists is simply beyond tolerance”

    -thoughts of George III circa 1776

    “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

    -Benjamin Franklin

  17. #17 Timothy Chase
    April 21, 2007

    PZ wrote:

    Atheists are calm and mild-mannered, even leaders of the New Atheists like Dawkins and Harris and Dennett — no doubt because our oppression is minor compared to that of women, racial minorities, and labor — but we’re still getting these ridiculous claims that we’re too “rude”.

    I can most certainly agree with you there. Of course, it also helps to keep in mind the fact that the vast majority is religious, so if someone on “your side” insists on calling them “God-besotted” or ignorant or what have you, that might not necessarily be a good thing – in as much as it might encourage the majority start thinking in terms of “us vs them.”

    *

    As for this timid, weak appeaser (assuming a quasi-Spinozist counts – and talk about a minority!), what I would recommend is letting people know that you are not religious and that you insist on having the same, equal rights with everyone else – unless of course you have something else in mind. Is the main problem the fact that you are lacking certain freedom, e.g., to believe the way that you do, or that others also have the right to believe differently? Or is it the fact that you are insulted – or that people take insult and otherwise consider it a bad thing when you insult others?

    I don’t mean to be especially thick, but after all the highly charged, emotional rhetoric, cries of persecution, and angry ennunciations of revolutionary intent, I am still pretty much in the dark about what it is that you are after.

    Oh well, I guess some day I might figure it out.

    *

    As for why you aren’t religious, it is likely that many of the religious will have about as much interest in your reasons as you do in why they are religious. So it probably isn’t necessary you to bring this up beyond a one-liner – unless they actually are interested. Or at least this is what would seem to be appropriate to a balanced, measured and rational approach.

  18. #18 Ryan
    April 21, 2007

    I’m going to have to parallel John Petroski here and say:

    Christianity only hurts if you fight it.

    This god doesn’t knock and wait. He breaks down your door, hovers over you in your bed, slaps you around and chokes you until you’ll give in. The whole time he’s saying, “Free will.”

    If you think this is crude, just imagine if in the conception story, Mary had been unwilling. An atheist perhaps?

  19. #19 Henry Culver
    April 21, 2007

    Timothy, I’d like to point out that my paternal ancestor arrived at the MA. Bay colony in 1635 and that it is still technically illegal for me to hold public office in 7 states in the U.S. because I am an atheist. G.Bush 41 stated publically that atheists should be denied citizenship. There are many other examples. Maybe you don’t mean to be especially thick.

  20. #20 Don
    April 21, 2007

    Unalloyed applause.

  21. #21 Stuart Coleman
    April 21, 2007

    All very good points, but it will change nothing. The people who think we’re hurting the cause will still shout and kick and scream whenever we speak. Oh well, at least we can take solace in the fact that we’re right.

  22. #22 anna
    April 21, 2007

    Not to mention the blasphemy laws on the books in several states. And atheists can’t join the Boy Scouts, although they can join the Girl Scouts, interestingly enough.

  23. #23 Colugo
    April 21, 2007

    The analogy between suffragettes and New Atheists fails. The suffragettes weren’t saying that eventually all men should be converted into women in the service of reason and human progress, as the New Atheists tell the theists that their collective conversion to atheism is inevitable and desirable. The suffragettes didn’t speak of a zero-sum conflict between women and men.

    Sam Harris, Edge.org: “‘Science Must Destroy Religion’: “The conflict between religion and science is inherent and (very nearly) zero-sum.”. I could cite many more such quotes from Michel Onfray et al.

    (Do many – if not most – theists use similar zero-sum and martial rhetoric? They sure do. That’s one of the things that makes religious zealots irksome.)

    These features are what makes New Atheists different from most past atheists and so-called “appeaser” atheists:

    1. Slamming those once regarded as allies – a) insufficiently militant atheists (Chamberlainites), b) religious liberals (because they provide cover for fundamentalists), and c) theistic evolutionists (stealth creationists) – as being grossly inadequate allies or even tools of the enemy (namely, theistic fundamentalists who are attempting to impose theocracy and destroy science).

    2. Insisting that atheism (and more broadly, metaphysical naturalism) is not just a philosophical position but a scientific one. This position is the opposite of nonoverlapping magesteria: science has falsified God, the soul, and the afterlife. Further, a scientist with a healthy, coherent mind (that is, lacking in deforming cognitive dissonance) is atheistic and naturalistic in all domains.

    I understand where the New Atheists are coming from; I used to be more militant myself. They are quite certain that they are on the side of the angels, so to speak. However, the sincere reconciliationist nonbelievers (not those who simply have a different strategy than Dawkins et al. and view ‘appeasers’ and liberal religionists as currently useful) like Scott Atran and and Mel Konner understand how deeply rooted religion is.

  24. #24 Gerard Harbison
    April 21, 2007

    Of course, first wave feminism was pretty much coopted by the Christian anti-temperance movement, and the disastrous results of prohibition pretty much killed it off.

    It’s not a fate atheism has to contemplate.

  25. #25 Kurt
    April 21, 2007

    I’m coming late to the “framing” debate, but it seems to me that the main problem with Mooney and Nisbet is that, if they’re talking to scientists then they’re addressing the wrong audience. Who is it that’s “framing” the debate against global warming, or in favor of teaching ID in science classes, etc.? Conservative scientists? Mostly, no. It’s being done by conservative politicians, think tanks, and religious leaders who are acting in the political sphere. So just who should be “framing” the other side of the debate? The only reason that scientists are being asked to get engaged in this debate is because progressive politicians have totally dropped the ball. The things Mooney and Nisbet are saying might make a lot of sense if they were being directed to, say, the DNC. Democratic politicians have been loath to take on this debate for the same reasons they were all too willing to give George W. Bush everything he wanted regarding Iraq, and it’s frankly disgusting. Maybe now that they can see what their lack of spine has brought on this country, they might be a little more willing to stand up for scientific integrity.

    One can only hope.

  26. #26 Scholar
    April 21, 2007

    Dilbet: The Women’s suffrage movement was most notably bolstered when the base of brave moderates began grooming their arguments so that men could better understand them.

    Mookie: Wow, you are so right. Can I play?

  27. #27 JohnFen
    April 21, 2007

    Timothy Chase wrote

    I can most certainly agree with you there. Of course, it also helps to keep in mind the fact that the vast majority is religious, so if someone on “your side” insists on calling them “God-besotted” or ignorant or what have you, that might not necessarily be a good thing – in as much as it might encourage the majority start thinking in terms of “us vs them.”

    Actually, encouraging the majority to start thinking in terms of “us vs them” is the goal. It can be a winning strategy.

    In order to think in those terms, a person must think, actually examine their own thoughts on the subject. This may be in a negative way, trying to get “ammunition” to shoot down their opponent, but in the process some will discover they agree with the other side and didn’t realize it before. If the thinking never occured, that realization would never come.

    The PR trick is that confrontation can’t be the only strategy employed. You have to have a little “good cop/bad cop” going on — with radical, in-your-face, rude activism kicking people in the brains while the more “reasonable, moderate” activists are there to comfort the shaken while reinforcing the basic message.

  28. #28 Zeno
    April 21, 2007

    I presume that I’m not the only person who sees some interesting parallels between “out” atheists versus the skeptical accommodationists who worry about the tender sensibilities of the god-ridden and the drag queens who rioted at Stonewall versus the button-down “straight-acting” gays who preferred an extremely low-key behind-the-scenes approach.

    I posted some comments along these lines last week, including a picture of PZ, Dawkins, and Mooney on Gay Pride day. I swear! Although PZ came by with a strenuous denial.

    End of blogwhoring. Your regular program now resumes in progress.

  29. #29 RedMolly
    April 21, 2007

    Preach it, Brother PZ!

    Is the main problem the fact that you are lacking certain freedom, e.g., to believe the way that you do, or that others also have the right to believe differently?

    Um… neither? Rather, it’s that open atheism will get you nowhere in most sectors of U.S. society, and that standing up for your right to not have to profess belief in god or put up with mass professions of god-belief in public places seems to get you tarred as an anti-American family-destroying loudmouth. Not only tarred, but denied the opportunity to respond.

    Even among supposedly enlightened types, atheism is still suspect–it’s as if atheists are throwing over what those “white moderates” are holding most dear. Where we look at religion and see a history of cruelty and inhumanity, a legacy of intellectual dishonesty, an entrenched system of ruthless thought-squelching, the “white moderates” see something entirely different. They picture some vague vision of the good old days, when fathers worked hard and mothers baked cookies and everybody dressed up and walked together to church on Sunday morning in the springtime. Religion, for these people, represents tradition and comfort–two commodities in short supply in these fear-mongering times. And why shouldn’t it? Political and religious leaders, not to mention the mainstream media, spend plenty of time telling them that it’s so.

    To the religious person, or even to the lip-service theist who may never darken the door of a church but still believes there must be Something out there, atheism represents an unforgivable challenge. And rather than responding to that challenge with an examination of his own beliefs, it’s far easier to respond with “well, I know I’m right, so that other guy must be wrong.”

    Combine the media-fueled celebration of Spirituality with the vast numbers of atheists (myself, alas, included) who find it easier to just kinda get along than to drag their friends and family into an argument about the existence of god(s), and what do you get? Thousands of non-believers who are just as firmly closeted as was your average gay family man back in the swingin’ ’50s.

    Yeah, we’re part of the problem. Yeah, we feel perfectly comfortable trumpeting our atheism on godless forums like this one. But actually telling our mothers-in-law, church-attending neighbors, “spiritual-but-not-religious” friends how we feel? We’re way too chicken for something like that. But give us a little credit… a little visibility… a little teeny corner of the mainstream media platform where we can stand unobtrusively so everyone can see we don’t have horns… and maybe we’ll start getting up the courage to say (in a gentle way) “Hey, you know what? I’m a nice person, and I’m an atheist too.”

    Or, lacking that, maybe we’ll at least get enough critical mass going that there’s some kind of Atheist Anti-Defamation League to join, and then at least we can march shoulder to shoulder with our godless brethren instead of wandering around aimlessly all by ourselves.

  30. #30 Siobhan
    April 21, 2007

    More gratuitous rudeness please.

    You, Dawkins, Harris etc. have been saying – hollering from the rooftops – all the things that people like me have been thinking quietly for years. And it’s about fucking time.

    I read Dawkins book late last year, found your blog, read Harris’s End of Faith all within a few months, and let me tell you – it felt like opening the windows after a long, dark winter. Millennia of respectful tip-toeing respect for absurdities just blown away.

    Thank you for that.

  31. #31 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2007

    Oh, my, Zeno…and there’s Ramsey in the comments again, that time arguing that Martin Luther King was so inoffensive and offered nobody a good reason to hate him, unlike Dawkins.

    That guy certainly has a peculiar view of history…all the winners were always so damned polite.

  32. #32 CalGeorge
    April 21, 2007

    Hip, hip, hooray!

    Newsflash:

    The Pope has declared that children who die unbaptized can go to heaven.

    Isn’t that special?

    “Vatican watchers hailed the decision as both a sensitive and significant move by Benedict.”

    http://www.mb.com.ph/MAIN2007042292344.html

    The brainless, pointy-hatted doofus has spoken. The brainless, pointy-hat-worshipping doofi have nodded their approval.

    What a troop of morons.

  33. #33 RedMolly
    April 21, 2007

    A brief point of clarification: I am wholeheartedly in favor of atheism of the New, fire-breathing variety. I am just sort of a timid and retiring person by nature and don’t feel comfortable with that kind of direct confrontation; I would rather just shamelessly ride along on the fire-breathers’ coat-tails. Little in history has been accomplished by the unfailingly polite; that is why little in history will be accomplished by me.

  34. #34 Aerik
    April 21, 2007

    Alonzo Fyfe made a similar comparison with the civil rights movement and black liberation.

    He noted that in his letters from Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. remarked that it was the fellow blacks who said to be nicer, to “wait for a better time,” who are the biggest obstacles to racial equality. So too the moderate religionists and passive agnostics and atheists, who say we should give religion its due respect, to not be rude, to wait for a better time, are the biggest obstacles for equal rights and tolerance for and of atheists.

  35. #35 Brian Coughlan
    April 21, 2007

    Virginia Tech being used and abused by the faithheads. : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9uNtvFSxYM

    No comments, no video responses!!!

    A few of us co-operated online to make the following response.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_z9WgV5jkQ

    If you think it is a good one,
    please help to promote it in whatever other fora you frequent.
    We should not have to sit idly by, while this juvenile drivel is spouted as truth.

  36. #36 natural cynic
    April 21, 2007

    Colugo: The suffragettes weren’t saying that eventually all men should be converted into women in the service of reason and human progress, as the New Atheists tell the theists that their collective conversion to atheism is inevitable and desirable. The suffragettes didn’t speak of a zero-sum conflict between women and men.

    It really depends on the definition of “zero-sum”. If it’s purely a sense of political power, then enfranchisement of women will be a zero-sum situation – men lose some power while women gain that much power. The same thing for one theist becoming one atheist. But I don’t think of the situation in those simple terms. The suffragist movement was more about empowering women than disempowering women – it was for making a place for women at a larger table so as to include women. At least at this point in time, the position is that atheists are excluded from the table simply by being atheists. See the Bush quote above. Many theists would exclude atheists from the body politic and even exclude them from citizenship. This is the situation now, and it needs to be eliminated. The fact that one is an atheist should not be a consideration for holding public office, military service, having one’s opinions respected or other manifestation of full participation in society. The problem IMHO is marginalization of people due to their lack of religious feelings just as women were excluded from full participation in society due to the lack of a Y chromosome.

  37. #37 natural cynic
    April 21, 2007

    Hmmm, might my post 36 be an example of proper framing of the issue?

  38. #38 John Pourtless
    April 21, 2007

    “Atheists are calm and mild-mannered, even leaders of the New Atheists like Dawkins and Harris and Dennett — no doubt because our oppression is minor compared to that of women, racial minorities, and labor — but we’re still getting these ridiculous claims that we’re too “rude”. They won’t stop until we’re completely silent, and there’s no point in compromise, so these faint-hearted enablers of superstition are going to have to excuse us if we ever so politely request that they go fuck themselves, beg pardon, and please, use a rolled-up copy of the Republican party platform to do it, if you don’t mind, thank you in advance.”

    Bully for PZ!

  39. #39 JebusCripes
    April 21, 2007

    Apartheid did not begin to crumble until the ANC began training outside South Africa with military weapons and tactics. The realization that the ANC was going to war against the SA police is what brought apartheid to an end.

    It wasn’t ‘asking nice’ or ‘being polite’ or ‘showing respect’. It was making them shit their pants.

  40. #40 Kagehi
    April 21, 2007

    Timothy, there two issues here, demonization and irrationality.

    Demonization means that essentially admitting you are an atheist in those areas where the people we are having problems with are dominate (and that isn’t every place where there is religious belief) means loss of *everything*. You can lose your family, your friends, your job and even in extreme cases your life. Why? Because *we* are supposedly some vast evil cabal whose sole purpose isn’t to try to tell the truth to the best we *understand it*, but instead to undermine and destroy every single person in the world that likes to insist that the truth lies in what they *believe* about it. Well, no. We don’t really have a problem with the ones that think rationally. The ones we have a problem with are the nuts that twist their own holy book into a pretzel so they can ignore all the stuff that they **know** doesn’t work, while still forcing on everyone around them the stuff they *believe* still does.

    This is the second issue. Irrationality. The idea that exorcism is acceptable, even if it means that you tie someone to a bed and beat them, but stoning isn’t. Why? Not because either one makes fracking sense, but solely because the former is still “approved”, while the later isn’t.

    Lets put it this way. If two people invented drugs. One permanently cured cancer and AIDS, and also gave everyone double the life spans, but it made you a crave sex continuously for two hours after taking it. The other *only* cures AIDS, has no life extension at all, and renders everyone that takes it incapable of thinking about sex. Guess which one the people *we* have a problem with would pick and why… See, curing nearly every serious disease we have today and making people live healthy lives twice as long is *less* important than if they want to screw someone more than normal for two hours. Just look at the HPV vaccine issue. Here we have what is practically a cure for a major cause of death among women and its being apposed by these loons based on what? That some kids *might* ignore the “Just say no to sex!”, message even more than they already do *if* you cured them. This makes about as much damn sense as if the Bible declared coughing a sacred act so they denied people Hepatitis treatment on the grounds that infecting more people was “holy”, in that it made them all cough more. It makes no damn sense, but its exactly the sort of BS we have to put up with.

    Want a better example? If we found out that in two years a big rock would hit the earth and kill every living thing, but the scientists determined that it was made of something that could be broken up into fist sized chunks with one missile hit, saving all of us, who the hell do you think is going to be standing in long picket lines outside the launch facilities, or worse, using sniper rifles to try to kill the people working on launching the missile, Atheists? The irrationality of these people is dangerous and could get us all killed some day, whether from some plague they refused to let us cure, it being God’s will, or some other crap, especially if they get more and more power in the political process and can torpedo sound science, research, health programs, medicines, foreign policies, etc. Not mind you that I find dipshits like Pelosi, whose solution is to kiss the ass of the leader of one of the countries we *know* are the number one worst offenders for supporting Jihadists, any better. The left has its own idiots, obviously, but they tend to limit their lunacy to specific tasks, not make wide sweeping attacks on *everything* to try to force our round world through the too small cross shaped hole in their knowledge and logic.

    Does that answer your question? And its the same damn argument that thinking people, never mind atheists, who are just the latest target of their ire, have been having with the same sort of clowns since some Greek philosophers dared to suggest that Zues might not be much of a god. We just make a more obvious target, because we tell them, “Zues can’t possible look like, act like, or intervene the way you keep insisting, since there isn’t one scrap of evidence he does, has or ever will, nor can **you** even agree from one moment to the next *if* he should, does or will do so, so he might as well not exist.”, instead of doing something **safe**, like saying, “Zues just doesn’t make sense, but now Hera on the other hand…”

  41. #41 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 21, 2007

    PZ, regarding comment #12, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  42. #42 Colugo
    April 21, 2007

    natural cynic: “The fact that one is an atheist should not be a consideration for holding public office, military service, having one’s opinions respected or other manifestation of full participation in society.”

    I wholeheartedly agree.

    There are several related but distinct movements that are sometimes conflated by all sides:

    1) separation of church and state (civil libertarian First Amendment Issues)
    2) teaching of evolution in public schools (e.g. Dover)
    3) advocacy of public policies related to science (global warming, stem cells etc.)
    4) skeptic/rationalist advocacy (CSICOP/CSI)
    5) atheist/freethinker visibility and rights (Free Inquiry, humanist movement..)
    6) New Atheism: zero-sum game / martial rhetoric; science = atheism; slamming “appeasers” and theistic evolutionists (stealth “creationists”)

    Atheists, freethinkers (Deists, agnostics..) and non-fundamentalist theists can be allied on 1), 2), and 3). Even some theists may be on the side of skeptics on 4). 5) is about rights and visibility. 6) is about making scientific claims regarding God and metaphysical naturalism (as opposed to methodological naturalism), and just as importantly, atheist proselytism. These movements, while rooted in rationalism and progressivism, are not inseparable.

    One of the defining moments in the early New Atheist movement was when Richard Dawkins broke down the boundaries between advocacy of science, skepticism, and atheism when he proposed at the 1992 CSICOP conference that religion was a “mind virus.” That was very controversial within CSICOP and the skeptic movement at the time.

  43. #43 natural cynic
    April 21, 2007

    Kahegi: Not mind you that I find dipshits like Pelosi, whose solution is to kiss the ass of the leader of one of the countries we *know* are the number one worst offenders for supporting Jihadists, any better

    Gee, it seems to me that you should include James Baker in this too – that’s what his commission wanted and that’s what GWB was too pigheaded to do. And the message that Pelosi had for Assad was that Democrats didn’t want him supporting Hezbullah, but were willing to make contacts. Somebody had to make the effort.

    Otherwise, pretty good post.

  44. #44 Timothy Chase
    April 21, 2007

    John Fen wrote:

    Actually, encouraging the majority to start thinking in terms of “us vs them” is the goal. It can be a winning strategy.

    In order to think in those terms, a person must think, actually examine their own thoughts on the subject. This may be in a negative way, trying to get “ammunition” to shoot down their opponent, but in the process some will discover they agree with the other side and didn’t realize it before. If the thinking never occured, that realization would never come.

    I don’t know as if you have noticed, but people don’t seem to be terribly good at thinking when they feel like they are being attacked. In fact the opposite is generally the rule – especially when it comes to what is at least potentially an ideology, and certainly has been at times in the past.

    *

    Religion is particularly well-suited to becoming a kind of “weltanschaung” which always has a response of sorts to any criticism which might be raised against it, typically in the form of ad hominem, much like classical Marxism, I suppose. But the parallels goes a little further than just this: Marxist science discovered that any failed prediction is at least potentially subject to reinterpretation and thus the preservation of its status as the one true science can always be assured.

    Then again, one could argue that Marx was religiously inspired – with the proletariat being his “chosen” and the establishment of the perfect communist society being his heaven. Didn’t actually turn out all that terribly well, but there are still a few out there that would argue we should still give it a little more time – and are otherwise keeping the faith, still waiting for the end of history – after the Apocalypse.

    Come Judgment Day, everyone will finally see that they were right.

    About everything.

    As a rule, not really the sort of frame of mind one might wish to encourage – although perhaps there are exceptions.

    *

    In any case, it would seem that if one wants people who one disagrees with to be rational, one should go about it without making them feel attacked. In fact, this would seem to be the rational approach, more along the lines of Martin Luther King than Malcolm X, I suppose.

    John Fen wrote:

    The PR trick is that confrontation can’t be the only strategy employed. You have to have a little “good cop/bad cop” going on — with radical, in-your-face, rude activism kicking people in the brains while the more “reasonable, moderate” activists are there to comfort the shaken while reinforcing the basic message.

    Well, that would would certainly seem applicable in the case of Malcolm and Martin. Not sure how well it maps onto this, however.

  45. #45 BillCinSD
    April 21, 2007

    I think you need the fire-breathing, rude so’s-and-so’s, if for nothing else, than to make the more moderate types show up in the center of the debate. That’s why Coulter, Limbaugh O’Reilly et al. don’t really get much criticism from the slightly more moderate right. If Coulter’s out there spewing crap, it makes these others seem less radical.

  46. #46 Richard
    April 21, 2007

    Up here in Canada a group of Mohawks is blocking a major rail line between Toronto and Montreal as a protest over a land dispute. A reporter asked a Mohawk protester why they were taking this action and he said it’s because the whites NEVER listen otherwise. I’m afraid he’s absolutely right.

  47. #47 Stephen Wells
    April 21, 2007

    Re. comment 23. The suffragettes weren’t asking men to become women. They were asking _men (and women) who didn’t think women should have the vote_ to become _men (and women) who did think women should have the vote_. Similarly, atheists are not asking Gods to become Mortals 🙂 they are asking people who believe one thing (that gods exist) to become people who think differently (there’s no evidence that gods exist).

  48. #48 Daniel Martin
    April 21, 2007

    You know, speaking (tangentially) of framing, I wonder if the term “Godless” that you have adopted is less effective than a simple variant: Godfree.

    After all, when they set up a zone around a school from which people wish to banish certain drugs, they call it a “drug free zone”, not a “drugless zone”. Similarly, my undergraduate school had certain “substance free” floors from which tobacco and alcohol were banned. Likewise, compare the connotations of the word “childless” with the name of the livejournal community for adults intentionally without offspring: “childfree”.

    The pattern here is that when in English (at least American English) one wishes to express that some undesireable feature is not present, one uses the word “free”. When one does not wish to convey the connotation that the thing that isn’t there is intrinsically unpleasant, one uses “less”: for example, sellers of “smokeless tobacco” presumably have less against tobacco smoke than those seeking to establish “smoke free environments”.

    I can see the argument of reclaiming a term used as a perjorative, but I’m not sure if in trying to reclaim “Godless” you’re fighting not only established prejudices but connotations of word particles deeply embedded in the English language.

  49. #49 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2007

    You know, this is the kind of thing I’d berate my students with. When you are using a comparison in an argument, it is with an element of the two situations — you are not trying to establish perfect equivalency.

    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.

    You do not invalidate the comparison by saying “Suffragettes wore bloomers; atheists do not wear bloomers; therefore the comparison is false”, or by trotting out any similar irrelevant difference.

  50. #50 Dan
    April 21, 2007

    Colugo:

    Insisting that atheism (and more broadly, metaphysical naturalism) is not just a philosophical position but a scientific one. This position is the opposite of nonoverlapping magesteria: science has falsified God, the soul, and the afterlife.

    Sorry, but if you don’t understand the argument, you don’t get to criticize it.

    By definition, science cannot falsify God, the soul and the afterlife, because all three are axiomatically non-falsifiable claims. Science doesn’t claim that the supernatural doesn’t exist. In fact, the scientific method explicitly allows for its existence provided sufficient substantiating evidence, because that’s the whole damn point of the scientific method: establishing truths based on evidence and logic instead of raw assertion and making shit up as you go along. Science doesn’t claim that the supernatural can’t exist, it merely concludes that there is at present no verifiable reason to believe that it does exist.

    That is the New Atheist argument, not the one advanced by that little straw-atheist of yours.

    In short: Science isn’t about what you believe. What you believe is irrelevant. Science is about what you can prove.

  51. #52 RavenT
    April 21, 2007

    I should have quoted PZ, as that’s what I was responding to:

    You know, this is the kind of thing I’d berate my students with. When you are using a comparison in an argument, it is with an element of the two situations — you are not trying to establish perfect equivalency.

    Paul Nelson just stepped in that one big time over at PT by the way.

  52. #53 Skeptic
    April 21, 2007

    Remember PETA? You know, these guys are very, very, very rude. And as a matter of fact most people (myself included) are simply repulsed by them. It is not that we are unsympathetic to their cause of improving the living conditions of animals, but their extremism puts us off. You see, I’m all against torturing little critters, but throwing blood at people wearing fur, or protesting in elaborate campaigns against fast food chains or setting labs (which conduct animal research) on fire makes me want to kill a cute, little bunny right in front of them, just to spite them (okay, well not killing a bunny, ’cause I ain’t that cruel but at least eating some chicken from KFC. That should do the trick.).

    Now imagine the “radical New Atheists” are the PETA guys, the “appeaser atheists and agnostics” are mere vegetarians, the fundamentalists are cruel and sadistic factory famers and the theists are the average meat-eating person. Not nice, eh?

    Notice, I do not say that “New Atheism” in its current form is bad, or hurting the cause. I just want to point out that becoming even more radical, like these PETA nuts, may result in even greater repulsion, thus hurting more than helping. As a matter of fact I approve of and admire all those atheists who speak out against the irrational masses but not if they should actually hurt people physically or their property.

    Btw. Timothy Chase, it is “Weltanschauung”.

  53. #54 Colugo
    April 21, 2007

    PZ: “When we compare atheists to feminists, the labor movement, gays, or civil rights, we are not saying these are identical”

    Of course not.

    “in this case, it is to a narrower similarity”

    Right.

    The question is, which similarities – and which dissimilarities – are most relevant? In the case of both women’s suffrage and atheism, is it just a matter of contrasting styles or is it also about contrasting goals?

    earlier: “these faint-hearted enablers of superstition”

    Reconciliationists like Mel Konner, Scott Atran, Michael Ruse et al. are accommodationists – while they understand the problems of religious fundamentalism, they foresee coexistence between theists and nonbelievers rather than one side triumphing and the other disappearing (in the peaceful battle of ideas). Similarly, suffragettes foresaw mutually respectful coexistence between men and women.

    In this analogy it is really the “appeaser” atheists who are closer to the suffragettes, while the New Atheists are more like militant separatists who want to reproduce via parthenogenesis (ex. Mary Daly).

    In both cases – New Atheists and pro-parthenogenesis separatists – they are wholly lawful, peaceful, and not interested in infringing on the rights of others, and they certainly have some legitimate grievances. But their goals are simply not the same as their more moderate counterparts.

  54. #55 Andy Groves
    April 21, 2007

    I seem to remember from my UK history classes that British women started to be given voting rights in 1918 after recognition of their contributions in factories, farms and so forth during the Great War. It took another ten years for them to get the same rights as men.

    I think the moral of this is that atheists will start to gain recognition for their cause when they do something useful……..

  55. #56 Colugo
    April 21, 2007

    Dan: “By definition, science cannot falsify God, the soul and the afterlife, because all three are axiomatically non-falsifiable claims. Science doesn’t claim that the supernatural doesn’t exist”

    That is my position as well. That is the traditional atheist/freethinker position. That is why I believe that methodological naturalism is crucial to science, metaphysical naturalism is not – and the existence or nonexistence of God is a philosophical question, not a scientific one. (Philosophically, I accept both atheism and metaphysical naturalism.) As I wrote, this position distinguishes traditional philosophical atheism from New Atheism.

    Victor Stenger: “[T]he supernatural hypothesis of God is testable, verifiable, and falsifiable by the established methods of science.”
    http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/Godless/FlynnGodRvw.htm

    Not all New Atheists would use the term “falsified” in regard to God. They might say “disproved,” “impossible,” or some other term. What is important is that they claim that science itself – not just a particular philosophical perspective – has shown that God does not exist.

  56. #57 Siobhan
    April 21, 2007

    I seem to remember from my UK history classes that British women started to be given voting rights in 1918 after recognition of their contributions in factories, farms and so forth during the Great War. It took another ten years for them to get the same rights as men.

    I think the moral of this is that atheists will start to gain recognition for their cause when they do something useful……..

    What, and all that breeding, raising of children, cooking, cleaning, weaving, tanning, sewing, animal husbandry, farming, and being the reigning monarch etc. prior to WWI was useless?

  57. #58 RavenT
    April 21, 2007

    I think the moral of this is that atheists will start to gain recognition for their cause when they do something useful……..

    When I spent a month in the hospital after a blood clot in my superior mesenteric artery, I really appreciated all the doctors, nurses, and others who helped me a-theistically; that is, without bringing theism into it at all (and to the two fanatic nurses, one Christian, one Falun Gong, who used my vulnerable status for proselytizing, I totally consider you two to be vultures). I don’t have any idea how theism could have made that help any more useful than it was to me, so I consider them already there.

    Of course, much like the unpaid labor of British women before WWI, it’s easy not to see the value of something if you’re determined not to.

  58. #59 Thought Provoker
    April 21, 2007

    Before I launch into some perfunctory cerebral points let me just say…

    RIGHT ON! 😉

    I apologize if this repeats what others have said, but the comments are coming so fast I will never be able to read them (infinite regression).

    While it may be rude to follow your convictions and otherwise say what you mean and mean what you say, IT IS ETHICAL.

    It is interesting how religious types tend to call themselves “moral” and atheists call themselves “ethical”. Personally, I think the differences between these two words have gone beyond merely connotative. By in large, I find atheist significantly more ethical than those that would call themselves religious. Ironically, it isn’t the atheist that thinks it can be moral/ethical to lie after swearing an oath to God not to.

  59. #60 Siobhan
    April 21, 2007

    Arg. My prior comment should have this bit of stupidity in the blockquote: “I think the moral of this is that atheists will start to gain recognition for their cause when they do something useful……..”

  60. #61 Elf Eye
    April 21, 2007

    Andy Groves, are you going to apply this ‘usefulness’ test to the theists, or do they receive THEIR recognition automatically?

  61. #62 windy
    April 21, 2007

    What is important is that they claim that science itself – not just a particular philosophical perspective – has shown that God does not exist.

    I don’t think a philosophical perspective can “show” anything anyway.

    Would you say that science can offer no information on which philosophical or metaphysical perspectives are, dare I say, more ‘correct’ than others? Is Cartesian dualism still as valid as ever?

  62. #63 MAJeff
    April 21, 2007

    I think the moral of this is that atheists will start to gain recognition for their cause when they do something useful.

    Guess I should quit teaching and start looking for something useful to do.

  63. #64 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2007

    Don’t be too mean to Andy — he is an atheist too, you know.

    Unless, that is, he likes it rough.

  64. #65 Dustin
    April 21, 2007

    I think the moral of this is that atheists will start to gain recognition for their cause when they do something useful.

    You mean when they start doing things that earn them Nobel Prizes?

    Atheists with Nobel Prizes. *snort* That’ll be the day!

  65. #66 Chet
    April 21, 2007

    People like Colugo have simply fallen for a line of religious propaganda that construes any plain-spoken assertion of atheism as “unhinged.”

    Nowhere is that more plain than in the construction “militant atheist.” It’s a hilarious double-standard that you actually have to pick up a gun and kill somebody to be considered a “militant” believer, but all you have to do to be considered a “militant atheist” is write a book.

    By definition, science cannot falsify God, the soul and the afterlife, because all three are axiomatically non-falsifiable claims.

    They don’t get to be non-falsifiable just because you define them that way. If you’ve also defined them as “actors that can effect change in the universe” – in other words, if there’s something you think their existence explains – then it’s a contradiction in your own terms to refer to them as “axiomatically non-falsifiable.”

    God, the afterlife, and the soul are falsifiable, because they’ve been falsified. QED. By definition, the “unfalsifiable teapot in my kitchen” is unfalsifiable, but to then assert that I’ve just proved that you wouldn’t be able to go look in my kitchen and see if there’s a teapot would be to engage in a fallacy of equivocation. The problem with your “unfalsifiable by definition” God is that you’re missing the step where you prove that your definition is actually the one that would describe the God we’re talking about.

  66. #67 Timothy Chase
    April 21, 2007

    egarding the religious,

    Kagehi wrote (#40):

    We don’t really have a problem with the ones that think rationally.

    I would be careful with the use of the term “we.” I have run into “new atheists” who regard the more rational religious indivduals to be the enablers of the wrost kinds of irrationality, just as non-militant atheists are refered to as appeasers. After a while, it begins to look like the only safe position is that of “militant atheism.”

    As for atheists being threatened with the loss of family, friends, jobs, etc., in some cases, perhaps. However, I am reminded of a friend who “came out of the closet” with respect to being gay. He was convinced that people would be able to tell just by looking at him, that no one would ever offer him a job, that society as a whole would reject him. At one point, he spoke of wanting to create a cure for cancer only in order to destroy it. His fears of the reaction of society to his being gay were far more damaging to him than the reaction of “society” would most likely ever be.

    I would recommend a version of the golden rule: if you wish to be treated as human, then treat others as human. If you wish to be treated as an individual, then treat others as individuals. Come to think of it, this gets pretty close to something someone else mentioned, more or less: live as you would have others live. Take the high road.

    I have said that it is a good idea to let people know that you are non-religious. Obviously there are stigmas and prejudices of one form or another. Like the view that atheism implies some form of nihilism or is a rejection of all standards. This is what fundamentalists would want others to believe. To get beyond this, one should let others get to know you as an individual, as someone who has one’s own views but is able to respect the views of others or at least their right to have them.

    And one thing I would recommend: avoid driving the more rational religious individuals away into the extremist camp. Just as an example, reflexively rattling off a litany of complaints any time the subject of religion is brought up would probably be a bad idea.

  67. #68 Dustin
    April 21, 2007

    …you’re missing the step where you prove that your definition is actually the one that would describe the God we’re talking about.

    They’re really good at missing that step. They’ve been doing it ever since Anselm set stylus to parchment.

    Segue, isn’t it weird that the people who always like to drag out the “my belief is justified because you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist” line are the same ones who like to drag out the half-baked God-proofs?

    I’m not philosopher, but wouldn’t a statement need to be falsifiable in order for it to be positively verifiable (assuming positive verification in the course of empirical investigation is even a possibility)?

  68. #69 Coathangrrr
    April 21, 2007

    I’m wondering why you bring up PETA colugo? Have you looked at what they accomplished or did you just assume that they haven’t accomplished anything because you don’t like them?

    More over, how much has animal rights activism accomplished in the years that PETA has been around that has been indirectly tied to the fact that there is an organization like them, and more militant groups to boot.

  69. #70 Ken Cope
    April 21, 2007

    Of all the firebreathing suffragettes to leave unquoted, Matilda Joslyn Gage is the one most likely to be considered bad for framing. Here are a few choice lines of hers:

    “The most stupendous system of organized robbery known has been that of the church towards woman, a robbery that has not only taken her self-respect but all rights of person; the fruits of her own industry; her opportunities of education; the exercise of her own judgment, her own conscience, her own will.”

    “The church and civilization are antipodal; one means authority, the other freedom; one means conservatism, the other progress; one means the rights of god as interpreted by the priesthood, the other the rights of humanity as interpreted by humanity. Civilization advances by free-thought, free speech, free men.”

    “Woman will gain nothing by a compromising attitude toward the church, by attempt to excuse its great wrong toward her sex, or by palliation of its motives. On the contrary, a stern reference to facts, keeping the face of the world turned toward its past teachings, its present attitude, is her duty. Wrongs of omission equal in magnitude those of commission.
    Advance for woman is too well established, has borne too much ridicule, misrepresentation and abuse to now hesitate in an attack upon the stronghold of her oppression-the church. She possesses too full knowledge of its subtle touch upon civil law to dare leave it alone; it has become one of woman’s first duties, one of her greatest responsibilities, to call public attention to its false doctrines and false teachings in regard to the origin, condition and subjection of woman.”

    The above are excerpts from Woman, Church and State.

    Some biographical notes on Gage (L. Frank Baum’s mother-in-law) from the same site:

    The downfall of womankind in the West corresponded to the rise in Christianity, Gage believed. A political overthrow created the Patriarchate, and the Church had been the major institution to maintain it, she contended. Steeped in the triple doctrines of obedience to authority, woman’s subordination to man, and woman’s responsibility for original sin, the Church, Gage said, was the primary enemy of women, the stronghold of woman’s oppression.

    When the militant suffrage campaign failed to win women the right to vote, and governmental decision-making seemed more responsive to monied interests than to the mandate of the voters, Gage became increasingly sick of the song of suffrage. Believing that reform measures were partial solutions which left intact the underlying causes of social injustice, Gage never saw the vote as an end in itself. It was rather a tool, the lever with which to lift one-half of humanity from the depths of degradation caused by the four-fold bondage of women to the State, the Church, the capitalist and the home, she and Stanton agreed. Increasingly, the ballot seemed to her to be an ineffective tool.

    As the country moved toward the Right in the late 1880’s, carried along by a conservative religious movement that had as its goal the creation of a Christian state, Gage decided it was time to launch a full-scale attack on the bulwark of woman’s slavery — the Church. Believing that the danger to religious liberty and a secular state was immediate, Gage and Stanton began talking of the need for a feminist anti-Church organization. Anthony, in the meantime, was increasingly moving toward a single-minded focus on the vote. When Anthony led her followers in merging the two existing suffrage organizations, thereby bringing in the conservative Women’s Christian Temperance Union forces, Gage left the suffrage movement and formed the anti-Church group she had been considering. Made up of anarchists, prison reformers, labor leaders and feminists, the Woman’s National Liberal Union was viewed as one of the most radical organizations in the country, and Gage’s mail was intercepted by the government.

    Stanton chose to become president of Anthony’s combined National American Woman Suffrage Association rather than join Gage’s group. Anthony denounced Gage’s “secession” (as she called it) from the suffrage ranks, and Gage spent her last eight years estranged from most of her movement allies and friends of the previous forty years.

  70. #71 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2007

    No, it’s a good idea.

    You don’t understand. The goal isn’t to be able to coexist with other members of society by being unobtrusive and hiding our beliefs. It’s to be known by those beliefs; just like modern Lutherans don’t freak out and suspect the other guy is grinding baby’s bones in the shed behind the house when they find out he’s Catholic, we should want everyone to think simply, “Huh, OK, he’s one of those guys who doesn’t go to church and doesn’t believe in my god” when they meet an atheist, and they shouldn’t even mentally qualify it with “I hope my daughter never marries one of them.” That takes a certain amount of persistent dunning into people’s heads right now.

    The faction that some call “appeasers” seem to be more interested in coexistence by stealth; some of us would rather coexist as loud, equal, and unashamed members of the culture, instead of being the quiet little mice hiding in the walls.

  71. #72 Sastra
    April 21, 2007

    As several here have pointed out, the “extremism” of the New Atheism is not really in how we put out our message. It’s in the message itself: “God” is classified as a hypothesis, and taken apart and examined, just like any other claim. Do we have evidence of disembodied minds? Can intelligence come out of a mindless process? Can complexity come from simplicity? Is God really a “simple” thing because theologians say it is? How similar is belief in God to belief in superstitions and the paranormal — are the same processes at work, and could they have evolved?

    When it began to look as if science wasn’t going to confirm the existence of souls, angels, and God after all, a truce was reached between intelligent theists and intelligent nontheists: God is outside of science. Period. It deals with the “spiritual” world, and science deals with the natural one. Religion is nothing like the paranormal; spirituality is nothing like superstition. True religion is vague, unspecific, and therefore untestable. Agree with this, and we will keep our peanut butter out of your chocolate, and you will keep your chocolate out of our peanut butter. And people can eat them both, as long as they don’t mix them.

    New Atheists break this truce, because the truce is based on two false premises: that God is really truly a totally vague, non-scientific sort of claim; and that religionists wouldn’t continue to keep jumping up and down, frantically trying to mesh God with science in their favor, while ridiculing atheism as irrational and immoral.

    “No more free ride.” — Vic Stenger

  72. #73 Colugo
    April 21, 2007

    PZ, you sound like a reconciliationist. Convincing theists that atheists are not bad guys – and hence mutual respect and continued coexistence – is a pretty humble (yet profound) goal. Sounds good to me. That’s not very fire-breathing.

    I think a lot of New Atheist sentiment comes from a sense of being besieged by the Christian right as well as by Abrahamic fundamentalism in general in the wake of 9/11. It’s basically reactive and defensive. (I don’t think that’s true in all cases; I intend to read Michel Onfray’s book for his perspective.) If the sense of siege were lifted, a lot of the rhetoric would cool down. Liberal theists – including theistic evolutionists and reform-minded Muslims – can do a lot to help end the state of siege, both between faiths and between theists and nonbelievers.

    I will let Chet and Dan fight over whether or not God and the supernatural are scientifically falsifiable.

    Any statement about the nonexistence of the supernatural requires prior acceptance of certain philosophical axioms. The scientific method does not require these; in fact, these questions are outside of science. Some New Atheists are not satisfied with science being a mere methodology founded on methodological naturalism.

  73. #74 Stanton
    April 21, 2007

    a) What’s “Weltanschauung”? Is that a kind of sausage like schnaufraude?

    b) All this talk of women suffragists got me thinking… Would atheists burning bras help the cause any?

  74. #75 Kent Kauffman
    April 21, 2007

    Atheists are rude? Compared to what?

    Atheists predominantly use media outlets were one has the “choice” of paying attention to this outlet or not. There are no marches, no acts of terrorism (however small), and more importantly, no intruding on people’s personal space (like street corner preachers, Jehova’s Witnesses, etc.).

    Aware (heh) individuals can be brutal in print, but when people meet them in person, they’re always surprised by how damn nice they are. It would seem PZ always runs into this problem.

    Besides, you don’t build an army(*sic) of flippant blog posters and youtube uploaders by being overly polite.

    We still don’t hold a candle to the women’s rights and minority right’s movements, though. I’m not putting my life on the line for atheism, but I will post my thoughts online under my real name and truthfully answer anyone that asks me about it, I just won’t get in people’s faces about it (but I will defend myself from a verbal theism assault).

  75. #76 Peter Kemp
    April 21, 2007

    While on the subject of Suffragettes, an amusing anecdote when Emily Pankhurst was allowed to address the UK’s House of Commons.

    “There is little difference between men and women…”

    From the back bench:

    “Three cheers for the little difference.”

    Happily our very own (Downunder’s) significant contribution to feminism was Germain Greer (an atheist), who said once:

    “Evolution is what it is. The upper classes have always died out; it’s one of the most charming things about them.”

    But if anyone wants to claim feminists were not rude, I suggest a generous helping of Greer, “testosterone is a poison” etc.

    (Watching conservatives or religious fruitcakes on TV having apoplexy when confronted with Greer or her OTT sayings is still well worth the price of male vanity being rubbished)

  76. #77 Thought Provoker
    April 21, 2007

    New Atheists break this truce, because the truce is based on two false premises: that God is really truly a totally vague, non-scientific sort of claim; and that religionists wouldn’t continue to keep jumping up and down, frantically trying to mesh God with science in their favor, while ridiculing atheism as irrational and immoral.

    “No more free ride.”

    This gets into NOMA/OMA discussions in other Blogs (OMA = Overlapping Magisteria).

    Is it time for a single, mutual OMA Truth where no one gets a “free ride”?

    If so, we might have to accept what the Pythagoreans had to with irrational numbers. Not everything “real” may be empirically testable.

    I know this is throwing cold water in a call-to-arms thread, but there is no need to be worried. We are much better prepared for radical new ideas than the other side. And part of the no-free-ride policy is a requirement to provide actual definitions and actual proposals. Similar to what Hippasus did when he showed the square-root of two had to exist even if he couldn’t prove it empirically.

    Provoking Thought

  77. #78 Christian Burnham
    April 21, 2007

    Atheists are people who happen not to believe in a particular supernatural phenomenon, generally because of lack of evidence.

    Atheism itself isn’t a political movement any more than being black or being female is. It’s no more an intellectual movement than algebra.

    Maybe we’re really talking about humanism or civil rights. If feminism is to female, so is humanism to being an atheist.

    I freely admit that this might be wrong. I’m still thinking about it.

  78. #79 CalGeorge
    April 21, 2007

    God is outside of science. Period.

    God is outside of rationality.

    The New Atheists think people who believe in god are making a big fat mental mistake.

    Believers might be perfectly nice people, they might be creeps, but they are deluded.

  79. #80 Dustin
    April 21, 2007

    All this talk of women suffragists got me thinking… Would atheists burning bras help the cause any?

    It’s got me wondering too: Do well-behaved atheists make history?

  80. #81 Timothy Chase
    April 21, 2007

    PZ wrote (in #71 I believe in response to #67 where I mentioned how I thought that a reflexively reciting a litany of complaints any time the subject of religion is brought up might be a back idea):

    No, it’s a good idea.

    You don’t understand. The goal isn’t to be able to coexist with other members of society by being unobtrusive and hiding our beliefs. It’s to be known by those beliefs; just like modern Lutherans don’t freak out and suspect the other guy is grinding baby’s bones in the shed behind the house when they find out he’s Catholic, we should want everyone to think simply, “Huh, OK, he’s one of those guys who doesn’t go to church and doesn’t believe in my god” when they meet an atheist, and they shouldn’t even mentally qualify it with “I hope my daughter never marries one of them.” That takes a certain amount of persistent dunning into people’s heads right now.

    I wouldn’t ask you to hide the fact that you don’t believe in a god. I let people know that I am not Christian or even a personal – although I don’t let that descend into some sort of indescriminant attack upon Christianity or theism in general. When you mention the Lutheran who might be afraid that Catholics grind up the bones of babies, obviously this is a form of bigotry which would be worth opposing. Obviously it should be opposed when directed against atheists. But if a Catholic responded to Lutherans by claiming that all Lutherans were in league with the devil, that might also be problematic.

    There have been times when I have mentioned that I was not a Christian that people have been a little taken aback by it. For example, the minister when I delivered an eulegy for my physics teacher (I had mentioned “living on through others” rather than the “afterlife” which made him ask), or when I mentioned it in passing to my grandmother in front of her friend. But it isn’t a big deal for me, and it shouldn’t be for them. It is just part of that special, wonderous package which is me – including that profound sense of humility.

    In any case, obviously with you, I can see that you have a great deal going on in you life. You have the science, the discoveries, the students, the achievements. But for some of those who regard themselves as atheists, I sometimes get the sense that they define themselves as atheists, that this is what they regard as what is essential about themselves. Not what they are for, but what they are against. One gets the sense that if religion were to suddenly disappear the next day, their lives would be drained of all passion and become entirely meaningless because there would be nothing left for them to oppose.

    PZ wrote:

    The faction that some call “appeasers” seem to be more interested in coexistence by stealth; some of us would rather coexist as loud, equal, and unashamed members of the culture, instead of being the quiet little mice hiding in the walls.

    Well, I would probably be what most “new atheists” would regard as an appeaser – even though I have stated that you should let people know that you are not religious – to help them get beyond that sort of bigotry. But what a person believes is ultimately a decision for that person alone. If you try to push them into giving up their religious beliefs, they are likely to move in the opposite direction.

    People are funny that way.

    To be perfectly honest, I worry a bit that, given how emotional this subject is, by participating in this discussion, I might even encourage people those who I argue with into moving in the opposite direction from what I intend – as a similar form of complementary schismogenesis. Sometimes life and people seem way too complicated. Then again, there are no doubt times that I just worry too easily.

  81. #82 Skeptic
    April 21, 2007

    “I’m wondering why you bring up PETA colugo?”

    It wasn’t colugo who brought PETA up, it was me.

    “Have you looked at what they accomplished or did you just assume that they haven’t accomplished anything because you don’t like them?”

    They uncovered some illegal practices. Great. But on the other hand they have conducted illegal activities themselves. Oh, they’re hypocrites as well, unless you consider euthanasia of healthy, but lonely animals ethically correct. Apart from that they value a donkey’s life over a human’s life! (http://www.peta.org/feat/arafat/) and compared the slaughtering of chickens for food to the Holocaust(http://www.adl.org/Anti_semitism/holocaust_imagery.asp)! Way to go, PETA.

    “More over, how much has animal rights activism accomplished in the years that PETA has been around that has been indirectly tied to the fact that there is an organization like them, and more militant groups to boot.”

    So the end justifies the means? I dare to disagree. Undercover investigations are very useful indeed. (Some) Political campaigning might be okay as well, even though I despise it. I don’t think criminal activities like attacking and hurting people and destroying their property is not effective.

  82. #83 Skeptic
    April 21, 2007

    “a) What’s “Weltanschauung”? Is that a kind of sausage like schnaufraude?”

    Is this supposed to be a joke? Haha, very funny.
    Schnaufraude is no sausage. Schnaufraude is a type of German bread, commonly served with mustard and sausages (the sausages are called “bildungsroman”.
    “Weltanschauung” on the other hand is the son of Jebus and Count Chocula.

    “b) All this talk of women suffragists got me thinking… Would atheists burning bras help the cause any?”

    Yes, it would.

    (look, I can be funny, too! Just like Stanton!)

  83. #84 Thought Provoker
    April 21, 2007

    Hi Skeptic,

    You made your point, kind of. In the US of A in the summer of 1956 “In God we Trust” was declared the national motto and “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. These were patently illegal and unethical activities especially when coupled with the Red Scare where atheists were black-balled and worse by “moral”, upstanding citizens.

    1956 is NOT ancient history.

    These were mistakes. They should be corrected immediately.

    It is not unethical for the aggrieved party to demand they be corrected even if it takes civil disobedience to make it happen.

    You point to PETA as an example of how bad it could become if we don’t back down. We point to PETA as an example of how bad it could become if you don’t stop and reverse years of misconduct.

  84. #85 CalGeorge
    April 21, 2007

    Onegoodmove has a nice quotation from the new Hitchens book:

    There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum, of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking… I had already discovered these four objections (as well as noticed the more vulgar and obvious fact that religion is used by those in temporal charge to invest themselves with authority) before my boyish voice had broken… And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.

    http://onegoodmove.org/1gm/1gmarchive/2007/04/god_is_not_grea.html

    Sounds good to me. The New Atheism is thriving!

  85. #86 Nathan Parker
    April 21, 2007

    adamsj wrote:

    I understand, PZ, why you get so frustrated with the frame of framing, and I won’t say I don’t sometimes agree with you, but I also think it’d be money well-spent for science organizations to hire PR people–and listen to them.

    Agree 100%.

  86. #87 beepbeepitsme
    April 21, 2007

    Patriarchy, male privilege, was the culturally accepted modality, therefore anyone who spoke against this was by default considered to be intolerant and disrespectful.

    Religiousity which seems to be also coupled historically with patriarchy. (at least in the Abrahamic religions), is also in many countries, the culturally accepted modality. Therefore those who speak against it, are described by default as being intolerant and disrespectful.

    To me its the same game. To speak contrary to authority, whether its basis is in male privilege or in religion – is to be seen as not knowing one’s place in the culturally prescribed pecking order. Explicit in this is that not knowing one’s place is disrespectful and intolerant. Implicit in this is the concept that one is to accept without reservation, the dictates of authority.

  87. #88 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 21, 2007

    “The whole tone of Church teaching in regard to women is, to the last degree, contemptuous and degrading.”

    Remarkable how well other activists ‘rude’ commentaries can be adapted to New Atheist situation:

    The whole tone of Church teaching in regard to atheists is, to the last degree, contemptuous and degrading.

    We can probably learn a lot from others successes. Feminists, slaves, gays, ethnic minorities, and more.

    And perhaps shame some moderates to make a choice in the process:

    Feminism in UK, early 20th century:

    “Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less.”

    Atheism in US, early 21st century:

    Religious their rights and nothing more; atheists their rights and nothing less.

  88. #89 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 21, 2007

    “The whole tone of Church teaching in regard to women is, to the last degree, contemptuous and degrading.”

    Remarkable how well other activists ‘rude’ commentaries can be adapted to New Atheist situation:

    The whole tone of Church teaching in regard to atheists is, to the last degree, contemptuous and degrading.

    We can probably learn a lot from others successes. Feminists, slaves, gays, ethnic minorities, and more.

    And perhaps shame some moderates to make a choice in the process:

    Feminism in UK, early 20th century:

    “Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less.”

    Atheism in US, early 21st century:

    Religious their rights and nothing more; atheists their rights and nothing less.

  89. #90 Lettuce
    April 21, 2007

    We had a (recent) President of the United States offer the opinion that:

    No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.

    But that’s not rude, it’s just dismissive. It’s just, you know, whatever.

    I’m a liberal, so I’m not a patriot.

    I’m an atheist, so I’m not a patriot, in fact I should’t be considered a citizen.

    They think atheists are rude? They can fuck themselves.

    Clean up their own house.

  90. #91 Mark
    April 21, 2007

    >Successful revolutionaries ignore the admonitions about which fork to use for their salad because they care only to grab the steak knife as they launch themselves over the table.

    I believe that’s a direct quote from Gandhi, isn’t it?

  91. #92 Colugo
    April 21, 2007

    Torbjörn Larsson: “Religious their rights and nothing more; atheists their rights and nothing less.”

    Of course. But that is not what defines New Atheism. Sastra (#72) understands what makes New Atheism distinct. (Or at least part of what makes it distinct; castigating inadequate allies and hyperbolic zero-sum rhetoric are other features.)

    Clearly, not all of us are talking about the same thing when we use the term “New Atheism.”

  92. #93 Erasmussimo
    April 21, 2007

    You know, I had previously been in the “let’s be polite” school, and I still prefer to be a gentleman rather than a barbarian, but the basic logic you offer is sound. I am convinced; atheists need to assert themselves. But is our goal to establish our place in society or to attack theism? I suspect that there is an either-or relationship being asserted here — that society must choose between theism and atheism. I fear that, if you put the issue in those words, we shall lose.

    Let us never forget that most people need some spiritual beliefs for the same reason that they need variety in their diets, companionship, and a place in society. Theism may be incorrect, but we’re not dealing with ethereal beings here; we’re dealing with Paleolithic hominids who suddenly jumped out of the caves and into the skyscrapers.

  93. #94 Thought Provoker
    April 21, 2007

    Hi Erasmussimo,
    Good Points, but I fear things are going to change whether we like it or not. The current U.S. Supreme Court just basically ruled that laws based on religious morality take precedence over the health of a pregnant woman. The other side uses expressions like “reality-based thinking” as a derogatory term to describe us. The pendulum is swinging wildly and its center isn’t in the middle. I don’t see how we can get back to the NOMA peace. Science is too close to being able to explain just about everything empirically. The leaders of the other side know it and they are going to do everything in the power to stop us before it is too late. Do you really think they are going to be satisfied with us owning 99.9% of the answers, including creation, as we tell them “you get to explain the really important stuff like Love and the difference between Good and Evil”?

    Provoking Thought

  94. #95 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 21, 2007

    But that is not what defines New Atheism.

    Of course. Perhaps we can find quotes that cover the “New” aspect as well; I went for easy pickings.

    In a sense these “Old” aspects are a stronger case because they are old and less controversial, yet still unsatisfied in some nations like US. But Dawkins, and Stenger that Sastra references, shows us that going for the jugular may be more successful. (With steak knifes, perhaps.) So that is what we should prioritize.

  95. #96 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 21, 2007

    But that is not what defines New Atheism.

    Of course. Perhaps we can find quotes that cover the “New” aspect as well; I went for easy pickings.

    In a sense these “Old” aspects are a stronger case because they are old and less controversial, yet still unsatisfied in some nations like US. But Dawkins, and Stenger that Sastra references, shows us that going for the jugular may be more successful. (With steak knifes, perhaps.) So that is what we should prioritize.

  96. #97 llewelly
    April 22, 2007

    Thought Provoker:

    Do you really think they are going to be satisfied with us owning 99.9% of the answers, including creation, as we tell them “you get to explain the really important stuff like Love and the difference between Good and Evil”?

    ‘Love and the difference between Good and Evil’ are human behavior. So is religion. The available evidence strongly indicates that human behavior is the the result of cell behavior (most likely principally neuron-directed, but other cells play important roles), and those cells are electrochemical systems, amenable to modeling and scientific explanations. There is no reason to believe science will not provide steadily improving explanations of love, good, evil, and religion. It will not be long before these explanations are clearly more useful than anything religion has ever provided. (For example, despite various teething troubles psychiatric drugs are much more effective than religion, though explanations of why they work remain poor.)

    (But be careful with ‘the brain is a computer’ analogies; the mathematical definition of ‘computer’ is deceptively broad, including things most users of the word ‘computer’ are unaware of, such as asynchronous computers, analog computers, computers that make no distinctions between ‘software’ and ‘hardware’, computers made from valves and water pipes rather than discrete logic, and on and on. The brain most likely has the same bounds of computability, but the details of its behavior are quite different. )

  97. #98 Colugo
    April 22, 2007

    There are actually several ongoing controversies, not one:

    1) tactics

    The “framing” thing and M&N’s “good cop” fly-swats at Dawkins vs. Stonewall-esque loud n’ proud expressions of atheism (Note: M&N are talking about science policy advocacy, while PZ is talking about atheism advocacy.)

    2) social goals

    Erasmussimo: “But is our goal to establish our place in society or to attack theism?”

    3) scientific claims

    NOMA vs. Stenger’s falsification

  98. #99 David Harmon
    April 22, 2007

    TP: Do you really think they are going to be satisfied with us owning 99.9% of the answers, including creation, as we tell them “you get to explain the really important stuff like Love and the difference between Good and Evil”?

    Begging your pardon, but science has been investigating both Love and Good vs. Evil, lately with some success. Ditto, of course, for the trance(ndental) experiences which religion traditionally claimed as its “home ground”. Frankly, I’m not sure there’s anything that’s “properly left to the religious”.

  99. #100 Kseniya
    April 22, 2007

    Outstanding, Dr. Myers.

  100. #101 Trinifar
    April 22, 2007

    The comment I started to write turned into a blog post. Besides, I felt obligated to produce a drawing of a zebrafish at the pharyngula stage.

  101. #102 LiberalDirk
    April 22, 2007

    To further quote from Serenity “Let’s be bad guys” ~ Jayne

    JebusCripes I want to take issue with your post #39

    The ANC did not end apartheid through violence. Nowhere near. In 1994 when the first democratic elections took place neither the ANC or the IFP or the PAC had “liberated” a square inch of South Africa. Not a square inch. In fact the training & military bases were so far removed from South Africa to be seperated by entire countries(the bases in Zambia.

    Apartheid ended because of economic disinvest and moral courage on the part of the white population who voted, please note, VOTED to end white rule.

    PS Apartheid is considered a crime against humanity. When will the US invasion of Iraq be condemned as one? Crickets chirping.

  102. #103 Colugo
    April 22, 2007

    Torbjörn Larsson: “Perhaps we can find quotes that cover the “New” aspect as well; I went for easy pickings.”

    Michel Onfray, Atheist Manifesto: “We can no longer tolerate neutrality and benevolence.”
    http://tinyurl.com/ywlacx

    Victor Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis: “The hypothesis of God is not confirmed by the data. Indeed that hypothesis is falsified by the data.”
    http://tinyurl.com/3bvmva

    Sam Harris: “It is time that scientists and other public intellectuals observed that the contest between faith and reason is zero-sum.”
    http://tinyurl.com/r2p5a

    Geoffrey Miller: “A great ideological war is raging between the Godless — people like me, who trust life — and the Gutless — the talking heads of the extreme, religious right…”
    http://www.edge.org/q2007/q07_4.html#miller

    Richard Dawkins, Edge.org
    “The Neville Chamberlain ‘appeasement’ school focuses on the battle for evolution. Consequently, its members identify fundamentalism as the enemy, and they bend over backwards to appease ‘moderate’ or ‘sensible’ religion … Scientists of the Winston Churchill school, by contrast, see the fight for evolution as only one battle in a larger war: a looming war between supernaturalism on the one side and rationality on the other.”
    http://tinyurl.com/2ass62

  103. #104 Louis
    April 22, 2007

    PZ,

    I agree wholeheartedly. I’d also go a step further and say that advocacy of science and separately (perhaps not so separately) of atheism are only part (albeit a major part) of the greater struggle: the advocacy of reason and the values that emerged most recently in Western culture during the Enlightenment.

    Erasmussimo makes a good point above, we are dealing with our “chimpier” selves when we deal with religion, eradication of that aspect of our humanity is, if not impossible (although worthy of struggling for), a very long way off (read many tens of thousands of years, not merely many decades). Obviously I know you know this, and in the above you echo my thoughts entirely, an equal, equally vocal, equally passionate public role for atheists. More than this, the removal of religious considerations from public life and the restriction of religion to the personal sphere like many other ideas. The advocacy of reason and secularism.

    So “Bravo!”

    “One cannot be a true revolutionary without passion” Che Guevara.

    I’m off to listen to some Rage Against the Machine followed by Mark Thomas. That usually puts me in revolutionary mood. 😉

    Louis

  104. #105 Dan
    April 22, 2007

    Chet:

    The problem with your “unfalsifiable by definition” God is that you’re missing the step where you prove that your definition is actually the one that would describe the God we’re talking about.

    The problem with this argument is that by taking your missing step, you’re conceding the entire argument. You’re admitting that the specific attributes of a specific deity are even remotely relevant to the general question of the existence of the supernatural. You’re accepting a frame in which theists hold all the cards, a frame in which the goalposts are constantly being moved, a frame in which atheism, rationality and logic can never win. In short, you’re buying in to the God delusion. Once you start talking about the specifics of individual deities, you’re no longer doing science. What you’ve got there is theology.

    Do you think I’m defending theists, or something? Non-falsifiability ISN’T A GOOD THING. A non-falsifiable argument doesn’t even rise to the level of being true or false. It’s not right; it’s not even wrong. It’s just logically meaningless gibberish, regardless of how good it might make the people on the ground feel about the inevitability of death.

    When people say things like “God works in mysterious ways,” they’re not just spouting a run-of-the-mill thought-terminating cliché or a semantically attenuated idiom. It’s an explicit claim that literally everything is proof of the existence of God. Most religious communities, regardless of the specifics of the religion in question, have some kind of analogous cliché. When literally everything is proof positive of your religious claim — when any given piece of ostensibly contrary evidence can be hand-waved away without scratching the surface of the claim — there cannot be any disproof or contrary evidence. Hence the non-falsifiability of religious claims. Conspiracy theories work the same way.

    And again, lest I still appear to you as an appeaser or a pocket-theist, non-falsifiability ISN’T A GOOD THING.

  105. #106 Justin Moretti
    April 22, 2007

    No, PZ; you’re not fighting for a basic right worth screaming and committing arson for, and neither is Dawkins. There are plenty of quietly religious people out there who want nothing to do with the religious and pseudoscientific bullshit behaviour that you so despise, and who are really disturbed that the cultural meme on which they have constructed their morals and ethics is being torn apart and disparaged.

    Those who indulge in antiscientific religiosity are often doing it for reasons completely unconnected to any sort of God. Religiosity is not automatically equivalent to irrationality, even though the two sometimes go together; nor are the irrational always religious.

    The problem is an abandonment of common sense; not the maintenance of attachment to any officially sanctioned form of spirituality. If more people had common sense, the idiot religiosity would disappear.

  106. #107 David Livesay
    April 22, 2007

    Were the women saying that men were stupid? Were they portraying them as rubes and simpletons?

    As a matter of fact, they were. By denying the “natural superiority of men,” the suffragists were doing two things that men of their day found intensely insulting. First of all, they were denying something that virtually every man at that time knew to be true. They were flying in the face of common sense. Clearly the implication of telling someone that what they believe is false is going to be perceived as an insult to their intelligence. Second, they were debasing men by advocating equality with them. If you believe women to be inferior, you’re not going to find that comparison very flattering. It is literally the same as calling them stupid, not to mention weak, sinful and licentious.

    Only by ignoring how drastically those beliefs and attitudes have changed is it possible to overlook the consequences of those beliefs in their time. Men really did believe that women were naturally inferior to men in every way–physically, mentally, morally and spiritually. J.J. Ramsey seems to think they were merely disadvantaged socially and politically. This is a complete misunderstanding of the situation.

  107. #108 David Livesay
    April 22, 2007

    Virginia Tech being used and abused by the faithheads. : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9uNtvFSxYM
    No comments, no video responses!!!

    It’s interesting that they failed to mention the Nickel Mines tragedy. Did they forget? Are the Amish not devout enough for them? Or is this just another example of how they conveniently ignore all contrary evidence, even when it’s as obvious and compelling as the murder of five young Amish schoolgirls.

  108. #109 poke
    April 22, 2007

    There aren’t any “quietly religious” people. Let’s drop this lie. They’re not “quietly religious,” they’re resting on their laurels because they’re in a position of total accommodation and appeasement. They may not be perpetuating nonsense like Creationism but they’re perpetuating nonsense like NOMA or relativism or instrumentalism. These things are far, far, FAR more damaging than Creationism. Our entire society is shot through with a pathological disrespect for science that exists almost entirely so these people can hold their petty religious beliefs.

  109. #110 JasonN
    April 22, 2007

    Has anybody else noticed that feminism occasionally goes overboard, extending beyond the struggle for equal rights for women and into the realm of illogical, vindictive, cult-like hatred of men?

    Feminism has also spawned a number of pseudo-intellectual hacks hawking silly epistemologies like “feminist postmodernism” which argue that the method and findings of science are mere cultural constructs with no basis in external reality. Such people deserve no more respect than the staff of the Discovery Institute.

    Your unbridled support for “rude” feminism is unnerving in light of these extremes to which it is sometimes taken. Feminism at its best has been the zealous pursuit of a just cause, but you should draw some distinction to prevent association with those who irrationally pursue radical causes.

  110. #111 beepbeepitsme
    April 22, 2007

    I can only laugh at men who accuse feminists of going overboard when the foundations of the world’s most powerful religions and hence the world’s most powerful political tools, are based in patriarchy.

  111. #112 vjack
    April 22, 2007

    Bravo! Truly excellent post that should inspire the lot of us. I support a diverse range of tactics, but it is clear to me that there is value in being even more outspoken than we are now.

  112. #113 JasonN
    April 22, 2007

    I can only laugh at men who accuse feminists of going overboard when the foundations of the world’s most powerful religions and hence the world’s most powerful political tools, are based in patriarchy.

    So you’re saying that because feminists are opposing a powerful injustice, nothing they say or do is too extreme?

    Look at these quotes from militant feminist Valerie Solanas’s S.C.U.M. Manifesto:

    “Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.”

    “Retaining the male has not even the dubious purpose of reproduction. The male is a biological accident: the y(male) gene is an incomplete x(female) gene, that is, has an incomplete set of chromosomes. In other words, the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples.”

    Can you honestly tell me that’s not going overboard? For that matter, the word “Feminazi” fits this nonsense perfectly, although I hesitate to use it because it has been misapplied to more moderate feminists. But this is the kind of crap that inspires such terminology.

    Here’s some Wikipedia reading about various indefensible types of feminist extremism:

    Separatist Feminism
    Anarcha-Feminism
    Postmodern Feminism

    I’m not saying most or even much of feminism is like this. I’m just saying that when PZ holds feminism up as an example of a degree of zealotry to which atheists should inspire, he should bear in mind that some have taken it way too far.

  113. #114 JasonN
    April 22, 2007

    Whoops, in the post above, second to last line, it should be “aspire” and not “inspire.” I need more sleep.

  114. #115 CalGeorge
    April 22, 2007

    I’m not saying most or even much of feminism is like this. I’m just saying that when PZ holds feminism up as an example of a degree of zealotry to which atheists should inspire, he should bear in mind that some have taken it way too far.

    Men need to shut up about feminism. Women have a hard enough time without having their feminisms sliced and diced.

    If I had to worry about some sleazeball exposing himself or harrassing me, or couldn’t go to certain areas where I live by myself, or had to cross the street at times to avoid comments, or got judged way too much on my looks, or couldn’t advance beyond a certain point in the work place, or got dissed by the President of Harvard, or had inadequate representation in government, or saw half the populations of most third world countries being treated like crap, I’d hope to see the various feminisms exploding with ideas on how to confront and fix these problems.

  115. #116 JasonN
    April 22, 2007

    Men need to shut up about feminism. Women have a hard enough time without having their feminisms sliced and diced.

    Sorry, but I really think that all causes should be approached with reason and a fair mind. The nobility of mainstream feminism’s goals does not excuse the excesses of the extremists. I also don’t think that opposing the vengeful and vindictive fringe of feminism is an affront to other women — I’m not giving them a hard time.

    I would not even have brought this up, except that PZ’s post endorses emulating the ferocity of the feminist movement. I agree with that, up to a certain point. I just think the up to a certain point is very important when speaking admirably of a movement which, at its most severe extreme, advocates exterminating half the population.

  116. #117 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2007

    The argument is irrelevant. Any movement will contain crackpots and crazies; you don’t judge them by the fringe nuts that even the leaders of the movement disavow. I’ve peeked in on some forum responses to this new Transformers movie, for instance, and there are freaks declaring jihad over deviations from canon. Canon established by a children’s cartoon.

    If you’re going to shun any social action because some loon pushes it to an extreme to which you disagree, you’re going to be stuck cowering at home a lot.

  117. #118 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2007

    Oh, and if you think it’s fair to generalize feminists as wanting to exterminate half the population, is it also fair to avoid atheism because you might some kook in an asylum somewhere who thinks it’s OK to annihilate 90% of Americans?

  118. #119 llewelly
    April 22, 2007

    I’m not saying most or even much of feminism is like this. I’m just saying that when PZ holds feminism up as an example of a degree of zealotry to which atheists should inspire, he should bear in mind that some have taken it way too far.

    Unfortunately you sound as if you view agitation for voting rights (that is where PZ’s examples come from) as a kind of gateway drug that leads to the methamphetamine of man-murdering-moms. There’s no reason to think we’re on a piece of melting butter sliding down a slope of greased Teflon.

  119. #120 Chet
    April 22, 2007

    Dan:

    The problem with this argument is that by taking your missing step, you’re conceding the entire argument.

    Well, I think that’s a mistaken way to look at it. If theists want to bring their concept into the discussion about what is real, we’re entitled to take a long hard look at it and determine if, as defined, it’s consistent with observation.

    But we have to know what’s being talked about before we can do that. And I don’t see that allowing theists to define the word “God” in advance of the discussion is something to be afraid of.

    It’s only when theists and “weak” atheists demand that the word “God” be treated as a definition-less cypher that there’s room to play the moving goalposts game. I honestly see this debate in starkly opposite terms as you. The more we allow theists to “load” the word “God” with different putative qualities, actions, etc., the more they’re giving us to disprove.

    When literally everything is proof positive of your religious claim — when any given piece of ostensibly contrary evidence can be hand-waved away without scratching the surface of the claim

    You only have room to do that when the word “God” is held to be an empty utterance. The instant that theists assert that the word actually means something, the rest of us have a handle on the concept we can use to falsify it.

    And the sophisticated theists know that. Look, we see this very debate happen here. Theists use the “empty-utterance two-step” to criticize Dawkins. “Oh, he may have refuted their God over at that fundie church, but the God I believe in is something very different, although I’m not for an instant going to consider telling you what it is, actually. Yeah – try disproving a God I haven’t even defined, suckas!”

  120. #121 Chet
    April 22, 2007

    Can you honestly tell me that’s not going overboard?

    Credulous much?

  121. #122 Stogoe
    April 22, 2007

    Every time I hear someone accuse the feminists of going overboard, I’m convinced that they’re not actually paying attention to how systematically women are subjugated here on earth.

    Or they’ve latched onto and are obsessing over some fringe case while treating it as the whole of feminist thought.

  122. #123 RavenT
    April 22, 2007

    For that matter, the word “Feminazi” fits this nonsense perfectly, although I hesitate to use it because it has been misapplied to more moderate feminists.

    Thanks for hesitating before you used it, I guess.

  123. #124 RavenT
    April 22, 2007

    Stogoe, it’s called the “Strawfeminist”, or perhaps in this case “ZOMG it’s the Feminazi Strawfeminist!!!!!”.

    Searching the blog archives at Pandagon for the term yields some informative examples of how Amanda et alia have dissected the concept.

  124. #125 Stogoe
    April 22, 2007

    I know about the Strawfeminist. I enjoy teh Pandagon, ZOMG.

  125. #126 xebecs
    April 22, 2007

    Has anybody else noticed that feminism occasionally goes overboard, extending beyond the struggle for equal rights for women and into the realm of illogical, vindictive, cult-like hatred of men?

    Has anyone else noticed that people like JasonN make assertions without supporting evidence or even an example of what he’s talking about?

    Almost every woman I’ve ever known harbors plenty of anger towards men, and it’s usually quite justifiable. The mere fact that we also like plenty of individual men changes nothing. The fact that some of us are feminists changes nothing.

  126. #127 Dan
    April 22, 2007

    Chet:

    The problem with this argument is that by taking your missing step, you’re conceding the entire argument.

    Well, I think that’s a mistaken way to look at it. If theists want to bring their concept into the discussion about what is real, we’re entitled to take a long hard look at it and determine if, as defined, it’s consistent with observation.

    But we have to know what’s being talked about before we can do that. And I don’t see that allowing theists to define the word “God” in advance of the discussion is something to be afraid of.

    So you don’t think that allowing your opponent to hold all the cards puts you in a weak rhetorical position? Maybe you should tell me why we should be forced to pay attention to someone who wants to argue about what color a unicorn’s hair is.

    It’s only when theists and “weak” atheists demand that the word “God” be treated as a definition-less cypher that there’s room to play the moving goalposts game. I honestly see this debate in starkly opposite terms as you. The more we allow theists to “load” the word “God” with different putative qualities, actions, etc., the more they’re giving us to disprove.

    Except that like the color of a unicorn’s hair, not a single shred of it is even remotely relevant until you concede the primary question of existence. Because what’s the point in talking about the specific attributes of something you can’t even demonstrate exists in the first place?

    When literally everything is proof positive of your religious claim — when any given piece of ostensibly contrary evidence can be hand-waved away without scratching the surface of the claim

    You only have room to do that when the word “God” is held to be an empty utterance. The instant that theists assert that the word actually means something, the rest of us have a handle on the concept we can use to falsify it.

    You’re completely missing the point. Whether or not you have a handle on the concept means absolutely nothing whatsoever to theists, since they’re just going to ignore you, anyway. That’s the point. To theists, “God” is an empty utterance, one that can be filled with whatever you feel like filling it with. In fact, theism requires that “God” be an empty utterance capable of being filled with whatever’s convenient at the moment. It has no power, otherwise.

    And the sophisticated theists know that. Look, we see this very debate happen here. Theists use the “empty-utterance two-step” to criticize Dawkins. “Oh, he may have refuted their God over at that fundie church, but the God I believe in is something very different, although I’m not for an instant going to consider telling you what it is, actually. Yeah – try disproving a God I haven’t even defined, suckas!”

    Which part of that does not qualify as “hand-waving” and “moving the goalposts”? That’s the whole damn point, Chet. You want specific attributes, but what you obviously don’t understand that the specific attributes you’re asking for are only being offered as a smokescreen to distract you from the real problem of theology: the fundamental concept of the supernatural is logically broken from the get-go.

    By asking for specific attributes, you must have conceded the general question of existence. Because if you haven’t, specifics aren’t relevant. Imaginary baseball players don’t have batting averages.

  127. #128 BlackSun
    April 22, 2007

    Great post, PZ, though you don’t need me to tell you that! I am consistently impressed with your clear thinking and uncompromising stances. You very much deserve your prominent position in the atheist blogosphere. Keep it up!

  128. #129 JasonN
    April 22, 2007

    Oh, and if you think it’s fair to generalize feminists as wanting to exterminate half the population, is it also fair to avoid atheism because you might some kook in an asylum somewhere who thinks it’s OK to annihilate 90% of Americans?

    I was trying to be careful not to generalize, and to clearly target my comments at the militant extremists.

    However, I think those extremists do include more than a few kooks in an asylum. Some have tenure and speaking engagements. (Although I believe the one I cited for overtly calling for exterminating mankind is in prison for trying to kick off that initiative personally.) They are still a very small minority of the feminist movement, but I don’t think they’re completely marginalized either. There are whole organizations and publications for “separatist feminists,” for example.

    When you wrote praise for the ferocity and outrage of the feminist movement, I instantly thought of the most ferocious and outrageous words I’ve read from feminists, and they aren’t pretty. In retrospect it’s fairly clear in your article that you’re referring back to what you wrote about suffrage, which of course is fine. I just thought it worth pointing out that feminism isn’t the cleanest example of a movement with admirable ferocity, because its most ferocious words have come from reprehensible extremists.

    Has anyone else noticed that people like JasonN make assertions without supporting evidence or even an example of what he’s talking about?

    Read my second post above… the one in which I quote examples of what I’m talking about.

  129. #130 Chet
    April 22, 2007

    So you don’t think that allowing your opponent to hold all the cards puts you in a weak rhetorical position?

    Not knowing your opponent’s cards is the weakest possible position, which is why I find your position so weak. If you don’t draw out definitions, you’re letting them hang on to all their cards.

    Except that like the color of a unicorn’s hair, not a single shred of it is even remotely relevant until you concede the primary question of existence.

    You’re just grappling with a strawman, now. I never said that all putative characteristics were useful, but to extend your analogy, if part of the definition of “red-haired unicorns” included “they live in my kitchen”, that would be an extension of the definition that allowed us to falsify the claim.

    Which part of that does not qualify as “hand-waving” and “moving the goalposts”? That’s the whole damn point, Chet.

    I’d go so far to say that it’s the whole fucking point, and it appears to have sailed right through your head without scraping either side. That’s precisely the hand-waving and goalpost-moving that you allow theists to do when you allow them to persist in keeping “God” perenially undefined. There’s no accusation of inconsistency that you can level, because nothing is inconsistent with a non-definition.

    the fundamental concept of the supernatural is logically broken from the get-go.

    Is it? Until it’s defined, how can we say either way? If I ask you whether or not “gremlekken” is “logically broken”, or even exists in the first place, don’t you look like an idiot saying either way until I tell you what I think “gremlekken” is in the first place?

    Imaginary baseball players don’t have batting averages.

    Of course they do, they just have imaginary ones.

  130. #131 Aerik
    April 22, 2007

    @#9 (adamsj):

    Hey, Fyfe made the argument better than you did. Were you ripping him off, or what?!

  131. #132 Jack
    April 22, 2007

    Superb article, PZ!

    As I previously posted elsewhere, in borrowing the framework of a quote by the late Sen. Barry Goldwater: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of REASON is no vice. Let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of SECULARISM is no virtue.”

    Oh BTW, Fyfe is annoyingly full of hot air.

  132. #133 Brain
    April 23, 2007

    The only people we hate more than the theists are? Perhaps a scene from Life of Brian can provide some clues. This sectarian bickering is disappointing and juvenile.

    Listen. If you really wanted to join the P.F.J., you’d have to really hate the Romans.
    I do!
    Oh, yeah? How much?
    A lot!
    Right. You’re in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People’s Front.
    Yeah…
    Splitters.
    Splitters…
    And the Judean Popular People’s Front.
    Yeah. Oh, yeah. Splitters. Splitters…
    And the People’s Front of Judea.
    Yeah. Splitters. Splitters…
    What?
    The People’s Front of Judea. Splitters.
    We’re the People’s Front of Judea!
    Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.
    People’s Front! C-huh.
    Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?
    He’s over there.
    Splitter!

  133. #134 Dave Wisker
    April 23, 2007

    What amuses me is how some people think that by comparing the militant tactics of atheists, suffragettes and civil rights leaders, Moran and Myers are trying to equate the social importance of their cause with that of suffrage and civil rights. Sigh.

  134. #135 windy
    April 23, 2007

    What amuses me is how some people think that by comparing the militant tactics of atheists, suffragettes and civil rights leaders, Moran and Myers are trying to equate the social importance of their cause with that of suffrage and civil rights. Sigh.

    That’s not the half of it. Chris at Mixing Memory argues that if you do want to compare the effectiveness of the tactics, and not the goals, you must agree with the tactics of Stalin. Sigh^2.

  135. #136 Dan S.
    April 23, 2007

    One of the classic field marks of the anti-feminist troll is citing Warhol-stalker (and shooter) Valerie Solanas’ unhinged “manifesto” as some sort of important, influential, or respected feminist work.

    I’m impressed, though, at how the message is carefully tailored to this specific audience, stressing what the writer sees as postmodern feminism’s supposed anti-science, Discovery Institute-like stance. Has someone been reading M&N?

    Interestingly, following one of the links provided gives us a quote:

    “<>Although postmodernism resists characterization, it is possible to identify certain themes or orientations that postmodern feminists share. Mary Joe Frug suggested that one “principle” of postmodernism is that human experience is located “inescapably within language.” Power is exercised not only through direct coercion, but also through the way in which language shapes and restricts our reality. However, because language is always open to re-interpretation, it can also be used to resist this shaping and restriction, and so is a potentially fruitful site of political struggle.”

    that is, of course, quite relevant to the larger debate here.

  136. #137 Bronze Dog
    April 23, 2007

    And atheists can’t join the Boy Scouts, although they can join the Girl Scouts, interestingly enough.

    Well, that makes me feel less guilty for buying all those Peanut Butter Patties

  137. #138 Alonzo Fyfe
    April 23, 2007

    Dave Wisker: What amuses me is how some people think that by comparing the militant tactics of atheists, suffragettes and civil rights leaders, Moran and Myers are trying to equate the social importance of their cause with that of suffrage and civil rights. Sigh.

    Come, now. The posting assumes equal social importance and debates tactics. Claiming otherwise is just willful blindness.

  138. #139 Dave Wisker
    April 23, 2007

    That’s not the half of it. Chris at Mixing Memory argues that if you do want to compare the effectiveness of the tactics, and not the goals, you must agree with the tactics of Stalin. Sigh^2.

    I saw that masterpiece of logic, yes.

  139. #140 Chris
    April 23, 2007

    Unless you think that JasonN’s quote above (#111) was actually faked, there’s nothing “straw” about it. Unrepresentative, certainly (and JasonN said as much, too), but existent.

    I think his point is well taken and I intend to in future say that I support *most* feminists.

    There are, of course, people who try to tar the whole movement with that brush; that’s dishonest and reprehensible. But JasonN isn’t one of them (at least based on his posts to this thread so far). Ferocity is all very well, but it’s no substitute for accurate targeting.

  140. #141 Chuck
    April 23, 2007

    Thank you for clarifying, towards the end, that the position of atheists in early 21st century America is nothing like the position of disenfranchized women. The fact is that most Americans are passively, nominally Christian and ignorantly mistrust atheists, and would never vote for an openly atheist politician, but at least atheists can vote and openly advocate secular causes without too much risk of violence.

  141. #142 RavenT
    April 23, 2007

    Unless you think that JasonN’s quote above (#111) was actually faked, there’s nothing “straw” about it.

    You misunderstand what a “strawman” is–it does not have to be fictional, just a misrepresentation of the opponent’s argument:

    A straw man argument is a logical fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “set up a straw man” or “set up a straw-man argument” is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent. A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is in fact a misleading fallacy, because the opponent’s actual argument has not been refuted.

    from Wikipedia.

    Unrepresentative, certainly (and JasonN said as much, too), but existent.

    Hence, the “Strawfeminist”.

    Jason said (exact quote here):

    Has anybody else noticed that feminism occasionally goes overboard, extending beyond the struggle for equal rights for women and into the realm of illogical, vindictive, cult-like hatred of men?

    He represented that as “feminism”, yet he failed to show that any more than a few fringe extremists hold those positions. By his “logic”, I could say that the misogynist troll’s rants on the other thread were representative of all men’s attitudes toward women. But of course I don’t, because I recognize the fallacy in that. Jason did commit that elementary fallcy though.

    At least Jason says he hesitated to use the term “feminazis” before he went ahead and used it. That’s something, anyway. But shouldn’t he have tripped Godwin’s Law, once he put aside all those compunctions of his and went ahead and used it?

  142. #143 Keith Douglas
    April 23, 2007

    Colugo: The way I would put it (elliptically; I’m co-writing a book on this, in part) is that to have a consistent and modern world view, the philosophical presuppositions of science itself must be articulated and defended. I claim (and have defended here on this blog and elsewhere) that these show that metaphysical naturalism is, in fact, the only consistent position with modern science. I just finished reading some Aquinas – and he’s remarkably clear and clearly wrong. But if someone wants another full world view, there it is. But if one does do that, be honest, and fully reject modernity, as Kierkegaard basically says. What I do not think is possible is to try to put one foot on the Aquinas side and one foot on the science side. I might add that if one reads Aquinas it is quite clear that he is more or less an empiricist, too, thus showing the weakness of empiricism alone.

    Dustin: No, there are confirmable but not falsifiable hypotheses, even in science. Popper’s notions are pretty much out of favour anyway. There’s an interesting discussion of the forms of hypotheses and how they function in Bunge’s work Philosophy of Science (or the old edition, Scientific Research).

    The above stuff about integrated world view is where the matter really plays out.

    Dustin II: To be fair, both the outspoken and the mildmannered have been remembered. (Think Marx and Epicurus for an example of each.)

    LiberalDirk: The question is by whom. One can only hope that one day the New York Times will do so. But people from little me to Noam Chomsky have already said it is such.

    JasonN: Sandra Harding isn’t a “rude feminist” in the sense meant here. To put Stanton in the same category of Harding is insulting. Harding advocates massive inequalities and on no evidence, to boot. Moreover, there cannot be any evidence, since she basically asserts that to ask for evidence is “masculinist” and all that. A mean spirited bigoted woman, for sure. (I confirmed as much when I heard her speak and blew off the pointed criticisms that someone asked her.)

    Chet: Is a player with a batting average of 37i hall of fame material?

  143. #144 RavenT
    April 23, 2007

    Is a player with a batting average of 37i hall of fame material?

    It’s certainly an unmatched record.

  144. #145 Margaret
    April 23, 2007

    Dan said “By asking for specific attributes, you must have conceded the general question of existence. Because if you haven’t, specifics aren’t relevant.

    There is one attribute of any proposed “god” that it is important to know: whether or not it supposedly has any affect on the real world. If it does, then it is a scientific (i.e., scientifically testable) hypothesis. (A hypothesis contradicted by all scientific evidence to date.) If it does not, then it is not a falsifiable hypothesis, and hence is not true or false, but merely meaninless: A difference that makes no difference is no difference.

    I think it’s critical to drive home this distinction between a god who does/doesn’t affect the real world, not so much in our minds, as in the minds of the god-believers. If we could succeed in doing this, then the “moderates,” with their belief in a non-real god, would realize they are as hated by the anti-science god-is-real folks as we are, and would (I hope) stop providing cover for them.

    And how long could the “moderates” maintain their religiousness once they’ve admitted that their god is non-real? Ah, but I’m way too optimistic there.

  145. #146 Dan S.
    April 23, 2007

    We aim to misbehave

    To go off on a different tack, does this mean that we should start calling PZ “Captain Tightpants”? I just want to be prepared . . .

  146. #147 RavenT
    April 23, 2007

    To go off on a different tack, does this mean that we should start calling PZ “Captain Tightpants”?

    Does anyone have an icepick I can borrow? I need to put out my mind’s eye…

  147. #148 Chet
    April 23, 2007

    It’s certainly an unmatched record.

    …snap!

  148. #149 bernarda
    April 24, 2007

    One of my favorite 19th century feminists is Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president. For as strange as it may seem, even though women couldn’t vote, they could become president.

    A good biography is Lois Underhill’s “The Woman Who Ran for President”.

    Besides running for president, she was the first woman stock broker, the first to testify before congress, a free-love advocate, and a socialist. Not bad.

  149. #150 bernarda
    April 24, 2007

    I forgot to add, that Thomas Nast cartooned her as satan!

    What more reference do you need?

    http://www.theamericanview.com/index.php?id=302

    And does this sound familiar?

    “Near the end of the 1872 presidential campaign, Woodhull would publish allegations that the nation’s most prominent and respected clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher, had been having an affair with the wife of Woodhull’s biographer, Theodore Tilton. In Woodhull’s estimation, Beecher was hypocritically preaching one tenet while living by another, even though his adultery was a far cry from Free Love. A subsequent trial over the case, which ended with a hung jury, became a sensational news story.”

  150. #151 Kseniya
    April 24, 2007

    Bernarda,

    I sheepishly admit I know nothing of Woodhull. Thanks for contributing to my education. 🙂

  151. #152 Sara
    May 9, 2007

    Spare me.

    Those movements you speak of had the degree of ferocity that they did because people were DYING. They’re dying now; heard of Matthew Shepard? Tina Brandon? Do you even know what you’re talking about?

    Nobody is denying you the right to vote. Nobody is tying you to backs of cars and dragging you to your death. Instead, prominent atheists have books published and get magazine interviews and everyone takes them seriously. This is so far from the situation that existed when the suffragists were handcuffing themselves to the White House fence that it’s ludicrous. As is the degree to which you have to be out of touch with reality to even draw that comparison.

  152. #153 kmarissa
    May 9, 2007

    Sara is right. So long as we aren’t actually dying, we have a strict obligation to be entirely polite, even when constitutional rights fall by the wayside.

  153. #154 RavenT
    May 9, 2007

    PZ, I thought of you and this post when I read this excerpt tonight. I was so engrossed in the book that I missed getting off at my bus stop and had to walk back :).

    The excerpt is from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, which I picked up on impulse a couple of weeks ago while visiting the sun bears (and some people) in Chicago. It’s a historical treatment of the planning and execution of the Chicago World’s Fair, paralleled with the story of the nearby serial killer.

    Anyway, this is the excerpt:

    One day as the Board of Lady Directors debated whether to support or oppose opening the fair on Sunday, an angry male Sabbatarian confronted Susan B. Anthony in the hall of the Woman’s Building to challenge her contention that the fair should remain open. (Anthony was not a lady manager and therefore despite her national stature could not participate in the board’s meeting.) Deploying the most shocking analogy he could muster, the clergyman asked Anthony if she’d prefer having a son of hers attend Buffalo Bill’s show on Sunday instead of church.

    Yes, she replied, “he would learn far more. . . .”

    To the pious this exchange confirmed the fundamental wickedness of Anthony’s suffragist movement. When [Buffalo Bill] Cody learned of it, he was tickled, so much so that he immediately sent Anthony a thank-you note and invited her to attend his show. He offered her a box at any performance she chose.

    That’s the godless part that made me laugh and remember this post, not to mention miss my stop. But you might also like to hear what happened afterward. [He entered on horseback, galloped toward where she was sitting, and bowed until his head nearly touched the horn of his saddle. She stood, returned the bow, and waved her handkerchief at him.]

    The significance of the moment escaped no one. Here was one of the greatest heroes of America’s past saluting one of the foremost heroes of its future. The encounter brought the audience to its feet in a thunder of applause and cheers. (pp. 285-6)

    (OT: So far, I’m liking the rest of the book as much as I liked this story, and would recommend it to anyone interested in detailed historical stories [as well as true crime stories, a guilty pleasure]. On our family’s Daphne-the-polydactyl-cat approval scale, I give it 4 thumbs up!)

  154. #155 agnostic skeptic
    August 28, 2007

    the difference that I see is that women wanted the right to vote for themselves, but they never said anything about taking the rights of men to vote away. same when Martin Luther King Jr. fought for the rights of African Americans-he didn’t do it by saying white people should be mistreated or disparaging them. He encouraged people to look beyond race. While most atheists I’ve met are fine with the religious having their rights (real rights not special rights) as long as they get theirs, there seems to be a growing movement of militant anti-theists that want to destroy all forms of religion, take away people’s rights, and ridicule anyone who even believes in any sort of god (whether they are trying to push that on people or not). They have a fit if someone even mentions the word god and it’s just so ridiculous. As an agnostic, I find these types just as bad as religious fundies. The majority of atheists don’t fall into this, but I don’t see a lot of them telling these guys to quite it either, and when they do, they get ridculued like Greg Epstein (yet there’s plenty of talk about religious “moderates” keeping too quiet). Christopher Hitchens and the Rational Response Squad are 2 examples. Yet many people embrace these as “necessary”. I actually heard Brian Sapient of RRS tell an atheist who didn’t agree with him that he wasn’t “atheist enough”? What the hell? That sounds just like religious fundamentalism to me-the whole you’re either with us or against us. Epstien is allowed his opinion, and whether you like it not, there are plenty of humanists and other non-religious who DO NOT identify with new atheistm and you’re just going to have to live with it. But if you want to alleniate them, keep doing what you’re doing, b/c right now liberal religous are being nicer to them than you are. I guess if someone isn’t your type of non-believer, they don’t count. Sounds an awful lot like religion to me.

    Sam Harris makes some good points, but his views on torture are frightening. So are his views that if a senator mentions “God” he should be censured and removed from office. Umm, hello, freedom of speech? I don’t think he’d like it if an atheist were removed from office for being an atheist. He seems to advocate a double standard-if someone believes in god let’s treat them like an idiot, even if they are a decent person who didn’t hurt anyone. Well, having several friends who do believe in god (but aren’t that religious) I’d be the first to fight against any attempt to take away their rights or to pressure them to say they don’t believe in god, and I certainly wouldn’t make fun of them for it. The two can peacfully coexist-I’ve been doing it for years. Both sides are getting ridiculous. Dawkins is pretty good, he has actually talked with decent religious like the Bishop of Oxford.

    As the atheist “movement” grows, there will be more disagreement and move variablity-it happens with every group. The xtians once started out as a minority too. So if I were you, I’d stop giving a special pass to people like RRS, and stop criticizing humanists b/c they aren’t “atheist enough”-or you’re going to become just as bad as what you claim to be against. On the other hand, I’m probably going to be dismissed as another stupid agnostic. Whatever. Just know that you are alienating plenty of people like me, and I have news for you-there are PLENTY of us.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.