Paul Kurtz is an intelligent and interesting fellow who has done commendable work in advancing the cause of skepticism and freethought. He can be rightly considered one of the heroes of the atheist movement, and he’s one of the reasons that the sobriquet “New Atheist” grates — Kurtz has been writing this stuff for decades.

Now, suddenly, he’s being trumpeted as an advocate of “silencing the New Atheist Noise Machine.” This is weird on so many levels.

For one, if he were to announce something like that, I’d be disappointed — Kurtz deserves to be listened to carefully — but ultimately, it wouldn’t matter. There is no atheist pope, not Kurtz, not Dawkins, not Harris, and there never will be. If Kurtz were to take that position, it would mean a ponderously strong voice had been wheeled out into the argument, not that the matter was settled.

For another, Chris Hallquist has doubts that Kurtz’s position is being accurately reported.

Kurtz has never said, and probably never will say, that the work of these religion critics is ?a major self-inflicted wound.? The truth is that Kurtz has dismissed the notion that they are ?too outspoken?.

…If you?re going to say the things you?ve said about Dawkins, have the courage to be consistent and take the next logical step of denouncing Paul Kurtz and everything he works for. Indeed, you should be denouncing Kurtz even more strongly than you denounce Dawkins. Dawkins may have put out one book dedicated to attacking religion, but most of his public work has been about explaining science to the general public, but Kurtz?s number one goal has always been the promotion of a philosophy that explicitly rejects God, and he founded a publishing house for this purpose which has published more anti-religious books than Dawkins will ever write. This should be more than enough for you, since you aren?t just picking a bone with Dawkins use of the word ?delusion? (which Kurtz agrees with in any case) but have also insisted enthralled with this
line of argument, either. I think we’d all welcome an actual, explicit opinion from Paul Kurtz one way or the other, but I’m afraid the question of how we should engage is not going to be settled by the voice of authority, nor should it be.


  1. #1 David Marjanovi?
    September 20, 2007

    Sorry, totally off topic, but it looks like Tiberius and Pontius Pilate may be getting their day in a Kenyan court. Seems Jeebus should have been tried under jewish not roman law.

    “Should have been”? Power lies at the tip of gladius and pilum.

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?
    September 20, 2007

    So Conan the Barbarian worships someone who doesn’t even know what science is and is so kind as to present us with the textbook example of the No True Scotsman fallacy? I’m deeply disappointed.

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?
    September 20, 2007

    Buddy, we don’t use swords. We use the pen: an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.

    Actually, it only looks like a pen. It’s a laser pointer. :-P

  4. #4 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    September 21, 2007

    This is one of those threads where you feel like a squished tomato trying to make catch up.

    Not as squished as Nisbet must feel however. Great comments all around! Too great, all what can be said about Nisbet and his framing …, um, tactics specifically is already said.

    Maybe some points on the general issue though:

    I also think that how science is “framed” within the scientific community itself has had the distinction of having been molded from hundreds of years of experience in trying to communicate scientific information.

    This is AFAIU the greater sense of “framing”, and I agree on the context.

    What I would like to explore would be the smaller sense of spin, such as using terms and similes like “the tragedy of the commons” or “star stuff”. I’m sure that we can frame a more alluring message without sacrificing the information. Perhaps also a more positive spin. Kurtz’s message is well taken.

    If it makes much of a difference, we don’t know. Which is why we come to:

    what would be new is what data results from actually studying the issue of framing scientific information for public consumption,

    Heartily agreed. This was my second disappointment with Nisbet’s framing of framing, that he couldn’t present data. (The first was the concentration on the smaller sense of framing. The US-centricity, Dawkins/Uppity atheist bashing, negative message, et cetera are all collateral damage.)

    But I think that secondary to this the new context of instantaneous world wide communication transforms social movements as well. There are new actors, audiences, and purposes around on the arena of scientific pursuit and its interaction with society, as well as for atheism on its part. While we wait for rough, tough data we could at least analyze what we would like to achieve and possible ways to do that.

    Scientists have their positive frame of facts, progress, robust morals and utility. Uppity atheists would have their positive frame of facts, progress, robust morals and a long term view. More?