Pharyngula

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    September 20, 2007

    Hmph.

    Not that I was expecting better, you understand, but I’m still disappointed.

    I still think “Uppity Atheist Noise Machine” would be a great name for a band.

  2. #2 Umilik
    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. In which case he would have been stoned to death for blasphemy. Think of the cultural implications here: it’s hard to imagine Monty Python singing “life’s a piece of shit…” under a hail of boulders..

    http://allafrica.com/stories/200709030916.html

  3. #3 Matthew C. Nisbet
    September 20, 2007

    PZ,
    Once again, a nice sleight of hand distortion. You really are a master at false spin and innuendo.

    Just like you endorsed a post by Greg Laden insinuating that Chris Mooney and I were covert creationists, you now direct your readers to a post that claims that I “lie.”

  4. #4 CalGeorge
    September 20, 2007

    Moreover, like Shermer, Wilson, and Kurtz, I strongly believe that when Dawkins et al. attack moderately religious Americans it alienates our natural allies and is a major self-inflicted wound.

    The moderately religious are not allies of the atheist crowd.

    The moderately religious are as deluded as the fundies.

    All religious people need to wake up, smell the coffee, and stop believing in a bunch of fairy tales.

    The earth is not flat. God does not exist. People don’t fly up to heaven to sitteth somewhere. No amount of pew sitting and mindless chanting is going to make someone’s favorite deity pop into extra-mental existence.

    A hard line is the only line to take with the billions of kooks who refuse to acknowledge reality.

    Wake up!

  5. #5 Caledonian
    September 20, 2007

    There’s been a lot of talk about speaking against “extremist” religion and seeking compromises with “moderate”.

    If these are being used in their relative sense, why exactly should we reject a position merely because it differs from the common one, and why should we reject the common one just because it’s not rare?

    If not in their relative sense, what are the terms being used to hide?

  6. #6 oxytocin
    September 20, 2007

    Not attacking moderate religious people is as logical as not attacking a moderate case of flesh eating disease.

    As Sam Harris points out, the moderate godbots, who are posited to be so open-minded and tolerant, potentiate the fundamentalist by making it “reasonable” and “acceptable” to believe in things in the absence of evidence. Because there is no rhyme or reason to what the moderates believe, there is no rational reason not to take it to its extreme conclusion.

  7. #7 CalGeorge
    September 20, 2007

    Nibet should run for Congress. He’d be a perfect “do nothing” Democrat.

  8. #8 Mike P
    September 20, 2007

    CalGeorge,

    From a purely psychological perspective, the “hard line” is rarely the most effective behavior-modifying tactic. Just sayin.

  9. #9 Steve LaBonne
    September 20, 2007

    You really are a master at false spin and innuendo.

    Quite a compliment coming from the grandmaster master of the genre.

  10. #10 Brian W.
    September 20, 2007

    i just listened to an interview with him like 2 days ago. I don’t remember him saying anything very negative about Dawkins or Harris. To me he seemed to be saying that they should be doing what they were doing, but should do more positive stuff in addition to what they were currently doing. But not instead of it.

    You can listen here:

    http://www.pointofinquiry.org/?p=127

  11. #11 PZ Myers
    September 20, 2007

    I did not endorse the claim that you lie, and even trimmed out some of the rhetorical excess. I direct people to the post because it makes a good point, that Kurtz has long been a strong advocate of outspoken unbelief; I also make the point that appeals to the authority of Kurtz for either side aren’t going to settle the issue.

    I don’t know Kurtz personally and I get the impression that you do. Maybe he has grumbled his discontent with Dawkins to you in private, for all I know, but it wouldn’t matter — neither Kurtz nor Dawkins dictate my opinions.

  12. #12 Alric
    September 20, 2007

    Paul Kurtz was interviewed at the point of inquiry podcast last friday. He had nothing but good things to say about Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennet. His thesis is that we should not focus on attacking religion as a goal but focus on the positive aspects of rationalism.

    Personally I think it just happens that rationalism is infinitely more positive than religiosity with any need for framing. Matt: you lost me entirely when you said that we should present science without using the language of science itself. My response, as well as many others was: WTF?

  13. #13 Gilgamesh
    September 20, 2007

    As was said above, in the most recent PoI podcast, Kurtz seems to commend these writers. His problem is that their book are almost totally negative, and you cannot have a world-view that is worth having based on negations. Kurtz is a hyper-optimist, so if he talks of atheism/humanism he wants to show its positive aspects, not just the weaknesses of religion.

    It’s a very valid point.

  14. #14 PZ Myers
    September 20, 2007

    From a purely psychological perspective, the “hard line” is rarely the most effective behavior-modifying tactic.

    So? The point being missed is that if no one takes the “hard line”, if the position we’re advocating has no voices, no representatives, and no basis in reality, it’s awfully hard to convince anyone that even a nudge in its direction is worthwhile.

    This is a situation where we need a plethora of different tactics, and unfortunately we’ve got people nominally on our side who are more interested in silencing the atheists who openly espouse the values of the secular position than they are in fighting the evangelicals who openly oppose those values.

  15. #15 Caledonian
    September 20, 2007

    If you always compromise your own position, and conform to your opponents’, whose position will end up dominating?

    The point of debate isn’t to compromise your position, the point of debate is to make the other guy compromise his.

  16. #16 oxytocin
    September 20, 2007

    I agree with PZ. I think the history of the women’s rights and gay rights movements teaches us that we need the “caustic” folks just as much as we need the cool-headed conciliators. People have to be shocked into opening their eyes before anything substantive will take place. Simultaneously, we need people in the trenches promoting science and its metholoogy [i.e., the positive elements].

  17. #17 J Myers
    September 20, 2007

    oxytocin, to go further, there is no rational reason to be “moderate” in the first place; if any of these fantasies were true, mere mortals would not seem to have the authority to revise the tenets of their belief system or to revamp its behavioral prescripts in attempt to keep their faith compatible with modern civilized life (which is exactly how these “moderate” flavors came about). If the bible truly is god’s word, we better be sitting on our assess on the sabbath and stoning those who don’t, or things are going to be rather gruesome for us in the afterlife. Sam Harris sums it up nicely: moderates betray faith and reason equally.

  18. #18 MAJeff
    September 20, 2007

    So? The point being missed is that if no one takes the “hard line”, if the position we’re advocating has no voices, no representatives, and no basis in reality, it’s awfully hard to convince anyone that even a nudge in its direction is worthwhile.

    This is a situation where we need a plethora of different tactics, and unfortunately we’ve got people nominally on our side who are more interested in silencing the atheists who openly espouse the values of the secular position than they are in fighting the evangelicals who openly oppose those values.

    Those of us who study social movements talk about it in terms of the “radical flank” effect. We “radicals” make the “moderates” more palatable.

    I’ll draw on my own work and experience in queer movement as an example. I’m a radical and anti-marriage (for a number of reasons that I’m not going into here). My presence also allows for the nice “normal gay people” to say, “See, we’re not like the crazies. We don’t want to transform society. We just want to be let in.” I’m not giving up my radicalism, my attempts to tear down heteronormative practices and institutions and erect other things in their place, but my mere presence is advantageous for those in the middle. Unfortunately, they’re often unwilling to accept that we, too, have a role to play (and might even be right), so they’d rather line up with their oppressors.

    We out, loud, proud atheists have made a difference. Hitchens talks about people coming up to him and saying “I always felt like the only one.” Others of us have heard this as well. It was the same thing when I came out of the closet. Hell, when I lived in Mankato there were people who would not associate with me because I was openly, publicly gay. However, my presence made it easier for them in the long run. I’ve taken the death threats and abuse. And you know what, screw the bigots, and also screw the folks “on my side” who are telling me to shut up. Ain’t gonna happen.

  19. #19 MartinM
    September 20, 2007

    From a purely psychological perspective, the “hard line” is rarely the most effective behavior-modifying tactic.

    Must be why all those religious positions which take a harder line than the ‘new’ atheists are such dismal failures.

  20. #20 Crom
    September 20, 2007

    Calgeorge,

    You may want to acknowledge to yourself that you have crossed the line from atheist to antitheist. I notice that you explicitly appeared to be attacking a specifically Christian paradigm in your comment. So, why no mention of the horned Goddess worshipped by pagans, or Allah, Buddha or any of the millions of gods worshipped by the Hindus? Where is your anger towards the synagogues full of faithful Jews, whose record of religious scholarship directly contradicts your most holy book of Darwin?

    Or is your ire exclusively reserved for the followers of Jesus? I suppose all the Odin worshippers, the practitioners of Santería and the Rastafarians can breathe easy knowing that the antitheist community will not spotlight them in its’ unblinking Sauronic Eye.

    I suppose that the Christians draw your fire since you encounter more of them than you do those wascally Wiccans. Let’s also not forget that a tenet of the Christian religion disallows them from hitting you back, I rarely see any brave antitheists posting long hysterical screeds against Islam, especially under their real names. Oh, that’s right, when you insult Christians they turn the other cheek, when you insult the Prophet the Muslims cut off your head. So clearly the flat-earth Baptist fundies are the bigger threat, to be sure.

    The conclusion that will be drawn by the smarter set here is that those people who are religious, no matter what sect, view your gospel of atheism and secular humanism as simply a competing religion, no matter how vociferously you protest to the contrary. So, you will not be able to ‘wake up’ those people without using methods that are antithetical to your stated moral position of doing no harm.

    If atheism brings the sword, how is it any better than the Inquisitionists or jihadists you constantly condemn?

  21. #21 Blake Stacey
    September 20, 2007

    I find myself entirely unmoved by claims that Dawkins and Dennett offer only negative remarks and should parade more “positive aspects” of non-belief. To paraphrase everybody’s favorite book of the Bible, there’s a time to build up and a time to tear down — and when reason and democracy are imperiled by myth, tearing down will be necessary.

    I haven’t waded into Hitchens’ book yet, because, well, I’m not rich, I have work to do and I don’t need to have an opinion on everything right away. (If Deepak Chopra is any indication, I can still review books without having read them, anyway.) I can state, however, that anybody who says that Dawkins has nothing “positive” to offer must have stopped reading midway through.

    Evolution in Middle World has ill equipped us to handle very improbable events. But in the vastness of astronomical space, or geological time, events that seem impossible in Middle World turn out to be inevitable. Science flings open the narrow window through which we are accustomed to viewing the spectrum of possibilities. We are liberated by calculation and reason to visit regions of possibility that had once seemed out of bounds or inhabited by dragons. […] How should we interpret Haldane’s ‘queerer than we can suppose’? Queerer than can, in principle, be supposed? Or just queerer than we can suppose, given the limitation of our brains’ evolutionary apprenticeship in Middle World? Could we, by training and practice, emancipate ourselves from Middle World, tear off our black burka, and achieve some sort of intuitive — as well as just mathematical — understanding of the very small, the very large, and the very fast? I genuinely don’t know the answer, but I am thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.

  22. #22 Tulse
    September 20, 2007

    I agree with Hallquist — reading Kurtz’ editorial “Are ‘Evangelical Atheists’ Too Outspoken?” (which PZ linked to in the article), it appears Nisbet is awfully close to intentionally misrepresenting Kurtz’ position, and certainly has little right to count his views as close to his own. Take these excerpts:

    What disturbs us is the preposterous outcry that atheists are “evangelical” and that they have gone too far in their criticism of religion.

    I have often said that it is as if an “iron curtain” had descended within America, for skeptics have discovered that the critical examination of religion has been virtually verboten. We have experienced firsthand how journalists and producers have killed stories about secular humanism for fear of offending the little old ladies and gentlemen in the suburbs, conservative advertisers, the Catholic hierarchy, or right-wing fundamentalists. [emphasis added]

    The war against secularism by the Religious Right is unremitting. Even New York Times columnists are running scared. We note the column by Nicolas Kristof (December 3, 2006) calling for a “truce on religion.” He deplores the “often obnoxious atheist offensive” of “secular fundamentalism.”

    it is important that we apply scientific inquiry as best we can to all areas of human behavior, including religion and ethics. I fail to see why it is “arrogant” to attempt to do so.

    We think it appropriate to defend the integrity of science and the importance of secularism at a time when both are under heavy attack.

    But why should the nonreligious, nonaffiliated, secular minority in the country remain silent? We dissenters now comprise some 14 to 16 percent of the population. Why should religion be held immune from criticism, and why should the admission that one is a disbeliever be considered so disturbing? The Bush administration has supported faith-based charities–though their efficacy has not been adequately tested; it has prohibited federal funding for stem cell research; it has denied global warming; and it has imposed abstinence programs instead of promoting condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS. Much of this mischief is religiously inspired. How can we remain mute while Islam and the West are poised for a possible protracted world conflagration in the name of God? [emphasis added]

    Given all these facts, why should the criticism of religion provoke such an outcry?

    These don’t sound like the words of someone who is attacking the “New Atheist Noise Machine”. And for Nisbet to claim Kurtz as some kind of ally is clearly spin, and damned close to intentional mendacity. (Although this also seems on par with Nisbet’s tendency to name-drop alleged allies, like Sagan and Wilson, who may have said some conciliatory things about working with the religious, but whose specific opinions on the “NANM” are unavailable or unknown.)

  23. #23 Alric
    September 20, 2007

    This discussion assumes that you can either emphasize the positive aspects of rationalism or appease and respect religion. I don’t believe this is true. You can challenge and disprove bunk religious claims like creationism or ID and still emphasize the positivism of rationalism, depending on circumstance.

    I think this is closer to what Paul Kurtz argues and far from the framing silliness.

  24. #24 AgnosticOracle
    September 20, 2007

    This just seems like such an odd argument. There are two questions not one. First should atheist and moderate religious folks make common cause on some issues? Second, should atheists never side against moderate religious folks?

    The answers to these questions don’t need to be the same. And let me go further to suggest the best answers are yes to the first questions and no to the second.

  25. #25 Doug
    September 20, 2007

    My point of confusion has always been about the objective of the respective atheist camps.

    The way I see it, on the one hand we must address what Chris Mooney describes as the Republican War on Science: Intelligent Design, Global Warming, Stem Cell Research (and the Dems too with Alternative and Complementary Medicines). On the other hand is a broad brush of ridicule and minimization of claims of knowing the unknowable – the undue respect faith and piety over evidence and methodology as espoused by Dawkins, Harris, etc.

    Certainly both objectives have many things in common. If evidence and methodology are given due respect, the other wars against science will be won. But the second objective is extremely long term goal, the first objective is a near term goal.

  26. #26 SEF
    September 20, 2007

    Oh, that’s right, when you insult Christians they turn the other cheek

    That’s not true. Christians bomb people, shoot people, take machetes to them and do all manner of things every bit as bad as the representatives of other religions. It is only some Christians who have been forced to become more civilised in recent centuries, by having to deal with not being the only kids on the block and not simply getting their own way – even against other flavours of Christian. Islam (of the Mohammedan sort) is merely newer, younger and with more corners/chips still to be knocked off.

  27. #27 oxytocin
    September 20, 2007

    Crom, I think many people pick on Christians because they’re the most commonly encountered of the deluded. I would doubt that most believe that Jewish, Muslim, or Zoroastrian thinking is any less wacky. They’re just less on the mind due to their relative rarity.

    Many people ARE anti-theists. You say this like it’s a bad thing.

  28. #28 Tulse
    September 20, 2007

    I rarely see any brave antitheists posting long hysterical screeds against Islam, especially under their real names.

    Dawkins and Hitchens have both written extensively about Islam, and there are various bloggers (including PZ) who attack Islamic creation science. So you’re simply wrong.

    Oh, that’s right, when you insult Christians they turn the other cheek, when you insult the Prophet the Muslims cut off your head. So clearly the flat-earth Baptist fundies are the bigger threat, to be sure.

    It is the flat-earth Baptist fundies and their ilk who are passing legislation and determining public policy in the US — for those who reside there, such folk are indeed a greater immediate threat.

  29. #29 Russell Blackford
    September 20, 2007

    I love these hoax posts. Good one, Crom!

  30. #30 valhar2000
    September 20, 2007

    Matthew C. Nisbet wrote:

    […]You really are a master at false spin and innuendo.

    Unlike you, who could not frame an argument effectively to save your life.

  31. #31 Bill
    September 20, 2007

    If atheism brings the sword, how is it any better than the Inquisitionists or jihadists you constantly condemn?

    I missed the part where CalGeorge advocated the slaughter of religionists. Could you highlight/blockquote that please?

  32. #32 Matthew C. Nisbet
    September 20, 2007

    My characterization of Kurtz’s views is based on his most recent statements broadcast this week at Point of Inquiry, which I have transcribed at my blog:

    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2007/09/aaas_panel_communicating_scien.php

    He emphasizes several times the themes captured in these quotes:

    KURTZ: Of course, you know, America is a great liberal pluralistic democracy and we have common ground not only with liberal religionists but even conservative people who believe in human freedom. So we need to make, if you will, coalitions, we need to work together with others to make this a greater democracy. We need a kind of unity, if possible, about the basic framework of this country.

    GROTHE: And I take it if some of these people decrying God belief, as true as you think they are, you are saying that they limit coalitions. That they turn off people who might be able to work with us around certain issues of concern?

    KURTZ: I think that is true, so we have to put another step forward.

  33. #33 CalGeorge
    September 20, 2007

    So we need to make, if you will, coalitions, we need to work together with others to make this a greater democracy.

    I have heard bilge.

  34. #34 Crom
    September 20, 2007

    “Dawkins and Hitchens have both written extensively about Islam, and there are various bloggers (including PZ) who attack Islamic creation science. So you’re simply wrong.”

    Perhaps I was a bit too sarcastic in my portrayal of the differing attitudes towards the differing religions. I am aware that Dawkins and Hitchens have written on Islam, but I don’t recall their writing having the same vitriol against Islam that Christians receive. Although I am certain that links can be found to venomous anti-Islamic atheistic posts, the better known authors rarely jeeringly mock Mohammed in the same fashion that they do Christ. Case in point, I have seen numerous references here in the few months I have been reading here to “Jeebus” and do not recall anyone coming up with a similar derogatory name for Mohammed or Allah… Or any other deity at all. If someone can link the archives to where this happened I will read them, and if someone really wants to prove me wrong please list the number of times a mocking nickname was used for Allah/Mohammed/Any Other Deity vs. how many times Christianity was mocked in the same time frame.

    Tulse makes a good point in that the Christians proposing legislation here in the US that is favorable to their cause and therefore are seen as the most immediate threat to the cause of atheism. However, SEF’s point about Christian macheteros is silly, because anyone killing people in the name of Christianity is not a Christian. Oh, they can claim that they are and claim the label, but I can also claim that I am the President of Hair Club for Men but that does not necessarily make it so, now does it?

    The sad truth is, it’s simply fashionable to bash Christianity now that it’s influence is no longer as palpable in the American social consciousness.

    While someone may have posted while I was writing this, at the time I published not one single person had answered my question regarding atheism bringing the sword as espoused by some of the readership here. Are you all making the statement that violently converting or killing religious people is indeed the greater good?

  35. #35 oxytocin
    September 20, 2007

    Crom, Where on earth did anyone say anything about physical violence or forced conversions?

    You should read Sam Harris. In his book, “The End of Faith”, his scorn is mostly directed towards Islam.

    Again, I would assert that we have less need to make reference to other faiths in our daily discourse since we encounter them less frequently.

    I think it is a complete cop-out to disavow any person who act discordantly with your idiosyncratic version of xianity. If we use your logic we could then say that the 9/11 terrorists weren’t “real” Muslims. In fact, we have many people saying just that, but I don’t think they’re fooling anyone. …but let’s not forget historical xian violence such as the Crusades, Nazi complicity, etc.

  36. #36 Rey Fox
    September 20, 2007

    “If atheism brings the sword, how is it any better than the Inquisitionists or jihadists you constantly condemn?”

    Well, to start with, we haven’t KILLED ANYONE.

  37. #37 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    However, SEF’s point about Christian macheteros is silly, because anyone killing people in the name of Christianity is not a Christian.

    Crom, that’s stupid. First of all, it’s the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy, secondly, on what authority do you claim you’re in any position to tell us who’s a True Crhristian? and who’s not, and thirdly, here’s your own ‘Prince of Peace’ himself on the subject:

    Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB)

    I bash Christianity because of the obnoxious fools such as yourself that it harbours.

  38. #38 Wicked Lad
    September 20, 2007

    Blake Stacey wrote (#20):

    I find myself entirely unmoved by claims that Dawkins and Dennett offer only negative remarks and should parade more “positive aspects” of non-belief.

    I’m unmoved by such claims, too. Of the books on religion written by Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins and Dennett, I’ve only read Dennett’s Breaking the Spell. I’m puzzled that people would refer to that book as negative. What I took from it is quite positive: religious people claim their religions benefit society, so let’s test those claims and give religions credit where they deserve it. But only where they deserve it. Is that negative?

    I haven’t waded into Hitchens’ book yet, because, well, I’m not rich….

    Me, neither. That’s why I love libraries. But keep it quiet. I’m terrified the digital rights fascists will catch on and ban libraries if they ever hear about them.

  39. #39 Crom
    September 20, 2007

    Figures someone would answer while I was writing. CalGeorge does in fact say that atheists should take, and I am cutting and pasting here:

    “A hard line is the only line to take with the billions of kooks who refuse to acknowledge reality.”

    He did not say “kill”. He did not say “sword.” I did. The billions of “kooks” won’t give up their religion without a fight, history has proved this time and time again as many of the antitheist crowd are quite fond of pointing out. So, kooks being kooks what hard line are you prepared to take? Are you going to take the Westmoreland method of winning hearts and minds? How are you going to win the heart or mind of a theist by insulting him, mocking his beliefs and being antagonistic? If this is the Plan, I would say that the Plan needs a better set of ambassadors, because attack dogs don’t make people all warm and fuzzy.

    Somehow taking a “hard line” seems to be a more aggressive stance, and I am curious to know how hard that line is prepared to be, considering that most people here claim to be liberal, and claim to believe in individual freedom.

  40. #40 Bronze Dog
    September 20, 2007

    The hard line atheists were the ones to convince me to move to full-blown atheism: When I was one of those generic “spiritual” people visiting forums, it was the hardliners who focused on substance and displayed genuine care about what was true and what wasn’t, as well as how we can gather that knowledge. Far too many of the “moderates” in those debates were what I now call “squishy”: They too often support inaction, sloth, etcetera. In short, a lot of the so-called moderates weren’t for moderation or anything: They were for maintaining the status quo, which happened to include a lot of double-standards favoring the fundies on the far right.

    Anyway, for the real moderates who will actually come out in support of civil liberties and so forth, if they’re really sincere, will do it regardless of who’s doing the same. It’s the squishies who’ll go back towards supporting far right on religious issues just because they don’t like having to deal with the concept of people having intellectual debates.

    At an explicitly atheist rally in Austin, I saw a woman with a sign “Christian Mom for Separation of Church/State” with “Render unto Caesar” on the other side. I may try to tear her up on the debate table of epistemology if we met on a forum, but I think we can count on each other for standing up for civil rights.

    Anyway, I’m done with my undirected rant for the time being.

  41. #41 mel
    September 20, 2007

    Yes, and there are at least a couple of names conspicuously missing from the list of non-candidates for atheistic pope.

    Be afraid …

  42. #42 Rey Fox
    September 20, 2007

    Gee Crom, we’re all very sorry that we don’t hate Muslims as much as you do.

    “because anyone killing people in the name of Christianity is not a Christian”

    Who died and made you the arbiter of Christianity?

    “not one single person had answered my question regarding atheism bringing the sword as espoused by some of the readership here.”

    Probably because it’s such a stupid accusation. But I have to say that I’m kinda likng this power. Apparently our words manifest as actual weapons to Christians! The things I could do…

  43. #43 oxytocin
    September 20, 2007

    Crom, I think many of us are prepared to take the “hardline stance” of…gasp…vigorous verbal barrages! I know that’s extreme, but the xians leave us no choice but to “violently” and “ruthlessly” expose their irrationality. I’m very sorry it’s had to come to this.

    And by the way, probably better not to put words into someone’s mouth. It’s leads to all sorts of nastiness that we could avoid if we would be intellectually honest.

  44. #44 Louise Van Court
    September 20, 2007

    So much squabbling and bickering! It reminds me of denominational battles amongst believers. I prefer the peacemakers on both sides.

  45. #45 Bronze Dog
    September 20, 2007

    Because we all know: Arguing is exactly, precisely the same as war.

    So we should all just agree on something randomly or agree to never talk about anything ever again and never vow to look for the truth.

    [/Sarcasm]

  46. #46 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    So much squabbling and bickering! It reminds me of denominational battles amongst believers.

    I suppose it would, only if you knew nothing of the history and formation of various denominations, much of which involved actual persecution, warfare, and exilement.

  47. #47 Hank
    September 20, 2007

    Just a heads up: The washington post link is broken (the url contains a “br” tag).

  48. #48 Blake Stacey
    September 20, 2007

    Louise Van Court:

    You’re free to be reminded of whatever you’d like. Myself, I tend to see the better discussions here in blogo-territory as reminiscent of open debates at scientific conferences. Not all the evidence is in yet, and some big questions remain open, so let’s get together and talk about them. Genuine science thrives on a diversity of viewpoints, because that diversity opens the possibility that some people will be less wrong than others. In a complicated world where the truth is hard to figure out, that’s a good thing!

    Rey Fox:

    “because anyone killing people in the name of Christianity is not a Christian”

    Who died and made you [Crom] the arbiter of Christianity?

    Excellent question. No true Scotsman went to fight in the Crusades. . . et cetera.

    Honestly, now! Nobody here is “bringing the sword” to anybody. We’ve got better things to do, like teaching classes and getting published in scientific journals, not to mention talking like pirates. The weapon we are bringing is the pen.

  49. #49 Crom
    September 20, 2007

    Rey Fox, and others:

    Josef Stalin. Former Christian, ex-seminary student, militant atheist. How many deaths was he responsible for?

    And as for the rest of your incoherent insults, why don’t you bring that powerful intellect to bear and answer the questions. I have not been insulting, I am being polite. If you read carefully, I did not insult SEF personally, I said her comment was “silly.” So what is with the personal attacks? You reveal yourself as intellectually weak.

    The people who cannot answer rationally without being insulting I am going to simply ignore, if you can’t bring it with “the science” then you aren’t worth responding to. Sorry, I stopped playing the dozens on the schoolyard as a young boy, and prefer to argue with people who can answer the issues rather than acting like ignorant fundamentalists – yes you read correctly “ignorant fundamentalists.” They come in more than one flavor, you know.

    To those who are answering, thank you. I do appreciate your effort and your “vigorous verbal barrages” since I think that the only way to any sort of detente between the two camps will be found with exactly that method.

  50. #50 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    Wrong again, Crom.

    My insults are always coherent.

  51. #51 Bifrost
    September 20, 2007

    Wicked Lad (#37)

    Libraries are wonderful. But there is a form of non sanctioned censorship going on in some communities. Books by Hitchens, Dawkins, and others routinely get “lost” by the fundie that checks them out. Libraries have lost a lot of books that way.

  52. #52 CalGeorge
    September 20, 2007

    First should atheist and moderate religious folks make common cause on some issues?

    If it’s a choice between:

    Moderate religionists + atheists against the fundies.

    vs.

    Atheists against fundies and moderate religious folks.

    I prefer to see atheists fighting their battle against the entire spectrum of religious beliefs – from the soft to the hardline.

    The moderate Christianistas need as much waking up as the fundies. They’ve all swallowed the same bilge.

  53. #53 Madam Pomfrey
    September 20, 2007

    Yawn…after x number of posts, when backed against the wall, the resident cretinist will always resort to “Stalin and/or Hitler were atheists! So there!”

  54. #54 G Felis
    September 20, 2007

    Oh for fuck’s sake, Crom pulled out those evil Commies, whom we all know were dedicated solely to the ideals of reason and evidence that are the foundation of atheism and didn’t have any other agenda. Josef Stalin had no interest in totalitarian control of the populace, hadn’t the slightest yearning for absolute personal and political power, and wasn’t attempting to advance any socioeconomic system based loosely on the writings of Karl Marx (which, like most religious believers and their holy texts, he cherry-picked vigorously for whatever he decided was best and ignored otherwise). Nope, Stalin was just an atheist, that’s all. A militant atheist, and everything he did was in the name of and from the cause of atheism. Sure.

    The stupid, it burns!

    Remember, everyone, the consequences of feeding trolls.

  55. #55 Rey Fox
    September 20, 2007

    Forgive me if I thought we were talking about the “new atheists”, and not long-dead tyrants. Stalin, while I won’t say that he wasn’t a “true atheist”, did what any self-respecting tyrant would do: co-opted religion. He didn’t use anything that would be recognized as an existing religion, but he essentially set up Communism and the state (and the head thereof) as the national religion. He trumpeted the discredited evolutionary science of Lysenko as the official line, which led to widespread famine. He did not rule over the Soviet Union in the name of atheism.

    And if we’re going to talk about insults, then well, I never called you anything either, except “the arbiter of Christianity”. But really, the tone of one’s argument is irrelevant to the content of the argument anyway.

  56. #56 Steve_C
    September 20, 2007

    What is so hard for people to understand?

    The hardline is outwardly calling religion nonsense. And not being afraid to state that wheneever and wherevet anyone brings up religion as a justifaction for anything.

    Religion should be tolerated. That’s it. Respected? No. Encouraged? No. Mocked? Yes.
    Religion is silly. If people are offened, that’s too bad. No one was saying how mean everyone was to Tom Cruise, when people were mocking him for his goofy religious based behaviour.

  57. #57 hyperdeath
    September 20, 2007

    anyone killing people in the name of Christianity is not a Christian.

    Would you like some haggis with your “No True Scotsman” fallacy?

  58. #58 Chet
    September 20, 2007

    Josef Stalin. Former Christian, ex-seminary student, militant atheist. How many deaths was he responsible for?

    This is a common mistake. Stalin may have been an atheist, but Communist Russia was not.

    Look, any society that thinks marching a parade past a painting of their leader is just as good as saluting the real thing clearly isn’t atheist. The society of the Soviet Union merely exchanged one religion for the other. They didn’t become atheists.

    Obviously not, since the return of the Orthodox church was immediate after the fall of communism. Clearly, soviet society was never atheist. Stalin was the leader of a religion, not an atheist leader.

  59. #59 Tulse
    September 20, 2007

    Matthew C. Nisbet:

    My characterization of Kurtz’s views is based on his most recent statements broadcast this week at Point of Inquiry, which I have transcribed at my blog

    Surely you will grant that his editorial is somewhat at odds with that stance. It is not clear to me whether his position has changed, or whether he holds a complex of both views, but either way, I don’t see him as fully in the anti-New Atheist camp. At the very least, I think it would be far more academically honest to acknowledge that the position you quote are countered by some of his earlier writing.

  60. #60 Blake Stacey
    September 20, 2007

    It would be nice, to say the least, if the anti-Uppity Atheists advanced a positive position, rather than ceaselessly declaiming their unhappiness with the Uppity Atheists. Otherwise, how can they hope to succeed? You can’t have a world-view which is entirely negative, after all.

  61. #61 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    It would be nice, to say the least, if the anti-Uppity Atheists advanced a positive position, rather than ceaselessly declaiming their unhappiness with the Uppity Atheists. Otherwise, how can they hope to succeed? You can’t have a world-view which is entirely negative, after all.

    Blake Stacey wins teh intarwebs!

  62. #62 AgnosticOracle
    September 20, 2007

    CalGeorge:

    If it’s a choice between:
    Moderate religionists + atheists against the fundies.
    vs.
    Atheists against fundies and moderate religious folks.

    That is a false dichotomy. Take the obvious example the issue of abortion and reproductive rights. I’m sure you aren’t arguing we shouldn’t fight for these issues because we will be on the same side as many moderate religious folks? I would also like to think you don’t seriously believe we can’t work in coalition with people on an issue we agree unless we agree on all issues. If so we may need to start by kicking out Christopher Hitchens, since most of us can’t agree with him on Iraq.

  63. #63 Crom
    September 20, 2007

    Chet,

    You state in your post that Stalin was an atheist, then claim “Stalin was the leader of a religion, not an atheist leader.” Aren’t these two statements mutually contradictory?

    Unless of course you are claiming – and I believe this to be 100% true – that atheism is merely another religion. It has articles of faith, for example, evolution which has yet to be proven, and there is still that matter of spontaneous life generation from a primordial puddle of goo that has yet to ever be observed, nevermind replicate itself in a controlled environment utilizing the scientific method. It has high priests, Dawkins, Hitchens etc. and atheisms’ adherents believe utterly without solid, observable proof. Believing without total proof is faith. Therefore, atheism requires faith, and faith is the hallmark of religion.

    Sorry, I know that one will irritate many of you.

    As for the haggis, yes please… I will even bring a bottle of 15 year-old Macallan. I knew someone would bring the No True Scotsman fallacy up, because it allows the commenter to avoid answering the question with a pithy riposte.

    I believe I have accomplished my goal in coming here, I was looking to plumb the depths of the animosity of the average atheist and I see that you all have your wacky fundamentalists same as the religious folks do. I don’t see any progress being made, as it is clear that you folks are as entrenched as the theists and appear as ready to do battle for your viewpoint as they are. Thanks again, most of you are articulate and knowledgeable and I appreciate your time.

  64. #64 Siamang
    September 20, 2007

    I agree with Brownian.

    This comment needs a molly at some point.

  65. #65 Matthew C. Nisbet
    September 20, 2007

    Tulse,
    I’m going by his most recent statements. I interpret Kurtz’s position as consistent with the nuanced view that I have been arguing for, first voiced in our op-ed at The Washington Post.

    It’s also consistent with the views of Shermer (SciAm) and EO Wilson (voiced at Bill Moyers’ program, transcript will be up at my blog soon.)

    As I have always argued, I personally agree with Dawkins et al.’s view that there is no credible argument for the existence of God. I also support their right to voice their opinion.

    But in a pluralistic democracy, if we are going to solve collective problems such as climate change and poverty, we have to also raise concern about drawing a bright line in the sand between atheists and anyone who is religious, attacking and denigrating the moderately religiously even though they share almost all of our values.

    As Kurtz argues at Point of Inquiry, the best way forward is to critique religion in its most extreme form while emphasizing the shared values between secularists and the moderately religious.

    This is exactly what Sagan tried to do back in the late 1980s and 1990s on the environment and what EO Wilson is doing today. In my public scholarship efforts bringing to light the relevancy of my research and that of others, I suggest we do systematically what Wilson and Sagan have been so successful at doing intuitively.

    Along these lines, in his interview of Kurtz at Point of Inquiry, DJ Grothe notes that Kurtz has been talking lately more and more about the need to embrace the moderately religious around shared values and concerns.

    Kurtz then goes on to note that he has reservations about Hitchens’ and Harris’ assault on the moderately religious.

    I encourage everyone to listen to the interview at Point of Inquiry, but you can read a transcript at my blog:

    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2007/09/paul_kurtz_in_contrast_to_the.php#comments

    From the transcript:

    GROTHE: Let’s get back to the liberal religious. You have been more interested I think lately in reaching out to the liberal religious. Not just drawing a line in the sand and saying if you believe in the supernatural, you are my enemy. You’re not fighting that fight. We need to reach out to more liberal religious allies on issues of concern.

    Number one, how do we reach out to them and tell me what some of these issues are.

    [Kurtz replies in detail, naming poverty and the basic principle of democracy and human rights. He also names environmentalism and climate change as issues where collaboration between the religious and non-religious are absolutely necessary.]

    GROTHE: What about the critics that say that the liberal religious are part of the problem, that they give room for fundamentalists to grow?….They make it harder for reason and science to prevail against the cults of unreason?

    KURTZ: I realize that many people have said that. Hitchens says that religion poisons everything. Well some religions have poisoned many things. And Harris says that we need to attack the liberal religionists at the same time. And I think many of the religionists overlook these problems.

    But nevertheless, I think that [liberal religionists] are well meaning, good natured, honest, moral people in the churches, and they want to enter into the modern scientific world. So it is the scientific extremes of religion that need to be attacked.

    I think Kurtz states his current position pretty plainly, despite how people might selectively perceive his past editorial.

  66. #66 Rieux
    September 20, 2007

    Crom:

    anyone killing people in the name of Christianity is not a Christian.

    hyperdeath:

    Would you like some haggis with your “No True Scotsman” fallacy?

    Not only that, but the statement from Crom above is the archetypal “No True Scotsman” fallacy, isn’t it? Isn’t that specific “argument” the whole reason the term “No True Scotsman” was invented in the first place?

  67. #67 Jud
    September 20, 2007

    Crom wrote: “Where is your anger towards the synagogues full of faithful Jews, whose record of religious scholarship directly contradicts your most holy book of Darwin?”

    Shalom, and hunh?

  68. #68 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    I believe I have accomplished my goal in coming here, I was looking to plumb the depths of the animosity of the average atheist and I see that you all have your wacky fundamentalists same as the religious folks do.

    Thanks for letting us know you came here with the intent of data-mining to support your a priori conclusions. Have fun discussing the ‘evidence’ with your fundy friends (BTW, keep using terms like ‘proven’ with regard to scientific theories like evolution. It’ll let any scientists you might accidentally encounter know that you haven’t the foggiest what such words mean, and thus save them a lot of wasted effort in discussing such things with you.)

    You won’t be missed here.

  69. #69 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    I believe I have accomplished my goal in coming here, I was looking to plumb the depths of the animosity of the average atheist and I see that you all have your wacky fundamentalists same as the religious folks do.

    Thanks for letting us know you came here with the intent of data-mining to support your a priori conclusions (not that it wasn’t apparent from the get-go.) Have fun discussing the ‘evidence’ with your fundy friends (BTW, keep using terms like ‘proven’ with regard to scientific theories like evolution. It’ll let any scientists you might accidentally encounter know that you haven’t the foggiest what such words mean, and thus save them a lot of wasted effort in discussing such things with you.)

    You won’t be missed here.

  70. #70 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    I believe I have accomplished my goal in coming here, I was looking to plumb the depths of the animosity of the average atheist and I see that you all have your wacky fundamentalists same as the religious folks do.

    Thanks for letting us know you came here with the intent of data-mining to support your a priori conclusions (not that it wasn’t apparent from the get-go.) Have fun discussing the ‘evidence’ with your fundy friends (BTW, keep using terms like ‘proven’ with regard to scientific theories like evolution. It’ll let any scientists you might accidentally encounter know that you haven’t the foggiest what such words mean, and thus save them a lot of wasted effort in discussing such things with you.)

    You won’t be missed here.

  71. #71 Josh
    September 20, 2007

    It has articles of faith, for example, evolution which has yet to be proven, and there is still that matter of spontaneous life generation from a primordial puddle of goo that has yet to ever be observed, nevermind replicate itself in a controlled environment utilizing the scientific method.

    Sigh…*rewinding tape and pressing play*

    Crom, please note:
    A. Evolution is a scientific theory studied and accepted by many people of faith. It is not equivalent to atheism, nor do I think it can properly be characterized as being one of the ‘articles’ of atheism.
    B. Science doesn’t prove things.
    C. Evolution is better understood than gravity. Is gravity one of the ‘articles’ of atheism?
    D. Please note that the origins of life are actually not addressed by the theory of evolution, so it is perhaps a little unfair to expect it, or the Theory of Gravity say, to explain them…but thanks.
    E. If the goo is primordial, should be reasonably be expecting to observe it?
    F. Are you actually familiar with the scientific method?

  72. #72 anti-nonsense
    September 20, 2007

    Stalin was an atheist it’s true, but he didn’t kill all those people in the name of atheism. He killed them in the name of his own power and dictatorship, just as many Christian and Muslim and other dictators have killed people in order to consolidate their power.

    And anyway, Stalin had some pretty irrational and unscientific views (he believed that freezing seeds before planting them would enable the plants to survive the cold weather which resulted in widespread famine).

    And like others have said, he made Communism into a religion of sorts.

  73. #73 Rey Fox
    September 20, 2007

    “Sorry, I know that one will irritate many of you. ”

    Not that you want to insult any of us, what with you being far too high and righteous for that. Still not too high and righteous to actually read a book about what evolution IS, of course, still content to babble your fever dream of what it is.

    “I believe I have accomplished my goal in coming here”

    Mm-hmm, to provoke the atheists into skewering your dumb ideas and then whine about how mean we are. Seen it before, many many times. Don’t let the front door hit you on the way out.

  74. #74 Rob
    September 20, 2007

    In a different thread, CalGeorge responded to my suggestion “what about figuring out why humans have such a deep and fundamental orientation toward faith and preferring clearly irrational propositions to your clear truths,” with the following:

    1) They’re stupid.
    2) They want to conform.
    3) They are stubborn.
    4) They enjoy being part of a cult.
    5) They’re stupid.
    6) They’re gullible.
    7) They’re bored.
    8) They’re scared.
    9) They’re stupid.
    Not a whole lot to figure out.

    Today, notes: “A hard line is the only line to take with the billions of kooks who refuse to acknowledge reality.”

    I don’t know what “hard line” means in this context. You can’t make people be atheists. It’s a matter of persuasion.

    Cal — you need to work on your people skills.

  75. #75 Richard
    September 20, 2007

    I’ve never understood this “they’re too outspoken” (or loud, or vocal or negative or whatever) criticism levelled against the proponents of “New Atheism” (what is so bloody new about it?). What is so terrible about publishing a few books and promoting them on the tele and going around giving lectures? What is so damaging to your own cause about putting your argument forward and defending it? Should we all just keep quiet on religion then and never call bullshit on creationists and their ilk?

    The “too outspoken” criticism is pathetic. Atheists aren’t nearly outspoken enough.

  76. #76 Wicked Lad
    September 20, 2007

    Crom (#62):

    …[A]theism is merely another religion.

    My apologies to everyone here who already knows this, except Crom, who knows but pretends not to: the difference is that an atheist bases his or her worldview on evidence, on reality. Religions base their worldview on authority and revelation. An atheist, confronted with sound evidence contradicting his or her view will change that view. A religious person will not.

    To this particular atheist, the core of the difference is this: I believe in the natural world only, while the religious believe in a supernatural world that is by definition beyond observation.

    It has articles of faith, for example, evolution….

    Evolution is not an article of faith to anyone, and those who subscribe to it will abandon it as soon as you (or anyone) comes up with a hypothesis that:
       1) Explains the current evidence better and more fully than evolution
       2) Makes predictions of evidence that will turn up in the future, which the new
          hypothesis will explain better than evoloution
       3) Is confirmed when those predictions turn out to be true

    As often pointed out here, it seems that many religious people are so steeped in authoritarianism that they simply cannot grasp the idea that atheists (or anyone) might base their worldview on something other than authority.

  77. #77 oxytocin
    September 20, 2007

    Crom, evolution has yet to be proven only insofar as gravity has yet to be proven. Please refer to non-xian materials for details.

    I would also refer you to Christopher Hitchens’ brilliant analysis of Stalin’s piggybacking of religion in his acendency to power.

    I think when it comes down to it, religion is but one of multiple irrational belief systems that many folks here are opposed to. Fascism is one of those belief systems.

    There are no contradictions in saying someone is atheistic and yet religious. Ask any Buddhist about this notion. Atheism is simply a negation, and, in and of itself, holds no worldview. Humanism is another story, and I offer that up as your next potential strawman. Avast!

  78. #78 Rob the Lurker
    September 20, 2007

    Crom,

    Let me see if I got this: Stalin was a true Scotsman, but those who killed in the name of the Xian god aren’t. Okay… got it.

    P.S.: “Jeebus” is not a derogatory name for “Jesus”. It’s us making fun of the speech patterns of true believers.

  79. #79 Steve_C
    September 20, 2007

    Crom,

    Atheism is the complete LACK OF FAITH.

    It’s like saying your disbeleif in Zeus, “Your Azeusism” requires alot of faith.

    Snap out of it.

  80. #80 Tulse
    September 20, 2007

    Matthew C. Nisbet:

    I think Kurtz states his current position pretty plainly, despite how people might selectively perceive his past editorial.

    Matthew, it is precisely this kind of rhetorical move that pissed people like me off — there is no way in hell that the quotes provided are somehow “selective perceived”, unless you can explain the nuance when Kurtz says “What disturbs us is the preposterous outcry that atheists are “evangelical” and that they have gone too far in their criticism of religion“, talks about “fear of offending the little old ladies and gentlemen in the suburbs“, and asks “why should the nonreligious, nonaffiliated, secular minority in the country remain silent?

    Your comment is a truly impressive combination of pomposity and innuendo, along with the obnoxious refusal to identify the “people” to whom you refer (presumably me) . A more honest academic might have said something like “Kurtz’ position in the past does indeed appears to be far more hardline than he is now advocating”, or “It appears that Kurtz views have shifted”, rather than suggesting that those who point out his past very clearly written work are somehow biased or less than honest.

    And a more honest academic might also look at his most recent editorial in the October/November edition of Free Inquiry, where he writes such passages as:

    There are various forms of unbelief in America and the world today. At one end of the spectrum stand the “evangelical atheists” (so maligned by their critics), who focus primarily on the case against God, noting the lack of evidence, the disregarded contradictions, and the atrocities committed in his name.

    Christopher Hitchens’s brilliant book God Is Not Great is subtitled “How Religion Poisons Everything.

    I am astonished by the fact that six books on atheism have been published by five authors (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Victor Stenger) to such vitriolic comment in the press.

    Incidentally, to our list of six books by the so-called five horsemen, we should add a new one, which is perhaps equally significant: An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam, by Taner Edis. I should point out that this book is published by Prometheus Books, which I founded.

    What I find so puzzling is not the outcry of religious folk–which is to be ex­pected–but that of the so-called neutral liberal and conservative pundits of our time. What an unfair assault on the effort to apply science and reason to religion.

    Again, it sure doesn’t sound to me like Kurtz can be counted as a clear opponent of the “New Atheist Noise Machine”, and I think a more careful and/or honest academic would acknowledge that, rather than just name-drop him.

    (To be fair, in this article Kurtz addresses what he calls “Neo-Humanists”, who are folks that address the positive side of religious dissent (be they atheists, agnostics, or even dissenting believers). But I don’t think that anyone is arguing against such a move. I am fine with Neo-Humanism, and I’m sure Dawkins and Dennett and Harris and Hitchens and PZ would be, too.)

  81. #81 CalGeorge
    September 20, 2007

    Cal — you need to work on your people skills.

    George Bush has people skills. People skills are overrated.

    Seriously, what is there to figure out?

    I do not think religion is a fundamental orientation for human beings. I think it is a several thousand year nightmare from which we are trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to awake.

    Eventually, decades (or centuries?) from now, the vast majority will see it for what it is – delusion.

    [The U.S. will no doubt lag behind as the rest of the world makes progress.]

  82. #82 Flex
    September 20, 2007

    Let us see, questions from Crom.

    Crom questioned,

    So, why no mention of the horned Goddess worshipped by pagans, or Allah, Buddha or any of the millions of gods worshipped by the Hindus? Where is your anger towards the synagogues full of faithful Jews, whose record of religious scholarship directly contradicts your most holy book of Darwin?

    Or is your ire exclusively reserved for the followers of Jesus?

    Answered. The atheist ire is unreservedly applied to all religions, Christianity and Islam are simply two of the more popular and politically powerful.

    Crom wrote,

    If atheism brings the sword, how is it any better than the Inquisitionists or jihadists you constantly condemn?

    Answered. You admitted that the atheist sword was your own invention. Also, commentors clearly pointed out that we are using the pen. Legend has it that the pen is mightier, but I’d rather be attacked by a man wielding a pen.

    Crom wrote,

    However, SEF’s point about Christian macheteros is silly, because anyone killing people in the name of Christianity is not a Christian. Oh, they can claim that they are and claim the label, but I can also claim that I am the President of Hair Club for Men but that does not necessarily make it so, now does it?

    Answered. No True Scotsman fallacy. Has everyone who has ever killed been rejected by your version of Chritianity? That eliminates a lot of people, heaven must be pretty empty. And no, we would need to see some evidence before we would believe you are the President of the Hair Club for Men.

    Crom wrote,

    Are you all making the statement that violently converting or killing religious people is indeed the greater good?

    Answered. You are the only one making that statement. It appears that throughout history the majority of killing of religous people was done by other religious people. Of course, the majority of the time people were religious so it really doesn’t matter.

    Crom wrote,

    So, kooks being kooks what hard line are you prepared to take? Are you going to take the Westmoreland method of winning hearts and minds? How are you going to win the heart or mind of a theist by insulting him, mocking his beliefs and being antagonistic?

    Answered. A variety of tactics is appropriate for the situation. Violence is not appropriate, but uncontrolled laughter is.

    Crom wrote,

    Josef Stalin. Former Christian, ex-seminary student, militant atheist. How many deaths was he responsible for?

    Answered. Non-sequitur. Show us how Stalin’s atheism was the core reason for his atrocities. Then show us how Peter the Hermit’s religion was not the core reason for the atrocities he initiated. We can probably find more deaths caused in the name of religion then you can find deaths caused in the name of atheism (aside from religious people killing atheists). This is a silly argument.

    Crom wrote,

    So what is with the personal attacks?

    Answer; you said silly things, we laughed at you. We’re sorry if you took it personally. Grow up.

    Crom wrote (quoting Chet),

    You state in your post that Stalin was an atheist, then claim “Stalin was the leader of a religion, not an atheist leader.” Aren’t these two statements mutually contradictory?

    Answer. No. Was Christ a Christian? Stalin can be an atheist at the same time while building a cult of personality which has the same attributes of a religion.

    Finally, having made a bunch of silly claims, projecting his own opinions of atheism on us, and having his ass handed to him on a platter, Crom writes:

    I believe I have accomplished my goal in coming here, I was looking to plumb the depths of the animosity of the average atheist and I see that you all have your wacky fundamentalists same as the religious folks do.

    I see. You apparently haven’t studied any history if you think that opinions expressed in the comments on this blog are even close to the depths that religious fevour can sink to. Oh, but of course, those religious fanatics weren’t true Christians.

    Nuts.

  83. #83 Pablo
    September 20, 2007

    The reference to Stalin is pretty bizarre, because I don’t know of anyone who has ever defended that son-of-a-bitch. You want me to criticize him? I will. He was an evil bastard, who really screwed over the citizens that he didn’t have murdered.

    I consider such attrocity highly objectionable.

    Unfortunately, Stalin isn’t around to be offended by my tirade.

    Now, let’s get back to the question at hand.

  84. #84 Anton Mates
    September 20, 2007

    You state in your post that Stalin was an atheist, then claim “Stalin was the leader of a religion, not an atheist leader.” Aren’t these two statements mutually contradictory?

    Of course not. The Pope doesn’t believe in Allah, but that doesn’t make him an “a-Allahist leader”. He represents a different religion. Same with Stalin.

    (For that matter, during much of his reign, Stalin endorsed the Orthodox Church. His relationship with Christianity varied over time; sometimes it was a dangerous competitor, sometimes a useful tool.)

  85. #85 Matthew C. Nisbet
    September 20, 2007

    Tulse,
    I listened to his interview, transcribed it and took what he said to be his position. I have always corresponded with him over email.

    In reality, I think Kurtz has a very nuanced position on this, a nuanced view that is very similar to the one we offered in our original article at Science.

    Blog debate obviously always has way of distorting things. That’s why it is better to write at journals or magazines where there are editors and reviewers, or to come together and discuss. That’s why I’m working on additional articles, and I am also looking forward to the event in Minnesota and the upcoming AAAS panel.

    –Matt

  86. #86 Matthew C. Nisbet
    September 20, 2007

    To clarify: In last post “always” should read “also.”

  87. #87 Caledonian
    September 20, 2007

    Blog debate obviously always has way of distorting things. That’s why it is better to write at journals or magazines where there are editors and reviewers, or to come together and discuss.

    Why would face-to-face conversation be less distorting than blog debates that preserve arguments in writing, so we can go back and look at what was said?

    I mean, without blog debate, we wouldn’t have been able to go back and see where you’d argued that the people who disagree with were part of the “Atheist Noise Machine” that needed to be silenced…

    Oh.

  88. #88 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.

  89. #89 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.

  90. #90 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.

  91. #91 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.

  92. #92 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    I believe I have accomplished my goal in coming here

    I bet Neal thought the same.

    at least Crom managed to avoid the allcaps, extra exclamation marks, and random profanities.

  93. #93 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    September 20, 2007

    You step away for a small time and damn…

    I’d like to at least congratulate Crom on rehashing the same weak arguments we’ve all heard before and with an pungent reek of willfully ignorant aplomb to boot.

    …evolution doesn’t address “spontaneous life generation”

    hilarious.

  94. #94 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    September 20, 2007

    -n

  95. #95 Sastra
    September 20, 2007

    Matt Nisbet wrote:

    As Kurtz argues at Point of Inquiry, the best way forward is to critique religion in its most extreme form while emphasizing the shared values between secularists and the moderately religious.

    As long as moderate religionists think that atheism is a bizarre, extreme position without any reasonable case they will be happy to accept our criticisms of the fundamentalists, and then turn around and tell each other “the atheists are just as bad, of course.” Fundamentalists have too much God,, and atheists have no God, but the truth lies in the middle, with just enough God. And they will continue to promote the view that belief in the supernatural is the sign of a reasonable, loving, sensitive person of sophistication, moderation, and nuance.

    We need to make the case that we are not atheists because we don’t like fundamentalists. They don’t like fundamentalists either, and they still believe in God, so they think we’re simply not aware of the ways to reconcile reason and faith. No, we are atheists because we don’t respect faith as a method, and they need to understand why. Otherwise, the respect they have for us as allies will be superficial, and break down. The real common ground is their own respect for reason over faith, when push comes to shove.

    I think we can do both: make common cause with the moderate religionists on collective problems such as climate change and creationism, and continue to point out that the best case for approaching these problems is through reason, not faith. And based on what I’ve read and know about Kurtz, Dawkins, Hitchens, Shermer and Myers, they’d agree.

  96. #96 Rob
    September 20, 2007

    I’m having a little trouble taking the New Atheism seriously. I don’t understand why anyone would care if others believed in fairy tales or not. Sure, a lot of religious activity is pernicious, but that can fought on specific issues without trying to reform the human race. The general attitude of this thread is to take a “hard line” — arguing against and mocking “faith-heads.” I don’t know what that will accomplish except to harden their opinions against you and drive them further in support of the miscreants who exploit them politically. You can’t be serious about converting anyone to atheism, can you? It’s quite the fool’s errand to tell people that they are stupid, slavish, and delusional and expect them to respect you. Also, IMHO, you offer them nothing. A lot of people find solace in religion — there is a positive emotional appeal in it — along with the well-catalogued negative aspects. That you are so wedded to the position that only views based in science are acceptable you may not be able accept that people might genuinely prefer their religion. There’s no reason why they would trust you in what you argue.

    I have no problem with outspoken and militant atheism. Just like I have no problem with outspoken religion. It’s a free country. Perhaps I’m missing some nuances in your positions, but quite honestly I doubt you will promote much atheism, but rather practice an increasingly jejeune reinforcement of mutual crankiness. I’m sure I’m addressing a lot excellent scientists of vast expertise. I’m a bit disappointed in your understanding of people however.

  97. #97 potentilla
    September 20, 2007

    @Matthew Nisbet

    But in a pluralistic democracy, if we are going to solve collective problems such as climate change and poverty, we have to also raise concern about drawing a bright line in the sand between atheists and anyone who is religious, attacking and denigrating the moderately religiously even though they share almost all of our values.

    Why? Is this a practical claim?

    I asked you this in more detail in the thread on your own blog.

  98. #98 Rob the Lurker FCD BMWCCA
    September 20, 2007

    Ichthyic, I think you’re onto something…

    Neal – tourettes – CapsLock = Crom.

  99. #99 Stwriley
    September 20, 2007

    For all your protestations, Dr. Nisbet, you conveniently don’t mention here the very first answer Dr. Kurtz gave in his PoI interview (though you do at least include it in your partial transcript):

    GROTHE: …I take it that you wonder how effective evangelical atheists are if all they are talking about is atheism?

    KURTZ: I think they have had a positive impact, and I know most of the leaders, and they publish in Free Inquiry…so they have had positive impact, of course they are criticizing religion.

    However, that is not enough. One has to go beyond that! You can’t talk about abstract atheism, or merely a negative attitude. It is what you are for that counts, not what you are against! So I think on that point, one must affirm a positive humanist morality.

    [Transcript of PoI interview with Dr. Paul Kurtz. Compiled by Matthew C. Nisbet on “Framing Science” at http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/
    2007/09/paul_kurtz_in_contrast_to_the.php]

    There seems little doubt here that Dr. Kurtz is advocating for attacking religion generally but also for presenting a positive message of our own as secularists. Everything he says subsequently in the interview is oriented toward this point, that when we cooperate with religious people it must be on a secular basis and without compromising our secular values or rejecting the general criticism of religion. It seems to me (as a simple historian) that this is not the position you advocate with your “framing” argument, and your criticism of Dawkins, et al is exactly what Dr. Kurtz is rejecting, not only in this interview but in his other statements of the subject as well (as ably cited by other above.)

    “Framing” has always been about spin and modification of message, and that really boils down to one thing: hiding your true beliefs and the facts as you see them in subservience to political expediency. I seriously doubt you’ll get Dr. Kurtz to agree that this is in any way a good idea.

  100. #100 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    just enough God

    Oh man! You MUST flesh that out into an essay with that as the title. seriously, for the sake of the world, you just have to.

    or at least register it as a name for a band.

  101. #101 MyaR
    September 20, 2007

    Blog debate obviously always has way of distorting things. That’s why it is better to write at journals or magazines where there are editors and reviewers, or to come together and discuss.

    Serious question — why do you have a blog and why are you commenting here, then? Shouldn’t you be submitting some articles for review and looking for traditional media outlets, then? I mean, if that’s what you really believe, then all I can say is wtf? Why are you here? I’m seriously puzzled, not trying to attack you or get angry. I’m fairly agnostic on the ‘framing’ debate*, although less so after reading your comments on this thread. It mostly makes me sad.

    * I’ve got a background in generative/conceptual metaphor/whatever you want to call it, so I’ve always had a great interest in what I’ve assumed were the goals of the ‘framing’ movement. I can’t help lately but feel that I was wrong, and there has been some basic misunderstanding of how language and communication (and English) work.

  102. #102 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    I’m having a little trouble taking the New Atheism seriously

    gee, Rob, you’re one step beyond me.

    I have trouble taking the LABEL “New Atheism” seriously.

  103. #103 Kevin
    September 20, 2007

    You know what? Matt is a liar. I’ve just read Kurtz article, and not only does he not condemn the tactics of Dawkins, he actually includes himself in the list of “evangelical atheists”. He puts himself in the same category as Dawkins and Harris.

    Matt has gone so far off into his own world, trying to prove his silly little “framing” theory that he is twisting Kurtz and everyone elses positions completely. This is just getting ridiculous. We have the freaking text. You can’t lie about what we can easily read on our own.

  104. #104 Don
    September 20, 2007

    Crom,

    ‘if someone really wants to prove me wrong please list the number of times a mocking nickname was used for Allah/Mohammed/Any Other Deity vs. how many times Christianity was mocked in the same time frame.’

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/2005/11/24/body/

  105. #105 Molkien
    September 20, 2007

    Rob, the fact that you have no problem with outspoken religion (which I’ll take to include fundamentalism) is exactly why New Atheists are up in arms so-to-speak.
    Oh yea, those Fundamentalists are a little crazy, but they don’t represent MY faith, so it’s ok. Never mind they are trying to shape public policy to craft laws that reflects their brand of Christianity. On some fronts they are winning, other’s not so much, but as long as you are ambivalent, they will keep gaining ground.

  106. #106 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    Sure, a lot of religious activity is pernicious, but that can fought on specific issues without trying to reform the human race.

    how much damage are you willing to personally be responsible for while you wait to decide on the results of specific instances, rather than stem the cause?

    well?

    If someone murders a doctor in the name of religion, are you willing to accept responsibility for that?

    If your kid is forced to go to a public school that has decided to redefine science itself to include creationism and astrology along with physics and biology, are you happy to tell your kid:

    “meh, it’s just one instance; most of the religious are perfectly harmless”.

    hmm.

    ever consider that just such a laissez-faire attitude is part of the problem that has allowed the delusions of the religious to cause such damage already?

  107. #107 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    It’s quite the fool’s errand to tell people that they are stupid, slavish, and delusional and expect them to respect you.

    Really? The people I’ve respected most in my life have been those who’ve told me outright when I’ve been wrong. And yes, on occasion I’ve felt embarrassed or foolish for it, but far less foolish than I’ve felt when I’ve learned I’d been propagating ignorance because no one respected me enough to correct me. (Relatedly, I also tell people when they’ve got food stuck between their teeth. I know that makes me a mean, outspoken fundamentalist, but surely it’s better than having someone walk around all day with a celery stick hanging off their gums, no?) I liked school for a similar reason; if I’d never been instructed and corrected, I suppose I’d still think the same things I did as a five-year-old.

    But maybe that’s just me. Perhaps everyone else prefers to be surrounded by appeasing sycophants who never disagree for fear of hurting feelings.

  108. #108 bipolar2
    September 20, 2007

    ** Those not with us are against us. Luke 11:23 **

    As a secular humanist, I always marvel that the big-4 monotheisms which became imperial ideologies, historically late arrivals whose common foundations are very much this-worldly, continue to charm otherwise intelligent people.

    The myth spinners present Zarathustra, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed as supermen touting ineffably silly moralized cosmic apocalypses. Each is a product of a impotent desire for revenge which can not be expressed except in words, words veiled in obscure symbols and arcane references.

    Ahura Mazda, Yahweh, God, and Allah are ethical equivalents of comic book super-villains. The gods are dead. The remaining pulp myths enjoy fanatical cult followings. Theology is merely fan fiction.

    Calling someone an ‘atheist’ in the U.S. is a slur — “godless atheism” of the old Red Scare days. But faith, of course, is never the issue. Ideology is. Ideology masquerading as religion bamboozles the masses, the media.

    What poisons the Republic: undermining the Constitution, trashing biological science, and perverting education to suit a disgusting ideology of social control and political domination by MIXR, the military-investor & xian-right.

    The disgusting Bushite dictatorship manqué represents only a failed prototype.

    Home-grown christo-fascists threaten the life of the Republic far more than all islamo-fascists combined.

    bipolar2
    copyright asserted 2007

  109. #109 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    Matt has gone so far off into his own world, trying to prove his silly little “framing” theory that he is twisting Kurtz and everyone elses positions completely.

    it’s not entirely “silly”; there might be value in framing, perhaps even in the direction Matt wants to take it. the problem is balancing that against the damage it causes to the way science actually works. there is always value in spin, at least in terms of effective application; that much has been proven in the political arena, at least (swiftboating as a great example). that doesn’t make it necessarily a good thing for politics, or science.

    However, I do completely agree that he is doing a textbook case of framing other’s positions so that they fold into his own, and then projecting exactly that behavior onto his critics.

    However, since he’s a cocky new grad with a science paper under his belt, doubtless he won’t be able to see it, at least until some of the rough edges wear off.

    He’ll get a lot of patronizing smiles from the old guard, and eventually he will go off the deep end, or settle down into actually working on collecting data, like he should, and then say much more reasonable things based on the data he collects.

    I disagree with Matt’s conclusions in general, but one thing I can most assuredly agree with is that there has been little formal study of the impact of framing scientific information wrt to public attitudes about science.

    lots of anecdotal evidence, little hard data.

    so, I hope once he “gets his feet”, and puts the opinions to rest for a while (to put it far more politely than I probably should), we will see some interesting research coming from him.

    after all, research costs money, and AFAICT, Nisbet is the one most likely to be able to actually GET money to even begin formal research in this area.

    one can only hope the money will be well spent.

  110. #110 Chris Hallquist
    September 20, 2007

    Most people have already done my basic response to Nisbet for me, but I thought I’d repost what I’ve already said in my own comments section here for the record:

    More from the interview:

    [3:52] Paul Kurtz: Well, I, look, I think they’ve had a positive impact, and I know most of the leaders, and they published in Free Inquiry. So they’ve had positive impact [unintelligible] they’re criticizing religion.

    [4:24] DJ Grothe: Isn’t it a dream come true that so many people are finally talking about atheism when they haven’t been for the last 30 years?

    Kurtz: Yes.

    DJ Grothe: That they’re wrestling with these questions? Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, others have brought these questions into the spotlight.

    Kurtz: Yes, that’s very important, we’ve been trying to do that for years, and now some of the major publishers have published books on that. And that contributes to the dialogue…

    [19:03] DJ Grothe: What do you say about the critics who say that the liberal religious are part of the problem, that they give room for the fundamentalists to grow that by not speaking out against the worst aspects of each of each their faiths, and I’m talking primarily the monotheisms right now, that they actually make it harder for reason and science to prevail against the cults of unreason in society.

    Kurtz: I realize that many people have said that. And, I mean, Hitchens says that religion poisons everything. Well, some religions have poisoned many things. And Harris says that we need to attack the liberal religionists at the same time. And I think that many of the religionists overlooked these problems, but nonetheless, I think there are well meaning, honest, morally concerned people in the churches, and I think that they want to enter into the modern scientific world. So the scientific criticism of the extremes of religion need to be attacked, yes. [Note: This is verbatim, but Kurtz fumbled with his words here a little bit. I’m pretty sure he meant to say that scientific criticism of the extremes of religion needs to happen, and that the extremes need to be attacked]

    DJ Grothe: So that should be the bullseye, the extremist religionists, not just religion in general. Look, I really believe that God, belief in God, is a delusion, is there anything wrong with Richard Dawkins, eminent scientist that he is, actually saying that if he really believes it.

    Kurtz: No, I…

    DJ Grothe: If he has a good argument for it.

    Kurtz: I agree that it’s a delusion, and I think Dawkins is to be applauded for that.

    Against these parts of the interview, Nisbet’s quote is pretty obviously out of context. The things Kurtz nodded along with (not said, just nodded along with) about “limiting coalitions” and “turning off people” was pretty mild language, and doesn’t contradict the much broader statements he made that Dawkins has had a “positive impact,” did something “we’ve been trying to do… for years,” and “is to be applauded for” calling religion a “delusion.” Combine that with the Free Inquiry lead editorial I already linked to, and miscellaneous glowing comments Kurtz has made about Dawkins and Harris (at this summer’s CFI conference, for example) and it becomes clear that Kurtz is no Nisbetite.

    So Matt, why don’t you go ahead and make a post denouncing Kurtz now, m’kay?

    Also, Nisbet says Kurtz’s position is nuaced. Indeed it is–and a hell of a lot more nuanced than the anti-Dawkins table pounding Nisbet deals in, which he wants to associate Kurtz with. Nisbet’s position on Dawkins is that because he’s attacking religion, what he’s doing is bad bad bad bad! Not that he needs to do other things too, not that there are costs to his approach, not even that there are a few things he shouldn’t have said–just that attacking religion is bad.

  111. #111 Chris Hallquist
    September 20, 2007

    Now a comment for PZ:

    Thanks for the link. I agree with you on the authority thing–something I tried to note in my blog post though I did so very briefly. And knowing that I managed to go over even your tolerance for “rhetorical excess” does give me a somewhat tingly, if odd, feeling inside.

    Do you take Molly nominations for people who comment at other blogs? Really, Ophelia deserves one for what she’s been doing in Nisbet’s comments section.

    BTW, I was going to get a comment in at Nisbet’s too, but my first comment is nowhere to be found, looks like he has a rather Dembskish comment policy.

  112. #112 Anton Mates
    September 20, 2007

    Tulse,

    Surely you will grant that his editorial is somewhat at odds with that stance. It is not clear to me whether his position has changed, or whether he holds a complex of both views, but either way, I don’t see him as fully in the anti-New Atheist camp.

    I don’t think Kurtz’s position has changed; it’s quite clear from the interview that he strongly supports New Atheism.

    GROTHE: I take it that you wonder about how effective evangelical atheists are, if all they’re taking about is atheism.

    KURTZ: Well, look, I think they’ve had a positive impact. And I know most of the leaders, and they’ve published in Free Inquiry. So they’ve had positive impact, of course, they’re criticizing religion. However, that is not enough. One has to go beyond that….One has to affirm a positive humanist morality.

    GROTHE: Look I really believe that God, belief in God, is a delusion. Is there anything wrong with Richard Dawkins, eminent scientist that he is, actually saying that, if he really believes that, if he has a good argument for it?

    KURTZ: No, I agree that it’s a delusion. And I think Dawkins is to be applauded for that. But only one shoe has dropped. We need to drop the other shoe.

    He has, apparently, two main criticisms. One, that a focus on attacking theism is insufficient in itself, and so positive arguments in favor of humanist morality should be added to it. Not, you’ll notice, that attacking theism is harmful to the cause; in spite of Kurtz agreeing that vocal anti-theists can limit the ability of secular humanists to form coalitions with liberal believers, he still considers them to have a net positive impact.

    GROTHE: And I take it if some of these people decrying God belief, as true as you think they are, you are saying that they limit coalitions. That they turn off people who might be able to work with us around certain issues of concern?

    KURTZ: I think that is true, so we have to put another step forward.

    And two, he disagrees with Hitchens and Harris that liberal believers hurt more than they help (although I’m not sure Harris would go that far anyway). But, again, he doesn’t say that this turns H&H into a liability for the cause.

    GROTHE: And I take it if some of these people decrying God belief, as true as you think they are, you are saying that they limit coalitions. That they turn off people who might be able to work with us around certain issues of concern?

    KURTZ: I think that is true, so we have to put another step forward. But I think I should point out that we have been attacked, very much so, people have condemned us and blamed us, for all the ills of America. But I think we really go beyond that, if we can, and I think we can. For example, and on this point, EO Wilson has led the way, and he is a secular humanist.

    I hesitate to call Nisbet a liar on this, but at minimum he is a very poor reader. Kurtz doesn’t think the New Atheist methods are a “self-inflicted wound”–he “applauds” them and praises their positive impact! He simply thinks somebody should also be taking other approaches.

  113. #113 Tulse
    September 20, 2007

    Matt, I agree that Kurtz’ position is somewhat nuanced, in that he makes a very good case for the utility of positive aspects of “Neo-Humanism”. That said, as Stwriley points out, the specifics of his position don’t seem to match up all that much with the specifics of the positions you have espoused, and in that sense I think it is inappropriate to tout him so strongly as your intellectual ally.

    As an example, comparing his overall approach to yours, in the original Science article you and Mooney state:

    “Messages must be positive and respect diversity. As the film Flock of Dodos painfully demonstrates, many scientists not only fail to think strategically about how to communicate on evolution, but belittle and insult others’ religious beliefs ”

    However, as Kurtz proudly points out in his latest Free Inquiry editorial, his press has published a book attacking the treatment of science by Islam (An Illusion of Harmony), an act that would seemingly be at odds with the notion of “positive” messages that “respect diversity”.

    Kurtz also seems to have a far greater respect for the work of Dawkins, Harris, et al. than you do — as I noted above he has called Hitchens’ book (perhaps the most contentious of the lot) “brilliant”, and has called attacks of these authors’ works “an unfair assault on the effort to apply science and reason to religion.” I seriously doubt that Kurtz would endorse a phrase like “New Atheist Noise Machine”, or be at all comfortable with the kind of strident attacks on Dawkins et al. that you have espoused on your blog.

    True, Kurtz clearly thinks that there are some values common to both the moderate religious and the secular humanist, and that progress on specific policy issues can be made by harnessing such values. This is somewhat similar to some things you have said, but here as well there are serious differences as I see it. First off, Kurtz is by no means saying that Dawkins et al. shouldn’t take the approach that they do (he has, after all, warmly endorsed this approach), merely that there are other approaches that others might take. In other words, Kurtz seems happy to have various people play various roles in a Big Tent, and emphasize different aspects of the pro-science approach. By contrast, you seemingly argue that the only way to properly promote science to the public is by not criticizing religion.

    Additionally, I don’t see Kurtz advocating for what seems to be the heart of your position, at least as I see it, which is that “scientists should strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details of science when trying to defend it” because “facts will be repeatedly misapplied and twisted” — in other words, that scientists shouldn’t emphasize the science in their work, but should instead spin it for various audiences. On the contrary, when Kurtz speaks warmly of the Neo-Humanists, he says “Distinctively, neo-humanists look to science and reason as the most reliable guide to knowledge, and they wish to extend the methods of science to all areas of human endeavor. They believe that critical thinking and the methods of reflective intelligence should guide our behavior. Neo-humanists appreciate the arts as well as the sciences, and they draw upon the literature of human experience for inspiration. Neo-humanists, however, seek objective methods of corroborating truth claims, not poetic metaphor or intuition. […]They attempt, wherever possible, to negotiate differences rationally and to work out compromises using science, reason, and humanist values.” In other words, it appears to me that Kurtz emphasizes the positive aspects of science, and that it is that which needs to be communicated to and fostered in the public at large, and not some attempt to use marketing spin.

    You’re welcome to disagree with my analysis, of course, but if you do I would really appreciate it if you would engage with the substance and specifics of the arguments, rather than repeat generalities.

  114. #114 Sastra
    September 20, 2007

    You know, at some point, sooner or later almost all us atheists will decry “extremist” atheists, and define our own position as moderation. That’s because there’s almost always someone we know who really goes overboard with the anti-religion stuff. Irrational arguments, in-your-face rhetoric, disturbing people unnecessarily, gratuitous and unmerited insults. Picketing churches and burning Bibles. Every movement has its nuts.

    But to whom is this “extremist” label being applied to? Richard Dawkins using the word “faith-head” once or twice in an otherwise scholarly work? Or the “fuck the skull of Jesus” crowd? Finding some atheist leader deriding “those who go too far” isn’t necessarily going to support the point the “frame” crowd wants to support.

  115. #115 Matthew C. Nisbet
    September 20, 2007

    Guys,
    I stand by my interpretation of Kurtz’s latest interview. I never said he didn’t offer praise for Dawkins et al. and obviously that is part of the transcript at my blog.

    I did, however, call attention to his concerns that Hitchens and Harris have gone too far in singling out moderately religious Americans who share many common values with secular humanists, in the process possibly alienating these allies.

    That’s the exact same argument I have applied since the original publication of our Science article.

    I bought Dawkins book the day it went on sale, enjoyed it, and generally agree with his worldview. I support his right to voice his opinion.

    But I also know as a social scientist who studies the media that his message comes with certain risks, specifically in working with diverse publics on solving collective problems.

    Indeed, this is the great indirect and unintended consequence of the “Noise Machine,” defined as the heuristics, short cuts, frame devices, and fleeting bits of information that moderately religious people might pick up by way of the conflict driven media.

    Translated in the press and twisted by opposing interest groups, the low information signal is that science is at odds with what moderately religious Americans value.

    By definition if we end up alienating natural allies on issues such as the teaching of evolution, poverty, the environment, or stem cell research, it is an unfortunate self-inflicted wound.

  116. #116 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    By definition if we end up alienating natural allies on issues such as the teaching of evolution, poverty, the environment, or stem cell research, it is an unfortunate self-inflicted wound.

    *yawn*

    wake me up when Nisbet is able to view an argument from outside of his own narrow perspective.

    nobody is going to get this guy to budge an inch from his projection of himself onto the “framing issue”.

    it’s just a matter of time.

    save what Nisbet says now, and see how much it will change in about 2 years, once he hopefully gets a chance at some funding to do the research to collect the hard data that he himself points out is lacking in the literature.

  117. #117 Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth
    September 20, 2007

    I am an anti-theist who is attempting to lay the groundwork for atheism with the ignostic and Ockham arguments and the problem of Heaven argument@ every site Ican. Google ignosticism and/or morgan lynn lamberth
    I find that as theists only put old garbage into new cans,never having and never will frame a gripping argument for God, I declare that here the absence of evidence is indeed the evidence of absense in line with the auto-epistemic rule[ Robert C.Moore] and not an argument from ignorance.However, for the sake of argument I declare there is probaly no god.

  118. #118 Janus
    September 20, 2007

    I think Kurtz’s stance is pretty much the same as Dawkins’ and PZ’s. Dr. Nisbet seems to be laboring under the delusion that what “new atheists” want is to “draw a line in the sand”, declare all religious believers our enemies, and never collaborate with them on anything. Of course that’s not the case. As PZ must have repeated a thousand times, we’re all in the favor of joining forces with religious moderates to protect the environment, the teaching of good science, etc. The Nisbet camp is trying to silence us, but we aren’t trying to silence them. After all, why wouldn’t we be willing to collaborate? There are Republicans and Democrats who disagree on almost every political subject, but that doesn’t stop them from collaborating for the good of the USA in many cases, does it? Why should things be different with theists and atheists?

    Obviously, because _theists_ might not want to collaborate. The Nisbet camp’s fear isn’t that atheists will draw a line in the sand, it’s that our uncompromising refusal to state anything but the truth will lead _theists_ to draw a line in the sand. Theists are the ones who are susceptible to do such a thing because they have an emotional attachment to their faith-based beliefs. They are the ones who might refuse to collaborate because their beliefs are dogmatic. All it means is that, once again, faith is the root of the problem. Not “evangelical atheism”, not “polarizing”, not even religious fundamentalism. Faith. Dogma. The refusal to let go of one’s belief, and therefore the obligation to do anything to hang on to them, including deluding oneself about climate changes, and going up against science.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean that PZ is right and Nisbet is wrong, but it does make a few things perfectly clear. The “new” atheists are not opposed to collaboration, theists are, and it’s the new atheists who are attacking the root of _that_ problem, not people like Matt Nisbet. The Nisbet camp is a camp of appeasers, not matter how much they try to deny it. They refuse to go after the root of the problem; instead they prefer to deny (in public, at least) that there is one, in the hopes that religious believers won’t draw that line in the sand. The hilarious part is that if they do draw that line, the Nisbet Camp will lay the blame at _our_ feet.

    Before I click the Post button, let me raise a few questions:
    The Nisbet camp is thinking short-term by going after the more extreme forms of religion while the Dawkins camp is thinking long-term by going after the root of the problem, faith. It seems to me that long-term thinking should always be prioritized unless the short-term problems are immensely important (or unless you’re a selfish bastard who’s only concerned with your own little life).
    – Are things like the teaching of evolution so important that long-term thinking should temporarily be put on hold?
    – If so, just how long _will_ it be put on hold? When does the Nisbet think it will be appropriate to really go after faith itself?

    I wrote above that theists will draw the line because of their dogmatic attachment to their beliefs, but I’m sure it isn’t true that all theists will do that. Surely at least some theists will be able to accept that yes, atheists think they’re irrational and yes, they want to get rid of religion, but nevertheless it would be a good thing to collaborate on important issues.
    – If uncompromising atheists are “allowed” to bash religion all they like, what percentage of theists will nevertheless accept to join forces with us?
    – If that percentage is reasonably big, doesn’t it mean that Nisbet’s fears aren’t warranted and that there is no good reason not to be uncompromising atheists?
    – Isn’t it incredibly condescending to theists to refrain from telling them what we really think about their beliefs in order to avoid scaring them away? Aren’t they adults who should be able to endure a little criticism and even ridicule?

  119. #119 rjane
    September 20, 2007

    Molkien, Ichthyic, Brownian,
    Thanks for the comments. We have quite different takes on the seriousness of general religious attitudes versus specifically pernicious activities. First of all, vociferous atheism is good against creationists — there at least the issues meet head on. I don’t see it working that way with abortion clinic bombings, that case is much muddier. Atheistic evangelism isn’t going to stop the Rudolph’s of the world. It’s not going affect the fundalmentalists who support him. The so-called moderate Christians — they, mostly, I imagine, IIRC various commentary, find him reprehensible. Will militant atheism sway them in our direction? — more likely the opposite for the reasons I have mentioned. One of the reasons is that these are socio-economic and cultural phenomena as well. I think the “let’s have a rational debate about this” approach is much better suited to academia. You’re not just telling believers they’re stupid and delusional, you’re telling them from a somewhat elitist, specialized platform quite removed where and how they live their lives. I actually don’t think people are generally stupid — but the kind of disciplined and informed thinking that leads to the appreciation of atheistic points of view expects a lot from people who must perforce operate on a more concrete and immediate plane. Remember, the favorite trope of the mountebanks pushing the ugliness to the believers is that some godless elite is looking down on them. I’ve met that attitude plenty.

    Accuse me of egregious moderation, sure, but there is a really vital and unique contribution that the scientific community makes to our national debate — which will be increasingly important. The religious miscreants out there would like nothing more than to handicap the community’s ability to influence society (and I don’t view that at heart as a religious issue per se — it’s more about their politcal power, cloaked in religion). Just ’cause their despicable, doesn’t mean they’re not cunning. Don’t make their tasks easier.

    By all means be exultant and clamorous atheists. Do it ’cause you like it. That’s far more likely to break the bonds of delusion, or at least aerate its soil a bit, then explaining to people that they are stupid.

  120. #120 darwinfinch
    September 20, 2007

    Hey, is that REALLY Matt Nisbet’s comment near the start of this thread? Wow!
    While I’ve never had much (and, more recently, no) sympathy with his “approach” to the debate, I’d never before read something by him that left the shallow-but-wide puddles of Whining and entered the fetis swamps of Asshole.
    Matt! Don’t follow that Will o’ the Wisp!

  121. #121 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    The Nisbet camp is thinking short-term by going after the more extreme forms of religion while the Dawkins camp is thinking long-term by going after the root of the problem, faith.

    yes, there is a difference of approach there too, but it goes beyond that into the actual message science itself should send to the public.

    frankly, we don’t need to frame science for moderates; by and large they already seem to be on our side, which is a good thing.

    framing the issue to try to reach those who are unwilling or unable to see beyond their own projections can only end up making your message chaotic to everyone.

    this is a long, long, running debate, and despite Nisbet’s splash in the pool, and the adoption of more recent terminology, the “framing” issue is entirely an ancient debate.

    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. a model, that frankly, doesn’t need to be fucked with to accommodate temporary external influences that could change on a whim.

    but, it’s not like this is new.

    what would be new is what data results from actually studying the issue of framing scientific information for public consumption, and again, Nisbet is correct there really is little hard data on that.

    regardless of what is found, I doubt it would change my opinion on the efficacy of science’s already tested and proven ability to communicate information effectively, but it would be interesting, from a pure curiosity standpoint, to find out exactly what the public appears to expect in terms of “tabloid science”.

    bottom line, the framing issue should not affect how scientific information is communicate in journals, and I also rather doubt it will affect the way science is taught in the classroom either.

    it might have some effect on how science is presented on Oprah, though.

  122. #122 Caledonian
    September 20, 2007

    What if atheism brings the sword?

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

  123. #123 SEF
    September 20, 2007

    Not just a pen, eg in the way an IDiot actor might wave around an empty pen in equally empty gestures, but a pen charged with the (cephalopod) ink of evidence.

  124. #124 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. 😛

  125. #125 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. 😛

  126. #126 Caledonian
    September 20, 2007

    A laser pointer whose beam stops at four inches?

    It’s not so much a pointer, as a laserletteropener.

  127. #127 Chris Hallquist
    September 20, 2007

    The most recent comment from Nisbet actually comes off as more reasonable, in comparison with his previous attacks on Dawkins. However, if he really liked Dawkins’ book and is concerned with Dawkins work being “twisted by opposing interest groups,” why on Earth has he promoted such a negative picture–frame if you like–of Dawkins? I’m certainly concerned with twisting of Dawkins’ statements too, and my impression is this feeling is shared by PZ, Jason Rosenhouse, and indeed Dawkins himself. However, our response to such distortions is to correct them, not conclude that they somehow reflect badly on Dawkins. If Nisbet actually likes Dawkins and is concerned about how what he’s doing is “framed” for the public, he should be investing his energy in disseminated a concise explanation of why what Dawkins is doing is good. Paul Kurtz actually provides a pretty good model of this:

    What disturbs us is the preposterous outcry that atheists are “evangelical” and that they have gone too far in their criticism of religion.

    Really? The public has been bombarded by pro-religious propaganda from time immemorial–today it comes from pulpits across the land, TV ministries, political hucksters, and best-selling books.

  128. #128 Chet
    September 21, 2007

    Aren’t these two statements mutually contradictory?

    Why would they be? It’s hardly necessary to believe in a religion in order to be the leader of it; just look at L. Ron Hubbard. One simply has to be a very good liar, and I believe that Seminary certainly prepared Stalin in that regard.

    Unless of course you are claiming – and I believe this to be 100% true – that atheism is merely another religion.

    The lack of something cannot be that something. A /= ~A, the most basic principle of logic. Atheism cannot be a religion, by definition.

    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.

    Wouldn’t you expect the God of the Mountain to be a little… dense? Ba-dum-bum.

  129. #129 John Morales
    September 21, 2007

    Having followed this AAAS panel/framing issue, it seems to me Dr. Nisbet hasn’t shifted his position at all over the past week, though his rhetoric has become more conciliatory.

    I find Ichthyic (#107) extremely persuasive, and the exegesis of Kurtz’s interview (#108,#110) equally convincing.

    I do consider Communicating Science in a Religious America a good title, though. It says a lot.

  130. #130 bad Jim
    September 21, 2007

    Nisbet wrote, reasonably

    By definition if we end up alienating natural allies … it is an unfortunate self-inflicted wound.

    But we already know, from the polls cited in the Pew article a few weeks ago, that nearly everyone holds science in high regard, understands the unanimous respect in which evolution is held by scientists, and yet three-fourths of the public will, on principle, reject any scientific finding that contradicts their faith.

    The adherence to faith is the problem. The education is already working, at least to the extent that nearly everyone knows that “science says X”. The problem is that 75% of us Americans go on to say “but I don’t believe it because the Bible tells me so.”

    The only way we’re going to get a scientifically minded public is by making atheism fashionable.

  131. #131 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?

  132. #132 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?

  133. #133 deBunk
    September 21, 2007

    Crom: “You may want to acknowledge to yourself that you have crossed the line from atheist to antitheis”

    What line? They’re not mutually exclusive.

  134. #134 CortxVortx
    September 21, 2007

    Crom ceased to be relevant at comment #49

    Re: #20 – “… your most holy book of Darwin” [Strike 1]

    Re: #34 – “… anyone killing people in the name of Christianity is not a Christian.” [Strike 2]

    Re: #49 – (as a “rebuttal” to #36) “… Josef Stalin. Former Christian, ex-seminary student, militant atheist. How many deaths was he responsible for?” [Strike 3]

    Troll on, Crom. Because, as far as substantive argument, “Yer out!”

    — CV

  135. #135 Ophelia Benson
    September 21, 2007

    An observation on Paul Kurtz via the Beyon Belief seminar at the Center for Inquiry last July (at which I gave the keynote address, hem hem). It is true that Kurtz is very keen on being affirmative as well as negative, and also that he himself says he is emphasizing that more now than he has in the past. He said that in his welcoming remarks at the dinner on the first evening. He even said that he thought in that respect he had failed in his work (at which there was a murmur of dissent from the audience) (I was too busy eating a brownie at the time to murmur anything). But that had nothing to do with any criticism of ‘New Atheists’ – which he did not make. It was all about offering affirmative beliefs and commitments, it was not at all about not “attacking religious beliefs” lest we frighten off the Great Majority.

    My keynote was pretty critical of ‘faith.’ Joe Hoffmann told me that in the middle of it he turned to Tom Flynn (the editor of Free Inquiry) and said ‘We want this for FI’ and Tom agreed enthusiastically. There simply is no radical change of direction at the Center for Inquiry or Prometheus or Free Inquiry by which strong atheism is ushered gently out the door while coalition-building and deference to religion are welcomed in.

  136. #136 Ophelia Benson
    September 21, 2007

    Beyond Belief, not Beyon. Der.

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