Pharyngula

Wilkins gets shrill

We have a couple of more eye-witnesses to the start of Dawkins’ lecture tour in Arizona, Jim Lippard and John Wilkins. Lippard gives an interesting account, while Wilkins…well, I guess Dawkins interrupted his lecture to walk up the aisle, smack John with a truncheon a few times, rifle his wallet, and as he was stalking away from the poor guy crumpled in his seat, hissed that he was the atheist pope and he could do anything he wanted. At least, that’s what I imagine must have happened, and John hadn’t quite recovered from his concussion before he started writing his complaints.

First of all, he makes a dreadful tactical error, and he should know better — it’s a game we encountered all the time on talk.origins. While accusing Dawkins of irrationally demonizing religion, the running them of his critique, the great dirty word that he uses to bludgeon Dawkins in reply, is to claim with flashing eye and a sneer and a spit that he’s practicing atheism as one of those filthy religions. You can’t piously grant religion the great latitude to believe whatever doesn’t harm others, and defend it as exempt from the kind of criticism Dawkins delivers, while simultaneously damning atheism because you think it is a religion. It’s inconsistent and verging on hypocrisy.

And what is the basis of accusing Dawkins of fomenting vile religion? That he encourages “Us’nThemism” and “derogation of the Other.” Let’s grant Wilkins that this were true (I disagree, however)—this is the defining character of a religion, that it encourages a group to hate another group? This is what religion is? Dawkins is definitely harsh on religion, as am I, but neither of us have apparently achieved the depth of contempt and the simplicity of reduction that Wilkins has…but then, he trained as a theologian, so I guess he would know better.

But of course, the foundation of his accusation is simply not true. There will be no atheist religion. Dawkins’ tour has none of the trappings of the last visit of the pope; he does not set himself up as a moral authority; there will be no Atheist Crusade; we do not have rituals, a sacrament, a dogma. Wilkins’ sloppy flinging of the ‘religion’ insult does more damage to religion than it does to atheism.

But in one respect, he is right. I think the New Atheism is trying to adopt some of the ordinary and worthy human impulses that have been hijacked by religion for so long. To name one specifically, community. I think it is an indictment of the pernicious influence of religion that it has so thoroughly undermined the whole notion of a social community that when secular people with purely secular motives engage in community building, normally rational people gasp in horror, point, and shriek, “He’s creating a cult!” It’s an attitude the religious love to encourage, because it can be used to short-circuit any competition. We can always trust people to use religion as an epithet against any non-religious community, while somehow, conveniently, always neglecting to apply it in the same way to the one class of organization that really deserves it, religion itself.

As for the charge that these New Atheists are unable to tolerate a harmless religion, and that their goal is the elimination of the enemy, that’s complete nonsense. We want to eliminate them in the same sense that we want to eliminate illiteracy; we will educate, we will talk, we will stand up for our ideas. Further, my standard reply to questions about what I want to happen to religion in the future is this: I want it to be like bowling. It’s a hobby, something some people will enjoy, that has some virtues to it, that will have its own institutions and its traditions and its own television programming, and that families will enjoy together. It’s not something I want to ban or that should affect hiring and firing decisions, or that interferes with public policy. It will be perfectly harmless as long as we don’t elect our politicians on the basis of their bowling score, or go to war with people who play nine-pin instead of ten-pin, or use folklore about backspin to make decrees about how biology works.

I get the impression that John believes religion has already achieved the innocuous status of bowling. Maybe for you, John, but not for most of the rest of the world.

Comments

  1. #1 Alex
    March 7, 2008

    Great commentary PZ. Although instead of bowling, I would have said whittling…but without the knives. I don’t trust any religion with any kind weaponry.

  2. #2 Chuck
    March 7, 2008

    Wilkins’s commentary on the replicator issue is ridiculous. However the replicator got there, that’s where it starts for Dawkins. I can’t recall a single instance where Dawkins claims that the replicator “just appeared.”

    Very disappointing.

  3. #3 Zarquon
    March 7, 2008

    I blame the jet lag.

  4. #4 John S. Wilkins
    March 7, 2008

    Paul, you forgot to say I’m one of those Angry Agnostics.

  5. #5 Colugo
    March 7, 2008

    New Atheism is not a mobilizing, fanatical worldview (“religion”), despite the occasional intemperate rhetoric. After all, this is still New Atheism 1.0. (New Atheism has precursors, but it is not simply atheism and as a movement it is new.) If New Atheism turns into a fundamentalist religion (or fanatical faith or whatever) it will be in the second or later generations. Its preachers and disciples will be those raised in the faith who view non-atheists as incomprehensible aberrations, as well as overzealous converts to atheism from fundamentalist theistic sects. Dawkins, Harris et al. are pretty lukewarm and nebbishy compared to Mohammed or Luther. It might not happen. Not all movements become virulent; some become more milquetoast.

  6. #6 Alex
    March 7, 2008

    IMHO I think it’s more than a social cause that becomes virulent. An atheistic world view derives its credibility from the evidence against the supernatural. Now I’m not saying that science has disproved “god”. But it’s not a 50/50 split either. Of all things known and understood, none of them require a supernatural (such a vacuous word) cause or explanation. So religion relies on fluff and faith for its credibility, not reality.

  7. #7 Sastra
    March 7, 2008

    When scientists try to argue against pseudoscience — astrology, phony psychics, alternative medicine, ancient astronauts — and the way it distorts the world and cheapens the less spectacular but hard-won understanding of real science — the same arguments come up. Science is just like a religion. Skeptics are close-minded. Skeptics lack understanding. Skeptics lack nuance and wonder. Skeptics are taking away what people need. Security. Or choice. Or magic. Or hope.

    Atheists want to classify religion with pseudoscience, and keep it down to columns in the paper marked ‘for entertainment purposes only.’

    “Oh look, honey, it says the moon is in Jesus, so today is a good day to make a new friend and get to those tasks I’ve been putting off!”

  8. #8 Steve Ulven
    March 7, 2008

    This actually brings up a good spot to ask questions about the upcoming American Atheists Conference coming up in the Twin Cities. This will be the first event of any type of organized skepticism (well… besides Death Metal shows, those are always 100% atheist) I have ever attended.

    Can we expect protesters and infiltrators (I sort of hope so, that could be fun)? How many people are expected to show up? Are they all going to be old people? Hehe, just kidding, sort of. I know Greydon Square will be there and I’ve talked to him over e-mail a few times and he’s ungodly cool. Is this a drinking event? As in, are lots of people going to be hanging out at the bar? I need to know this to determine if I should get trashed and have a room to stay sober to drive home each night (ick, that’d be no fun).

    I know you’ll be there PZ, so hopefully I can come up and shake your hand. Maybe you could even break me through the crowd so I could meet Prof. Dawkins as well ;)

    It’ll be a cool event and I look forward to it. Thanks in advance to anyone who actually read all this and responds.

  9. #9 Mooser
    March 7, 2008

    when secular people with purely secular motives engage in community building, normally rational people gasp in horror, point, and shriek, “He’s creating a cult!”

    Or foementing revolution. Don’t forget about revolution!

  10. #10 QrazyQat
    March 7, 2008

    this is the defining character of a religion, that it encourages a group to hate another group?

    It definitely encourages, and is pretty much defined, as something which makes one better than others who do not share the belief. Not just better prepared, better educated, better at tennis or whatever, but morally better. Now some people who are religious do not seem to share this — my mother seems to avoid it, I’m not sure how — but it’s something you see again and again, over and over, when religious people speak about their beliefs, the beliefs of others, and especially about atheists.

  11. #11 hermit
    March 7, 2008

    “Science is just like a religion. Skeptics are close-minded. Skeptics lack understanding. Skeptics lack nuance and wonder. Skeptics are taking away what people need. Security. Or choice. Or magic. Or hope”.

    Yes, these are the arguments that come up from the religious side…and they are all wrong. Where do you get off saying a skeptic lacks understanding, nuance and wonder? One early and important scientific treatise is entitled “The Skeptical Chemist” authored by one of the first scientists who believed everyone’s work should be documented by publication for the purpose of public scrutiny. A skeptic simply is not gullible…that’s it, and that’s good.

  12. #12 Elise
    March 7, 2008

    I get the impression that John believes religion has already achieved the innocuous status of bowling. Maybe for you, John, but not for most of the rest of the world.

    Maybe Australia isn’t ‘most of the rest of the world’?

    It’s has been difficult for me to see Rabid Atheists as being sensible people due to the fact that where I come from they out number (or at least out Vocalise) the Crazy Fundies. It is only through the power of Teh Intarwebs that I have come to realise that Atheists are that vocal because they have to be to shout over the top of the Crazy Christian Noise. I don’t know, it’s a culture shock.

    In my day-to-day life I am certainly the most religious person I know. And I don’t consider myself a Christian (I act like a christian I suppose and I find it immensely amusing that I go to church more regularly than many “proper” christians). The Priest at my church keeps fossils in his office so that he can make fun of creationists and another church I went to the priest had a PhD in Astronomy. There’s a young guy at my church who I get along with quite well and we swap stories about the Science Department at our local university where he’s currently doing his PhD in microbiology and where I studied Geology for several years. I go to church and meet people who genuinely love science (well in the case of my priest he may just like making fun of stupid people). So while I *know* that crazy anti-science religious people exist – it’s not something that I’ve ever had to actually deal with even as a comparatively (amongst the general public where I come from) religious person.

    I think I get it – in the US the sensible people have to yell to be heard over a whole lot of insanity and noise – but across the ocean here we just hear the shouting.

  13. #13 Ian
    March 7, 2008

    As for the charge that these New Atheists are unable to tolerate a harmless religion, and that their goal is the elimination of the enemy, that’s complete nonsense. We want to eliminate them in the same sense that we want to eliminate illiteracy; we will educate, we will talk, we will stand up for our ideas.

    Is there really a difference? After all, isn’t this the same way that Ann Coulter infamously wants to eliminate all Muslims — by converting them all to Christianity?

  14. #14 spurge
    March 7, 2008

    Ann Coulter quote

    “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.”

    That sounds exactly the same Ian.

  15. #15 BlueIndependent
    March 7, 2008

    Well, I was at Dawkins’ presentation at Gammage last night. I have plenty of latitude for comment on this particular item. I hadn’t read The God Delusion as of yet, but I picked up a copy last night afterward, and will begin perusing it post haste. The house was essentially full. Not standing room-only full, but they filled every seat. Professor Dawkins observed that it was his largest crowd to date, so perhaps that’s a good sign, especially in a still pretty red state (though Tempe is the locus upon which all things blue in this state hinge).

    The Professor made some points I hadn’t heard before in defense of atheism, though pretty much nothing about his criticisms of religion was new to me. The presentation he gave, and the accompanying visuals via his laptop presentation were pretty good for their content. I will however take this time to send out a message to the good Professor: PLEASE, for the sake of all things rational, let *ME* build your PowerPoint/KeyNote presentation next time. PLEASE. No offense, but there have been far better, cleaner uses made of those programs, and seeing as I deal with them every day, well, I know a thing or five.

    But I digress. The presentation had a few funny moments, but nothing was “shrill” or “dogmatic”. Professor Dawkins seems to be about as mild mannered an atheist can be, even when he’s taking a paring knife to the skin of the opposing argument’s fishy flesh. Tjhe Professor was funniest when baldly stating the obvious fallacies in pro-religion arguments.

    After his presentation he took questions. There weren’t any religious bushwackers amongst the questioners, though there were a good few students who felt deeply compelled to prove how intelligent they were by coming up with mathematical proofs for the non-existence of a god or gods (one using an example of using triangles in Euclidian 3-dimensional space to create a square, a theoretical impossibility), and after 3 minutes of rambling, ask Dr. Dawkins if he agreed. Thankfully he was suitably blunt with them as well. The audience was relived that he was so.

    I will say I think I expected a bit more, but then I knew a lot going in and thus had more to lose.

  16. #16 Ian Menzies
    March 7, 2008

    Is there really a difference? After all, isn’t this the same way that Ann Coulter infamously wants to eliminate all Muslims — by converting them all to Christianity?

    She wanted to “kill their leaders” first. And the Coulter conversion had at least implied force behind it.

  17. #17 David
    March 7, 2008

    One of your best posts, PZ … and there’s some stiff competition in that category.

  18. #18 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    Paul, you forgot to say I’m one of those Angry Agnostics.

    what a fantastic defense of your presentation, John!

    *rolleyes*

  19. #19 poke
    March 7, 2008

    I don’t get the “I don’t care what other people believe” spiel. Everybody says it, but it doesn’t sound tolerant to me (which is what I think they’re going for), it sounds kind of callous and nihilistic. “Let people have their stupid beliefs as long as they don’t bother me!”

    I think literacy is the perfect analogy. I care what other people believe. It saddens me to see that 80% of the population believe bullshit, even if it’s harmless bullshit. Go after the harmful bullshit first, sure, but what kind of asshole just wants to put a fence up and condemn the rest of the world to (harmless) ignorance? What sort of elitist crap is that?

    It should go without saying that I’m not talking about gulags – just education, open dialog, setting an example, etc – it should but it won’t: any kind of concern about religious ignorance gets interpreted as a call for persecution against religious believers. But you can challenge without persecuting; you can even be kind of a dick about it.

  20. #20 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    I posted quite a bit on Wilkins’ blog. I need a good shower. Thanks for everything, PZ.

  21. #21 windy
    March 7, 2008

    Wilkins’s commentary on the replicator issue is ridiculous. However the replicator got there, that’s where it starts for Dawkins. I can’t recall a single instance where Dawkins claims that the replicator “just appeared.”

    Yes, and how are you going to get an “evolutionary account of replication” without some sort of replication of more primitive things?

    Between this and the “Jewish point of view” discussion, I’m tempted to ask whether the real Wilkins has been replaced by a pod-person who likes to point and screech at atheists. Hopefully it’s temporary.

  22. #22 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    An atheistic world view derives its credibility from the evidence against the supernatural.

    um, try this:

    An atheistic world view derives some of its appeal from the lack of evidence for the supernatural.

    that way, you aren’t immediately giving the opposition an opportunity to shift the burden of proof from where it really belongs.

  23. #23 Ian
    March 7, 2008

    I was rather terse before, so let me explain myself more fully. Coulter advocates the use of military force, yes, but her ultimate goal is conversion. Real conversion, not pretend conversion under duress. After all, the thought patterns from which terrorists arise can’t be dissuaded just by killing a few demagogues. Coulter isn’t stupid, and she knows that. What she does believe is that if those same people are Christians like her, then they won’t be fantastically deluded and therefore dangerous.

    Isn’t that the same goal? To convert people so that they no longer threaten us, themselves, or others with their delusions? The means might not be identical, but neither are the situations; we don’t have majority numbers, and we aren’t responding to recent attacks by Christian suicide bombers against large groups of atheists resulting in the deaths of thousands. Now, just for a moment, suppose that were the case. I have confidence in the reasoning ability of atheists, but I don’t for a second believe that there would be nobody calling for the use of violence in order to strip people of their fanatical delusions in the name of safety. I make no apology for Ann Coulter’s words, but to think that atheists are de facto “better” than that is hopelessly naive.

    To be clear, I applaud the goal of combatting delusion, dangerous or otherwise, with the power of reason. But it seems wrong to delude ourselves into believing that this is anything other than strategic deconversion in the face of a perceived threat.

  24. #24 revmonkeyboy
    March 7, 2008

    Good post PZ,

    I think Dawkins is pretty mild for someone called a “militant atheist” by his opponents. I seriously doubt he has even one firearm. Compared to the christians in my part of the country he is a total pacifist. I am sure he would call himself a pacifist. So it could be argued that he is not militant in the least, probably even less militant than Ghandi.

    @Elise,

    I am glad to hear that you know religious believers with a curiosity about reality. I have no idea what makes you believe this is normal. The problem is that the christians that get media attention are the extremist and frauds. The same goes for christians that goes for muslims, If you do not speak out against the crazy nut cases in your religion, you will be lumped with them. I do not see crowds of christians picketing Behe’s home. All I hear are the countless amens. If you want yourselves to be considered literate and civilized you need to muzzle the crazy types that speak for you.

  25. #25 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    but her ultimate goal is conversion.

    hmm, I would argue her ultimate goal is cash, with maybe some fame and notoriety on the side.

    Coulter isn’t stupid, and she knows that.

    now if only she could demonstrate that somehow…

  26. #26 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    I make no apology for Ann Coulter’s words, but to think that atheists are de facto “better” than that is hopelessly naive.

    to think you’ve made an argument in support of that statement is far more naive.

    you seem to be focusing on goals (real or imagined) instead of methods.

  27. #27 afterthought
    March 7, 2008

    To be clear, I applaud the goal of combatting delusion, dangerous or otherwise, with the power of reason. But it seems wrong to delude ourselves into believing that this is anything other than strategic deconversion in the face of a perceived threat.

    Posted by: Ian

    Coulter wants to convert people from their cult to her cult, which is based on nothing but dogma. Atheists would like people to join the world of reason, where they can think for themselves. No force, just education. There is simply no comparison between the two methods or goals.

  28. #28 PZ Myers
    March 7, 2008

    Paul, you forgot to say I’m one of those Angry Agnostics.

    Not angry — militant. You’re one of those darned militant, fundamentalist, evangelical agnostics who wants to turn agnosticism into a religion.

  29. #29 afterthought
    March 7, 2008

    Adding that I suspect Coulter is pretty much a fraud who just blathers for money, but I can’t prove that so I will take her at her horrid word.

  30. #30 Anonymous
    March 7, 2008

    P.Z.: I get the impression that John believes religion has already achieved the innocuous status of bowling. Maybe for you, John, but not for most of the rest of the world.

    Too true unfortunately. I’m an atheist but I am afraid to let this be too widely known lest it cost me my job (present or future). My current employer hasn’t given any indication that it would be a problem but I don’t want to chance it. So if religion comes up in casual conversation at work I change the subject. And even though I occasionally post comments here under my real name I am posting this anonymously just in case anyone were to Google my name in the future and find this.

    I shouldn’t have to worry about such things, especially in a country that officially is supposed to have religious freedom (USA), but unfortunately atheists are one of the minorities that is still popular to demonize and discriminated against.

  31. #31 Alexandra
    March 7, 2008

    Ian:
    Isn’t that the same goal? To convert people so that they no longer threaten us, themselves, or others with their delusions?

    No. Primarily because Coulter wants people to be deluded and dangerous, she just wants them to be deluded her way and dangerous to the people she hates. We, on the other hand, want to try to rehabilitate all the dangerous and deluded people, even the ones that aren’t threatening us directly.

    Ian:
    The means might not be identical, but neither are the situations

    And hence, not really a good analogy.

  32. #32 Eamon Knight
    March 7, 2008

    We can always trust people to use religion as an epithet against any non-religious community,

    Part of the linguistic problem is that religion is a diverse phenomenom, co-opting a multitude of human behaviours, most of which also turn up in other contexts. It is therefore not hard (and all too often, rhetorically tempting) to start labelling these other contexts as “religion” by analogy. (Not to say that such extension of the term is never justified, either — but it must be done with caution, I think).

    or go to war with people who play nine-pin instead of ten-pin,

    Pah, both heretic sects. We Canadians have a plan to invade and convert you all to the One True Bowling: five-pin. Also, after the Anschluss football downs will be three-for-ten, not this four-for-the-field nonsense.

    I get the impression that John believes religion has already achieved the innocuous status of bowling. Maybe for you, John, but not for most of the rest of the world.

    No, I think John has said that he thinks certain religious groups and individuals have achieved that status. He has been quite clear in his criticism of creeping religiosity in the Aussie govt, and some of the more extreme Christian and Muslim groups there.

    C’mon, PZ: do you actually read the guy consistently?

  33. #33 Ian
    March 7, 2008

    hmm, I would argue her ultimate goal is cash, with maybe some fame and notoriety on the side.

    I will admit that I may be giving her too much credit. It’s difficult to fathom what goes on in Ann Coulter’s mind.

    I make no apology for Ann Coulter’s words, but to think that atheists are de facto “better” than that is hopelessly naive.

    to think you’ve made an argument in support of that statement is far more naive.

    My argument here is only that it is dangerous and foolish to discount the possibility of evil within oneself and one’s peers. If you mean to claim that atheists are necessarily pacifists, I think that the burden of evidence is upon you, not me.

    you seem to be focusing on goals (real or imagined) instead of methods.

    True, but the goals motivate the methods, and they should not be ignored.

  34. #34 Damian
    March 7, 2008

    I don’t get the “I don’t care what other people believe” spiel. Everybody says it, but it doesn’t sound tolerant to me (which is what I think they’re going for), it sounds kind of callous and nihilistic. “Let people have their stupid beliefs as long as they don’t bother me!”

    This is something that I tried to point out on Wilkins’ blog. Though many of us don’t care about a whole range beliefs, I simply don’t accept that anyone can be entirely consistent with “not caring about what anyone believes, as long as they accept the importance of science and secularism”.

    While we all like to think that it is right to believe that, it is actually quite dangerous when you think about it, and you would have to show that your emphasis on whether someone accepts science and secularism is more justified than having concerns about religion. I don’t think it’s possible.

    Also, I get the impression that some people really quite enjoy handicapping their own side in this struggle. They seem to be happy to have to continually put out the small fires – with no prospect that the rate of arson is ever going to decrease (indeed, it is increasing, as far as I can tell) – and they can’t abide by the idea that we might actually flex our muscles politically, oh no, as that would obviously take all of fun out of it, and on top of that, they also don’t have any appreciation for the fact that religion is responsible for the loss of half of the worlds rain forests to satisfy believers, and yet, a few Atheists produce books and it just can’t be right, as it has obviously upset the status quo.

    And all the while, those who would love nothing more than to destroy science and dismantle secular institutions are gathering money and adding to the web of deceit on a daily basis, with the expressed intention of using the political system to further their aims.

    Having said all of that, I do think that some of the criticisms of Dawkins, et al, are fair, and I do enjoy reading Wilkins blog.

  35. #35 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    If you mean to claim that atheists are necessarily pacifists

    have you ever thought that perhaps, on the scale of behavior you seem to be trying to measure, atheists are no different than any other categorization of people?

    the burden of proof is still on YOU to show otherwise, don’t try to shift the burden here.

  36. #36 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    True, but the goals motivate the methods, and they should not be ignored.

    that’s stretching things a bit.

    would you care to compare the methods of communication between fundagelicals and religious moderates, for example?

    in fact, your whole premise stretches things way too far to be plausible, or even worth discussing, frankly.

    tighten it up, get some support, and come back.

  37. #37 Elise
    March 7, 2008

    @revmonkey

    am glad to hear that you know religious believers with a curiosity about reality. I have no idea what makes you believe this is normal.

    The utter lack of religious believers who act or speak otherwise? I have only ever met sensible religous people. I am not saying that crazy religous people don’t exist – but while here they are a minority that all sensible people poke fun of, in the US there appear to be a lot more of them and they’re actually influencing laws and education which is something I find truly horrifying.

    No anti-science person speaks for me. I believe that our common enemy is horrifyingly and damagingly insane and I am offended by the implication that they are somehow in the same category as me.

    While I would love to have the funds, time and dedication to more physically speak against the insanity in countries other than mine, I have better things to do like, you know, living my life.

    Unfortunately the sensible people have been unable to repress the scourge and the insanity does appear to be taking hold in my country (but, as mentioned previously, it is yet so slight that the chances of me actually meeting any of these people is exceedingly slim). I certainly hope that it won’t ever become necessary but if the crazies start working their ways into my schools and my universities then I’ll be picketing with the best of them – for now I will stick to voting for the least-awful people to lead my country and trying to convince the anti-crazy brigade that no really, I’m on YOUR SIDE.

    As my religion is completely irrelevant to my science, I rarely mention it because when I do people try and lump me in with people who are quite clearly dangerously deranged and then ask me to justify myself. Sigh.

  38. #38 BlueIndependent
    March 7, 2008

    I know I can go back and read to see how we got here, but I’m still not quite sure how we left Dawkins’ talk at ASU for the Coultergeist.

    Here’s what I think: Coulter is the embodiment of what conservatives think liberals are like in real life, but with the conservative point of view steeped in. Coulter is, either consciously or unconsciously, acting in such a way that they think liberals do while supposedly making irrefutable conservative points about any and all things. She is a caricature of everything they hate personality-wise, but everything they love ideologically. It’s their fire-with-fire method of fighting.

    Take Coulter and compare her to Rollins on the left. I’m guessing they see Rollins as an anti-social law-breaking (or skirting at the very least) personality bent on ruining traditions with foul language and the audacity to ask questions. Coulter in turn takes the sort of Rollins aggro, adds a nice dollop of asshole, a heaping helping of 100% grade A wrongness, and fists full of the conservative victim complex. And before you know it, she’s concocted the perfect conservative that bucks the trend while following it. The focal point for the anger that spews forth from what they see as undesirable or evil things, and the tip of sword with which they wish to fight back. The key difference is, Rollins is right and says funny things.

    I think Coulter is largely, though not exclusively, out for money. I think she has consciously assumed the character mostly into her unconscious mind and she just operates that way. Nobody can seriously call what she does and says satire or comedy. Her rants are obviously nothing more than purely insulting by design. Nothing she says is necessarily new or thought-provoking, though the conservatives like to make it seem that way. I can see her fading into obscurity, or giving up some level of the schtick at some point when it’s obvious she’s not getting that same old feelin’ from the same old tired “rhetoric”. Any takers that she ends up on some celebrity Big Brother-type number on CBS in 20 years?

  39. #39 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    You’re one of those darned militant, fundamentalist, evangelical agnostics who wants to turn agnosticism into a religion.

    LOL

    i would only change “wants” to “has”.

    Fuck, even agnostics can project.

  40. #40 Ian
    March 7, 2008

    have you ever thought that perhaps, on the scale of behavior you seem to be trying to measure, atheists are no different than any other categorization of people?

    the burden of proof is still on YOU to show otherwise, don’t try to shift the burden here.

    Um, yes. That was the point I was trying to make. What are we arguing about here, exactly?

  41. #41 raven
    March 7, 2008

    To state the obvious, the rise of Militant Atheism is a backlash to the fundie Death Cults. Their attempt to gain control of the USA to destroy it and set up a theocracy scares anyone sane. While fielding cadres of Xian terrorists who threaten and occasionally murder people they don’t like.

    No doubt Dawkins is an able advocate and a rallying point. But standing behind him and being effective recruiters are humanlike toads such as Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, Kennedy and the like.

    The fundie Death Cult perversion of Xianity isn’t anything benign. They lie constantly, try to impose their wackadoodle beliefs on everyone else, attack our civilization, and occasionally murder people. I don’t know which universe Wilkins is posting from but it sounds like a much more cheerful place then the one we are in.

  42. #42 BadMA
    March 7, 2008

    “Harmless religion”? Seems like any amount of belief in the supernatural must degrade one’s rational thinking skills to some degree. Obviously, some religions seem to strive hard to dispel the whole “harmless” thing on a more substantial level.

  43. #43 Ian
    March 7, 2008

    I know I can go back and read to see how we got here, but I’m still not quite sure how we left Dawkins’ talk at ASU for the Coultergeist.

    I take full responsibility. I brought her up to use in an analogy that turned out to be poorly constructed.

    But my purpose in responding here is just to say that I think you’re making right-wing Coulter love more complex than it really is. It seems to me that everybody loves a rebel, as long as it represents a cause they agree with.

  44. #44 Elise
    March 7, 2008

    @raven this “universe” *is* much more cheerful than the USA appears to be – have you ever thought of emigrating? We have less lunatics in government (although, sadly, the infestation is spreading here too…), very nice beaches and an enormous range of poisonous spiders and snakes. That said, I wouldn’t want to encourage you to dilute the sanity of your country any further so perhaps it’s best if you stay where you are and Fight The Good Fight.

    The USA certainly appears to have more than it’s fair share of crazies and I absolutely support putting those fires out. But in some ways Dawkins just appears to be fueling the fire and giving the frothing lunatics another “false idol” to bond over and further their own evil agenda.

  45. #45 Janine
    March 7, 2008

    Ian, I will point out two ways you are flat out wrong.

    Coulter advocates the use of military force, yes, but her ultimate goal is conversion. Real conversion, not pretend conversion under duress.

    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Using an invading force and killing the leaders of a religion is nothing but duress. There is no way to paint this as any other way

    What she does believe is that if those same people are Christians like her, then they won’t be fantastically deluded and therefore dangerous.

    Yes, *nn C**lt*r desires everyone to think like her. Why are you making the argument that Dawkins, Myers or any other visible face of atheism desires everyone to be like them. For C**lt*r, not only do you have to follow her religion, you also have to be follow ideology. I do not hear that kind of talk from any of the so called “New Atheists”.

    I also want to point out, bringing up C**lt*r’s name is one step lower then using Godwin’s Law. There is no way to have a rational talk when that name pops up.

  46. #46 MAJeff, OM
    March 7, 2008

    But my purpose in responding here is just to say that I think you’re making right-wing Coulter love more complex than it really is.

    Three factors:
    1) She hates who her fans hate;
    2) She dresses “sexy” in the little black cocktail dress and/or little black leather dress;
    3) She fulfills an authoritarian fetish.

    Her popularity is about right-wing-male s/m fantasy, and hatred.

  47. #47 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    Um, yes. That was the point I was trying to make.

    then it got lost in a hopelessly obtuse argument.

    . What are we arguing about here, exactly?

    this:

    I make no apology for Ann Coulter’s words, but to think that atheists are de facto “better” than that is hopelessly naive.

    anybody who compares anybody else to Ann Coulter has got a lot of work to do. the Naivete’ is being entirely projected from your end.

    which is exactly why i brought up the issue of methods.

    show me any atheist who has a blog who repeatedly lies, quotemines, and mispresents the arguments of those they admonish.

    If you somehow think that the methods of atheists and creobots of ANY stripe are the same, then you need to go back and look again at the argument you are trying to make, because there is little of it based in reality.

    which, btw, is also why I said you need to separate the methods used from the desired goals.

    my only point is comparing groups was to say humans are humans, and ARE capable of horrific methods, no matter what goal they have in mind. That hardly means that all groups automatically employ the same methods. I feel awkward having to even explain this.

    and speaking of goals, you may find that a bit diverse as well.

    some atheists desire others to become atheists (rationality has a proven track record and tends to benefit everybody), and some just wish that non-atheists would just keep their religion to themselves and leave us the fuck alone, period.

    hardly the same goals, even.

    I feel this should be very basic information to someone who wants to make the comparisons you do.

    since you are apparently unaware of such basic information, doesn’t that at least suggest to you that maybe you need more time to think about this before making such rather simplistic and sweeping proclamations?

    seriously, that’s about as pleasantly and non-condescendingly as I can respond to something like that.

  48. #48 notthedroids
    March 7, 2008

    “Wilkins get shrill”

    Pot, kettle, yadda yadda yadda.

  49. #49 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    Pot, kettle, yadda yadda yadda.

    bet it took you a long time to generate that little nugget of insightful analysis.

  50. #50 notthedroids
    March 7, 2008

    “bet it took you a long time to generate that little nugget of insightful analysis.”

    I guess I should get off my ass and start crafting long tedious blog comments.

  51. #51 Rey Fox
    March 7, 2008

    Why, I suppose next you’ll be calling him…strident!

  52. #52 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    I guess I should get off my ass and start crafting long tedious blog comments.

    why not try more than one sentence and see?

  53. #53 Dan
    March 7, 2008

    I’m pretty sure PZ is aware of the humor in his calling Wilkins shrill in this scenario. Looks like Wilkins is, too, given the Angry Agnostic comment…

    Then again, maybe I’m reading everything wrong.

  54. #54 Ian
    March 7, 2008

    anybody who compares anybody else to Ann Coulter has got a lot of work to do.

    Based on this and other comments in this thread, I was clearly misguided in choosing Ann Coulter for my analogy. For that, I apologize.

    In any case, I was not trying to imply that any particular person is comparable to Ann Coulter. I was suggesting that atheists, as a group, are no less capable than any other group of producing somebody similar to her, and that on a large enough scale we could reasonably be expected to. I expect that most current atheists would reject rather than celebrate such a figure, but again I’m talking about a different scale.

    show me any atheist who has a blog who repeatedly lies, quotemines, and mispresents the arguments of those they admonish.

    I do not know of any such (although I am somewhat biased in this regard, as I would be unlikely to either discover or revisit such a blog, if one does exist).

    If you somehow think that the methods of atheists and creobots of ANY stripe are the same, then you need to go back and look again at the argument you are trying to make, because there is little of it based in reality.

    which, btw, is also why I said you need to separate the methods used from the desired goals.

    I don’t think that the methods, as currently employed, are the same. That’s why I was talking about goals, and the goals are what I understand PZ and Wilkins to have been talking about as well.

    and speaking of goals, you may find that a bit diverse as well.

    some atheists desire others to become atheists (rationality has a proven track record and tends to benefit everybody), and some just wish that non-atheists would just keep their religion to themselves and leave us the fuck alone, period.

    hardly the same goals, even.

    I’m aware of this. I don’t see the relevance. I was talking about a particular goal held by some atheists. I never intended to imply that all atheists share that goal.

  55. #55 raven
    March 7, 2008

    @raven this “universe” *is* much more cheerful than the USA appears to be – have you ever thought of emigrating?

    I know the USA has a problem that other countries don’t have. We also have the size and ability to make other countries miserable. And yes, I’ve thought of emigrating seriously for a while now. The fundies may well be in retreat, by polls half the US population including a lot of Xians are sick and tired of them.

    The USA certainly appears to have more than it’s fair share of crazies and I absolutely support putting those fires out. But in some ways Dawkins just appears to be fueling the fire and giving the frothing lunatics another “false idol” to bond over and further their own evil agenda.

    The fundies would be frothing no matter what. One of their core beliefs, the Rapture Monkey Syndrome, is that god is coming any day to murder 6.7 billion people and destroy the earth. To them this is a Good Thing. Unless you’ve dealt with dullwitted, fanatics who are very, very good at hating, you don’t have any idea. These people are bughouse crazy. To make matters worse, they controlled our government for 6 years and own the president and the Republican party.

    Dawkins and the Militant Atheists are one of the few groups to stand up to them and say, What a bunch of nonsense. The fundies like to use their weird interpretation of religion as a litmus test. Believe the earth is 6,000 years old, Noah had a Big Boat full of dinosaurs, and Darwin is responsible for everything bad that happened in the last 2,000 years even though he wasn’t even born until the 1800’s. Or you are a Fake Xian. Bad move, the brighter and saner among them take that litmus test and often enough toss the religion.

    Dawkins and the atheists in general make it easy to Just Say No. As you sow, so shall you reap.

  56. #56 The Flying Trilobite
    March 7, 2008

    I just got back from Austin Dacey’s visit to the Centre for Inquiry Ontario, and it was great. He penned the book “The Secular Conscience” and is on his book tour.

    He made the point that along the way, the liberal west has lost it’s ability to criticise religion. It’d be interesting to sit him in a debate with Wilkins.

  57. #57 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    was suggesting that atheists, as a group, are no less capable than any other group of producing somebody similar to her, and that on a large enough scale we could reasonably be expected to.

    I would have to quickly add that depending on how you divy up the groups, you will find psychological differences between them that would indeed tend to generate some behavioral types more than others.

    Atheists as a group tend not to utilize common psychological defense mechanisms nearly as often as creationists do, as we have no need to maintain an untenable worldview.

    so, your premise is likely not accurate from a purely statistical sense.

    some groups would indeed be more likely than others to generate a “Coulter”.

    In fact, I think you should really spend some time examining just how fubar the psychology of people like Phelpsians and the darwin->hitlerites (Like James Kennedy) is, then see the parallels in most creationists.

    I think you might tend to re-evaluate what you think the probabilities would be.

    seriously, before you try to go much further with this, I highly suggest you spend more time analyzing the dynamics of the groups you intend to compare.

  58. #58 Ric
    March 7, 2008

    PZ said: “this is the defining character of a religion, that it encourages a group to hate another group? ”

    Actually, yes. I think the main reason religion evolved was because it encourages group cohesion while delineating the other. It causes an us-vs-them mentality.

  59. #59 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 7, 2008

    The Wilkins is naked.

    he trained as a theologian

    That may explain it. Theologians thinks one can use absence of contrary evidence to weaken accumulated experience that scientific theories are sufficient to explain observations.

    And it may be that Wilkins hasn’t read TGD. A recording, admittedly somewhat incomplete, reveals nothing about Wilkins claim that “those of us who do not condemn someone for holding religious beliefs were caricatured as “feeling good that someone has religion somewhere””.

    But 41 minutes in Dawkins notes that “interestingly some of the strongest criticisms [to TGD] came from atheists who really don’t believe themselves – [but] “believe in belief” – as the philosopher Daniel Dennet has put it. They just love the idea that over people are religious. [pause] How patronizing can you get: “I’m an atheist, but I really wish to dissociate myself from your shrill, strident, intemperate, intolerant, ranting language.”” And he goes on to compare his text with some harsher London restaurant critics.

    Perhaps that section is what Wilkins object to, as he criticizes Dawkins. In that case there really shouldn’t be any confusion that there are several groups that Dawkins discuss. Those who allege there is a “psychological and emotional need for a god” – those who “believe in belief” (p 394, paperback ed) are discussed on pp 20-22 in the new preface in the paperback edition Dawkins refers to. And on pp16-17 the above quote headlines a section where he notes those London restaurant critics as an answer to those who criticizes his language.

  60. #60 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 7, 2008

    The Wilkins is naked.

    he trained as a theologian

    That may explain it. Theologians thinks one can use absence of contrary evidence to weaken accumulated experience that scientific theories are sufficient to explain observations.

    And it may be that Wilkins hasn’t read TGD. A recording, admittedly somewhat incomplete, reveals nothing about Wilkins claim that “those of us who do not condemn someone for holding religious beliefs were caricatured as “feeling good that someone has religion somewhere””.

    But 41 minutes in Dawkins notes that “interestingly some of the strongest criticisms [to TGD] came from atheists who really don’t believe themselves – [but] “believe in belief” – as the philosopher Daniel Dennet has put it. They just love the idea that over people are religious. [pause] How patronizing can you get: “I’m an atheist, but I really wish to dissociate myself from your shrill, strident, intemperate, intolerant, ranting language.”” And he goes on to compare his text with some harsher London restaurant critics.

    Perhaps that section is what Wilkins object to, as he criticizes Dawkins. In that case there really shouldn’t be any confusion that there are several groups that Dawkins discuss. Those who allege there is a “psychological and emotional need for a god” – those who “believe in belief” (p 394, paperback ed) are discussed on pp 20-22 in the new preface in the paperback edition Dawkins refers to. And on pp16-17 the above quote headlines a section where he notes those London restaurant critics as an answer to those who criticizes his language.

  61. #61 Ichthyic
    March 8, 2008

    Theologians thinks one can use absence of contrary evidence to weaken accumulated experience that scientific theories are sufficient to explain observations.

    he also might be deathly afraid Hector Avalos is correct: Theology is doomed.

    meh, probably not.

    :p

  62. #62 MAJeff, OM
    March 8, 2008

    Actually, yes. I think the main reason religion evolved was because it encourages group cohesion while delineating the other. It causes an us-vs-them mentality.

    Here’s a question for the anthropologists out there: For how many linguistic-cultural groups does the term for the group itself mean “the people,” as opposed to a people among many?

    Y’all anthropologists can back me up, here, but I think I’m on fairly solid ground when I say that when we modern folks think of religion, we often tend to ascribe it to a particular portion of life, to a specific institutional form. I think it’s worth remembering that as we look back in history (or move away from modern systems of organization), religion becomes less of a separate institution. Indeed, as we move back in that history (away from Modern organizational forms), institutions as we know them disappear. An understanding of human history has to recognize that the social organization of life has become more complex as time has passed.

    As we go back historically, we see, in some ways, a mode of understanding which doesn’t separate the “spiritual world” from the “material world.” As Durkheim discussed, the sacred space, and the rituals that take/took place in such a space, had the effect (if not intent) of reinforcing the group itself, and of reinforcing the cultural values that the groups sees as central in comprising itself. It wasn’t that the group removed the spiritual from everyday life, or the religious from other parts of life, but the particular aspects defined as “sacred” versus the “profane” everyday stuff. But, the central point Durkheim was pushing for was that the sacred was the social.

    We’re a social species. That there would be institutional and ritual forms of reinforcing group membership–and the group itself–probably shouldn’t be surprising. In part, it seems to me, what the “New Atheism” is about is a recognition of the fact we’re social animals without the need for the superstitious nonsense that has been used to capture and express that sociality.

  63. #63 Scholar
    March 8, 2008

    “We can always trust people to use religion as an epithet against any non-religious community, while somehow, conveniently, always neglecting to apply it in the same way to the one class of organization that really deserves it, religion itself.”

    … well said PZ. I feel like I should pay tithe… or at least tuition…

    I had a feeling wilkins was off the rocker again! lol

  64. #64 Steven
    March 8, 2008
    Paul, you forgot to say I’m one of those Angry Agnostics.

    Not angry — militant. You’re one of those darned militant, fundamentalist, evangelical agnostics who wants to turn agnosticism into a religion.

    Here is my take. Theist or Atheist donotes belief or lack of belief. Gnostic or Agnostic denotes knowledge or lack of. You can be an agnostic atheist. In other words you don’t know there is no god(it is impossible to know even every definition of that word) but you just don’t believe there is. I haven’t visited everyone planet(or even one) in the Andromeda galaxy so I don’t know there isn’t an alien with 25 arses in the shape of my head that lives on one of those planets. However I don’t believe there is.

    I am an agnostic atheist when it comes to a deistic type of god.

    I am a gnostic atheist when it comes to the Abrahamic gods because they actually posit claims about that god and they are easy to debunk.

  65. #65 QrazyQat
    March 8, 2008

    Is there really a difference? After all, isn’t this the same way that Ann Coulter infamously wants to eliminate all Muslims — by converting them all to Christianity?

    You are falling into the same trap Wilkins did, assuming that atheism is religion. If Coulter wanted to eliminate Muslims by eliminating religion, it would be the same (except for her methods, as has been pointed out). But she doesn’t want to do that; she wants to change them to her religion. As James Randi has said, if theism is a religion then not collecting stamps is a hobby.

  66. #66 jfatz
    March 8, 2008

    I was suggesting that atheists, as a group, are no less capable than any other group of producing somebody similar to her, and that on a large enough scale we could reasonably be expected to.

    Any sufficiently large group has the capacity to bring out real nutters, and even they might have some fans. This, however, isn’t much of a “point”–it’s just commentary on human nature.

    There’s a good chance that atheists–working the way they advocate and “converting” through education and rationality–will never produce someone quite as batshit as Ann Coulter, however, nor will they be able to support an audience as large as she does. Rational people are pretty averse to irrationality, no matter what the source.

    The “education” and “encouraging rationality” points are still nowhere near the same, whether we’re talking about Ann Coulter or someone much less divisive, however. It’s speaking out to counter irrational claims made of atheists, as has been done for centuries. It’s speaking out against baseless attacks on science, and educate people on what science is. (Also applies to “secularism” and “materialism” and “rationality” and “methodology…”)

    If doing so causes one to lose their religion completely, so be it. If it causes their religion to retreat to smaller and smaller “gaps” fro God, then so be it. (And it’s pretty much what they have been doing anyway.) If people like remaining “comfortable religious,” then so be it. I don’t “approve” of as many hobbies and pasttimes of other people as they “approve” of mine, but so long as it doesn’t MATTER…

    The bowling analogy is quite apt. Perhaps a larger sport with a more “religious-like” fanbase if you want, but it’s still the same. Just so long as it’s part of the FREEDOM of a secular society, rather than an INTRUSION into one, it really doesn’t matter what anyone believes.

  67. #67 Michael X
    March 8, 2008

    I’ve always wondered why the rhetorical device of “Pot calling the Kettle black” continues.
    We do all recognize that no matter what color the pot is, the kettle is still black. Right? This isn’t news to anyone is it? If a murderer says murder is bad, responding with the pot/kettle retort is plainly silly.

    I suppose the only place for such an argument is if the “pot” speaker wishes to hold higher moral ground or condescends over the “kettle” speaker, while being guilty of the same flaw, can we then begin to speak about the hypocrisy implied by the pot/kettle argument. Otherwise, the pot/kettle argument becomes pretty useless.

    But hypocrisy isn’t the case here. If PZ’s only argument was that Wilkins was shrill, and that in and of itself is bad, and PZ can be reasonably defined as “shrill,” then by all means pot/kettle PZ to death. But, here we have a post that say “so and so is shrill”, and then we ask “What about?” and lo and behold, PZ answers and we have the actual point of the post, which has nothing to do with being shrill in itself, but being shrill about something one shouldn’t be shrill about.

    And boy, is this is my lucky day. I get paid five dollars every time I use “shrill” in a sentence.

  68. #68 Marcus Ranum
    March 8, 2008

    As I said elsewhere: I think religion’s remaining role will be as performance art. As such, it can be as crazy and over the top (and free from criticism) as only art can. Want to make a bust of the FSM out of your own blood? Go ahead. Just don’t use mine. Call it art. Want to bang your head on the floor and burn incense? Go ahead. Just don’t bang mine. Call it art. Want to build a huge, glorious stone building or a ring of standing stones? Go ahead. Just don’t spend my tax money on it, or use my land. Call it art.

    The beauty of art is that it doesn’t make claims to understand anything. Nor (with very rare exceptions) do you hear about horrible wars like the brief slaughter the cubists inflicted on the pointillists, before the council of conte was able to reach an accord.

    The religiotards haven’t caught onto it, yet, but if religion hides as an art-form, we won’t even be able to make fun of them any more. I mean, who can make fun of artists? That’d be like pointing out that Pablo Picasso apparently can’t draw; loads of people would rush to the defense. Best of all, it would place the priests and the art critics into a very amusing dynamic state that we’d get to watch. A sort of a death match of bloviation, if you will.

  69. #69 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    March 8, 2008

    Coulter advocates the use of military force, yes, but her ultimate goal is conversion. Real conversion, not pretend conversion under duress.

    That may well be true, Ian, but in context her words imply conversion by means of force and mass evangelism. And given previous intemperate statements from Coulter I reserve the right to take her at face value.

    She is selling a delusion, and a dangerous one at that.

    Isn’t that the same goal?

    Only in the same vague, handwaving sense that making war is a means of achieving peace.

  70. #70 John S. Wilkins
    March 8, 2008

    I haven’t had this much attention since I crapped my pants in grade 2.

    Just so’s you all know, PZ and I poke each other with sticks occasionally. But I haven’t changed my tune or anything, and no this is not temporary. I have held this view for many years, and I shall continue to. I’d still drink with Paul if he paid.

  71. #71 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    March 8, 2008

    [T]his is the defining character of a religion, that it encourages a group to hate another group?

    Certainly most Christian sects, in particular Protestant ones, divide the world into the elect and the ungodly. Islam does this too. This taxonomy does not always manifest itself as hate, but has historically been responsible for a LOT of hatred.

  72. #72 Michael X
    March 8, 2008

    Aw, Marcus. All art criticism isn’t that bad. And comparing what we do to what religion should attempt to emulate is an insult to artists everywhere, be they, paint, stage, dance, etc. Religion will never be art. That’s why we call it religion. There is a fundamental difference. Religion will only become art, when religion ceases to exist. And frankly, I hope that it simply ceases to exist period, and doesn’t instead ooze over into the respectable world of art. And if you have any love of culture, you would wish the same.

  73. #73 Michael X
    March 8, 2008

    I’d let you both buy me a beer if it makes you feel any better John.

  74. #74 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    March 8, 2008

    As I said elsewhere: I think religion’s remaining role will be as performance art.

    Only if it is the Catholic religion.

    I believe it was Jonathan Meades who pointed out that Catholic culture gave us great surrealists such as Dali, Breton, Kahlo and Duchamps, while Protestantism only produced Lewis Carroll.

    Yes, I know that holes can be poked in this thesis, but it’s an interesting conceit.

  75. #75 Leigh
    March 8, 2008

    Well, if nothing else, we’ve recognized Janine’s Corollary to Godwin’s Law: Anything more than the most glancing mention of the K**ltergeist will suck all the brains out of the room; the discussion may linger on life support for a while, but rational thought is dead. I hypothesize that the K**ltergeist achieves her effect because she’s a massive black hole for all energy given off by nearby bodies in the course of constructing logical arguments. After the K**lterHole has sucked away all rationality in the event space, no free rationality is available for forming more arguments, or even for amending arguments that have already been developed.

    Or, to put it more simply, she’s a big ole transvestite looking gal whose favorite hobby is “let’s show our dicks so that all can see that yours is smaller than mine.” In this view, the anti-rationalism effect proceeds purely from the impenetrable cloud of testosterone the contest created.

  76. #76 Trinifar
    March 8, 2008

    Since the arguments haven’t changed, I’ll just repeat what I’ve said before:

    “Most people ardent about their religion or atheism are selling metaphysics which, as anyone with a degree in philosophy can tell you, isn’t a very profitable business. Metaphysics doesn’t address the serious problems of poverty, greed, human rights, or global warming. It is not relevant to our everyday concerns. For example, when we talk about the need for accessible health care for all, we don’t mean that everyone should be able to see a metaphysician.”

    See http://trinifar.wordpress.com/2007/07/02/neither-religion-nor-atheism/

  77. #77 Brownian, OM
    March 8, 2008

    I’m an atheist but I am afraid to let this be too widely known lest it cost me my job (present or future).

    This is why I’m an ‘out’ atheist. I have no reason to believe that anonymous is exaggerating, and it’s for this reason, among others, that John is wrong. The fact that anonymous has to change the subject when religion comes up for fear of persecution for his or her non-beliefs is absolutely abhorrent.

    I happen to be in a situation where my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, have no impact on my employability. Further, if they did, I’m in a situation in which I can afford to raise a ruckus, and fortunate to live in a country where a ruckus would have an impact.

    So I’m out. And I’m loud. And I’m angry. And when atheists and rationalists cease to be under constant assault from the forces of superstitious nonsense and irrational bigotry I’ll be happy to sit down with people like John and have a beer and a laugh over the whole situation. But not a moment before.

  78. #78 Brownian, OM
    March 8, 2008

    @ MAJeff #61:

    Get out of my head! Get out of my head!

  79. #79 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    March 8, 2008

    “Most people ardent about their religion or atheism are selling metaphysics which, as anyone with a degree in philosophy can tell you, isn’t a very profitable business.

    Are you trying to persuade us that religion is not profitable? Sorry, I’m not buying.

  80. #80 Michael X
    March 8, 2008

    Trinifar,
    You make me resent my philosophy training when you post such drivel. Atheists arn’t selling metaphysics. They are advocating the default view of the universe. The burden of proof is on you to show that the atheist position advocates anything, other than a lack of supernatural worldview.

    So of course you’d be right that atheism isn’t the road you’d take to figure out poverty. But in saying so you’re only proving a non-sequitur. Atheism in and of itself has nothing to do with poverty.

    Though if you have any sense you would rally behind a view that sees this life as the only one we have, thus it should be now that we will look to help our fellow man and not ignore our responsibility to our fellow human beings on the caveat that in “another life” everything will be made right. Resolving believers of any guilt.

    Come now my philosophical friend. Do you really believe that a naturalistic worldview is not conducive to solving the problems of poverty, greed, human rights, or global warming, compared to a supernaturalistic one?

  81. #81 blf
    March 8, 2008

    Via the FSM site, I found this article, Demob Happy, by Stephen Bates, The Grauniad’s former religious affairs writer:

    … This was in the days before 9/11, George Bush’s election and the dawning realisation of the murderous impulses of religiously inspired Islamic terrorism, but I soon discovered there were quite enough feuds to be going on with even in the good old Church of England. The first inkling was when I opened what was to become my favourite religious periodical, the English Churchman, a deeply conservative publication which still calls the Pope the Anti-Christ, publishes the odd article suggesting slavery was not really such a bad institution and argues that Margaret Thatcher’s worst mistake was allowing shops to open on Sundays.

    Well, in case you get the wrong idea, the Churchman‘s readership is pretty minuscule, but the vehemence even in the mainstream denominations could be quite startling and bizarrely tunnel-visioned. … [Graham Dow (Bishop of Carlisle) wrote a book] on demonic possession shows he believes devils enter up the anus (something Freudian here perhaps) and the signs of possession include wearing black, inappropriate laughter, inexplicable knowledge, Scottish ancestry or relatives who have been miners. … Dow used to be an Oxford college chaplain, indeed once prepared Tony Blair for confirmation, and has risen to be a diocesan bishop.

    The presenting issue, of course, for what has become a struggle for power and control not only of the Church of England but throughout the worldwide Anglican communion, is homosexuality and the church’s attitude towards gays. Outsiders may have accepted civil partnerships, but the established church is tearing itself apart on the issue with quite extraordinary bitterness and rancour. …

    The fact that the outside world regards the division with bemusement and indifference, insofar as it takes any notice, and that the conservatives have received no secular support for their stand whatsoever, not even in the British tabloids, baffles them but only serves to confirm their belief that if the world is against them they must be right.

    As you can imagine, this gets wearing after a while. What really surprised me was the mendacity and sheer nastiness with which the feuds were conducted and, of course, the certainty with which such people knew that God was speaking directly to them and – funnily enough – endorsing whatever action they had decided to take. It is a hermetically sealed, deeply insecure view of the outside world and it does not just infect Anglicans, but many denominations. …

    Faltering in the face of so much theology, I decided to cover church issues politically. … When Pope John Paul II started appointing cardinals wholesale towards the end of his reign, in an attempt to fix the choice of his successor – the cardinals being the men who choose the pope – I reported it as a political move …

    Now I am moving on. It was time to go. What faith I had, I’ve lost, I am afraid – I’ve seen too much, too close. A young Methodist press officer once asked me earnestly whether I saw it as my job to spread the Good News of Jesus. No, I said, that’s the last thing I am here to do.

  82. #82 Whodunnit
    March 8, 2008

    Graham Dow:

    ‘the signs of possession include wearing black, inappropriate laughter, inexplicable knowledge, Scottish ancestry or relatives who have been miners.’

    So when someone gets possessed they suddenly get a whole lot of new relatives.

    Hahaha! That was the funniest thing I’ve read today. ;D

  83. #83 John Pieret
    March 8, 2008

    You can’t piously grant religion the great latitude to believe whatever doesn’t harm others, and defend it as exempt from the kind of criticism Dawkins delivers, while simultaneously damning atheism because you think it is a religion. It’s inconsistent and verging on hypocrisy.

    Yes. We were quite wrong to expect better out of the educated and science-oriented than out of those who have their horizons limited by their lack of learning. We should have expected all and sundry to lapse into mindless pulpit-pounding at the drop of a hat and should have hidden our disappointment better. Shaking our head sadly, we’ll argue for tolerance of your behavior … as long as you don’t try to impose your beliefs on others … say through child abuse laws …

  84. #84 windy
    March 8, 2008
    You can’t piously grant religion the great latitude to believe whatever doesn’t harm others, and defend it as exempt from the kind of criticism Dawkins delivers, while simultaneously damning atheism because you think it is a religion. It’s inconsistent and verging on hypocrisy.

    Yes. We were quite wrong to expect better out of the educated and science-oriented than out of those who have their horizons limited by their lack of learning.

    I think you misunderstand PZ’s point (and at the same time, provide evidence for it). If you expected something “better” than religion, then isn’t religion “worse”?

  85. #85 CalGeorge
    March 8, 2008

    I admire Dawkins tremendously for all he is doing to extirpate from our mental lives the sloppy, stupid thinking that we call religious belief.

    If he takes up a career in Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, I will be pissed.

  86. #86 PZ Myers
    March 8, 2008

    Damned with faint praise…John, you’d drink with the devil if he were buying.

  87. #87 Luna_the_cat
    March 8, 2008

    Er, looks to me like the atheists here are doing a damn fine job of delineating the “right, sane, sensible us” vs. the “deluded them” again. Not to mention the ongoing condemnation of agnostics because, by damn, they all don’t have your strength of conviction and are just panderers to delusion.

    This is kind of a “well, the difference is we are RIGHT” level of blind spot which admits no criticism of your position, accepts no validity of anyone else’s perception or decision-making process, and encourages the shrill condemnation of those insufficiently enlightened. Which is why some of us see it as analogous behaviour to that indulged by fundamentalists. And if you weren’t so tied up in being RIGHT, you would see it too.

    And, as I may have mentioned before, you are so busy crapping all over the pro-science people who don’t agree with you exactly, you forget that you need all the friends you can get to deal with the anti-science people. The only civilisations which survived, historically, were the ones which were capable of uniting in the face of a common threat. The strongest civilisations are the ones which have internal methods of enforcing compromise between diverse attitudes; you all really need to be reality-aware enough to accept that there are always going to be some very diverse attitudes on this.

    That’s going to be my only post on the matter. I have other things to go deal with.

  88. #88 cureholder
    March 8, 2008

    I agree completely with PZ’s analysis, except for his observation that what people believe and observe with their families is harmless as long as they don’t vote or go to war based on it. That conclusion ignores what it does to children trappedn involuntarily on the inside of this insanity, not able to escape or usually even know that they are being abused. I know PZ thinks the same way about that particula dilemma, and probably didn’t mean to elide it so simply (as he was making a broad social point), but, as a former captive to a fundamentalist cult, I wanted to make sure we didn’t forget the victims in all of this nonsense.

  89. #89 windy
    March 8, 2008

    Er, looks to me like the atheists here are doing a damn fine job of delineating the “right, sane, sensible us” vs. the “deluded them” again. Not to mention the ongoing condemnation of agnostics because, by damn, they all don’t have your strength of conviction and are just panderers to delusion.

    What the fuck? The only condemnation of agnostics in this thread consists of an in-joke between PZ and John Wilkins. And the whole thing was a response to the condemnation of a certain type of atheist.

    That’s going to be my only post on the matter. I have other things to go deal with.

    How convenient for you, not having to provide references of the “ongoing condemnation of agnostics”.

  90. #90 Jan-Maarten
    March 8, 2008

    Bad post, PZ!

    As far as I can see, Mr. Wilkins’ main point is that both religion and atheism make unwarranted knowledge claims. Agnosticism makes yet another knowledge claim; namely that the claims religion and atheism make are unprovable, and thus without much interest. Most of his critique of Dawkins follows from that premise.

    Referring to Wilkins’ education in theology the way you do, implying that he is a closet Christian of sorts, is definitely a low blow, and uncalled for. Not the sort of tactics this discussion should degrade into.

  91. #91 PZ Myers
    March 8, 2008

    Wilkins is incorrect. Atheism makes warranted knowledge claims; most of us, for instance, do not argue that we have a disproof of god’s existence, but rather, that the claims of theists for their gods make predictions about the nature of the universe that fail.

    I certainly do not imply that Wilkins is a closet christian! I’ve known John virtually for well over a decade, and he is a fanatical member of the Agnostic Inquisition. He will gladly torture any Christian to death by gently lashing them with volleys of maybes, and will similarly afflict us atheists.

  92. #92 CalGeorge
    March 8, 2008

    This is kind of a “well, the difference is we are RIGHT” level of blind spot which admits no criticism of your position, accepts no validity of anyone else’s perception or decision-making process, and encourages the shrill condemnation of those insufficiently enlightened. Which is why some of us see it as analogous behaviour to that indulged by fundamentalists. And if you weren’t so tied up in being RIGHT, you would see it too.

    I’m not bothered by the fact that atheism comes across as a very negative, dogmatic way of thinking.

    Atheists are saying something very simple: THERE IS NO GOD.

    It’s an inherently negative and destructive outlook.

    Religion bashing is what atheists do. We relentlessly question why and how people choose to believe in God.

    Will people’s feelings be hurt by atheists?

    Sure, because people don’t like to have their beliefs challenged. But people don’t have to listen. If you think we come across as smugly superior, walk away. Go hang out with the insufficiently enlightened.

  93. #93 AJ Milne
    March 8, 2008

    …well, I guess Dawkins interrupted his lecture to walk up the aisle, smack John with a truncheon a few times, rifle his wallet, and as he was stalking away from the poor guy crumpled in his seat, hissed that he was the atheist pope and he could do anything he wanted.

    Dammit. I miss all the cool stuff.

    Anyhoo… there’s a very simple equation I’ve been mulling.

    Critical = shrill.

    Say religion is what it is? As in hooey?

    That’s shrill. Stop it, dammit. You’re hurting our cause. Or somethin’. There are standards you have offended. You are allowed to say ‘I personally don’t believe this’. You are not allowed to say ‘That’s just a remarkably silly, incoherent, illogical idea, and it’s given way too much respect by way too many people and man, get over yourselves already.’ Even if you think that. Even if it’s true. It just ain’t done.

    Critical = shrill. Or, slightly more precisely: forthrightly critical = shrill. Failed to make appropriate conciliatory chin music? Shrill. Thought it through and thought: geez, I really don’t think this stuff is any good for people, and I’m sick of these people parading around pretending it is without being gainsaid? Shrill. Shut up. Be nice. Where nice equals don’t say that. You shrill bastard, you.

    Oh. And forthrightly critical also equals dogmatic. Because we figure saying so should piss you off. Never mind that your position is thoroughly considered. Never mind you’ve read and observed and thought about it at greath length. Never mind, that in fact, you’ve hardly ever raised your voice a decibel in discussing this, never mind that naturally you’re going to wind up looking a bit entrenched if you’re criticizing a position which itself ultimately holds nothing but absolute contempt for genuinely open and reasoned discourse. You’re still dogmatic, you’re still a religion. Because we’re suddenly deliberately careless with such terms, as soon as it serves our purposes. And we don’t like what you have to say…

    Shrill and dogmatic and actually a religion (the way not collecting stamps is a hobby) that’s you. Nyah nyah &c…

  94. #94 Eamon Knight
    March 8, 2008

    Damned with faint praise…John, you’d drink with the devil if he were buying.

    My local beer store has Maudite in stock again. Should I ship a six-pack to Oz?

  95. #95 Theo Bromine
    March 8, 2008

    quoth PZ:
    John…is a fanatical member of the Agnostic Inquisition. He will gladly torture any Christian to death by gently lashing them with volleys of maybes, and will similarly afflict us atheists.

    Nobody can decide whether or not to expect the Agnostic Inquisition…or can they?

  96. #96 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    For those who think that it is possible to be religious and accept science may be you could try explaining the following: How does belief in the virgin birth or the resurrection not conflict with our scientific understanding of how the world works ? Scientists tell us that human females do not give birth without there being a father of the baby and they also tell us that if you are dead for three days you do not come back from the dead. Anyone who believes either of those, and that will include the vast majority of Christians, is rejecting science in favour of religious dogma. Any form of divine intervention in the universe violates our understanding of science and anyone who allows for such intervention is rejecting science when they do so. Wilkins rightly rejects creationism as an answer to how life began and evolved on Earth, it is just a pity he refuses to acknowledge those other areas where religious teaching directly conflict with scientific understanding. “Goddidit” is no more a valid answer to the conception of Jesus than it is to the origins of life.

  97. #97 Theo Bromine
    March 8, 2008

    re #95:

    In the relatively recent past, I was a Christian (albeit a free-thinking, moderate, liberal Christian) who was strongly committed to science and secularism, and also to loudly challenging fundagelicals, in public and in private. (This is probably an inherently unstable position, which is no doubt why I have since descended further down that slippery slope, and current position is probably best described as “agnostic atheist”.)

    I’m sure the idea that one can be religious and at the same time committed to rational thought seems odd to some people, especially to those who were raised religious and rejected their religion as part of becoming free-thinking adults. However, in my case, I was not raised religious, but chose to become a Christian as a teenager, based on what, at the time, appeared to be reasonable evidence.

    While I was a rationalist theist who still believed in an interventionist God, I took the position that God was the creator of the universe, and almost always did everything by just setting up the natural laws of physics -> chemistry -> biology, but occasionally wanted to make a point, and then would do something startling, like a virgin birth or resurrection. This does not invalidate the science, but shows the power of God who set up the rules but could circumvent them if s/he chose.

  98. #98 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    Theo Bromnine,

    Dawkins makes it clear in “The God Delusion” that he has no quarrel with those theists/deists who say god started the universe but no longer takes an active role. It those theists who claim that god does intervene who cannot with any honesty claim to fully accept science. They may well be able to accept almost everything in science but they do claim that god does sometimes intervene and that claim is a direct and explicit rejection of science. If you are willing to reject science to allow for the virgin birth then end up having to permit others to reject it for their own favourite dogma, and people who do so also give succour to the creationists when they reject science. If we allow god to circumvent the rules once we must allow it for all occasions, and thus science becomes pointless. Even allowing one “godditit” is a rejection of science, and the person allowing cannot make any honest claims not to do so.

  99. #99 Ron Sullivan
    March 8, 2008

    And people say there’s no such thing as Progress. Tsk. Time was, nobody got called “shrill” except Teh Wimminz.

  100. #100 CalGeorge
    March 8, 2008

    While I was a rationalist theist who still believed in an interventionist God, I took the position that God was the creator of the universe, and almost always did everything by just setting up the natural laws of physics -> chemistry -> biology, but occasionally wanted to make a point, and then would do something startling, like a virgin birth or resurrection. This does not invalidate the science, but shows the power of God who set up the rules but could circumvent them if s/he chose.

    This is what Francis Collins believes. You express it better than he does.

  101. #101 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Theo Bromnine wrote:

    I’m sure the idea that one can be religious and at the same time committed to rational thought seems odd to some people,…

    Not entirely. However, I only read that as you THINK you are committed to rational thought. You may not be as rational or committed to it as you think.

    Also, I don’t agree with what some of the other atheists here are saying. I don’t think they’ve given it as much thought as it yet needs.

    For example, when Matt Penfold quotes Dawkins:

    Dawkins makes it clear in “The God Delusion” that he has no quarrel with those theists/deists who say god started the universe but no longer takes an active role. It those theists who claim that god does intervene who cannot with any honesty claim to fully accept science.

    For me it’s not so much about the idea that God intervenes as it is about thinking you know what God wants and/or thinking you know his plans for you and others. That’s where religious thought goes off the deep end and into territory that seems dangerously delusional to me. Of course the concepts are related, to think God intervenes means you think he does have wants and plans.

    I don’t see how claims to that sort of knowledge can be called rational. And since Christians think they have a book that gives them such knowledge I don’t see how they can be considered rational.

  102. #102 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    March 8, 2008

    This is kind of a “well, the difference is we are RIGHT” level of blind spot which admits no criticism of your position, accepts no validity of anyone else’s perception or decision-making process, and encourages the shrill condemnation of those insufficiently enlightened. Which is why some of us see it as analogous behaviour to that indulged by fundamentalists. And if you weren’t so tied up in being RIGHT, you would see it too.

    The problem with tolerance is that it means tolerating some pretty intolerable people.

  103. #103 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “For me it’s not so much about the idea that God intervenes as it is about thinking you know what God wants and/or thinking you know his plans for you and others. That’s where religious thought goes off the deep end and into territory that seems dangerously delusional to me. Of course the concepts are related, to think God intervenes means you think he does have wants and plans.”

    I think it is possible to think that god exists and intervenes in the world without having to think you know what his criteria are for doing so.

  104. #104 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Matt Penfold wrote:

    I think it is possible to think that god exists and intervenes in the world without having to think you know what his criteria are for doing so.

    And would you really have much of a problem with that? That could be the deism of Tom Paine or Voltaire.

    Of course the problem with Christianity is that it has the Bible and there God supposedly gets rather explicit about certain criteria and plans.

  105. #105 dave
    March 8, 2008

    John may very well be a closet christian or a hopeful jew, in some weird abstract way. His agnosticism is just a bit too… convenient.

  106. #106 Andreas Johansson
    March 8, 2008

    And what is the basis of accusing Dawkins of fomenting vile religion? That he encourages “Us’nThemism” and “derogation of the Other.” Let’s grant Wilkins that this were true (I disagree, however)–this is the defining character of a religion, that it encourages a group to hate another group? This is what religion is? Dawkins is definitely harsh on religion, as am I, but neither of us have apparently achieved the depth of contempt and the simplicity of reduction that Wilkins has…but then, he trained as a theologian, so I guess he would know better.

    Wilkins has argued something much like that on talk.origins. Allow me to quote a couple comments of his on the definition of religion:

    I think that religion is a tradition that coheres as a community individuals not cohered by ethnicity, political interests, or simple geography. It usually relies on the enactment of arbitrary rituals of no real practical use, that serve to mark out the in-group from the out-group.

    In my view, religion’s social role is no different to other kinds of banding – sporting clubs, political parties, social clubs and the like. They tend to differ in that religions are lifelong commitments, but even there many political affiliations are the same. There’s no clear line between religions and the rest of cultural affiliations.

    (Both taken from a thread called ‘Tiredly OT: Definition of “religion”‘, but the former originally from some other thread I can’t be bothered to find ATM.)

    Of course, to say that religion coheres individuals as a community is putting a more positive spin on it than to say that religion encourages one group to hate others, but it’s not much difference in practice – both boil down to delining Us and Them.

  107. #107 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “And would you really have much of a problem with that? That could be the deism of Tom Paine or Voltaire.”

    Yes I would. Science does not allow for any form of divine intervention, regardless of how it is disguised.

  108. #108 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Matt Penfold wrote:

    Science does not allow for any form of divine intervention, regardless of how it is disguised.

    Science isn’t in the business of defining reality in terms of what it allows or disallows. All you can say is that you’ve never witnessed anything you take to be an intervention by God and that science wouldn’t be able to determine whether such an event ever happened so far.

    Also, would you go so far as to at least say that those who think they know God’s plans seem more delusional and dangerous than those who admit they don’t. And isn’t someone like Obama more rational than some like Huckabee?

  109. #109 Matt @dandderwen.co.uk
    March 8, 2008

    “Science isn’t in the business of defining reality in terms of what it allows or disallows. All you can say is that you’ve never witnessed anything you take to be an intervention by God and that science wouldn’t be able to determine whether such an event ever happened so far.”

    Appeal to the supernatural are not part of science. Thus it is not scientific to claim that an action is not the result of natural forces operating in the universe but instead the result of a god just doing stuff.

    “Also, would you go so far as to at least say that those who think they know God’s plans seem more delusional and dangerous than those who admit they don’t. And isn’t someone like Obama more rational than some like Huckabee?”

    I would agree to that, yes. Not all religious people are the same, and not all accept the same degree of intervention by god. Some do not allow for it all, which is good and these are not the religious people I, or Dawkins, have issues with. Then you get those who think, for example, god answers prayers to heal people. Those people do reject science, as do those who think there is any form of divine intervention.

  110. #110 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Matt @dandderwen.co.uk wrote:

    Appeal to the supernatural are not part of science. Thus it is not scientific to claim that an action is not the result of natural forces operating in the universe but instead the result of a god just doing stuff.

    Just because it’s not part of science doesn’t mean it’s not part of reality.

  111. #111 H. Humbert
    March 8, 2008

    Just because it’s not part of science doesn’t mean it’s not part of reality.

    True, but science is the only valid method we have for evaluating claims about reality. To say that some claim is not a open to scientific investigation is the same as saying it can never be considered part of reality as we know it.

  112. #112 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “Just because it’s not part of science doesn’t mean it’s not part of reality.”

    Ok then, please provide an alternative method of understanding reality, that is objective. Once you have done so I will concede your point.

  113. #113 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    H. Humbert wrote:

    True, but science is the only valid method we have for evaluating claims about reality. To say that some claim is not a open to scientific investigation is the same as saying it can never be considered part of reality as we know it.

    True, to an extent, but that’s not saying much. I certainly do think religion is a mindfuck, but in the end “reality as we know it” obviously isn’t all of reality. There are a lot of things science can’t investigate yet, parallel universes, alien life forms on other worlds, etc.. And the concept of the “supernatural” is a pretty vaporous concept. Can you define it?

  114. #114 Stanton
    March 8, 2008

    Only when parallel universes and alien life forms from other worlds can be perceived by scientists will scientists be able to begin studying them, and regard the study of such things as science.

    Furthermore, the term “supernatural” refers to any object or entity that does not, can not or refuses to obey any of the known laws of reality, be they physical or biological. Given as how “supernatural” entities and objects have never been seen or detected, scientists often equate “supernatural” with “nonexistent” or “existing outside reality.”

    Unless of course, Norman, you have a definition of “supernatural” that would allow scientists to detect and study “supernatural” entities and objects.

  115. #115 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Matt Penfold wrote:

    Ok then, please provide an alternative method of understanding reality, that is objective. Once you have done so I will concede your point.

    Define “objective.” Except for the “objective” part I’d say art is a way to gain a certain kind of understanding about reality.

    Some religious people certainly do have a problem with science and almost all arguments for God are some kind of “god of the gaps” argument, but there certainly are gaps.

  116. #116 PZ Myers
    March 8, 2008

    John may very well be a closet christian or a hopeful jew, in some weird abstract way. His agnosticism is just a bit too… convenient.

    No, no, a thousand times no. I know John’s position fairly well, and that is so far off it’s laughable. I’d say his position isn’t comfortable at all, it’s so painfully principled that the kind of pragmatism scientists typically practice is completely off the table.

  117. #117 H. Humbert
    March 8, 2008

    Norman, I’m not quite sure what you’re driving at. Of course we don’t know everything there is to know about reality (short of gaining omniscience), I don’t expect this will ever change. I haven’t the slightest idea what that has to do with religious claims, though. One don’t have to know a claim is false to reject it, just show that it is unsupported.

    And the concept of the “supernatural” is a pretty vaporous concept. Can you define it?

    Wouldn’t that be the job of those who wish to claim such a thing exists? There is this religious habit of mistakenly thinking that if you can make a concept opaque enough, vague enough, vaporous enough–then you can protect it from disproof. But in actuality it achieves the opposite. It ensures that such concepts fail to merit serious consideration in the first place.

  118. #118 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Stanton wrote:

    Only when parallel universes and alien life forms from other worlds can be perceived by scientists will scientists be able to begin studying them, and regard the study of such things as science.

    One could say the same thing about gods; only when gods can be perceived by scientists will scientists be able to begin studying them, and regard the study of such things as science.

    Unless of course, Norman, you have a definition of “supernatural” that would allow scientists to detect and study “supernatural” entities and objects.

    There’s an old saying attributed to Arthur C. Clarke that goes: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

    Replace the word “magic” with “the supernatural” and you see the essence of the problem. Anything seemingly supernatural that happened might be some part of the natural we’ve never encountered. Thus even the old proof of “what if god wrote a message out beyond Jupiter with flaming letters to prove himself” might just be advanced technology. Walk on water? It might be a trick. Turn water into wine? It might be technology we don’t understand.

  119. #119 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    H. Humbert wrote:

    Norman, I’m not quite sure what you’re driving at.

    Go to my post #100. The point is that thinking a god might have fiddled with the world only takes an ignorance we all share. But thinking you know that god’s desires and/or plans, that takes “crazy.”

  120. #120 Andreas Johansson
    March 8, 2008

    Furthermore, the term “supernatural” refers to any object or entity that does not, can not or refuses to obey any of the known laws of reality, be they physical or biological.

    This would make “supernaturality” a property of our understanding of natural law, not of objects in themselves, and the borders of the “supernatural” would change every time a new law is found or an old one modified. Gods, should they exist, would cease to be supernatural when we found the laws that govern them.

  121. #121 H. Humbert
    March 8, 2008

    The point is that thinking a god might have fiddled with the world only takes an ignorance we all share. But thinking you know that god’s desires and/or plans, that takes “crazy.”

    Well, again, it comes down to speculating vs. believing. I agree that entertaining the idea that a god might have fiddled with the world only takes an ignorance we all share. But the key word there is “might.” As an atheist, even I can admit that a god might have done any number of things. But that’s short of believing any god has done something, even something as non-interventionist as setting up the forces which brought the Universe into existence. As soon as one crosses that threshold into positive belief, one’s thinking becomes unreasonable.

  122. #122 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “This would make “supernaturality” a property of our understanding of natural law, not of objects in themselves, and the borders of the “supernatural” would change every time a new law is found or an old one modified. Gods, should they exist, would cease to be supernatural when we found the laws that govern them.”

    That does seem to be what Norman is saying. The problem is that those would not actually be gods in the first place. The whole premise of gods is that they are outside the material world, and thus outside what science can explain. If you want to claim that science may one day discover gods then you can, but do so in the understanding that you are changing how science works when you do so.

  123. #123 Theo Bromine
    March 8, 2008

    quoth Norman Doering:
    … I only read that as you THINK you are committed to rational thought. You may not be as rational or committed to it as you think.

    Based on the reading I have done in cognitive neuroscience, I would have to concede that I am not as rational or committed as I think, but then neither is anyone else.

    quoth Matt Penfold:
    If we allow god to circumvent the rules once we must allow it for all occasions, and thus science becomes pointless. Even allowing one “godditit” is a rejection of science, and the person allowing cannot make any honest claims not to do so.

    I fail to see how theistic scientists who consider the intervention of God to be such a remote possibility that it would not affect their work are any different from the atheistic materialistic scientists who do not account for the remote possibility that all the atoms on their lab bench will re-arrange themselves in such a way as to unceremoniously dump their experimental apparatus on the floor

  124. #124 Sastra
    March 8, 2008

    Since most people who believe in the supernatural think that the supernatural has its own rules, restrictions, and regularities (“God cannot lie”) defining “supernatural” as “outside of known natural laws” gets one nowhere. The supernatural has describable regularities. And plenty of nontraditional theists are enthusiastic in claiming that God is “not outside of nature” so now where are you? In Nature/Out of Nature is arbitrary.

    Look for regularities in what is being described, not in how it’s labeled.

    I think that every noncontroversial ‘example’ of the supernatural does indeed share one thing in common: some version of Pure Mental Being which is not dependent on matter. You have a disembodied mind or consciousness; a non-material life energy; Values which exist as essences shaping or forming matter; Will, Thought, or Intent acting as direct ‘forces.’

    Take out the “Pure Mind or Being” criteria and you can end up with untestable physical dimensions outside of time which are speculative, but not “supernatural” until and unless someone adds in something about “the superstrings are manifestations of Love” or something and bingo.

    As for believing in God AND following science, you can do it just fine as long as you say “here I draw a line and make only this exception.” Gravity and physics — until Jesus walked on water. But that’s all. Just stuff in this one story.

    You have to say it like “I hate all pies — except coconut cream. I love coconut cream pie. But nothing else.”

    There’s no quarreling with taste. Otherwise, people can point out that it makes no sense to love coconut cream but not banana cream — or not coconut shredded and mixed with flour. But if your religious belief is a matter of “faith” — then that’s whim. Inconsistent whim. And with very firm lines drawn around it, because otherwise it gets irrational and out of hand.

    Like those extremists who don’t get it and learn to draw the lines in the same place you do, and thus end up getting away from matters of taste and into that forbidden area of “things that can be right or wrong.”

  125. #125 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “I fail to see how theistic scientists who consider the intervention of God to be such a remote possibility that it would not affect their work are any different from the atheistic materialistic scientists who do not account for the remote possibility that all the atoms on their lab bench will re-arrange themselves in such a way as to unceremoniously dump their experimental apparatus on the floor”

    One thing I have noticed about these theistic scientists who do allow for divine intervention is that they only do so outside their field of expertise.

    However you fail to answer my point. If “goddidit” is a valid answer to explain material events, and those making claims such as the virgin birth are doing just that, they how can we work out what is a miracle and what is not ? How can such a scientist say creationism is a load of rubbish for example ? They cannot do so based on science, as they allow for “goddidit” to explain anything. They have no means of telling what was a miraculous event and what events are just the result of the normal rules of the universe.

    As I have said, if you allow for “goddidit” to explain the birth of Jesus then you must allow for “goddidit” to explain how life began. Now you can argue that many atheist scientists accept that “goddidit” might be an anwer, and you would be right. But the difference is that the atheist scientist who was forced to do that would also be forced to accept that science is no longer nearly as valid a methodology as they thought it was. The theist scientist has already accepted the first part, that “goddidit” is a valid answer but refuses to accept the second.

  126. #126 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “As for believing in God AND following science, you can do it just fine as long as you say “here I draw a line and make only this exception.” Gravity and physics — until Jesus walked on water. But that’s all. Just stuff in this one story.”

    This is the problem. You cannot make that one exception. One that exception has been made you are rejecting science. You are saying that there are material events that science cannot explain. It does not matter how limited in number you make those events, one is enough. The Virgin Birth is as much scientific nonsense as ID, and yet it seems many are willing to give scientists who claim the virgin birth is real a much softer ride than those who support ID.

  127. #127 Sastra
    March 8, 2008

    “I fail to see how theistic scientists who consider the intervention of God to be such a remote possibility that it would not affect their work are any different from the atheistic materialistic scientists who do not account for the remote possibility that all the atoms on their lab bench will re-arrange themselves in such a way as to unceremoniously dump their experimental apparatus on the floor”

    Well, some difference. I think theistic scientists are actually more analogous to those atheistic materialistic scientists who believe that all the atoms on their lab bench re-arranged themselves in such as way as to unceremoniously dump their experimental apparatus on the floor last Thursday — and then the same extremely rare forces re-arranged themselves back again, and all the equipment popped in place — BUT THAT’S IT! Just that one Thursday night, and not to be expected again. Not to be taken account of anymore.

    You just used the wrong group of atheistic materialist scientists for comparison purposes. Of course, there’s still the critical difference in that those particular atheistic materialist scientists usually don’t find a lot of personal meaning in their lives stemming from their belief in last Thursday’s unrepeatable anomaly, but there you go. It is what it is.

  128. #128 Andreas Johansson
    March 8, 2008

    The problem is that those would not actually be gods in the first place. The whole premise of gods is that they are outside the material world, and thus outside what science can explain. If you want to claim that science may one day discover gods then you can, but do so in the understanding that you are changing how science works when you do so.

    That’s not the “whole premise” of gods, unless you’d like to argue that most Christians are/were atheists. Most gods humans have worshipped, including most versions of the Christian god, would, if they existed and behaved as advertized, be detectable to science as we know it.

    The notion that god is empircally inaccessible is a defensive position to which some apologists have fallen back into in the face of the stubborn non-detection of gods by science.

  129. #129 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “That’s not the “whole premise” of gods, unless you’d like to argue that most Christians are/were atheists. Most gods humans have worshipped, including most versions of the Christian god, would, if they existed and behaved as advertized, be detectable to science as we know it.

    The notion that god is empircally inaccessible is a defensive position to which some apologists have fallen back into in the face of the stubborn non-detection of gods by science.”

    I was referring to the concept of gods themselves, rather than their actions. I would agree that should gods intervene in the universe then such interventions are, in principal at least, open to scientific investigation. I also agree that most gods in history have been credited with such interventions.

  130. #130 Sastra
    March 8, 2008

    Can science discover, measure, and test ESP? Or PK — the ability to move objects with the mind?

    Multiple experiments have been set up over decades. When they failed to get consistent, replicable results, people fell into three camps:

    1.) ESP and PK (probably) do not exist.

    2.) ESP and PK exist, but are spiritual forms of energy outside of science’s ability to detect.

    3.) ESP and PK exist, they have been proven again and again, but atheist materialist scientists refuse to consider the results because these are “spiritual” energies so they are acting as close-minded gatekeepers to the hegemonic orthodoxy they call “mainstream” science, but the paradigm is about to shift, baby, because we are taking our results to the public who has NO FEAR of the unknown, or the spiritual, and will give all views a fair hearing and look at the evidence and make up their own minds, for themselves! And tell their own stories! And we’ll collect them and add them to the body of data!!! There is a SOUL!!!! Watch the Discovery channel and find this out! They shut down PEAR!!! Ben Stein to host!!!

    Same old, same old.

  131. #131 Andreas Johansson
    March 8, 2008

    I was referring to the concept of gods themselves, rather than their actions.

    I still disagree. The Christian god is traditionally considered to be outside the material world, certainly, but many others have been considered very much part of it. The Egyptians weren’t being figurative when they said Ra sailed across the sky. They were wrong of course, but that’s another matter.

  132. #132 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “I still disagree. The Christian god is traditionally considered to be outside the material world, certainly, but many others have been considered very much part of it. The Egyptians weren’t being figurative when they said Ra sailed across the sky. They were wrong of course, but that’s another matter.”

    My apologies then. I did have in mind the Christian, or rather Abrahamic god, when I wrote that god is considered to be outside the material world, for the simple reason that is the god I am most familiar with. My ignorance does not excuse my mistake though.

  133. #133 John S. Wilkins
    March 8, 2008

    John, you’d drink with the devil if he were buying.

    That’s tautologous. I said I’d drink with you.

    And I am a militant agnostic alright. I don’t know, and I insist that neither do you. We demand equal pay for unknowers, along with holiday and medical benefits.

  134. #134 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Matt Penfold wrote:

    You are saying that there are material events that science cannot explain. It does not matter how limited in number you make those events, one is enough.

    I can think of several “material” things that science cannot explain (at least with any good degree of certainty). What caused the Tunguska Explosion? Are quantum level events random or are they guided by complex forces and describable by maths we don’t yet understand? What exactly is dark matter? How exactly did abiogenesis happen? Can we be sure life happened on Earth first and didn’t come from space?

    The thing about the virgin birth isn’t that it can’t be explained by some materialistic theory, it could be, it’s the idea that you can trust the Bible when there are so many other religious books each contradicting the others.

  135. #135 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “I can think of several “material” things that science cannot explain (at least with any good degree of certainty). What caused the Tunguska Explosion? Are quantum level events random or are they guided by complex forces and describable by maths we don’t yet understand? What exactly is dark matter? How exactly did abiogenesis happen? Can we be sure life happened on Earth first and didn’t come from space?”

    You seem to have misunderstood me.

    None of the examples you give are things that cannot be explained by science in principle, although in practice it may be hard. Claims for miracles ARE things that science cannot explain in principle. The whole point of miracles are that they are supposed to be something science cannot explain; they fall outside the rules governing the behaviour of the universe that science seeks to explain.

  136. #136 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 8, 2008

    Coulter isn’t stupid, and she knows that.

    You do remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, don’t you?

    So if religion comes up in casual conversation at work

    See, this is the culture shock Elise is talking about.

    Nobody can decide whether or not to expect the Agnostic Inquisition…or can they?

    ROTFL!

    Scientists tell us that human females do not give birth without there being a father of the baby

    Unless a miracle happens.

    and they also tell us that if you are dead for three days you do not come back from the dead.

    Unless a miracle happens.

    You are arguing from parsimony. That’s good enough, but no disproof.

    Like you, I can’t see how it could be justified to believe in a miracle without any evidence other than a text. (…And yes, “justified” is a strong word, and I think it fits.) That still doesn’t prove it didn’t happen, though.

    Comment 122 says it best.

    The Virgin Birth is as much scientific nonsense as ID, and yet it seems many are willing to give scientists who claim the virgin birth is real a much softer ride than those who support ID.

    That’s because the basic assumption of science (and itself a constantly tested scientific hypothesis, as I’ve mentioned often) is that miracles don’t happen often enough to make the universe too unpredictable. A complete absence of miracles is not required for science to work reliably.

    The Egyptians weren’t being figurative when they said Ra sailed across the sky.

    Well, they certainly thought something divine was involved here, but within that concept, they often depicted several mutually contradicting scenarios at once in the same painting or relief.

  137. #137 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 8, 2008

    Coulter isn’t stupid, and she knows that.

    You do remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, don’t you?

    So if religion comes up in casual conversation at work

    See, this is the culture shock Elise is talking about.

    Nobody can decide whether or not to expect the Agnostic Inquisition…or can they?

    ROTFL!

    Scientists tell us that human females do not give birth without there being a father of the baby

    Unless a miracle happens.

    and they also tell us that if you are dead for three days you do not come back from the dead.

    Unless a miracle happens.

    You are arguing from parsimony. That’s good enough, but no disproof.

    Like you, I can’t see how it could be justified to believe in a miracle without any evidence other than a text. (…And yes, “justified” is a strong word, and I think it fits.) That still doesn’t prove it didn’t happen, though.

    Comment 122 says it best.

    The Virgin Birth is as much scientific nonsense as ID, and yet it seems many are willing to give scientists who claim the virgin birth is real a much softer ride than those who support ID.

    That’s because the basic assumption of science (and itself a constantly tested scientific hypothesis, as I’ve mentioned often) is that miracles don’t happen often enough to make the universe too unpredictable. A complete absence of miracles is not required for science to work reliably.

    The Egyptians weren’t being figurative when they said Ra sailed across the sky.

    Well, they certainly thought something divine was involved here, but within that concept, they often depicted several mutually contradicting scenarios at once in the same painting or relief.

  138. #138 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 8, 2008

    What caused the Tunguska Explosion?

    It’s exactly what we’d expect from an asteroid or comet (I forgot which is likelier in this case) of a certain size — it’s supposed to explode high up in the air because of the heat generated by friction.

    The thing about the virgin birth isn’t that it can’t be explained by some materialistic theory, it could be

    Hm… parthenogenesis (not supposed to happen in primates) leading to an XX male (in that case this would require a mutation that switches the sex-determining genes on chromosome 6 on)… it’s clearly extremely improbable, but it wouldn’t be a violation of the conservation of energy or suchlike.

  139. #139 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 8, 2008

    What caused the Tunguska Explosion?

    It’s exactly what we’d expect from an asteroid or comet (I forgot which is likelier in this case) of a certain size — it’s supposed to explode high up in the air because of the heat generated by friction.

    The thing about the virgin birth isn’t that it can’t be explained by some materialistic theory, it could be

    Hm… parthenogenesis (not supposed to happen in primates) leading to an XX male (in that case this would require a mutation that switches the sex-determining genes on chromosome 6 on)… it’s clearly extremely improbable, but it wouldn’t be a violation of the conservation of energy or suchlike.

  140. #140 Sastra
    March 8, 2008

    Matt Penfold #134 wrote:

    The whole point of miracles are that they are supposed to be something science cannot explain: they fall outside the rules governing the behaviour of the universe that science seeks to explain.

    Well, the whole point of miracles are that they are supposed to be something science cannot explain using material, physical theories. But, as Richard Dawkins points out, if scientists ever do verify a miracle that “miracles are outside of science” nonsense would be dropped like a hot potato.

    “Scientists Agree: It’s a Miracle!”
    “Science Finds God”
    “Chi Energy Forces Demonstrated in Laboratories”
    “Cosmologists Verify Big Bang Caused by Intelligent Agent”
    “Homeopathy Works: Water Remembers Chemicals Through Magic of Intentional Successions”
    “Psychics Solve Crimes!”
    “Supernatural Proven!”
    “Jesus Returns! News at 11!”

    Those are not logically incoherent headlines. It’s just that they’re not headlines we’ve seen outside of the supermarket check-out yet.

  141. #141 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Matt Penfold wrote:

    None of the examples you give are things that cannot be explained by science in principle, although in practice it may be hard.

    I don’t think that’s known for sure in the case of whether quantum level events are random or guided by complex forces. The “in principle” factor isn’t really that clear. How is anything in principle known to be unknowable by science?

  142. #142 Theo Bromine
    March 8, 2008

    quoth Matt Penfold:
    As I have said, if you allow for “goddidit” to explain the birth of Jesus then you must allow for “goddidit” to explain how life began.

    That is correct, but does not cause the problems you might think. Indeed a theist scientist can not argue against the possibility of a miraculous creation of Life, The Universe, and Everything 6000 years ago (or last Thursday for that matter), despite all physical evidence to the contrary. However annoying this kind of solipsistic creationism might be, it is not a problem as long as the creationist is claiming that it is miraculous, and not attempting to cite (aka fabricate) scientific evidence for it.

  143. #143 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Theo Bromine wrote:

    However annoying this kind of solipsistic creationism might be, it is not a problem as long as the creationist is claiming that it is miraculous, and not attempting to cite (aka fabricate) scientific evidence for it.

    Don’t be so sure it is not a problem. Religion is still a serious mindfuck that will mess you up the more you suspect it is true.

    One has to wonder why it is that so many scientists are atheistic.

  144. #144 Theo Bromine
    March 8, 2008

    quoth Norman Doering:

    Don’t be so sure it is not a problem. Religion is still a serious mindfuck that will mess you up the more you suspect it is true.

    Let me be clear: I am no longer a Christian or theist, having come to the point where my rationality and Christianity could no longer co-exist, so I tossed the Christianity. However, it was not science that caused me problems, rather it was the fact that the Christian solutions to the tri-omni problem became increasingly hard, then finally impossible, to accept.

    One has to wonder why it is that so many scientists are atheistic.

    On the contrary, though I am not a scientist (just an engineer who is often a scientist wannabe), I often wonder why it is that a significant (if small) number of scientists are theists.

  145. #145 Sastra
    March 8, 2008

    On the contrary, though I am not a scientist (just an engineer who is often a scientist wannabe), I often wonder why it is that a significant (if small) number of scientists are theists.

    Among other reasons, I partially credit that to a culture that rewards compartmentalization as a sign of sophistication — and which often views religion as a symbol of one’s identity and heritage. The more intelligent you are, the better the rationalizations.

    Of course, anyone can say the same about any view, but I do think theistic scientists deliberately choose to disconnect their religious beliefs from similar beliefs about facts in the universe, and place them instead into some different, friendlier category.

    Is it likely that the universe was created by an eternally-existing disembodied Mind which manifests its Will through Thought alone? “Well, that’s like asking me whether it matters that happiness is better than sorrow, or my mother’s love weighs more than a sparrow — a question that is on the one hand obvious, and yet on the other hand meaningless.” Huh? What? “Well, think about it, at least. Who is to say where meaning lies for another. What is likely is not necessarily the case, and what is the case is not necessarily likely. Do you expect to grasp the infinite with the finite? I find it beyond me.” Never mind. “I thought so.”

  146. #146 Ichthyic
    March 9, 2008

    I don’t know

    that’s not an answer that contains any information, John.

    The real question is:

    Is there any evidence that there is anything TO know to begin with?

    I’d bet your answer to that would have to be no.

    so you can define yourself as an agnostic all you wish, but that is as far as it would go:

    your own definition of yourself.

    I rather think you’re just fooling yourself in order to try to maintain a civil veneer.

    meh, however you want to rationalize it, though.

  147. #147 Ichthyic
    March 9, 2008

    if scientists ever do verify a miracle that “miracles are outside of science” nonsense would be dropped like a hot potato.

    I don’t think your putative headlines would follow from such a thing (well, accurate ones anyway).

    instead:

    “Science proves ‘miracles’ nothing more than ordinary phenomena”

    “God shown to be nothing more than a man behind a green curtain”

    would be more accurate.

    I’m sure you were thinking about all the things we take for granted now that would have been considered “miracles” just a couple of hundred years ago.

  148. #148 Ichthyic
    March 9, 2008

    I do think theistic scientists deliberately choose to disconnect their religious beliefs from similar beliefs about facts in the universe, and place them instead into some different, friendlier category.

    this is called: compartmentalization.

    It’s a natural psychological defense mechanism we all utilize to a greater or lesser extent.

    It can be healthier than the alternative, but really is more like a duct-tape fix than a permanent one.

  149. #149 Jason Failes
    March 9, 2008

    “We want to eliminate them in the same sense that we want to eliminate illiteracy”

    Thank you so much, PZ. I’ve been trying to put it in so many words for years now.

    A good second-place is a recent commenter *somewhere* on these here science blogs who wrote (paraphrasing): Trying to build bridges between science and religion is like trying to build bridges between science and dungeons and dragons. Reality simply does not map well onto fantasy.

  150. #150 Carlie
    March 9, 2008

    APZist: Please show your work, with citations.

  151. #151 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 9, 2008

    However, it was not science that caused me problems, rather it was the fact that the Christian solutions to the tri-omni problem became increasingly hard, then finally impossible, to accept.

    Bah. One word: ineffable.

    For me, it’s that it all hangs in the air. It lacks supporting evidence, isn’t testable, and isn’t necessary to explain anything as far as I can tell…

  152. #152 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 9, 2008

    However, it was not science that caused me problems, rather it was the fact that the Christian solutions to the tri-omni problem became increasingly hard, then finally impossible, to accept.

    Bah. One word: ineffable.

    For me, it’s that it all hangs in the air. It lacks supporting evidence, isn’t testable, and isn’t necessary to explain anything as far as I can tell…

  153. #153 Tim
    March 9, 2008

    Seems to me that we could sum up the totality of these comments with a few simple quotes: (All require attribution but I forget who to credit!)

    Scientific atheism
    “The wise man knows when he knows not” — i.e. Shit happens; lets try to find out why.

    Abramic religion
    “The fool knows not when he knows not” — i.e. Shit happens; God did it.

    Agnosticism
    “That upon which you dwell with the most satisfaction, hold most in suspicion”. — i.e I don’t know why shit happens.

  154. #154 Daniel Murphy
    March 9, 2008

    Elise #12 wrote I think I get it – in the US the sensible people have to yell to be heard over a whole lot of insanity and noise – but across the ocean here we just hear the shouting.

    I think, Elise, that you got it. And it seems that a lot of the American shouters spend their time shouting only at an audience that already agrees with them. Perhaps they are hoping that the sound might carry far enough to be heard by the people off somewhere else who aren’t listening.

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