Pharyngula

Well, it’s nothing to be concerned about. Just more of the same ol’, same ol’, with nothing much of substance to grapple with. Let’s tackle Andrew Brown’s complaints first. Brown is not a stupid fellow, but I see here a hint of irrationally roused hackles, with little explanation of what exactly he is complaining about. First he names a few of the people he identifies as New Atheists, and then he lists what he considers to be defining characters of this group. Look who he names: I made the grade!

So, who are they? The ideas I claim are distinctive of the new atheists have been collected from Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, the American physicist Robert L. Park, and a couple of blogging biologists, P Z Myers and Larry Moran. They have two things in common. They are none of them philosophers and, though most are scientists, none study psychology, history, the sociology of religion, or any other discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration. All of them make claims about religion and about believers which go far beyond the mere disbelief in God which I take to be the distinguishing mark of an atheist.

It’s an unfortunate paragraph, though. He reached for a couple of bloggers to throw in the pot and notes the dreadful lack of philosophers in our ranks…but alas, he seems to have neglected a few rather more prominent names, which damage his premise rather severely. Where’s Dan Dennett? Shouldn’t he have been named right there with Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens? Perhaps because he is a philosopher, he isn’t really a New Atheist. And what about A.C. Grayling? He always seems to be vociferously godless, and he certainly ought to qualify.

I don’t think it is required that one be a philosopher to be able to be loudly atheist, anyway. Brown notes that this is a political and social movement, which is true, and denies that there’s anything intellectual about it, which I deny. Philosophers do not have a monopoly on social, political, or intellectual issues, so it is rather irrelevant. He might as well have noted that there is an absence of plumbers in his list, which means we must all be unqualified to discuss politics or the economy. Neither are any of us named Joe.

But let that pass. Brown does something interesting: he attempts to define the six characteristic premises of the New Atheism, and invites everyone to keep score. OK! Let’s see how I stack up.

  • There is something called “Faith” which can be defined as unjustified belief held in the teeth of the evidence. Faith is primarily a matter of false propositional belief.

Hmmm. “Unjustified” I’ll accept, but I don’t agree that faith is necessarily false. Still, I’ll give it to him in my case: +1 for PZ.

  • The cure for faith is science: The existence of God is a scientific question: either he exists or he doesn’t. “Science is the only way of knowing – everything else is just superstition” [Robert L. Park]

Again, there are two things muddled up here, and I accept part but not the other. The existence of a god certainly is a scientific question. If there exists a prime mover or a cosmic watchmaker or a meddling tinkerer or a thunderbolt-flinging patriarch, and if it had or is having an effect on the universe, then yes, god is something we should be able to detect. If god is some nebulous entity that is not part of or is not involved in affecting our existence, then it is irrelevant and can be ignored.

But I don’t think science is the cure for faith. It can be, for some of us, but for others there is a welter of emotional and social issues that are tied up in belief, too. I can give myself only ½ point here, but maybe I’d deserve a full point if the assertion weren’t so confused.

  • Science is the opposite of religion, and will lead people into the clear sunlit uplands of reason. “The real war is between rationalism and superstition. Science is but one form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition” [Jerry Coyne] “I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.” [Dawkins]

He does it again! I like the quotes, but Coyne’s comment rather clearly states some complexities in the two concepts that belie the Manichean conflict Brown tries to set up. I can only award myself ½ point here, although if he’d just presented the quotes without his strange interpretation it would have gotten a full thumbs up from me.

  • In this great struggle, religion is doomed. Enlightened common sense is gradually triumphing and at the end of the process, humanity will assume a new and better character, free from the shackles of religion. Without faith, we would be better as well as wiser. Conflict is primarily a result of misunderstanding, of which Faith is the paradigm. (Looking for links, I just came across a lovely example of this in the endnotes to the Selfish Gene, where lawyers are dismissed as “solving man-made problems that should never have existed in the first place”.)

Nope, I disagree 100% with this one. I don’t see religion as doomed at all; there’s plenty of evidence that many people will happily swallow all kinds of fabulous pixie dust to think that atheism is destined to succeed. It’s going to be an uphill struggle all the way. I also don’t believe that being godless is sufficient to be a good, wise person, nor that people afflicted with superstition must be evil and stupid. That does not mean, however, that we shouldn’t vigorously oppose stupid ideas…like religion.

0 points.

  • Religion exists. It is essentially something like American fundamentalist protestantism, or Islam. More moderate forms are false and treacherous: if anything even more dangerous, because they conceal the raging, homicidal lunacy that is religion’s true nature. [Sam Harris]

Another goose-egg for Brown, I’m afraid. His first two words are OK, but the rest is garbage. My personal image of religion isn’t fundamentalist at all, but the quietly gullible, unquestioning, moderate faith of my mother’s family. I don’t think it usually causes serious conflict, let alone “raging, homicidal lunacy”, but it does undercut critical thinking, and as we’ve seen in the past few years in America, that’s dangerous.

Just because that faith doesn’t lead to loud rants against perceived wickedness or parishioners spasming on the floor or mobs with torches doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, though, and it’s that to which I object.

  • Faith, as defined above, is the most dangerous and wicked force on earth today and the struggle against it and especially against Islam will define the future of humanity. [Everyone]

Man, this is getting bad. No, all the way through. I don’t especially pick on Islam — it’s not a major force in my neighborhood — and hey, doesn’t this contradict his previous claim, where we’re supposed to find more moderate forms of religion “even more dangerous” than Islam? I think religion is an enabling error that is patently false, and one that is made worse by the studious attempt of so many to make excuses for it. But if, for instance, religion evaporated in the Middle East tomorrow, I don’t think peace and fellowship would descend on the region: nationalism, ethnic bigotry, and historical grudges would guarantee that danger and wickedness would continue. It would remove one obvious contributor to stupidity.

Well, crap. I got a grand total of 2 out of 6. Andrew is going to have to strike my name from the distinguished list of New Atheists. Maybe that will make room for Dan Dennett…but somehow, I don’t think he’ll get a very high score, either.

I guess he’ll have to try again. Maybe next time, Andrew can also lay out what he finds objectionable about the New Atheists himself, rather than just tossing out definitions and pretending their heinousness is self-evident.

Comments

  1. #1 E.V.
    December 29, 2008

    It seems Brown’s straw man is thatched.

  2. #2 Zeno
    December 29, 2008

    First they get your philosophy wrong, and then they tell you how much it sucks. Nice argumentation.

    This is what a political extremist like my father does when he tells me that liberals are out to destroy our freedoms, our economy, and our nation. (George Bush is a liberal?) I told him in detail that he was wrong, wrong, wrong, but he’s impervious to argument. He prefers his right-wing prejudices.

  3. #3 Frasque
    December 29, 2008

    These fellows who say you have to study relgion in order to reject it never seem to list the definate amount of religion one is required to study before being allowed to have an opinion. And it never seems to work the other way round.

  4. #4 The Science Pundit
    December 29, 2008

    I immediately noticed the omission of Daniel Dennet from the list. This had to be intentional. How could he not have heard of The Four Horsemen in his extensive studies of New Atheism? Complete bunk!

    ps–I would also like to add Richard Carrier to the list of “New Atheist philosophers” (Historian/philosophers qualify for this list, right?)

  5. #5 Parsnip
    December 29, 2008

    I love watching the Four Horsemen because it shows the richness and diversity of opinion and approach of the so called “new Atheists,” though I never hear Dennet or Dawkins ever referring to THEMSELVES by that title. To me it’s a linguistic contrivance that only exists to categorize, marginalize, and slyly belittle prominent Atheists.

  6. #6 Zeno
    December 29, 2008

    I imagine that Brown is thinking of Hitchens when he proclaims the nonbelievers’ struggle against religion is “especially against Islam”. He appears not to realize that Hitchens is mostly representative of himself and certainly not of atheists at large.

  7. #7 llewelly
    December 29, 2008

    What about Hector Avalos , Professor, Religious Studies, Iowa State University?

  8. #8 Kel
    December 29, 2008

    When I saw Dr. Lennox debate Dr. Shermer, he seemed to have a similar sentiment – that the “new atheists” believe in some crazy utopia that will come about once religion is destroyed. It’s almost like they are justifying necessity of religion by saying that the world will be a shitty place with or without it.

  9. #9 Jay
    December 29, 2008

    When I started teaching, I was struck by the realization that ignorance is a renewable resource. My hope for eliminating religion is, therefore, roughly on a par with my hope for eliminating confusion in general.

  10. #10 AJ Milne
    December 29, 2008

    Indeed. It is amusing: such voices seem continually to complain that the (so-called) New Atheists only attack a caricature of religion–but in doing so, attack only a caricature of those very atheists.

    For the record, I am very aware religion is a very, very complex phenomenon, and the way it manifests covers much ground, from the bomb-throwing loonies to the quieter denizens of oak pews more known for organizing church socials than terrorist cells. But I have this quaint notion that teaching people that reason and intellectual honesty may be abandoned if you don’t happen to like where they lead is generally unwise. And I’ve this other quaint notion that teaching people to lie systematically to themselves and to others just to prop up a few old traditions probably causes all sorts of trouble we could just as well do without. And finally, I’ve this very naive and no doubt incredibly childish idea that believing something that just ain’t so is probably bad, too, both on its own dubious ‘merits’, and because doing so generally seems to require the dodgy sorts of mental gymnastics just mentioned.

    It’s all very wacky, I know, and terribly naive, I guess, and since I’m no professional philosopher, no doubt I’m making all sorts of errors in these silly assumptions a proper education in a theology school-approved set of courses could correct.

    Shorter version: It is not that they all throw bombs, or are likely to. It’s that they teach BS, and generally I think the world can always do with a little less of that, whenever it can be arranged. The nattering nits like these columnists can dodge and weave and excuse and spout their little fictions about what, apparently, I believe, all they like, but this is what it continues to add up to, for me.

    Also for the record, I don’t so much consider myself a ‘new atheist’, really, either. I mean, let’s not be silly. We’ve been around saying ‘bull’ when appropriate, out of sad necessity, for millenia, now. It’s a grand old tradition. Furthermore, the material is stil more or less the same as it ever was, out of that same sad necessity. Gimme some actually new BS to so disparage, and I might be happy to take that label. But let’s face it: it’s the same ole’ same ole’, has been for a millenia of this stale ole’ BS, and probably will be for millenia to come. The modern theologians with their amusing little attempts to redefine their deities as necessary to evade such inconveniences as detection, refutation, or, say, actual utility may flatter ‘emselves that somehow they’re making more sense than a witch doctor shaking his beads, but I can’t say I’ve noticed that so much myself.

  11. #11 John Morley
    December 29, 2008

    I find the discrediting of non-philosophers from such discussion to be very petty, very telling. It’s as though they have a monopoly on thinking about religion, whereas scientists are necessarily wrong when they begin to think about it.

    This argument is tantamount to a group of short pygmies on the basketball court having a good time, then a new team full of 7 footers walks on the court and starts blocking all of their shots, and they decry something like “nobody over 5 feet tall” or “no shot blocking!” Pathetic and distracting, probably by design.

  12. #12 Dustin
    December 29, 2008

    “The ideas I claim are distinctive of the new atheists have been collected from Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, the American physicist Robert L. Park, and a couple of blogging biologists, P Z Myers and Larry Moran. They have two things in common. They are none of them philosophers”

    WTF! Sam Harris has a degree in philosophy! This joker doesn’t even know the credentials of the people he is criticizing.

  13. #13 John Morales
    December 29, 2008

    Heh. ‘Twas a funny post to read.

    AB:

    They are none of them philosophers and, though most are scientists, none study psychology, history, the sociology of religion, or any other discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration.

    As with PZ, that struck me immediately.

    I get the feeling AB wanted to write “They are none of them philosophers theologians”.

  14. #14 Kel
    December 29, 2008

    He left of psychologists Stephen Pinker and Michael Shermer too. I guess being editor of Skeptic magazine isn’t as big a deal as running a blog (maybe now that SkepticBlog is up we’ll see a change…)

    Also left off the dead but influential Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan. So many big names left off, it’s almost like he cherry-picked the list in order to validate his argument.

  15. #15 Nerd of Redhead
    December 29, 2008

    So many big names left off, it’s almost like he cherry-picked the list in order to validate his argument.

    Instead of quote mining, name mining. Sounds like creobot/godbot type thinking to me.

  16. #16 Ian
    December 29, 2008

    Brown is evidently short-sighted, hypocritical, and arrogant, but he has to be. He’s doing nothing more than angling for blog hits and he knows he’s going to do well via his chosen topic.

    Having said that, he appears to be excluding from his list of new atheists those from whom he’s not cribbed his list of six items, which is why Dennet and some others don’t make his cut.

  17. #17 dwf
    December 29, 2008

    I believe the “moderates are worse” line is roughly derived from Sam Harris, and it’s of course been taken out of context and pigeonholed in a way that suits this screed.

    What Harris says is that moderates represent a part of the problem, perhaps a bigger part of the problem, with religion, by implicitly giving comfort and shelter to fundamentalism, allowing for an environment in which fundamentalism can breed. Moderates contribute to the scourge of fundamentalism by maintaining a status quo in which irrational beliefs are respected simply because they are beliefs. Which, I think, is a sensible argument, whether or not you agree — if holding irrational beliefs were ridiculed and scorned altogether, dangerous fundamentalist movements would have a much harder time ever getting off the ground.

  18. #18 John Morales
    December 29, 2008

    Ian @16, you get to the nub of it. Either he’s not heard of Dennett (he’s ignorant of the topic and unqualified to pontificate) or he’s being dishonest. Hm.

  19. #19 PLouie
    December 29, 2008

    It seems that Andrew Brown has forgotten how much he was DESTROYED by Sam Harris in that “little” debate they had a year or two ago.

    And didn’t Sam Harris go to STANFORD for….PHILOSOPHY?

  20. #20 PLouie
    December 29, 2008

    I’d like to correct myself. Sam Harris destroyed Andrew SULLIVAN in a debate, not Brown. I don’t think Brown and Harris has debated before.

  21. #21 Peter McKellar
    December 29, 2008

    OT – a poll worth crashing – “should topless sunbathing be banned” (in NSW, Australia).

    With the recent revelations about the necessity of vitamin D in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer and the clear medical need to get those puppies out in the sun, this is a clear cut “No” vote (running at 84% already, but hey….)

    http://www.smh.com.au/polls/national/form.html

  22. #22 NewEnglandBob
    December 29, 2008

    I repeat my post from richarddawkins.net:

    I give Andrew Brown six raspberries for his muddled thinking.

    Brown has no inkling of subtlety and obviously does not comprehend much of what he reads. How sad for him.

    As Mark Jones said, Brown’s article is pathetic.

  23. #23 ignobility
    December 29, 2008

    I’m older and have been practicing atheism for 40 odd years now (and am getting pretty good at it, I must say), but I’ve never heard the term “new atheist” until now. The fuck? There are now different philosophies of atheism? Do we have branches? Sects? Do I get to choose something besides belief vs non-belief? This is getting too much like religion.

  24. #24 helvetica
    December 29, 2008

    Good old Courtier’s reply at work there.

  25. #25 PZ Myers
    December 29, 2008

    Just for further weirdness, the title of the article is “The New Atheism has five distinctive doctrines”…and then he lists six.

    One thing to keep in mind while tearing into Brown is that he has written a couple of very good books, including one on creationism. This “New Atheism” seems to have driven him a bit loopy, but otherwise, he really isn’t an idiot.

  26. #26 Merkin Muffley
    December 29, 2008

    These is an op-ed piece in the Guardian entitled ‘Darwin Shouldn’t be Hijacked by New Atheists – he’s an ethical inspiration – by Madeleine Bunting. She decries the damage done to the theory of evolution by the battle between science and religion and thinks she knows the source. That’s right – atheists.

    read it

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/dec/29/darwin-anniversary-atheism

  27. #27 Teleprompter
    December 29, 2008

    So according to Brown, is no one qualified to talk about religion unless one is a philosopher or a theologian?

    Yes, just like how no one is qualified to talk about health care without a medical degree, and no one is qualified to be for or against the war in Iraq unless they have a degree in international relations, and just like how no one is qualified to complain about the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina unless they have a degree in meteorology? Yes, this makes complete sense.

    /sarcasm

  28. #28 Sastra
    December 29, 2008

    I’m always curious about these kinds of attacks: is whether God exists or not never, in any way, relevant to the issue of how “bad” these atheists are?

    If I had to characterize the so-called New Atheism with 5 points, I’d put it in more general (and more generous) terms:

    1.) When carefully analyzed, religious “faith” is not a good thing: it is not a form of character, virtue, humanity, nobility or strength of mind. It should not be cherished, protected, fostered, and respected for itself.

    2.) The existence of God is a hypothesis which science can address.

    3.) What’s unique to religious claims are their irrationality, tribalism, and dogmatism. What’s good and valuable in religion is explainable in other terms, and falls into other areas.

    4.) Religion has been granted an unearned respect. We need to break the spell against speaking out against both its beliefs and its structures, place it on common ground with political, scientific, and social beliefs, and let it try to defend itself on its merits.

    5.) Faith has no rational brakes: it is hard to draw the line between superstition, supernaturalism, faith, and dogma that is “reasonable” — and that which is not. There is no necessity that faith, religion, or spirituality should make sense on the common ground of the world. On the contrary — if it does, it loses its title.

    .

  29. #29 llewelly
    December 29, 2008

    AJ Milne:

    But I have this quaint notion that teaching people that reason and intellectual honesty may be abandoned if you don’t happen to like where they lead is generally unwise. And I’ve this other quaint notion that teaching people to lie systematically to themselves and to others just to prop up a few old traditions probably causes all sorts of trouble we could just as well do without. And finally, I’ve this very naive and no doubt incredibly childish idea that believing something that just ain’t so is probably bad, too, both on its own dubious ‘merits’, and because doing so generally seems to require the dodgy sorts of mental gymnastics just mentioned.

    It’s all very wacky, I know, and terribly naive.

    Well you could read Plato’s Republic. That might set you straight. But some (like Bertrad Russell) are instead driven to consider that Republic may be a load of bollocks.

  30. #30 dave
    December 29, 2008

    The ideas I claim are distinctive of the new atheists have been collected from Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, the American physicist Robert L. Park, and a couple of blogging biologists, P Z Myers and Larry Moran.

    Why does Wilkins always get a free pass? Splitter!

  31. #31 plum grenville
    December 29, 2008

    Is Andrew Brown a philosopher? Or a scholar of the psychology, history, or sociology of religion?

    And what’s with capitalizing “Faith”? Does any word with the faintest relationship to god have to be capitalized out of respect, the way religiots annoyingly capitalize He, Him, and His when referring to god?

    And why do we have to capitalize the names of religions? Yes they refer to specific sets of beliefs (well, actually to loose conglomerations of beliefs with wide variation among adherents), but so do capitalism, communism, and even the DREADED “evolutionism.”

    Maybe the names that are based on names of people (Christianity, Buddhism) should be capitalized (although I notice that the fundie types who would probably take umbrage at “christianity” tend to ostentatiously not capitalize “darwinism” or “marxism”).

    But why capitalize “Islam”? All it means is submission in Arabic. Why “Judaism”? Why “Protestantism”?
    Why “Catholicism”, “Taoism” “Hinduism”? “Paganism” and “wicca” are definitely not routinely capitalized. Double standard?

  32. #32 PZ Myers
    December 29, 2008

    Wilkins would splutter in righteous indignation if you tarred him with the New Atheist label. He’s a militant agnostic, and proud of it.

  33. #33 Screechy Monkey
    December 29, 2008

    It’s sad how many of these “New Atheist” critiques all seem to come back to two words: SHUT UP.

    Not a philosopher? Then SHUT UP. You’re not allowed to criticize religion, or ask for evidence. It’s not that your arguments are wrong; you’re just not QUALIFIED to make them.

    Incidentally, what are Brown’s qualifications to comment on New Atheism? Since it is NEW Atheism, after all, I think we should get to invent the criteria.

    And why do historians and sociologists get a pass to examine religion, but not physicists or biologists, even though many religions make claims about physics and biology?

    And I love how Brown went from at least providing quotes that he thinks illustrate his point to finishing with this:

    Faith, as defined above, is the most dangerous and wicked force on earth today and the struggle against it and especially against Islam will define the future of humanity. [Everyone]

    Translation: I couldn’t find any quotes to support this, so I’ll just assert it and hope nobody notices.

  34. #34 Sastra
    December 29, 2008

    Andrew Brown insists this is how atheists think:

    “Enlightened common sense is gradually triumphing and at the end of the process, humanity will assume a new and better character, free from the shackles of religion.”

    It seems to me that a lot of people have never gotten over how the 18th century Enlightenment combined features of religion and science. Just like muddled understandings of evolution which merged it with the concept that life progresses along the Great Chain of Being, early formulations of humanism had science and reason bringing on implausible scenarios of Heaven on Earth.

    They don’t want to let this go. They don’t want modern humanists to have grown any. They want atheists to sound like counterparts to fundamentalists. They need atheists to be like this, or else atheism doesn’t sound as unreasonable as they need it to be.

    Frankly, I don’t know any of the ‘new atheists’ who believe anything as puerile and childish as the above statement. Andrew Brown should have done what is often suggested: read a list of statements to people in the group you’re presumably describing, and see if they agree. If not, tweak the descriptions on the list till they say “yes, this is what I believe.” I try to do that with Christians and theists and creationists. It saves time and bother.

  35. #35 Bruce
    December 29, 2008

    Andrew Brown obviously dislikes atheists, particularly those he calls the “new atheists”. Apparently Brown believes that people who favor science over superstition should keep their big mouths shut. Or perhaps he feels they should at least get on their metaphorical knees and express more respect for religion. The truth is that faith-based nonsense does not deserve respect. Priests, pastors, rabbis, and mullahs are still spewing out ancient fairy tales. Many of them are aware of this fact but are not intellectually honest enough to admit it. Fortunately, we now have great thinkers like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Myers who have the guts to tell the truth.

  36. #36 RamblinDude
    December 29, 2008

    In part this is difficult because the new atheism is largely a political and social rather than an intellectual movement.

    and

    All of them make claims about religion and about believers which go far beyond the mere disbelief in God which I take to be the distinguishing mark of an atheist.

    So only those select individuals who have degrees in physics are qualified to express an opinion that it is silly to believe in a leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of a rainbow?

    I grew up with religion. I know it from the inside . . . but I don’t have a degree in philosophy (or psychology, or history, or the sociology of religion), and so I guess I’m not qualified to voice my concerns about it because my intellectual prowess has not been formally recognized by the acquisition of a scholarly degree.

    Tough shit, Andrew, we are here to stay. We come from all walks of life, and we are more than just a rowdy band of punks.

  37. #37 VegeBrain
    December 29, 2008

    When are people who write this twaddle going to get tired of the same old pattern of erecting straw man arguments and then writing an article about it? Move along, move along, nothing to see here but standard Internet Troll techniques.

  38. #38 Aaron
    December 29, 2008

    Colin McGinn and Peter Singer are two philosophers who are quite “vociferously godless” (Singer even debated D’souza recently-ish).

  39. #39 Blake Stacey
    December 29, 2008

    If theists were held to the same standard as these critics hold the “New Atheists” — that is, if the religious could not speak of their religion until they had advanced degrees in philosophy and theology — then the church-sign business would be in dire need of a stimulus package.

  40. #40 Blake Stacey
    December 29, 2008

    ignobility:

    I’m older and have been practicing atheism for 40 odd years now (and am getting pretty good at it, I must say), but I’ve never heard the term “new atheist” until now. The fuck?

    The term was coined shortly after The God Delusion became a bestseller, by (I believe) Gary Wolf in Wired Magazine. People have been calling it an idiotic term ever since, but that hasn’t slowed its adoption.

    As an uppity atheist myself, I found much with which to sympathize in the epic poem De Rerum Natura [On the Nature of Things] by the Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus, who was a contemporary of Cicero and Julius Caesar. Now and then, I’m tempted to call myself a Lucretian.

  41. #41 Kel
    December 29, 2008

    Colin McGinn and Peter Singer are two philosophers who are quite “vociferously godless” (Singer even debated D’souza recently-ish).

    Singer gave a review of that debate in the Atheist Foundation of Australia newsletter, it was a good read.

  42. #42 John Morley
    December 29, 2008

    New Atheism seems to me a clever linguistic trick to conjure up the notion that Atheism is some pesky little bug that has reared it’s ugly head time and again, and thus has never gotten it straight and requires amending. All the title does is, as stated before, pigeonhole a very strong movement into something trite and possibly fleeting.

  43. #43 Kel
    December 29, 2008

    If theists were held to the same standard as these critics hold the “New Atheists” — that is, if the religious could not speak of their religion until they had advanced degrees in philosophy and theology — then the church-sign business would be in dire need of a stimulus package.

    If only… another thing would be to get them to preach in the church what they do in the intellectual arena, that version for god that is argued in debates is not the one that is told to the masses. This is a massive double-standard.

  44. #44 Wowbagger
    December 29, 2008

    I believe it’s meant to differentiate the ‘new’ atheists from the ‘old’ atheists – in the sense that the ‘old’ atheists were meek and docile and didn’t go around actually telling anyone religion was a waste of time and effort, and those adhering to it were at least one can short of a six-pack. They left that to agnostics like Ingersoll.

    Contemporary, vocal ‘new’ atheism is harder to deal with, because it doesn’t even allow for the cop-out, half-assed option of weak deism, and they seem to be especially offended by that.

  45. #45 Longtime Lurker
    December 29, 2008

    Oh, those pushy New Atheists… why can’t they be nice and quiet like those Old Atheists who knew their place?

    Come to think about it, why can’t those New Negroes be like those nice, pre-1960’s Old Negroes?

  46. #46 Sastra
    December 29, 2008

    Btw, off topic, but there is a new poll for “Worst Person of the Year” at Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish — and Ben Stein is nominated, for this wonderful quote:

    “When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you… Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.” — Ben Stein

    Here’s the poll:

    http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/malkinaward.html

  47. #47 Sastra
    December 29, 2008

    Here’s a bit on it, with the quote:

    http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/

    I do think this is a job for the minions of Pharyngula

  48. #48 BrainFromArous
    December 30, 2008

    “They are none of them philosophers and, though most are scientists, none study psychology, history, the sociology of religion, or any other discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration.”

    If I claim to be Napoleon Bonaparte, exactly what academic credentials are required for you to declare that claim to be delusion and absurd? What level of scholarship will suffice – a PhD in modern European history, or merely a Master’s?

    The followers of these religions believe in MAGIC. Period. The end. A child could – and children routinely DO, as Hitchens points out in GING – pose questions and challenges the faithful cannot begin to answer and never will… because their beliefs are based on MAGIC. What intellectual bona fides do these kids have?

  49. #49 Feynmaniac
    December 30, 2008

    Sam Harris destroyed Andrew SULLIVAN in a debate

    You can read the debate here . Sullivan does get totally destroyed. You almost have to feel sorry for him, but then you remember all the things he said in the past and feel happy.

  50. #50 Rey Fox
    December 30, 2008

    “that the “new atheists” believe in some crazy utopia that will come about once religion is destroyed.”

    Yeah, I get awfully tired of cynical mushy-middle types decrying idealism too. Surely an incrementally less demon-haunted world is, well, better?

  51. #51 kemibe
    December 30, 2008

    From Brown’s opening sentence:

    “…I thought I would try to define the New Atheism that I, and others, so dislike.”

    At least he admitted right off the bat that by “define New Atheism,” he actually meant “complain about atheists.”

    He states about the New Atheists (a vacuous term, but forget that for now):

    “They are none of them philosophers and, though most are scientists, none study psychology, history, the sociology of religion…”

    Brown is none of him a fact-checker. Perhaps he doesn’t consider someone with a philosophy degree from one of the top universities in the U.S. a philosopher or someone who has read hundred of books about religion informed about religion, but Sam Harris is both, and the idea that Dan Dennett has charged into criticizing religious belief without adequate scholarship is the height of donkey-braying hilarity.

    Apologies, as always, if these gaffes have already been noted.

  52. #52 Tim rowledge
    December 30, 2008

    Since “common sense” is generally neither common nor sense, his entire blather on the subject is just one more fail. What a surprise.

  53. #53 Michael X
    December 30, 2008

    helevetica@24
    Good old Courtier’s reply at work there.

    Almost. At least in the Courtier’s reply the evil atheist is credited with the ability to read and judge theology without the help of a university degree.

    Though it does give me a good idea of how to make money.
    1: This ball is all red and all green all over, and orders you to give me $20.
    2: That’s nonsense.
    1: Well…. do you have a degree in philosophy?

  54. #54 Kel
    December 30, 2008

    Though it does give me a good idea of how to make money.
    1: This ball is all red and all green all over, and orders you to give me $20.
    2: That’s nonsense.
    1: Well…. do you have a degree in philosophy?

    lol, you should post that in the comments section on the blog.

  55. #55 Kimpatsu
    December 30, 2008

    Once again, a befuddled faith head, whose starting point is that religion is necessarily A Good Thing, TELLS us what “new” (sic atheists are, but he doesn’t bother to ASK as what we are.
    Null points.

  56. #56 Mrs Tilton
    December 30, 2008

    Ian @16, John @18,

    I suspect the reason Brown omits Dennett from his list is that he takes a more nuanced (and positive) view of Dennett’s work on religion than he does of Dawkins’s or Harris’s. In other words, Dennett is not listed in the quoted critique because he’s not subject to the quoted critique. IIRC, Brown wrote somewhere that Dennett, unlike Dawkins, seems actually interested in understanding what religious people believe, and why.

    John @13,

    I agree with you that Brown’s choice of the word “philospher” may have been a poor one. But I think he objects to Dawkins et al. less as inadequate theologians than as inadequate sociologists.

    Bruce @35,

    Andrew Brown obviously dislikes atheists

    Now that is very unlikely.

  57. #57 Mrs Tilton
    December 30, 2008

    Kimpatsu @55,

    Once again, a befuddled faith head, whose starting point is that religion is necessarily A Good Thing…

    Not even half way through your first sentence, and you have already made two assertions about Brown that are not merely wrong but 180 degrees wrong. Brown is not a theist, and does not believe religion necessarily (or, SFAICT, even usually) a good thing.

    Brown’s primary objections to “the new atheism” (and yes, I agree the term is stupid) seem to be that what the “new atheists” are attacking are caricatures of religion, and of religious people; and that some “new atheists”, in opposing what they correctly identify as morally offensive religious positions, themselves adopt positions that are morally offensive.

  58. #58 SC, OM
    December 30, 2008

    I have to question whether the “Old Atheists” he has in mind are atheists. He says:

    As an example of an old atheist, there is Anthony Kenny, the philosopher and former Master of Balliol, who left the Roman Catholic priesthood because he came to doubt that his faith was true. His book on varieties of disbelief, The Unknown God, was the immediate trigger for this post. In any case, he believes that all the proofs for classical theism fail and as such will do very nicely as a baseline atheist, and proof that it is possible to doubt God while rejecting all the distinctive doctrines of the new atheism. So far as I know, he would reject all of the following propositions.

    Does he “doubt God” (or just his particular superstition), or is he an atheist? And if he believes all of the proofs for “classical theism” fail, on what basis if not that “[t]he existence of God is a scientific question: either he exists or he doesn’t”?

    Just for further weirdness, the title of the article is “The New Atheism has five distinctive doctrines”…and then he lists six.

    One of those New Countists, I see.

    Now and then, I’m tempted to call myself a Lucretian.

    I was just recommending him the other day! It’s a Lucretian Revival! I’m sure this would make him happy, had his consciousness and emotions not ceased to exist when his brain died. ;)

  59. #59 Kel
    December 30, 2008

    I really don’t get his argument about not having a theological background. It’s like saying that you can’t criticise alternative medicine without a degree in homoeopathy. How much do you really need to know about homoeopathy to say “It’s just water!!!”?

  60. #60 John Morales
    December 30, 2008

    Mrs Tilton @56, I take your point re my #18, though it seems odd that Brown would consider Dennett meets his criteria (which clearly imply he considers necessary for legitimate criticism of religion) yet Harris does not.

    Re my #13, I was of course alluding to what other commenters have also noted, that requiring such qualifications in order for their ideas to be credible is a form of what PZ felicitously calls the courtier’s reply, and serves to “poison the well” before he introduces his perception of their ideas.

  61. #61 Kel
    December 30, 2008

    I wonder what Mr Brown thinks of Dennett praising the way Dawkins destroys the philosophical arguments for God and the arguments against God.

  62. #62 Aquaria
    December 30, 2008

    If atheists with no “qualifications” in philosophy or theology can’t discuss religion, then why is it okay for religious people with no science qualifications whatsoever to discuss science?

  63. #63 Michael X
    December 30, 2008

    I went onto the site itself and was surprised to find posts in the comments section tied to the names Dan Dennet and Richard Dawkins. Of course I have no idea if these truly are them, but I’m reposting their remarks anyways.

    Dan Dennett
    Andrew Brown trots out an old atheist, Anthony Kenny, who (he surmises) would reject all six of the tenets he attributes to the New Atheists. What would that show, even if it were true? His six points are all caricatures in any case. The uniting feature of the New Atheists is that we have all decided that the traditional atheist policy of diplomatic reticence should be discarded. Brown doesnt tell us if he himself is any kind of atheist, old or new, but I suspect from the confusion of his essay that he is one of the tribe of But Atheists, as in Im an atheist, but . . . . I find that But Atheists are the most frantic defenders of religion these days; they themselves have no need for religion, they say, but they are worried that hoi polloi do. It puts me in mind of another old philosopher, Henry Sidgwick, a utilitarian who thought that utilitarianism should be a secret kept by the elite, a pernicious doctrine often called Government House utilitarianism. The seminaries and churches are full of atheist clergy who live their own version of this paternalism. We New Atheists think more highly of our fellow human beings; we think its time for us all to grow up.

    Daniel Dennett

    Richard Dawkins
    The reason Brown fails to mention Dan Dennett is obvious, and entirely typical of him. It is simply that he would then not have been able to say “They are none of them philosophers”.
    Richard Dawkins

    There you are!

  64. #64 Aquaria
    December 30, 2008

    I wonder where Madlyn Murray O’Hair would fit in these new paradigms of atheism…

  65. #65 Timothy Wood
    December 30, 2008

    Hey! …my middle name is joe… im offended. I demand you amend this post at once and issue a public apology. Also… amend all previous posts and post respective apologies.

    …also one million dollars.

  66. #66 John Morales
    December 30, 2008

    Aquaria @64, indeed. Or, for that matter, Robert G. Ingersoll.

  67. #67 Kel
    December 30, 2008

    lol @ Dawkins, quick and to the point. He has an elegant brutality about him that makes anything he says or does a pleasure to intake.

  68. #68 Matt Heath
    December 30, 2008

    The ideas I claim are distinctive of the new atheists have been collected from Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, the American physicist Robert L. Park, and a couple of blogging biologists, P Z Myers and Larry Moran. They have two things in common. They are none of them philosophers and, though most are scientists, none study psychology, history, the sociology of religion, or any other discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration.

    1) I don’t think it’s likely that you get this list by honest means. If you made a list of outspoken, antireligious atheists Ayyan Hirsi Ali, AC Grayling and Dan Dennett would all come up before. If you then tried to honestly sift into groups who had similar views you’d get a tubthumping right-leaning group of Hitch, AHA and maybe Harris and a softish liberal group with Dawkins, Dennett and Grayling. Brown writes about religion for his job; he’s not badly informed; he knows these people; he even works for the same paper as Grayling. The group he’s listed seems unlikely to come about unless he intended to leave out philosophers and people with sympathetic stories (AHA).

    2) As well as his degree in philosophy isn’t Harris doing research towards a PhD in the neuroscience of religious experience? Is this not perhaps a “discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration.”

  69. #69 Wowbagger
    December 30, 2008

    What we should ask Andrew Brown (and his ilk) is this: is a person wishing to become a Christian required to have studied psychology, history, and/or the sociology of religion? Are they required to have an understanding of basic theology?

    Since the answer is, obviously, ‘no’, how on earth do any of them have the audacity to demand that one must have a thorough knowledge of anything to be an atheist?

    As long as all that is required to be considered a Christian is being able to answer ‘yes’ to the question ‘are you a christian?’ then there is absolutely no necessity whatsoever for anyone who doesn’t wish to subscribe to a nonsensical belief system to waste their time.

  70. #70 John Morales
    December 30, 2008

    Ophelia at Butterflies and Wheels has yet another example of such an attack.

  71. #71 michel
    December 30, 2008

    a quality newspaper here in holland recently ran an online discussion where experts could debate the question whether religion and science were mutually exclusive or not.

    most of the experts were philosophers and the general reasoning seemed to be that somebody would post a claim and then back it up with quotes, preferably untranslated french and german quotes by the likes of kant, foucault, derrida and habermas. but it was hard to find a clear argument.

    it reminded me of how much philosophy resembles theological babbling. (dennett is a good exception) i remember having a discussion with somebody who said the new atheists’ viewpoint was rubbish because they weren’t backed by ‘real’ philosophers. and he said it wasn’t even atheism, because ‘true’ atheists held different opinions. it seemed more a play with words than actually talking about anything going on in the real world.

    don’t get me wrong, philosophy can be very useful. it can make us think about things that we thought were obvious and it can show us new ways of thinking. but in my opinion, philosophy is too often seen as a necessary seal of approval.

  72. #72 bernarda
    December 30, 2008

    What’s so great about philosophers? Some of them think about and try to explain how why we think about things, but there is little experimentation done.

    A theologian is about the most useless “thinker” around. It all reduces to counting the number of angels on the head of a pin.

    Here is an interview with Richard Feynman who calls social sciences pseudo-science. It is part five of The Pleasure of Finding things out. He discusses social sciences, philosophy, and religious belief.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taEw97brZis&feature=related

  73. #73 Matt Heath
    December 30, 2008

    most of the experts were philosophers and the general reasoning seemed to be that somebody would post a claim and then back it up with quotes, preferably untranslated french and german quotes by the likes of kant, foucault, derrida and habermas. but it was hard to find a clear argument.

    The philosophy done in the English speaking world typically has a very different character, though: lots of rigorous analysis of the content of very specific claims and not a lot of broad scope.

  74. #74 Wowbagger
    December 30, 2008

    Something that occurred to me recently – isn’t any philosophical argument for the existence of God based on the description of God that we have from the bible? Doesn’t accepting that mean that we agree that the description in the bible is true?

  75. #75 scooter
    December 30, 2008

    PZ

    He’s a militant agnostic, and proud of it.

    There’s something to be said for militant agnostics.

    They’ll kick your ass if you make a decision.

  76. #76 Jack Rawlinson
    December 30, 2008

    I scored 2 out of 6 too, and my analysis of the “questions” pretty much tallied with yours, PZ. This is a dreadful mess of bias and disingenuousness from an example of the “I’m an atheist, but” crowd.

  77. #77 SC, OM
    December 30, 2008

    Here is an interview with Richard Feynman who calls social sciences pseudo-science.

    And that short segment was ignorant and rather dumb (and I say this as someone who cares little whether the term “social sciences” is used, being just as happy with “social studies,” which, as C. Wright Mills said long ago, would be totally fine were it not for the jr.-high connotations). The social sciences, he suggests, don’t do science, but merely “follow the models” of science – they “gather data” and the like. Well, yeah. Social sciences are empirical fields in which data are systematically gathered and analyzed using developed methods, and in which arguments can be rejected based on failures of method, evidence, or analysis. No eternal laws (debatable, but leaving that aside)? So what? He then appears to lump social scientists in with self-appointed “experts” who sit around making shit up. The whole thing is strange. The example he gives of false expertise is one in which there’s a set of empirical questions that can be answered through systematic investigation. If people claim to answer the questions without the data to back up their claims, they’re just hacks. What does this have to do with anything?

    In any case, I really don’t see what an appeal to Feynman’s supposed authority on this question has to do with the matter at hand. If all Brown were arguing was that some vocal atheists make weak claims in areas like the history or sociology of religion that are simplistic, not supported with sufficient evidence, or inconsistent with existing research in these fields, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. It wouldn’t be very original or have anything to do with the correctness of theism, though, and of course isn’t all he’s arguing.

  78. #78 Kel
    December 30, 2008

    Here is an interview with Richard Feynman who calls social sciences pseudo-science.

    The world needs another Feynman.

  79. #79 Matt Heath
    December 30, 2008

    Something that occurred to me recently – isn’t any philosophical argument for the existence of God based on the description of God that we have from the bible? Doesn’t accepting that mean that we agree that the description in the bible is true?

    I don’t think so. If you compare the god of the cosmological argument to that of the Bible, it’s difficult to see how anyone could consider them to be the same thing. IIRC correctly Plato even used a version of it to argue for the existence of a supreme creator god.

    Usually, philosophical “proofs” of God produce some weird-ass abstraction, which we are instructed to “call God”. That this abstraction is the same thing as the Bible god is what the tiresome chug of theology is for.

  80. #80 Feynmaniac
    December 30, 2008

    What’s so great about philosophers? Some of them think about and try to explain how why we think about things, but there is little experimentation done.

    My favourite anecdote on philosophy was given by Bertrand Russell. He told how the philosopher Aristotle made a whole bunch of “reasons” why men should have more teeth than women. If he had bothered to check he would have realized he was wrong.

    Experiments were what made science a success. Claims made had to be tested. It doesn’t matter who makes the claim, how much they appeal to your intuition or even if it sounds really reasonable. If your claim fails to uphold in an experiment then it needs serious revision.

    I actually find philosophy interesting and don’t think all philosophers have no regard for experimentation. Dennett and Harris, for example, do. I just think, in my non-expert opinion, many in the field do too little to make sure the claims being made hold up to reality.

    As for theology, I have less respect for that field than I do for unicorn husbandry.

  81. #81 Kel
    December 30, 2008

    I don’t think so. If you compare the god of the cosmological argument to that of the Bible, it’s difficult to see how anyone could consider them to be the same thing.

    Yet the people who use the cosmological argument are more often than not Christians who believe in a God that couldn’t be a further logical conclusion from that argument. It’s what I call a diffuse argument for God, stretch out the definition of the world to encompass any abstract meaning then once it’s proven shape it back into the form of Jesus. So frustrating!

  82. #82 Wowbagger
    December 30, 2008

    Matt Heath,

    That makes sense – obviously, there are philosophical arguments for deities unrelated to the Bible; I just wasn’t thinking.

    Kel,

    My thoughts on the philosophical arguments for god are summed up by what I said to eric a couple of weeks ago – that, just because you can argue that it’s philosophically possible that a god of some description could exist doesn’t mean we must accept, based on the same argument, that the god of the broader Judeo-Christian belief system definitely does exist.

    They’re presenting a philosophical ‘god-of-the-gaps’ to go with the one they try to cram into science.

  83. #83 Kel
    December 30, 2008

    I’m still waiting on Eric to show why he’s not just special pleading when it comes to the idea of evidence.

  84. #84 articulett
    December 30, 2008

    Sounds like another “Courtier’s Reply” to me.

  85. #85 scooter
    December 30, 2008

    They are none of them philosophers

    So

    this Andrew Brown
    never heard of him
    is a writer?

    So writers are constructing sentences like

    They are none of them philosophers

    I’m not going to dig up my Elements of Style to confront this zombie-like shambling over the throbbing grave of the English language.

    I’m sure it is grammatically correct.

    They are none of them un-illiterate enough to deny what is left unsaid by the unspoken arbitrary, nor the other certainties, future tense, or relaxing in the past, or was that nor?

  86. #86 300baud
    December 30, 2008

    I like to think about what a being like God would be like. I am not at all confident we would be able to detect changes it makes to the Universe.

    The being would not be subject to or perceive time as we do. The entirety of the Universe, from start to finish, even from all its potential starts to all its potential finishes, is perceived simultaneously. If He changes something, everything else changes due to the causal nature of the Universe. It is obvious to us that if we do something (ie, cause an effect), it will be the cause of a chain of further effect, which in turn will be the cause of yet more effects, and so on. But is no reason to assume that God’s change would affect only the future. I think the past would also reorganize to allow (indeed, require) the change to happen. When we examine the event that God engineered, there would be nothing to distinguish it from every other event that just happens as a consequence of the apparently fixed nature of the Universe.

    For that matter, we only see what God wills us to see and only know what God allows us to know. How could we apply scientific investigation to that? It’s just suggesting we could investigate the CPU that runs the simulation of our Universe by investigating our Universe. I just can’t see how that would work.

  87. #87 Wowbagger
    December 30, 2008

    300 baud, #86, wrote:

    For that matter, we only see what God wills us to see and only know what God allows us to know. How could we apply scientific investigation to that? It’s just suggesting we could investigate the CPU that runs the simulation of our Universe by investigating our Universe. I just can’t see how that would work.

    Which, in and of itself, is fine – and is pretty much what deists believe, if I understand it correctly. But it isn’t how Christians view it. Theirs is a far different god from the one you describe.

  88. #88 Kel
    December 30, 2008

    What I took out of reading A Brief History Of Time is that it’s impossible for us to do a simulation of the universe because of the uncertainty principle.

    “God not only plays dice. He sometimes throws the dice where they cannot be seen.” – Stephen Hawking

  89. #89 Matt Heath
    December 30, 2008

    “They are none of them X” is a slightly old fashioned but well enough established usage in British English, especially in the North and Midlands of England. My guess is the guys at Language Log would be happy to let it pass.

    It does make him sound very prissy though, like a character in some 60s kitchen-sink drama: a middle-aged, unmarried woman, “respectable working class”, a hard, joyless face that speaks of a hard joyless life. She peaks out from behind the net curtains and says “Those Entwistle girls come and go at all hours with their skirts up to their armpits. They’re none of them any better than they should be”

  90. #90 Mrs Tilton
    December 30, 2008

    Matt Heath @79,

    If you compare the god of the cosmological argument to that of the Bible, it’s difficult to see how anyone could consider them to be the same thing…. That this abstraction is the same thing as the Bible god is what the tiresome chug of theology is for

    Yes, just so.

    It is the cosmological argument that, for a long time, kept me from abandoning theism. In the end I stopped trying to refute the argument. Instead I simply recognised that, not only is it an unwarranted assumption to equate the argument’s “god” with the God of the bible (or any other scripture), there is no good reason to think the two could even in theory be equated.

    But if that cosmo-arg “god” exists, then whilst it is in a sense important (in a ground-of-all-being way), it is also supremely uninteresting. One can’t observe it, communicate with it, interact with it, or indeed make any intellectual judgement about it whatever beyond (if one accept the argument) a radically abstract statement that it exists; a statement that can never be other than unfalsifiable conjecture. More simply, even if there is such a “god”, the intellectual space it inhabits is Wittgenstein’s Proposition 7; even simpler still, don’t waste time doing theology.

    [Insert ob-qualification that there are many perfectly legitimate disciplines in which people with the professional title “theologian” work, or that are subsumed under “theology” at various academic institutions: history, literary studies, linguistics, various sorts of philosophy etc. I mean theology proper. Aquinas’s Summa (for example) may be a magnificent intellectual edifice; but it is an edifice built of air, on a foundation of vacuum.]

  91. #91 Ron Brown
    December 30, 2008

    1. Isn’t Sam Harris partway through an MS/PhD program where he is studying the cognitive neuroscience of belief? This is a branch of Psychology – a branch at the nexus of neuroscience.

    2. Yeah, Dan Dennett. Only one of the biggest most influential philosophers in the world. What a schmuck for leaving him out.

    3. More philosophers: Ronnie De Sousa, Stephen Law, Victor Stenger (philosopher/physicist), Massimo Pigluicci, Colin McGinn, Mark Rowlands, Austin Dacey, Paul Kurtz (!!).

    That’s good well-researched journalism there…

  92. #92 Steve Rumney
    December 30, 2008

    “He might as well have noted that there is an absence of plumbers in his list”

    Hey I’m a qualified plumber (NVQ level 3, thank you very much) and as a NewAtheist and a left wing socialist I feel perfectly qualified to comment on anything!

  93. #93 Kel
    December 30, 2008

    Hey I’m a qualified plumber (NVQ level 3, thank you very much) and as a NewAtheist and a left wing socialist I feel perfectly qualified to comment on anything!

    At least you are more qualified than a theologian! ;)

  94. #94 SC, OM
    December 30, 2008

    Funnily anough, I was just reading the link here last night:

    http://scienceblogs.com/bushwells/2008/12/could_it_be_pretty_obvious_the.php

    (I hope Russell Blackford will be appearing around here again soon.)

  95. #95 Tristeus
    December 30, 2008

    Dennett is a philosopher, but more than that Brown forgot that the french have a LONG tradition of atheist philosophers. One of our contempoprary, Michel Onfray, wrote the most excellent Traité d’Athéologie (Treaty of Atheology) in 2005. I heartily recommend this book!
    Anyway, maybe Brown thinks that French atheists are even worse than their anglo-saxon conterparts…

  96. #96 Marc Abian
    December 30, 2008

    I don’t think there’s anything bad about agreeing to any of those things. The idea that religion will die out may be optimistic and I will grant that a deist god will not be testable by any science (since most people aren’t deists I’m taking god to mean a typical theistic god).

    The first one I do find really weird. Essentially it’s whether one subscribes to a definition. Surely that’s for the dictionary to say. I don’t understand the point at all.

  97. #97 Robin Edgar
    December 30, 2008

    Oh no! The Atheist Supremacists are getting mocked again! ;-)

  98. #98 Nick Gotts
    December 30, 2008

    Hey I’m a qualified plumber (NVQ level 3, thank you very much) and as a NewAtheist and a left wing socialist I feel perfectly qualified to comment on anything! – Steve Rumney

    At last! A plumber with whom an intelligent conversation is possible, and who won’t blame a blocked pipe on demonic possession or poltergeists!

  99. #99 Andrew Brown
    December 30, 2008

    PZ, Thanks for the kind words about my science books.

    To defend myself against particular misunderstandings: I wrote that post because people kept saying in the comment section that the phrase “New Atheist” was meaningless. Well, it means something to me, and I set out what it does. All the people saying that you can be an atheist without believing any of those six propositions — well, of course you can. That’s what I started out by saying, and that’s what Anthony Kenny was in there to illustrate. Or I might, had I been feeling provocative, have chosen Michael Ruse.

    None the less, there are, I think, people who would subscribe to all six. Yes, I know. Six, not five. I added an extra snowflake after I had written the standfirst.

    I can see I am going to be too busy to keep up with this thread. I will try to keep up with the ones over on the Guardian site. I’ll try to drop one comment into the Dawkins site, but I have lost the post there while logging in.

    Andrew Brown

  100. #100 Ken Cope
    December 30, 2008

    For a class over a year ago, I threw together a quick mock-up for the cover of a magazine: New Atheist. Aren’t the New Atheists Old Business?[/Groucho]

  101. #101 heliobates
    December 30, 2008

    I double-dog-dare Brown to put Owen Flanagan on that list.

  102. #102 SC, OM
    December 30, 2008

    Well, it means something to me, and I set out what it does.

    …None the less, there are, I think, people who would subscribe to all six.

    Then you should present reasonable evidence that they do and talk about them exclusively. And if you’ve mischaracterized people’s views and it’s pointed out to you, you should apologize to them. You criticize others for being ignorant of sociology and yet your method is to take a term in use (but the value or applicability of which is disputed); give it your own idiosyncratic definition based on confused criteria; list a handful of people you believe meet those criteria, pluck a few quotes here and there out of context to support this claim (implying, strangely, that you don’t even think your examples fit all of them – otherwise you wouldn’t have listed individual names after some and “Everyone” after another); and then when confronted by one of those people with a critique of your article respond only that “there are, I think, people who would subscribe to all six”?

    That is extremely lame, and also extremely rude.

    (And this business of simply excluding philosophers – or ignoring the philosophical credentials of the individuals you listed – and then claiming that none in the movement are philosophers is unbelievable.)

  103. #103 Janine, Vile Bitch
    December 30, 2008

    Ken Cope, so Richard Dawkins is bigger than Jesus? But the real question is this; is Dawkins bigger than The Beatles?

  104. #104 SC, OM
    December 30, 2008

    His book on varieties of disbelief, The Unknown God, was the immediate trigger for this post. In any case, he believes that all the proofs for classical theism fail and as such will do very nicely as a baseline atheist,

    And who are you to declare what constitutes a “baseline atheist”? Anarchism has been an an atheistic movement for more than a century. Why are anarchists not your baseline? Gah, the whole thing is painful for me as a social-movements scholar to read. Why don’t you take your own criticism to heart and do some research about the history of atheist/freethought/anticlerical movements?

  105. #105 Janine, Vile Bitch
    December 30, 2008

    SC, I would make that statement “… an atheistic movement for two centuries.” William Godwin and all of that.

  106. #106 Ken Cope
    December 30, 2008

    Janine, Richard Dawkins is clearly bigger than The Beatles, but not bigger than Jupiter, with which (/whom?) he’s contrasted for scale.

  107. #107 Matt Heath
    December 30, 2008

    Janine: Are you sure Godwin was an atheist? According to the Stanford encyclopaedia article he seems to have been a Calvinist and then a deist and he wrote that God himself had no right to be a tyrant.

    Even today is anarchism a atheist movement?

  108. #108 Steve Rumney
    December 30, 2008

    Nick@ #98

    Sorry to disappoint, I actually gave up the trade 10 years ago, I only plumb for close friends and relatives now.

  109. #109 SC, OM
    December 30, 2008

    Even today is anarchism a atheist movement?

    I’m not sure what you mean by “even today” (especially since anarchism wasn’t really a movement as such before at least Proudhon), but yes, anarchism has been and continues to be an atheist movement through and through. Atheism is fundamental to anarchism (though there are some individuals who were influenced by anarchism and have in some sense been claimed by anarchists but were not atheists – e.g., Tolstoy).

    I quoted from and linked to Bakunin’s “God and the State” the other day. Here’s Emma Goldman:

    http://www.spunk.org/texts/writers/goldman/sp001502.html

  110. #110 Diagoras
    December 30, 2008

    PZ – I think you give Brown too much credit when you state he’s not a “stupid fellow.” His book, “The Darwin Wars: The Scientific Battle for the Soul of Man,” speaks otherwise. And his follow-up blog entry, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2008/dec/30/new-atheism-dennett-dawkins?commentpage=1 – the why he left philosopher’s out bit. He’s slotted in my “stupid fellow” section.

  111. #111 Janine, Vile Bitch
    December 30, 2008

    Matt Heath, you are right that I made the mistake of forcing a modern term where it does not fit. But your last bit about how god has no right to be a tyrant places him square in the tradition of the 19th century English freethought movement. That is something no devout christian will believe.

  112. #112 Andrew Brown
    December 30, 2008

    SC,OM: My post started out as a response to Guardian commenters who had accused me of using the term “New Atheist” without attaching any meaning to it. So, I attempted to demonstrate the meaning I attached to it, and that it was not plucked from thin air: there is a strain of criticism that says it is no more than a derogatory label for any atheist. Now, I don’t think it is. I think it describes a particular style of thought and argument which by no means all atheists share but which certainly exists.

    Again, many people or at least many posts had claimed that atheism means no more than a-theism: a disbelief in god. Well, I chose Kenny as my minimal example of that: he wasn’t meant as a historical baseline, and I don’t see that one would have fitted the purposes of my argument.

  113. #113 Janine, Vile Bitch
    December 30, 2008

    Even today is anarchism a atheist movement?

    Neither God Nor Masters!

  114. #114 Butter
    December 30, 2008

    Andrew, you’re being deliberately obtuse. You don’t need to repeat anymore that you were trying to list the things that New Atheism meant to you. We’ve known that since the get-go.

    What you need to do is respond to SC’s substantitve accusation that you did a lousy job of it.

  115. #115 Ken Cope
    December 30, 2008

    I think it describes a particular style of thought and argument which by no means all atheists share but which certainly exists.

    I’ll just erect a grossly caricatured strawman to characterize a hugely diverse group of people, and defend it by saying there may be some among them who think that way.

    Scholaresque!

  116. #116 Tony Sidaway
    December 30, 2008

    Andrew isn’t particularly unreasonable, but his propensity for telling us atheists what we think and then execrating it is tiresome.

  117. #117 Sastra
    December 30, 2008

    Andrew Brown #112 wrote:

    I think it describes a particular style of thought and argument which by no means all atheists share but which certainly exists.

    No doubt — but would Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Park, and the others you mention agree with your 5 or 6 ‘identifying propositions?’ Clearly, PZ (who is on the list) does not. It also appears that Dennett and Dawkins have weighed in on the negative side. Since all you were doing really was going after a definition — and those being defined say “that’s not right, I don’t agree with that!” — then I think there is a real problem.

    The fact that you could find atheists who fit your description in coffee shops across the country (if not the world) isn’t very useful. They’re not really the “New Atheists” being referred to.

  118. #118 Nick Gotts
    December 30, 2008

    None the less, there are, I think, people who would subscribe to all six. – Andrew Brown

    So identfy one. Just one.

    [I’ve posted this on Brown’s blog as well, as he says he may not be able to keep up here.]

  119. #119 Owlmirror
    December 30, 2008

    Terminological thought: Excluding the actual philosopher Sam Harris, and (author and journalist) Christopher Hitchens, all of the New Atheists listed above are scientists.

    Is science not the current manifestation of natural philosophy? Would it not be correct to say that a scientist is a philosopher, of a particularly empirical and practical sort?

  120. #120 Nerd of Redhead
    December 30, 2008

    Is science not the current manifestation of natural philosophy? Would it not be correct to say that a scientist is a philosopher, of a particularly empirical and practical sort?

    PZ has a Ph.D., which is Doctor of Philosophy. So technically, all Ph.D.s are philosophers.

  121. #121 Owlmirror
    December 30, 2008

    And by “actual philosopher Sam Harris”, I meant “an actual philosopher even though not recognized as such in Brown’s original posting”. And by “listed above”, I meant “listed in the quote above from Brown’s original posting”

    /pedantry

    I see that my question is sort-of addressed here:

    They are none of them philosophers and, though most are scientists, none study psychology, history, the sociology of religion, or any other discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration.

    But I think we could rebut that at least four of them are biologists, and what is psychology if not applied biology?

    http://xkcd.com/435/

    Less facetiously, I note that PZ’s focus in biology does appear to have been in neuroscience.

  122. #122 SC, OM
    December 30, 2008

    SC,OM: My post started out as a response to Guardian commenters who had accused me of using the term “New Atheist” without attaching any meaning to it. So, I attempted to demonstrate the meaning I attached to it, and that it was not plucked from thin air: there is a strain of criticism that says it is no more than a derogatory label for any atheist.

    I don’t think so. I think the criticism is that it is a dismissive term for people who are viewed as being too outspoken about their own lack of belief and too strenuous in their promotion of a reason- and evidence-based approach, rejection of special respect given to religious beliefs and “people of faith” in the democratic public sphere, and recognition of the harm done by superstition and religion in general.

    Now, I don’t think it is. I think it describes a particular style of thought and argument which by no means all atheists share but which certainly exists.

    You can say “certainly” all you want, but PZ – one of those you listed – has already pointed out the flaws in your criteria and stated explicitly that he does not subscribe to several of those ideas. You yourself evidently weren’t sure when you compiled your list that the individuals you mentioned subsribed to most of them. Now you seem to have tacked on support for torture among the characteristics of the NAs. Well, if you bothered to read this blog you’d find that very few here and certainly not PZ would stand by Harris on that issue, as has been discussed here at great length.

    To how many of those notions does an atheist have to subscribe to qualify as a New Atheist? How do those criteria fit together in a meaningful way such that they can be seen to describe a movement? And if you can’t point to a cohesive group of people who do subscribe to all of them, where is this movement you keep referring to, this one that contains no philosophers and holds in common a “particular style of thought and argument”? One of the people you listed is here – this is his blog – and he doesn’t fit your model. What does that tell you?

    Look, beyond atheism, atheists can hold all manner of perverse or ridiculous views and can disagree on important political and social matters. You haven’t shown – not by the longest of shots – that this New Atheism as a social phenomenon, with these shared beliefs and goals, exists. You simply haven’t, no matter how many times you say you think some individuals do believe all of the things you enumerate.

    Again, many people or at least many posts had claimed that atheism means no more than a-theism: a disbelief in god. Well, I chose Kenny as my minimal example of that: he wasn’t meant as a historical baseline, and I don’t see that one would have fitted the purposes of my argument.

    That is what it means. My point was that if you’re talking about some New Atheist Movement in the sociopolitical sense, reasonable cases for comparison do not include individuals who aren’t involved in any atheistic movements, but other real historical or contemporary atheistic or related movements.

    But I do understand your selection better now, and appreciate your response.

  123. #123 Die Anyway
    December 30, 2008

    New atheism? Old atheism? Defined by whom? I enjoy reading all of the persons mentioned as well as many others. I agree with them in varying degrees. Where does that put me? I’ve decided to take the label used by Douglas Adams: radical atheist. And maybe that’s what Brown really intends to describe. I don’t much see myself as any different from atheists of the past with the possible exception of being a bit more adamant. And perhaps not even that. Bertrand Russell, Ambrose Bierce, Sam Clemens were not exactly wallflowers.

  124. #124 Vic
    December 30, 2008

    “They are none of them philosophers” Sam Harris does, of course, have a degree in philosphy. So does Dan Dennett, an unfortunate omission from the list.

    And Andrew Brown is obviously not a philosopher. By attempting to discredit his list of new atheists, he’s effectively discrediting himself.

  125. #125 Patricia, OM
    December 30, 2008

    Die Anyway – Damn straight! I’ll stand in line with you and Douglas Adams.

  126. #126 Steve
    December 30, 2008

    What I still don’t get is why we have to jump through all the hoops to explain why we’re atheists. Whatever happened to the maxim that “he who asserts must prove?” This rule does not appear to hold true in S.W. Ohio.

    I love this blog. Please keep it up!

  127. #127 Kel
    December 30, 2008

    @Mr Brown

    there is a strain of criticism that says it is no more than a derogatory label for any atheist

    Have you not seen how the term has been used? It’s used by theists as a means to dismiss atheism as a religion. The term is very derogatory, and it’s about as useful a descriptor as “the war on Christmas.”

    Also, why is having qualifications in theology important?

  128. #128 Peter Ashby
    December 30, 2008

    I have hung out on Andrew Browns ‘Blog’ on CiF for a while now (I post using a pseudonym on that site for various reasons). He claims to be an agnostic but is far too much of an uncritical apologist for religion for me to take that seriously. I suspect he is an agnostic in the same way many Anglican Bishops are, it doesn’t get in the way of their faith either.

    I have pointed out to him before that Dawkins and my atheism don’t have to deal with the minutiae of theology since the question that interests us whether or not the claimed deity exists. Without that the rest is just phenomenology and of interest only to specialists who like that sort of thing. However that simple distinction, which Dawkins makes clear in The God Delusion is apparently too subtle for our Andrew Brown.

    A couple of weeks ago he put up a post complaining about posters he described as ‘angries’. The first response named me via my pseudonym as one such ‘angry’ in case anybody missed it. i replied to both in civil terms and citing verifiable facts. I got moderated for ‘trolling’ which was defined as ‘trying to engage the blog owner in conversation’. I apealled via email and it was rescinded but meanwhile the thread had turned into a train wreck of withdrawn posts. The problem is the moderators see posts from both the general comments posts of CiF and the blog section and seemingly make no distinction. It is rare for general commentators to engage in discussion but common on the blogs, this seemed to pass the mods by. They didn’t seem to get in in the email discussions either.

    Still I persevere since AB’s stuff would be pernicious if it was allowed to stand unopposed. I know I am not welcome but tough shit.

  129. #129 Kseniya
    December 30, 2008

    I submit that Mr. Brown should be required to earn a degree in Atheology before expressing an opinion on atheists or athesism.

  130. #130 SC, OM
    December 30, 2008

    I just returned from Brown’s blog linked to at his name. I’m confused:

    I noticed over the weekend a gloomy post I had made back in August saying that Obama would certainly lose because of racism. I hoped no one else would notice. But then, this morning, I spotted the voting figures referenced on A Tiny Revolution which suggest that white racism was a huge factor: it was just outweighed by non-white racism. 43% of American whites voted for Obama; one per cent up on Gore’s figures eight years ago. But the non-white vote as grown, and was emphatically non-Republican, too.

    I’m not following his analysis here. What does he mean by “non-white” racism”?

    A couple of weeks ago he put up a post complaining about posters he described as ‘angries’.

    I just read one about the “angry, ignorant” atheists who allegedly populate his comment section and how they resemble fundamentalists in completely lacking a sense of or knowledge about history (ahem). Specific evidence not provided.

    i replied to both in civil terms and citing verifiable facts. I got moderated for ‘trolling’ which was defined as ‘trying to engage the blog owner in conversation’.

    Do they not understand how blogs work?

  131. #131 SC, OM
    December 30, 2008

    Um, not that it’s necessarily the best source in the world, but the Wikipedia entry on Anthony Kenny – Brown’s “baseline atheist” – calls him an agnostic. Part reads:

    His 2006 book What I believe has (as Ch 3) “Why I am Not an Atheist” [!!!] which begins: “Many different definitions may be offered of the word ‘God’. Given this fact, atheism makes a much stronger claim than theism does. The atheist says that no matter what definition you choose, ‘God exists’ is always false. The theist only claims that there is some definition which will make ‘God exists’ true. In my view, neither the stronger nor the weaker claim has been convincingly established”. He goes on “the true default position is neither theism nor atheism, but agnosticism … a claim to knowledge needs to be substantiated; ignorance need only be confessed.”[1]

  132. #132 Nick Gotts
    December 30, 2008

    OT but good news. The general election in Bangladesh has resulted in a landslide victory for the secularist Awami League over the Islamist-backed Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Both parties are led by women. All the leaders of the outright-Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami, allied with the BNP, lost their seats.

  133. #134 Sastra
    December 30, 2008

    Brown’s follow-up is rather strange. First, he accuses Dawkins of advocating that the state remove children from religious parents — and then points to a passage where Dawkins wonders how and when the state needs to intervene, and cites examples where a young girl “willingly” sacrifices herself to a God, and Amish parents attempt to keep their children from being schooled. Brown then brings up the rot about Harris “advocating torture,” when Harris himself wrote an extensive explanation that he does not advocate torture as a political policy: he was simply exploring its ethical justification within the bounds of a philosophical thought experiment.

    But Brown seems to have written his post so he can defend his exclusion of Dennett the Philosopher from the “New Atheists” — and I can’t make out what his defense is. Dennett was excluded because he was personally mean to him — but his book wasn’t so bad — but if Dennett is going to agree with Dawkins’ and Harris’ evil positions on forcible state kidnappings and torture, then fine, he’ll include him.

  134. #135 John Morales
    December 30, 2008

    Michael X, indeed. The quote:

    Dawkins is entirely right to observe that I didn’t include Dennett in my list of New Atheists from whom I had drawn the ideas I was criticising because he is a philosopher and that I was able because of this to point out that my list of New Atheists didn’t contain any philosophers. But this wasn’t just a rhetorical trick.
    Dennett has written some extraordinarily offensive and unpleasant things to and about me. Sometimes he appears ashamed of this, for his abuse concludes with a warning not to publish it any further. But in any case it makes me reluctant to believe that I can write about him in a fair-minded way.

    What a pathetic evasion/excuse – he didn’t include Dennett because he’s offended by him; but that allows him to write (notwithstanding Harris’ BA in philosophy) that the “new atheists” include no philosophers. “this wasn’t just a rhetorical trick”, he writes, grudginly acknowledging that it was that and more.

  135. #136 SC, OM
    December 30, 2008

    Thanks, Michael X. Someone already linked to it above (hence my reference to torture), but clicking on your link led me to read it again.

    His book on religion was very much better and more subtle than the God Delusion. I cannot believe that Dennett, for example, would pass within fifteen pages from dilating on the wickedness of Popes who had Jewish children compulsorarily baptised to asking whether the state should not have a right to remove the children of fundamentalist Christians to protect them from their parents’ beliefs.

    If he wants to stand by every word that Dawkins has written on the subject, well, fine. But until then, I think it would be smearing him with guilt by association to claim that his political and personal friendship entails intellectual agreement and to list him as sharing the ideas I was putting forward as the new bits of the new atheism.

    You’re hurting my head! So you’ve produced a list of criteria meeting enough (?) of which places someone under your classification, but for Dennett to be “guilty” of your New Atheism he needs to “stand by every word that Dawkins has written on the subject” of religion? So much for your highly-developed measurement tool.

    I attempted to demonstrate…that it was not plucked from thin air

    Not only was it, but you’re still plucking.

  136. #137 Peter
    December 30, 2008

    Do they not understand how blogs work?

    If you read through the comments to Brown’s follow up linked above by Michael X, you’ll see that one of Brown’s own comments has been removed by moderators.

  137. #138 Kel
    December 30, 2008

    But Brown seems to have written his post so he can defend his exclusion of Dennett the Philosopher from the “New Atheists” — and I can’t make out what his defense is. Dennett was excluded because he was personally mean to him — but his book wasn’t so bad — but if Dennett is going to agree with Dawkins’ and Harris’ evil positions on forcible state kidnappings and torture, then fine, he’ll include him.

    I found that a massive double standard. He holds Dawkins accountable for backing Harris’ work, but doesn’t hold Dennett accountable for backing Dawkins’ work. Dawkins was right, he just left off Dennett purely so he could characterise atheists as philosophically-inept even when Dennett praised the way Dawkins’ philosophically tore apart the arguments for God in The God Delusion.

  138. #139 John Morales
    December 30, 2008

    Peter @137, that’s amazingly perverse.

    That one of Andrew Brown’s comments was removed by “a moderator” from Andrew Brown’s Blog boggles the mind.

    The only explanation that would make any sense is if someone else had posted under his nym.

  139. #140 Peter
    December 30, 2008

    John, it couldn’t be somebody using his name because the Guardian staff writers get a ‘G’ logo on their posts and it is present on the moderated comment.

    I think that what happened was that AB had replied to a comment that was subsequently removed and his reply went too. It’s still funny, though.

  140. #141 SC, OM
    December 30, 2008

    So your six characteristic premises:

    1) are not based upon any sort of prior, systematic empirical work, appearing to reflect more “stuff I think some uppity atheists believe that I don’t like.”

    2) are poorly and confusedly defined, with unclear relationships among them.

    3) can be ranked in relative importance and added to haphazardly at your whim.

    4) have been shown not to be met by the very individuals you listed as characteristic of the movement.

    5) would not, even if you could find people who met them, establish that a movement based upon them exists – only that some individuals hold similar views on some issues related to theism.

    6) are used to distinguish a group of people from a “baseline atheism” represented by someone who makes it plain that he is not an atheist.

    Good luck with that.

  141. #142 SC, OM
    December 30, 2008

    It’s still funny, though.

    It’s hilarious. I guess that answers my question. :)

  142. #143 John Morales
    December 30, 2008

    Peter @140,

    I think that what happened was that AB had replied to a comment that was subsequently removed and his reply went too. It’s still funny, though.

    Fair enough – but then, despite the logo at the top, it’s not really his blog, is it? Shesh.

    PS After I posted, it occurred to me that AB himself might have removed a comment he considered substandard, but I guess not, since it’s not really his blog except in name.

  143. #144 Tom Morris
    December 31, 2008

    While Maddy Bunting is declining as the Guardian’s most intellectually incapable troll, Andrew Brown’s trolling star is rising. How long until the dramatic conversion? Andrew, converting to Christianity will allow you to post this dreck for another year.

    Since not being a philosopher is a qualification for being a New Atheist, Andrew Brown could show his intellectual superiority by providing us with necessary and sufficient conditions, maybe backing it up with some predicate logic. I’m no Plato or Kant, but “ooh, he sent me a rude e-mail” (perhaps he has something of a short temper when faced with blatant idiocy) is hardly a good way of clearly delineating this important phenomena.

    Cthulhu almighty, The Guardian is supposed to be a quality daily newspaper. Perhaps they publish Brown and Bunting (etc.) just to keep their readers on their toes – a sort of mental agility to test to see how many logical fallacies they can spot in an opinion column. Either that or they left a fire escape door open too long and they just sneaked in.

  144. #145 John Morales
    December 31, 2008

    I note Paul Fidalgo at Unscrewing the Inscrutable has weighed in:

    Brown has apparently changed the title of his post from “Why I Left the Philosophers out of the New Atheism” to simply “Richard Dawkins and Dan Dennett,” which is particularly ironic, because I originally used the word “slander” in this post’s title, and then immediately thought better of it. Also possibly of interest, Brown referred to someone in the comments section as “stupid,” and then removed the comment after complaints. He then praised himself for removing it, and then removed his own self-praising comment.

  145. #146 John Morales
    December 31, 2008

    Link failure @145, it should be UTI

  146. #147 Dr Doctor
    December 31, 2008

    “I think that what happened was that AB had replied to a comment that was subsequently removed and his reply went too. It’s still funny, though.”

    No. He called a commenter stupid, a clear violation of the terms of the site. He instituted some extra terms and conditions at the launch of Comment Is Free Belief which allow him and his compadres above the salt to get away with doing what those below the salt are not.

    It boils down to, he and his article writers are able to throw their weight around about “atheists” (or in particular – what he likes to call New Atheists) as are many of the commenters. But what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. Respect, as always, must be shown about those with beliefs. So the uneven playing field is maintained below the salt.

  147. #148 Peter Ashby
    December 31, 2008

    @John Morales

    The blog is only nominally Andrew Brown’s. It is more formally the blog of the Guardian Newspaper’s religious affairs reporter (AB). It comes under the Guardian’s wider Comment is Free site (Cif). He was moderated because after being modded myself I pointed out to the mods that the first post was, by their own criteria, offensive to me. AB’s post went because it was in reply to that post, agreeing with it. They remove posts replying to deleted posts to squash flame wars.

  148. #149 Paul
    December 31, 2008

    Incidentally, I was following that Andrew Brown post yesterday. whirladervish accused him of being intellectually dishonest in a post that is now deleted. He brought up specific examples, mostly relating to Andrew Brown’s choice to exclude certain personalities from his list and the reasons. His post ended in a statement “Do you understand why people think you are intellectually dishonest?”. Andrew Brown simply replied with “Do you understand why people think you are stupid.” Nothing else.

    I thought it should have stayed there for the record. I suppose in his credit Andrew Brown later reported his own post for moderation, saying “someone has to set an example”. Alas.

  149. #150 SC, OM
    December 31, 2008

    Thanks for the information, Paul. If that’s the best he can do, I’m not at all surprised he hasn’t returned here.

  150. #151 Jason
    December 31, 2008

    I only scored 1 out of 6. I seem to not be able to join the ranks of Dawkins.

    http://jasonsidabras.com/2008/12/31/new-atheists-quiz/

  151. #152 Andrew Brown
    December 31, 2008

    Peter Ashby, it’s not the blog of the Guardian’s religious affairs reporter, it’s mine; and the religious affairs correspondent is not me, either: she’s Riazat Butt.

    Dr Doctor: when I set up the subsite, after talking to readers and other writers of the Guardian, as well as from reading the existing CiF site, I decided that believers were not posting nor writing there because of the volume and hostility of crude abuse those who did were getting. Women in particular were getting shat on, whether they wrote about religion or not.

    So putting more restrictive comment rules was a necessary measure to make the place feel welcoming to some of the readers and writers we wanted to attract. This isn’t an anti-atheist policy. It’s an anti-arsehole policy and applied without regard to creed. Respect is going to get shown to people with beliefs and atheists too because without it there would be nothing to read but an endless exchange of insults.

    Accusations of dishonesty, intellectual or not, are barred on Cif belief as unparliamentary. This is partly for legal reasons and partly because they make people angry. I myself lost my temper at the end of a long day after being called “intellectually dishonest”. Later I regretted this and reported myself since I couldn’t simply take the post down. Worse things have happened online.

  152. #153 Kel
    December 31, 2008

    I scored 2.5 and that was being generous with the definitions.
    http://kelosophy.blogspot.com/2008/12/quiz-for-new-atheists.html

  153. #154 Nick Gotts
    December 31, 2008

    Accusations of dishonesty, intellectual or not, are barred on Cif belief as unparliamentary. – Andrew Brown

    *snort*

    I myself lost my temper at the end of a long day after being called “intellectually dishonest”. – Andrew Brown

    The loss of temper is unsurprising, since your only defence to the charge is one the White Queen would have found useful in her pre-breakfast training sessions.

  154. #155 John Morales
    December 31, 2008

    re Andrew Brown’s post @152:

    The short version seems to be the blog is censored, and free speech and free exchange of ideas are forbidden.

    The reasons for this seem spurious, for example:

    Respect is going to get shown to people with beliefs and atheists too because without it there would be nothing to read but an endless exchange of insults.

    The contention is evidently wrong, and I offer as a counter-example this very blog.

    Unless, of course, he considers Pharyngula to be nothing but “an endless exchange of insults”.

  155. #156 Ken Cope
    December 31, 2008

    Respect is going to get shown to people with beliefs

    Respect must be earned. Only ones right to believe requires respect, even protection, but I can think of no worse way to show respect for a person than to flop over and pretend their beliefs are worth respecting, merely because they’re identified as religiously held. If their faith is so fragile that it cannot withstand the assault of reason and moral judgment, how does making it a religion turn it into something that suddenly must be respected?

  156. #157 Feynmaniac
    December 31, 2008

    Morales,

    That one of Andrew Brown’s comments was removed by “a moderator” from Andrew Brown’s Blog boggles the mind.

    LMAO! That made my day.

  157. #158 Peter Ashby
    January 1, 2009

    @Andrew Brown

    In one of my deleted posts on the ‘Angries’ train wreck of a thread I asked you precisely when you accused us of ‘shouting’ exactly what that entailed. i would really appreciate an answer.

    i also make no apology for speaking truth to waffle and woolly thinking wherever I find it. Being meek or female is no excuse for failing to think or reason or writing trash. That is one of the risks of speaking up in public, if you are intimited online in the way you would be in a public meeting then you really are too meek to function and I don’t buy it.

    I called concern troll then (and got modded for it) I do so again.

  158. #159 SC, OM
    January 1, 2009

    Sure, Brown’s faced some accusations in the course of blogging, but they are none of them charges of intellectual dishonesty.

    :)

  159. #160 clitease
    January 1, 2009

    SC,OM,

    a very happy New Year to you,may the force be with you…:-)

  160. #161 SC, OM
    January 1, 2009

    clinteas,

    And to/with you! Cheers, love!

  161. #162 clitease
    January 1, 2009

    Cheers,gorgeous….

    Im off to bed,the neighbor is getting a bit antsy with me having “Hey Jude” on loop…..

  162. #163 Kseniya
    January 1, 2009

    Does Mr. Brown recognize that his choice to leave Dennett off the list and then claim the so-called new atheists lack philosophers may be the source of these intellectual dishonesty charges? Just wondering.

  163. #164 John Morales
    January 1, 2009

    Why, Kseniya, to do so would be intellectually honest! ;)

  164. #165 Owlmirror
    January 1, 2009

    Does Mr. Brown recognize that his choice to leave Dennett off the list and then claim the so-called new atheists lack philosophers may be the source of these intellectual dishonesty charges?

    Clearly, if “Accusations of dishonesty, intellectual or not, are barred on Cif belief as unparliamentary” 1 , it must be the case that there is no dishonesty, intellectual or not, to be found. Also, there are no American infidels in Baghdad.

    I am slightly tempted to post word salad, defending it against all who call it nonsense. 2

    Oh, wait. Isn’t that what already happened? Never mind then.

    ____________________________________________

    1: For some reason, I suspect that real parliaments are quite a bit rowdier than that. But what do I know?

    2: “I say, moderator, I do believe that individual called me a liar. Please do your duty.”

  165. #166 Jobs in Pakistan
    March 14, 2009

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  166. #167 Jobs in Pakistan
    March 14, 2009

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