Point, Coyne-terpoint

Jerry Coyne then: Rules for life:

If two friends tell you the same thing about yourself, it’s probably true.

Jerry Coyne now: thinks the several friends saying the same thing about him must be wrong:

more Gnu Atheist-bashing from fellow atheists… inspired by Michael Ruse’s rants equating Gnus with Tea Partiers… Jacques Berlinerbrau at the Chronicle of Higher EducationR. Joseph Hoffman at his own website… Both level the same old charges at Gnus: we’re strident…, politically impotent, and motivated solely by a desire for publicity, fame, and money.

But they also level a new charge (I’m amazed at how many things we’re guilty of): we don’t know anything about the history of atheism!

It’s almost shocking that Coyne and the gnus would keep doing the same thing, and his friends would keep making the same critiques.

The analogy to the teabaggers has been bubbling away in my own mind for a while. For instance, this post from October, about how less agreeable followers preferred angrier leaders was posted partly as a backhanded critique of the gnus, but commenters immediately saw it as being about the teabaggers.
“But Josh,” I hear you thinking, “the teabaggers think President Obama is a s3k1t Mussulman who must hide his Saracen faith in order to fool the infidel voters. Surely no gnu atheist would endorse such preposterous conspiracy theories.”

Sadly, no! Despite fairly straightforward statements in the Presidents’ books, speeches, and actions over the years, Coyne insists that the President is really an atheist who only goes to church and says nice things about Christianity to fool the godbothering voters.
And I continue to be struck by how easily this comment from Steve Benen about the teabaggers also applies to the gnus:

We’re talking about an amorphous group of activists with no clear agenda, no leadership, no internal structure, and no real areas of expertise. Its passionate members, while probably well meaning, appear to have no idea what they’re talking about. Genuine political movements have, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) put it, a “coherent vision.” The Tea Party has rage and a cable news network, but that’s not much of a substitute.

Tea Partiers may struggle to appreciate this, but real movements that make a difference and stand the test of time are about more than buzz words, television personalities, and self-aggrandizement. We knew exactly what the civil rights movement was all about — they highlighted a systemic social injustice and presented a moral/legal remedy. Similarly, labor unions created a movement. Women’s suffrage was a movement. The ongoing struggle for equality for gays and lesbians is a movement. In each case, the grievance was as clear as the solution. There was no mystery as to what these patriots were fighting for, and their struggles and successes made the nation stronger, better, and more perfect.

…Their demands are usually contradictory, and the activists don’t even agree with one another over what their alleged agenda includes. …

Delusions of grandeur notwithstanding, for the hysterical GOP base [or gnu atheists] to equate itself with abolitionists, women’s suffragists, and civil rights activists is ridiculous.

Of course, gnus haven’t even got a TV network, but they have got blogs and a couple books which Coyne insists (based on nothing in particular) have reached lots of non-atheists, and they also have Sam Harris’s stubble. And he points again to anecdotal nonevidence to back the claim that gnus have totally been effective. Neither he nor any other gnu have taken up the challenge of the simple experiments I suggested they attempt to test their hypotheses.

He also proudly wears the “marketing strategy” label, which is funny given how averse gnus usually are to the suggestion that they tailor their message based on effectiveness (a key part of any marketing strategy). Then again, marketing strategies also usually come with some clear metric for success. Gnus haven’t got that, either, and what evidence they offer is so weak as to be laughable even if it weren’t offered by scientists trained to take evidence seriously. And I’ve yet to see any offer a reason to doubt the empirical research I’ve cited showing that the accommodationist strategy works.

Comments

  1. #1 Gurdur
    March 26, 2011

    OK, a couple of points. PZ Myers blew Russell Blackford’s defence right out of the water; Blackford insisted the Gnus had never been rude, Myers insisted on his pride in being rude. That all being said, and a few other very obvious things Blackford always closed his eyes to, who cares? Hey, I get rude too on occasion.

    But what I want to know is, what use are the Gnus? Oh, I know Benson and others insist they’re the only ones criticising religion, but that’s sheer nonsense. They also insist so-called accommodationists cuddle up to religion; again, garbage.

    But what use are the Gnus? Where are the pronouncements and above all activities from the Gnus on:
    Egypt Jan 25 . Tunisia . Libya . Syria . Jordan . Yemen . Bahrain
    Wisconsin . Ohio . Michigan
    etc. etc. etc.

    So, where are the Gnus on the above important isssues? Sheeessh, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan. The Gnus? Silent, impotent, uncaring. So maybe they’re just a tiny self-centered middle-class fragment of the atheist movement, let alone an even tinier bit of the science blogging world, and they don’t matter, because they refuse to make themselves relevant.

  2. #2 Sven DiMilo
    March 26, 2011

    Yep, good point, man, you’re right: the Gnu Atheists are just like Teabaggers!
    Hey, you know who else was just like Teabaggers??!

    But I think I can clear up that little opening accusation of hypocrisy there: in that Rules post, Coyne meant ‘friends’ sensu stricto, like, you know, real-life personal friends.
    Not that other, Farcebooky, ‘anybody writing about shit that I often write about on the Internets’ sense you applied there.

    hth

  3. #3 abadidea
    March 26, 2011

    Was this post supposed to have a point? “Neener neener, they don’t have their own TV network and their books ONLY sell millions?”

    Gurdur: And are you willingly blind or just making stuff up? The gnu blogs I read had TONS to say on those things.

    PS. I keep getting a “permission denied” error when trying to post. Trying as a guest user now.

  4. #4 J. J. Ramsey
    March 26, 2011

    Gurdur:

    So, where are the Gnus on the above important isssues? Sheeessh, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan. The Gnus? Silent, impotent, uncaring.

    Let’s grant for the sake of argument that the Gnus have been silent on those matters. Their purported silence can easily be due to them deciding that others such as, say, Ed Brayton, Kevin Drum, or Steve Benen have covered those matters better than they could, and that all they’d have to offer would be a useless “Me, too.” That would be a pretty good reason for silence.

  5. #5 Tristan
    March 26, 2011

    Jerry Coyne now: thinks the several friends saying the same thing about him must be wrong:

    I think I may have discovered the source of your confusion…

  6. #6 Jim
    March 26, 2011

    Uuhhh…I’m pretty sure the “Rules for Life” thing wasn’t meant to be some hard and fast set of objective laws. He was light-heartedly adding to the book of “wisdom” (scare quotes are his) from his youth. Compound that with the fact that the people criticizing the gnus aren’t his friends, and your strange argument, if that’s what it’s intended to be, just falls apart. This is just silly.

  7. #8 Gurdur
    March 26, 2011

    “Gurdur: And are you willingly blind or just making stuff up? The gnu blogs I read had TONS to say on those things.”

    Where? And where are the actions about Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan etc.? Or is it all just self-centered whining, empty words? The luxury of the eternal complaint and the cry for others, always others, to do something. Try to get factual, will you? Emo just doesn’t make the grade.

    “… all they’d have to offer would be a useless “Me, too.” That would be a pretty good reason for silence.”

    Oh, I think my above question is thus already answered. :-) Thanks. So, utterly irrelevant are they then, as I said, to anything that rwally matters? Totally univolved with any ground actions by the NCSE, the Democrats, unions, anyone who matters? Oh, question answered already.

    Seriously. Never a word about actual actions over any long time-span. Never a word about working with others, the unions, inside the Democrat Party, etc. No bloody wonder the Republicans roll over the oppositions in the USA so easily sometimes.

  8. #9 David Marjanović
    March 26, 2011

    I, too, got a “permission denied” error. I have now signed out from Movable Type.

    Okaaaaay, so there is a gnu atheist who believes Obama is an atheist when the available evidence instead suggests that Obama is one of those liberal Christians that are apparently rare in the US but very common in Europe (and would probably be considered atheists and/or otherwise hellbound by your average American fundamentalist who never really believed in the Sermon on the Mount or in the “don’t pray in public and make a show of yourself, pray in secret” business).

    Do you intend to generalize this mistake to gnu atheists as a whole? Or what is your point?

  9. #10 Scott
    March 26, 2011

    Kudos on your career choice, so I don’t want to badmouth you too much, but this is ridiculous. I am REALLY sick of hearing the “atheists are angry, arrogant, fundamentalists” nonsense. Are there some dicks in the crowd? Well, it’s a crowd, so standard rules apply- yes.
    I’m also really sick of hearing about new/gnu/neu/noo atheists, whatever the hell that means. The teabagger accusation is beyond the pale. I expect better from someone I know must be intelligent.

  10. #11 David Marjanović
    March 26, 2011

    Action? What would an action be? I’m in Vienna, Austria; I can’t afford to fly to Wisconsin or Ohio or Michigan to march in the streets there.

    I have marched in the streets of Vienna to protest against political madness, concerning issues you have never heard of because Austria only has 8.4 million inhabitants.

  11. #12 Gurdur
    March 26, 2011

    “I am REALLY sick of hearing the “atheists are angry, arrogant, fundamentalists” nonsense. Are there some dicks in the crowd? Well, it’s a crowd, so standard rules apply- yes. “

    Funny. Because that’s the one thing no-one has said. I know the Gnus love to pretend they’re the only True Atheists, but it’s complete bullshit. Get over it. It’s NOT “atheists” under criticism here. And for heaven’s sakes, if the Gnus, or if the dicks, can’t take and deal with any criticism, maybe rhey should grow a skin layer or two.

    So Coyne makes a completely whacko and childish attack on Obama, because Coyne has magical telepathy and reckons Obama is a hypocritical atheist. God, I am going to laugh my guts out at you lot if Sarah Palin wins to be POTUS, helped along by the constant whining and bitching at Obama by the likes of Myers and Coyne, but above all, their petty, petty little refusal to ever do any real long-term organizational work in the Democratic Party, with the unions and so on.

    And I’ll laugh because I can afford it, living somewhere saner, where we atheists aren’t prissy little drama-queens, but we instead roll up our sleeves and do the needed work in cooperation with others.

    As for marching in Vienna; try not to assume too much about me. I can see already two major wrong assumptions. Cheers!

  12. #13 abadidea
    March 26, 2011

    Gurder: Good job moving the goal posts from “talking about it” to “magically fixing it.” You almost tricked me into thinking you had a point, except not really.

    And even if not a single gnu atheist had said a single peep on the matter- in what way would that AT ALL negatively effect their central message?

    Geez, those biologists haven’t brought up my pet issue of internet censorship, so I guess everything they say doesn’t matter.

  13. #14 abadidea
    March 26, 2011

    Although I do apologize for mistyping your handle, Gurdur with two u’s.

  14. #15 Dillinger
    March 26, 2011

    There seems to be a false equivocation here thats providing the basis for this argument. The “gnu-atheist” movement isn’t a political force. Not only that, but they are not proactive, they are reactionary. There isn’t much of an agenda to push governmentally because the way the government is structured is supposed to be secular. They get involved when people push for it not to be. Trying to compare a movement based on a lack of belief to political movements (mostly of the religious, mind you) that advocate specific policies that differ from the current is simply wrong. Ignoring that, the comparison to the Tea Party is also fallacious~ it was only “grassroots” for a short period of time~ it was then co-opted by conservative political activists and investors. This goes without saying that the methods of these two completely disparate groups are completely different as well, unless you want to equivocate a billboard saying “You Know It’s Not True” to the perpetual fear-mongering of a group in which over 40% of its members claim their democratically elected president is a foreigner, a communist/socialist, and a terrorist.

    If you remove those fallacious points, I don’t see much left to this at all.

  15. #16 https://me.yahoo.com/a/kfv354lkm.JxzZc0cyRXo4qL4A--#0c188
    March 26, 2011

    On the occasion of Richard Dawkins’ 70th birthday, I appreciated this hilarious parody imitating those who cry about how he and the other Gnu Atheists never reach anyone with their message, which is very rude and hurtful, such as, and also too, hurts millions of peoples’ feelings.

    Wait, it wasn’t a parody?

    Oh well, Happy Birthday anyway Richard! Most of us still love you even if you’re a big old meanie according to Josh.

  16. #17 Gurdur
    March 26, 2011

    abadidea, I’m amused. When you say:

    “And even if not a single gnu atheist had said a single peep on the matter- in what way would that AT ALL negatively effect their central message?”

    You mean to say they’ve got nothing much to do or even say about anything actually important to society, or anything remotely real, but their central message remains. OK! No worries! Their central message remains, only then who gives a stuff about it at this time? An awful lot of atheists seem to be giving up on them; just had an interesting conversation with Jim Lippard on that today, and the theme of “Don’t Be A Dick” seems definitely catching hold. But hey, it’s OK, ;-), their central message (of whatever utterly inconsequential irrelevancy of empty whininess it is) remains unchanged.

    “You almost tricked me into thinking you had a point, except not really.”

    I’m laughing. Never mind, I’m sure we others can simply get on with the work that needs to be done; whether it’s promoting science instead of invective, or promoting sane forms of atheism, and cooperating (;-)) with others for progressive, effectual politics.

    You get on with your central message. :-D

  17. #18 scott
    March 26, 2011

    @ Gurdur

    I don’t know if you consider PZ Myers to be a Gnu Atheist, But I do. And he does have blog posts concerning Wisconsin and Michigan, here is just one example, and there are many others:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/02/solidarity_with_wisconsin.php

    Josh,

    I would consider myself an example of the effectiveness of the so called Gnu Atheist. I was diffidently lured into science and politics by them. I came across Dawkins when I started researching religious beliefs and it all snowballed from there.
    I wouldn’t even be here reading your blog if it wasn’t for them. I must say that I don’t share your views on this topic and I think you’ve got It wrong. I think they have a lot to offer.

  18. #19 Conversational Atheist
    March 26, 2011

    Gurdur: “And where are the actions about Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan etc.? Or is it all just self-centered whining, empty words? The luxury of the eternal complaint and the cry for others, always others, to do something.”

    Do you think that writing in blog posts on the internet can have an effect on the discourse of others and possibly eventually on greater society itself if enough people were convinced by your writing?

    If yes, then I think you’re in excellent company with the New Atheists.

    If not, what ACTIONS have you taken against the New Atheists? Or is it all just whining and empty words from you?

  19. #20 Rob Knop
    March 26, 2011

    David @9 — religiously liberal Christians really aren’t all that rare in the US. Indeed, at one time those denominations were known as “mainline”, and may still be. They don’t make nearly as much *noise* as the fundamentalists… in the same way that the noisy/and annoying atheists are the no-comromise ones.

  20. #21 Pierce R. Butler
    March 26, 2011

    … and a couple books which Coyne insists (based on nothing in particular) have reached lots of non-atheists …

    Straining my psychic powers to the utmost to prophesy that half of your sample is The God Delusion. Thus, I hereby channel Richard Dawkins on the cosmic implications of the Atomiquakenami and the multitude of souls he has dragged into his foul pit.

    Excuse me while I sacrifice a small mammal to the Googlian Demon, to rejuvenate the holy spirit whereby I bring you this miracle. If only there were some mechanical means that might enable those like yourself, stumbling through life without God’s Light, to seek such voices even while lacking the spiritual prowess of mystical discipline…

    Josh, you can save the life of an innocent young animal (perhaps several), if you but name, summon and rebuke the godless being you have so carelessly invoked. Please speak soon: we must begin our rites before the ending of the Sabbath…

  21. #22 Dave W.
    March 26, 2011

    Well, I’m very interested in Gurdur’s implication @8 that he can discriminate what “rwally matters” from what doesn’t (which he follows up @17 with his implied knowledge of what is “actually important to society, or anything remotely real”). This man should obviously be President of the World, given that his priorities should be everyone else’s priorities (or so he thinks).

    It’s a real shame that more people haven’t heard Gurdur’s words, since so many anonymous dicks who advocate for equal rights, for child health and safety, for good science education, against the pernicious effects of religion, against racism, nationalism or fanaticism in general clearly don’t have any idea what’s rwally important to society.

  22. #23 Drachasor
    March 26, 2011

    I’m a little confused here. I guess I am a bit behind the times.

    So, going by the internet, “Gnu Atheists” are ones that are abusive or some such towards people that aren’t of that group? Where does the “gnu” part come from, btw?

    Now, I’ve read some of the “New Atheist” literature. I liked “The God Delusion” for instance. I generally think that putting up faith* as a virtue is a bad thing. I think we should emphasize reason and rationality on a societal level. In general, I think this is an important thing for society to do eventually. I believe challenging the idea that faith is good is something worthwhile…at the very least it can make people think about it.

    On the other hand, going by the link at the end of the post, I do agree that on any particular scientific (or other) front, you have to compose arguments in the best way to convince someone of the truth. If that’s making an argument for evolution that religion and evolution don’t have to conflict then so be it. Of course it would be nice if people accepted things based on evidence/science/reason alone, but we aren’t there yet (and being an emotional species, we might well never get there).

    That said, in my personal life I do occasional get involved in discussions involving religion. I do think religious belief, while understandable from a psychological perspective, is in many ways silly and certainly irrational (though there’s a difference between the beliefs someone holds being silly/irrational and in the person in general being the same). I tend to try to be a bit more diplomatic when discussing things with actual people though. I also tend to not go out of my way to find debates on the subject, as I helped mod an atheist chat room back in high school and hearing the same arguments over and over again gets old fast).

    So which of these new categories do I fit into?

    *faith here being irrational faith…belief without evidence. The word can also be used much like “trust” and so you can have faith in a friend or relative for rational reasons.

  23. #24 SAWells
    March 27, 2011

    So now the argument is that the Gnus are not contributing because they aren’t commenting on a labour dispute in Wisconsin.

    In other news, Humphrey Davy was a completely useless chemist because he didn’t intervene in the Battle of Trafalgar.

  24. #25 Laurent Weppe
    March 27, 2011

    Let’s not call this a problem of the “Gnu” atheists but a problem born from mixing atheism and tribalism:

    While the fundamentalist religious individual claims that “being a member of this religion following those customs and rituals makes me moraly superior to everyone else”, in order to justify his or her hostility to everyone from outside his little clan; the tribalistic atheist is going to say “my open rejection of all religions shows my intellectual superiority” in order to justify his or her contempt toward outgroups.

    Add in it ethnicities (in most case one’s religion comes from one’s parent) and social class (atheists tend to be high on the social food chain) and you’ve got a cocktail mixed with racism as well as class discrimination.

    Of course, from a tribalistic atheist perspective, the idea that Obama is an atheist, hidding his lack of faith to get the votes of the intellectually limited rubes seems logical: from their point of view, Obama is just way too smart to be religious.

    The question is: should tribalistic atheists be considered as the genuine article?

    Personnaly, just as I find it very difficult to consider the attitude of fundies demanding always more power and more privilege to their ingroup as genuinely motivated by religious faith (and more probably motivated by class interest), I find it very difficult to consider the attitude of a tribalistic atheist as genuinely motivated by atheism.

    It’s not that I think that gnus atheists are merely smug upper-class twits trying to hide behind atheism their contempt for the plebs: what I think is that there might be enough of said smug upper-class twits reusing their lingo to short-circuit them.

  25. #26 J. J. Ramsey
    March 27, 2011

    SAWells: “So now the argument is that the Gnus are not contributing because they aren’t commenting on a labour dispute in Wisconsin.”

    That’s Gurdur’s argument, anyway. I don’t think anyone else on this thread has agreed with him so far.

    @scott, #18: One catch with your anecdote is that it is just that, an anecdote. One can find plenty of anecdotes showing how effective homeopathy or acupuncture can appear to be, and I’m sure you know how useful that is.

  26. #27 Bethistopheles
    March 27, 2011

    How, exactly, does one discern an “atheist” from a “gnu atheist”? Is there a bulletined list somewhere listing criteria?

    I get cranky when confronted with bullshit. Does that exclude me from being a standard atheist and move me to the “gnu” camp? Because from what I’ve read, this seems to be the vast criterion.

    Or is it more about cohesion and action? I don’t see much of that anywhere, so I doubt it’s that.

    This isn’t snark; I’m legitimately asking. Can anyone elucidate?

  27. #28 scott
    March 27, 2011

    @ 27

    There is no difference between an atheist and a Gnu atheist. Atheist didn’t just come out and proclaim themselves “Gnu atheist”. The name “Gnu” was given to them by religious apologist and accommodationist. It seems to apply to anyone who is a public figure of some sort and actually uses that platform to explain their position on the matter. The more they explain how the world really works, the more people they offend, hence the more “Gnu” they become.

    If someone holds delusional beliefs and you explain why in a clear, concise and even friendly manner, then you are automatically the bad guy, because you are not accommodating their view point.

    Here is a perfect example of what I’m talking about, Dawkins was invited on a religious TV show called Revelations TV. He does make the host look like a fool, but whose fault is it. Dawkins Genuinely tries to have a respectable conversation with the guy. See for yourself:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Wfe4IUB9NTk

  28. #29 J. J. Ramsey
    March 27, 2011

    scott: “There is no difference between an atheist and a Gnu atheist.”

    Not true. Gnu Atheists are a subset of atheists.

    scott: “Atheist didn’t just come out and proclaim themselves ‘Gnu atheist’. The name ‘Gnu’ was given to them by religious apologist and accommodationist.”

    Also not true. The term was coined by Hamilton Jacobi as a pun on “New Atheist” and popularized in part by Jerry Coyne. (Interestingly enough, Coyne’s LOLgnu pic is a surprisingly good summary of what makes one a “gnu” atheist.)

  29. #30 ikke
    March 27, 2011

    @25 Laurent; “and social class (atheists tend to be high on the social food chain)”
    You totally lost it!
    That’s why I recommend electro-convulsive therapy for you, and all of your schizophrenic (religious) friends.

  30. #31 Anthony McCarthy
    March 27, 2011

    So, let me get this right, Coyne believes that Barack Obama is an atheist, a lying atheist who plays at being a Christian. What does that do to the favorite new atheist whine that an atheist can’t be elected president? Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a number of our presidents have been atheists, especially the more slavish servants of Mammon.

    Actually, atheists have been a covered class under civil rights laws for going on half a century, under the Civil Rights Act of 1965, so they have no case to make that they are subject to legal discrimination. So it’s hardly surprising that they have a harder time focusing demands. It seems that their biggest complaint is that they aren’t a majority able to enforce their preferences on a religious minority. Which, as a gay man, all I can say is suck it up and grow up, you’re never going to be the majority, Stalin, Mao, Hoxha, etc. weren’t able to wipe out religious belief, it’s not going to happen.

    In fact, atheism is still trying to dig out from the self-inflicted damage caused by its mid-century embrace of American communism. That was followed by Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s carnivalesque and tragic reign of error. New Atheism is just the latest bad idea to grab the steering wheel. The News are not just a disaster to American life, they are “a disaster and a danger to the well being of atheism in America.” R. J. Hoffman

    The only interesting thing about the new atheism is its effect in politics, it’s, uh, thought, being reiterative at best, totally childish, more typically. And the new atheists are nothing if not politically inept. Thoughtful atheists are probably wise to distance themselves, getting as far as possible from them.

    I’m really interested in the relationship between Kurtz and Corliss Lamont, who pretty much took over the Humanists, which is what I assume is being referred to. I’m especially interested in how that last admirer of Stalin – least it be forgotten, the side that held Lysenkoism as its official dogma in biology – is of continuing influence in organized atheism, now steered by a bunch of ultra-Darwinists. I really would like them to address that part of recent atheist history.

  31. #32 Laurent Weppe
    March 27, 2011

    That’s why I recommend electro-convulsive therapy for you, and all of your schizophrenic (religious) friends.

    “How dares he openly say that We, the Intellectual Elite of Mankind, also are over-represented among the upper-class. This is not to be said: Whoever break the taboo shall be cleansed by the Etheral Flamme”

  32. #33 Rieux
    March 27, 2011

    McCarthy:

    Actually, atheists have been a covered class under civil rights laws for going on half a century, under the Civil Rights Act of 1965, so they have no case to make that they are subject to legal discrimination.

    Right, right. Because of course no one has ever violated civil rights statues—or the Establishment Clause. By, say, denying custody of children on the grounds of parents’ irreligion. Just impossible, right?

    That’s some swell logic you’ve got there.

    (A few years ago, noted accommodationist Matthew Nisbet made much the same argument McCarthy’s pushing here, and he was promptly buried in a few hundred comments’ worth of evidence of his smug ignorance on the point. It was amusing.)

  33. #34 Anthony McCarthy
    March 27, 2011

    So, let me get this right, Coyne believes that Barack Obama is an atheist, a lying atheist who plays at being a Christian. What does that do to the favorite new atheist whine that an atheist can’t be elected president? Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a number of our presidents have been atheists, especially the more slavish servants of Mammon.

    Despite their belief that they are an oppressed minority, atheists in the United States have been a covered class for almost half a century under the Civil Rights Act of 1965, so they have no case to make that they are subject to legal discrimination. So it’s hardly surprising that they have a harder time focusing demands. It seems that their biggest complaint is that they aren’t a majority able to enforce their preferences on a religious minority. Which, as a gay man, all I can say is suck it up and grow up, you’re never going to be the majority, Stalin, Mao, Hoxha, etc. weren’t able to wipe out religious belief, it’s not going to happen here.

    In fact, atheism is still trying to dig out from the self-inflicted damage caused by its mid-century embrace of American communism. That was followed by Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s carnivalesque and tragic reign of error. New Atheism is just the latest bad idea to grab the steering wheel. The News are not just a disaster to American life, they are “a disaster and a danger to the well being of atheism in America.” R. J. Hoffman

    The only interesting thing about the new atheism is its effect in politics, it’s, uh, thought, being reiterative at best, totally childish, more typically. And the new atheists are nothing if not politically inept. Other atheists are probably wise to distance themselves, getting as far as possible from them, though that’s for them to decide.

    I’m really interested in the relationship between Kurtz and Corliss Lamont, who pretty much took over the Humanists, which is what I assume is being referred to by R. J. H. I’m especially interested in how that last admirer of Stalin – least it be forgotten, the side that held Lysenkoism as its official dogma in biology – is of continuing influence in organized atheism, now steered by a bunch of ultra-Darwinists. I really would like them to address that part of recent atheist history. You’d think it would be important for them to clear that up.

  34. #35 Anthony McCarthy
    March 27, 2011

    Rieux, well, you see, that’s what civil rights laws are all about, they make it illegal to discriminate against covered classes but like laws against murder or armed robbery, they don’t keep people from BREAKING THE LAW.

    Tell me how you propose to keep people from breaking the law?

    Maybe that’s the problem, the new atheists are too ignorant to understand these things in real life, adult terms.

  35. #36 Rieux
    March 27, 2011

    McCarthy, you claimed that the mere existence of the “Civil Rights Act of 1965,”* because it purports to bar discrimination against atheists, demonstrates that atheists “have no case to make that they are subject to legal discrimination.”

    I linked to (a synopsis of) Eugene Volokh’s article citing more than seventy court decisions in which American judges, in open court, have denied custody to irreligious parents on the specific grounds that they are not religious. This is indisputably legal discrimination that exists notwithstanding the existence of federal anti-discrimination statutes. You are therefore refuted.

    There’s also, as I said, the Establishment Clause—ugly violations of which (some of them ratified by federal courts) atheists suffer every day. Again: legal discrimination, notwithstanding any Civil Rights Act.

    Then, of course, despised minorities of all kinds are subjected to discrimination that isn’t “legal” in the silly and irrelevant sense you’re demanding. Like numerous other despised minorities, atheists find our civil rights to equality in housing and employment routinely, and nearly always silently, violated all the time.

    That statutes do not always “keep people from BREAKING THE LAW” is an all but self-evident reason that your initial argument is immaterial nonsense: the existence of statutes does not disprove the existence of discrimination. And discrimination need not be “legal” to be disgusting and worthy of loud protest. Obviously.

    (* There is, of course, no “Civil Rights Act of 1965,” or at least not in American federal law. But figuring out where you went wrong there would require you to actually care about looking this stuff up and paying attention to it.)

  36. #37 J. J. Ramsey
    March 27, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy, I usually avoid engaging you for various reasons, but …

    Coyne believes that Barack Obama is an atheist, a lying atheist who plays at being a Christian. What does that do to the favorite new atheist whine that an atheist can’t be elected president?

    Come now, you know the point is that an openly atheist person has hardly a prayer (sorry) of becoming president. We’re not even talking here about an atheist candidate who demonizes the religious or tries to sabotage efforts to reach out to the more moderate believers. We’re just talking about a candidate who’s simply not in the closet about being an atheist.

  37. #38 Laurent Weppe
    March 27, 2011

    McCarthy, you claimed that the mere existence of the “Civil Rights Act of 1965,”* because it purports to bar discrimination against atheists, demonstrates that atheists “have no case to make that they are subject to legal discrimination.”

    That does not mean that they don’t have a case to make about illegal discrimination.

    I linked to (a synopsis of) Eugene Volokh’s article citing more than seventy court decisions in which American judges, in open court, have denied custody to irreligious parents on the specific grounds that they are not religious. This is indisputably legal discrimination

    No: this is judges openly breaking the law. If a judge kill, or rape, or steal, it does not make murder or rape of theft legal, It just shows that the judge is a thug. Same thing if a judge rig a trial so the result goes against the law: it merely shows that some american judges are thugs and deserve to be thrown out of courts.

  38. #39 Rieux
    March 27, 2011

    No: this is judges openly breaking the law.

    Says you. We’re talking about more than seventy published court decisions between 1970 and 2006 from seventeen states and the District of Columbia; several of them were upheld on appeal. (Given that the vast majority of trial-court-level decisions in the United States are never published, the cases Volokh found unavoidably represent the tip of the iceberg.)

    Exactly how are we supposed to tell that a judicial decision is not a “legal” decision but rather “openly breaking the law”? Does that mean Bowers v. Hardwick was not “legal”? Plessy v. Ferguson? Korematsu? Dred Scott? (Bush v. Gore? Citizens United v. FEC?) You understand that all of the above—including the decisions Volokh found—cited, interpreted, analyzed, and applied the law, don’t you?

    Please. That notion of “legal” is pointless and silly in a discussion like this. Whatever adjective you’d like to place before “discrimination,” a terrifying number of irreligious parents have been told, by American courts adjudicating their divorces, that their non-belief renders them unfit to have custody of their children. In light of that evidence, McCarthy’s declaration that atheists “have no case to make that they are subject to legal discrimination” is offensive garbage. The point is that it is discrimination, indeed outrageous discrimination that deserves harsh exposure and denunciation rather than dismissal. (The custody orders in question also happen to have been made under color of law, which I submit is a little more relevant than some semantic points about whether it fits within someone’s idiosyncratic notion of “legal.”)

    By the way, there’s nothing in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (didja get that, McCarthy?) that bars judges from denying custody rights to atheists. One might hope that the First and Fourteenth Amendments are another story, but at least seventy-odd judges (and likely many more than that) obviously haven’t seen matters that way.

  39. #40 Laurent Weppe
    March 27, 2011

    We’re talking about more than seventy published court decisions between 1970 and 2006 from seventeen states and the District of Columbia; several of them were upheld on appeal

    So a lot of judges have been breaking the law in a lot of different places for a long period of time: seventy-odd dishonest judges (and maybe more than that) violated the constitution they were supposed to uphold as magistrates and got away with it. Your point, beside bitching about the fact that someone dared to say that you had no case to make that you are subject to legal discrimination?

    You keep pointing finger at powerful people abusing their power as the mere fact that they’re doing it made it legal: a very nixonian way to see things.

  40. #41 Rieux
    March 27, 2011

    No, the point you are straining extremely hard to avoid noticing is that whether the discrimination in question is “legal” in the silly sense you are arbitrarily imposing on this conversation has absolutely nothing to do with anything. The discrimination exists, which is the problem that McCarthy tried and failed to dismiss with his nonsense about a Civil Rights Act that doesn’t.

    You pretend that “legal” has no meaning other than “lawful,” which is itself nonsense; the word also means “of, relating to, or concerned with law,” and that sinks your argument entirely. Every decision I named, indeed every court decision ever made, is thus indisputably “legal” by definition.

    Even appeals courts overturning decisions of lower courts that have misinterpreted statutory or constitutional provisions don’t declare the overturned decisions (or the acts of the judges who authored them) “illegal”—though you did. Indeed, even on your arbitrarily narrow terms, you’re wrong: it is not a violation of the law for judges to issue decisions that ignore, misinterpret, or misapply the U.S. Code or the Constitution. Such decisions are just erroneous; they’re not “illegal,” up to and including Plessy, Korematsu, and Bush v. Gore.

    So I’m afraid your (ahem) legal analysis is notably ignorant of how law actually works.

    More to the point, though, your argument is an entirely irrelevant semantic diversion. Ugly discrimination against atheists exists, and neither the constitutional amendments nor the civil rights statutes that supposedly protect us actually do so reliably. De jure protection does not imply de facto protection—though I suspect you have no idea what that means.

  41. #42 Anthony McCarthy
    March 28, 2011

    Rieux, if you would like to try life in a minority which isn’t covered by the Civil Rights Act, I’d trade you my status as a gay man for that of atheists any day, any time. The whole point of civil rights laws is that it gives you the ability to seek legal relief from discrimination. There are rulings in courts denying glbt folks the rights for the entire period during which atheists have been able to get into court and appeal rulings based in the law. That there are miscarriages of justice is a fact of life.
    The difference between being able to pursue justice denied BASED ON LAWS and those which have to try to pass laws, to start with is far from insignificant. And atheists didn’t exactly have to mount a massive effort to secure their rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1965 since that right was implied in the First Amendment from the start of the country. It was put there and maintained by an overwhelmingly religious population. Many minority groups and women have not enjoyed the ease with which atheists have improved their lot under the law.

    The new atheists’ great idea of being obnoxious, insulting the majority of the population, is so monumentally stupid that their
    conceit of their intellectual superiority is refuted by it. As we descend into oligarchic despotism, I can see it leading directly to the institution of legal discrimination against atheists, as the Civil Rights Acts and the Bill of Rights are taken apart.

  42. #43 Anthony McCarthy
    March 28, 2011

    J. J. Ramsay, I confess that I was teasing, while making a point. Yes, I doubt an open atheist could be elected president. Just as I am certain that a Buddhist, a Seventh Day Adventist, a Jain, a Wiccan, or a Vegetarian could be elected president. I don’t think any of those groups taking up the new atheist plan would be hastening the day when they would have a chance to win an election.

    That new atheist whine only proves that they don’t have any idea of how politics works. The Constitutional ban on religious tests for candidates applies only to the government, it isn’t applicable to The Voters, the real foundation of legitimate government. You can’t make voters vote without regard to their predispositions or even prejudices. I’d like some Brite to tell me how they propose to impose the No Test requirement on voters. Doing so by being obnoxious jerks, you understand, has such a long track record of not working.

    You do understand, I hope, that when we’re talking about someone becoming president that we’re not talking about a right. No one has a right to be president, they are chosen for the position by the largest number of the voters. The only person who, incorrectly, in my opinion, be said to have the “right” to be president is the winner of a legitimate, honestly run election. Rieux seems to think that a person illegitimately placed in the presidency by the corrupt Supreme Court that decided Bush v. Gore, has been placed there legally. I would differ, saying that that widespread belief is why the American People were gulled into accepting one of the most criminal acts by a Court, installing an illegitimate president who led one of the most irresponsibly criminal governments in the history of the United States. We will be paying the costs of that illegal act for many decades, if we survive that long.

  43. #44 Anthony McCarthy
    March 28, 2011

    By the way, J. J. whether or not you chose to engage me is your right. Though I believe I’ve always said that I do respect you when we have interacted.

  44. #45 Deen
    March 28, 2011

    It’s almost shocking that Coyne and the gnus would keep doing the same thing, and his friends would keep making the same critiques.

    Who says that these people are friends of the gnus? They seem to be distancing themselves as far as they can from gnu atheists.

  45. #46 Pluto Animus
    March 28, 2011

    Blah blah blah.
    Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

  46. #47 Matti K.
    March 28, 2011

    Mr. Roseanau seems to be truly obsessed by Dr. Coyne.

  47. #48 Jon
    March 28, 2011

    Mr. Roseanau seems to be truly obsessed by Dr. Coyne.

    Maybe because he’s such an easy target…

  48. #49 Drachasor
    March 28, 2011

    I haven’t found Dawkins to really be obnoxious (except perhaps in rare circumstances, but that’s true of almost everyone). People seem to be including him in this Gnu Atheists group though. Is it wrong to say that religious faith is irrational? Is it wrong to say that we should strive to be rational? I suppose in some sense it is rude to raise the question of the validity of another’s beliefs in our culture, but isn’t it a good thing to do this?

    Socrates was put to death for going around bugging people about their beliefs (not that I am necessarily saying Dawkins or anyone else is a modern Socrates, mind you). That doesn’t mean that the questioning isn’t a worthwhile thing.

    Now certainly some atheists that claim religion and evolution can’t be reconciled are wrong and even hurtful to the cause of teaching good science. It’s understandable to get annoyed with people doing that whether they are atheists or religious.

    Anyhow, I don’t know, this all seems a little weird to make a big deal about. Are ALL atheists just supposed to be relatively obscure and quiet and not talk to the public about why they believe what they do? It’s ok to do it in obscure books and websites the religious tend not to visit, but let’s not do it on TV, books made by a major publisher, etc? Doesn’t that seem overly stifling?

    And yes, I can understand how this can offend people. There are certainly especially rude ways to go about this, even. There are ways that are largely minimally rude (just the ‘rudeness’ of questioning another’s beliefs). Seems to me the latter should be something everyone ought to tolerate however. Religious belief IS irrational. It strikes me that expecting people not to say that too loudly is a bit like asking evolutionists to keep their facts on the down low — don’t want to risk the slightest offense, after all.

    Now sure, in some ways evolution is more important. In other ways advocating the importance of rationality in general is extremely important on its own. I think there’s plenty of room for the latter in our society…at least I hope there is. I’m sure some people are excessively rude about this, but it seems like there are some that are not (from what I’ve seen Dawkins would be one of the latter).

    Anyhow, all this seems to be blowing stuff out of proportion. “Ooo, there are rude atheists! How dare they!” Well…duh…every group has some people that are ruder than the others. Maybe I’m missing something, but this whole Gnu Atheist thing seems to be making a mountain out of a molehill.

  49. #50 TB
    March 28, 2011

    Regarding the “anecdotal nonevidence,” I found the recent study on Catholic attitudes interesting.

    The Puts some pieces together here

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/why-do-catholics-support-gay-rights-when-the-hierarchydoes-not/2011/03/24/AFqObxVB_blog.html

    All told, I think it suggests that whatever affect the NAs think they’re having takes a back seat to social change within the church. It also brings into question the identity of “unaffiliateds.” definitely more study needed.

  50. #51 James Sweet
    March 28, 2011

    When, precisely, did you go off the deep end completely Josh? I’m just wondering…

  51. #52 Barry
    March 28, 2011

    JOSH: “He also proudly wears the “marketing strategy” label, which is funny given how averse gnus usually are to the suggestion that they tailor their message based on effectiveness (a key part of any marketing strategy).”

    I agree that it is a different kind of marketing Josh. It’s certainly different from yours..you know…the strategy where you lie to the people you are trying to persuade to your point of view.

    JOSH: “You pick and choose which truths (as you see them) you want to expound. Part of the way you do that is by thinking about how much of the truth you can express without driving your audience insane. Hopefully you also select your slice of the truth based on what will convince your audience that your central point is, in fact, true. Omitting parts of the truth that will drive your audience away (or insane) is not dishonest, and may well be the best service you can do for the truth.” http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2010/10/a_prak-tical_guide_to_confront.php#more

  52. #53 Laurent Weppe
    March 28, 2011

    They seem to be distancing themselves as far as they can from gnu atheists.

    Said distancing may have less to do with atheism, and more to do with the ten-times-smarter-than-thou attitude coupled with the tendancy to claim to have it as bad as other minorities (we suffer from legal discrimination: legal I tell you) despite being over-represented among the upper-class that some self-proclaimed gnu atheists display.

    ***

    Socrates was put to death for going around bugging people about their beliefs (not that I am necessarily saying Dawkins or anyone else is a modern Socrates, mind you).

    I hope that Dawkins is not some modern day Socrates: Socrates was a despicable über-elitist who claimed that despotats ruled by a self-proclaimed intellectual aristocracy were better than democracy. I don’t see why hiding one’s boner for tyranny behind philosophical musings is less morally bankrupt than hiding one’s boner for tyranny behind religious beliefs.

    Are ALL atheists just supposed to be relatively obscure and quiet and not talk to the public about why they believe what they do?

    No: as I wrote above, atheists are supposed to Not act like smug upper-class twits trying to hide behind atheism their contempt for the plebs, which includes Not using the usual rhetorical deceitful tricks used by said twits.

  53. #54 Barry
    March 28, 2011

    Laurent: “No: as I wrote above, atheists are supposed to Not act like smug upper-class twits trying to hide behind atheism their contempt for the plebs, which includes Not using the usual rhetorical deceitful tricks used by said twits.”

    Is this a “style” issue or do you have some specific examples to illustrate your concern? An example of a “rhetorical deceitful trick” would be particularly helpful.

  54. #55 Jim Harrison
    March 28, 2011

    Laurent Weppe wishes that atheists wouldn’t act like “smug upper-class twits.” I expect that a serious sociology of knowledge study of the gnu atheists would discover that their social base is not upper-class or elite but is predominately made up of school teachers, profs from low-prestige schools, science workers, and IT people, in other words, to use an old distinction, intelligentsia, not intellectuals. The simplicity of the gnu atheist position is reminiscent of the big ideas of other movements such as Objectivism that appeal to people who have serious status anxiety, want to display their mental chops, and yet lack cultural capital. Obvious disdain for the plebs is not kosher among real elites, who are more likely to follow Aristotle’s advice and treat the many with light irony. Does anybody know of empirical studies on the social context of Gnu Atheism?

  55. #56 Anthony McCarthy
    March 28, 2011

    I see someone made a similar point to what I thought.

    Drachashor, I think the case that I. F. Stone made is convincing, that Socrates was put to death after the two extremely violent aristocratic putsches, with direct ties to his circle of aristocratic students, because the Athenians were worried about his influence in bringing about another anti-democratic reign of terror. If there’s one thing that is clear, it’s that the Socratics were opposed to the Athenian democracy, indeed, Plato was an admirer of Sparta, though the idiot would probably have been killed if he went to live there and carried on as he did in Athens. If there’s a parallel to be made with some of the more prominent avocational atheists of the past three quarters of a century, it’s not that surprising. Hitchens comes prominently to mind, as does Corliss Lamont.

  56. #57 Rieux
    March 28, 2011

    I’d trade you my status as a gay man for that of atheists any day, any time.

    Swell. The Oppression Olympics has been such a rousing success for GLBTs, hasn’t it? When’s the last time gays and lesbians were held in chattel slavery? When were you forced to drink from separate water fountains from heterosexuals? Denied the vote?

    No bigoted oppression is too ugly to prevent you from shitting on people you’re convinced don’t have it as bad. What a winner.

    The whole point of civil rights laws is that it gives you the ability to seek legal relief from discrimination.

    And yet hundreds of atheist parents in fact have no “ability to seek legal relief from [the] discrimination” Volokh documented. Your continuing efforts to ignore brutal bigotry directed at religious minorites are disgusting.

    There are rulings in courts denying glbt folks the rights for the entire period during which atheists have been able to get into court and appeal rulings based in the law.

    Sure. There’s also Lawrence v. Texas, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, and numerous other decisions in which GLBT folks have in fact “been able to get into court and appeal rulings based in the law.” Meanwhile, no court decision denying custody to an irreligious parent on the grounds of his/her irreligion has ever been overturned as unconstitutional. Ever.

    Discrimination against GLBTs is an obvious violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. So is discrimination against atheists. Few courts in American history have ever had the courage to recognize that in either case—but there have been victories in both categories. Not for irreligious parents denied custody, though.

    Your tilting at irrelevancies is nonsense, and it rather appears to be a cover for your own evident atheophobia.

    The difference between being able to pursue justice denied BASED ON LAWS

    Hey, genius: there is no law that says that atheists can’t be denied custody of their children based on the parents’ atheism. The only possible basis for such a decision is the amendments to the U.S. Constitution—which no court has ever explicitly interpreted to bar such a decision. Precisely the same is true for gay marriage, gay parents’ custody of children, and the like… except that a few courts have recognized the necessity of civil marriage (and other forms of) equality for GLBTs under the Fourteenth Amendment.

    Your ignorance of the law is considerable.

    And atheists didn’t exactly have to mount a massive effort to secure their rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1965….

    My goodness, are you obstinately ignorant. How clear do I need to make this? There is no such thing as “the Civil Rights Act of 1965,” or at least not in American federal law. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Atheists were in fact very nearly exempted from the Civil Rights Act you are straining and failing to cite, but what do you care?

    ….since that right was implied in the First Amendment from the start of the country.

    Oh, how nice. And the right to gay marriage has been implied in the Fourteenth Amendment since 1868. Funny how neither one of them has actually prevented bigoted discrimination from happening.

    Many minority groups and women have not enjoyed the ease with which atheists have improved their lot under the law.

    You very obviously don’t know the first thing about atheists’ “lot under the law.”

    The new atheists’ great idea of being obnoxious, insulting the majority of the population, is so monumentally stupid….

    Yes, yes, you’re a huge fan of religious privilege. Lah-dee-dah. I’m sure you’re careful not to hold hands with your boyfriend in public, lest you similarly “insult the majority of the population” in their self-satisfied straight privilege and homophobia.

    Get started. Criticizing, challenging, and mocking religion is no more “obnoxious” or worthy of legitimate offense than PDA with your boyfriend is. Were it not for religious privilege and atheophobia, Gnu Atheists wouldn’t ruffle any feathers at all.

    I can see it leading directly to the institution of legal discrimination against atheists, as the Civil Rights Acts and the Bill of Rights are taken apart.

    Then we can only hope that the folks in power are less bigoted and smugly ignorant than you are.

  57. #58 Jon
    March 28, 2011

    Is this a “style” issue…

    What you call “style” can be substance as this exchange between Dawkins and Tyson:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_2xGIwQfik

    If you treat your audience with contempt from square one, that’s a flawed pedagogy–it can be a substantial problem, not an accident of “style.” And saying it’s style, by the way, is a backhanded way of dismissing all sorts of substantial questions–beyond the fact that it instantly turns off a lot of potential hearers of your message…

  58. #59 Rieux
    March 28, 2011

    Weppe:

    Said distancing may have less to do with atheism, and more to do with the ten-times-smarter-than-thou attitude coupled with the tendancy to claim to have it as bad as other minorities…

    You’re referring to me, of course—and you’re lying. I have not asserted that atheists “have it as bad as other minorities”; I have no interest in any such quantitative comparison, because it does no good for anyone. You’ve made up a straw Gnu out of your own bigoted imagination. Congratulations.

    (we suffer from legal discrimination: legal I tell you)

    So despite being specifically refuted on that (irrelevant semantic) point—atheists demonstrably are subjected to discrimination that is “of, relating to, or concerned with law” (and indeed has been upheld as lawful by numerous appellate courts)—you’re going to continue flogging it? Awesome.

    …despite being over-represented among the upper-class that some self-proclaimed gnu atheists display.

    Oh, I see! Higher-than-average economic class refutes any claim to discrimination. So much for gay and lesbian rights, then; how sad.

    One alternative to all of you lies, irrelevant semantic diversions, and willful blindness is just to recognize that discrimination against atheists—including discrimination by agents of government—exists. It is a serious injustice, just like discrimination against any other despised minority is. The dancing that certain parties perform in order to deny such matters of simple humanity is notably ugly.

  59. #60 Laurent Weppe
    March 28, 2011

    Is this a “style” issue or do you have some specific examples to illustrate your concern? An example of a “rhetorical deceitful trick” would be particularly helpful.

    Well, take the tendancy of some self-proclaimed gnu atheists to considere that all criticism or mere contradictions come from fundies, or to put well adjusted religious individuals in the same bags than fundamentalists, or to pretend that well adjusted religious individuals do not exist (something that reminds me the fundies’ claims that atheists cannot be upstanding moral people or the wingnuts’ claim that patriotic left wing people do not exists). This is a tendancy clearly observable for instance on scienceblogs comments sections.

    You could also take things like Rieux insistance that the whole US legal system (instead of thuggish individuals within the system) is hardwired against atheists (one would be excused to wonder why an atheist would be so eager to agree with frauds like David Barton).

    Of course, such behaviors have been, for the most part confined to the internet, which makes it less obvious and cringe inducing that the hypocrisy of, say, wealthy heirs pretending to be self-made men whose success is being threatened by jealous “marxists”.

    ***

    If you treat your audience with contempt from square one, that’s a flawed pedagogy

    It might be worst than flawed pedagogy: treating one’s audiance with contempt might betray the intent to not teach them anything. Keep in mind that there are atheists out there who think that religious people are intellectual inferiors whose raison d’être is to provide the workforce for the most menial works. For such atheists, not teaching anything to people outside their tribe would hardly been seen as problematic: if you considere outsiders to be intellectual inferiors, why would you bother teaching them anything except to know their place and to do the jobs that you think are beneath you?

    That’s why I tend to be very suspicious around atheists who start to display open contempt toward religious people (and not simply toward fundies): its not simply a matter of style or rudeness or civility: this contempt can be the outward sign of social dominance tendancies, of the desire to live on top of a rigid and aristocratic social order.

  60. #61 Anthony McCarthy
    March 28, 2011

    Rieux, of course I mixed up the date of the Voting Rights Act with that of the Civil Rights Act, which gave atheists the status of a protected class a year earlier than the Voting Rights Act. It changes nothing substantial about what I said, other than that.

    The Oppression Olympics has been such a rousing success for GLBTs, hasn’t it? When’s the last time gays and lesbians were held in chattel slavery? Rieux,

    By the conventions of new atheist argument I’m supposed to start screaming ‘MOVING GOALPOSTS”. I was talking about the Civil Rights Act of 1965, which was motivated, specifically, by the civil rights movement, especially motivated by the struggle led by THE REVEREND Martin Luther King Jr. which made atheists a covered class but which didn’t cover glbt folks. It was the covered class status of atheists and the comparison of that with the status of uncovered classes which was the topic. Bringing up the period before the Civil Rights Amendments to muddy that issue is dishonest, which doesn’t surprise me, as it’s typical of the new atheist MO.

    And yet hundreds of atheist parents in fact have no “ability to seek legal relief from [the] discrimination”

    You’ve got the exact same ability to seek legal relief UNDER THE ACT as all other covered classes. That’s what civil rights laws give, the ability to seek relief from discrimination and denial of civil rights. You’ve got to bring a case and make it and you take your chances with the judicial system. That’s not a burden peculiar to atheists, it’s true of all covered classes, glbt folks not being among them.

    The civil rights of atheists are about a half a century ahead of where it is for uncovered groups, instead of being behind gay people.

    That you are whining like a spoiled three year old, insisting that they’ll be as rude and obnoxious as they want to be and no one can stop them, you can enjoy the results of that in the general population as well as among the frat boys of the new atheism. Don’t be surprised when people outside of your club, atheists, agnostics or other, distance themselves from you, ever farther as you throw ever bigger tantrums.

  61. #62 Drachasor
    March 28, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy, alright, I am not intimately familiar with Socrates like a good historian might be. As such consider my comparison retracted. I’ll look into it more in my own time.

    Laurent Weppe (and others, I guess), I still think all this anti-gnu business seems to be making a mountain out of a molehill. You are upset and angry over some FRACTION of how gnu atheists act, it seems. Is that really a good reason to question the validity of a whole group. Accusing them of having tyrannical hearts or minds seems a bit of a stretch. I don’t think there’s any evidence of this…except perhaps in extremely rare cases (which is then more of an individual problem rather than a group problem).

    I don’t think there’s much evidence they are acting like smug, upperclass twits either, except to a similarly limited degree. They have a problem with putting faith on a pedestal and irrationality. I don’t think, in general, that making this clear is an inherent example of acting like an upperclass twit, though I suppose some gnus might be such people in general. Again, that’s more of an individual issue than a group issue.

    Further, I think at worst that vast majority of gnus have contempt for faith and religious belief. That’s NOT the same thing as having contempt for entire people. I notice we haven’t really classified Dawkins here, but if we called him a gnu atheist, then it would be very clear he doesn’t have contempt for religious PEOPLE, even if he has a poor view of religious belief. One can have respect for a person even if they some beliefs that you view as a bit crazy.

    I’m sure there are people who are gnu atheists who ARE jerks, of course. There are non-gnu atheists who are jerks too. It is extremely wrong to lump a whole group together and judge them by the failings of a few, however.

    Anthony McCarthy, if, as Riuex claims, atheists parents have appealed and lost, then there is discrimination and for all intents and purposes there is no legal recourse. The letter of the law doesn’t mean much if it isn’t upheld in court. The legal system isn’t just words, but it is acts and enforcement….it is a process. If that process leads to discrimination, then the legal system discriminates.

    That said, I agree that generally atheists are pretty good compared to a lot of minorities. I don’t think we’re likely to get killed like members of the GLBT might be (even if the incident rate is small). While there certainly is discrimination against atheists, it could certainly be a lot worse and is significant worse for other groups.

  62. #63 Laurent Weppe
    March 28, 2011

    You are upset and angry over some FRACTION of how gnu atheists act, it seems. Is that really a good reason to question the validity of a whole group. Accusing them of having tyrannical hearts or minds seems a bit of a stretch

    As I wrote in my first comment on this thread, my point is not to claim that there are “tyranical atheists” out there, my point is that some social domineers are likely to use atheism in general and the lingo of gnu atheists in particular as tools to justify their intents to either establish or maintain a rigid hierachical social order where they would be part of the hegemon.

    I’m not talking about some sort of factionnal dispute among non-believers, I am talking about the instrumentalization of atheism by people who would be just as likely to instrumentalize religion.

    I don’t think there’s any evidence of this…except perhaps in extremely rare cases

    Well, I live in France, and I’ve seen in the past two or three years the local far-right embracing the lingo of secularism (in order to justify their muslim-bashing and their racist policies) with more and more zeal while still retaining their old christian fundamentalists backers. So far, its “only” an instrumentalization of secularism, but the fact remain that, even in meatspace, ennemies of democracy -people having tyrannical hearts or minds to use your own words- are becoming more and more apt at aping the behaviors of godless people when it suits their interest.

  63. #64 Anthony McCarthy
    March 28, 2011

    Draschasor, I’m sure there are judges who discriminate against atheists, just as they do against black people, women, Latinos, gay folk, etc. On the federal level, the first four of those groups can sue under the Civil Rights Act, gay people can’t.

    You would have to study each case in order to know if what Rieux repeated was accurate and you would have to follow the history of appeals to any discriminatory ruling in order to have the first idea about them. But that doesn’t negate the fact that atheists are a covered class under federal law.

    By the way, being in a covered class doesn’t mean that you always win a case because there can be other issues in the case that are taken into consideration. If those are legitimate, then the identity of the persons involved might be beside the point.

    As I said, if you people don’t think it makes a difference, whether or not you are explicitly protected under the law, try it for a year.

  64. #65 Rieux
    March 28, 2011
    The Oppression Olympics has been such a rousing success for GLBTs, hasn’t it? When’s the last time gays and lesbians were held in chattel slavery?

    By the conventions of new atheist argument I’m supposed to start screaming ‘MOVING GOALPOSTS”.

    Only when you work so hard to miss the point entirely.

    You attempted to dismiss the reality and/or significance of discrimination against atheists by declaring that you’d “trade [me your] status as a gay man for that of atheists any day, any time.” That is an irrelevant tactic that has earned the derisive nickname “the Oppression Olympics.” To demonstrate how mindlessly immaterial it is, I pointed out that said Olympics have been used as an impediment to GLBT rights: as various homophobic African-Americans have pointed out, GLBT people have never been held in chattel slavery, forced to use separate drinking fountains from straight people, or denied the right to vote. The point of such observations has been to deny the reality and/or significance of homophobic bigotry—precisely what you are attempting to do to atheists with your “I’d trade you my status” slime.

    The tactic is bullshit when anti-gay African-Americans do it, and it’s bullshit when atheophobic GLBTs like yourself do it. The Oppression Olympics are an attempt to deny the reality of prejudice, and you should be ashamed of yourself for resorting to it.

    It was the covered class status of atheists and the comparison of that with the status of uncovered classes which was the topic.

    Not in that paragraph, no, in fact it wasn’t. There it was your ugly attempt to pretend that bigoted discrimination against innocent people doesn’t matter because you think you’ve got it worse. Showing that your actual arguments are garbage is not moving goalposts.

    And yet hundreds of atheist parents in fact have no “ability to seek legal relief from [the] discrimination”….

    You’ve got the exact same ability to seek legal relief UNDER THE ACT as all other covered classes.

    Which is NO ABILITY AT ALL. Again, you’re clueless: no federal civil rights statute grants anyone the right to challenge a court decision. Ever.

    As a result, no Civil Rights Act provides an atheist parent deprived of her children the right to do anything about it. Indeed, your entire CRA argument is a meaningless diversion—though it appears that you’re too ignorant about the law you’re leaning on to know that. Ignorant about more than one element of the law, clearly:

    That’s what civil rights laws give, the ability to seek relief from discrimination and denial of civil rights.

    Only certain civil rights, genius. Child custody is not one of them.

    You simply have no idea what you’re talking about.

    And the broader point stands: anti-atheist discrimination that is, de jure, barred by civil rights legislation nonetheless persists—either because it is difficult-to-impossible to prove in court or because the judges and juries involved hate atheists just as much as you do. Your decision to respond to that all-too-real prejudice with “tough shit; things are tough all over” is itself a disgusting refusal to recognize the destruction wrought by bigotry on innocent human lives. Whether the various species of atheophobic prejudice and its real-world consequences happen to fit into your irrelevant (and legally illiterate) pigeonholes or not, it exists, and it matters. It makes no difference how hard you strain to justify your own bigotry by pretending it doesn’t.

  65. #66 Drachasor
    March 28, 2011

    Anthony, I’m just saying there’s a difference between being covered under the law in theory and in practice. In practice is what really matters. Of course, this is definitely worse for some groups than others, and gays are often not protected in theory or practice and in any case generally suffer more than atheists (I’d think).

    I would hope no one here is seriously proposing that atheists have as many problems in modern society as the GLBT community. They have all the problems of atheists, generally, and then some. Conversely, that doesn’t mean atheists are treated fairly, particularly in the States.

    Laurent, alright, granted, but I think equating that with gnu atheists is a mistaken way to go. Also, secularism is a bit different from atheism in any form. Secularism is important in any sort of well-functioning government, imho, no matter the religious beliefs of the populace. People hijacking that to harm minorities is a problem, but that’s a problem with those particular people or groups that are doing that, not a problem with people advocating a subset of similar things that aren’t harmful or who use the same language in some matters.

    While what you say is happening in France is troubling (and indeed I’ve been troubled over the past decade over how they’ve discriminated against Muslim minorities unfairly), it isn’t really something you should hold gnu atheists accountable for, certainly not in general. There are probably some that are pretty vile people (like any group), but I am sure the vast majority recognize the importance of freedom. Most surely know that you can’t force someone to be rational against their will, which is why they wish to engage in rational debate about this.

    Truly the focus of gnu/new atheists is pretty small and sensible. I believe they merely want to be able to discuss the concept of religious faith, reason, and the like on a societal level (as we discuss many controversial topics on a societal level).

    Trying to usurp that in some way for some sort of tyrannical rule seems a bit far-fetched overall. I do not believe most gnu atheists (who are a small minority anyhow) would go for it. It’s like saying that people advocating Freedom of Religion would have their words used to justify discriminating against a particular religion, hence they should shut up. It just doesn’t really seem like a sensible concern, and furthermore the problem isn’t with the people with reasonable desires, but instead with that OTHER group of tyrannical jerks.

    Tyrannical jerks will find language to justify themselves no matter what. If they borrow the language from some other group, that doesn’t make that group remotely culpable for anything those jerks do. Telling groups to be quiet because some jerk might use the particular language they use for evil ends when that’s not what the language was for seems perverse. It is ridiculously against the idea of freedom of speech and seems to border on fear mongering. Best to spend your energies attacking the people who actually want to curtail the rights of others. Gnu atheists seem to be a rather tangential target to criticize…especially if it just because some group of jerks might use similar words for them as an irrational justification of tyranny.

  66. #67 Pseudonym
    March 28, 2011

    To be fair, Sam Harris’ stubble is really sexy. I don’t swing that way, but even I noticed.

  67. #68 Laurent Weppe
    March 29, 2011

    Anthony, I’m just saying there’s a difference between being covered under the law in theory and in practice

    Sure, but once someone is covered by the letter of the law, it becomes harder to discriminate against them in practice: you have to either bully the target of the discrimination into a subservient silence or to find magistrates who share your prejudices and are willing to break the law for the satisfaction of enforcing said prejudice. If discrimination is legal, you don’t need any of this: you just have to demand that the law be upheld.

    Laurent, alright, granted, but I think equating that with gnu atheists is a mistaken way to go

    While what you say is happening in France is troubling (and indeed I’ve been troubled over the past decade over how they’ve discriminated against Muslim minorities unfairly), it isn’t really something you should hold gnu atheists accountable for

    quote

    Once again, I’m not equating anti-democratic ambitions with gnu atheists, or blaming gnus for discrimination against religion minorities: I’m saying that people with anti-democratic ambitions are using the lingo of Gnus to make their intent look like a principled position: not the same thing.

    Tyrannical jerks will find language to justify themselves no matter what. If they borrow the language from some other group, that doesn’t make that group remotely culpable for anything those jerks do

    Indeed, but a group can irresponsibly show complacency toward people using the same lingo as them.

    Also, secularism is a bit different from atheism in any form

    The reason the french far-right is hiding behind secularism instead of atheism comes from the fact that they still have some compromise to make with the reality of society: over 90% of the French population is pro-secularism, but atheists represent only 35% or so of the population.

    The problem is that while fascists are field-testing their new demagogic magic bullet; a growing number of people among the upper-class and the political elite, are now favoring secularism-as-a-weapon to crush the religious people, especially if said people are poor and/or part of an ethnic minority.

    Last thursday, the French minister of the interior (in theory a “moderate” conservative), the man in charge of most of the logistic of the french state, said, during an interview on TV, that people wearing religious signs should not be granted access to public services. You’ve got one of the most powerful man in the French government saying, on record, that he intends to forbid muslim women wearing scarves, jewish men wearing kippas, christian people wearing a cross from riding buses buses or subways, and some self-procalimed atheists are cheering for fuck’s sake.

  68. #69 Anthony McCarthy
    March 29, 2011

    I’m just saying there’s a difference between being covered under the law in theory and in practice. In practice is what really matters. Drachasor

    That’s the nature of the law because human beings are administering it. As Eddington pointed out, it’s the difference between “human law” and what we hope the laws of science are. And that’s true of all minorities covered under civil rights laws.

    Only when you work so hard to miss the point entirely.

    You attempted to dismiss the reality and/or significance of discrimination against atheists by declaring that you’d “trade [me your] status as a gay man for that of atheists any day, any time.” Rieux

    I didn’t discuss the “reality and/or significance of discrimination against atheists” I discussed their ability to seek redress and relief under existing law. Atheists have had that ability since the mid-60s. Legally, they have exactly the same ability as other groups covered in the law. You have legal equality, it’s more than gay folks have.

    “Only certain civil rights, genius. Child custody is not one of them.

    You simply have no idea what you’re talking about” Rieux

    “Genius” should be reserved for people who produce work of genius, I’ve only mentioned things that are well known among those who care to inform themselves, at least, so the term doesn’t apply to what I said here.

    As I said, you would have to look at each case individually and impartially because each case would bring different facts that had to be considered. I doubt you’ve done that. There are certainly cases in which judges rule on the basis of their bigotry and deny people custody on illegitimate grounds. That doesn’t only happen to atheists, it happens to all covered classes. However, I’m confident it has happened to gay people a lot more than it has atheists during the period in question and for most of it gay people had very little opportunity to challenge those decisions. I recall a case when a federal judge in Maine said he regretted that he couldn’t uphold the rights of a gay person because federal law didn’t protect them. Judge Gernoux, as I recall.

    “You’ve got the exact same ability to seek legal relief UNDER THE ACT as all other covered classes.”

    Which is NO ABILITY AT ALL. Again, you’re clueless: no federal civil rights statute grants anyone the right to challenge a court decision. Ever. Rieux

    You clearly have never heard of appeals. Here’s what came up in a google search of “rulings of the supreme court under the civil rights act”.

    http://tinyurl.com/6ftnax9

    I’d suggest you try: “rulings of the supreme court under the civil rights act covering atheists”. You will see that sometimes the court sided with the person making a claim under the Civil Rights Act, sometime they ruled against them, just as they do with other covered classes depending on the facts of the case. That even federal judges make rulings that are based on their prejudice, however, there are cases when it’s arguable that they have for most of the classes specifically covered by the law. See my first comment in this post about “human laws”.

    If you think atheists face anything like the discrimination against gay people, list the states where atheists are denied the right to marry or to have their legal marriage rights honored in other states, something that no straight marriage has faced since 1967.

  69. #70 James Sweet
    March 29, 2011

    I have copied this from my blog:

    Where to begin? On a superficial level, this sounds like a convincing analogy, but just a moment of reflection shows it to be completely ridiculous.

    Now, I need to start off by saying I disagree with Coyne on this one. I think the preponderance of evidence suggests that Obama is sincere in his Christianity (though I do think he considers the literal truth or falsity of it to be irrelevant) and in any case, we ought to respect people’s self-identification unless it is clearly erroneous. Obama says he’s a Christian; that makes him a Christian. If it turned out the Pope didn’t believe in God, would that mean bears didn’t shit in the woods?

    With that out of the way, let’s look at a few things here. Let’s start with motivation, because that’s the easiest one: Coyne is nominally attempting to discern the truth, and if we dig a little deeper we see he is probably being optimistic. He wishes Obama was an atheist, because a) he thinks an atheist president would do a better job, and possibly b) he admires Obama and so wants to view Obama as part of his tribe. Now, I’m speculating about Jerry’s internal subconscious motivations here, and I could be way off — but the point is, we see that at worst Jerry is being irrationally optimistic. There is certainly nothing nefarious in Coyne’s intentions, of that we can be sure.

    Contrast this with the Tea Party. It is plainly obvious they are painting Obama as a Muslim in an effort to discredit him. Do we really think there are Tea Partiers saying, “Yeah, it doesn’t effect Obama’s ability to do his job, but I do think he is secretly a Muslim”? Come on… On a side note, if we imagine a hypothetical devotee of Islam who speculates positively that Obama might be a secret Muslim, while that would obviously be pretty irrational, it’s not the kind of attempted slander being perpetrated by the Tea Party. There’s a big difference between saying, “I bet this guy is secretly on my team,” vs. “Look out, that guy is secretly on the other team!”

    Next let’s look at what is being claimed. It is a feature of Tea Party conspiracy theories about Obama that he is not only secretly a Muslim, but that he is doing so in an attempt to covertly usher in Islamic influences to American politics — even that he is seeking to “destroy America”. In contrast, Coyne is speculating that Obama is a secret atheist who nevertheless approves of faith, and is simply concealing his unbelief in order to avert prejudice against him. Again, if we imagine our hypothetical Muslim who claimed that Obama was secretly a moderate believer in Islam, that he nonetheless approved of Christianity and other faiths, and that he simply had to hide his true faith in order to maintain electability… well, that’s a little crazy maybe, but it does not merit comparison with the Tea Party.

    Lastly, let’s look at plausibility. Now, I am inclined to take any given politician at her word regarding her faith. But does Rosenau really think there are no closet atheists in American politics?!? That we have never had a congressperson (or even a president! It’s a virtually certainly we have) who privately found religious belief to be logically untenable, but kept it to himself anyway? I think it’s a safe bet that there are a number of secret atheists in Congress, and at all levels of politics. We know there are plenty of ordinary folks, people who aren’t even in the public eye, who have to conceal their atheism from their employer. Why would it be remarkable if the president happened to be one of those people?

    We also know that plenty of churchgoers are secretly atheists. (Fuck, thanks to Dennett and LaScola, we know that plenty of clergy are secretly atheists) Many of these people aren’t even hiding their atheism out of fear or anything: They appreciate the communal and ritual aspects of their chosen church, but find true belief to be a fanciful and unlikely position. These people are all over the place.

    Now, I must reiterate here that I think Obama is sincere in his faith; reading Dreams from My Father gave me the impression that while Obama was initially drawn to Christianity for the potential of black churches to organize community activism, that he soon became so enamored with the whole thing that he ceased to care about the validity of the truth claims and was willing to swallow the dogma along with the community whole hog. However, the fact that Obama goes to church is not evidence that he couldn’t possibly be an atheist. Quite the contrary, it says very little — especially for someone who has admitted that he joined initially for political reasons, and especially for someone whose employment, and possibly whose very life, would be in danger if he were to come out as a nonbeliever. While I do not believe it to be the case, it is entirely plausible that Obama might have attended Christian churches for decades and publicly professed Christian faith, while all the time being an atheist.

    Is it just possible that Obama did all those things while secretly adhering to Islam? Well, I guess, but it seems far less plausible. For one, it’s not hard to imagine an atheist publicly praying to Jesus and not feeling as though she is doing anything wrong. It’s more difficult to imagine a devout Muslim doing the same thing and feeling like that was okay, that it was not a betrayal of his values. (And if the Muslim in question is not unflaggingly devout, why would he maintain his faith intact through decades of immersion in a different faith community?) For another, when Obama first became involved with Christian churches in Chicago, if he had really been a Muslim at the time it seems somewhat more likely that he would have sought out members of that faith community for the purpose of grassroots organizing. I suppose it’s just possible that this very young and politically raw Obama had the foresight and the cold calculating nature to recognize that black Christian churches were a more fertile field for organization, and so to have hid his Muslim faith in order to mine that community… Yes, this is all possible, but it’s far more of a stretch than Coyne’s rather modest suggestion that he chose to embrace this community despite a disbelief in their central truth claims and dogmas.

    So let’s check our scorecard: The Tea Partiers’ claims that Obama is a secret Muslim are malicious, conspiratorial, and implausible. Jerry Coyne’s claim that Obama is a secret atheism is benign or optimistic, matter-of-fact, and (although unlikely in my opinion) at least baseline plausible. The only thing the two have in common is they probably aren’t the most rational position.

  70. #71 Drachasor
    March 29, 2011

    Laurent, if it wasn’t a smattering of gnu language it would be something else. So I am not sure of the point in bringing it up, necessarily.

    As for some gnu’s cheering them on, well, fascists can be found in any group. Personally I rate freedom of expression as something of deep intrinsic nature, much like freedom of thought or speech. I think most gnu atheists (or atheists in general) would probably say the same, though I admit I have no statistics on this.

    In any case, I don’t see any particular reason to dislike gnu atheists over this. Hold the individuals who advocate a removal of freedoms or who cheer for it responsible, but there are plenty who do not endorse such things.

  71. #72 Barry
    March 29, 2011

    Laurent… any “rhetorical deceitful tricks” to share?

  72. #73 Barry
    March 29, 2011

    Jon: “And saying it’s style, by the way, is a backhanded way of dismissing all sorts of substantial questions–beyond the fact that it instantly turns off a lot of potential hearers of your message…”

    Where did I say it was a style issue? I was asking Laurent whether his concern was a style issue.You seem keen to redefine my comment to suit a meaning you wish it to have…which is probably a backhanded way of dismissing my comment…which is precisely the accusation you level at me…incorrectly. As a “gnu” I apologize for having to point this out.