What is New Atheism?

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

Ophelia Benson thinks I’ve misunderstood New Atheism when I say:

New Atheism is hardly the only way for atheists – or nontheists more generally – to get the word out that they’re here and want to be taken seriously.

She insists:

Yes it is…at least under the most usual and obvious definition of that much-used pejorative label “New Atheism.” The minimal definition of “New Atheism” is, surely, atheism that makes a point of increasing atheism’s visibility. “New Atheism” means getting the word out that atheists are here and want to be taken seriously. So how could it not be the only way to do exactly that? It’s like saying being a bus driver is not the only way to drive a bus….

No it’s pretty clear that … Rosenau … is simply assuming that “New Atheism” means “atheism that is rude and aggressive and strident and mean.” That is one assumption too many.

No, the excess assumption here is Ophelia’s assumption that she can read minds. That wasn’t my assumed definition (nor does anything I said imply it was, nor does anything I wrote depend on that purported definition). Other than mindreading, I don’t know why she’d make that uncharitable assumption about my understanding of the term “New Atheism” (which, for what it’s worth, I don’t intend as pejorative).

In particular, I vigorously disagree with the claim that New Atheism is “surely” defined as “atheism that makes a point of increasing atheism’s visibility.” Lots of atheists have had some version of that idea, and the idea that announcing one’s atheism was what made Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, Dan Dennett, and Vic Stenger’s books into a trend - that is, what made New Atheism “new” – is its particular focus on attacking religion and attacking religious styles of thought and argument, and its particularly dismissive approach towards moderate religion and towards nontheisms other than atheism.

To see that New Atheism can’t simply be about increasing the visibility of atheism, we need look no farther than Sam Harris, the first of the Four Horsemen to clear the gate. In 2007, addressing the Atheist Alliance conference, he addressed “The Problem with Atheism,” arguing:

declaring oneself an “atheist” would seem the only appropriate response [to the evils of religion]. And it is the stance that many of us have proudly and publicly adopted. Tonight, I’d like to try to make the case, that our use of this label is a mistake–and a mistake of some consequence….

while I am now one of the public voices of atheism, I never thought of myself as an atheist before being inducted to speak as one. I didn’t even use the term in The End of Faith, which remains my most substantial criticism of religion….

atheism, I would argue, is not a thing. It is not a philosophy, just as “non-racism” is not one. Atheism is not a worldview–and yet most people imagine it to be one and attack it as such. We who do not believe in God are collaborating in this misunderstanding by consenting to be named and by even naming ourselves.

Another problem is that in accepting a label, particularly the label of “atheist,” it seems to me that we are consenting to be viewed as a cranky sub-culture.

So, let me make my somewhat seditious proposal explicit: We should not call ourselves “atheists.” We should not call ourselves “secularists.” We should not call ourselves “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.” We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar–for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.

Now I think Sam Harris is a notoriously bad at exactly that last bit. I thought The End of Faith was awful – unfinishably bad – and while I haven’t gotten the review copy of The Moral Landscape I requested, every review I’ve seen has been awful (including that in the latest NYRB, or Benson’s own efforts to find what people like in it). But that aside, a definition of New Atheism which is rejected so thoroughly by one of the movement’s headliners can hardly be credited as the obvious and minimal definition of the movement. It’s a bit like when IDolators insist they aren’t creationists because creationism has to involve a belief in a 6,000 year old earth; ignoring that William Jennings Bryan – perhaps the seminal figure in creationism’s political history – had no objection to an old earth.

Anyway, if a book attacking religion came to define a movement called New Atheism, maybe attacking religion is somehow important to the definition of that movement!

i-0a6545c64ba77357897f02bcdcdfc412-PrinciplesNewAtheism.jpgTo sustain this understanding, we need look no farther than the book The New Atheism by leading New Atheist Vic Stenger. He describes New Atheism as beginning with “a series of series of [sic] bestsellers that took a harder line against religion than has been the custom among secularists.” The slide to the right is from his PowerPoint slides about that book. You’ll note that “coming out of the closet” is rather far down his list of New Atheism’s principles, well behind critiques of “all faith…including moderate faiths,” and other criticism of religion.

Look through the other writings of the defining figures of New Atheism, and I think Stenger’s list works pretty well to summarize their major themes and the ideas that separate them from other styles of atheism. Indeed, the description on New Atheism’s wikipedia page, quoted from a 2006 CNN story, seems pretty apt: “What the New Atheists share is a belief that religion [even, or especially, moderate religion -Josh] should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”

And again, this set of approaches dubbed “New Atheism” by a sympathetic journalist, is “hardly the only way for atheists – or nontheists more generally – to get the word out that they’re here and want to be taken seriously.” There’s no reason to rewrite history to escape that conclusion, or to twist the plain meanings of widely-used terms.

Comments

  1. #1 scott
    April 25, 2011

    I think Opheila Benson and many others would disagree more with this statement of yours describing your view of “New Atheism”:

    “particular focus on attacking religion and attacking religious styles of thought and argument, and its particularly dismissive approach towards moderate religion and towards nontheisms other than atheism.”

    Asking someone to question or investigate their beliefs is only considered “attacking” by you and the other “New Apologist” and “New Accommodationist”.

    Pointing out the fallacies of these beliefs and criticizing them when they don’t stand up to the rigor of scientific investigation isn’t being “dismissive”, its being honest.

  2. #2 DuaneBidoux
    April 25, 2011

    Before going on let me call myself an agnostic spiritualist. I embrace fully the englightment, humanism, empirical materialism and most definitely the belief that organized religion has done far more harm than good.

    But I believe, as a trained ethnographer, that there has been a functional fit in cultural evolution for religion. I also think it is important to understand that being pissed at what people have done for the sake of an imaginary grey bearded man on a throne doesn’t inherently have anything to do with God. God as defined by man must inherently be bullshit—or he couldn’t possibly exist. To paraphrase Woody Allen, the best you can say about God is that he is an underachiever—and if I am the result of his creation there is no possible way I can believe in him.

    But that is not the debate the “New Atheist” are having.

    When I think of New Atheists I think of Dawkins and Hitchens and of writers that seem as fundamentalist (and as harmful) as the Baptist I grew up with. But I guess my real question is are the New Atheists doing more good than harm?. At a personal level, from egocentric, to ethnocentric, to worldcentric to kosmocentric all of us take a journey. Some go farther than others—but nobody goes far while they are objects of derision. Atheists have developed to the point where many can withstand derision and not question or become defensive but I’m not sure many true believers do.

    The quickest way to stop someone’s personal evolution in its tracks is to threaten them, and this is never more true than when that person has parts of the brain flashing “threat.”

    I believe the world would be better without the vast majority of religions (mine, Unitarianism being, o course, the exception (how do I do a satire emoticon here?). But one thing I believe from my heart is that anyone humiliating anyone else for any reason does not make the world a better place.

    PS: My spirituatliy? First time I ever was in place dark enough from my Houston skies to see the Milky Way become a big glowing cloud overhead was a spiritual moment. I didn’t have words, all rational language escaped me an I gasped as my heart raced —and in spite of my six hours of college astronomy and knowing the material nature (and perhaps only a material nature) of what I was looking at I changed as a person. The realization of everything—of what Carl Sagan had called my oneness with star dust made me a better person. Jesus never did that for me, but neither has Chrstopher Hitchens.

    The Mythics will lose this fight. Among educated people it has long ago been lost. But spirituality, the concern for things of ultimate importance, may only be saved on by the Materialists, perhaps for reasons they cannot completely rationalize. Somebody damn well better carry it on or we are fucked.

  3. #3 DuaneBidoux
    April 25, 2011

    Scott said:”
    “Pointing out the fallacies of these beliefs and criticizing them when they don’t stand up to the rigor of scientific investigation isn’t being “dismissive”, its being honest.”

    I agree, but I think the question must be “what are your goals in doing so?” If it is to change their minds evidence says this only makes them cling to their beliefs more (see recent study on authorian vs. liberal minds).

    The way only one gets to a rational/empirical view of the world is one (unthreatened) step at a time. The world view must open up gradually (trust me, as a former Baptist I know). I tell my believing relatives it is like discovering for the first time the world is round. It is mystical in its own way–but it is a step only you can take and humiliating you doesn’t make it more likely to get there.

  4. #4 Russell
    April 25, 2011

    Of the principles listed, the first three are the only ones I can endorse without reservation. All of the remainder sit on a host of empirical claims that are quite hard to sustain. I would like some of them to be true. For example, I hope the secular societies we see in west Europe prove resilient, stay liberal, and continue without succumbing to old religions or inventing new ones. But I can’t pretend that history is adequately predictable to assert that.

  5. #5 G.D.
    April 25, 2011

    At least you finally answered a question that have long bothered me. I am an atheist, but I have never understood exactly what it takes to be a “new atheist”. I take it that Stenger’s slide and the following phrase is supposed to define it:

    “What the New Atheists share is a belief that religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”

    How does that differ even in the most minimal sense from the projects of more or less every assertive atheist throughout history? This seems to have been exactly the point of Epicurus, d’Holbach, Diderot, Clifford, Brahms (hey, I’ll pick from all categories), Nietzsche, and Russell, to name some – or for that matter, for Hume (though he was a little more tactful). Clifford even argued that it is morally wrong to have religious beliefs, even the tiniest, most insignificant-looking ones. In fact, many of these authors were far less civil about it than the current “New Atheists”.

    In other words, New Atheism is exactly like old atheism, just with a new name so that some people can criticize the new and vulgar form without simultaneously saying anything bad about the classics?

  6. #6 Aaron Maxwell
    April 25, 2011

    There is no such thing as “New Atheism”. There are only evangelical and fundamentalist people who are shocked and resentful that atheists, agnostics and secularists have the audacity to stand up for their rights and civil liberties when they are threatend by calls for the creation of a “christian America”.

  7. #7 Rob Knop
    April 25, 2011

    Do the New Atheists really believe that they aren’t being argumentative, aggreessive, and generally dickish in their attacks on religion? Or, are the religious the “other” against whom any sort of rude behavior is justified?

  8. #8 TylerD
    April 25, 2011

    There are fundamental differences between the notions of Gnus and those of the gentler nontheists. Gnus, including myself, are generally convinced that belief in gods is irrational in and of itself, while some nontheists are not so self-assured. That’s just one example of why any effort to bridge the gap between nontheisms or create a fully unified nontheist movement is doomed to failure.

  9. #9 Rieux
    April 25, 2011

    Do the New Atheists really believe that they aren’t being argumentative, aggreessive, and generally dickish in their attacks on religion? Or, are the religious the “other” against whom any sort of rude behavior is justified?

    I see what you did there: you pretended that ideas are the same thing as the people who hold them—that attacking a bad idea (when it’s a religious one) is a personal attack on the believer who holds it.

    How cute, and how fallacious.

    As I’ve said to you previously:

    You are clearly well accustomed to a social discourse in which your religious notions are entirely protected from the normal traffic of the free marketplace, where anyone saying an unkind word about the religious beliefs you hold is immediately branded an antisocial lout. Religion has spent millennia convincing (or indoctrinating) people that any open criticism of its ideas is a brutal attack on its believers, the fallacy and disingenuousness of that move notwithstanding. It’s been a successful little piece of political maneuvering.

    One result of that manifestation of privilege is that you’re not accustomed to people arguing that the things you believe about God and Christ are fallacious and false. Your majority has always been able to silence and punish anyone who said anything like that.

    But, as you’ve noticed, our current context is different. On the internet there are plenty of atheists who see no reason to observe the rules you and yours have written to protect your religious beliefs from challenge. We don’t buy it, and we don’t much care when you complain that you’re not getting the abject deference that you’ve come to expect growing up as a privileged believer in a society drunk with religion.

    [….]

    Unlike much of American life, the science blogosphere is one in which religion is not generally protected from critical inquiry, challenge, dissent, and mockery. That’s actually as it should be; your beliefs (and arguments, “mushbrained” or not) don’t deserve to be exempt just because you demand it.

    If it’s so uncomfortable for you to exist in a marketplace that’s free for even skeptical criticism of religious ideas, you may need to retreat to a place in which your demand that skeptics observe silent deference to you gets more respect—such as nearly the entire rest of the world.

  10. #10 Jeremy O
    April 25, 2011

    I am pretty sure that is not what Rob Knop is doing. He is only pointing to what he (and many others) perceive to be the case. There are many ways to criticize an argument, and some can be quite dickish.

  11. #11 Jim Lloyd
    April 25, 2011

    I personally think the only significant defining attribute of the Gnu Atheists is that we want to defend our interests, and we think being quiet about our existence is a horrible way to do it.

    We also think that it is better to tell the truth as we see it than to tell white lies.

    Finally, we share an attribute that is seldom explicitly discussed: we value diversity.

    I think it is great that we atheists are a diverse group who often disagree with each other. We benefit from that disagreement in two different ways: we learn from each other, and our disagreements draw attention to our existence.

    I’m pretty firmly in the Gnu camp, but the only time I get annoyed at accommodationists is when they tell us Gnus that we should just shut up. Heck, when they do that, I become more determined to speak up. When will they realize their tactics aren’t helping! :)

  12. #12 Rieux
    April 25, 2011

    I am pretty sure that is not what Rob Knop is doing.

    You are?

    I tried to underline the relevant words in the Knop passage I quoted, but apparently Scienceblogs’ commenting software doesn’t recognize the [u] command. So here they are, italicized:

    Do the New Atheists really believe that they aren’t being argumentative, aggreessive, and generally dickish in their attacks on religion? Or, are the religious the “other” against whom any sort of rude behavior is justified?

    There he is, moving the target from “religion” (ideas) to “the religious” (people) in the space of five words. So you seem to be mistaken in what you’re “pretty sure” of.

    Anyway, Knop’s move is simply the classic religious-privilege gambit, and it’s by no means his first use of it. The pretense that attacks on religion are attacks on “the religious” is endemic to complaints about Gnu Atheism; it’s a big part of the dishonest story about how awful Gnus are. And because of the pervasiveness of religious privilege, it goes almost entirely unnoticed: you, for example, missed Knop’s bait-and-switch, even given two chances at it.

    He is only pointing to what he (and many others) perceive to be the case.

    Oh, I don’t doubt that. But it doesn’t make the perception any less inaccurate. A criticism of an argument, no matter how “dickish,” does not constitute an attack on the person making the argument.

  13. #13 Lesley Fellows
    April 26, 2011

    Thanks Josh – that is a really helpful description of New Atheism. I have a friend who is a New Atheist and I find it really tough to discuss religion rationally with him…. I fail to understand why he feels so strongly that all religion is bad, and also why he feels so strongly that religion undermines science.

  14. #14 Lesley Fellows
    April 26, 2011

    Oh, and another thing (sorry) – I can’t understand why New Atheism isn’t a worldview – even a religion in some ways. And saying ‘no it isn’t a worldview’ doesn’t make it not a worldview…. and what is wrong with adopting a worldview anyway? As rational creatures we need a worldview in order to interpret our world more easily, we can always change it as we gain new insights. Anyway, when we reach a certain stage of life we realise that our parents massively influenced our worldview, we can’t emerge as adults uninfluenced by all the thinking that has gone on for centuries before us.

  15. #15 Jeremy O
    April 26, 2011

    Rieux,

    “A criticism of an argument, no matter how “dickish,” does not constitute an attack on the person making the argument.”

    This is exactly the point I am trying to make. Rob Knop accused New Atheists of, and I quote, “bad behavior”. He didn’t accuse New Atheists of attacking religious people (although I am sure others would). Rob accused New Atheists of being rude to religious people (i.e. argumentative, aggressive, and generally dickish). For example, I don’t think you have attacked me or Rob, but your last two posts come off as smug and condescending. If we are going to talk about fallacies, your argument is a straw man fallacy.

    If the point of your arguments for atheism is to win arguments then I am sure you will be successful. But, if your goal is to convince people that religion is irrational and to move society towards atheism then you will fail. People don’t like to listen to arguments from people who treat them poorly. In other words, New Atheists lack tact.

  16. #16 Ragini
    April 26, 2011

    This trend began with an upsurge of materialistic and atheistic values in the medieval times. When Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution in 1859, this seemingly scientific theory marked the beginning of the end of humanity (in the qualitative sense). http://ariseindiaforum.org/comp_atheism.php?type=87

  17. #17 Anthony McCarthy
    April 26, 2011

    I might get around to documenting the use of the phrase “new atheist” by the major figures of the new atheism. Coyne and Rosenhouse apparently got the letter late because I know both of them have used it as an identification and not as a complaint.

    I use the term “new atheist” for atheists who demonstrate that they practice negative stereotyping of religious people, practice bigotry, false characterizations and similar, negative things. As I said in a previous comment thread, I use the term as a courtesy to atheists who don’t practice them, many of whom seem to want that distinction made. Somehow, I don’t really feel a strong inclination to care about the preferences of bigots in how they are identified, no matter what species of bigot that is or what their professional credentials are.

  18. #18 Anthony McCarthy
    April 26, 2011

    Oh, I left out practicing vicarious guilt, that’s one of the foundational requirements for being defined a new atheist.

  19. #19 Agent Smith
    April 26, 2011

    Anthony Mccarthy, a Christian apologist too cowardly to openly call himself that, with yet more complete bollocks. You’re basically a tone troll.

  20. #20 Agent Smith
    April 26, 2011

    Also I hope that Josh is enjoying his bizarre little attacks on Atheism. Now creationists (see Ragini) seem to believe you are inherently an ally and find this a good opportunity to engage in personal attacks on Charles Darwin. Well played.

  21. #21 Jon
    April 26, 2011

    The dogma that “the universe is ‘matter’ and nothing more” is key. If the universe is “matter,” then that puts the people who know about “matter” in the cultural driver’s seat, no? Think of Daniel Dennett saying that Naturwissenschaften (natural sciences) can invade the realm of Geisteswissenschaften (human sciences) with no ethical pause.

    As Alan Wolfe wrote in *The Future of Liberalism*, the heart of the argument has the natural sciences bumping off its rivals (for instance religion) to dominate the culture, which Wolfe argues basically makes New Atheism an illiberal movement …

  22. #22 Stephen Tapply
    April 26, 2011

    What Agent Smith said. Both times.

    Josh, did you miss the word ‘minimal’ in Ophelia’s post?

    And I’m amused that since the study you pulled from Mooney didn’t mention tactics or support your preconceptions, you made up your own and ‘guessed’ that it would show that the Gnus are doing it wrong.

  23. #23 Paul
    April 26, 2011

    @Lesley Fellows

    “why he feels so strongly that religion undermines science.”

    Any religion which makes any material claims about the universe and refuses to alter its dogma when such claims come into conflict with reality does in fact attempt to undermine science. It’s not a difficult thing to grasp, just faith versus reason. Some religions, certain brands of Buddhism for example, happily state that their beliefs must yield when conflicts arise. Others, like Deism, make no such claims in the first place. However the major religions in the world, Christianity and Islam in particular, vehemently defend their demonstrably absurd claims in the face of overwhelming evidence. They undermine science. Now do you understand why your friend says that?

  24. #24 Anthony McCarthy
    April 26, 2011

    Agent smith, it’s tempting to give you the details on why I can’t be a Christian but am reminded of the scene in The Sorry and the Pity about M. Klein, who took out ads during the occupation to deny he was a Jew.

    Let’s say that when you’re unjustly targeting Christians for denigration and slander, you can consider me a Christian, when you are targeting Muslims that way, consider me a Muslim, when you’re targeting agnostics that way, the I’m an agnostic for the purposes of the discussion.

    There was a discussion of me someone gave me a link to where it was asserted I was a Buddhist.

    I would never make the mistake of blaming you guys on innocent ungulates.

  25. #25 TTT
    April 26, 2011

    @19: Anthony McCarthy is still posting? I thought for sure he was a Tom Johnson sock. Actually, I still think so.

  26. #26 Anthony McCarthy
    April 26, 2011

    The evidence that Christianity is compatible with science is found in the fact that it was almost exclusively Christians who are responsible for the founding of modern science. Copernicus, Galileo, Steno, Newton, Priestley, Faraday…. I will single out Lavoisier, who was killed by an anti-religious regime, of whom it was said, “It took them only an instant to cut off his head, but France may not produce another like it in a century.”

    I’d like to know which of the big names of the new atheism have produced scientific work that matches theirs in basic importance.

    The denial of that history is no less a denial of certain fact than the denial of evolution. The majority of people in the world who accept the fact of evolution are religious, in the United States, most of them are Christians.

    It’s nothing more complex than ignorance of or the refusal to admit those facts, and they are facts, which refute the claim.

  27. #27 Anthony McCarthy
    April 26, 2011

    TTT, stop, you’ll turn my head. I’m beginning to suspect someone keeps dossiers.

  28. #28 John Kwok
    April 26, 2011

    I concur with your observations Josh, and I think one could draw parallels between the online behavior of certain New Atheist “prophets” and their acolytes with those who espouse various flavors of creationism.

  29. #29 Stephen Tapply
    April 26, 2011

    The evidence that Astrology is compatible with science is found in the fact that it was almost exclusively astrologers who are responsible for the founding of modern science. Copernicus, Galileo, Steno, Newton,

    FTFY

  30. #30 Fred
    April 26, 2011

    In fact, many of these authors were far less civil about it than the current “New Atheists”.

    You expect people to be familiar with authors who don’t pop up on their amazon.com top seller lists? Silly New Atheist.

  31. #31 Anthony McCarthy
    April 26, 2011

    Tappley, where is your citation that Nicholas Steno practiced astrology?

    If you’re pointing out that legitimate science is quite able to co-exist in the same mind with pseudo-science, you want to try reading The Descent of Man, or Hereditary Genius, enthusiastically endorsed by C. Darwin. Or you can look at that favorite biologist of one of the places where atheism became the official state ideology, Trofim Lysenko.

    The difference, though, is that you’d have a hard time trying to find religious content in the scientific writing of any of the list I gave you. When it’s religion, religious scientists have had no problem making that distinction they have had so much trouble making when it was pseudo-science or ideologies such as materialism. There’s a far better case for the rampant pollution of science and would-be science with that kind of ideology, or others such as racism, sexism and class interest.

  32. #32 julian
    April 26, 2011

    Oo! Lemme play, lemme play!

    It is simply not true that a belief in homeopathy is detrimental to the integrity of any physician. We find doctors and medical researchers from all over the world that are able to practice medicine ethically and responsibly. If homeopathy were as dangerous as you claim or as detrimental to the integrity of any medical establishment, how could these men even exist?

  33. #33 Jon
    April 26, 2011

    You expect people to be familiar with authors who don’t pop up on their amazon.com top seller lists? Silly New Atheist.

    New Atheists have their own brand of selective reading. For instance, I’ve never heard a New Atheist comment on Max Weber. Disenchantment anyone? Nope. New Atheist reading stays on Newton, Darwin, and Russell’s side of the English Channel…

  34. #34 julian
    April 26, 2011

    I’m sorry, but did you just say religious scientist have had no problem keeping their faith out of their work?

    Um… ok even you can’t honestly believe that, Mr. McCarthy. You maybe wanna expand on that statement?

  35. #35 Agent Smith
    April 26, 2011

    More drivel from anthony. When a society is 100 percent Christian due to the legal ramifications from the political and clerical authority- why is a surprise that all the scientists of that period are also Christian? It is like asking why iran’s scientists are also muslim. By your bizarre logic, that means islam and science are extremely compatible, and in fact islam is nurturing of science! After all I don’t see any great accomplishment from iranian “atheist scientists”!

    In the modern context, all you manged to prove that all of us have a capacity for cognitive dissonance. When it comes to epistemology – religion and science are directly incompatible.

  36. #36 Jon
    April 26, 2011

    When it comes to epistemology – religion and science are directly incompatible.

    It depends what your proposed program for science is.

    Charles Taylor:

    Science and religion are not quite totally non-overlapping magisteria, but [Gould] is right in the sense that if anybody said, ‘I’m going to solve all the problems of the meaning of life, by only looking at the evolutionary view,’ they would be mad, they do not understand the limitations. Or, on the other hand, reading the Bible to understand how human beings evolved, that’s equally unrealistic.

  37. #37 Ender
    April 26, 2011

    “@19: Anthony McCarthy is still posting? I thought for sure he was a Tom Johnson sock. Actually, I still think so.”

    Evidence? No? Then don’t let your paranoia hit you in the arse on the way out.

    It’s a pity that one person ever tried to pull the wool over the NA eyes, it appears a small subset of them can’t ever let it go. It’s like a badge “This person is well bad, we can label them a potential TJ”. I even had the honour of Ophelia Benson herself accusing me of being one. What an idiot.

  38. #38 John Kwok
    April 26, 2011

    @ Ender –

    Ophelia is not alone amongst GNUs in display obsessive behavior. Elsewhere I have been accused by GNUs of complaining against their behavior because I am upset that P Z Myers didn’t buy me a Leica camera. Even after I have noted that I had made this demand just to irritate him – and was never serious about this – they still insist on repeating this canard.

  39. #39 Ophelia Benson
    April 26, 2011

    Other than mindreading, I don’t know why she’d make that uncharitable assumption about my understanding of the term “New Atheism”

    It’s the logic of it. “New Atheism” is about getting the word out that atheists are here; therefore it would be absurd to say “getting the word out that atheists are here is hardly the only way for atheists to get the word out that they’re here.” That’s simply a flat contradiction. Therefore you must be assuming that “New Atheism” means more than that, and that the “more” that NA means is hardly the only way for atheists to get the word out that they’re here. That “hardly” implies something bad about the more that NA means. I made the wild leap that you were implying that the “more” was the various things NA-haters so routinely call NA – rude shrill strident aggressive etc etc.

    That’s not genuinely uncharitable for the blindingly obvious reason that you’re on record saying that kind of thing repeatedly. You have a lot of posts saying how New Atheists are horrible. It’s not uncharitable for people to draw conclusions from that.

  40. #40 Anthony McCarthy
    April 26, 2011

    OK, boys, produce places in their formally published science where Christians have introduced religion into that. It’s been periodically made, standing challenge to the new atheists for several years, for them to produce evidence to back up their false accusations. It’s a challenge that hasn’t, once, been met.

    Prove it, boys, prove that religion has been inserted into the formal literature of science, as racism and sexism and class prejudice (see those things I listed above, though a far larger list could be compiled) and a slew of other non-religious contaminants have been.

  41. #41 Ophelia Benson
    April 26, 2011

    Other than mindreading, I don’t know why she’d make that uncharitable assumption about my understanding of the term “New Atheism”

    It’s the logic of it. “New Atheism” is about getting the word out that atheists are here; therefore it would be absurd to say “getting the word out that atheists are here is hardly the only way for atheists to get the word out that they’re here.” That’s simply a flat contradiction. Therefore you must be assuming that “New Atheism” means more than that, and that the “more” that NA means is hardly the only way for atheists to get the word out that they’re here. That “hardly” implies something bad about the more that NA means. I made the wild leap that you were implying that the “more” was the various things NA-haters so routinely call NA – rude shrill strident aggressive etc etc.

    That’s not genuinely uncharitable for the blindingly obvious reason that you’re on record saying that kind of thing repeatedly. You have a lot of posts saying how New Atheists are horrible. It’s not uncharitable for people to draw conclusions from that.

  42. #42 Ophelia Benson
    April 26, 2011

    Agh, sorry for duplicate, it hung up so I refreshed and it didn’t give me the “you said that already you fool.”

  43. #43 stuv.myopenid.com
    April 26, 2011

    Wait, did John Kwok just actually complain about obsessive behaviour?

  44. #44 Anthony McCarthy
    April 26, 2011

    When a society is 100 percent Christian due to the legal ramifications from the political and clerical authority- why is a surprise that all the scientists of that period are also Christian? Agent smith

    Well, that’s the point, isn’t it. It was in majority Christian societies that science arose and flourished, largely invented by and developed by scientists who were Christians and Jews. Exactly those despised Abrahamic religions. You could include mathematics and you could include the third one, Islam.

    The history of science absolutely refutes the superstition that Christianity and Judaism are incompatible with science. The historical evidence for that is entirely available, whereas none of the missing, pre-historic evidence to back up most of what Dawkins and Dennett peddle is available, largely because they had to make that up. It is, literally, superstitious to believe that Christianity is incompatible with science.

  45. #45 stuv.myopenid.com
    April 26, 2011

    Anthony, sweetheart, aren’t you lost? Shouldn’t you be boring people at the Intersection with your tripe?

  46. #46 Ophelia Benson
    April 26, 2011

    Oh I get it! Comment 38 clears everything up. Josh meant that “talking about John Kwok and a Leica camera in the same sentence is hardly the only way for atheists to get the word out that they’re here.”

    Well now I can’t disagree with that. Okaaaaaaay then, we’re all on the same page.

  47. #47 abb3w
    April 26, 2011

    My impression is that the discussion of what the “New Atheism” is and isn’t would be more productive if someone with some anthropology training were to try and apply that to the movement to figure out what it is and isn’t, in terms of cultural practices and associated beliefs, whether proclaimed or suggested by observed course of action. (Some possibly relevant observations were made in the 2011-03-28 New Scientist by Jonathan Lanman, to the effect that the movement is a reaction to perception of US/UK threats against secularism.)

    That aside, I’d agree with Josh’s assessment that “getting the word out” (or in religious language, evangelism) is less essential to the New Atheism than (what I would term) the absence of presumptive tolerance. Calling it “intolerance” may overstate the matter; most of the New Atheists seem at least resigned to the fact that many people WILL choose to be religious. It’s more that they see insufficient reason for religious belief to be privileged from criticism – considering it unjustified “special treatment” as Stenger’s slide puts it. Similarly, I’d also say “attack” is too strong a word, in that the New Atheists response is (so far, that I am aware) limited to words (and the occasional stunt on the “Reject Christ, Receive Bacon” lines) rather than anything more dramatic.

    @2, DuaneBidoux: When I think of New Atheists I think of Dawkins and Hitchens and of writers that seem as fundamentalist (and as harmful) as the Baptist I grew up with.

    I think that may well overstate the relative degree of zeal by comparing the New Atheists to Baptists, based on the data in Hunsberger and Altemeyer’s Atheists. The zeal of active atheists is more comparable to the levels found in median Christianity than to Christianity’s more fundamentalist groups.

  48. #48 Ophelia Benson
    April 26, 2011

    I’d agree with Josh’s assessment that “getting the word out” (or in religious language, evangelism) is less essential to the New Atheism than (what I would term) the absence of presumptive tolerance.

    Or rather, as you go on to add, an end to being shielded from criticism; an end to special privilege; hypertolerance, as it were.

    I agree with that too actually, or at least don’t disagree with it. I said that much at my place yesterday after someone (Sigmund, I think) pointed it out to me.

    The two are connected though. The difficulties of the first keep pointing up the need for the second. Gnus say religion should be as openly discussed as any other institution; there are vituperative howls in response; gnus realize how marginal their (reasonable, gnus think) views are, and thus how much need there is to be not so marginal.

  49. #49 John Kwok
    April 26, 2011

    @stuv.myopenid.com –

    You’re absolutely delusional, as this observation of yours posted over a year ago at Pharyngula demonstrates:

    Posted by: stuv.myopenid.com | March 9, 2010 11:38 PM

    sandi: Are you kidding me? The Intersection is a veritable clown car filled with rejects from any blog with standards of discourse.

    It is so much better there. There is NO SWEARING.

    Oh, and by the way, fuck their sorry, appeasing, milque-toast bullshit. Fuck them all sideways with a rusty fucking knife*.

    * This particular post to be whined about on the Colgate Twins blog around mid-2011.

    Too bad that blog’s moderator didn’t heed this advice, which was posted a few days ago at Panda’s Thumb:

    “Kirshenbaum considered it a threat and I don’t think it’s unreasonable that she did. I can also understand why some people might have been considered it a joke. It’s certainly angry, violent rhetoric that is pretty much guaranteed to sidetrack any rational discourse that might be in progress.”

    “I don’t know the actual intent (threat, joke, or rhetorical flourish) of the person who made the comment. What I can say is that if I were running a blog that purported to be about science, I would consider such an offensive comment inappropriate and would have removed or edited it, and, depending on past behavior, quite possibly banned the person who made it. In an online music forum I help moderate, someone making such a comment, either as a threat or as a ‘joke’ would be immediately and permanently banned, no questions asked. Any of the site moderators would take that action.”

  50. #50 Anthony McCarthy
    April 26, 2011

    Gnus say religion should be as openly discussed as any other institution; there are vituperative howls in response; gnus realize how marginal their (reasonable, gnus think) views are, and thus how much need there is to be not so marginal. O.B.

    It’s not opposition to open discussion or honest criticism or justfied condemnation, it’s the dishonest revilement, vicarious blame and other aspects of the new atheist program that are objectionable.

    If you want to talk about the documented crimes and sins of religious establishments and individuals you won’t get any complaint to me, so long as you only blame the guilty and you don’t go overboard in your presentation. You might want to look at the intra and inter religious tradition of criticism of religion to get some ideas, it’s quite a large literature. I’d suggest starting with Isaiah.

  51. #51 Josh Rosenau
    April 26, 2011

    All: Let’s not dredge up fights from other blogs here. I’m happy to see a vigorous discussion, but not a rehash of grudgematches from elsewhere.

  52. #52 abb3w
    April 26, 2011

    @7, Rob Knop: Do the New Atheists really believe that they aren’t being argumentative, aggreessive, and generally dickish in their attacks on religion? Or, are the religious the “other” against whom any sort of rude behavior is justified?

    I think it’s more that they don’t consider themselves as being any more aggressively argumentative about religion than for any other manner of unjustified belief. As such, it’s not that the religious are considered out-group “other”, but that they are considered peers rather than a privileged caste, and thus fair game for criticism of their ideas.

    @9, Rieux: I see what you did there: you pretended that ideas are the same thing as the people who hold them—that attacking a bad idea (when it’s a religious one) is a personal attack on the believer who holds it.

    Have you read Larry Niven’s short “Grammar Lesson“? It depends whether the pronoun for “my idea” is considered intrinsic, extrinsic, or relational. A case can be made for any of the three.

    @23, Paul: Any religion which makes any material claims about the universe and refuses to alter its dogma when such claims come into conflict with reality does in fact attempt to undermine science.
    @24, Anthony McCarthy: The evidence that Christianity is compatible with science is found in the fact that it was almost exclusively Christians who are responsible for the founding of modern science.

    In so far as Christianity (or any other creed) is willing to abandon the religion’s traditional is-claims about how the universe when science shows them in error, they are anthropologically compatible. In so far as religions (and the religious) tend to resist the new ideas that contradict traditional authority, they’re not.

    In so far as almost every religion makes is-claims about reality (along with ought-claims about choices to be in proper/right/good relation with it) that they take axiomatically as true, and in so far as science doesn’t allow is-claims to be thus privileged (regarding them rather as all being subject to re-evaluation given further evidence or new competing claims), they’re philosophically incompatible. However, this underlying philosophical conflict only becomes noticeable if-and-when science addresses the particular privileged religious is-claim (or proximate implications of the claim).

    Possibly aside from some really basic assumptions underpinning what the meaning of “is” is.

  53. #53 Lesley Fellows
    April 26, 2011

    @Paul

    “Any religion which makes any material claims about the universe and refuses to alter its dogma when such claims come into conflict with reality does in fact attempt to undermine science.”

    Of course, but in England, where he and I live, Christianity does not make such claims. For instance the head of the Anglican Communion – backs evolution and there are posts on the Church of England website supporting evolution – here , so my perception is the vast vast majority of Christians do not in any way try to undermine science. And of course many natable scientists have been religious.

  54. #54 Jon
    April 26, 2011

    Gnus say religion should be as openly discussed as any other institution; there are vituperative howls in response…

    There are reasons why at a cocktail party most people bring up the subject or their love or hate of Christ only after they’re drunk. Like most matters of conscience, it’s discussed with tact and respect.

    This is common sense. The other fact is that there’s often matters of class and education involved. Want to wake up the Right, make people conservative? Attack their religion.

    Also, with regard to the elites (who are more their size, and who they should pick on instead) NA’s often complain that their intemperate approach is a “style.” I disagree. I think it’s a way of casually dismissing all the hard questions that thoughtful people (like Max Weber that I mentioned above) ask. The pose of NA’s isn’t just style, it’s contempt for everything outside of their small circle of nerdly concerns.

    How’s that for open discussion? You like it? Well neither do the people you slam.

  55. #55 Rob Knop
    April 26, 2011

    Jeremy O said:

    For example, I don’t think you have attacked me or Rob, but your last two posts come off as smug and condescending. If we are going to talk about fallacies, your argument is a straw man fallacy.

    Yes, the whole smug and condescending thing is one of the more unattractive features often seen in comments posted by Nü Atheists. (By the way, thank you, Chad, for that way of saying it.)

    Another is the citation of logical fallacies, listed in much the same way that creationists will cite scripture. Right alongside that is excessive adherence to strict semantic arguments. Chad points this out in one case very well here: http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2010/07/science_v_religion_time_to_try.php#comment-2668578 I see that going on here with the whole accusation that I’m moving the goalposts by a detailed investigation of one sentence I wrote.

    One has merely to read one or two of the comment threads at Coyne’s blog to see a whole host of incorrect and really terrible things said about me as a person, because I’m not an atheist. Somehow, though, I’m not supposed to be insulted by the term “intellectual dishonest”, because your philosophy says that somebody like me is that. And, yet, you will complain about fundamentalists of other sorts calling you “evil” because *their* philosophy says that you are that.

  56. #56 Fred
    April 26, 2011

    New Atheists have their own brand of selective reading….For instance, I’ve never heard a New Atheist comment on Max Weber. Disenchantment anyone?

    And what is it about Weber’s disenchantment that you feel atheists, new or old, need to answer for?

  57. #57 christophe-thill.myopenid.com
    April 26, 2011

    I’m not sure Victor Stenger dictates what New Atheism is, or should be, or what you must do if you want to deserve the label. I’m not sure other so-called New Atheists wholly agree with him. Don’t some of those even deny that there is such a thing as New Atheism? What I see is a group of people with ideas and approaches that are not completely similar, who happened to publish books and to receive media attention around the same period of time. Among the few things they have in common, there’s the fact that they are rather vocal, don’t shy away from polemics and think that spades (and BS) should be called by their name. But I don’t really believe in a “Stenger test” to determine who is or is not part of a “movement” whose very existence is not a certainty.

  58. #58 Jack Jersawitz
    April 26, 2011

    Who cares if the “new atheists” are here?

    Who cares if folks who morally thought of themselves as Christians or Jews or Muslims or, or… invented the sciences except to recognize that the human mind is so facile with thought perceptions as to be able to hold both the method of science and the method of religion in their minds at the same time.

    What is important about the latter is that, like the Christian alchemist Newton (Alchemist when he wasn’t studying planetary motion and inventing the math to address his observations), he was, as an alchemist like many recording his work and results and observations so that sooner or later they or others could generalize certain relationships and perceive therefor the method we now call science.

    ‘The evidence that Christianity is compatible with science is found in the fact that it was almost exclusively Christians who are responsible for the founding of modern science. Copernicus, Galileo, Steno, Newton, Priestley, Faraday…. I will single out Lavoisier, who was killed by an anti-religious regime, of whom it was said, “It took them only an instant to cut off his head, but France may not produce another like it in a century.”

    ‘I’d like to know which of the big names of the new atheism have produced scientific work that matches theirs in basic importance.’

    I don’t like the so-called “new atheists,” especially those that are more interested in making a living out of it like Hitchins, because in hitting all the easy targets they abandon the opportunity to develop a discussion based in dialectical materialism as an essential conscious reflection in thought of existence, sentient or otherwise.

    In fact there is no compatibility of mysticism (Call it by its right name) with scientific materialism, i.e., dialectical, historical, materialism. If you want to understand why nuclear scientists are also mystics (Fritjoff Capra, The Tao of Physics) you need to study psychology although I don’t think that science is yet developed to the point where it will provide an answer although part of the answer has been offered in recognizing the periods in which some of the early scientific innovators grew up.

    ‘The denial of that history is no less a denial of certain fact than the denial of evolution. The majority of people in the world who accept the fact of evolution are religious, in the United States, most of them are Christians.

    ‘It’s nothing more complex than ignorance of or the refusal to admit those facts, and they are facts, which refute the claim.’

    “Posted by: Anthony McCarthy | April 26, 2011 8:01 AM”

    Unfortunately, those that are incomplete scientists because they mix in their own heads science and mysticism and because social pressure makes an absolute firewall between the two impossible, when faced by the unknowns produced by the work around of quantum physics, are beginning to drift back to mysticism. Lacking hard data they invent mathematically various schema to fill the gaps much as do the anti-evolution folks looking for continuity instead of the sudden leaps that Ghould pointed out are part of the nature of the evolutionary process.

    It is to be hoped that the newly attainable energy levels obtainable at Cern will fill some of the gaps in knowledge so that it becomes conscious knowledge that examination of the physical process is infinite insofar as at every step, depending on our technology, we parse matter into smaller and smaller bits so that maybe the Capras of mysticism and science come to understand there is nothing there but that which is material.

    That is my argument with new or old atheism, that all too often the argument is strictly one of mind instead of developing it out of the introduction of god into every real and material aspect of material life. New science therefore becomes just another ideology beginning in mind and remaining there.

    Mr. McCarthy, interestingly, ignores the very important work in material science that explains the relationship between science and religion in the minds of those he sites and its origins in material existence. I am of course talking about Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels who as Young Hegalians took Hegel’s mysticism and, as Marx said, turned it from standing on its head to standing on its feet, thus rescuing the very important material thought process’ from mysticism and implanting them as the basis of the science of all science, that is the general science of human thought now being examined by specialists employing such wonderful tools as the cat scan to look at the human brain even as it thinks.

    Marx, of course, offers another thought, i.e., that mysticism cannot be overcome simply by argument but is based in the material nature of how we live. If we would discard mysticism as the obstacle to science it clearly is we have to change our manner of creating the society whose “leaders” greatly depend on it in order to retain and maintain their special place.

    But that is an issue and argument for another place and forum.

    Jack Jersawitz
    404-892-1238
    bigjackjj@yahoo.com

  59. #59 Raging Bee
    April 26, 2011

    The only thing “new” about the “New Atheists” is their new wave of often pointless obnoxiousness, and their willingness to say things that are often as insulting as they are dead wrong. Out of the entire Muslim poulation, Afghanistan represents the “true face of Islam?” Seriously? How does a nonbeliever like Sam Harris — who’s probably never even been to a Muslim country — get to decide who represents the “true face” of a religion he’s never been a part of? Does Harris, or anyone else, really think that kind of nonsense is at all persuasive?

    If you’re trying to convince others to adopt a course that values rationality over religious thinking, the first thing you have to do is sound rational. Some atheists do that a lot better than others.

  60. #60 Raging Bee
    April 26, 2011

    Jack, your coment is nothing but word-salad. Using mathematical schema is a retreat into “mysticism?” Really? Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?

  61. #61 Stephanie Z
    April 26, 2011

    Yes, the whole smug and condescending thing is one of the more unattractive features often seen in comments posted by Nü Atheists.

    Uh, that’s nice? Now that I’ve gotten “smug and condescending” out of the way, on to substance. Rob, if your concern is more for how mean people are to you (or John Kwok) than for the topic, perhaps you should stay out of it. When you start in with this:

    Do the New Atheists really believe that they aren’t being argumentative, aggreessive, and generally dickish in their attacks on religion? Or, are the religious the “other” against whom any sort of rude behavior is justified?

    you’re being “argumentative, aggreessive, and generally dickish.” That means one of two things as far as I can see: You either believe that behavior is appropriate to the discussion, but not for “New Atheists,” or you have blinders on about your own behavior.

    It’s worth remembering where this debate came from. Atheists, only recently starting to stand up and be counted in any number, are seeing the people who have been saying the same things that atheists have been saying for centuries (as noted in comment 5, then largely ignored) being told to hush up because they’re being noticed for once and that’s making trouble. These are frequently also the people who gave your rank-and-file atheist the courage to come out and who provide sympathy when coming out results in the crap it always results in. But hush, because what these other people are doing is really important.

    Of course, it is important. But so is being supported and encouraged as an out atheist. So is being able to tell people how religion hurt you or those you love without having to put bows on it. So is being able to tell other people that they have a real choice to get out of abusive religions. So is being able to run for public office. So is being able to keep your job. So is being able to keep your kids.

    But hush. And be really nice to the people who are telling you to hush. Be nice to the people who are telling you that you matter less than what they’re doing. Be nice to the people who are doing good work but only talk about why people like you are bad. Be nice to the people who might, someday let you eat at the grown-up table if you stay quiet enough at the children’s table first (and when there are no more grown-up problems you might interfere with). Hush and trust them, despite the fact that they’re calling you the problem.

    Yeah, no. Atheists are being aggressive, in part, because they’re being told to go back to being passive. They’re being argumentative because there’s a constant onslaught of messages leveled at them and everyone they have to deal with that becomes the unquestioned social background if they don’t. They’re being rude because everybody is rude sometimes, and they’re not going to be left out if you’re not. They’re being condescending because you’ve been told this before in some form, but you can’t seem to move past the fact that someone insulted you in order to hear it.

    As for smug, text is notoriously hard to decode. I’m reading annoyance. I suspect you’re reading in.

  62. #62 TTT
    April 26, 2011

    Stephanie, you shouldn’t have bothered typing that out. The first rule of talking about Gnu Atheists is that it is terribly UNCIVIL to complain when someone says “Sit down and shut up and thank me for telling you to sit down and shut up.”

    It’s ironic that this post began with an invocation of Humpty-Dumpty’s linguistic relativism, as there is truly no more perfect example of this than what “civil” and “tone” get horrifically corrupted into when they are invoked as tools of pre-emptive defamation and borderline censorship by Gnu Atheist bashers.

    Gnu Atheists are so inherently epistemologically inferior to everybody else that it’s only appropriate that they be demeaned, defamed, and demanded to cease all engagement with everybody on any topic. Their objections to this only proves the vileness of their speech, as surely as an accused witch’s flammability proved her guilt.

  63. #63 Anthony McCarthy Leveler
    April 26, 2011

    Mr. McCarthy, interestingly, ignores the very important work in material science that explains the relationship between science and religion in the minds of those he sites and its origins in material existence. I am of course talking about Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels who as Young Hegalians J. J.

    I don’t ignore it, I reject it. Neither Marx nor Engels were scientists, they were economic philosophers. Marx was probably the greatest critic of capitalist society of his time but his predictions were way off. He was a great diagnostician but a lousy clinician.

    In the United States it was people like Victor Berger and Eugene Debs who actually got things done, the left pretty much stalled out into ineptitude when the latter day Marxists and Trots took over. That’s another thing which Marx got right, when he famously said to a dedicated Marxist Je ne suis pas un Marxist.

    Their commentary on religion was useless. It’s nothing compared to what James and Bowne anad Barth said on the subject. It was rejected in every society which allegedly followed Marx, more in the breach than in the observance. In the paper today there’s a picture of people bowing to the long dead dictator of North Korea.

    You might find Marilynne Robinson’s essay McGuffy and the Abolitionists of interest, especially what she says about Marx’s journalism in the United States during the Civil War and the near certainty that Lincoln would have read it.

  64. #64 scott
    April 26, 2011

    Raging Bee states @59:

    “The only thing “new” about the “New Atheists” is their new wave of often pointless obnoxiousness, and their willingness to say things that are often as insulting as they are dead wrong.”

    The irony of that statement burns deep.

  65. #65 Steve Zara
    April 26, 2011

    Stephanie Z-

    Beautifully put.

  66. #66 Anthony McCarthy
    April 26, 2011

    The irony of that statement burns deep. scott

    Not as much as that one.

  67. #67 dr-rieux
    April 26, 2011

    Yup, Stephanie @61 wins the thread.

    As for iteration #3,658,339 of the “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” trope (seen in Jeremy O @15, among other places), it’s useful to quote Gnu commenter and hopefully future blogger Paul W. [from http://tinyurl.com/3ljnnnq ]:

    What accommodationists say that sets gnus off is usually a criticism of gnus that implies that we’re wrong to be as “radical” as we are, and that we should sit down and shut up, or do something else instead, because our anti-religious fight

    1) isn’t worth fighting in principle, because religion’s not so bad, or

    2) isn’t winnable, to any particularly useful extent, so isn’t worth fighting in practice, or

    3) isn’t winnable by our overt, backlash-generating means, so we should all be nice moderates like the accommodationists instead of being noisy troublemakers who undermine sound, centrist political triangulation strategy.

    We generally think all those things are false, and get really tired of hearing them from people who don’t seriously address the issues of fact, of worthwhile goals, or of effective political strategy.

    Every time we hear strategic advice that amounts to “you catch more flies with honey” by somebody telling us what to do, who is apparently entirely ignorant of Overton window strategies, it pisses us off.

    We get really, really sick of people telling us what to do without addressing our very good reasons for doing what we’re doing, and actually showing that their reasons are better than our reasons.

    One thing that does frequently bring deep emotions into play is the sense that accommodationists frequently advise us what to do as though they think we’re simplistic strategically naive zealots, as opposed to thoughtful people with well-thought-out positions, good arguments, and an arguably excellent strategic rationale that is almost never even mentioned, much less properly addressed, by people who proffer an “obviously better” strategy toward apparently different goals.

    Until accommodationists are willing to talk very, very seriously about Overton issues, we’re going to dismiss their strategic advice as the shallow, platitudinous crap that we think it is. As long as they act like we don’t even have a strategy, and criticize us for not going along with theirs, we’re going to be seriously annoyed when they tell us to do what they want us to do, instead of what we’re doing.

    Talking about us as though we’re simply strategically naive and gratuitously confrontational is straw-manning us, and we are sick as shit of it. Its been going on nonstop for years, and doesn’t show any sign of stopping.

  68. #68 Rob Knop
    April 26, 2011

    Stephanie — there’s a difference between being out as an atheist and insisting that anybody who *isn’t* an atheist is deluded, ignorant, and intellectually dishonest. Yet, the latter characterizes the discourse that folks like Josh and I object to. Don’t assume that because we’re objecting to that, we’re objecting to anybody being out about being an atheist.

  69. #69 Jon
    April 26, 2011

    “…who is apparently entirely ignorant of Overton window strategies…”

    Rosenau addressed that a few years ago:

    http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2007/04/atheism_feminism_and_the_overt.php

  70. #70 Stephanie Z
    April 26, 2011

    Rob, who isn’t “deluded, ignorant, and intellectually dishonest”? Welcome to humanity. All the “received wisdom” in the world can’t save you from that. If you can’t handle having that pointed out to you, maybe you should stay out of conversations about religion, where it seems to matter to you that you not be.

  71. #71 julian
    April 26, 2011

    Rob, who isn’t “deluded, ignorant, and intellectually dishonest”? – Stephanie

    Heh. You should see how I get about comics. I still refuse to admit anything happened in the Marvelverse after Capt America got killed.

  72. #72 Stephanie Z
    April 26, 2011

    julian, I think (based on no particularly good evidence), that burning books is an abomination, but I’d still make an exception for Ways of Seeing.

  73. #73 dr-rieux
    April 26, 2011

    Very nice, Jon; in the post you cite, Josh writes just under 2,000 words and manages to say nothing whatsoever that calls into question the Overton strategies employed by gnus. (“I’m not interested in motion along that axis” makes for a notably pointless criticism of strategy.) The post falls far short of, as Paul W. put it, “addressing [gnus’] very good reasons for doing what we’re doing, and actually showing that [accommodationists’] reasons are better than our reasons.”

    Meanwhile, my comment was in fact a response not to Josh but to Jeremy O, who evidently gave not the slightest thought to any such issue and merely deigned to lecture me that “[p]eople don’t like to listen to arguments from people who treat them poorly.” What a novel concept that is. Paul’s comment (though better the full original than the excerpt I quoted) put that critique in its proper place.

    Most fundamentally, of course, it remains entirely undemonstrated that Gnu Atheism qua Gnu Atheism “treat[s]” people, as opposed to religious ideas, “poorly.” Religious privilege and its suffocating pretense that attacks on beliefs constitute attacks on believers are simply endemic to this entire arena, and a major reason Gnus are continually being bashed is that so many continue to pretend that there’s no fallacy in that pretense at all.

    A notable number of us believe that religious faith, religious authority, and religious privilege are bad and destructive things. We are going to continue arguing that, whether Jeremy, Josh, or anyone else likes it or not. To coin a phrase, we’re here, we’re Gnu, and it might behoove folks to get used to it.

  74. #74 idahogie
    April 26, 2011

    The last decade has seen both an increase in those willing to employ tactics generally described as “aggressive” and “confrontational” (i.e., Gnu Atheists) and a general increase in the number of people calling themselves atheists.

    Correlation and causation, and all that. However, the “accomodationists” are still in the unenviable position of having to explain how it is that more people are calling themselves atheists despite the “negative” actions of the GAs. Would there be even more atheists about today if only the GAs had kept their aggressiveness in check? What caused the increase in atheism in spite of the fact that it has been retarded by the antics of the GAs?

    I wouldn’t want to be in that position. The assumption that the GAs have had a generally positive effect on the environment for atheists seems to be a whole lot easier to swallow.

    The number of people that have been converted from theism to atheism on the basis of a debate has got to be vanishingly small. The conversion process takes time and it takes a variety of influences and experiences. So the complaint that the GAs won’t “win any converts” with their style of debate is disingenuous at best.

    Let everyone do what they are comfortable doing, and stop the “you’re doing it wrong” insanity.

  75. #75 Jeremy O
    April 26, 2011

    I am amazed how victory is claimed against me when I have yet to tell anyone to “shut up” or “hush”. Is outspoken suppose to be synonymous with tactless, or what I am referring to as tactless? (I am not being facetious; I am actually curious about your answer.) I find Dawkins to be outspoken but I wouldn’t say he is tactless or lacking tact (at least in most cases). I don’t think Russell had other atheists saying his views were abrasive, but he was definitely outspoken. Insofar as GAs have been outspoken they have been successful in having atheists calling themselves atheists (to answer idahogie’s question). But, yes, I find GAs’ hostility towards their interlocutors to be counterproductive. I am not saying GAs should be less outspoken, but to be less abrasive in their tactics. Of course, I am speaking only for myself so your claims may fit for other critics who think otherwise.

    Besides that, I am intrigued with your quote. If you think that outspoken is not synonymous with what I have been calling tactless then is this “abrasiveness” part of the strategy for GAs? In other words, is this part of an Overton window strategy? If that is the GA’s strategy then I find that an interesting concept.

    Lastly, I have no idea what Gnu Atheism qua Gnu Atheism would mean. I never saw Gnu Atheism as having a definitive position but just a group of individuals with similar views and concerns over each others arguments. I wouldn’t call a person who fit with either definition given above a Gnu Atheist unless they were involved in some sense with the activities of other Gnu Atheists. But if Gnu Atheism has a position it wouldn’t necessarily involve treating people poorly, yet a large sum of GAs use this tactic.

  76. #76 abb3w
    April 26, 2011

    idahogie: Correlation and causation, and all that.

    Though the “Nones” are not all atheists, GSS demographic and trend data suggest that the “New Atheists” are more likely effect of rising irreligiosity than cause; the increase has been going on for a rather long time, predating the New Atheists considerably. I’m deeply unconvinced anything the New Atheists have said or done have had any measurable effect on the demographic trends.

    idahogie: So the complaint that the GAs won’t “win any converts” with their style of debate is disingenuous at best.

    Actually, it’s readily falsified; I recall a couple ex-theists on Fark and Pharyngula who have asserted that a confrontational encounter was prominently contributory to their deconversion. Of course, hind sight recollections are subject to distortion, not to mention the potential for outright lies; still, sociological weaseling aside, it suggests “not any” is disproved by presence of counterexamples.

    Whether another approach (or more subtly, mix of approaches) might be more effective is an interesting question, but unlikely to be testable by any IRB-approvable experimentation, and is mostly argued based on gut instinct and analogy rather than statistics and experiential data.

  77. #77 Rieux
    April 26, 2011

    Jeremy, who I gather was responding to me:

    Is outspoken suppose to be synonymous with tactless….

    Well, actual outspokenness isn’t synonymous with tactlessness, no. But in practice, Gnus are routinely accused of offensiveness, personal attack, “fundamentalism,” etc., for doing things that actually merely amount to outspoken critiques of religious beliefs, practices, and arguments.

    You’ve done it yourself in this thread, to me. I haven’t leveled any personal attacks here, but you declared that I’d been “smug and condescending,” and that I’d treated people poorly. Those accusations are false; what I actually did was post some arguments that you would prefer not be posted.

    It’s an old process: Gnu-ish nonbelievers “outspoken”ly state arguments and criticize ideas that various parties don’t want to be stated and criticized. Anti-Gnus respond by misrepresenting what those nonbelievers have done and said. Frequently these misrepresentations involve false claims that a Gnu has attacked religious believers; other times a Gnu’s tone is alleged to be objectionable even though it was actually no different than the tone in which philosophical, political, or aesthetic points (among numerous others) are routinely made, on the Internet and elsewhere. The double standards that are constantly applied to speech that is critical of religion are simply absurd.

    I find Dawkins to be outspoken but I wouldn’t say he is tactless or lacking tact (at least in most cases).

    Richard Dawkins has been bashed for tactlessness and other tone-related issues incessantly since the publication of The God Delusion—quite possibly more than any other atheist has been since Madalyn Murray-O’Hair died. It’s heartening, though a little hard to fathom, that you disagree with such criticisms.

    It’s difficult to avoid concluding that an anti-Gnu’s definition of “tactless,” of course, is anything other than “saying things about religion that I strongly disagree with.” Gnubashers do a notably poor job of explaining objective criteria that they use to come to such a conclusion—and to the extent that they do provide such criteria, it’s notable how frequently religious privilege and special pleading are central to them.

    I don’t think [Bertrand] Russell had other atheists saying his views were abrasive….

    Nice to hear. Plenty of of atheophobes disagree.

    If you think that outspoken is not synonymous with what I have been calling tactless then is this “abrasiveness” part of the strategy for GAs?

    Given what you mean by “abrasiveness”—i.e., daring to state arguments against religious faith/authority/privilege that you think we ought not state: yes, clearly it is part of a common Gnu strategy. Like any other defender of religious privilege, you could benefit from somewhat more frequent exposure the kinds of arguments you currently dismiss as “abrasive”; there’s plenty of evidence that you would be less eager to brush them aside or misrepresent them if you weren’t so accustomed to a social discourse in which direct challenges to religious practices such as (here) Rob Knop’s invocation of privilege is discouraged and disparaged.

    I gather that you haven’t read the (entire) Paul W. comment I linked to above; I suggest you do so, and then see if you can find the series of comments explaining Overton he posted on Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True blog (to Jerry’s evident consternation at the comments’ length) earlier this month. The very concept of the Overton Window and the manner in which the notions of propriety you are trying to enforce in this thread are the product of the ideas you are accustomed to seeing advocated seems very new to you.

    I never saw Gnu Atheism as having a definitive position but just a group of individuals with similar views and concerns over each others arguments.

    That’s by-and-large accurate, but it’s nonetheless possible to make somewhat general statements of where Gnus are coming from, and (of all people) Paul has taken what a lot of us think is a very substantive stab at it. Please check it out.

    But if Gnu Atheism has a position it wouldn’t necessarily involve treating people poorly, yet a large sum of GAs use this tactic.

    No, actually, we don’t. Gnus have a number of related positions; that some of these are mischaracterized as “treating people poorly” is just an unfortunate facet of the state of (ir)religious discourse in our society.

    It really just comes back to Knop’s archetypal bait-and-switch in comment #7:

    Do the New Atheists really believe that they aren’t being argumentative, aggreessive, and generally dickish in their attacks on religion? Or, are the religious the “other” against whom any sort of rude behavior is justified?

    In point of fact, as I said, “attacks on religion” of whatever variety have nothing to do with “rude behavior against the religious.” Those are two entirely different phenomena, but Knop smashed them right together—and clearly you’ve bought it wholesale. Repeatedly on this thread you’ve made the 2 + 2 = 6 argument that Knop was not pretending that attacking religion is equivalent to mistreating believers—but he demonstrably is, right there, and I’ve shown you that repeatedly.

    As long as you continue to overlook (indeed, adamantly deny) that kind of privileged bait-and-switch, it’s hard to grant you much credibility in your comments about “tactlessness” and “poor treatment.” If you’ll let Knop get away with baldly misrepresenting what is actually going on in a supposedly “dickish attack on religion,” why should we trust you to evaluate our presentations honestly?

  78. #78 Rieux
    April 26, 2011

    abb3w:

    Though the “Nones” are not all atheists, GSS demographic and trend data suggest that the “New Atheists” are more likely effect of rising irreligiosity than cause; the increase has been going on for a rather long time, predating the New Atheists considerably.

    I agree. To the extent we’re talking about the demographics of (non)belief, I don’t see any evidence that Gnu Atheism (or any other advocacy approach) has had a meaningful effect. Though of course, as noted in the second passage abb3w quoted from idahogie, the converse (“YNH”) claim is even more dubious.

    Gnu Atheism has had a notable effect on social discourse regarding atheism and atheists, though—and, contra gnubashers, that effect looks overwhelmingly positive on balance to me. The Overton Window is demonstrably moving, and not in a direction that favors religion or the unjust privilege it is routinely (but less and less absolutely) afforded.

  79. #79 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    “We’re Gnu, we’re twelve”, is pretty much the gist of it.

    No, I don’t think people have to accept people who insist on acting like jerks. It’s always a big surprise, I guess, that people who get attacked usually retaliate. And you think you’re so bright.

  80. #80 Rob Knop
    April 27, 2011

    In point of fact, as I said, “attacks on religion” of whatever variety have nothing to do with “rude behavior against the religious.” Those are two entirely different phenomena, but Knop smashed them right together—and clearly you’ve bought it wholesale.

    You are very obsessed with this semantic point. You’ve got the quote to cut and paste forever more so that you can accuse me of moving the goalposts and whatever other things you want to accuse me of, but let me make the following statement:

    Do the New Atheists really believe that they aren’t being argumentative, aggressive, and generally dickish in their attacks on religious people? Or, are the religious the “other” against whom any sort of rude behavior is justified?

    That is a question that I mean to ask, and it’s not even entirely a rhetorical question. I’m really not sure if you folks think you aren’t being dickish in your attacks, or if you just think that the dickishness is justified because religious people are so wrong under your philosophy (much in the same way that fundamentalist religious types have no hesitation utterly decrying people who don’t toe *their* lines).

    Religion is important to many of the people who hold religion. As such, an attack on religion is going to be taken as an attack on those people, and is going to be taken personally. Trying to duck out of it by saying that you hate the sin but love the sinner (as it were) is a semantic dodge, not a meaningful defence of tactics. That you feel the need to use that semantic dodge indicates to me that at least on some level, if not completely consciously, you recognize that perhaps those tactics are questionable.

  81. #81 Rob Knop
    April 27, 2011

    As such, an attack on religion is going to be taken as an attack on those people, and is going to be taken personally.

    There is one other point I realize I have to make before a wall of semantic diatribe cascades over me. When I say that nü atheists make attacks on religious people, I mean it in two ways. First, as I say here. If you attack religion in an aggressive and insulting manner, religious people are going to take it as a personal attack. You may argue, well, that’s their problem for taking an argument against an ideal personally. I think that’s disingenuous, because you know fully well that it will be taken that way. However, beyond that, nü atheists do directly and unambiguously attack religious people just for being religious, and in a dickish manner.

  82. #82 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    The rational rule about any criticism is that if it’s 1. True and documented, 2. honest in attributing blame and 3. not guilty of attributing guilt on the basis of stereotype, it’s legitimate.

    If it’s inaccurate, false, used to impose unearned blame and guilt, it’s illegitimate.

  83. #83 dr-rieux
    April 27, 2011

    I’m glad that we can come to some semblance of an agreement, Rob: as you’ve just recognized, you and numerous other religious people labor under overwhelming religious privilege—as the result of which you perceive criticisms of your ideas as attacks on you. That you apparently think this is somehow justified and defensible, rather than the outrageous assault on the free marketplace of ideas that it actually is, appears to be the main source of our continuing disagreement.

    Religion is important to many of the people who hold religion. As such, an attack on religion is going to be taken as an attack on those people, and is going to be taken personally.

    Exactly! No one else could possibly expect to get away with that absurd pretense—that attacks on their ideas (political ideas, economic ideas, philosophical ideas, aesthetic ideas, you name it) are equivalent to personal attacks on them. Only religious believers demand that level of ridiculous deference—that utter silencing of anyone who disagrees with them. Under the ludicrous misconstrual you describe right there, the very expression of ideas contrary to yours constitutes an attack on your person. And to the extent that that absurd sensitivity is respected, religious ideas are hermetically sealed off from the rough-and-tumble world of the free marketplace of ideas.

    But in a word: no. No one is under any moral obligation to take your baseless and unjust privilege seriously. We are not required to pay attention to your constant attempts to pretend that attacks on your ideas are attacks on you. They aren’t. Your privileged refusal to think carefully and honestly about what it is that is actually being attacked is not our responsibility.

    If you attack religion in an aggressive and insulting manner, religious people are going to take it as a personal attack. You may argue, well, that’s their problem for taking an argument against an ideal personally. I think that’s disingenuous, because you know fully well that it will be taken that way.

    Of course we “know fully well” that dishonest believers are going to misrepresent our challenges to religious beliefs as attacks on religious people. But your thorough disrespect for the free marketplace is not our problem; we are not obligated to shut up just because we recognize you will lie (including, it appears, to yourself) about what we are actually saying. Gay couples routinely walk hand-in-hand down city streets “know[ing] full well” that that will make certain people who are drowning in straight privilege uncomfortable. Women who assert themselves in public settings are fully aware that various privileged males won’t like it. Ethnic minorities live and work and do things that they know perfectly well will make those burdened by white privilege uncomfortable. But it’s not their problem. Thoughtless and unjust privilege is not the moral responsibility of the out-group that defies it.

    We’re going to keep criticizing religious ideas, because we think they’re bad ideas, and the proper thing to do with bad ideas is criticize them. No doubt religious believers like yourself are going to keep pretending that our criticisms are personal attacks on you-plural, because that’s what the religious privilege you’re drowning in holds. And we’re going to keep disregarding that “problem,” because it’s not our problem, it’s yours. Some day maybe the believers who whine about how badly Gnus treat their poor, hothouse-flower beliefs will grow up enough to recognize that no idea can justly be protected that way. Religious privilege, just like straight and male and white privilege, is wrong.

    However, beyond that, nü atheists do directly and unambiguously attack religious people just for being religious, and in a dickish manner.

    Given the inability to tell the difference between attacks on religious ideas and attacks on religious people that you’ve just admitted you suffer from, it’s not so clear why we should take your testimony on that point as credible. How would you even know?

    But fine. Quote-and-link some such attacks on “religious people.” Quite possibly those were and are just as inappropriate as the slights that are flung at atheists all the time in this society. Given the overwhelming hegemonic power that your majority, and not our minority, holds, I’m skeptical that our power to debase you can possibly hold a candle to your power to debase us; but never mind that, show us the evidence of “reverse racism” that you’ve got.

    Whether they exist or not, attacks on religious people are not what is at issue here. Attacks on religious ideas (by your own assertion @7) are, and you’ve just admitted that religious believers misrepresent the fundamental nature of those. That makes the case for the injustice of religious privilege all by itself.

    Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.

    It’s rather like, if you think back in terms of animal evolution, an animal that’s grown an incredible carapace around it, such as a tortoise – that’s a great survival strategy because nothing can get through it; or maybe like a poisonous fish that nothing will come close to, which therefore thrives by keeping away any challenges to what it is it is. In the case of an idea, if we think ‘Here is an idea that is protected by holiness or sanctity’, what does it mean? Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows, but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe, no, that’s holy? What does that mean? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than that we’ve just got used to doing so? There’s no other reason at all, it’s just one of those things that crept into being and once that loop gets going it’s very, very powerful. So, we are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore Richard [Dawkins] creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.

    - Douglas Adams, “Is There an Artificial God?”

  84. #84 Stephanie Z
    April 27, 2011

    No, I don’t think people have to accept people who insist on acting like jerks. It’s always a big surprise, I guess, that people who get attacked usually retaliate. And you think you’re so bright.

    Anthony, did you read my first comment here? Also, did you read this through from beginning to end before you posted it?

    Rob, I can critique the performance of a sports team. If it’s bad, and I’m honest, that critique will be insulting. The fact that it will inevitably piss off fans informs the legitimacy of neither my critique nor the fact that I made it. “I’m offended, so you’re doing something wrong,” is simply not valid.

  85. #85 nomanomore
    April 27, 2011

    #17 McCarthy says “I use the term “new atheist” for atheists who demonstrate that they practice negative stereotyping of religious people, practice bigotry, false characterizations and similar, negative things.”

    #82 McCarthy says “The rational rule about any criticism is that if it’s 1. True and documented, 2. honest in attributing blame and 3. not guilty of attributing guilt on the basis of stereotype, it’s legitimate” (my bold)

    Your criticism is not legitimate by your own reasoning.

    #31 McCarthy: ” Or you can look at that favorite biologist of one of the places where atheism became the official state ideology, Trofim Lysenko”

    Atheism is an ideology? Since when? Wasn’t the state ideology in the USSR communism?

  86. #86 J. J. Ramsey
    April 27, 2011

    Stephanie Z: “Rob, I can critique the performance of a sports team. If it’s bad, and I’m honest, that critique will be insulting.”

    Possibly, but even if the team is bad, it is still possible to critique it in ways that are misleading, childish, unfairly maligning to the fans of the team, etc. And as has been pointed out several times over, those sorts of bad critique are what the “New Atheists,” “Gnu Atheists,” or whatever you want to call them, have been guilty of.

  87. #87 Stephanie Z
    April 27, 2011

    J. J., who and where?

    And just as importantly, what have the people they’ve been arguing with been doing in the meantime? That’s the point where we start getting into what I said to Rob:

    You either believe that behavior is appropriate to the discussion, but not for “New Atheists,” or you have blinders on about your own behavior.

    I have no illusions that whoever or whatever may define “New Atheists,” the group contains people who get angry on the internet, who deal selectively with long arguments, who enjoy hyperbole, who can’t put an argument down once they’ve started it, etc. and on. This is not exactly an unusual feature of groups. However, rare are the situations I’ve seen that don’t normalize that kind of behavior by tolerating it in people on their “side,” even as they point to it on the other. The idea that it’s some kind of distinguishing feature of “New Atheists” isn’t something you can show by pointing to only part of the debate.

  88. #88 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    Only religious believers demand that level of ridiculous deference—that utter silencing of anyone who disagrees with them. di-r

    Do you people just figure any old thing you can make up is good enough? Religious people are always criticizing religion, constantly, both internally and externally. A lot of the criticism of religion is accurate and a lot of it is inaccurate. The new atheist critique of it is inaccurate, bigoted and quite often a lie.

    New atheists are as big a bunch of crybabies as have ever come on the scene, one of the less attractive attributes. See nomanomore for a good indication of what happens when someone criticizes them.

    Douglas Adams

    There should be a rule that someone who mistakes Douglas Adams for a serious thinker on religion has pretty well given up the argument. A mistake that Richard Dawkins made. I suppose that Ricky Gervais is the next citation coming.

    Stephanie Z, I read it, it’s pretty much boilerplate. If you think that atheists and the like have just started being aggressive, you would seem to have missed a few minor figures such as Voltaire, Thomas Huxley, Robert Ingersoll, Corliss Lamont, Paul Kurtz, Maddy O’Hair, …. I’d go back to the classical period but this list pretty well proves the point.

    nomanomore

    http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/anti.html

  89. #89 Antiochus Epiphanes
    April 27, 2011

    Possibly, but even if the team is bad, it is still possible to critique it in ways that are misleading, childish, unfairly maligning to the fans of the team, etc. And as has been pointed out several times over, those sorts of bad critique are what the “New Atheists,” “Gnu Atheists,” or whatever you want to call them, have been guilty of.

    This conclusion suffers from confirmation bias. I would argue that outspoken atheists are no more likely to be unfairly insulting than outspoken theists; however, theists (or sympathetic others) are far more likely to level charges of incivility, than are atheists.

    Here’s why.

    The outspoken theist is coming to the debate without the sorts of weapons that win honest debates (evidence and logic). In this regard, it isn’t really a fair fight. The bulwhark of religious belief is faith…which is worth exactly nothing in an argument with someone who lacks it. Pointing a finger and yelling “uncivil” is often a desparate act of someone who is failing to support an argument. On the other hand, when one is winning an argument, rudeness is easy to ignore.

  90. #90 Stephanie Z
    April 27, 2011

    Anthony, read it again, with comprehension. You’re arguing against exactly the opposite of what I’m saying.

  91. #91 Antiochus Epiphanes
    April 27, 2011

    The new atheist critique of it is inaccurate, bigoted and quite often a lie.

    Maybe I’m confused. Don’t the NAs argue that religion is based on the incoherent and untestable concept of the supernatural? After that, the rest is ornamental.

  92. #92 nomanomore
    April 27, 2011

    #88 McCarthy: “See nomanomore for a good indication of what happens when someone criticizes them”

    What happens, exactly? They point out to you that your criticism fails to meet your own criteria for determining validity?

    #88 McCarthy: “http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/anti.html”

    I see nothing there that makes atheism an ideology. I see plenty of examples of a totalitarian regime wanting to take control of every aspect of life, nothing new there, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with atheism.

  93. #93 Antiochus Epiphanes
    April 27, 2011

    There should be a rule that someone who mistakes Douglas Adams for a serious thinker on religion has pretty well given up the argument.

    I disagree. Adams gives religion all of the serious thought that it’s due.

  94. #94 J. J. Ramsey
    April 27, 2011

    “I would argue that outspoken atheists are no more likely to be unfairly insulting than outspoken theists;”

    Again, we’re not talking about atheists who are merely outspoken. We’re talking about the sort of atheists who, for example, liken allying with the religious to keep creationism out of public schools to enabling Nazis.

  95. #95 Gray Falcon
    April 27, 2011

    I disagree. Adams gives religion all of the serious thought that it’s due.

    How does that differ from saying Kent Hovind gives evolution all of the serious thought that it’s due?

  96. #96 Onkel Bob
    April 27, 2011

    There should be a rule that someone who mistakes Douglas Adams for a serious thinker on religion…

    There is, it’s called the logical fallacy of ad hominem; and you are guilty of of it. Refute the idea, not the person delivering the message.

  97. #97 Gray Falcon
    April 27, 2011

    Perhaps I should be a bit clearer in my statement. When somebody criticizes evolution without any real understanding of science, they might insist that there’s no point to understanding something as absurd as evolution. Why is this (erroneous) reasoning acceptable among critics of religion?

  98. #98 Antiochus Epiphanes
    April 27, 2011

    Gray Falcon: At one point in time, people believed that inheritance of traits was passed through complete miniature people (called homunculi)who were included inside of gametes. A debate raged between the ovists who believed that the homunculus was contained in the egg cell, and the spermists, who believed that the homunculus was in the sperm cell. Of course, none of this debate is worth exploring (except in a purely academic sense) once Mendel discovered how traits are actually inherited.

    Understanding religion is a lot like understanding the ovist/spermist controversy. It is perfectly interesting as an academic exercise and has important historical consequences. However, studying religion is a poor way of understanding how the universe works.

  99. #99 Onkel Bob
    April 27, 2011

    When somebody criticizes evolution without any real understanding of science, they might insist that there’s no point to understanding something as absurd as evolution. Why is this (erroneous) reasoning acceptable among critics of religion?

    AC Grayling answered it this way:

    Terry Eagleton charges Richard Dawkins with failing to read theology in formulating his objection to religious belief, and thereby misses the point that when one rejects the premises of a set of views, it is a waste of one’s time to address what is built on those premises (LRB, 19 October). For example, if one concludes on the basis of rational investigation that one’s character and fate are not determined by the arrangement of the planets, stars and galaxies that can be seen from Earth, then one does not waste time comparing classic tropical astrology with sidereal astrology, or either with the Sarjatak system, or any of the three with any other construction placed on the ancient ignorances of our forefathers about the real nature of the heavenly bodies. Religion is exactly the same thing: it is the pre-scientific, rudimentary metaphysics of our forefathers, which (mainly through the natural gullibility of proselytised children, and tragically for the world) survives into the age in which I can send this letter by electronic means.

    London Review of Books

    You are assigning privilege to religion not because it has proven itself through scientific review (as evolution has) but because it agrees with you on an emotional plane. I assume you would make the same argument about other religions (Scientology, Mormon, Seventh Day Adventists, etc., on the fringe, Hindu, Jain, Buddhism in the more mainstream) that their belief system is erroneous, at which point your argument falls to pieces.

  100. #100 Gray Falcon
    April 27, 2011

    You’ve managed to miss the point of religion. Melt down the universe and you won’t find a single atom of right or wrong, of why or how. Tell me, how does one determine such things? How?

  101. #101 Glendon Mellow
    April 27, 2011

    #84 Stephanie Z:
    “I’m offended, so you’re doing something wrong,” is simply not valid.

    Exactly. Needs to be said again.

  102. #102 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    Anthony, read it again, with comprehension. You’re arguing against exactly the opposite of what I’m saying. Stephanie Z

    Trying to parse your sentence, if it means what I assume it does, that could be because we disagree.

    Maybe I’m confused. Don’t the NAs argue that religion is based on the incoherent and untestable concept of the supernatural? After that, the rest is ornamental. A.E.

    “Maybe I’m confused,” oh, I doubt you’re confused, just you don’t like what was said.

    Don’t the NAs argue that religion is based on the incoherent and untestable concept of the supernatural?

    We must be talking about different groups of new atheists. The ones I am talking about say that all religious people share the blame for the crimes of any religious people, that it is a uniquely evil manifestation of human thought, that it is an infectious mental illness that makes people unreliable in things such as the production of science….

    Actually, materialism is untestable and as articulated by new atheists frequently incoherent. I’d like to know just what you mean by “untestable”.

  103. #103 Michael Fugate
    April 27, 2011

    Accusations of lying and aggressiveness get thrown about – claims of people saying evolution = atheism or not. What we do know is that if someone is religious and does not accept evolution, then they may lose their faith upon accepting evolution. This does not mean that everyone will or even the majority will, but some will. This seems to be one of the primary functions of groups like Biologos – helping those who formerly may have considered Genesis to be literally true to understand it metaphorically (this group may be at the biggest risk). They are in the faith-retention business – trying to reduce the risk to faith of accepting science. The issue is should people be up front about the risk? A religious group may view the cost/benefit breakdown in a very different light than a science group? Can the benefit of accepting evolution outweigh the cost of the loss of religious faith? Can the benefit of religious faith outweigh the cost of not accepting evolution?

  104. #104 BenSix
    April 27, 2011

    Grayling’s response can be disputed in two ways. Firstly as a lot of theological, er – thinking is concerned with the question of a God’s existence. (Dawkins knows this – he scrapped with Aquinas and others.) Secondly as Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and the rest don’t limit themselves to assailing the idea a God’s existence but take on the moral implications of religious thinking. If their point was merely “there’s no God” most of the content of religions could be ignored. When they wrestle with theories like “there’s no God but if there was he’d be a bastard”, however…

  105. #105 BenSix
    April 27, 2011

    (None of which means that Eagleton’s review wasn’t miserable…)

  106. #106 dr-rieux
    April 27, 2011

    Tell me, Gray Falcon, whatever gives you the odd notion that “determining right or wrong, o[r] why or how” is “the point of religion”?

    And why should anyone accept that religion is any better at “determining” such matters than any other area of human endeavor is—indeed, that religion ever actually “determin[es] right or wrong, o[r] why or how” at all?

    Failure to address your dubious and idiosyncratic notions about religion and “the point” thereof is not in fact a flaw in Gnu Atheism, or indeed in any skeptical outlook.

    religion noun [mass noun] the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power , especially a personal God or gods

    – Oxford World Dictionary

    religion NOUN: 1. a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.

    b. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.

    – Houghton-Mifflin Dictionary

    religion NOUN 1 [UNCOUNTABLE] the belief in the existence of a god or gods[;] Religion is something we always argue about.

    a. [COUNTABLE/UNCOUNTABLE] a system of beliefs in a god or gods that has its own ceremonies and traditions

    – MacMillan Dictionary

    religion N 1. belief in or worship of a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny

    – Collins English Dictionary

    religion noun 1.1. belief in a divine or superhuman power or powers to be obeyed and worshiped as the creator(s) and ruler(s) of the universe

    2. expression of such a belief in conduct and ritual

    – Webster’s New World Dictionary

  107. #107 Gray Falcon
    April 27, 2011

    Do you know why I can’t stand antitheists? It’s not because I believe you pose a threat to religion, I can safely say you don’t. It’s not because you think what I believe is absurd, I have better things to worry about than what other people think of me, as I have to keep reminding myself repeatedly. Sorry about that.

    You see, fundamentalist Christianity has set up a viewpoint, of two opposed sides, Christianity and the modern world. The way to defeat them is not to play their game by declaring Christianity to be the enemy. They’ll just use that to their advantage in recruiting people, as fear can be stronger than reason. The way to win is to break down the game entirely, through tolerance and understanding, not hate. And yes, there are Christians who believe in tolerance and understanding, look us up.

  108. #108 dr-rieux
    April 27, 2011

    What an odd series of non sequiturs, Gray Falcon. To whom exactly are you replying?

    You see, fundamentalist Christianity has set up a viewpoint, of two opposed sides, Christianity and the modern world.

    And? I don’t see where you’ve shown that they’re wrong.

    The way to defeat them is not to play their game by declaring Christianity to be the enemy.

    Why should we believe that your notions regarding “the way to defeat” fundamentalism are better than anyone else’s? And who exactly has “declared Christianity to be the enemy”?

    The way to win is to break down the game entirely, through tolerance and understanding, not hate.

    Fine. There’s nothing inherently intolerant or hateful about Gnu Atheists’ challenges to religion. Meanwhile, you “can’t stand antitheists.” Mote, beam, eye, etc.

    And yes, there are Christians who believe in tolerance and understanding, look us up.

    Oh, certainly there are. It is, though, a little hard to (ahem) understand why someone so committed to tolerance and understanding would accuse Gnus of “miss[ing] the point of religion” because we conceptualize religion differently than you do—and then declare that you “can’t stand” us.

    Of course, whether or not “there are Christians who believe in tolerance and understanding” has nothing whatsoever to do with Gnu Atheists’ actual critiques of religion in general or Christianity in particular. Notwithstanding the Knop-like privilege you are clearly laboring under, criticisms of Christianity are not personal attacks on you, or on your asserted “tolerance and understanding.”

    This entire disagreement might go much better if believers just wouldn’t take challenges to the belief systems they assert so damned personally. Christianity, for example, can stand or fall on its own; you needn’t pretend that every assertion that it has serious problems is a personal insult.

  109. #109 Gray Falcon
    April 27, 2011

    Two statements of yours worth noting side by side: “And? I don’t see where you’ve shown that they’re wrong. ” and “And who exactly has “declared Christianity to be the enemy”?” You cant even keep your argument straight in a single comment.
    Did it ever occur to you that Christianity is not something that I can just toss aside like a rag doll? Many people’s personal identities are built on their faith, accusing Christianity of solely being a source of evil is accusing them of being evil. Try to learn that you are not the only human on planet Earth.

  110. #110 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    Firstly as a lot of theological, er – thinking is concerned with the question of a God’s existence. (Dawkins knows this – he scrapped with Aquinas and others. BenSix

    Relatively little theology deals with questions of the existence of God, Aquinas’ Summa is hardly taken up with the question. Quite a few theologians have pointed out reasons that the concept of God existing was problematic because it could mean that existence was superior to God, something that God was subject to. I’m sure that will go past just about any materialist but you might want to consider the problem of whether or not existence exists and how you would falsify the idea of existence.

    I’m always recommending that you guys read A. S. Eddington’s essay The Concept of Existence, in The Philosophy of Physical Science. He begins,

    I find a difficulty in understanding books on philosophy because they talk a great deal about “existence”, and I do not know what they mean. Existence seems to be a rather important property, because I gather that one of the main sources of division between different schools of philosophy is the question whether certain things exist or not. But I cannot even begin to understand these issues, because I can find no explanation of the term “exist”. The entire essay, by one of the greatest physicists of his time should be something that anyone wanting to go into questions of existence is required to be familiar with.

    You, and Dawkins, seem to think the concept of God existing or not is a fairly straight forward question. Even Bertrand Russell, when he wasn’t oversimplifying the question, admitted that the concept of God existing was hardly an easy one.

    I’m not any more bothered by the inability to “prove that God exists” than I am by the inability to falsify existence or to say what the universe expanded out of. If I believe that the universe was created by God, why would I expect to understand God when people don’t understand those questions.

    What religious people do when they think about religion is called “belief”, not “know”. All too often what materialists do when they think about these things is belief but they mistake it for knowledge.

  111. #111 Stephanie Z
    April 27, 2011

    Anthony, are you really telling me you couldn’t understand my comment because it said that “New Atheists” aren’t saying or doing anything new, just getting noticed for it–because you disagree with me? When you posted a comment to tell me the “New Atheists” aren’t saying or doing anything new?

    Start over. Approach comment 61 fresh. Try to read it as though you could learn something from it. Hold off, temporarily, on that impulse to find something that lets you say to yourself I’m all wet without actually engaging with what I said.

    Let me know when you finish. Tell me whether you still want to stand by comment 79. Then, we’ll talk.

  112. #112 Gray Falcon
    April 27, 2011

    Fine. There’s nothing inherently intolerant or hateful about Gnu Atheists’ challenges to religion. Meanwhile, you “can’t stand antitheists.” Mote, beam, eye, etc.

    At what point is suggesting that the world would be better off without religion tolerant and kind? Did you bother to read the article? Am I supposed to approve of someone who thinks I’m guilty by association?

  113. #113 dr-rieux
    April 27, 2011

    Gray Falcon:

    Two statements of yours worth noting side by side: “And? I don’t see where you’ve shown that they’re wrong. ” and “And who exactly has “declared Christianity to be the enemy”?” You cant even keep your argument straight in a single comment.

    What are you talking about? I didn’t say that “Christianity and the modern world” are “two opposing sides”; you asserted that fundamentalists say that and implied that they’re wrong. Merely pointing out that you haven’t shown that they’re wrong is not actually making an argument about the relationship between Christianity and the modern world.

    And even if I had asserted that “Christianity and the modern world” are “two opposing sides,” even that isn’t the same thing as “declar[ing] Christianity to be the enemy.”

    Your dealings with all of this—including your arbitrary conception of “religion,” which you absurdly slighted Gnus for ignoring and then dropped when shown how baseless that slight was—have been notably careless.

    Did it ever occur to you that Christianity is not something that I can just toss aside like a rag doll?

    Who’s asking you to? We’re just expecting you to be adult enough to recognize that Christianity and you are two different things. That hardly requires you to “toss” anything “aside”; you just need to be minimally mature enough to recognize what’s actually being criticized and what isn’t.

    Many people’s personal identities are built on their faith, accusing Christianity of solely being a source of evil is accusing them of being evil.

    “Is”? No, “feels to them like.”

    And in that case, it appears that they (you?) have no one to blame for that feeling but themselves. They (you?) have no right to declare themselves human shields for their beliefs, exempting those beliefs from the ordinary traffic of the free marketplace of ideas.

    Ideas are not people. They do not have rights. Your-plural continual attempts to shield certain ideas from critical inquiry, by pretending that you and your ideas are a single entity, are baseless and unjust—and it’s high time those attempts receive the disdain they deserve.

    (And again with your careless strawmen: who exactly has “accus[ed] Christianity of solely being a source of evil”?)

    Try to learn that you are not the only human on planet Earth.

    I suggest that you “try to learn” that your beliefs are not humans.

  114. #114 dr-rieux
    April 27, 2011

    Gray Falcon again:

    At what point is suggesting that the world would be better off without religion tolerant and kind?

    “At what point” (huh?) is it not?

    For the nth time, religion isn’t a person. It’s a set of ideas. What’s intolerant or unkind about suggesting that the world would be better off without a particular set of ideas?

    Am I supposed to approve of someone who thinks I’m guilty by association?

    There you go again, pretending that an attack on ideas is an attack on you personally. Who said you’re “guilty by association”? Of anything?

    You’re just making that up, based on nothing but your privileged misconception that your ideas should be protected from challenge. But they shouldn’t. And those of us who challenge your ideas are not thereby attacking you, no matter how fervently you pretend that we are.

  115. #115 idahogie
    April 27, 2011

    Having read the entire thread, I can say without a doubt that Anthony McCarthy has displayed the most belligerent, rude, condescending, and downright nasty behavior of anyone here. He kind of self-refutes the entire “accomodationist” argument.

    I can’t hang around though. I’ve got to go out and harangue some religious people and tell them how foolish they are. I’ll leave Anthony here to give more etiquette lessons, as he seems to think himself some sort of expert.

  116. #116 Gray Falcon
    April 27, 2011

    If I suggested that because of the actions of Stalin, Mao, and Rand that atheism is inherently evil, how would you respond?

  117. #117 J. J. Ramsey
    April 27, 2011

    Stephanie Z:

    I have no illusions that whoever or whatever may define “New Atheists,” the group contains people who get angry on the internet, who deal selectively with long arguments, who enjoy hyperbole, who can’t put an argument down once they’ve started it, etc. and on. This is not exactly an unusual feature of groups.

    True, and if it were just Joe Shmoe likening the NCSE to enablers of Nazis, or coining childish insults like “faith-head,” or making sweeping claims about moderates enabling extremists that are half-truths at best, or calling Chris Mooney’s ideas “fascism,” or grossly misrepresenting someone in order to call him a “quisling” and “witless wanker,” that wouldn’t mean much. But it’s not Joe Shmoe. It’s Dawkins. It’s Sam Harris. It’s Ophelia Benson. It’s PZ Myers. These aren’t the low-level nobodies doing this sort of thing.

    Really, to write this stuff off as merely “not exactly an unusual feature of groups” is rather like writing off the rancor of the current crop of Republicans by saying that nastiness occurs on both sides. Yes, it is on both sides, but on one side it is a heck of a lot more common and is more visible in the higher-status members of that one side (government and party officials in the case of Republicans, prominent authors and bloggers in the case of “Gnu Atheists”).

  118. #118 BenSix
    April 27, 2011

    If I suggested that because of the actions of Stalin, Mao, and Rand that atheism is inherently evil, how would you respond?

    Can’t speak for Rieux, of course, but I’d yawn and scratch my nose.

  119. #119 dr-rieux
    April 27, 2011

    BenSix’s response is a good one. A slightly more substantive reply would be to point out that it’s a facially invalid argument.

    It’s interesting, Gray Falcon, that you apparently think (1) that’s the mirror image of the arguments Gnus use against Christianity and (2) atheists would respond to it by falling over moaning about personal affront and guilt by association the way you have on this thread. Both notions are very silly.

  120. #120 Gray Falcon
    April 27, 2011

    Idahogie, do you have any actual examples of McCarthy being “belligerent, rude, condescending, and downright nasty”, or are you just going to expect me to take your word for it?

  121. #121 idahogie
    April 27, 2011

    Gray Falcon,

    See comment #79.

  122. #122 Gray Falcon
    April 27, 2011

    Good point. Unfortunately, that still doesn’t trump the suggestion that religion is inherently evil. Not only does that lump the innocent with the guilty, but it also gives the fundamentalists what they need: “Hey look, there’s a bunch of academics that hate you! Shoot them before they hurt you!”

    By the way, the “new atheists” do make testable claims, and those are what I take exception to. Note the claims on the slide on this page. Have any of you provided evidence for them? At all?

  123. #123 idahogie
    April 27, 2011

    The point that “religion is inherently evil” is a straw man. I doubt many on this thread hold that view, except in some shallow, hyperbolic sense. I think religion is sometimes evil, often harmful in an “opportunity cost” sense, and mostly a waste of time. I think it sometimes comforts people, but that there are better forms of comfort to be found that don’t come with the handicap of faith. If you question most of the GAs here, you will probably find similar views. But you will not likely find anyone expressing the “religion is inherently evil” view.

    I go back to my first point. This entire debate exists for one reason only: Some atheists think some other atheists are rude and aggressive and turning some potential allies or some potential converts away. Given that, it is up to the complainants to provide some proof that any of that is true.

    So I ask you — given that you demanded proof from me — provide examples that show widespread, ingrained “belligerent, rude, condescending, and downright nasty” behavior on the part of New Atheists towards religious or faithful people.

  124. #124 dr-rieux
    April 27, 2011

    [T]hat still doesn’t trump the suggestion that religion is inherently evil.

    Whose “suggestion that religion is inherently evil”? You really need to stop citing your imagination.

    Not only does that lump the innocent with the guilty….

    There you go again! Religion is a set of ideas, not a person. Saying “religion is inherently evil”—if in fact anyone has said this—is not declaring any person “guilty”! Why do you have such a difficult time understanding this?

    [I]t also gives the fundamentalists what they need: “Hey look, there’s a bunch of academics that hate you! Shoot them before they hurt you!”

    Yes, yes, we’ve heard from you already, Mr. D’Souza: horrid feminist and gay (and atheist) Americans just “give the Islamists what they need: ‘Hey look, there’s a bunch of infidels committing abominations to Allah—and they hate you! Shoot them before they hurt you!”

    You’re not going to be able to use fundamentalists as your boogie-man proxies in order to silence anyone whose criticisms you don’t want to hear.

    Moreover, your pretense that criticism of religion “gives the fundamentalists what they need,” besides being comically self-serving, is also far less than self-evidently correct. It seems to many of us that it is you who in fact “give the fundamentalists what they need”: a societal discourse in which the real wellsprings of fundamentalist tyranny, religious faith and religious authority, remain honored and indeed practically unchallengeable. “God Hates Fags” would not be an arguable proposition if (1) the existence of God and (2) the relevance of who or what it hates were widely recognized as doubtful silliness.

    Have any of you provided evidence for them? At all?

    Sure. Google the phrases “Why the Gods Are Not Winning” and “Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being”. The final two bullet points on Stenger’s PowerPoint slide are supported by enormous amounts of sociological data, hard as that may be for you to accept.

    But exactly what business do you have demanding “evidence for” the things anyone else believes? Are you saying that unevidenced beliefs do not deserve serious attention or respect?

    [N]o Christian in 1900 expected the massive defections from Christianity that subsequently took place in Western Europe due to secularism … and in the Americas due to materialism. … The number of nonreligionists throughout the twentieth century has skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900, to 697 million in 1970, and on to 918 million in a.d. 2000. … Equally startling has been the meteoritic growth of secularism. … Two immense quasi-religious systems have emerged at the expense of the world’s religions: agnosticism and atheism. From a miniscule presence in 1900, a mere 0.2% of the globe, these systems … are today expanding at the extraordinary rate of 8.5 million new converts each year, and are likely to reach one billion adherents soon. A large percentage of their members are the children, grandchildren or the great-great-grandchildren of persons who in their lifetimes were practicing Christians.

    – The World Christian Encyclopedia (2001)

  125. #125 Stephanie Z
    April 27, 2011

    J. J., you missed the part about what the people they were arguing about were doing in the meantime.

  126. #126 Gray Falcon
    April 27, 2011

    Dr. Rieux, you gave me one book reference without any numbers and no evidence for the other statements. Also, during the 19th century, several racist eugenic movements started up based on “scientific” understanding as closely related to actual science as “God Hates Fags” is to complex theology. So your idea that the end of “religious faith” might bring Utopia is nothing more than a delusion.

  127. #127 sqlrob
    April 27, 2011

    You, and Dawkins, seem to think the concept of God existing or not is a fairly straight forward question. Even Bertrand Russell, when he wasn’t oversimplifying the question, admitted that the concept of God existing was hardly an easy one.

    The question of whether or not a god exists is not straight forward, as you posit.

    The question of whether or not specific gods exist is fairly trivial. Modern religions make claims of gods. Those claims have been falsified. Any gods that exist no longer fit within the realms of those religions.

  128. #128 dr-rieux
    April 27, 2011

    Gray Falcon:

    Dr. Rieux, you gave me one book reference without any numbers….

    What are you talking about?

    My “one book reference” was to the World Christian Encyclopedia, and the excerpt from it I quoted contained at least five relevant “numbers.”

    Meanwhile, I gave you references to two seminal articles addressing (1) the enormous worldwide growth in nonbelief and (2) the overwhelmingly strong correlation between high societal levels of nonbelief and indicators of societal health. These contain profuse “numbers” as well, and they directly support the final two bullet points on Stenger’s slide.

    How you managed to turn the above into “one book reference without any numbers” I have no idea.

    …and no evidence for the other statements.

    What would you like? I imagine you ought to listen to Stenger’s talk that accompanied the slides; I have not done so, and I haven’t made several of his bullet-pointed assertions, either.

    I also note that you have ignored my questions: Exactly what business do you have demanding “evidence for” the things anyone else believes? Are you saying that unevidenced beliefs do not deserve serious attention or respect?

    Also, during the 19th century, several racist eugenic movements started up based on “scientific” understanding as closely related to actual science as “God Hates Fags” is to complex theology.

    Why should any of us care whether your theology is “complex”? It seems to me rather more important whether it is correct—and one noticeable thing about theology is that it provides no evident basis for separating truth from falsehood.

    Given that “complexity” gets you nowhere, why exactly should anyone decide that your theology is more likely to be correct than Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps? What leads you to conclude that the god he believes in does not exist?

    So your idea that the end of “religious faith” might bring Utopia….

    Again you cite your imagination. Where have I ever expressed an “idea that the end of ‘religious faith’ might bring Utopia”? I’ve never said anything of the kind.

    Your constant resort to attacking fictional positions that your opponents do not in fact hold has long since grown tiresome. So has your continuing tendency to simply drop points you have raised (such as, once upon a time, the notion that Gnus have “managed to miss the point of religion,” to wit, determining “right or wrong, o[r] why or how”) as soon as they have been rebutted.

    It’s becoming interesting to see how long you are willing to continue an exchange in which you simply lose point after point after point but (Gish) gallop onward.

  129. #129 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    See comment #79. Idahogie

    I learned a long time ago that it was a bad idea to allow new atheists to practice a double standard in their favor. I have always said that I wasn’t going to be scrupulously polite a maintain a normal level of courtesy if they were going to act like jerks. I won’t, though, go past a line I choose to maintain. If you think that’s beyond the pale, I wonder why you haven’t noticed the new atheists here who have gone way past it.

    Though I don’t actually wonder why you haven’t noticed.

  130. #130 idahogie
    April 27, 2011

    I’ve noticed, of course. But I’m not the one who is both:

    1. whining about the rudeness of others, and
    2. telling them to knock it off.

    I guess hypocrisy falls on the OK side of the line you’ve drawn.

  131. #131 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    The question of whether or not specific gods exist is fairly trivial. Modern religions make claims of gods. Those claims have been falsified. Any gods that exist no longer fit within the realms of those religions. sqlrob

    Oh, really, “fairly trivial”. 1. What can you point to outside of the physical universe, the existence of which you accept as demonstrated? 2. God isn’t an object or entity which is contained in the physical universe. 3. In what sense is the entity time falsifiable? 4. God is held to be eternal, existing outside of time. If time can’t be falsified, how can God, which exists outside of time be held to be susceptible to the requirement to be “falsifiable”. And that’s just the beginning.

    Language sometimes conceals the complexity of a belief. We say that a person believes in God, and it might seem as if God formed the whole content of the belief, But what is really believed is that God exists, which is far from being simple…. In like manner all cases where the content of a belief seems simple at first sight will be found, on examination, to confirm the view that the content is always complex.”

    In her commentary on that quote, Marilynne Robinson says:

    This good atheist, despite his contempt for religion, proceeds by introspection, by observation of the processes of his own mind as a means of understanding the human mind, and with a delight in the workings of language he assumes his audience is bright enough to share. His rejection of religion is real and deep, but he does not justify it at the cost of failing to acknowledge the intrinsic complexity of human subjectivity, whatever its specific content. To acknowledge this is to open the archives of all that humankind has thought and done, to see how the mind describes itself, to weigh the kind of evidence supposed science tacitly disallows.

    I really do think that given a choice between you and Dawkins or those two, I’ll take Russell and Robinson. Especially since it makes sense, of a kind that isn’t trivial and superficial.

  132. #132 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    Idahogie, do you have any other examples of me being naughty? I’m not the one who claims that rudeness, vicarious blame and the entire repitoire of new atheist behavior is desirable. I’d rather be dealing with adults in an adult manner. However, I’m not under any obligation to allow you guys to set up a double standard in your favor. Practically from the beginning of my blogging I said that I wasn’t going to let disabling the code of liberal niceness put my advocacy at a disadvantage when the far right wasn’t held to that standard. I can assure you I can be a lot sharper than that.

  133. #133 Wowbagger
    April 27, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    4. God is held to be eternal, existing outside of time. If time can’t be falsified, how can God, which exists outside of time be held to be susceptible to the requirement to be “falsifiable”.

    Really? Held by whom, exactly? And by what means did those people come by that knowledge?

  134. #134 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    Wowbagger, you’ve falsified time? Where? Show me.

    If you mean the idea that God is held to be outside of time, if you haven’t run across that idea you have never read anything serious about religion.

  135. #135 Wowbagger
    April 27, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    Wowbagger, you’ve falsified time? Where? Show me.

    Apologies; I should have only quoted the first sentence, i.e. ‘God is held to be eternal, existing outside of time.’

    If you mean the idea that God is held to be outside of time, if you haven’t run across that idea you have never read anything serious about religion.

    Oh, I’m quite aware it’s been asserted; what I’m asking is what reason you have for why anyone has to accept that assertion.

  136. #136 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    Wowbagger, I don’t care if you accept the assertion, atheists are mistaken if they think their non-belief is of any concern to me. I was dealing with the false claims that:

    The question of whether or not specific gods exist is fairly trivial. Modern religions make claims of gods. Those claims have been falsified.

    There isn’t anything trivial about the question, as Bertrand Russell, said, it “is far from being simple”. As it was one of your allies who said “Modern religions make claims of gods. Those claims have been falsified.”

    Well, the claim that “God is eternal” “God is outside of time” aren’t falsified and are not falsifiable.

    I’m not surprised to find out that a new atheist literally doesn’t know the first thing about the literature of religion, I’ve found it’s pretty much the norm for the Nu.

    I’ll have to find out how to put an umlaut over a u, someday.

  137. #137 Laurence
    April 27, 2011

    Anthony,

    I wonder if you consider yourself a hypocrite since you often treat people with contempt and basically on this blog when they simply disagree with you and don’t insult you at all when at the same time you make a big deal that the New Atheists do the same thing. It doesn’t really seem defensible for you to do it and complain that they do it.

    And note that before you start insulting me as well, I’m not a New Atheist apologist. I think that Coyne generally comes across as a jerk on this blog and is not always rational. I think PZ could tone it down as well. I try to follow the Phil Plait “don’t be a dick” formula, but I don’t back down from debating ideas and why I think they are bad or not. I’m big fan of Bertrand Russell.

  138. #138 Wowbagger
    April 27, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    Well, the claim that “God is eternal” “God is outside of time” aren’t falsified and are not falsifiable.

    But those are just more arguments based on assertions regarding . How did you – or others who make similar claims – come by this knowledge of what God is or isn’t in order to be able to argue whether or not it’s falsifiable?

    I’m not surprised to find out that a new atheist literally doesn’t know the first thing about the literature of religion, I’ve found it’s pretty much the norm for the Nu.

    Then explain it. Cite the people who have this definitive knowledge of what God is or isn’t, and how they came by it. If you’re so offended by the ignorance, at least point me in the direction so I may remedy it.

    I’ll have to find out how to put an umlaut over a u, someday.

    If you’re using Windows, it’s alt-0252. Not sure about any other platform.

  139. #139 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    Laurence, I have always made it clear that my criticism of the new atheists is not a criticism of atheists in general and it’s a criticism of their behavior. I have also, for about the past four years, said that I was not going to allow them to set up a double standard of behavior in their favor.

    So, I have not blamed other atheists who don’t act like jerks, I specifically state that most atheists are not responsible for what the new atheists do.

    I have not claimed the right to be rude and insulting, I have said that I would address them by their own chosen code of conduct. Since they claim the right to be rude and insulting and to practice vicarious blame (something I will not do) and I try to not misrepresent what they’ve said.

    If you think that is hypocrisy, I guess I don’t see it that way.

  140. #140 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    Wowbagger, the belief that God is eternal is not knowledge, it is belief. As is the belief that God exists outside of time, though in that case it’s based on the idea that God is eternal.

    When it’s a question of God it’s a matter of belief, either the belief that there is a God or the belief that there is no God. It’s not knowledge that can be demonstrated the way you would demonstrate a geometric proof, it’s a belief that is based in experience. I wouldn’t say it’s usually the same kind of belief as belief in a moral position, which generally is accepted on the basis of convincing someone of it.

    If you want to get into a long list of things which materialists believe instead of knowing it really wouldn’t be productive, though it could be done.

    I tend to take the idea that God is outside of the physical universe very seriously and so none of the categories associated with the physical universe can be assumed to apply to God. I take that literally, which means that even pardoxes aren’t of known applicability. God could both make a stone too big for God to pick up and God could pick it up. I don’t think that’s the type of idea that isn’t known to physical science. It’s gotten to be kind of common place to consider things that are paradoxical.

    I’m not even especially inclined to think that numeration is applicable to God.

    If you don’t believe that, it’s your business.

  141. #141 sqlrob
    April 27, 2011

    Anthony, notice I said specific gods.

    Please explain how the Abrahamic god exists outside of time when the Bible and Koran very clearly indicate interaction with time.

  142. #142 Wowbagger
    April 27, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    Wowbagger, the belief that God is eternal is not knowledge, it is belief. As is the belief that God exists outside of time, though in that case it’s based on the idea that God is eternal.

    Then I think it’s somewhat disingenuous to bring it up as an issue of (un)falsifiability. Sure, a god outside of time and space would be unfalsifiable, but until it’s established that that’s actually the case, it’s a bit of a ‘having your cake and eating it, too’ situation, and one that’s exactly the sort of thing Gnus will keep pointing out.

  143. #143 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    sqlrob, why do you think that wouldn’t be possible? Being outside of the physical universe would mean that any, possible analogy or comparison with anything within your experience of the physical universe would be of unknown relevance to what’s believed. The Abrahamic God is held to be omnipotent, omnipotence would include the ability to surpass causality as well as any other limitation that we could imagine. You don’t have to believe it, but that’s the belief you would have to refute if you wanted to do it.

  144. #144 Anthony McCarthy
    April 27, 2011

    Then I think it’s somewhat disingenuous to bring it up as an issue of (un)falsifiability. Wowbagger

    In that case your finger pointing shouldn’t be directed at me it should be directed to your colleague, sqlrob who said:

    “The question of whether or not specific gods exist is fairly trivial. Modern religions make claims of gods. Those claims have been falsified. ”

    When I’m answering an assertion like from an atheist, how am I supposed to address it except in the terms they chose to frame their claims? I’m certainly not going to give up the universal norms of rational discourse because it’s inconvenient to your side.

  145. #145 Wowbagger
    April 27, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    In that case your finger pointing shouldn’t be directed at me it should be directed to your colleague, sqlrob who said:
    “The question of whether or not specific gods exist is fairly trivial. Modern religions make claims of gods. Those claims have been falsified. ”

    Well, I can’t really answer for sqlrob. But to respond to his assertion by listing unsupported claims of unfalsifiable properties – as opposed to asking him to provide an explanation of what he believes has been falsified – hasn’t helped.

    You don’t have to believe it, but that’s the belief you would have to refute if you wanted to do it.

    This is the part I don’t understand. Why are we required to show as invalid something that hasn’t been shown to be valid in the first place? Like I said before: a God outside of time and space would be unfalsifiable – but so far we’ve been given no reason to believe that such a god exists.

    Having that belief is one thing; expecting to use it in an argument and be taken seriously is another.

  146. #146 Paul
    April 27, 2011

    @Lesley

    “Of course, but in England, where he and I live, Christianity does not make such claims. For instance the head of the Anglican Communion – backs evolution and there are posts on the Church of England website supporting evolution – here , so my perception is the vast vast majority of Christians do not in any way try to undermine science. And of course many natable scientists have been religious.”

    Sorry for the late reply, been busy with a teaching overload thanks to a sick colleague. I feel that the ability of some scientists to compartmentalise their religion is irrelevant to the question of whether science and religion are incompatible. If a religion claims that the universe was made in 7 days then it is incompatible, regardless of a scientist’s ability to push their beliefs to the back of their mind while carrying out their work.

    I’m from Scotland so I’m well aware of the religious climate in the UK. I’m proud that our country is becoming less religious and that the religion which remains is becoming more moderate. However there is still a problem facing the country in that there are those who would seek to undermine science in the name of their religion and they do have political power – otherwise we would not be facing the situation of having to fight to keep creationism out of schools. I’m glad that Michael Gove announced that such nonsense would be kept out of the national curriculum but that doesn’t solve the problem of barely regulated academies and private schools or the fact that the Scottish government has yet to issue any such assurance.

    And in any case, outside the UK the situation is much different. In the US, Middle East and so on it’s a serious problem and we need to be helping our allies in those places. I’m glad I’m currently teaching in Asia where the general attitude is one of respect towards science and flexibility towards religion, not the other way round.

  147. #147 idahogie
    April 27, 2011

    Idahogie, do you have any other examples of me being naughty?

    Of course.  There are several more examples on this thread alone:

    No, I don’t think people have to accept people who insist on acting like jerks. It’s always a big surprise, I guess, that people who get attacked usually retaliate. And you think you’re so bright.

    New atheists are as big a bunch of crybabies as have ever come on the scene, one of the less attractive attributes.

    And from what I’ve seen, this is fairly typical behavior for you.  You are one of the most abrasive, belligerent, and condescending jerks on any thread I see you on.  And that is generally on threads where you’re complaining about how rude the new atheists are.

    I’m not the one who claims that rudeness, vicarious blame and the entire repitoire of new atheist behavior is desirable. I’d rather be dealing with adults in an adult manner. However, I’m not under any obligation to allow you guys to set up a double standard in your favor.

    See?  You are the one with the double standard.  Behaving like a complete ass, and whining about how those nasty NAs are rude to theists.

    As I said before, quit.  You don’t know what’s best. Let everyone do what they feel comfortable doing.  A variety of approaches and tactics are necessary.  And your complaints (and Josh’s) are neither needed nor effective.

  148. #148 Anthony McCarthy
    April 28, 2011

    But to respond to his assertion by listing unsupported claims of unfalsifiable properties – as opposed to asking him to provide an explanation of what he believes has been falsified – hasn’t helped. Wowbagger

    This is the part I don’t understand. Why are we required to show as invalid something that hasn’t been shown to be valid in the first place? wowbagger

    You will notice that after I gave my case, presenting the logical hurdle to the refutation which you complain about me making, you then complain that new atheists have to make any case at all.

    Just when do new atheists feel they are required to do any real work?

    And give me a break. I said

    that’s the belief you would have to refute if you wanted to do it.

    Let me repeat, IF YOU WANTED TO DO IT.

    No one is making you try to refute peoples’ belief in these things, that’s your choice. Just as I choose to point out the logical hurdles to that attempt. I’d assume everyone realizes that all of this is voluntary, on the part of people who don’t do it for a living, which would include a number of the prominent new atheists.

    That you find it hard to impossible to refute it doesn’t really make any difference. God, as is described in Jewish and Christian and many other religious traditions has been impossible for the smartest of atheists to make an air tight case against. I really don’t think the latest crew is going to do what Bertrand Russell couldn’t do, I don’t see any of them who are nearly as accomplished in logical argument. As he said, the belief in God is very far from a simple thing. If he could devise an absolute proof of it, he would have. He certainly hated religion.

    Idahogie, that’s it. That’s as bad as I’ve been here. If you think that’s objectionable, especially as I’ve explained my decision to not allow new atheists to maintain a double standard that favors them, I don’t feel at all guilty about it. You should read what I’ve said to some religious fundamentalists, not to mention others on the far right.

    And it’s rather remarkable that you don’t seem to notice much worse on PZ’s or Coyne’s blogs, in their posts, not to mention the comment threads. Only I’m afraid if I remarked on it you’d just say, “That’s not fair”.

  149. #149 Anthony McCarthy
    April 28, 2011

    Paul, I think the congratulations about Brits becoming less religious is rather myopic. You don’t have to go to church every week to believe in a God or in some religious ideas.

    And it would seem a lot of those unchurched people, even some of them atheists, aren’t likely to join CFI any time soon.

    http://www.livescience.com/7608-people-aliens-ghosts-god.html

    It’s been my impression that there’s quite a bit of neo Pagan and new age belief among those who give up church going.

  150. #150 idahogie
    April 28, 2011

    Idahogie, that’s it. That’s as bad as I’ve been here. If you think that’s objectionable, especially as I’ve explained my decision to not allow new atheists to maintain a double standard that favors them, I don’t feel at all guilty about it. You should read what I’ve said to some religious fundamentalists, not to mention others on the far right.

    And it’s rather remarkable that you don’t seem to notice much worse on PZ’s or Coyne’s blogs, in their posts, not to mention the comment threads. Only I’m afraid if I remarked on it you’d just say, “That’s not fair”.

    Come on. That’s the point. PZ and Coyne aren’t spending their time lecturing others on how to be nice. YOU ARE. So your example of how to treat others is laughable.

    I’ve given examples of you being nasty and rude to people that you should be treating as allies. (Sound familiar?) In return, the folks on your side of this nonsense debate can’t provide examples of New Atheists being rude to theists. The only examples we have are Tom Johnson-style lies and “Dawkins wants to take children out of theistic homes!” exaggerations.

    If you expect people to treat theists nicely — as potential allies — then stop being a dick yourself. Why are you completely unable to follow your own advice? No fair pointing at PZ and Coyne, or anyone else on this thread. They aren’t demanding that everyone be polite.

  151. #151 Anthony McCarthy
    April 28, 2011

    idahogie, here’s what I said to Ophelia Benson @50

    It’s not opposition to open discussion or honest criticism or justfied condemnation, it’s the dishonest revilement, vicarious blame and other aspects of the new atheist program that are objectionable.

    I’ve got no problem with people saying unpleasant things about nominal adults that are true. Never have had any problem with it.

  152. #152 idahogie
    April 28, 2011

    … it’s the dishonest revilement, vicarious blame and other aspects of the new atheist program that are objectionable.

    That’s exactly what I see you doing here (and in previous threads where I’ve seen you comment). And I never see New Atheists doing it.

    I see atheists like Dawkins and Coyne being polite and gentle to theists, while accurately portraying the harm posted by their religions. And I see PZ being aggressive and vocal when he’s provoked, but he’s also telling the truth.

    If you don’t want to be seen as dishonest, then perhaps you should stop being a dick towards your fellow atheists. And you should re-evaluate your straw-man argument that New Atheists harangue and act belligerant towards the faithful. That might happen in rare circumstances, but certainly not enough to warrant describing a movement as you do. Especially when you can’t point out examples.

  153. #153 Anthony McCarthy
    April 28, 2011

    Idahogie, there’s nothing to say to someone who pretends to think that “Dawkins and Coyne being polite and gentle to theists,” and that PZ is just responding to provocation, especially when all of them habitually go out of their way to pick fights with people who have not addressed them. You just confirm that the new atheists insist on a double standard of conduct that favors them and disadvantages their opponents. It’s to be expected when arguing with fundamentalists that this level of dishonesty will be reached.

  154. #154 idahogie
    April 28, 2011

    That is just too nonsensical to justify wasting any more time. Go ahead on your foolish crusade to rudely demand an end to the rudeness that you can’t actually identify, but just assert exists in such obvious quantity that you don’t need to point out examples. The rest of us will go on doing what we want to do while you wail and stomp your feet.

    As I said before, I’m going out to harangue and insult theists, because that’s what New Atheists do.

  155. #155 Wowbagger
    April 28, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    that’s the belief you would have to refute if you wanted to do it. Let me repeat, IF YOU WANTED TO DO IT.

    Why would I (or anyone else for that matter) have to (even if I/we wanted to) refute a baseless claim? It’s like someone demanding I prove that dragons don’t have blue eyes without first justifying the belief that dragons do have blue eyes – it’s incoherent.

    God, as is described in Jewish and Christian and many other religious traditions has been impossible for the smartest of atheists to make an air tight case against.

    I believe that’s somewhat debatable, depending on who you ask to judge.

    But if they didn’t stop to ask the Jews and Christians involved to explain how they were somehow able to discern the qualities of a allegedly undiscernible being in order to set them the challenge in the first place then they probably weren’t all that smart, were they?

    But I think that says more about a) the privileging of religion and religious claims, as Rieux has noted in posts 99, 108 and 114 (amongst others); and b) the subsequent willingness of atheists in the past to engage on the purely philosophical level wherein they let theists get away with such unchallenged assertions – possibly because there wasn’t much discussion to be had if they didn’t.

    Which – and a way to get back to the point of Josh’s original question – I think is a key element of gnu/new/nü atheism: it only cares about philosophy when it’s done on an even playing field. Anyone making an argument regarding the nature of god has to ‘show their work’, for want of a better expression, and the long-held (yet unsupported) assertion that god is ‘outside of time and space’ shouldn’t be immune to that.

    No one is making you try to refute peoples’ belief in these things, that’s your choice.

    I would think it something everyone genuinely interested in understanding – seeking for truth, even – would want to ask themselves at some point. But I’m ready (and sad) to admit that plenty of people don’t want to know, being happier to remain ignorant and/or misinformed.

    Just as I choose to point out the logical hurdles to that attempt.

    Except there aren’t any; there’s a clear track all the way to the end – you just seem to keep insisting that the hurdles are there.

  156. #156 Anthony McCarthy
    April 28, 2011

    Wowbagger, I repeat what I said above. Rote denial isn’t the same thing as an argument, I’m not bothering going around it again. If the arguments you and your pals have put up are the ones you think are air tight, you just go right on believing that if it makes you feel better.

  157. #157 J. J. Ramsey
    April 28, 2011

    idahogie: “And I see PZ being aggressive and vocal when he’s provoked, but he’s also telling the truth.”

    In the comments of the previous blog post, I pointed to a link discussing PZ doing what I called “character assassination.” The blogger that he had criticized, Michael DeDora, had written this:

    But I hope we never have a high school biology textbook that refers to our religious stories as myths [because it would be unconstitutional]. Science classrooms should teach science. Biology class should, at least on evolution, cover the work of Charles Darwin and other early scientists theorizing about evolution; it should tackle the meaning of the word “theory” in science; it should discuss the enormous advances in evolutionary biology since Darwin’s time; it should talk about the multiple lines of evidence supporting the theory of evolution; and much, much more. By the end, there should be no doubt that evolution is as close to a fact as we have. Talk about discouraging students from believing in creationism…

    Somehow Myers has twisted that into this:

    Great. Creationism? Can’t criticize it in our science classes. Somebody says the universe appeared magically a few thousand years ago, I guess that has to be a valid answer on the test question, “How old is the universe?”. To actually state that it is about 14 billion years old, and make such an answer a necessary part of the student’s grade…why, that is philosophy or theology, and not to be discussed in science class.

    I don’t want to belabor the point, since it’s been discussed ad nauseum already, but that ought to give you a flavor of how far PZ can get from the truth when he goes unhinged.

  158. #158 RPS
    June 8, 2011

    152: “I see atheists like Dawkins and Coyne being polite and gentle to theists, while accurately portraying the harm posted by their religions. And I see PZ being aggressive and vocal when he’s provoked, but he’s also telling the truth.”

    Confirmation bias anyone?

  159. #159 build muscles
    June 28, 2011

    First of all I want to tell you that this is really an awesome post. And I’m amused that since the study you pulled from Mooney didn’t mention tactics or support your preconceptions, you made up your own and ‘guessed’ that it would show that the Gnus are doing it wrong.

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