Jerry Coyne is trying to do math. A new survey out from Pew finds that, as in 2007, 61% of Americans say they’d be less likely to vote for someone who did not believe in God. Coyne thinks:

The unchanged level of disapprobation is a bit disconcerting, but at least gives the lie to accommodationist claims that vociferous atheism is turning people off. And we know that lack of religious belief is still increasing everywhere in America.

Several problems arise here, exacerbated by the generally handwavy attitude Coyne-as-blogger takes towards data and logical argument. We have to guess what hypothesis he thinks he’s falsified, and how he thinks the data do that.

First, I don’t think the reach of New Atheism has become so wide that it would necessarily have any dramatic (outside the margin of error) impact on broad surveys of public opinion. The only substantive evidence I’ve ever seen offered for the influence of New Atheism – number of book sales and number of Youtube videos viewed – are at best crude estimates. The Left Behind series sells well, but its influence on the broad culture is small, after all.

Second, the secularizing trend in American society goes back well before the New Atheists arrived on the scene, so they can’t take credit for it. The interesting question is whether they increased it or decreased it relative to the rate it would otherwise have taken (given underlying demographic trends, etc.). I don’t see anyone trying to build such a model for comparison.

Third, the 2007 survey would have been conducted after the rise of New Atheism had been in headlines for a while (Harris kicked off the movement in 2004, the phrase “New Atheism” was coined in 2006 to describe work by Dawkins, et al. from the previous few years), so whatever broad public impact it would have may well have kicked in already, rendering the comparison moot. For what it’s worth, the 1991 General Social Survey asked people’s opinions about whether atheists should hold public office; 30.6% agreed or strongly agreed they should not, and another 27.4% neither agreed nor disagreed. That amounts to 58% unwilling to endorse an atheist for public office, which aligns nicely with the results from the differently-worded Pew surveys, and from a 2007 poll from Gallup, which found 53% of Americans would not vote for an otherwise well-qualified atheist presidential candidate. That number has been essentially unchanged since a poll in 1978 (also 53%), but down noticeably from 1958-59, when it was 74-77%. Enough changes happened across the US social landscape in the 19 years between 1959 and 1978 that it’d be hard to guess which aspect of the post-’60s, post-Vietnam, post-civil rights, post-women’s lib, post-Watergate, post-sexual revolution, post-counterculture, post-Vatican II, Boomer-dominated, liberalized society made people more open to atheist candidates, or to guess why it hasn’t changed since. Two polls from after the New Atheism boomlet had peaked can hardly be expected to solve that dilemma.

Fourth, and most importantly, an increase in the number of nontheists in society ought, all else being equal, to increase support for atheist candidates. On balance, someone should be less iffy about voting for an atheist after becoming an atheist! You’d also expect an increase in willingness to vote for an atheist to follow from more people knowing they know an atheist, the effect atheist “out” campaigns and bus ads seek to promote. The lack of any such shift should be more than “disconcerting.” It verges on falsifying.

Now it’s possible that all of the folks becoming atheists were already willing to vote for atheists before their shift in religious views. But still, the constancy of attitudes toward atheist candidates implies that other theists are not becoming more liberal in their views on atheism, as the New Atheists’ “Overton Window” rhetoric would imply. (The Overton window is a data- and theory-deficient claim ginned up by a conservative thinktank looking for ways to kill public schools. It argues that the key to political change is to stake out crazypants positions to redefine the center of debate, thus expanding the “window” of acceptable views, and ultimately changing public opinion and public policy.)

There are three basic ways to explain this pair of trends: the rising secularism of society and the constant unwillingness to vote for atheists. Either the growing secular population is drawing entirely from folks already friendly to atheists, thus having no effect at all on anyone else (plausible, but not good news for folks who invested the last 6 years in a PR push for atheism), or atheist outreach has essentially turned off one person for every person it switched. Or neither of these has happened with magnitude outside the margin of error over the last 4 years. (See addendum below the fold for more.)

I happen to think the last option is most likely, so I wouldn’t make a thing out of this, except that Coyne has made a habit of pointing to constancy in polls on evolution as proof positive that … well here’s how he puts it:

American’s attitudes to evolution have been relatively unchanged… for twenty-five years

The dominant strategy of scientific organizations engaged in fighting creationism over the past twenty-five years has been accommodationism: coddling or refusing to criticize religious people for fear of alienating those of the faithful who support evolution. This has been combined with incessant claims that science and religion are perfectly compatible [actually no, if he's referring to the same "accommodationists" -Josh]. This strategy has not worked.

And:

Accommodationists like Forrest and the National Center for Science Education have been using the “let’s-make-nice-to-the-faithful” strategy for several decades. What is the result? … American acceptance of evolution has stayed exactly where it is for 25 years. The strategy is not changing minds.

And so forth (all emphasis from the original). At some point, it’d be nice if he applied the same standard of evidence to himself that he uses in criticizing others.

To be clear, and as I’ve said before, there’s no particular reason to think that the actions of groups like NCSE should show up in polls of the general public. We know there are well-funded groups working hard to undermine evolution acceptance, and NCSE’s efforts are not targeted at the general public. NCSE and other science groups don’t take out billboards or ads on buses. They work on state science standards (with narrow audiences of educational elites), and on science teacher training, and help individual teachers and individual parents push back against creationism, and provide resources for the narrow segments of the public who want more information on evolution. General surveys of the US public aren’t going to pick up most of the effects of that work (except in a complex and highly mediated way that would be hard to poll, especially given the creationist message being broadcast to the general public).

But New Atheism is oriented toward the general public, towards shifting public opinion (in some often-ill-defined way). We should expect to see a result from those actions when we look at general surveys. Not immediately, and it’s possible the effect would always be too small to measure, or that it could fall prey to confounding factors and other difficulties associated with any attempt at measuring change in public opinion without having a control group for comparison. But with the right poll questions and the right controls, static polls point either to no effect – i.e., failure - or to a positive effect counterbalanced by a backlash - also failure.

Addendum:

If data make any difference, it’s worth noting that the General Social Survey has asked respondents in 1991, 1998, 2004, and 2008 to “Describe your beliefs about God,” selecting: don’t believe now, but used to; don’t believe now, used to; believe now, didn’t used to; believe now, always have.

This result could, potentially, tell us something about whether there’s any backlash effect, a change in the number of conversions one way or the other, for instance.

Alas, the data are fairly murky. The numbers bounce all over, with the born-atheist contingent jumping from 1.0% to 4.6% between 2004 and 2008 (it was 3.6% in 1991 and 5.5% in 1998). There’s no way the population of life-long atheists is really fluctuating so rapidly, which makes me skeptical of the result that converts to atheism went from 3.6% of the population in 1991, to 5.5% in 1998, down again to 1.4% in 2004, and back up to 5.3% in 2008. But taking those numbers as indicative of general openness to atheism, we find that folks in 2008 were no more sympathetic to atheism than they were in 1998, suggesting that these numbers bounce around for all sorts of reasons, and there’s no obvious result attributable only to the rise of New Atheism.

It’s also worth noting that the respondents to that question had earlier been asked a more straightforward question about their theistic views, and the result mesh only imperfectly between the two questions. In 2008 when 9.9% said that they don’t believe in God (either never did or used to), only 3.1% answered that they “don’t believe” when given the alternative options: “no way to find out” (4.9% in 2008), “some higher power” (10.1% in 2008), “believe sometimes” (3.4% in 2008), “believe but have doubts” (16.9% in 2008), and “know God exists” (61.6% in 2008). Cross-tabulating the results, we find that the two “don’t believe” categories from the first question discussed tend to draw heavily from people who said they don’t believe, have no way to find out, believe in some higher power, or (less frequently) believe sometimes. But some people who say they don’t believe and never did, turn out to have started the poll by saying they know God exists.

In other words, we might have been able to look for some sort of signal in people switching from theism to atheism, or vice versa, but there’s too much going on in the survey to parse out a simple answer.

Comments

  1. #1 BrokenDrum
    June 7, 2011

    One quick thought from New Zealand:

    Another possibility, that you don’t seem to consider, is that the New Atheists are highly effective at both winning support for atheists and creating new atheists within the US – but that there is a high rate of emigration amongst these freshly-minted atheists, as they flee to more atheist-friendly countries. I’ve been informed more than once that part of the reason I think Americans are lovely is because I only meet the ones who leave.

  2. #2 Dunc
    June 7, 2011

    Hypothesis 1: what (some / many) people tell pollsters about their religious opinions is not strongly correlated with their actual religious opinions.

    Hypothesis 2: (some / many) people’s actual religious opinions are not especially well-defined in the first place.

  3. #3 Laurent Weppe
    June 7, 2011

    (The Overton window is a data- and theory-deficient claim ginned up by a conservative thinktank looking for ways to kill public schools. It argues that the key to political change is to stake out crazypants positions to redefine the center of debate, thus expanding the “window” of acceptable views, and ultimately changing public opinion and public policy.)

    I know that it has not been very well studied but we can still see events when this happens, like the increasing number of Americans being favorable to torture after members of the ruling class started to defend it, the increase of republicans telling pollsters that Obama is a “secret Muslim born in Zanzibar or something” followed the complacency of Republican elites toward this claim (And I would not be surprised at all if the Palin-Revere myth ends up becoming part of the conservative folklore if enough among the chattering class remain too complacent toward it). I’d say that this Overton window can work, as long as the “crazypants” (or sadistic or even plainly lying) positions are held by people seen as their leaders by a big enough chunk of the public.

  4. #4 Anthony McCarthy
    June 7, 2011

    Laurent Weppe, you almost get there when you talk about the “chattering classes” and their effect on public attitudes. You could talk about right-wing TV, virtually the only kind we have in the US, and right-wing, hate talk radio, again a virtual monopoly in the United States.

    With the media situation we have, that a majority of people still poll (for what that’s worth) as having positions significantly to the left of the DC-NYC-Atlanta based media shows that on things they experience, such as lack of health insurance, people are more swayed by that than they are by propaganda.

    My guess is that when that propaganda can be made to appeal to peoples’ everyday experience, such as the campaign by the extraction corporations to get people to think of how much they pay for gas than that their climate is changing in disastrous ways, it can have a political effect. When food prices rise drastically due to global warming, it might be a harder sell for the corporations. But issues farther removed from peoples’ everyday experience are likely far more vulnerable to media manipulation and appeals to prejudice.

    I suspect that the politicians in DC are the ones who are far more easily swayed by the corporate media. It’s the media that pushes “crazy pants” positions on behalf of corporations and billionaire psychos. They can scare politicians into voting farther to the right than they know is good for their own constituents.

    Anyway, the idea that someone can convince people to vote for their side by insulting them is such a stupid one that it should mark anyone promoting it as a deeply unserious thinker and rather immature.

    The idea that someone can convince people to accept a scientific idea they can’t experience and which has little to zero practical effect on their everyday lives by telling them they are stupid and ignorant faith heads is also the hallmark of childish thinking. That new atheists have no regard for other peoples religious experience is unlikely to impress people for whom their experience is important. Most people don’t have the same emotional investment in materialism that the new atheists do.

    I also guess that since the new atheism is all about being Bright and looking down on other people, usually most people, that their conversion potential is limited by their reason for being.

  5. #5 julian
    June 7, 2011

    For a moment I thought Rosenau might actually have something to say besides gnu atheists are bad, religion is win. Guess I was wrong to be optimistic.

  6. #6 01jack
    June 7, 2011

    julian,

    For a moment I thought Rosenau might actually have something to say besides gnu atheists are bad, religion is win.

    Well, he did call Jerry Coyne a poopy head, so there’s that.

  7. #7 TB
    June 7, 2011

    I’ve always seen the “New Atheism” as a kind of wedge strategy, giving existing proponents a home while attracting those already interested. Creating a base.
    Having a base can be useful, but if the messaging used to create and maintain that base doesn’t resonate with the general public at large then it’s going to be difficult to grow that base. And you have to spend time maintaining that base in the face of discouraging news.
    It does bring up an interesting question though – will New Atheism’s focus on destroying religion become a drag on open Atheism’s work to normalize Atheists in society?

  8. #8 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ Josh –

    ‘Tis a pity Jerry doesn’t apply the same kind of intellectual rigor here that he does with regards to his excellent scientific research on speciation (Maybe this is yet another example why he thinks PZ Myers’s has a brilliant mind; since Jerry truly thinks that, I wonder why he hasn’t petitioned his department at the University of Chicago to hire Myers as a colleague?).

    Of course, I am relieved that Jerry finally believes that the World Science Festival is worthy of his support. Wonder what could have changed his mind? Maybe the addiition of Richard Dawkins and David Dennett to the World Science Festival’s board of directors:

    http://worldsciencefestival.com/advisors

    Maybe he could apologize to Brian Greene and Tracy Day, the World Science Festival’s co-founders – and executive directors – for his pathetic ad hominem attacks on them. However, knowing Jerry, I don’t think he’ll demonstrate enough dignity to do this (EDITORIAL NOTE: I strongly endorse the World Science Festival’s mission, not merely because I had overlapped with Brian in high school.).

  9. #9 Jean Kazez
    June 7, 2011

    It looks to me like these two polls can’t be compared. The recent one shows 61% are “less likely to support” a candidate who ‘doesn’t believe in God.” The 2007 poll shows 53% “would not vote for” an “atheist.” They didn’t ask the same question.

    It’s entirely possible that people think more negatively about “atheists” than about people who “don’t believe in God.” (Another pew poll found that a significant number of self-described atheists do believe in God! So in the public perception, an atheist is something other than simply a non-believer.) It’s also possible that the 61% who now see not believing as a negative aren’t dead set against voting for a non-believer. We simply don’t know how many, today, would not vote for an atheist, period. It could be less than 53% or it could be more.

  10. #10 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    Correction to my comment (@8):

    Meant to say, “….Richard Dawkins and David Dennett… board of advisors:”

    I wouldn’t be surprised if David Dennett and Richard Dawkins told Jerry that he ought to support the World Science Festival.

  11. #11 Gordon
    June 7, 2011

    Nowhere does it say that 6 in 10 people wouldn’t vote for an atheist. That’s how many would be less likely to vote for a candidate who was atheist. There is a a huge difference between considering something negative and considering it a total disqualifier for office.

  12. #12 Spartan
    June 7, 2011

    Indeed Gordon, a big difference. I’m not sure, haven’t really read him enough, but can’t help but wonder if it’s indicative of a “generally handwavy attitude Josh-as-blogger takes towards data and logical argument”.

  13. #13 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ Spartan –

    The one who is doing “handwavy attitude” is Jerry Coyne, not Josh Rosenau. Coyne is laboring under the impression that “accomodationism” doesn’t work, and yet NCSE has scored consistently, legal victory after legal victory against creationists.

  14. #14 TTT
    June 7, 2011

    it’d be nice if [Coyne] applied the same standard of evidence to himself that he uses in criticizing others.

    I thought that was exactly what he did. He said there was no evidence that Gnus had hurt or helped anything, yes? Which was his entire original point about the accommodationists as well.

    The bottom line is that people can stop with the pearl-clutching and tone-trolling over how harmful the Gnus are, because the data don’t show it, any more than they show that accommodationism is helpful. There is no data to indicate the outside world is paying any attention to these discussions at all. Most Americans will probably always hate most atheists without having any real idea what motivates them–Gnu or otherwise.

  15. #15 Nick Matzke
    June 7, 2011

    “There’s no way the population of life-long atheists is really fluctuating so rapidly, which makes me skeptical of the result that converts to atheism went from 3.6% of the population in 1991, to 5.5% in 1998, down again to 1.4% in 2004, and back up to 5.3% in 2008. But taking those numbers as indicative of general openness to atheism, we find that folks in 2008 were no more sympathetic to atheism than they were in 1998, suggesting that these numbers bounce around for all sorts of reasons, and there’s no obvious result attributable only to the rise of New Atheism.”

    Yeah, presumably this is statistical noise within the margin of error…

    Re: stasis in evolution-creationism numbers…in addition to all the points you make, NCSE was literally a one-man (well, woman) show into the 1990s I think, and is still small. I always love it when people mention NCSE in the same breath as the NAS…

  16. #16 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ TTT –

    If Jerry Coyne really did apply “the same standard of evidence to himself that he uses in criticizing others”, then he would have written commentary akin to Josh’s. Instead, Josh, not Jerry, wrote what I regard as truly insightful commentary on this polling data. Regrettably, Jerry seems to relish more the “gladitorial” style of discourse preferred by someone whom Jerry thinks has a “first rate mind”; one Paul Zachary Myers.

  17. #17 TB
    June 7, 2011

    Jean Kazez: I thought Josh was referring more to the stability of the numbers over time, rather than trying to compare the actual numbers.

  18. #18 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ Nick –

    I agree, it does look like “statistical noise within the margin of error.”

  19. #19 Stu
    June 7, 2011

    Josh, as long as you have Anthony McCarthy and John Kwok in your comment threads you can rest easy that you will never be taken seriously.

  20. #20 Jean Kazez
    June 7, 2011

    TB, To say the numbers are stable IS to compare them! But you can’t compare them if you’ve got numbers about different things. One number is how many see non-belief as a negative in a politician. The other is how many see atheism as a deal-breaker in a politician. These really are two very different things.

  21. #21 Anthony McCarthy
    June 7, 2011

    Stu

    Ah, yet more evidence that the new atheists have it out for me.

    Big deal.

  22. #22 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ Stu –

    You’ve forgotten Nick Matzke too. Am amazed that so much ink was “spilled” elsewhere online simply because Nick thought he saw something egregiously wrong in some slides during a talk given by Richard Dawkins last year at the University of Oklahoma. My eyes quickly glazed over the ridiculous comments posted by the usual suspects: Coyne, Myers and their delusional zealot acolytes. As for Dawkins, I won’t comment, except that I still have the utmost admiration for his writing and greatly appreciate his support for the World Science Festival.

  23. #23 Stu
    June 7, 2011

    Oh yes, Anthony, please say you were banned at Pharyngula just one more time. There’s nothing like pathological cognitive dissonance with breakfast.

  24. #24 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ Stu –

    I got banned at Pharyngula too. Do you think I’m weeping? Hell no, it didn’t surface in my thoughts as I enjoyed bantering with my high school schoolmate, a certain well known Columbia University physicist, at a private wrap party he organized for his staff – including volunteers like yours truly – at the end of this year’s World Science Festival.

    May I respectfully submit that the “cognitive dissonance” you accuse Anthony of is one that is all too often present on that online slime bucket of a “science” blog?

  25. #25 Stuart
    June 7, 2011

    What on earth is a “NEW ATHEIST”??????????????????????????

  26. #26 stuv.myopenid.com
    June 7, 2011

    Ah yes, the patented Kwokkian utter non-sequitur anonymous name-drop. Oh sweethearts, how I’ve missed you.

    Good to see neither of you has sought professional help for your disorders. Stay strong!

  27. #27 Anthony McCarthy
    June 7, 2011

    Sorry about this, folks, you can skip this comment if you want to but I don’t put up with the PZnut gallery misrepresenting things I’ve said.

    Stu, is that all you’ve got? Here’s what you’ve got.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/07/09/classic-quote-from-pzs-blog-vs-classic-quote-from-realclimate/#comment-24285

    Since PZ is, actually, rather well known for banning people at his blog in a particularly mean way, when my comments didn’t appear, it was a reasonable conclusion for me to have drawn. But, hey, a blog owner has the right to control the content of their blog. As I said many times before and since.

    Note comment # 374. and PZ’s explaination at 384, especially this:

    The blog has been glitchy for the past several weeks, but that doesn’t explain it. The blog almost always successfully adds comments to the database, but hangs on re-rendering the page. If it were our typical site error that was bugging McCarthy, we’d see double- and triple-posts from him, not an absence.

    I will say in all fairness, though, that given his recent repetitive performance here, if he did try to comment at Pharyngula, he’d probably find himself in the dungeon soon enough.

    Not that I’d care if he did. As I said, I wasn’t bawling about it, unlike “spurge” was and unlike Ophelia Benson who is still chewing the scenery about being banned at The Intersection.

    The Great PZ, himself,

    But even more interesting than that is my challenge to PZ to go all-science-all the time to see if his fan base is really interested in science or in his bigotry@ 323

    How about it PZ Myers, drop the anti-religious content and go all-science, all the time for three months. No anti-religious content, no self-congratulations on how you new atheists are all so much smarter and more informed than religious believers. Go put your audience up to the science test without providing their three-times a day, hate fix. Let’s see how many of your adoring fans would come to read about science without that.

    And his sputtering refusal @ 329. Apparently he doesn’t trust his own fan base is sufficiently interested in what he has to say about science to risk an experiment. He knows they come for the minutes of hate, he’s not going to risk his one and only claim to fame.

    And, notice what I said to PZ on the same thread when he wanted to drop the topic of banning at his blog.

    434. Anthony McCarthy Says:
    July 12th, 2009 at 2:10 pm
    Hey, PZ, I told you, it’s all the same to me. I don’t really care. It’s your fan boys who are keeping it up. You want to get shut of it, tell them, not me. Matt can’t stand because a Mick doesn’t show sufficient reverence to his idols. He’ll never let it drop.
    What part of a blog owner has a right to determine the content of their blog don’t you guys understand. I said to spurge I didn’t care as I was saying it. I only mentioned it to Dan S. on May 21 because he was really over the top annoying me over one of his lexicographic obsessions.
    Did those two rebuttals that I’d actually cared about at the time show up?

  28. #28 stuv.myopenid.com
    June 7, 2011

    Yes Anthony, it’s obvious it doesn’t bother you at all.

    Also, “particularly mean way”? Really?

  29. #29 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ stuy.myopenid.com –

    Of course you of the “rusty knife” threat – oops, no I mean, joke – which was soundly condemned by Sheril Kirsenbaum, had to show up. In case you forgot:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/03/11/strengthening-public-interest-in-science/

    You’re a sterling example as to why I regard Pharyngula as the online cesspool that it is.

    As for name dropping, did I mention that I heard one of my college classmates – and friends – perform at an event last night which featured another of my favorite writers, Samuel Delany (My college classmate is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of our generation.)?

  30. #30 Rob Jase
    June 7, 2011

    I’d be willing to bet that most of that 61% wouldn’t vote for anyone who wasn’t the same flavor of Christian as themselves.

  31. #31 stuv.myopenid.com
    June 7, 2011

    John, you are now officially a parody of yourself. Absolutely pathetic.

  32. #32 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ Stu –

    If you’re looking for a superb example of “pathological cognitive dissonance”, then you can find no one better than this delusional Pharyngulite zealot: stuv.myopenid.com.

    As I noted in my rebuttal to him, he is an excellent reason (but not the only one, I might add) why I regard Pharyngula as an online cesspool.

  33. #33 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ stuy.myopenid.com –

    I’d rather be joking with Brian Greene and Samuel Delany than stoop as low as you did back in March, 2010 over at Pharyngula. Moreover, if PZ had displayed good judgement, the you would have been banned for your outrageous “joke”.

  34. #34 stuv.myopenid.com
    June 7, 2011

    Alrighty, point made. Josh, be careful with letting the clinically insane cavort in your comments… before you end up like the Intersection.

  35. #35 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ stuv.myopenid.com –

    “Josh, be careful with letting the clinically insane cavort in your comments… before you end up like the Intersection.”

    IMHO you’re the “clinically insane” one here. But let me guess, are you trying to tell Josh another “joke” that is really a threat?

    If I didn’t know better, I’d thought you might have been the crawling hand from my friend’s novel, “The Four Fingers of Death”.

  36. #36 Anthony McCarthy
    June 7, 2011

    Excuse me, again folks.

    As I noted above @ 26 here’s how I called it almost two years ago:

    Hey, PZ, I told you, it’s all the same to me. I don’t really care. IT’s YOUR FAN BOYS who are keeping it up. You want to get shut of it, tell them, not me. July 12th, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    And PZ’s fan boys have been talking about it ever since. They’ve got to, it’s all they’ve got, they can’t deal with real arguments.

  37. #37 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ Anthony –

    I concur with your latest observations on PZ and his delusional band of Pharyngulites. I have said at least thirty times that I wasn’t serious in my request to PZ for him buying me expensive Leica rangefinder camera equipment – and lately, have admitted that I did this just to provoke him – and yet, you will see all too often at Pharyngula snarky comments about me wanting PZ to give me a Leica (Even Jerry Coyne has repeated this same canard at his blog. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, since I strongly doubt he’ll ever apologize to Brian Greene and Tracy Day – Brian’s wife – for giving them ample grief over the World Science Festival’s financial ties to the Templeton Foundation.).

  38. #38 TB
    June 7, 2011

    Jean: Well sure, I understand that. And from what I can tell from this post, it’s not Josh that’s putting a lot of importance in these statistics.

    But others do, especially the idea that some movement is going to influence these numbers in some way.

    As far as these statistics, both numbers are in line with a majority not willing to endorse in some way non-belief or someone clearly associated with non-belief, and that has been pretty stable with no clear trend up or down for a long time.

    That can always change, of course, and I do hope it does someday as rejecting Atheists simply for being Atheists is nonsense. But for now, there doesn’t seem to be a measurable affect and one would expect to see something based on the confidence level of those claiming how effective they are.

    At any rate, I don’t see any other claimed comparison there, but I could just not be understanding your point. Could you explain what you’re seeing, and maybe then Josh can weigh in and address your concerns.

  39. #39 TTT
    June 7, 2011

    You know who also went to school with people?

    Hitler.

  40. #40 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ TB & Jean –

    Nick Matzke (@ 16) pointed out that there is no difference in these numbers, statistically speaking, which means that there is indeed “stability” in these numbers. The fluctuations we see are comprised of random scatter around a mean; this is analogous to those of us who recognize the existence of morphological stasis in the fossil record (This doesn’t meant that such stasis doesn’t demonstrate any variation, but rather instead, that such variation falls within a statistically defined interval – confidence limits – around some mean value(s). I suspect that if one were to attempt some kind of regression analysis of this data, that the results would not be statistically significant, confirming a null hypothesis that there is no trend, period.

  41. #41 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    Correction (@ 40) –

    This doesn’t meant that such stasis doesn’t demonstrate any variation, but rather instead, that such variation falls within a statistically defined interval – confidence limits – around some mean value.

    I might add that this is an important distinction to make since there are some – especially creationists – who insist that punctuated equilibrium (the evolutionary theory developed by American paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould) implies that evolution has stopped (or doesn’t occur) during intervals of prolonged morphological stasis. Instead, there is still variability around a mean, and that variability is reflective of ecophenotypic variation, not a potentially new speciation event.

  42. #42 Jean Kazez
    June 7, 2011

    TB, The debate here is about what the stability shows, but there’s isn’t any proven stability to begin with. I don’t care if 61% is close to 53%! The questions are different. In 2011, 61% see not believing in God as a negative in a politician, in 2007 53% saw atheism as a deal breaker. It’s completely possible if exactly the same question had been asked each time, the results would have show a change of attitude. Maybe now just 40% think atheism is a deal breaker, who knows? That’s consistent with finding that 61% see not believing in God as a negative. It’s very important whether you ask people about atheism or not believing in God, and whether you ask them whether X is a negative or X is a deal breaker. With all due respect to Josh, who is a terrific blogger, the headline on this post just mixes up the two studies!

  43. #43 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ Jean –

    You are ignoring the important point which Nick and I have been making; there is such random scatter in the data that it’s not possible to discern a trend, hence there is no statistically significant change, or rather, as you might term it, “stability”. As for those two questions, they are similar, and therefore, I think one could expect to see similar results.

  44. #44 Josh Rosenau
    June 7, 2011

    Kwok, Stu, et al.: Kindly refrain from dragging your bickering from other blogs into the comments here.

  45. #45 Josh Rosenau
    June 7, 2011

    Gordon, Spartan: Titles are brief of necessity. Read the rest.

  46. #46 John Kwok
    June 7, 2011

    @ Josh –

    I anticipated your concern (@ 44), which is why I opted to address TB and Jean. What do you think of Nick and my assessment that there’s just too much scatter in the data to show any statistically significant trend?

  47. #47 Anthony McCarthy
    June 7, 2011

    It’s very important whether you ask people about atheism or not believing in God, and whether you ask them whether X is a negative or X is a deal breaker. Jean K

    I don’t doubt it could have a major effect on what a percentage of those asked might say. What that effect is and on what percentage of the sample, who knows? It would almost certainly have a range of effects within the sample, what that would mean to whatever results you came up with grows even more remote. For a lot of people there isn’t much of a difference between being an atheist and being a person who doesn’t believe in God.

    And I doubt any of it means anything in real life. It’s entirely speculative, based in imaginary, theoretical candidates. Imaginary, theoretical candidates don’t really run for office and people don’t vote for them as opposed to other imaginary candidates at the end of campaigns that are unpredictable in real life. And that’s not even getting into whether or not the people are giving you a real answer. I’d imagine a lot of people who might not vote for an atheist on the basis of prejudice might tell you that they would because they like to think of themselves as broadminded. The percentages in both could actually be much higher.

    But anyone who thinks they’re going to increase atheists’ chances of overcoming a widely spread prejudice and getting their votes in an atmosphere of invective against the majority of the population is guaranteed to lose votes. People aren’t covered by the “no religious test” clause of the Constitution, they can vote against one atheist because another atheist badmouthed them.

  48. #48 Laurent Weppe
    June 7, 2011

    But anyone who thinks they’re going to increase atheists’ chances of overcoming a widely spread prejudice and getting their votes in an atmosphere of invective against the majority of the population is guaranteed to lose votes. People aren’t covered by the “no religious test” clause of the Constitution, they can vote against one atheist because another atheist badmouthed them.

    Then again, atheist politicians in the US are already rare, and since the bitching of randoids (“we’re smarter that everyone else therefore everyone else should be forced to do the menial jobs unfit for our genius”) masquerading as principled atheists (“by the way, we’re atheist which proves that we are smarter”) is already conflated within the “evil liberals are elitist who despise ordinary citizens” meme, I don’t think that such invectives are having any effect at all.

  49. #49 Josh Rosenau
    June 7, 2011

    I agree that there’s a lot of scatter to the data, and wouldn’t draw any grand conclusions from the questions about the switchers, certainly not anything statistically significant. That’s why I said “there’s too much going on in the survey to parse out a simple answer.” The scatter may simply be random noise, but it may also reflect shifting attitudes towards religion in a way that could be systematically studied if we had more data at finer resolution. Some measures of attitude towards religion do shift on short scales, and people might be retconning their own life history to match those short-term perceptual shifts.

  50. #50 Spartan
    June 7, 2011

    Josh @45,
    Fair enough. I think a fair message to take away from this post and others is that Coyne is sloppy so you wouldn’t then expect your post title to also be so, but you clarify in the first paragraph.

    I’m definitely not up to speed on the history of the specific points you and Coyne disagree on, besides everything apparently, but I’m having a little trouble following you from issue to issue in this post. You say, “We have to guess what hypothesis he thinks he’s falsified, and how he thinks the data do that.”. But in the first thing you quote, it seems the hypothesis is the claim that vociferous atheism is turning people off; are you just saying that you have to guess what specific issue people are being turned off from?

    I’ve also seen the point made previously that you also quote here from Coyne that ‘accommodationism’ has been the status quo and has done nothing to improve acceptance of evolution or atheism/atheists. Do you disagree with that charge? Do you believe that we just need to be accommodating in a different way and then we can make some inroads? But the NA approach is too different of a way (I know your answer to this)? Needless to say, a perfectly acceptable response is that you’ve posted on these questions previously here and shouldn’t be difficult too find; I’m not asking you to rehash something you’ve covered to death.

  51. #51 Josh Rosenau
    June 7, 2011

    Spartan: The hypothesis may well be that New Atheism turns people off, but it isn’t obvious how he thinks the data he’s offering would be used to test that. Which is to say, it isn’t obvious what he’s hypothesizing about the data he’s discussing.

    I wouldn’t say that accommodationism (a term that’s never clearly defined, and which he uses in a highly idiosyncratic manner) has been the default position. NCSE has followed roughly the same strategy for its ~30 year existence, but as Nick notes upthread, NCSE is tiny. The scientific community’s response to creationism and other religious issues has historically been mostly to ignore it, not to accommodate nor to attack. I’ve described what my experience and the empirical evidence suggests is the most effective strategy for dealing with conflicts over evolution before, and that link may answer some of your other questions. No doubt NA is a different way, as it sometimes defines itself in opposition to accommodationism, but in my assessment of the available data, it’s a different method that is empirically and theoretically less likely to work. It’s not enough to be different, it ought to be better, too, if it wants to be treated as a viable alternative.

  52. #52 novenator
    June 7, 2011

    Well, atheists ARE the most discriminated against minority group in America: http://newsjunkiepost.com/2009/09/19/research-finds-that-atheists-are-most-hated-and-distrusted-minority/

    Still, if it’s only 6 in 10, that’s not as bad as it could be, and might show a glimmer of hope towards religious tolerance. I’d like to add that the constitution contains the No Religious Test Clause, which reads, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Religious_Test_Clause

    Thus, any of those conservative constitutional originalists who claim they would never vote for an atheist are being completely hypocritical.

  53. #53 David Stoeckl
    June 7, 2011

    I live down in the country, just on the other side of the Susquehanna from Dover.I have been an atheist/agnostic/whatever for about 40 years. I have only quite recently become aware of this New Atheist phenomenon, and truth be told, I would now give an atheist candidate the same scrutiny as I would give a Christian candidate who wears his faith on his sleeve. And I would no more vote for an atheist of the Coyne/Myers variety than I would vote for Newt Gingrich. At least Gingrich is probably pandering when he accuses the secular community of being a “mortal threat”. I believe the NA are quite sincere about the contempt they feel for the religious. And how could someone contemptuous of over half the country govern to benefit all the people?

  54. #54 abb3w
    June 7, 2011

    I’ll note that the trends in GSS variable GOD is a bit more noticeable by birth Cohort, but not much.

    The only impact that might be even vaguely attributable to the New Atheists is in PRAY, where circa 2004 there was a step transition increase in the level of those who say they never pray (mostly coming at the expense of the “less than weekly” bracket; there was also an increase at the other end of the spectrum in those who pray more than once daily, coming at expense distributed in the daily-to-weekly). However, there are a few other notable events in the 2002-2004 period which might similarly have affected that; EG, the Iraq invasion.

  55. #55 Anthony McCarthy
    June 8, 2011

    Well, atheists ARE the most discriminated against minority group in America novenator

    No they are not the most discriminated against, that would, beyond doubt still be women with any number of other contenders, Latinos, Black people, GLBT, etc.

    It’s illegal to discriminate against atheists in any way that it’s illegal to discriminate against any racial, ethnic or other religious minority. It has been for almost fifty years. Atheists have never been barred from marriage or making contracts or in any number of other significant ways.

    I strongly doubt that atheism correlates significantly with higher than average poverty, discrimination in education, hiring, being granted access to economic activity, public services or public accommodations, and that discrimination would be illegal.

    GLBT folks are actively and legally discriminated against in every state in some way that atheists are not, there is no real marriage equality in any state in the United States because the federal government legally discriminates against GLBT folks with the approval of the courts and a significant part of the elected government.

    And while any act of violence against anyone is a crime, I doubt that atheists, as individuals, are as likely to be be victimized on the basis of their atheism. An average of three to four women a day are killed because they are women, according to the FBI, black people, Latinos, GBLT folks, and any number of other minority groups are frequent victims of violence because of their identity.

    Your first link says: “Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in ‘sharing their vision of American society.’ Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.” The results from two of the most important questions”

    This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society…

    Atheist: 39.6%

    Muslims: 26.3%

    Homosexuals: 22.6%

    If someone asked me to answer the question “This group does not at all …. I’d say, “Groups don’t share visions, individuals do. That is a leading question that is written to elicit expressions of bigotry, not sound data.” Anyone who answered the question is expressing bigotry, felt or not. Anyone who realized that would have refused to answer the question except a conscious bigot. Though I’ll bet a lot of the people answered it without really thinking about the question and its implication and their answer is almost certainly useless to tell you much.

    Most hated and distrusted, who knows what that really means? Though new atheists who think that atheists, even those who don’t agree with them, are going to become more loved and trusted by being obnoxious, loudmouthed bigots, insulting the majority of the population, are clearly irrational.

    There is no legal bar to an atheist taking out papers to run in any election in the United States. Any atheist who qualifies can take out papers and run for office. Running, though, is no guarantee of winning an election, no one has the “right” to win an election. No law or court can give legitimately give someone an election, though, in one of the Supreme Court’s worst decisions, the Rehnquist court did just that in 2000, resulting in one of the worst administrations in the countries history.

    As I pointed out above, the “no religious test” clause of the constitution applies to the government on all levels. It doesn’t apply, was never meant to be applied and couldn’t possibly be applied to The Voters.

    You can’t require someone to vote for someone they don’t like. People don’t even have to vote for someone they feel neutral about or even like. They get to vote for whomever they choose to.

    Let me break this gently to all the new atheists who make this favorite whine, the only way ANYONE OF ANY IDENTITY gets someone to vote for them is by CONVINCING THEM TO VOTE FOR THEM. You win by convincing the largest number of voters to vote for you. Anyone who thinks they can do that by insulting the majority of voters is too silly to hold public office.

  56. #56 julian
    June 8, 2011

    Mr.MCCarthy is on his soapbox again. Seems he carries it around with him.

    @ David Stoecki

    I’m glad to hear you would treat any atheist politician with the same level of scrutiny you would a believer. Anyone running for office should be treated critically. But why would you have been less critical of an atheist running for office before us gnus? Given the wide range of political beliefs and the varied experiences between most atheists, why would what you dontbelieve in be enough to sway you?

  57. #57 TB
    June 8, 2011

    Couple of things I’m thinking about…
    Surveys are only a snapshot in time, so going forward there still could be change depending on what happens. For instance, how will the message change as younger generations take control of the message. Will it be more important to “destroy religion” or will it be more important for them to be accepted, respected and accomodated in the public sphere? I suspect that at some point it won’t be Coyne/Meyers’ “New Atheists.”
    The apparent increase in “unaffiliated” individuals in other surveys coupled with the seemingly lack of movement toward disbelief in the surveys cited here suggests that the larger trend is individuals leaving slow-to-change institutions without replacing with any specific philosophy. And if that’s the case, then surveys measuring religious devotion by citing how many times a person attends church may not be giving us an accurate measure of religious belief.

  58. #58 David Stoeckl
    June 8, 2011

    @ Julian

    Your confusion stems from the fact that I did not say “believers”, I referred to someone who “wears his faith on his sleeve. You may see them as the same. I do not.

    Bill Clinton is a believer. Kieth Ellison is a believer. Eric Cantor is a believer. Barack Obama is a believer. But the way they present themselves is not based on their faith in the way that Sarah Palin, she of the golden cross, Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum do. And defining themselves by their faith makes me question how they would deal with others who do not share their faith. Granted, it’s a judgment call, but I don’t think it’s a particularly difficult one.

    Time was that it would never have occurred to me to question how an atheist dealt with “faith” the way I would a fundamentalist. Atheists were just folk who had reached a personal decision that there is no god, same as someone who reaches a personal decision to become a Catholic, and I never had reason to suspect that an atheist felt entitled to a sense of intellectual or moral superiority.

    But the New Atheist standard of embracing contempt for believers will now make me question how an atheist deals with “faith”. The far right, represented by the Hannitys and Becks and Rushes, have contempt for liberals. The “ground zero Mosque” folks have contempt for Muslims. Some Christian fundamentalists have contempt for all those who do not share their beliefs. And apparently now some atheists have contempt for everyone who does not share their faith. I find it all distasteful and inconsistent with democratic values. So why would I vote for them?

  59. #59 julian
    June 8, 2011

    Atheism isn’t a ‘faith’, Mr. Stoecki. Not in any meaningful use of the word. I really don’t understand what dogma gentlemen like yourself, regularly refferto when discussing atheism. There is none. so the only way say PZ Myers could be as dogmatic like Sarah Palin is would be if it were their political ideaology since PZ would have no holy texts or books to fall back on.

    And like I said before, there is a wide range of political beliefs among atheists. That you would never have thought us capable of the same politically dogmatic stance as other people… well that’s hardly our fault, is it? Atheists are and always have been human. Also I havenot met a gnu who wants to outlaw faith. Diminish the role it plays in gov’t, sure. I’d imagine any secularist would want that.

    Obama does define himself as a Christian. As do most politicians. They just vary in how relevant the Bible is in determining how they lead.

  60. #60 John Kwok
    June 8, 2011

    @ David –

    There are many well-intentioned people – including Muslims – who oppose the construction of a Ground Zero Mosque (Some notable Muslim – Americans who are oppose include former United States Navy doctor Lieutenant Commander M. Zuhdi Jasser, ex-Muslim Brotherhood member Tawfik Hamid and Wall Street financier Mansour Ijaz, to name but a few.).

    Last summer in The Washington Post, Ijaz said this:

    “[The] Cordoba House is wrong because America’s Muslims do not yet exemplify the time-honored commandments, philosophies and tenets of the great men and women who founded our country — and even more sadly, of the great religion they claim to follow. A mosque is not a monument. It is a place where worshipers gather to strengthen their beliefs en masse — a place where they resolve to practice those beliefs with consistency and vigor. An American Muslim, one who believes in his or her American identity first, could not possibly hope to do that near the place where fellow citizens were murdered by Islamic mobsters seeking vanity and infamy for their crimes.”

    You can read the rest of his remarks here:

    http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2010/08/us_muslims_should_be_american_first.html

    So you are incorrect to assert that the mosque opponents “have contempt for Muslims.”

    While I oppose the mosque’s construction, there is a “prominent” relative, former United States Army chaplain James Yee, who does (He was the chaplain falsely accused of treason for assisting Camp Gitmo inmates in 2003.).

  61. #61 Laurent Weppe
    June 8, 2011

    Time was that it would never have occurred to me to question how an atheist dealt with “faith” the way I would a fundamentalist

    That’s because fundies use their “faith” as a tribal marker: since religion for them is less about belief in God than about finding an idiosyncratic way to display belonging to a socio-ethnic group declared “superior” by its members, their behavior can start to look similar to the behavior of the subgroup of atheist indulging in the same kind of tribal supremacism.

    Personnally, I heavily suspect that the real problem with Gnus is that some middle-upper-class twats with clear social dominance tendancies (aka, the desire to live on top of a very hierarchical and very rigid social food chain) have embrassed the Gnus’ jargon as a way to shout “fuck the rubes!” while pretending that having a problem with their elitist wankers’ worldview is a sign that one is complacent toward religious extremism.

  62. #62 Anthony McCarthy
    June 8, 2011

    on his soapbox again. Julian

    Do what I can.

    Atheism isn’t a ‘faith’

    If an atheist believes they know that there is no God and that belief in God is superstitious nonsense, that is a belief that can’t be known, it is a faith. Atheists often also hold to the faith of scientism, which is demonstrably a superstitious faith, giving science something indistinguishable from occult powers, something that science can’t claim for itself.

    True agnostics have a better claim to not holding a faith, though everyone who thinks believes many things on some other basis than empirical knowledge filtered through logical analysis and rigorous exclusion of misconceptions. Anyone who believes they are immune to that condition of human life is also in possession of faith.

  63. #63 David Stoeckl
    June 8, 2011

    @ John Kwok

    Yes, you are correct, I overgeneralized. There are well-reasoned motivation to oppose the Mosque project that are not based, at root, in hostility.

    However, little respect can be found at Pam Geller’s Atlas Shrugs or Jihad Watch, nor among the angry turnout for the anti-Mosque demonstrations.

  64. #64 David Stoeckl
    June 8, 2011

    @ Julian

    Why does it always revert to semantics?

    dog·ma·tism (dôgm-tzm, dg-)
    n.
    Arrogant, stubborn assertion of opinion or belief.

    I think that pretty well encompasses Myers/Coyne and the NA mindset, don’t you?

    Yes, I know that politically and socially, non-believers are a diverse group, as are the religious. I should know, being one. But the discussion here is about New Atheists,and specifically whether the doctrine of “contempt” for the religious would be politically damaging to an atheist candidate. And I would argue, strongly, that it will be a disaster.

    The antics of PZ and the rhetoric of Coyne are not common knowledge, flying mostly under the radar of the press and public. But when an atheist runs for national political office, the opposing party will hang statements such as Coyne’s around their necks:

    “To treat individuals with contempt is to render judgment on their character and moral status: they are not our equals in intelligence or goodness; their faults make them unworthy of respect, so they should be shunned. Contempt, derision, and scorn put their targets at least on social probation, at worst forever beyond the pale. The underlying assumption is that the contemptible strongly deserve scorn since they could and should have known better or acted better, but did not. In the present case, those on the fence about religion deserve ridicule for any inclination to faith because it’s just obvious that faith is a non-starter; people should simply know better.”

    How is that going to “play in Peoria”?

    But your claim to fame is “I havenot met a gnu who wants to outlaw faith”. I’ll take your word for it, though what I read of Dawkins and the Petition (Petitiongate?) does give me pause. But that still leaves the obvious, open, indeed proudly waved behavior of treating religion and the religious with contempt. There are many, believers and non-believers alike, who will recoil from that.

  65. #65 John Kwok
    June 8, 2011

    @ David –

    I’m put off too by much of Pamela Geller’s posturing. As for Jihad Watch, I find much of it credible (Have corresponded with Robert Spencer in the past, especially with regards to my cousin Jimmy.). However, far more credible IMHO is Steven Emerson’s The Investigative Project on Terrorism; from its website I learned of Tawfik Hamid, M. Zuhdi Jasser and Mansour Ijzaz (a prominent supporter of Bill Clinton, who, back in 1996 and 1997 tried unsuccessfully in getting Osama bin Laden extradited from the Sudan to the United States; he was working unofficially as Clinton’s representative.).

    More to the point, I do appreciate that you understand that reasonable people can disagree with respect to whether or not the Cordoba House project (the official name of the Ground Zero Mosque, though that seems to change ever so often) ought to be built.

  66. #66 John Valenty
    June 8, 2011

    Why is this article surprising at all? I agree with the statement: “atheist outreach has essentially turned off one person for every person it switched.” Extremists from any religion or belief system are going to turn off as many people as they convert simply because of their extremism.

  67. #67 julian
    June 8, 2011

    “I think that pretty well encompasses Myers/Coyne and the NA mindset, don’t you?”

    And the mindset of most political commentors, priests and the US population lol. If that’s the definition we’re going with everyone is guilty of being dogmatic which pretty much renders the criticism of religious groups like the Taliban being dogmatic pointless. This isn’t to say I don’t consider being arroganta negative trait, just one barely worth noting since it’s so tied to the perception of the listener.

    I’m a little curious why you see nothing wrong with groupingall atheists and non-believers into the same group when the same isn’t done to believers. So what if Jerry Coyne says xyz? He speaks for Jerry Coyne and possibly a portion of atheists who’ve been called the ‘new’ atheists. When a Catholic runs for office do we hold him accountable for what some priest somewhere says even if he has a noticeable following within that community. it seems hypocritical to me.

    “But that still leaves the obvious, open, indeed proudly waved behavior of treating religion and the religious with contempt.”

    Upfront, I see nothing wrong with mocking religion. To me it’s no different then mocking a set of fablees, sports teams

  68. #68 julian
    June 8, 2011

    “I think that pretty well encompasses Myers/Coyne and the NA mindset, don’t you?”

    And the mindset of most political commentors, priests and the US population lol. If that’s the definition we’re going with everyone is guilty of being dogmatic which pretty much renders the criticism of religious groups like the Taliban being dogmatic pointless. This isn’t to say I don’t consider being arroganta negative trait, just one barely worth noting since it’s so tied to the perception of the listener.

    I’m a little curious why you see nothing wrong with groupingall atheists and non-believers into the same group when the same isn’t done to believers. So what if Jerry Coyne says xyz? He speaks for Jerry Coyne and possibly a portion of atheists who’ve been called the ‘new’ atheists. When a Catholic runs for office do we hold him accountable for what some priest somewhere says even if he has a noticeable following within that community. it seems hypocritical to me.

    “But that still leaves the obvious, open, indeed proudly waved behavior of treating religion and the religious with contempt.”

    Upfront, I see nothing wrong with mocking religion. To me it’s no different then mocking a set of fables, sports teams, political beliefs or cartoon shows. That something helped formed who you are and is a source of comfort speaks to how you treat and care for that thing. Not how anyone else should. This is especially true of things that hold a place of priveledge in soceity.

    I do not, however much I may disagree with their views/faith/politics/whatever, go out of my way to be insulting and rude to people as you seem to believe we gnus do.

  69. #69 John Kwok
    June 8, 2011

    @ julian –

    Unfortunately there is ample evidence to the contrary pointing out that gnus “…go out of [their] way to be insulting and rude to people”. Others have pointed this out here and elsewhere online, so I don’t think it is necessary for me to provide you with examples.

    Claims by gnus that they – or their leaders – have been important in the ongoing battle against creationists are incredulous to say the least, with the notable exceptions being Jerry Coyne, and maybe, Richard Dawkins. However, neither one have been involved in legal battles waged in court and at board of education hearings; unlike, for example, “accomodationists” such as Francisco J. Ayala, Barbara Forrest, Ken Miller, Kevin Padian and Eugenie Scott. And yet, I still read online that prominent gnus like Coyne, Dawkins and Myers have been quite important in fighting against creationism. Whether they have been effective is a good question, and regrettably, one not borne out by the legal history against creationism here in the United States.

  70. #70 John Kwok
    June 8, 2011

    @ julian –

    Unfortunately there is ample evidence to the contrary pointing out that gnus “…go out of [their] way to be insulting and rude to people”. Others have pointed this out here and elsewhere online, so I don’t think it is necessary for me to provide you with examples.

    Claims by gnus that they – or their leaders – have been important in the ongoing battle against creationists are incredulous to say the least, with the notable exceptions being Jerry Coyne, and maybe, Richard Dawkins. However, neither one have been involved in legal battles waged in court and at board of education hearings; unlike, for example, “accomodationists” such as Francisco J. Ayala, Barbara Forrest, Ken Miller, Kevin Padian and Eugenie Scott. And yet, I still read online that prominent gnus like Coyne, Dawkins and Myers have been quite important in fighting against creationism. Whether they have been effective is a good question, and regrettably, one not borne out by the legal history against creationism here in the United States.

  71. #71 julian
    June 8, 2011

    “Others have pointed this out here and elsewhere online, so I don’t think it is necessary for me to provide you with examples.”

    Heh

    Mr. Kwok I’m going to have to ask for examples. Chuck it up to a fault of character or something.

  72. #72 John Kwok
    June 8, 2011

    @ julian –

    Am sorry, but I’m busy. Have to catch a concert tonight organized by my college classmate and friend whose most recent novel is “The Four Fingers of Death”.

    But I have just provided an example demonstrating that Coyne, Dawkins and Myers have been AWOL on important legislative and legal battles against creationism here in the United States; Zack Kopplin’s ongoing effort to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act.

  73. #73 TTT
    June 8, 2011

    Unfortunately there is ample evidence to the contrary pointing out that gnus “…go out of [their] way to be insulting and rude to people”. Others have pointed this out here and elsewhere online, so I don’t think it is necessary for me to provide you with examples

    “Others” like the Tom Johnson hoax, you mean? It is both necessary for you to prove your thesis and impossible for you to do so.

    Gnus speak no differently than anybody else, they just deny religion its automatic privilege and normativity.

  74. #74 John Kwok
    June 8, 2011

    @ TTT –

    I wasn’t thinking about the “Tom Johnson hoax”, but I’m tired of yours – and other GNUs – sanctimonius nonsense when you ignored the “rusty knife” threat posted elsewhere online, treating it as a joke, not as the contempible act of someone who is mentally depraved.

    However, as both Josh and Nick have noted here, NCSE and similar organizations have had more success in the legislative and legal arenas than any GNU organization I can think of, starting with the Edwards vs. Aguillard U. S. Supreme Court decision to the Kitzmiller vs. Dover decision to the present. What John Valenty (@ 66) has posted here has been declared by others, including, for example, philosopher Philip Kitcher, who has expressed concern that Dawkin’s militant Atheist advocacy may be driving away some who would be willing to recognize biological evolution as the sound scientific fact that it is.

  75. #75 John Kwok
    June 8, 2011

    @ TTT –

    What John Valenty (@66) observed makes perfect common sense, and it is a sentiment I have heard from others, including, for example, philosopher Philip Kitcher who remains skeptical of Dawkins’s militant Atheist advocacy. Glad you are indignant about the Tom Johnson hoax, but I wish you were as indignant about the rusty knife threat. Since you refuse to display such behavior about that threat, I think you are merely demonstrating sanctimonious hypocrisy of the kind I see all too often from GNU zealots such as yourself.

  76. #76 TTT
    June 8, 2011

    @Kwok: Around that same time period Nisbet said PZ shouldn’t be a spokesperson for atheism because he was physically ugly. Do you see me holding you responsible for Nisbet’s atrocious manners? Demanding you to disavow it? Or saying all accommodationists must be as rude and puerile as he was?

    No, because like most Gnus, I’m interested in discussing ideas instead of egos. I highly recommend it.

  77. #77 John Kwok
    June 8, 2011

    @ TTT – PZ had a responsibility to police his blog and he didn’t; that incident is a major reason why I think of Pharyngula as an online cesspool.

    As for claims I have read elsewhere online that PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins are leading the charge against creationists, the evidence doesn’t exist, period. None of the three have been involved in legislative and legal battles against creationism since 1995 if not before. Moreover, I am sure Coyne and Dawkins were aware of Zack Kopplin’s grassroots online campaign, but didn’t have time to express their support of it; unlike Ayala, Eldredge, Miller and Shubin, for example (The only credit I am willing to give Coyne and Dawkins are 1) Coyne’s book “Why Evolution is True”, 2) Dawkins’s book “The Greatest Show on Earth” and 3) Dawkins’s involvement with the World Science Festival as a member of its advisory board.

  78. #78 John Kwok
    June 8, 2011

    @ TTT – Since you are incapable of showing any indignation toward the Pharyngula “rusty knife” threat, but are more concerned about the Tom Johnson hoax (which, I agree, represented a gross lapse of journalistic standards by a certain well known science journalist), then you are a sanctimonious hypocrite, period.

  79. #79 TTT
    June 8, 2011

    No, Kwok, I’m very consistently saying that individual statements are NOT representative of entire schools of thought, and I applied that standard both for whichever Gnu perpetrated the “rusty knife” matter and for the accommodationist who insults people based on weight and age-ism.

    You just can’t spot a consistent argument when you see one, probably because nobody named “Consistent Argument” went to high school with you.

  80. #80 David Stoeckl
    June 8, 2011

    @ Julian per post #68

    Do me the courtesy of rereading my post #53 and you will see quite clearly that I DO NOT lump all non-believers together.

    But you say “Upfront, I see nothing wrong with mocking religion”. Well, that’s probably because religion, it symbols and personages, are not sacred to you. But they are sacred to other people. I am not saying you don’t have a right to mock religion (and you can’t mock religion without mocking the religious), but should you?

    Something is sacred to everyone. How about if we declared open season on your mother, your kids, your wife (I’ve got some good material for that). Is that OK? Or would you consider that rude? And if people kept it up, would you be angry?

    Ah, but religion is just a fable, a symbol. (And what are wedding vows and a ring?) It doesn’t really exist. But then what’s wrong with all these black folks who get upset if someone puts a noose in a tree? heck, it’s just a piece of rope. But it’s a symbol of much more

    And all these veterans get worked up about someone wiping their butt with a flag. What’s with that? It’s just a piece of cloth. But it’s sacred to some people. And so is religion. I think it is important, hell, I think is moral, to treat people with respect.

    And then there is the fact that the New Atheists are shooting the idea of political acceptance of atheist/agnostic/humanist/secular/whatever people in the head with this mockery nonsense. A cartoon contest? Give me a break.

  81. #81 julian
    June 8, 2011

    “How about if we declared open season on your mother, your kids, your wife (I’ve got some good material for that). Is that OK? Or would you consider that rude? And if people kept it up, would you be angry?”

    Of course I would be angry in the case of my wife at least as she has enough to deal with on her life. But that’s my wife. A person. A woman made of flesh and blood. Not a collection of ideas, stories, rituals and pseudo historical events. My wife has the right to ask people to “lay off” if all that’s coming her way is silly jokes and sophmoric humor. Were she a public figure that occupied the time, resources and loyalty of billions that right would disappear. And if it isn’t just silly jokes or my wife is behaving like a prat that right also becomes less and less of a right and more of a general courtesy no one is obligated to follow.

    (Side note: my wife and I decided not to do rings though I eventually got her one just because apparently 90% of men think handing you a ring pop and saying “I’m already better than your man” is cute.)

    Admittedly I didn’t make my point very clear and muddied somethings intentionally. I apologize for that. But we’re still left with you placing the burden of an unreasonable public on a minority that you yourself recognize as very diverse. Would you ask that ‘flamboyant’ gays not be flamboyant because it feeds into a stereotype and it may harm the chances of openly gay politicians? I’d consider everyone’s time better spent reminding people to set aside their prejudice when dealing with others.

    “I think it is important, hell, I think is moral, to treat people with respect.”

    We agree. But your example isn’t about treating people with respect.

    There are a multitude of reasons why someone may burn a. Flag or wipe it across their backside. It could be a political statment of defiance. Objecting to whatever percieved injustice that government is responsible for. It might be a general statment of how complete the freedom of expression is or how outrageous it has become.

    A noose in a tree is a symbol ofoppression, like a burning cross, that can be tied directly to acts of violence and intimidation aimed at specific people. I don’t see how it’s comparable to religion. It may be symbolism but it’s a very different symbol.

    I’m sure you know all that which is why I don’t understand why you feel sacred things deserve special status in the hearts, minds and actions of people who don’t view them as sacred.

  82. #82 julian
    June 8, 2011

    “How about if we declared open season on your mother, your kids, your wife (I’ve got some good material for that). Is that OK? Or would you consider that rude? And if people kept it up, would you be angry?”

    Of course I would be angry in the case of my wife at least as she has enough to deal with on her life. But that’s my wife. A person. A woman made of flesh and blood. Not a collection of ideas, stories, rituals and pseudo historical events. My wife has the right to ask people to “lay off” if all that’s coming her way is silly jokes and sophmoric humor. Were she a public figure that occupied the time, resources and loyalty of billions that right would disappear. And if it isn’t just silly jokes or my wife is behaving like a prat that right also becomes less and less of a right and more of a general courtesy no one is obligated to follow.

    (Side note: my wife and I decided not to do rings though I eventually got her one just because apparently 90% of men think handing you a ring pop and saying “I’m already better than your man” is cute.)

    Admittedly I didn’t make my point very clear and muddied somethings intentionally. I apologize for that. But we’re still left with you placing the burden of an unreasonable public on a minority that you yourself recognize as very diverse. Would you ask that ‘flamboyant’ gays not be flamboyant because it feeds into a stereotype and it may harm the chances of openly gay politicians? I’d consider everyone’s time better spent reminding people to set aside their prejudice when dealing with others.

    “I think it is important, hell, I think is moral, to treat people with respect.”

    We agree. But your example isn’t about treating people with respect.

    There are a multitude of reasons why someone may burn a. Flag or wipe it across their backside. It could be a political statment of defiance. Objecting to whatever percieved injustice that government is responsible for. It might be a general statment of how complete the freedom of expression is or how outrageous it has become.

    A noose in a tree is a symbol ofoppression, like a burning cross, that can be tied directly to acts of violence and intimidation aimed at specific people. I don’t see how it’s comparable to religion. It may be symbolism but it’s a very different symbol.

    I’m sure you know all that which is why I don’t understand why you feel sacred things deserve special status in the hearts, minds and actions of people who don’t view them as sacred.

  83. #83 TB
    June 8, 2011

    Kwik: “which, I agree, represented a gross lapse of journalistic standards by a certain well known science journalist”

    That’s crap. Mooney confirmed the guy’s real identity which was consistent with what he said his story was. That the guy lied about the story while revealing his real identity isn’t something a rational person would do. But when that does happen – and it happens – then the journalist can either take it, which is common when you deal with political sources, or burn them to the appropriate people, which is what Mooney did. Those are the facts, Kwok, and unless you’re a professor of journalism, you don’t have any special claim on what constitutes journalist standards.

    And since Josh doesn’t want other blog wars on his, I’ll leave it at that.

  84. #84 Eric
    June 8, 2011

    Bulls**t 6 in 10 Americans don’t even vote.

  85. #85 Anthony McCarthy
    June 9, 2011

    “Will vote” is not the same as “would vote”. Critical as I am of opinion polling, that much is clear.

  86. #86 John Kwok
    June 9, 2011

    @ TB –

    Had it been Zimmer, Revkin, or Dean (Cornelia Dean, former Science editor, New York Times, who is an acquaintance), they would have done a better job in independently verifying the story, NOT rely solely on “Tom Johnson”. My point is still valid, moron (to use PZ’s favorite word).

  87. #87 John Kwok
    June 9, 2011

    @ TTT –

    I have a superb Blarney b*lls**t detector that I first learned as a junior at my high school, studying with someone who would become the foremost memoirist of our time. Your risible retort (@ 82) is something that even my old – sadly now deceased – teacher would recognize as Blarney b*lls**t. Thank GOD I heard my college classmate and friend lead his group in singing KRAFTWERK songs, instead of reading more your breathtaking inanity.

  88. #88 David Stoeckl
    June 9, 2011

    @ Julian

    “Of course I would be angry in the case of my wife at least as she has enough to deal with on her life.”

    I expressed myself poorly. I didn’t mean going after your wife as a person. God knows she’s got enough to deal with married to you (that’s a joke). I meant going after your feelings for her. They might be quite real to you. But they are no more real to me than an old nuns love for Jesus. So then sending, just to you, a barrage of crude cartoons of your wife in various compromising positions wouldn’t be attacking anything “real”, just what you hold sacred. Does that make a little more sense?

    “But we’re still left with you placing the burden of an unreasonable public on a minority that you yourself recognize as very diverse”.

    I recognize the non-believer community as very diverse. My point is that, if an atheist would run for President, the press, and the opposing party, would have a field day with what has become the public face of atheism, rhetoric from Dawkins et al. And Blasphemy Day might not make it to the NYT, but Fox and The Washington Times would just run with it. So I might recognize the diversity, but the American public would see a very different, and not very pretty picture. As for me, I’d wantto know just what the candidate makes of all thus Gnu stuff. Of course, I’d be greatly reassured about the candidate if Dawkins called him a “Quisling”.

    “Would you ask that ‘flamboyant’ gays not be flamboyant because it feeds into a stereotype and it may harm the chances of openly gay politicians?”

    That’s actually a pretty good point. It didn’t hurt Harvey Milk in San Fransisco but it might be a little rough on a candidate in Des Moines, Iowa if the leather boys and the drag queens had a parade for a gay candidate. So if I were running the campaign, yes, I’d ask that that not be done.

    And then there is the difference in intent. Flamboyant Gays are being extremely “OUT” for the purpose of reinforcing the message that they are here and queer, and just want to have the same rights as anyone else. The Gnus are engaging in a campaign of mockery and disrespect for the oft stated purpose of mocking religion into extinction.

    “There are a multitude of reasons why someone may burn a. Flag or wipe it across their backside. It could be a political statment of defiance. Objecting to whatever percieved injustice that government is responsible for.”

    Burning a flag is a pretty powerful symbol. It’s going to piss off a lot of people, and I’d think you’d best have a pretty strong motivation or people are going to think you are just a jerk who just wants to piss people off. What “perceived injustice” is addressed by intending to spike a Eucharist or depicting Jesus on the cross dressed as Santa Claus. The flag or Jesus might not be powerful symbols to me, but like a noose or a burning cross, mere symbols can have a very strong significance for others.

    “I’m sure you know all that which is why I don’t understand why you feel sacred things deserve special status in the hearts, minds and actions of people who don’t view them as sacred.”

    I don’t give a rats ass what is in somebody’s heart or mind. But absolving actions against symbols because you don’t particularly care for the significance of the symbol is extremely disrespectful for those who do hold those symbols sacred. Like your wife, like a flag, like the casket of a soldier. I mean, a casket is just a box of dead meat, right. So there is nothing wrong with what Westboro Baptist does at funerals, right?

    So, in the US, you have the Constitutional right to pretty much trash anything you like, including what people hold sacred. But if you carry on a campaign founded on disrespect and mockery of what others hold sacred, then most people, including many, many non-believers,will put you in the same category as Westboro Baptist.

  89. #89 Anthony McCarthy
    June 9, 2011

    “Would you ask that ‘flamboyant’ gays not be flamboyant because it feeds into a stereotype and it may harm the chances of openly gay politicians?” Julian

    I wouldn’t “ask” them not to be but I wouldn’t have any problem with criticizing them, depending on what the “flamboyance” consisted of. Exhibitionists and self promoters don’t make the best representatives of a beleagured minority group. I recall Barbara Jordan making that point, I had no doubt that she meant Flo Kennedy as she said it.

  90. #90 Anthony McCarthy
    June 9, 2011

    “Would you ask that ‘flamboyant’ gays not be flamboyant because it feeds into a stereotype and it may harm the chances of openly gay politicians?” Julian

    I wouldn’t “ask” them not to be but I wouldn’t have any problem with criticizing them, depending on what the “flamboyance” consisted of. Exhibitionists and self promoters don’t make the best representatives of a beleagured minority group. I recall Barbara Jordan making that point, I had no doubt that she meant Flo Kennedy as she said it.

  91. #91 julian
    June 9, 2011

    All the examples you list are still personal (invasion of privacy and borderline sexual harrasment in the case of the ‘compromising pictures you mention). And I don’t understand what you mean by going after my feelings for my wife. It sounds like (correct me if I’m reading you wrong) that your complaint is against atheists who mock how the religious express their faith (prayer, communion and the like) this strikes me as an unfair request as human behavior is mocked by everyone, everywhere. Marriage seems to be a favorite. Why make religious expression off limits when the love between two people isn’t?

    “My point is that, if an atheist would run for President, the press, and the opposing party, would have a field day with what has become the public face of atheism, rhetoric from Dawkins et al.”

    And my point is that you are shifting the responsibility of not letting prejudice affect. Their decisions. That responsibility is always with the individual. Like I said earlier we do not hold Catholic politicians responsible for the statments or actions of Catholic priests who he has no connection with.

    As you can see, I don’t share your willingness to bend to the whims of aa prejudiced majority.

    “Flamboyant Gays are being extremely “OUT for the purpose of reinforcing the message that they are here and queer, and just wa to have the same rights as anyone else.”

    I think you’ll find many gnuswho share a similiar sentiment. That’s why they wear their atheism on their sleeve something I believe you objected to.

    and mocking religion into oblivion is hardly the prime directive of the gnu atheist hive mind. You’ll find most of us care a lot more about dimishing the incredible amount of privilege it enjoys.

    “It’s going to piss off a lot of people.”

    Frankly, so what? Does that make their anger or disproportionate responses any more justifiable? Yes a nations flag probably means a lot to the people of that nation.

    Another may even view it as a symbol akin to the noose. Many Afghanis feel that way right now. Does thefact they view it as a symbol of hate and intolerance mitigate their burning it?

    “I don’t give a rats ass what is in somebody’s heart or mind.”

    It sounds like you do. In the next sentence you condemn those of uswho disrespect sacred symbols because somehow we’re disrespecting the person. But none of your examples illustrate that. They each involve dealing with people not ideas or symbols. (Btw I don’t consider a dead body a symbol. Generally speaking I think the bodies of the dead should be treated with respect.) And like I said real people have rights ideas, symbols and stories do not.

    @Mr. McCarthy.

    That probably explains why we’ll never see eye to eye.

  92. #92 Anthony McCarthy
    June 9, 2011

    Julian, what a straight man thinks about being gay is about as interesting to me as how long it will take the paint to dry on a wall I don’t know about. Though that has never stopped one from thinking they’ve got something interesting to say about it. So many of you guys are that self-involved.

  93. #93 David Stoeckl
    June 10, 2011

    “Why make religious expression off limits when the love between two people isn’t?”

    But it is. If some people were to mount a campaign of ridiculing and insulting you into leaving your wife, as SOME atheists have decided is a good idea with religion, most people would think that the perpetrators of such a campaign were simply assholes. And I’d agree.

    And I’m surprised that I even have to point this out, there is a difference between criticizing marriage as an unworkable arrangement because of human promiscuity (or patriarchy or whatever) and suggesting that people who marry are child-like morons who are entitled to no respect.

    “And my point is that you are shifting the responsibility of not letting prejudice affect. Their decisions.That responsibility is always with the individual. Like I said earlier we do not hold Catholic politicians responsible for the statments or actions of Catholic priests who he has no connection with.”

    True that a Catholic politician is not responsible for the actions of pedophile priests. However, the politician certainly couldn’t be perceived as in sympathy with pedophile priests. The same as an atheist candidate couldn’t be seen in sympathy with gnus.

    But that said, I am pointing out political realities. Just as Obama had to jettison Rev Wright and McCain had to distance himself from John Hagee, an atheist candidate would have to distance himself from the gnus. And the opposition would do it’s damnedest to tie the gnus around his neck. It may be unfair, but that’s how it works.

    “I think you’ll find many gnuswho share a similiar sentiment. That’s why they wear their atheism on their sleeve something I believe you objected to.”

    Fine. Carry on. Atheist Days sounds like a fine thing. But “We’re here! We don’t believe. Get used to it” doesn’t rhyme. You’ll need another slogan.

    But Blasphemy Days? I don’t know. As for wearing your beliefs on your sleeve. I live here in the Bible Belt. There are a subset of arrogant Christians who let you know by their jewelery or just out and out telling you “I’m a Christian”, and wrap themselves in this air of smug superiority. It annoys me. Now I’m running across this subset of arrogant non-believers who do the same thing. It annoys me.

    There is this Swedish fellow who writes Aardvarcheology here at ScienceBlogs. And in one post he pointed out how odd, how gauche it would seem to publicly proclaim your faith, or lack thereof, in Scandinavia. I agree.

    And if mocking religion into oblivion isn’t a prime directive, then cut it out, criticize it or at least stop encouraging it. It’s counterproductive, juvenile and rude.

    “Frankly, so what?”

    Well, maybe you might want to be taken seriously instead of having people think that you’re just an uncivilized lowlife who doesn’t care about people’s feelings. I’m surprised I have to explain this. Most people think that people who don’t care about anyone’s feelings are crass and rude and are to be avoided. Thus the feelings about Westboro. No doubt the DSM V has a diagnostic category for folks like that.

    “Does thefact they view it as a symbol of hate and intolerance mitigate their burning it?”

    Is religion dropping bombs on you?

    “In the next sentence you condemn those of uswho disrespect sacred symbols because somehow we’re disrespecting the person”

    That is purely semantics with no real world application. Go to “The Wall” in DC on Memorial Day and try to make the case that disrespecting the flag is not disrespecting veterans. That’s just silly.

    “Btw I don’t consider a dead body a symbol. Generally speaking I think the bodies of the dead should be treated with respect”

    Why? It’s certainly not the person anymore. Suppose I don’t share your idea that a dead body is not a symbol, and I saw it as just dead meat. If I pissed on your mothers grave, would you be cool with that?

    “And like I said real people have rights ideas, symbols and stories do not.”

    I think you just contradicted yourself above with this Neolithic idea of respect for dead bodies. The sticking point seems to be that “ideas, symbols and stories” which YOU don’t consider sacred have no rights.

  94. #94 ALeyram
    June 10, 2011

    Birincisi, görüş kamu ulaşmak düşünüyorsunuz değil araştırmaları geniş bir etkisi Yeni) Ateizm hata olur marjı mutlaka dışında dramatik (herhangi bir var olan bu geniş böylece haline gelmiştir. etkisi Yeni Ateizm yalnızca sunulan gördüm şimdiye kadar ki maddi delil – izlendi videoları kitap satış Youtube ve sayı numarası – tahminleri ham olan en iyi.

  95. #95 julian
    June 11, 2011

    “But it is. If some people were to mount a campaign of ridiculing and insulting you into leaving your wife, as SOME atheists have decided is a good idea with religion, most people would think that the perpetrators of such a campaign were simply assholes.”

    Your examples are still poor. Most gnus don’t mock the feelings of the individual.(To my knowledge anyway. I’ve seen exceptions but few.) The biggest target of the contepmt I’ve seen is aimed at the poor rationalizations for gods. (Coyne, if I remember right, had a few blog posts that asked readers to parody arguments for god.)

    Also keep in mind religion isn’t a private relationship. It spans the vast majority of the human species and has been incredibly infleuntial in how our cultures have developed. When a relationship involves more then just John and Mary it becomes increasingly more difficult to describe it as private. And when what goes on in that relationship affects people half a world away then you really have no claim to privacy, do you?

    Besides, what if the relationship is biased with one partner taking advanttage of the other?

    “It may be unfair, but that’s how it works.”

    I’m glad you agree it’s unfair. Hopefully you’ll also agree our efforts are better spent pointing outthis kind of unfairness so that good leaders don’t have their careers ruined.

    “It annoys me. Now I’m running across this subset of arrogant non-believers who do the same. It annoys me.”

    Sanctimonoius holier-than-thou types irritate me too. They’re obnoxious. It’s why I find believers and ‘spiritual agnostics’ so infuriating. The smug attitude is the same the pentacostals I grew up across the street from had. But I don’t go and then rail at spiritual agnostics because, afterall, arrogance is very subjective and what I percieve as confidence might be ego to some third or fourth observer. So. I try to base my criticism on other things.

    “Is religion dropping bombs on you?”

    Ask me again when I get to Afghanistan. Please don’t side step the question. Many atheists have suffered because of religion and many have seen just how it has been such an effective tool at halting progress and encouraging strife. These people view religious symbols as symbols of oppression. Why are they not allowed to express their contempt? Are only the feelings of the majority to be considered?

    “Suppose I don’t share your idea that a dead body is not a symbol, and I saw it as just dead meat. If I pissed on your mothers grave, would you be cool with that?”

    Throughout the course of my life I’ve likely pissed on several graves without even knowing. And I don’t deny I get sentimental about the dead. But this still doesn’t strike me as akin to what we gnus are doing. Gnus mock the idea of a god (teapot floating in space), we mock the demands religions make on their followers and we mock the gods themselves. Your example still sounds like targetting an individual and harrassing them.

  96. #96 Anthony McCarthy
    June 11, 2011

    Many atheists have suffered because of religion

    Well, many religious people have been murdered and oppressed by atheists in the 20th century continuing up till today. Do you want to be answerable for what’s going on in China and North Korea?

    and many have seen just how it has been such an effective tool at halting progress and encouraging strife.

    Today it’s hardly a match for secular ideologies, corporations, and many other non-religious entities. It was certainly more than matched by the thirst to concentrate political and economic power and wealth in just about every age of the past. Christianity was corrupted from following the teachings of Jesus by the surrender of part of it to the Roman empire and the elevation of those who would compromise with it, accounting for a good part if not all of that strife and halting progress that can be laid on Catholicism, Orthodox and other Christian groups. That achievement of political power and its exercise is in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus and his early followers as set out in the Second Testament, as dissident Christians have pointed out continually, for the entire period of the Common Era.

    The same can’t be said of atheism’s achievement of political power in the places that has happened.

    You know how many times I’ve had to point out that suicide bombing in its recent incarnation was originated in the quite atheist, quite anti-religious Tamil Tigers?

  97. #97 David Stoeckl
    June 12, 2011

    @ Julian

    This thread is getting rapidly buried in the stacks, and I don’t know that anyone is reading it anymore, so I’ll be brief. Though if you wish to respond I will check in.

    “Most gnus don’t mock the feelings of the individual.(To my knowledge anyway. I’ve seen exceptions but few.)”

    Oh come on. Do you think saying that Jesus is like Santa for adults is simply a rational argument and is not intended to inflame? Do you think that “mythaholic” and faith-head” are terms of endearment. Do you think that Dawkins said

    “… And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.”

    Because he wants to promote amateur comedians?

    I’m done trying examples, but you know damned well that people’s feelings about their faith are just as strong and just as real as a husbands feelings for their wife. And an atheist cartoon contest or blasphemy days is purely designed to mock and hurt.

    “And I don’t deny I get sentimental about the dead.”

    And isn’t that interesting. There are some sound biological reasons to not eat the dead, but I can’t come up with any purely rational reason for tending a corpse, ritual burial,grave goods, and assigning honor to a body and a grave. In fact, it takes resources from the living to do it. And yet almost every culture does it, and has for many thousands of years.

    But maybe honoring the dead serves some psychological function for the living. kind of like religion/spiritual beliefs, which arose at about the same time in pre-history.

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