Thus Spake Zuska

Impolite Atheists – My New Role Models

There’s a debate going on among my Sciblings about atheism: is it or is it not a civil rights issue? Matthew at Framing Science is of the opinion that it is not, and apparently thinks people like Richard Dawkins are giving atheists a bad name. Jason at Evolutionblog writes the following:

Atheists don’t face a public image problem because of the books of Dawkins and Hitchens. They face a public image problem because of the bigotry and ignorance of so many religious people. Not all religious people, certainly, as the strawman version of their arguments would have you believe. But a much higher percentage than people like Matthew care to admit. You do not break through such bigotry by polite discussion. You break through it by being loud and vigorous. That’s one of the lessons you learn from the civil rights struggles of the past. Social progress is not made when the downtrodden ask politely for their just due. That women, blacks and gays faced greater oppression than what atheists face today does not alter that fact.

I added the emphasis. Just to, well, emphasize a point that is often a bone of contention here on Thus Spake Zuska.

I say, if not being polite, and using loud and vigorous debate is good enough for Richard Dawkins and the atheists in the campaign for evolution and rationality in science, it’s good enough for Zuska in the fight for gender equity and rationality in science and engineering.

Because if we had a little more rationality, we’d have a little less inequity. If I have to get all up in your face to make that point, it’s not my fault. I blame the patriarchy.

Comments

  1. #1 catswym
    June 29, 2007

    yay, zuska!

    people mind when you don’t ask politely if you’re asking for something they are unwilling to give.

  2. #2 Mecha
    June 29, 2007

    Zuska: In my opinion, one thing which the atheists in this discussion keep missing, though, is the concept that ‘It’s not men, it’s the patriarchy,’ translated into the religious rights field.

    Imagine if you _actually_ espoused the viewpoint, in your heart of hearts, ‘Being a man (as opposed to religious) makes you irrational and wrong’, as opposed to just concern trolls or Nice Guys thinking that’s what you meant. That’s an entirely different discussion, with entirely different rules.

    -Mecha

  3. #3 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 29, 2007

    Translating “it’s not the men, it’s the patriarchy” into the “religious rights” discussion, I get a statement something like the following: “It’s not the people, it’s the church”. Or, perhaps, “It’s not the churchgoers, but the religious culture.” Organizations have a harder time shedding their dogma than individuals, one might say.

    Actually, I’ve raised this point many times, of which the most recent is here. People are aware of it.

    Furthermore, I suspect there’s a false analogy at work here. Religion is a pattern of thought, a mode of behavior. Saying that a person is religious implies something about the way their brain is working. It means, more often than not, that they hold ideas about the physical world which are provably wrong. To my knowledge, the statement “that person is a man” does not carry an equivalent implication.

  4. #4 Mecha
    June 29, 2007

    Blake: I realize that’s what you _would get_… except that that’s not the position that the atheists around here espouse. Look at PZ’s constant ‘Atheism = Irrational.’ Look at the actual meaning of the words ‘The God Delusion.’ (Religion = CRAZY.) You do know what they do to ‘crazy’ people in this country, right?

    And if religion implies something about the way someone’s brain works… does that mean that lack of religion does too? Which means that isms about atheism are okay? Because they’re true? Mmm? (I believe it’s called Essentialism when people use it about men and women. Generally anti-feminist.)

    -Mecha

  5. #5 Mecha
    June 29, 2007

    Dammit, hate when typos get in the way. _THEISM_ = Irrational is PZ’s position. Sorry.

    -Mecha

  6. #6 Zuska
    June 29, 2007

    Mecha, I read your long comment over at Matthew’s post and really liked a lot of what you had to say there – it gave me much to think about. I’m not sure if the analogy is entirely perfect, but I think it is one that is worth thinking about. In any case, I am uncomfortable with calling ALL religious people crazy. What does crazy even mean, if you use the word that way? I might at times, in frustration, refer to ultra right evangelical fundamentalists as “nuts” but in a colloquial sense, not a clinical sense. Their beliefs are irrational to me, but within their world-system they are perfectly rational to themselves.

    In any case, I am not convinced that the leaders of, e.g., the intelligent design movement, the fomenters, if you will, actually believe the agendas they put forth to the “common people”. They find a certain set of ideas and beliefs to be useful in rallying the troops and controlling large voting blocs in order to obtain and maintain political and economic power in the U.S. Whether they actually believe the stuff they are spinning and selling is another question. In the end, I am not sure that things like truth and falsehood matter all that much to them; what is politically expedient is what matters. Arguing about whether they are rational or crazy is sort of irrelevent, in this view. Is it rational, or is it crazy, to spin bullshit in pursuit of power, if doing so works so very well? I think questions of rationality or craziness don’t make sense in that context. I think the question is, is it good or is it evil?

    Well, this is all very thinking on the fly in this comment, so I may not make complete sense, and I reserve the right to contradict myself later. Like Walt Whitman, I am large, I contain multitudes.

  7. #7 Science Avenger
    June 29, 2007

    I wondered if you were going to weigh in on this one Zuska. I thought of you as I angrily wrote my rebuttals to the atheist discrimination deniers. Figured you’d sense the common ground.

    BTW, OT, remember my female geologist friend I mentioned in our discussion of discrimination against women scientists? I asked her about it, and she basically told me it was a fact of life, and tossed a book in my lap (whose title I can’t recall) she was reading that detailed the problem. Congratulations, you’ve got a convert.

  8. #8 Science Avenger
    June 29, 2007

    Mecha said: Look at the actual meaning of the words ‘The God Delusion.’ (Religion = CRAZY.) You do know what they do to ‘crazy’ people in this country, right?

    Come on, this is infantile. One can be delusional on one topic without being entirely delusional. No atheist I’ve ever read said that religious people are per se completely delusional. Misrepresenting the other side so obviously is very bad framing on your part.

    if religion implies something about the way someone’s brain works… does that mean that lack of religion does too?

    Of course it does. It tends to correlate (imperfectly as with all things) to one’s willingness to believe things without evidence, or not.

  9. #9 Mecha
    June 29, 2007

    Zuska: I don’t know that it’s entirely perfect either, but basically nobody but you and I and one friend of mine would give a damn about it the comparison. Hell, I’m not sure if anyone even UNDERSTANDS it but us. So it’s hard to get any real discussion of it. Everyone’s talking about their own things, and things aren’t really coming together, which is giving me a HUGE headache as I talk about it on various threads. I think I’m about done, just because arguing with PZ, being mocked by others because I don’t properly treat religious people as irrational immediately (god forbid anyone around here define rational or logical 9_9) and discussing with a third, while talking to you, is a hell of a lot to keep straight. Especially since I do think there’s a discrimination factor. The fact that so many people immediately draw back, defensively, to ‘But religious people ARE irrational!’ is sorta indicitive of how people MUST cling to that frame that anyone who believes in religion is inherently wrong.

    And dealing with the people from the Discovery Institute, and people who honestly believe ID, is a completely different argument in my mind. The PR campaign they are running, etc. I don’t like it. But it has nothing to do with Nisbet’s ongoing argument, thank whatever, so.

    -Mecha

  10. #10 Mecha
    June 29, 2007

    I had a large rant typed in here, but I just said fuck it.

    Scienceavenger, you are on a feminist blog. A feminist which at times criticizes and interprets media. This means that you must at least at some level be willing to interpet media. What is the meaning of the three word phrase. ‘The God Delusion?’ What would that tell to you if you believed in god? What if someone backed that up by saying that all religious were irrational? Whatever could you believe is the meaning, the _frame_, that is being worked with by those people?

    I do not have the energy to fight low level semantics and basic theory. My other posts have hammered this to DEATH. Fuck, I don’t even disagree with any of the major viewpoints entirely, PZ and his ilk are just absolutely fucking dominating the discussion! How dare I not take a single easily hatable position! ARGH. I have to leave.

    -Mecha

  11. #11 thomas robey
    June 29, 2007

    Mecha, do you have a blog or other resource where I could read more of your ideas? Because I like them and your approach, even if I might disagree on some particulars.

  12. #12 Science Avenger
    June 29, 2007

    Mecha said: What is the meaning of the three word phrase. ‘The God Delusion?’

    It means God is a delusion.

    What would that tell to you if you believed in god?

    It would tell me that the person who wrote that thinks my belief in gods is delusional.

    What if someone backed that up by saying that all religious were irrational?

    Then I would conclude that that someone believes all belief in gods is delusional.

    Whatever could you believe is the meaning, the _frame_, that is being worked with by those people?

    I’m starting to think this whole “framing” issue is being used in part as an excuse to claim your opponents are really arguing one thing when they are clearly saying something else. It seems especially suspicious when that one thing is so much easier to deal with. You might as well say we are using “code words”.

    I do not have the energy to fight low level semantics and basic theory.

    Then stop, and deal honestly with what people are actually saying and honestly experiencing instead of dismissing it in a framing frenzy.

  13. #13 Chris
    June 30, 2007

    I’d be all for being loud if there were reason behind it. If the “new atheists” stick to evolution, they’ve got reason on their side, even if they’re missing the point (the issue isn’t about the science), but as soon as they start to talk about religion, where they’re completely ignorant of the history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology at play, they cease being the side of reason. At this point, I’m not sure which side has reason in its arsenal, really, if either does.

  14. #14 Mark Nutter
    June 30, 2007

    “As soon as they start to talk about religion, where they’re completely ignorant of the history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology at play, they cease being the side of reason.”

    Look at what you’ve just written. You’re saying they’re not qualified to comment about God because they need to be more immersed in the words and deeds and psychology of men. Theology is, by definition, the study of God, but in practice, it’s the study of the teachings and traditions of men. God Himself does not show up in the real world to be studied or observed or to give any input into religious doctrine. And in His absence, all we have to work with are the socially and psychologically driven perceptions and activities of men.

    I think it’s entirely reasonable for the “new atheists” to treat God the same way they treat evolution. To say otherwise is to concede that God is not real in the same sense that evolution is real. There’s no reason why rational thought cannot inform us regarding the existence of God, except that many people do not like the results obtained when reason is applied to theology.

    If the Christian Gospel were true, and God really were all-powerful and all-loving, then the most fundamental and obvious consequence would be that He would show up to pursue, in person, that personal relationship He allegedly wants to have with each of us. He does not do that for any of us, and atheists are no less qualified than anyone else to make that observation.

  15. #15 The Emerson Avenger
    June 30, 2007

    “You do not break through such bigotry by polite discussion. You break through it by being loud and vigorous.”

    Glad to hear that endorsement of my own ongoing fight against the intolerance and bigotry of fundamentalist atheists. . .

  16. #16 jeffk
    June 30, 2007

    I agree with Blake – I think the difference is that all churchgoers are theists and choose to be so; men, on the other hand, is usually defined as “people born with a penis” and I don’t think we’re all members of the patriarchy the way that all churchgoes are members of a religion.

    I advocate loud and vigorous debate for atheism. I also advocate it for gender equality, but I got in some trouble on this blog before when I once said, “I don’t think loud and vigorous is correct in this *particular* case”. As I consider both, I think the difference for me is that I see the religious debate as very black and white. To me it’s so incredibly, almost laughably obvious that theists are simply wrong that I tend to only react angrily to them. Feminism, on the other hand, while something I support, is more gray; it’s a social philosophy and as such it’s messy, sometimes has competing defitions and goals, and at least as I see it, is usually right but on occasionally I find the thoughts of a few feminists misguided – which is usually when I say, “maybe this one isn’t ready for the hostile strategy yet”.

  17. #17 Avon
    June 30, 2007

    “If the “new atheists” stick to evolution, they’ve got reason on their side, even if they’re missing the point (the issue isn’t about the science).”

    Stick to evolution? lol, I think it’s you that is missing the point when you follow the religionists in equating science to evolution.

    “but as soon as they start to talk about religion, where they’re completely ignorant of the history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology at play, they cease being the side of reason.”

    Of course they are; at least that’s what you need to keep telling yourself, it’s far easier than questioning your own insecurities and dependances.

    “At this point, I’m not sure which side has reason in its arsenal, really, if either does.”

    Nevermind dear, it’ll all be over in the blink of an eye!

  18. #18 Chris
    June 30, 2007

    Avon, nice response. I’ll respond to you by not actually addressing anything you said either.

    Except this: evolution is the issue that starts this, as any perusal of the “new atheist” blogs or books will show you, as will the fact that so many of the “new atheists” are biologists. And when I say it’s not about science, I mean the issue is about ethics and morality, not the science of evolution. But then, since you don’t actually have anything to say to my points, clarifying them won’t help you.

    Mark, you write: “Look at what you’ve just written. You’re saying they’re not qualified to comment about God because they need to be more immersed in the words and deeds and psychology of men.” Well, no, I’d be happy if they read some of the women, too, as there are plenty. But if you want to play faux-radical and assume that all science, history, psychology, and sociology are by men and about men, that’s fine with me. It just makes it easier to ignore you.

  19. #19 bsci
    June 30, 2007

    I see a different parallel between the new atheists and some equal rights advocates. The harm is not how strong you make the case, but more if you don’t solidly research what you say and support opinions with facts you hurt the cause that you are trying to advocate for.

    One research I can’t stand the work of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens is that they barely make a cursory study of religion and then attempt to attack it all. As a quick example, to even say that Christianity and Judaism are antievolution based on 2 chapters of Genisis ignores millenia of theologins commenting on nonliteral meanings of those verses, some which sound surprisingly like evolution. (For a very cursory description see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegorical_interpretations_of_Genesis )

    When someone puts forward an argument based on easily contradicted statements, it both hurts their argument and others who are trying to make the same argument. Similary with gender equality advocates, if someone frequently jumps to conclusions that turns out to be wrong, it hurts the goal.

    When you are right you can be vocal and agressive, but the magnitudes of vocalness should match the magnitude of the confidence that you are right.

  20. #20 Ebonmuse
    July 1, 2007

    That would be a much more convincing argument, bsci, if there weren’t countless creationist museums, radio shows, think tanks, printing houses, and other media outlets, all backed by millions of lay believers, espousing the exact literal view of Genesis you seem to be saying is old hat.

  21. #21 Mecha
    July 1, 2007

    Wow, a one day break, and I’m still annoyed.

    Science Avenger, you are clearly talking at cross purposes. You admit that Dawkins’ book’s title puts forth the idea that religious people are inherently deluded… and yet what? That’s okay? That isn’t a PR problem? Religious are supposed to go, ‘Of course I’m deluded, and I will immediately help you out?’

    The fact that you’ve conceded the basis of my argument makes it hard for me to believe that you can disagree with the outcome of ‘Examples such as the title ‘The God Delusion’ and insistence that religious people are irrational and bad create a mindset in which anyone who is even remotely religious is inherently not on your side, and can never be.’ That is a PR problem.

    That is the _entirety_ of the argument I put forth here. You’re the one who’s pulling all sorts of other junk from it. (And the argument I made in your journal was specifically different!) I _disagreed_ with the portrayal of atheists as a non-discriminated group, but apparently you’re too busy _attacking framing, which is an established bloody fucking social science theory which has a very helpful wikipedia entry_ to care. Or something. But it’s really not dealing with the arguments I have brought up.

    If you think I haven’t dealt with an argument _YOU_ have brought up in this thread, by all means, restate it. Because you have already stipulated to the basis of my argument. How does calling religious people deluded bring them over to your side?

    You, in fact, STIPULATED TO WHAT YOU CALLED INFANTILE. You’re the one who says rational is awesome. Please, for the love of humanity, read what you’re saying.

    -Mecha

  22. #22 Mecha
    July 1, 2007

    Thomas: No, I don’t have a blog. Commenting tears up enough of my time. A blog would swallow it. ;)

    More seriously, I have considered it. But I have yet to figure out how it would work. What kind of space can a male feminist ally set up? What if he’s not exclusively talking about feminist issues? How do I bring together my myriad interests? How do I deal with my day job? I haven’t figured it out yet.

    You can generally find the _majority_ of my public commenting at The Hathor Legacy (http://thehathorlegacy.info) or random places on Scienceblogs. (I’m only plugging because you asked!)

    -Mecha

  23. #23 bsci
    July 1, 2007

    Ebonmuse, I don’t get your point. Yes there are creationists and yes they are well funded and well supported, but the atheist argument isn’t against creationists. It’s against all religion. It’s this type of arguement that gives atheistism advocates a bad name:
    20% of a population believes X therefore 100% of the population is wrong about everything else they believe. That argument wouldn’t stand as part of a science study.

  24. #24 jeffk
    July 1, 2007

    What does any of this have to do what percentage of people believe what? Doesn’t it have to do with what’s correct and true and what’s not? If only 10% of the population of the U.S. are feminists, does that make them wrong? I hate to play the definition game, but if you have beliefs that are not founded on reason, you are irrational (at least in regards to some things, maybe not all), and a delusion is “a fixed false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact”, which, turns out, is also basically the definition of religion.

    I assume a good feminist wants to eliminate all patriarchy, not just the most over-the-top examples of it; this atheist wants all religion gone.

  25. #25 Mecha
    July 1, 2007

    “This atheist wants all religion gone.”

    And this is exactly what I have been talking about, pointing at, talking about. Atheists, such as jeffk, _have not taken the time to understand what minority theories of various sorts say and mean_. This is the connection between atheism and good, the kind of misperception that equating atheism (not religious freedom) to civil rights causes.

    Religious freedom is a civil rights issue. Equal rights is a civil rights issue. Wanting to wipe out all religions is… well, it defines itself.

    -Mecha

  26. #26 jeffk
    July 1, 2007

    Let me clarify: I want all religions wiped out without compromising religious freedom. I want to grant the freedom, but educate people to the point in which they dipose of their beliefs themselves.

  27. #27 jeffk
    July 1, 2007

    In fact, let me continue the analogy that is the subject of this post. I’d assume most readers of this blog would like to dispose of the patriarchy without forcing people to not be mysogynists in some kind of thought-police sort of way. Same thing.

  28. #28 bsci
    July 2, 2007

    jeffk,

    The problem with your logic goes to the phrase, ” if you have beliefs that are not founded on reason.” You are defining what is or is not founded on reason and anything is isn’t, in our own mind, is delusional. Quite a bit of religion is founded on reason. Classic Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim works read like law textbooks deriving facts from first principles. You may not agree with all the first principles, but they do form a system of logic built on reason. (No this doesn’t desribe all religious sects, but it does also doesn’t descibe many and you’d be hard pressed to show that atheists are inherantly more logical and reasonable people based on their atheism)

    Some people may believe that string theory is an accurate description of how the world works while others thinks it’s a bunch of math built on unreasonable first princples. Does that mean that string theorists may be delusional? Realize the subjective biases in your own statements.

  29. #29 JimC
    July 2, 2007

    One research I can’t stand the work of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens is that they barely make a cursory study of religion and then attempt to attack it all. As a quick example, to even say that Christianity and Judaism are antievolution based on 2 chapters of Genisis ignores millenia of theologins commenting on nonliteral meanings of those verses, some which sound surprisingly like evolution

    This is so freaking stupid it’s hard to know where to start. Dawkins in particular goes out of his way to say that theologians dance around and cherry pick this and that but the average believer has no knowledge of this material.

    Harris speaks directly to the types of people. None of the verses sound anything like evolution at all. The theistic evolution is just as full of holes as is the forms of creationism so often attacked. Comments like the one above only show the commentor has a superficial knowledge of the writes he mentions and an even more superflous idea of their actual arguments.

    It’s against all religion. It’s this type of arguement that gives atheistism advocates a bad name:
    20% of a population believes X therefore 100% of the population is wrong about everything else they believe. That argument wouldn’t stand as part of a science study.

    This comment is even more block headed. Atheism is agianst nothing. It’s the abscense of belief, period. The rest of the comment reads like a weak parody of what atheists actually believe and write about and say. An atheist’s base positionis you have no evidence. Funny you toss out a scientific study while apparently not applying the same thought process elsewhere.

    ‘Examples such as the title ‘The God Delusion’ and insistence that religious people are irrational

    They may be deluded in this one area. Embrace the delusion it doens’t mean its so in every avenue of their life.

  30. #30 JimC
    July 2, 2007

    Classic Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim works read like law textbooks deriving facts from first principles-You may not agree with all the first principles, but they do form a system of logic built on reason. (No this doesn’t desribe all religious sects, but it does also doesn’t descibe many and you’d be hard pressed to show that atheists are inherantly more logical and reasonable people based on their atheism)

    You are correct they build a consistent flimsy house on irrational and unreasonable underlying principles. Big deal. They do the same in Star Wars movies. Consistency doesn’t mean reasonable just because the system may beconsistent within itself. And it certainly doesn’t mean rational.

    But your correct that atheists are not necessarily more logical based on their lack of belief in superstition. However they are clearly more so in this one area.

    Some people may believe that string theory is an accurate description of how the world works while others thinks it’s a bunch of math built on unreasonable first princples. Does that mean that string theorists may be delusional?

    Gosh string theory has become the shipping boy of every person who wants to conflate it with theism. We at least know a universe exists whereas the entire structure of religion has no evidence whatsoever.None. It’s a weak analogy at best, pathetic at worst.

  31. #31 jeffk
    July 2, 2007

    Thanks, JimC.

    In other words, the argument that all first principles are created equal should be obviously fallacious. History is full of examples where elaborate constructs were built on top of pure ridiculousness. Deciding on first principles is admittedly a tricky philosophical issue, but I sure hope you agree we can do better than “the Bible is the word of God”. String Theory may be fairly out there as far as established science goes, but even it has good first principles, which are well-established science and not theological ridiculousness. I’m tired of people who probably describe themselves as agnostics being annoying apologists rather than proponents of rationality.

  32. #32 jeffk
    July 2, 2007

    Does that mean that string theorists may be delusional?

    No, because if we look once again at my handy dictionary.com definition, a delusion is “a fixed false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact”, and since string theorists are physicists – scientists – who may have gotten a bit on the creative side, they would happily denounce their work if it did not line up with observed facts of nature. String theory *does* line up with observed facts of nature or it would be worthless theory – it’s just so far ahead of experiment that it’s not accepted as being a necessarily accurate description of the way things are.

    This sort of obnoxious relativism turns me into a Zuska-eqse firebreathing monster*. As though humanity can make any progress in any way whatsoever if we all just sit back and say, “well, so-and-so thinks this, and I think that, and who the hell are we to decide which is correct? Let’s just throw our hands up in the air so nobody gets their feelings hurt”.

    * A compliment, I swear!

  33. #33 bsci
    July 2, 2007

    I’ve personally heard the Dali Lama say that if empirical evidence proves a tenent of his type of Buddism wrong, then that tenent will be dropped. Does this make his religion rational in your mind? Of course, the tenents don’t violate our observations of nature and there are no expriments that can prove or disprove most of them.

    Many other religions (or at least many subgroups in religions) have this type of respect for scientific evidence. Even a cursory study of most old religions will show how they’ve changed over time as empirical evidence challenged various tenents. To say that religious beliefs that are orthogonal to empiricism are wrong because they can’t be proven with empirical methods is um… irrational.

    I doubt Zuska appreciates being called a monster, but, if she was a monster, I assure you she’s spew puke at shoes and not breathe fire.

  34. #34 RickD
    July 2, 2007

    People who claim that atheists (or any minority) are upsetting because the are “impolite” are really complaining because atheists (or any minority) are not being deferential. Deference is the goal, not politeness.

    It is easy to see that this is the problem, if you look at how polite criticism is responded to.

    (BTW, I have seen Dawkins on TV, and he always seemed polite to me. Certainly in comparison to people who have a knee-jerk ridicule response.)

  35. #35 Mark UK
    July 2, 2007

    I don’t get it. Why is it such a bad thing to say that a belief in god is irrational? Virtually all my friends are religious. Most are very intelligent, some are highly succesful in science. None, and I mean none, of them has ever argued with me (atheist) that their belief is rational.

    They all understand and agree that a belief in a supernatural god (no matter how that “god” is filled in) is not rational. They don’t defend themselves, they don’t try to argue out of it. They are not bothered in the slightest by my opinions. Their faith is their thing and they’re happy with it. If other people have other opinions, so be it.

    There is no way you can ever claim that a belief in god is rational and based on evidence. But just as somebody who believes in god can be perfectly rational in other parts of his life and atheist can be perfectly irrational or deluded in other parts of his life.

    I think it dangerous to judge people on one part of the personality. Hey, I even know republicans I like…

  36. #36 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    Sorry, Jeff. You gave up the point, as it were. You don’t want religious freedom. You want religious conversion. As long as you say ‘I am superior’, as long as you say ‘Anyone who is religious is deluded, crazy, inferior’… you have blown the metaphor sky high. And you refuse to admit it, because admitting it means that you’ve lost the moral high ground, that you would have to accept _religious freedom_ as a cause, and not atheism/science. They’re two different things.

    The comparison does not hold. Being sexist involves perpetuating a power structure which inherently makes women lesser beings. Being religious _may_ involve perpetuating a power structure which makes other religions or atheism lesser beings, but does not necessarily (do Universal Unitarians want to wipe your ass from the planet?) and you’re all too fucking busy screaming about wiping out the irrational bad religious peoples’ opinions to care.

    ‘I want freedom of speech, as long as it’s my speech. I want freedom of religion, as long as it’s my religion. I want freedom of choice, as long as it’s my choices.’ All feminism wants is for us to live up to the ideals of the country and modern thought, of the freedom of all beings, which requires sexism to be given up. You clearly don’t. You have given me the argument, Jeffk. I am sorry that you do not understand minority theory enough to _see it_.

    -Mecha

  37. #37 jeffk
    July 2, 2007

    Wow, could you make a bigger straw man after I very specifically clarified that I have no problem with religious freedom, but I think the world would be a better place if religion was eliminated in a manner that doesn’t violate any of our usual tenets of government – free speech and all the rest. Enough education will eventually kill religion.

    The way you construct arguments is downright childish. I make a claim and provide some reason and evidence to back it up, you plug your ears and say, ‘well, if you’re so superior and you’re right and everyone else is wrong, you’re just a big meanie!’ The whole damn point of being in an argument is that I think I’m right and some other people are wrong. Welcome to democratic world. When you enter in an argument, it’s basically implied you think you’re right, and that doesn’t inheritly make you wrong. You also think you’re right. Duh. Can we drop this and move on? Did I not point out, I think fairly irrefutably, that the definitions of religious belief and delusion are basically the same? You added on “crazy” and “inferior” yourself. I’m no pscyhologist, but I’d take crazy to mean that someone was in a pretty small minority, or that their beliefs inhibit their day to day functioning, which doesn’t describe the average believer, so no, I didn’t call anyone crazy. And as far as inferior, well, maybe in the minor sense that I find their religious belief pretty silly, but I don’t treat believers differently than anyone else until they start having a negative effect on my life.

    Feminism wants ideals of country, modern thought, and freedom? So does atheism.

    I’ve personally heard the Dali Lama say that if empirical evidence proves a tenent of his type of Buddism wrong, then that tenent will be dropped. Does this make his religion rational in your mind?

    No. This type of religion is a lesser assault on reason because it doesn’t make claims about the natural world which have been specifically disproven. However, it still makes unmotivated claims, or claims which are impossible to prove one way or the other, making them meaningless. Still, I don’t waste too much of my frustration with religion on things like Buddism. On the normalized irrationality scale, I suppose Buddists are on my side.

  38. #38 Graculus
    July 2, 2007

    “but as soon as they start to talk about religion, where they’re completely ignorant of the history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology at play, they cease being the side of reason.”

    So you beleive that all atheist historians, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists etc should be fired because they are completely ignorant about those fields?

  39. #39 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    No, Jeff. You blew it. Throwing logical fallacy attacks at me doesn’t change that. You do not understand feminist theory, and…

    “I very specifically clarified that I have no problem with religious freedom, but I think the world would be a better place if religion was eliminated in a manner that doesn’t violate any of our usual tenets of government – free speech and all the rest. Enough education will eventually kill religion.”

    What if you had said instead, “I very specifically clarified that I have no problem with religious freedom, but I think the world would be a better place if atheism (or some other religion, or all other religions but the speaker’s) was eliminated in a manner that doesn’t violate any of our usual tenents of government – free speech and all the rest. Enough education will eventually kill (insert religion here.)”

    I’m not arguing against a straw person. This is what you believe. You said it yourself. Freedom of religion, as long as it is your religion. Your attempts to equate that to feminism, and gay rights, and black rights, positions which I respect completely, are absolutely sickening to me.

    I came into the discussion theorizing that people that think like you might exist. And you proved me right. I wish I could thank you. But that would imply I approve. Sorry.

    You want the conversation to be over. Well, it’s over from my end. Have the last word or not as you will. You have made your position very, very clear.

    -Mecha

  40. #40 Mark UK
    July 2, 2007

    Freedom of religion is a great thing. If we can reduce and minimize the number of people who believe in supernatural things/gods through education than that is an even better thing.

    I fear we will never completely manage to reduce religion to zero percent but we should aim for it. We should aim for a society where reason and rational thinking guide decisions. We should do that through education.

  41. #41 poke
    July 2, 2007

    Mecha: The feminist equivalent of “being religious is irrational and wrong” would be “being a misogynist is irrational and wrong.” I can’t imagine there’s a feminist who wouldn’t agree with that. There’s no Essentialism in the statement except that which you added with your false analogy. If someone released a book entitled THE MISOGYNY DELUSION I doubt you’d have a problem with it.

  42. #42 Zuska
    July 2, 2007

    A few thoughts:

    1. BSCI is right. A Zuska-monster would spew puke on shoes, not breath fire. There’s enough flaming in the world (especially on the internet :) ) but a dearth of shoe-puking, when the patriarchy needs it so badly.

    2. Jeffk, could I prod you just a little to consider what Mecha is saying? Let me preface this by saying that I consider myself to be an atheist, or at least a life-long recovering Catholic, and that I deplore the damage religion so often seems to do in the world. I often think the world would be a much, much better place with no religion at all. But…

    3. I don’t want anyone telling me I have to become an evangelical Christian because “with more education, everyone will realize that evangelical Christianity is the only way to be saved” and “I want freedom of religion, and I want to respect the tenents of our government, but I believe the world will be a better place when everyone is an evangelical Christian.” This is the problem. I am absolutely sure that my worldview is better than the average evangelical Christian’s…but they feel the same way regarding someone like me.

    4. So what differentiates the evangelical Christian in #3 above from your viewpoint, Jeffk? You believe the world will be better when everyone is atheist, the EC believes the world will be better when everyone is EC. Freedom of religion is the only thing that protects you both, and freedom of religion, I think, ensures that we will always have religion. I don’t think you can educate (all) people out of their desire for authoritarian control, and I sometimes think that’s really what religion is more so than delusion or irrationality or superstition. It’s submission to authoritarian control. Check out The Authoritarians.

  43. #43 Science Avenger
    July 2, 2007

    Mecha trolled: I came into the discussion theorizing that people that think like you [Jeff] might exist. And you proved me right.

    Don’t feel bad Jeff, he did the same thing to me, and no doubt others. It would be much more accurate to say Mecha comes into the discussion with a very simplistic broad brush assumption of what atheists were saying, and when they say something completely different, he simply ignores them, and keeps repeating his assumptions, because he knows what we really mean, even when we clearly state the opposite.

    Congratulations, you’ve earned your Troll achievement badge, and provided an excellent example of how some people can’t handle a rational discussion of the intellectual pros and cons of religious belief.

  44. #44 Mark UK
    July 2, 2007

    People keep confusing religion with the absence of religion. Keep comparing being a christian with being an atheist… It’s the opposite. Being an atheist should mean approaching life rationally. Including the “big questions”.

    Like they say, if atheism is a religion than not collecting stamps is a hobby.

  45. #45 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    Wow. Just… wow. There are not words for how _presumptuous_, insulting and dismissive SA is being.

    He accuses me in other places of the ‘strawman’ of ‘activist/radical atheists which want to have no other religion in the world (whether by conversion or not: Screw Jehova’s Witnesses, Atheist Witnesses!)’ …And then JeffK and others state it, proving my point. He accuses me of the ‘strawman’ of bringing up the issue of misusing equality concepts, and then JeffK and others say that ‘being religious/religious are equivalent to being a bigot/mysoginy’, which is patently false (a non-evangelical religious (say, a Universal Unitarian) who is in no way interested in conversion is _far_ more religious freedom/equality minded than _an atheists who desires the world to be 100% atheist, and actively pursues that goal_, as one of them believes in the live-and-let-live equality of religious freedom, and one believes in making sure everyone learns religion is wrong, but they’re ‘absolutely free to be wrong.’) And yet, I’m the troll.

    Nobody is taking on the concept that telling all religious that they’re irrational is ‘good PR’. People just assume, state, accept, that that’s the right way, the truthful way, the only way. I am one of the few, perhaps only, who is examining that assumption at all. Is it any surprise I find it VERY wanting? Especially since the same thing is something that most effective minority advocates _avoid_?

    This illogical troll label is an especially fascinating dismissive classification because I am agnostic (considered atheist around here.) It is especially fascinating because I was the _second commenter on Zuska’s thread_, early in Nisbet’s thread, etc. I _came_ to both agree and disagree, to theorize and discuss, and nobody in control of any scienceblog decided I was a troll. And yet I’m the troll. (It was a mistake to comment on your journal, SA. I had honestly thought you were more interested in ideas and discussion on the topic in that place than you were. I should have picked up the screed tone and let it be. It’s why I haven’t posted again.)

    The folly of tying your entire being to ‘I’m rational’ is that it is _very tempting_ to assume that anyone who does not agree with you is irrational. Not that they know different things. Not that they’ve seen different things. Not that they’ve _studied_ different things. They’re irrational. And that is the most silencing, dismissing, and damning thing you can say on science blogs. It’s thrown around like a cudgel. You might as well tell me I’m ‘shrill’ or a ‘shrew’.

    -Mecha

  46. #46 jeffk
    July 2, 2007

    So what differentiates the evangelical Christian in #3 above from your viewpoint, Jeffk

    I’m running out of breath. Because my worldview doesn’t make unsupported claims, which in many cases are used to make bad public policy. Atheism is NOT a religion; the duality proposed by Mecha and Zuska is false.

  47. #47 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    Zuska: Since you might actually be interested in this part of the discussion, this being a feminist blog as opposed to Atheismblog, I reread the Feminism 101 FAQ entry on ‘Why do you feminists hate men?’ and saw another interesting parallel that I feel highlights the inaccuracies of activist atheism being interested in equality like activist feminists. How does the patriarchy see men? ‘Positive’, but the vast majority of the social norm is dedicated to portraying and glorifying men as messy horny hungry animals with few emotions and little tact and violent actions and that’s how they should be.

    How do religious people and religious structures see religious people? Generally good, with a societal norm of ‘good’, and a lot of what various religions _say and teach_ is even good (or at least neutral) in base, although far too many sub-beliefes/structures portray themselves as what would be considered not so good, generally the most powerful, rigid, and vocal types (Catholic Church, Evangelicals, Etc) who typically believe in inequalities unrelated to the base religious belief itself (abortion, etc.) without a stronger societal norm for _all_ religions (the norm, in the US, is generally considered Judeo-Christian. Hence Middle-Class White Straight Juedo-Christian Privileges.)

    So the ‘it’s not religious people, it’s the religious power structure that we want to eliminate’ argument seems to not hold as well, especially using conversion language like JeffK does, because not all religious power structures benefit from or exist in a societal norm that gives them power, and radical/activist atheists, even though their assumptions are often (not always) built upon the Judeo-Christian (especially Evangelical) framework, seems to assume that all religion is bad and holds majority over them (see JeffK above) without nearly as much proof as the ‘Evangelical and Catholic power structures really don’t seem interested in real equality’ argument would have. An equality argument would be more willing to work with other less privileged beliefs, or even good members of more privileged beliefs, as most feminists would with gays/blacks and men. Or so I theorize.

    The underlying assumption that Judeo-Christian is the Real Religion (and may well be the real power structure enemy), and defines the rest of the religions, seems to permeate _everything_, even to the point that ‘The God Delusion’ implies Judeo-Christian god in its title, but it is all religions that need to be converted to atheism in its arguments. And that same strange duality seems to be represented in other places in the arguments as well.

    Thoughts?

    -Mecha

  48. #48 Graculus
    July 2, 2007

    Nobody is taking on the concept that telling all religious that they’re irrational is ‘good PR’.

    Ok. I will.

    It is great PR.

    You see I don’t argue with Creationists becasue I think I will convince them, I argue with them becasue I can convince the “audience”. It doesn’t matter if Sharpton is not going to convert to non-belief because Hitchens called religion irrational, because eventually Sharpton will die and that problem wiill solve itself. It’s the next generation, who will have been exposed to the idea that belief is irrational and uneccessary, that the PR is aimed at.

  49. #49 Mark UK
    July 2, 2007

    Religion is like alternative medicine. A little bit of a homeopathic remedy because you have cold is not that bad. It does no harm. Right? Wrong. It’s the first step on a path of illogical thinking and potentially leading to damaging results. Education is key.

  50. #50 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    Graculus: Convince what audience? The audience which consists of mainly religious, who you have called irrational, deluded, crazy? I don’t believe you have substantiated the concept that you’d convince them by calling them dumb and irrational. That’s pure assumption. Where is _your_ evidence?

    I can point out very easily that insulting peoples’ intelligence and right to be in society doesn’t convince them by itself. Are you going to argue with that, too, say I don’t have any ‘proof’ that people don’t like being insulted and that it tends to close their minds? I believe this conversation is proof enough.

    Mark: What if you’re an irrational atheist? And you teach other irrational atheists? Uh oh. Same problem. Tying religion to being irrational, and atheist to being rational, has everything backwards. That assumption is made commonly around here. If you want reason, teach reason. But that’s not what PZ or JeffK is espousing with their words.

    -Mecha

  51. #51 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    (It is also worth considering that you conflated ‘Creationists’ with ‘Religious’ in this PR movement. Two different things! If you want to promote religious equality, that has nothing to do with creationists. Not what I was arguing. If you wanna take on Creationist lies, be my guest. Different. Arguments.)

    -Mecha

  52. #52 JuliaL
    July 2, 2007

    Mecha,

    This is off the topic, but I wonder if you would reconsider your use of the _emphasis_ underline. My eyesight isn’t as good as I’d like, and I find it difficult to follow the sentence structure when you make repeated use of those marks. In some of your comments, I’ve needed to use a visual aid, like an unsharpened pencil to trace along the line, in order to understand you. I wonder if others who are interested in what you have to say also find the use of those marks to make it more, rather than less, difficult to follow your arguments. If others have no problems with those marks, then please excuse and ignore my comment.

  53. #53 bsci
    July 2, 2007

    jeffk,
    Do you not see the irrationality in your own statements
    1.”String theory *does* line up with observed facts of nature or it would be worthless theory – it’s just so far ahead of experiment that it’s not accepted as being a necessarily accurate description of the way things are”
    2.”Because my worldview doesn’t make unsupported claims”

    The reason I like the string theory example is that the predictive claims ARE unsupported. It’s still rational and it’s still good science. No, it’s not a perfect comparison to religion, but I hope it gets the point across.

    Jeffk also was the perfect example of my complaint that people who are loud and incorrect hurt their point of view. He claims to know all about the falseness of religion, but when an example of Buddhism violates his statements he says “This type of religion is a lesser assault on reason because it doesn’t make claims about the natural world which have been specifically disproven. ” Of course that is true for many religions, but Jeffk is too ignorant or lazy to actually do research and find out about what he is condemning. Frankly people like him hurt the position of legitimate evangelical atheists.

  54. #54 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    Julia: You know, I just thought about that today when I was doing another post, wondering if they were annoying or not. It’s not a particularly good habit. I just think that capitalization has an entirely different meaning in netspeak, generally, so I can’t use that for emphasis.

    Thanks for telling me. I’ll try to keep it in mind and use them more sparingly.

    -Mecha

  55. #55 JuliaL
    July 2, 2007

    Mecha,

    You might try bold or an occasional italics. Bold is done by putting B inside angle brackets before the word and /B inside angle brackets after the word. The angle brackets are also used as “less than” and “greater than” signs. Italics are the same, except with I and /I

    Now I’ll be quiet on this subject, as this is a fascinating thread.

  56. #56 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    Julia: I don’t like using HTML tags, because I can’t use them in places without HTML tags! As I went through this post and excised all the _s, I was reminded that if I used HTML tags as instinctively as I used _, I’d look really silly in places that didn’t handle them, as opposed to just looking silly now. ;)

    Poke: But, see, ‘Misogyny’ and ‘Religious Belief’ are not the same thing, as far as my analysis goes, and so the comparison falls apart. That was my initial point when talking to Zuska: Not all religious people don’t actively believe that atheists are bad/lesser. But all mysoginists do actively believe that women are bad/lesser. (You would have done better to use ‘sexists’, but the analogy still falls apart IMO because, again, not all religious are truly and necessarily anti-religious freedom, nor is there a proven correlation, nor is there a universal power structure where all religious get to enforce their norms. Some religions are more of a minority than atheists!)

    Meanwhile, ‘radical atheist activists’ such as PZ and JeffK are absolutely certain that all religious people are bad/lesser. Does this make them equivalent? No. Because atheists don’t generally have a power structure supporting them. But neither do most non-Judeo-Christians in America. Or non-Muslims in muslim countries. So if drawing a comparison between the two groups, it immediately falls apart due to lack of power structure. But it’s not particularly equality minded. Morally, I’d far rather be on the side of true equality. And smacking down the offenses and the power structure.

    Remember. For feminists, it’s not men, it’s the patriarchy. For atheists (and other people who should, theoretically, be _equality_ activists), why not say that it’s not religious people, it’s the power structure and norms which give religion its normative and social influence and power. The radical atheists specifically do not agree, and have said, in this thread and in other plaecs,that they wish to be rid of all religions and have there be no religious people in the world (I don’t really want to use loaded language, but ‘I want there to be no religion in the world’ doesn’t tend to have _good_ single word descriptions.) That is not the same. That is why I made the initial comparison. Don’t use the language of equality unless you truly mean it.

    -Mecha

  57. #57 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    I realized, on rereading, that ‘there is not a proven correlation’ needs to be corrected/clarified: No necessary correlation between ‘sexism’ and ‘religious belief’ in the metaphor. Just an assumption that all religious people are inherently anti-atheists, regardless of belief. There was a possibility for misunderstanding.

    -Mecha

  58. #58 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    Oy. Also a double negative due to a word shift at ‘Not all religious people actively believe’. You can tell I’m tired of laying this out again and again. *chuckle*

    -Mecha

  59. #59 Patness
    July 2, 2007

    Normally I don’t comment here – but this got a top 5 so I’m out here to say my piece.

    Know what “religion” is and define it for discussion purposes – for some people, religion has no definition (in a semester of religious studies we never defined religion, although an absurd number of claims were made about religion).

    But as far as I’m concerned, the cornerstone of religious belief is the human power to be crazy. Bottom line: you can’t stop the crazy. It’s in you :P. Religion is just one manifestation, one memetic sympathy, of many possible.

  60. #60 Graculus
    July 2, 2007

    it was an example, not a conflation.

  61. #61 Mark UK
    July 2, 2007

    You might want to read some of my earlier posts. I said already that you shouldn’t judge people on one part of their character. Be that their religion or whatever. Being an atheist does not make you automatically a good person, a nice person or an intelligent person. I know atheists who happily believe in psychic powers.

    My point is that religion is not a rational thing. There are many other things that I consider in that way. Be they alternative medicine (most of it), psychic powers and any other pseudo science.

    Education in logical thinking and understanding science is the only way to minimize these irrational believes.

  62. #62 poke
    July 2, 2007

    Mecha: PZ and others are always very careful to state that they’re criticizing religious beliefs and not religious believers. They do so frequently and explicitly whether you believe them or not. In that sense they already are criticizing “the power structure and norms which give religion its normative and social influence and power.” What you seem to be missing is that the central point of atheist criticism of religion is not that religion does bad things or marginalizes people (although it does) but that it is wrong. Given this belief, it’s perfectly compatible to believe that we should only attack the “the power structure and norms which give religion its normative and social influence and power” and that the outcome would be the end of religion (just as one might hope the outcome of feminism would be the end of misogyny).

    To make another analogy: Let’s say that a new notion of Liberal Misogyny became popular. Liberal Misogynists believe women should have all the same rights as men, should be able to pursue the same careers, have the same education and opportunities, and so on. However, they still claim that women are inferior to men. They are, in fact, quite vocal on this point. Now, imagine that not only did this group of people exist, but that the majority of feminists agreed that Liberal Misogyny would be a far better outcome than simply having no misogyny altogether. Liberal Misogyny does nothing harmful; it merely makes false claims without evidence that are clearly motivated by unfortunate social norms. Does this outcome appeal to you? Does it strike you as a more equitable outcome than simply eliminating misogyny?

  63. #63 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    Poke: You can’t realistically say ‘I’m just criticizing religious beliefs, and not the believers’ in the same breath you say ‘holding a relgiious belief makes you crazy.’ You know that holding? Yes. Done by a person. They may _say_ they do. But they do not _do_ what they say. See JeffK’s above comment.

    You’re acting like I’m saying atheism is incompatible with rights movement. Which is not what I am saying, nor has it been what the discussion was ever over. It seems as if you’re forgetting what this discussion started over. Which was some atheists (‘radical’, militant, ornrery) which maintain that having religious believes makes you a lesser person, and do so very, very vocally. As well as the false comparison between atheism and various civil rights, making all religious out to be the enemies of atheism and reason. There’s a very big difference.

    I believe it is completely possible to be an atheist activist and not maintain that religious people are crazy, or illogical, or lesser than atheists. Those positions have been said in this thread by various people, let alone on scienceblogs everywhere else.

    But I am not talking about in general. I am talking about a specific subgroup that thinks it’s very cool to say religious people are illogical, crazy, etc, that that’s not a problem, and that that supports equality. Sorry. That doesn’t support equality. Any more than your mythical analogy.

    And abou that analogy. Your theoretical analogy completely falls apart. You are constructing a scenario, in which people believe that another group are their lessers, and yet, treats them as equals. By definition, the group cannot consider the women their lessers if they believe in equality. Nor can they believe in equality if they believe they are their lessers. Equality means that the group is inherently not your lesser. As such, I cannot answer your question. It doesn’t hold together enough to reason about it. (How would women prosecute rape convictions in this world? They’re lesser! Their word is worth less! The rape culture reemerges, and then… you get the point. It doesn’t hold. It’s completely unrealistic.)

    I never said it was impossible for atheists to disagree with religion. That is part of the strawperson which has been applied to me. (A funny strawperson, since most people here would consider me atheist.) The entire discussion, from beginning to end, has been about radical activist atheists who, depending on which one you are thinking of, specifically say and believe, among other things, 1) athiests are better than all religious people 2) the vast majority of religious people are out to make sure everyone knows atheists are worse than them and can’t be tolerated 3) atheism and science are tightly bound 4) atheism and reason are tightly bound 5) religious belief and being crazy/irrational are tightly bound 6) atheism has a primary claim to civil rights issues. These views do not hold together. You can’t treat atheist concerns as civil rights and maintain that atheists are better than everyone else (destroying the concept that the atheists believe in equality.) You can’t go for religious freedom while insisting that a world of atheists is your endgoal. There’s a fundamental belief – action disconnect there. It would be like your mythical liberal misogynists. Action and mind go together. Not seperately.

    Again. Radical atheist position being discussed: Atheism is reason, and scientist, and good, religion and religious are bad, illogical, crazy. A world without religious, all of them convinced by our superior minds, is a better world. _Religious people cannot be our allies_. (PZ maintains this explicitly.) Feminist and all other equality positions: Men are not bad. The power structures which enforce inequity and create inequity and teach inequity are bad. Men can be our allies.

    Is the difference clear yet?

    -Mecha

  64. #64 JS
    July 2, 2007

    The reason I like the string theory example is that the predictive claims ARE unsupported. It’s still rational and it’s still good science. No, it’s not a perfect comparison to religion, but I hope it gets the point across.

    The reason that your analogy is invalid is that string theory can in principle be tested. The claims are unsupported, but they are not unsupportable.

    It is not unusual for theoretical and experimental high-energy physics to be out of sync. In fact, the cost associated with building large colliders pretty much dictates that the theorists will be ahead of the game most of the time, since you’ll need a theory to make predictions that you can base your accelerator design on. The exception to the rule is when a new accelerator is built and finds/fails to find something that requires a major reworking of theory. Then the experimentalists are ahead for a while. This is not a problem as long as theory provides some predictions that can in principle be tested experimentally.

    I.o.w., your analogy fails because the string theorists can point to some measurement that is in principle possible to carry out. God theorists (with the word ‘theory’ used here in a loose colloquial sense) cannot.

    Disclaimer #1: I don’t know much about string theory, so it is possible that I am wrong about the testability of the theory – however, if this is the case string theory would be superstition not science and your analogy, while in this case valid, would loose much of its power.

    Disclaimer #2: I am only debunking the analogy in question, not making a sweeping claim about the philosophy of science being in all ways superior to other philosophy. Specifically, I do think that there are aspects of life where it is wise to abandon science and logic and go on pure emotion (falling in love is one very obvious example). But in a political debate, I do think that mandating universality, parsimony and empiricism makes sense.

    Julia: I don’t like using HTML tags, because I can’t use them in places without HTML tags! As I went through this post and excised all the _s, I was reminded that if I used HTML tags as instinctively as I used _, I’d look really silly in places that didn’t handle them, as opposed to just looking silly now. ;)

    What’s wrong with using both? I normally use html or pseudo-html tags, but when the medium does not support their use, I revert to asterisks and underscores to denote bold and italic, respectively. It requires only a little more attention (and a bit more editing to convert from one format to another – but thank the gods for global search-and-replace).

    (You would have done better to use ‘sexists’, but the analogy still falls apart IMO because, again, not all religious are truly and necessarily anti-religious freedom, nor is there a proven correlation, nor is there a universal power structure where all religious get to enforce their norms. Some religions are more of a minority than atheists!) [Emphasis added]

    In some enlightened parts of the world, you may be right about this. But in the USA, as well as in much of Southern and Eastern Europe (not to mention the Third World), this is simply and utterly wrong. I could dig out and reference plenty of studies to prove this, but the current political hot topic in the US is actually sufficient. One of the major political parties has both a female presidential candidate and a black one. Both have decent chances of actually being elected. Imagine one of the presidential candidates coming out and saying, in so many words, that he’s an atheist. He would go down in flames faster than you can say ‘entrenched power structure.’

    Meanwhile, ‘radical atheist activists’ such as PZ and JeffK are absolutely certain that all religious people are bad/lesser. Does this make them equivalent? No. Because atheists don’t generally have a power structure supporting them. But neither do most non-Judeo-Christians in America. Or non-Muslims in muslim countries.

    First, a minor linguistic quibble. By the usual definition of terms, there are no ‘radical atheists.’ In political and religious discussions, the term ‘radical’ carries connotations of violence and thuggery that simply do not apply to Myers, et al.

    Second, as mentioned, being a non-christian in the US is still considered preferable to being an atheist by the vast majority of the population. Being a muslim may be approaching the same level of public daemonisation, but they certainly aren’t there yet.

    Remember. For feminists, it’s not men, it’s the patriarchy. For atheists (and other people who should, theoretically, be _equality_ activists), why not say that it’s not religious people, it’s the power structure and norms which give religion its normative and social influence and power. The radical atheists specifically do not agree, and have said, in this thread and in other plaecs,that they wish to be rid of all religions and have there be no religious people in the world

    Two points: First, the vocal atheists would argue that religion is part of the power structure that makes religion respectable by fiat rather than by merit. And while I’m not sure that I agree completely with that assertion, they do have a point as far as religion in the public debate is concerned.

    Second, as others have pointed out – repeatedly – the ‘atheists who want no religion/feminists who want no males’ analogy breaks down because religion is a choice – being male isn’t. It is in principle possible to reduce the number of people who subscribe to religious dogma without ever using methods that are incompatible with democracy and liberty. Reducing the number of males (or, rather, the ratio of males) by democratic methods, however, is only possible if you convince people to stop having children (or to abort all male embryos), which is a rather more far-fetched scheme.

    - JS

  65. #65 JS
    July 2, 2007

    Poke: You can’t realistically say ‘I’m just criticizing religious beliefs, and not the believers’ in the same breath you say ‘holding a religious belief makes you crazy.’

    The people you are criticizing are not saying that. They are saying ‘religious belief is crazy.’ If holding a single crazy belief were sufficient to earn the label crazy, then everyone would be crazy, or at least near enough as makes no matter. Can you honestly say that you do not hold a single crazy belief? I, for one, hold the belief that it is possible to prevent far-right pseudoeconomic BS from turning my country into a banana republic. By all standards of empirical evidence, this is a crazy belief. Does holding that belief make me crazy?

    You are constructing a scenario, in which people believe that another group are their lessers, and yet, treats them as equals. By definition, the group cannot consider the women their lessers if they believe in equality. Nor can they believe in equality if they believe they are their lessers. Equality means that the group is inherently not your lesser.

    I hold dominionism to be morally inferior to pretty much every other opinion. I don’t merely disagree with the Dominionists, I hold them in contempt. They are, if you will, my lessers.

    I also believe that Dominionists should be treated as my equals under the law. I believe this because I believe that rule of law is more important than my contempt for dominionism. If a Dominionist is more qualified for a job than I am, then he should get the job. If a Dominionist is raped, then the rapist should be convicted of rape. If a Dominionist who is running for office on a program that I agree with and he is qualified for office, then I will vote for him. (Of course, by way of definition, a Dominionist cannot run on a program I agree with – then he would cease to be a Dominionist – so in a sense the analogy breaks down here.)

    Does that mean that I don’t believe in equality?

    But I am not talking about in general. I am talking about a specific subgroup that thinks it’s very cool to say religious people are illogical, crazy, etc, that that’s not a problem, and that that supports equality.

    I’m afraid that you’re talking about the empty set, then. Of course the empty set is a subset of every set, but it’s not terribly interesting to assign properties to the elements in it…

    Again. Radical atheist position being discussed: Atheism is reason, and scientist, and good, religion and religious are bad, illogical, crazy. A world without religious, all of them convinced by our superior minds, is a better world. _Religious people cannot be our allies_. (PZ maintains this explicitly.)

    Myers is not entirely clear on this. As best I can discern, he believes that while religious people can be allies (think Ken Miller), religion itself cannot. But I’m not entirely sure. As I said, he’s not entirely clear on that point.

    For myself, I’m not advocating that atheism be proselytised, so in a sense I don’t have a dog in the race. I’m merely playing spot-a-fallacy for my own amusement.

    - JS

  66. #66 thomas robey
    July 2, 2007

    Thanks Mecha.

    For the link and the stub thought on what it means to be a male feminist. As far as ethics and philosophy is concerned, one of my (female) instructors once told me to think of feminism as a justice framework, rather than connected with gender. I find that difficult, given the multiple uses of the term. Even so, I think I might be better off as a more feminist male.

    Or feminine. Whatever ; )

  67. #67 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 2, 2007

    Mecha –

    I am going to go with the other poster. The emphasis thing should follow this rule: _Less is more._ It reads like caps, and I picture you gesticulating wildly.

    Religious people can be our allies, but they are telling atheists not to be so vocal about their atheism, and you are doing the same thing. Religious moderates have told Dawkins the same thing: “Don’t be so hard on us, we have common cause. ” But with that they expect atheists to subsume our beliefs, which they tell us is ignorant and ignores the possibility that God can be defined as “Love” with a capital “L.”

    Watch the video of the Town Hall discussion following a screening of a portion of the Root of All Evil.

  68. #68 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    Okay, JS. Just as a warning? You’re specifically being annoying. ‘I’m playing spot the fallacy. BUT JUST WITH PEOPLE WHO DON’T AGREE WITH ME! XD’ Annoying. So I’m not going to be able to strip all the annoyance out of this reply.

    For your first ‘fallacy’, you completely misread. I said all religions. I meant _all religions_. Your disagreement means that you are either mistaken, or that that you believe that, say, a wiccan or satanist would be perfectly electable. I hope you do not believe that. The Judeo-Christians has a power structure of sorts, a norm. I have said this multiple times in my arguments. Your implication that I have not, and your misreading of my statement, created a problem where there was none. Please read what I have said.

    Radical/Militant/Ornery/Whatever they want to call themselves this day/week/month. I don’t care. You don’t care. If one of them is offensive, someone of the group can show up and tell me in a one liner, and I’ll always use it. I asked PZ. He didn’t respond.

    Secondly, just because some groups are a bit privileged does not make them equivalent. Nor does it make all religious enemies. Which is the ornery atheist’s belief: All religion, and religious, is anti-science, anti-right. Furthermore, a number of those religions are explicitly pro-equality. And yet they are assigned to being bad by the active discussion frame.

    If ornery atheists were interested in _equality_ (which was what Nisbet’s original post was about: Atheism as Civil Rights), they would not explicitly say that religious people suck, and need to be converted. They would not assume that religion = irrational, atheism = science (Hey, there’s a big fallacy you don’t point out! Atheism is not science. Reason is not atheism.) or half a dozen other things.

    Again, the assumption of Juedo-Christian comes up! No, not all religions are part of the power strucutre, nor do they build off of it. And I AM NOT THE ONE WHO IS TRYING TO MAKE THE GODDAMN METAPHOR: PEOPLE WHO EQUATE ATHEISM TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND CIVIL RIGHTS ARE. I was arguing with it! Do you even READ what is going on? At all? Or did you just jump into this thread to be annoying? I was specifically saying it fell apart because of a number of reasons!

    Furthermore, choice to be in the minority is not the basis of all minority theory. If there were invented a way to ‘make’ people all straight, or all male, or all white, would suddenly it be ‘okay’ to convert everyone to be straight/male/white? Your attempt to make choice the discriminator of privilege groups also exposes that belief as allowable. And I hope you think it’s wrong. Feminists take that position because it is the right position. Not because they can’t commit genocide. The idea that lack of choice is the only thing which makes tolerance and equal rights necessary is unsupported by minority theory, and the fact that ‘religious freedom’ is written into the US constitution. I’ve seen it multiple places, and in every place it was still very wrong, and displayed a fundamental lack of study of minority theory.

    Sigh. Perhaps you’ve never studied society. But, in fact, calling someone ‘crazy’, or their beliefs ‘crazy’, is an _incredibly effective silencing slur as well as a likely insult_, because of how crazy people are treated in our society. Think about how crazy people are treated. You say ‘crazy’ like ‘weird, out there.’ You call someone else, who is not your friend, crazy? You better hope that they think it’s funny to call people crazy. Please, consider how what people say may be interpreted, and how it can create impressions. Ex: Look at above, where I am called an ‘illogical troll’. Silencing technique much? Absolutely! But hey, illogical isn’t an insult against me or my beliefs, it’s an insult against my… uh… er… religion? Wait, I don’t have one.

    Your theoretical example is very funny. Sadly, you are not society, nor a group in society. You are one person who thinks that he has absolutely no prejudices towards a group which he ‘holds in contempt.’ Either you’re misusing contempt (perfectly possible, I know a lot of people who don’t really understand hate), or more likely you’re fooling yourself.

    But either way, you are not a group. There’s a logical fallacy for you: the comparison necessarily required a group to work. Again: note how you didn’t attack _anyone else’s_ logical fallacies. (Hint: Atheism != Science! Where have you been for the past year, to argue against that fallacy! Hell, where have you been the last 4 days!)

    Your talking about the null set? Uh… there _is_ a specific subgroup. It has appeared. I don’t know how you _miss_ people saying that, yes, religious people are illogical, that yes, ‘The God Delusion’ can be interpreted to say that believing in religion makes you crazy. Your attempts to imply I’m making up a group which specifically showed itself in the course of these discussions is further annoying. Very denialist of you. (“There’s no problem!”)

    I’m not even going to bother with the last thing. You don’t know whether he does or not, but you just chose to disagree with me for… what purpose, again? I enjoy sharpening my points against people, but I’m having to say the same things over and over. If you’re gonna jump in, at least do me the courtesy of reading what I’ve written? I’m only glad you brought up the choice argument, because I hadn’t pointed out how bad it was yet.

    -Mecha

  69. #69 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    Mike: Nice name! Ahem. Long running joke. Yes, I am frustrated, because I keep hammering the points. Over and over.

    I don’t think atheists don’t have to be vocal. That doesn’t mean every way of being vocal is equal. You do not have to insult all religious to do it. Again. We are on a freaking feminist blog! Zuska is often angry. That’s totally cool! But saying that religious people are crazy, as the title of Dawkins’ book does, implicitly, and in a very easy reading, is not a helpful move! Among the other things that have been done. Basic framing thought here. Comparing to other minority movements supports it.

    It is perfectly possible to be vocally atheist for religious freedom. Absolutely. Completely. Possible. It is completely possible to fight the privilege that people conforming to the religious norms get without saying that anyone who is religious is your enemy, or is crazy, or is bad, or is illogical, or is inherently anti-science. It is equally possible to fight the privilege without saying that atheism is the same as science, and that atheists are intrinsically tied to reason and logic and rightness. How about fighting it by pointing out that the country is founded on freedom of religion, all religions! How about fighting it with books espousing atheism and putting it forth as a moral theory without insulting religious people. There are PLENTY of options. None of them are being explored. Everyone is assuming that PZ is right. That telling the religious that they’re crazy and irrational is how you’ll convince them to something. Conversion? Maybe. Equality? No. And since this entire discussion started about atheism and civil rights, it seems to me that should be what we’re talking about!

    Will people misinterpret? Absolutely. But when you explicitly set up a frame like has been set up around atheism on scienceblogs and by other ornery atheists, you make it crystal clear what you mean. Atheism = good. Religion = bad. Atheism = Science = Reason. Religion and Science are enemies. This is the frame! And it is explicitly in conflict with goals of equality. Maybe it’ll work for something else. But we started from atheism and civll rights.

    I am very, very, very, very, very frustrated. I have said more than once that atheists are discriminated against, that there are bad religious, that there is such a thing as Judeo-Christian norms and privilege, that I am atheist. I have said so in multiple forums. I haven’t had to hedge this long in a long time just in the hopes people would listen, and people around here are supposed to be ‘reasonable’ and ‘scientific’ and ‘rational’ and so on. There’s a wikipedia article on framing. There’s a FAQ about feminism. This is not hard to wrap ones mind around. Telling people explicitly, in every public media, that they are crazy, that their beliefs are crazy, is bad PR. This is very simple, and very straightforward. Some people have put forth interesting arguments, but others are very interested in just protecting the current status quo around here. And most minority groups do not do it as a matter of course! But atheists in the public view? It’s all they do. It’s what the books say on their cover! Bad. PR. Communication is a mediated medium. It matters just as much how you say something as what you say.

    For the N+1th time. It is perfectly possible to be an activist without being PZ. It is perfectly possible to fight the _abuses_ of the Judeo-Christian or Muslim norms and power structures without being Dawkins. The _assumption_ that you must is false, and almost certainly pulled from a misunderstanding of how and why feminism and other movements worked. The concept that being called crazy and irrational is good equality PR (instead of just admitting that ones goals are conversion, and as such good PR for equality is not what you want), while at the SAME time saying, as PZ does, ‘It is so about civil rights!” is _disingenuous_. And I am sick of pointing it out!

    I am sick of pointing at theories that support it! I am sick of pointing at people establishing these frames! Look at http://scienceblogs.com/bushwells/2007/06/nisbet_suggests_atheists_can_i.php#comment-483357 , where I specifically point out how the frame that atheism is superior, and religion is bad, illogical, and unallowed exists. This is not rocket surgery. It really isn’t. And if people would stop being defensive for a half second, and start examining their own speech and word choice… argh.

    Yes, I am frustrated. And I do tend to show it. The few cases where people have _not_ jumped on me and immediately recycled the same arguments have been very, very bright points in a very, very long and frustrating 4 days. I think I’m about done with it all. There’s nothing more to go through. Just a lot for people to read.

    -Mecha

  70. #70 poke
    July 2, 2007

    Mecha: You seem to be purposefully conflating how people will interpret atheism with what atheists believe. You claim PZ believes that religious people are crazy and the argument you appear to make for this is that by calling religious beliefs (and not religious people) crazy he will give the impression that he thinks religious people are crazy. That doesn’t hold up. Moreover, PZ has never claimed that religious people can’t be allies, all he has done is openly express disagreement with some of his allies and consistently speak out when others have said “militant” atheists can’t be allies. Others have claimed that, by expressing their beliefs openly, atheists have harmed the anti-creationist cause. If PZ disagrees with Ken Miller’s religious beliefs he should be allowed to do so openly without others telling him to keep quiet.

    Now, I can’t speak for every atheist, but I have a pretty clear idea of what PZ, Dawkins, and other “New Atheists” have and have not claimed and none of them have ever claimed that religious people are crazy or illogical or lesser persons. They are all very clear that this is precisely not what they believe. Obviously if you’re going to claim they believe these things regardless of what they say (or claim, bizarrely, that how people interpret their beliefs fixes what their beliefs in fact are) then you can believe whatever you like about them. Now, like PZ, I believe religious beliefs are illogical, irrational, unscientific, and so on. Crazy and delusional also work in the colloquial sense. I also believe the world would be better off without religion. I do not, however, have any ill feeling toward religious people. Would you say I’m accusing religious people of being lesser persons because of my poor framing?

  71. #71 Science Avenger
    July 2, 2007

    Now, I can’t speak for every atheist, but I have a pretty clear idea of what PZ, Dawkins, and other “New Atheists” have and have not claimed and none of them have ever claimed that religious people are crazy or illogical or lesser persons. They are all very clear that this is precisely not what they believe.

    Give it up Poke. He doesn’t care what we actually say. He has secret magical insights into what we REALLY mean, and that takes precedence. Oh, that, and how horrible we are to tell the truth about the inherent irrationality of religion, something none of my religious friends have the slightest bit of difficulty admitting. How dare we offend the deluded!

  72. #72 Mecha
    July 2, 2007

    poke: But… what you say is generally, by definition, what you claim, unless you’re being a dick. That is the meaning of ‘say’ and ‘claim’. If you tittle your book ‘The God Delusion’, you are purposefully creating an impression. If you instead title your book, ‘The Atheist Bigotry’, you create a different impression. ‘The Pro-Life Position.’ ‘Why The Death Tax Is Bad.’ These are all titles that set a frame. And Dawkins’ frame is, in fact, that religious people are crazy.

    Let me lay this out. One. More. Time. There is a common association, in the above discussion, and the linked discusion, and almost every single discussion about atheism and religion on Scienceblogs, between atheism, reason, science, and good. And between religion, unreasonable/illogical, and evil. Just examine the language. Or you can look at the linked discussion, where I do it for people. The words ‘The God Delusion’ specifically set up a frame, which Nisbet identified, in which religious people are crazy. In the vast majority of the civilized world, being ‘crazy’ is an insult to your functionality. People are so stigmatized to crazy that they refuse to visit doctors, or take medicine that might ‘change them.’ The fact that their ‘refined’ positions do not agree in your view with their frames does not make their frames disappear. Nor does it make _every other frame_ disappear. The ornery atheists, especially on scienceblogs, have created a frame in which any religious belief is anathema. Look at how Rob Knop was treated when he said he was a _weak_ christian. He was universally ridiculed. Treated like shit. That is the frame. That is what the ScienceBlogs Ornery Atheist frame does to religion. That is what Dawkins promites through the title of his book.

    You like to think that PZ and Dawkins are seperating them well. After all. It seems right, doesn’t it? It doesn’t seem _possible_ that people of such good motives could make a mistake! But actions and statements do not match. Again, my linked statements, the active frames which have been identified, are specifically designed to set up the us vs them mindset. Science = Atheism. Religion = Crazy. Etc. Etc. Etc. This _is the frame_. People _respond inside it_. People _choose their words inside it_. The concept that there are ‘Nevill Chamberlan’ atheists is specifically live in this conflict frame. It makes no sense in an equality frame. Look at how desperately PZ attacks _the entire social theory of framing_, just because Nisbet used it to make a conclusion. Only people willing to analyze the bigger picture can find the good, and the bad, and pull them apart. But if you can make sure nobody uses framing… well, hell, how’s anyone ever gonna figure it out? They _won’t even have the words to conceive of it_.

    Here. Go look at Rob’s posts on being a christian. See how ‘reasoned’ the response was. How ‘accepting’. How ‘tolerant’.
    http://scienceblogs.com/interactions/2007/03/so_im_a_christian_shoot_me.php

    Go and look at, on scienceblogs, how often reason is linked to atheism. Nevermind that it is entirely possible for an atheist to be atheist for unreasonable reasons. Go look at how science and atheism are portrayed as intertwined, when they’re actually not inherently, only by association. Think about the frame. Think about the associations.

    How you talk sets up how you think. If you think talking about bitches is funny, if you think that gay is a perfectly reasonable insult to throw at someone, if you think that calling any religious person’s beliefs crazy is just something they should be fine with, without _examination of what your words mean_, then you have fallen in the trap of assumptions, and prejudice. Almost as much as a christian who thinks an atheist is immoral has. (Almost because they have power structure behind them, making them religion-ist.)

    And this may be harsh, but if you feel that the world would be ‘better off’ without religious people, but you feel no ill will towards them? Then your care for the world is secondary to something else, or you do feel ill will towards them, and your bringing it up didn’t mean a damn thing. Bad trap.

    Also, you don’t appear to truly believe in equality, because if you did, you would not be interested in getting rid of religious people (they’re not the problem, right?) only some religious power structures and the societal norm which makes religion good/normal. You would be interested in making sure that every single person who is oppressed by some religious norm and system would be fought for. That is _equality_.

    It is possible I’m conflating. It’s easy to do when you’re into discussions that are hundreds of posts. I am not perfect. But you are flatly denying very clear rhetorical structures which have been set in place around atheism and science here, and elsewhere. And around religion. And there is no way I can make it more clear short of getting on an IM client, and just pasting you comments and posts as we walk through them.

    -Mecha

  73. #73 jeffk
    July 3, 2007

    Mecha, weren’t you going to quit like, oh, 20,000 words ago? These conversations work better if you stay with people and stick to one or two points at a time.

    Anyways, I’m off to start my religion where talking about bitches is funny and calling someone ‘gay’ is a hilarious insult, and if I’m a big enough mysogynist while I’m here on earth, I’ll be greeted by 143 virgins in the afterlife. How do I know this? Because a man in the sky told me so. Better get busy respecting my religion! It’s so reassuring to know you won’t judge me, call me wrong, try to convince me my religion is a bad idea, consider me inferior to you, or call my beliefs out as ‘delusional’, despite their matching that definition perfectly. Ah yes, the joys of complete relativism! I’m completely free from judgement by my fellow human beings, and allowed to do anything I want in the name of religion.

  74. #74 poke
    July 3, 2007

    There’s a common association between atheism, reason and science because those things are correlated. Likewise, there’s a common association between religion, irrationality and the illogical because those things are correlated. It’s possible for an atheist to be an atheist for unreasonable reasons but you just don’t see many of them around. I guess I don’t see why I should conclude from the fact that Dawkins chose a poor book title (which many so-called “militant” atheists took issue with) and that blog comments are often rude that we’re stuck in a “frame” that induces us to conflict. But maybe we don’t have to agree on that point because I don’t think your conclusions about what an “activist atheist” can and can’t do and say follow anyway.

    What I took away from the “Neville Chamberlain” dispute is almost the exact opposite of what you’re saying here. There’s a particular way that society “frames” (if you’ll allow) atheists as militant, vocal, angry, ornery, unjustified, “just as bad as religion,” etc. Some non-believers seem incapable of shedding these biases; they carry them over. They become “self-hating atheists” if you will. Any atheist who expresses his beliefs at a level ordinary to most other discussion is then accused of militancy and zeal. You can see this caricature everywhere; in the common appeal to “I have to believe there’s something more” that frames most modern discussion of religion, for example, is implicit the idea that atheists are somehow lacking in something. I’d say, in fact, that an extremely high number of common arguments made for religion are actually arguments made against a caricature of atheism in exactly this way.

    I think atheists have every right to be angry at this state of affairs and I would defend the claim that atheism is a civil rights issue on that basis. Another issue would be the extremely high level of credulity granted religion in public discussion; a credulity that clearly discriminates against non-believers. If equality were achieved in this situation the desired outcome would be that religious arguments that are anti-atheist rather than pro-religious would be no longer be considered acceptable (and I think this would knock down many more arguments than is at first obvious) and the exceptional credulity granted to religious beliefs would be removed. The result of this, in my opinion, would be that the vast majority of religious belief would be simply untenable. This is what I mean when I say I’m interested in getting rid of religion.

    And once again, I’m not interested in getting rid of religious people, I’m interested in getting rid of religious belief. It’s as if I just said I’m pro-literacy and you’ve claimed I want to “get rid of illiterate people.”

  75. #75 JS
    July 3, 2007

    Okay, JS. Just as a warning? You’re specifically being annoying. ‘I’m playing spot the fallacy. BUT JUST WITH PEOPLE WHO DON’T AGREE WITH ME! XD’ Annoying. So I’m not going to be able to strip all the annoyance out of this reply.

    Perhaps that is because the people who disagree with you are making a more coherent argument. That does not necessarily make them right, of course, but it does mean that to challenge them I would have to challenge their underlying assumptions, something I have no desire to do at this point.

    For the record: Since I very much dislike having my intellectual honesty called into question, I carefully re-read most of the thread with an eye specifically towards spotting fallacies on ‘the other side’ – all I saw was a couple of instances of painting with an overly broad brush and a single slippery slope fallacy. All three way the hell upthread. Granted, there were a couple of obviously trollish posts about a third through the thread, but I try to make a policy of not feeding the trolls.

    For your first ‘fallacy’, you completely misread. I said all religions. I meant _all religions_. Your disagreement means that you are either mistaken, or that that you believe that, say, a wiccan or satanist would be perfectly electable.

    The argument was a handwaving one, which I quite explicitly stated at that point. I will happily retract the handwaving argument and replace it with hard data. Here you go:

    http://www.soc.umn.edu/pdf/atheistAsOther.pdf
    http://tinyurl.com/2lor4s

    Finally, go to this page:
    http://webapp.icpsr.umich.edu/GSS/homepage.htm
    look up ‘collections’ in the sidebar, choose ‘variables by year’ then ’1991′ and then POLSGOD

    The two former sources are in disagreement regarding the relative status of Muslims and Atheists. Which is perhaps not surprising in the post-2001 world.

    None of the references above refer to wiccans or satanists, but I would hazard a guess that the numbers for them are in between Muslims and Atheists.

    Secondly, just because some groups are a bit privileged does not make them equivalent. Nor does it make all religious enemies.

    But it does prove that the power structure in question is promoting religion in general, not merely a narrow, secterian variant. Which was the point of contention.

    If ornery atheists were interested in _equality_ (which was what Nisbet’s original post was about: Atheism as Civil Rights), they would not explicitly say that religious people suck, and need to be converted.

    Why not? This seems to be a central theme to your argument: That holding another person’s views to be wrong, laughable or even contemptible necessarily precludes legal, political and social equality. This is a very strong claim. A single counterexample would be sufficient to disprove it. I provided a counterexample earlier.

    They would not assume that religion = irrational,

    They neither assume that religion is irrational, nor do they equate religion and irrationality. They conclude that religion is always irrational. They acknowledge, however, that the converse is not true, i.e. that it is perfectly possible for irrationality to be areligious.

    atheism = science (Hey, there’s a big fallacy you don’t point out! Atheism is not science. Reason is not atheism.) or half a dozen other things.

    None of which has been raised in this thread before, hence I have not fisked it. I have commented on this equivocation elsewhere, but I shall gladly repeat here that I find it unfortunate. While it is almost certainly true that applying the principles of science to one’s philosophy will be incompatible with maintaining belief in gods, there is no a priori requirement that the rules of science be applied to one’s philosophy in the first place.

    Again, the assumption of Juedo-Christian comes up!

    It would be helpful if you would somehow indicate which parts of the post you are replying to. I will assume that it is the part about religion in general being part of the power structure.

    If so, then you are wrong here. There is no assumption of all religion being judeo-christian. The argument goes something like this (remember that I am not a proponent of this argument – I’m not advocating atheism, I’m advocating secularism when I’m advocating stuff):

    Religion in general is legitimising the judeo-christian power structure by confirming the idea that it is better to believe in something – anything – than to believe in nothing. Conversely, the non-christian religions are legitimised by the pervasive tendency of the christian majority culture to emphasis faith over reason, making the power structure self-reinforcing.

    Personally, I think that argument is so-so. The postulated effect is almost certainly there, but I am not sure that it is quite as strong as is claimed by Myers et al. (In fact, I am quite sure that it is not.)

    And I AM NOT THE ONE WHO IS TRYING TO MAKE THE GODDAMN METAPHOR: PEOPLE WHO EQUATE ATHEISM TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND CIVIL RIGHTS ARE.

    Which metaphor in particular are you talking about? There are several floating around at the moment, and it is not immediately apparent from the context of your post.

    Do you even READ what is going on? At all? Or did you just jump into this thread to be annoying?

    I take exception to your continued questioning of my intellectual integrity. Of course I’ve read the thread. Twice, since you questioned the thoroughness my first reading.

    Furthermore, choice to be in the minority is not the basis of all minority theory. If there were invented a way to ‘make’ people all straight, or all male, or all white, would suddenly it be ‘okay’ to convert everyone to be straight/male/white?

    By force? No. By challenging the intellectual foundations of other people’s desire to remain gay/female/coloured? Yes, certainly. I don’t see how such a challenge could be constructed without tying reason and logic in knots, but that neither precludes the possibility, nor means that it should be impermissible.

    Your attempt to make choice the discriminator of privilege groups also exposes that belief as allowable. And I hope you think it’s wrong.

    You are the one who keep talking about denying people privileges based on their religious belief. I have stated, quite unequivocally and less than two hours ago, that I do not believe that it would be just or fair to deny anyone any privilege based on his or her religious persuasion. This view does not in any way, shape or form preclude thinking that the world would be a better place if religion would just go away. I don’t happen to hold the latter view, by the way – as I said, my agenda is more limited: I simply want religion out of the political debate.

    Feminists take that position because it is the right position. Not because they can’t commit genocide. The idea that lack of choice is the only thing which makes tolerance and equal rights necessary is unsupported by minority theory, and the fact that ‘religious freedom’ is written into the US constitution.

    I’m not arguing against tolerance or equal rights. Neither is any of the vocal Atheists I’ve been reading for the past couple of years. What they are arguing against is the undue respect that is accorded religious views, as well as the privileges that are contingent upon professing some sort of religious belief. Again: Desire to convert people to your position does not preclude wanting them to have equal rights. To take a rather banal example, right now you are attempting to convert me to your view. I don’t suppose you want me stripped of my voting rights.

    As for the need for a free exercise clause, that’s an issue for another day. Suffice is to say that I believe that free exercise should be covered through stronger protection of the inviolability of the home and the freedom of the press, speech and peaceable assembly. When those liberties are adequately secured, an explicit free exercise clause becomes superfluous. But as I said, that is a discussion for another day (and a rather technical one at that).

    I’ve seen it multiple places, and in every place it was still very wrong, and displayed a fundamental lack of study of minority theory.

    Please provide some references. I would be interested in seeing where you can dig up a vocal atheist who argues against civil liberties and equality for religious people. Methinks that you are again conflating equality and respect.

    Sigh. Perhaps you’ve never studied society. But, in fact, calling someone ‘crazy’, or their beliefs ‘crazy’, is an _incredibly effective silencing slur as well as a likely insult_, because of how crazy people are treated in our society.

    Again you are conflating people and their beliefs. This is incredibly common. It is also incredibly false. I can very well condemn a person’s beliefs without condemning him as a person.

    Think about how crazy people are treated. You say ‘crazy’ like ‘weird, out there.’ You call someone else, who is not your friend, crazy? You better hope that they think it’s funny to call people crazy.

    You seem very hung up on the definition of ‘crazy.’ Yet it is a word that I have rarely, if ever, seen used by those you critisise. To take yet another example, in this thread, all uses of the term have been by you or in direct reply to your use of the term. (FireFox search function for teh win.)

    And you keep conflating attacking a person and attacking his beliefs. That’s a bad, bad habit. Apart from being intellectually sloppy, it can lead to rather nasty conclusions. The vocal lack of support for Sir Salman Rushdie is just one example – many otherwise smart and progressive people refused to defend his freedom of speech because they were unable to distinguish between an attack on Islam and an attack on Muslims. But I digress.

    Please, consider how what people say may be interpreted, and how it can create impressions. Ex: Look at above, where I am called an ‘illogical troll’. Silencing technique much? Absolutely! But hey, illogical isn’t an insult against me or my beliefs, it’s an insult against my… uh… er… religion? Wait, I don’t have one.

    Calling you an illogical troll is certainly targeted at you, rather than your beliefs. But I hope that you will agree with me that if the commenter had said that your beliefs and arguments were illogical and trollish, it would have been targeted at your beliefs and arguments?

    Your theoretical example is very funny. Sadly, you are not society, nor a group in society. You are one person who thinks that he has absolutely no prejudices towards a group which he ‘holds in contempt.’

    I am getting exceedingly tired of your straw men. I pretty much stated directly that I have prejudices against Dominionists. What the fuck else is contempt supposed to mean? And yes, if I knew that an applicant I were reviewing for some position was a Dominionist, it would probably prejudice me against him. I don’t think that such prejudice is good or necessarily justified, and the most principled thing would be to look past it. But I acknowledge that I do not always act in a principled fashion.

    Either you’re misusing contempt (perfectly possible, I know a lot of people who don’t really understand hate), or more likely you’re fooling yourself.

    I know what hate is. I know what contempt is. In other words, I know the difference.

    But either way, you are not a group. There’s a logical fallacy for you: the comparison necessarily required a group to work.

    I call bullshit. My example showed that two specific beliefs are not contradictory. I.o.w., they can be held by the same person at the same time (without employing doublethink). Any belief that can be held by a person can be held by a group. Unless you wish to postulate that groups hold beliefs and norms that are disconnected from the beliefs and norms of the individuals comprising that group?

    Again: note how you didn’t attack _anyone else’s_ logical fallacies.

    Feel free to point out any I missed in the latter half or so of this thread. As I have already pointed out, I did ignore two or three in the first half of the thread. Considering the volume of the thread, I don’t think that’s entirely unreasonable.

    (Hint: Atheism != Science!

    See above.

    Where have you been for the past year, to argue against that fallacy! Hell, where have you been the last 4 days!)

    Not that it’s any of your business, but I’ve been reading the denialism blog, The Questionable Authority and Respectful Insolence. And a little bit of Dispatches from the Culture Wars. I’ve also been lurking at Pharyngula, but I do not comment there very much – the pace of the threads there is too rapid for my taste. I came here via the inter-blog-ad-thingy at the top of the page.

    Your talking about the null set? Uh… there _is_ a specific subgroup. It has appeared. I don’t know how you _miss_ people saying that, yes, religious people are illogical, that yes, ‘The God Delusion’ can be interpreted to say that believing in religion makes you crazy.

    I don’t. They just tend to be on the other side of the fence.

    Your attempts to imply I’m making up a group which specifically showed itself in the course of these discussions is further annoying. Very denialist of you. (“There’s no problem!”)

    Two of clubs, IIRC. Yes, I know the Deck of Cards. Well, the claim that such a group exists is yours. As is the burden of proof. They didn’t appear in this thread. While I’ll freely admit that I do not frequent the comments section of Pharyngula very much, in my visits there I have not encountered any commenters who matched the description you gave, much less a group. The closest thing have been the occasional troll.

    I’m not even going to bother with the last thing. You don’t know whether he does or not, but you just chose to disagree with me for… what purpose, again?

    Your claim was overly strong, and therefore false. Not quite as bad as being outright wrong, but not quite as good as being right either.

    I enjoy sharpening my points against people, but I’m having to say the same things over and over. If you’re gonna jump in, at least do me the courtesy of reading what I’ve written?

    And you would reciprocate by doing me the courtesy of responding to what I’m actually saying instead of what you’re imagining that I’m saying?

    For the record, and I repeat this since the subject has come up again, I did read every one of your posts in this thread.

    And I still don’t like having people sling baseless accusations of dishonest behaviour at me.

    - JS

  76. #76 Zuska
    July 3, 2007

    Wow, spend a day in the garden and your blog goes haywire.

    Mecha is not a troll. He’s a regular commenter on this blog and I value his contributions. You may not agree with what he’s saying; fine, then argue your point.

    So let me see if I have this straight: “New Atheists” (or whatever we are calling them; what’s wrong with radical? I don’t mind being called a radical feminist) – anyway, New Atheists opine that religious belief is irrational and crazy, but religious people are not crazy. Religious people should not be upset by hearing atheists declaim that religious belief is crazy; they should listen to what atheists have to say about their irrational beliefs. Also, New Atheists think that the world will be a better place when everyone becomes an atheist, through gentle democratic educational methods.

    Now consider this: Homosexuality is wrong and against God’s will. Hate the sin, but love the sinner. Homosexuals should not be upset by hearing Christians declaim that homosexuality is evil, but should listen to what Christians have to say about their sinful behavior. The world will be a better place when everyone comes to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, through witnessing and evangelizing and proclaiming the Good News.

    The major difference between these two scenarios is that the atheist reasons his/her way to atheism and belief of religion as irrational and crazy, whereas the Christian reasons his/her way to homosexuality as sin from the Bible or just accepts it as God-given belief. But once the starting premise is obtained, it seems to me what follows is a similar kind of thought pattern and actions. The problem, in both cases, is that those actions do not tend toward increased respect for religious freedom, including freedom to not be religious at all (in the latter case), or freedom to practice a religion of one’s choice (in the former case). I think you could ask just about anyone who’s homosexual how welcome that “hate the sin, love the sinner” bit makes them feel. If I have understood Mecha correctly, I think this is what he has been trying to point out about labeling religious belief as crazy: even if you believe this is the case, it is unlikely to win you allies among religious people.

    Another commenter suggested it doesn’t matter if currently religious people don’t listen, because they will die off, and we will be educating the young, who will grow up to be rational and reject religion. Unfortunately, the religious are also educating their young, and they are extremely effective at it. They have built a homeschooling network across the nation, and they have their own universities, and, well, they aren’t listening to you.

    If I am an atheist, and I believe religion is irrational, and that the influence of religion on public life/government is potentially and/or actually quite harmful, what should be my goal, in a democratic society? This, it seems to me, is the question under discussion in this thread (or that should be under discussion at this point). Should it be my goal to stamp out all religions and religious behavior, everywhere? (and by stamp out, I mean through accepted educational democratic means) In other words, should my goal be the imposition of MY set of beliefs and worldview, in whatever friendly and democratic fashion, upon everyone else? I’m thinking this is not what John Stuart Mill would recommend. I may think religious belief is wacko, but as long as you’re not harming anybody by it, I have no right to keep you from worshipping the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Stephen Hawking.

    Here, I think, is where the analogy between atheism and feminism begins to break down a little. There is no question that at all times, sexism is harmful to someone. There is never a time when it is not harmful to practice sexist beliefs and behavior. However, I think you could argue that there exists at least the possibility for someone to practice religion in a non-harmful manner. Who has the Dalai Lama harmed, for example? Of course, you could argue that religion is irrational and to exist in an irrational state is harmful to the self, but I think even here Mill argues that we have no right to “save” a person from him/herself.

    So it’s possible that for the atheist, the appropriate goal is not to campaign to eradicate religion, but to campaign to eradicate the influence of religion (especially organized religion) on public/civic life, and to eradicate the influence of religion in the teaching and research of science. The New New Atheist’s message might be something like: From my point of view, religion is irrational, but I recognize the right of my fellow Americans to private religious practice of their choice. I firmly uphold the separation of church and state and oppose any attempt of any religion or religious person to dictate science education or research based on religious belief or teachings. The New New Atheist is basically an ACLU member.

    And then I probably ought to be working very hard to make sure that the people being elected at all levels of government are people who believe the same things I do. Because that’s what the Christians have been doing for a long time now. And it’s been working pretty well for them.

    One final thought: I doubt if the extreme religious right agonizes so much over its rhetoric and what kinds of tactics are appropriate to its cause. They seem to use whatever it takes to get the job done. That’s how they kick so much atheist ass. Which is why, in the final analysis, I say every movement needs a radical fringe. We need people out there like Richard Dawkins. You may think he’s over the top; you may think he’s too loud, saying the wrong thing, saying things the wrong way, being too impolitic, whatever. But the fact is that by being soooo out there, he makes the space for the rest of us to be and breathe in just a little bit wider. Makes the rest of us seem just a little bit saner and easier to deal with.

    That’s my role, here, on TSZ. I am your basic frightening mouthy radical feminist, and I hope I make all those women you work with seem so much more sensible and easy to deal with by comparison.

    Well, it’s very late. Let me know if you’ve seen any sense in all this.

  77. #77 Ruth
    July 3, 2007

    “I’ve personally heard the Dali Lama say that if empirical evidence proves a tenent of his type of Buddism wrong, then that tenent will be dropped.”

    This is why it would be more accurate to refer to Buddhism as a philosophy, rather than a religion. Since there is no deity in Buddhism, it is hard to see why it IS regarded as a religion, other than by historical accident.

    Can you name a single other ‘religion’ which acknowledges that EVERY SINGLE TENET OF ITS DOGMA is open to question in this way? All ACTUAL religions, as opposed to philosophies innacurately classed as religions, have at least some basic beliefs which must be accepted on faith, and which it is heresy to question.

  78. #78 Ruth
    July 3, 2007

    “Should it be my goal to stamp out all religions and religious behavior, everywhere? (and by stamp out, I mean through accepted educational democratic means) In other words, should my goal be the imposition of MY set of beliefs and worldview, in whatever friendly and democratic fashion, upon everyone else?”

    Zuska, I think you’ve missed the point. Should it be your goal to stamp out misogyny by means of education? Presumably you believe, as I do, that misogyny is an irrational world view that is only present due to patriarchal indoctrination. Does that mean that we need to introduce anti-mysogyny indoctrination to ‘stamp it out’? Of course it doesn’t. If misogyny is only present because of pro-misogyny indoctrination, then all we need to do is REMOVE that indoctrination, and it will disappear. If god-belief IS a delusion which is only present as a result of pro-god-belief indoctrination, then the removal of that indoctrination will be sufficient to destroy god-belief.

    What the atheists who are calling for ‘the eradication of religion through education’ are actually saying, is that if there were NO indoctrination at all, NOBODY would become religious in the first place.

    They/we see the eradication of religion as an inevitable result of a rational, unbiased education, not a target which we need to bias the education towards.

  79. #79 Mecha
    July 3, 2007

    Ruth: What’s to say that in your world where atheism is dominant, that someone might not come up with the idea that there’s a god on their own? Might make their own belief system? You’re making a huge assumption that you can educate everyone away that might ever disagree with you, and it _is_ an indoctrination assumption: If I can just get everyone to be atheist, there won’t be any religion. Humans are _never_ that simple. (Although you’d probably reduce religion’s presence. That seems very likely.) You know who else makes indoctrination assumptions? Evangelical christians. Because they’re _sure_ that if they just make sure to teach their kids what they want, and not what you want, they’ll never stray from the fold.

    And JeffK (among others) belies your ‘target’ argument. _You_ may see reason as the educational goal, and atheism as an _inevitable consequence_ (whether you are right or wrong), but when the _goal_ is atheism (as JeffK said), the way is lost. That’s not freedom. That’s not equality. That’s just a different master in different pants. And the frame in which atheism = reason = good and religion = crazy = bad (which is, strangely, the exact inverse of the frame that evangelicals love, so people using it seem to play right into their hands in fighting on the ground they can win on) allows it to exist, allows it to flourish. The frame in which all religions are bad, all religions must die.

    Equality movements, minority movements, are typically about tearing down laws and power structures and making sure people understand enough to treat you as an equal in not just word, but deed. It’s what feminists do and did, it’s what gay rights did and does, it’s what black rights did and does….

    Where’s the ‘equality’ for the religious minorities in this atheist movement that wants to wipe out all religions? They fight the evangelicals, and decry all religions, the evangelicals fight the atheists, and decry all religions that aren’t them… and the religions on the sides are treated like shit by everyone. Is that equality?

    If you want atheism to care about civil rights, care about civil rights.

    -Mecha

  80. #80 jeffk
    July 3, 2007

    Zuska, I just can’t understand why you won’t admit a measurable difference between different worldviews. How can a scieceblogger sit back and basically equilibrate atheisim with evangelical Christianity? You impose feminist beliefs (eg, you try to convince people your beliefs are correct and they should abadon theirs) because you think mysogyny is harmful. Atheists to the same, and we think that religion is always harmful. It makes a mockery of the truth; it hurts us as a society, holds us back from what we can acheive – much like mysogyny. And that’s a best. At worst it kills – much like mysogyny.

    I thought the whole spirt of democracy was to try to convince others of your beliefs. That’s how we advance good ideas and leave crappy ones behind. I don’t know when this became a bad thing. Feminism doesn’t get a free pass. It doesn’t get to be the only-idea-worth-advancing-and-we-respect- -all-of-the-other-beliefs. We argue all ideas in the interest of bettering ourselves, and if you’re an atheist like you say you are, then you should be arguing for it and stop being an apologist for irrationality, just like I should never be (and have been haranged for appearing to be, whether I actually was being another issue) and apologist for the patriarchy. What you’re advocating is we all sit in our little boxes and never influence each other – except for feminism, but remember, Catholics are just as much friends to feminism as atheism, because we wouldn’t want to judge their religion. Ridiculousness!

    And one more thing: you’re advocating for the kind and gentle treatment of theists by atheists. Hypocritical. Earlier I pointed out why theists deserve no more patience and gentle treatment than theists – to me, they’re much more obviously wrong, in fact. It was much easier for me to realize that sky-daddy wasn’t watching over me than it was to learn about the ins and outs of feminism.

  81. #81 jeffk
    July 3, 2007

    Are you actually equating religious “equality” to gender equality? You’re aware that a religion isn’t an apendage but actually an idea that can be dismissed of, right? I understand the meaning of religious freedom. I can fight my battle within those confines, and in fact I’m happy to and believe it should be that way. I don’t think religious equality has a meaning. And calling various religions a minority is just an insult to people who are actually minorities. If having a bad idea makes you a minority, we should probably start issuing protections for holocaust deniers.

  82. #82 Mecha
    July 3, 2007

    Zuska: The breathing room idea is an interesting interpretation. I see it, though, and I’m not sure it creates as much breathing room as you think, because suddenly the women people work with, or the other atheists, end up defending your positions, or being associated with them. As Ed has had to do with Dawkins/PZ/etc. The ‘one feminist does not represent all feminists’ argument has had to come up on the net, explicitly, again and again, to keep peoples’ natural associations from screwing that up. People are sadly assumed to represent their movement, whether the assumer is rational or no. (Is it any wonder that people like Science Avenger assume that the average pulpit is about decrying atheists? Not really. Doesn’t make it right, but the crazy evangelicals make such an interpretation very likely. Similarly with the assumption that all religions are bad.)

    But more importantly, not all angry is the same. Dawkins/PZ/JeffK angry makes it clear that religion and religious aren’t really allowed, or good (love the ‘hate the sin, love the sin’ comparison, especially since it’s about as well applied on both sides of the ideological aisle.) It’s just around until they can get rid of it, religious are just around until they die off and their kids are taught that their parents were crazy. You would likely not say the same about men (I certainly wouldn’t!) I would say the same about _bigots_ and _sexism_, both of which do nothing but explicit societal and personal damage (not all religions are bad), and I think you would too. I think all feminists would. Again, the religion = bigotry/sexism, religious = bigotry/sexist comparison that ‘atheism = civil rights’ mindsets perpetuate comes into play, which is again why I think that the ornery atheist frame is bad.

    I agre that everyone needs radicals to push the edges, to some point, but radicals don’t have to give up on doing the right thing to get things done, which is what it seems that the ‘ornery atheists’ have done. Or at least some of them.

    -Mecha

  83. #83 jeffk
    July 3, 2007

    It’s just around until they can get rid of it, religious are just around until they die off and their kids are taught that their parents were crazy.

    Pretty much, except I never said crazy, you did. Could you please stop playing this for shock value and actually tell me why I’m wrong? I want to eliminate a ball and chain on society while obeying the freedoms we’ve established. So do you. Why is it so different?

  84. #84 Mecha
    July 3, 2007

    JeffK: I’m sorry, I said I was going to stop talking to _you_ (or more specifically, stop that conversation between you and I) because you wanted me to. That’s called ‘respecting someone else’s desires and opinions in a debate.’ I do try. Even with you trolling me.

    If you, however, want me to point out, again, that you are specifically using an ideological frame in which a religious person is equated with irrational (you), and crazy (Dawkins), while only atheists can be good and rational, hey, I’ll gladly do it. See? Just did. I even linked to a few examples above. That is the thing about frames. About society. About norms. They can be insidious. Invisible. Like privilege is. Only visible through intense examination of ones self and others. Why is Science Avenger’s greatest attack against me that I’m irrational? Why is Nisbet called a “scientist” in insult, and compared to religion (see his comments thread)? Why is Zuska constantly told to show her data that people are being discriminated against, and does so, and is told to again, and again, and again (see most of Zuska’s comments threads)? Why is it that you have ‘make people rational’ and ‘make people atheist’ inexorably intertwined, to the point where you argue not that you want everyone to be rational, but that you want to wipe out all religion via converting them (see your posts and numerous others)? Why is Rob told that he cannot be a christian, even a weak christian, AND a scientist at the same time (see Rob’s post about christianity)? Why does PZ constantly, CONSTANTLY, mock framing, a perfectly well established social theory, as ‘lying’ or ‘being wimpy’ (see PZ’s blog)? Why does nobody consider irrational atheists (See Nisbet bringing this up in his comment thread)? It all makes sense inside of a frame which treats atheism as equivalent to reason, to rationality, to good, to science, and religion (and religious) irrational, crazy (The God Delusion!), evil, wrong, and out to get all atheists. No matter the religion. They’re all ruining the world, always harmful. You’ve got to get rid of them. (You have almost said as much yourself recently, and Science Avenger explicitly talks about how that’s the normal view, again and again!) It is a bold, BOLD claim to say that religions are doing so much harm that no belief of any sort in any way can remain or be allowed. And it is unsupported. People pull out examples of some people doing bad things, and use it to say ‘Clearly, all the religion must go, all the religious are bad.’ That’s inherently flawed logic. Any more than one christian hears about an atheist killing someone, and going, ‘Clearly all atheists must go, they’re all immoral!’ We’d all roll our eyes.

    Feminists see sexism, and want to get rid of sexism and the power structures that support it. The ornery atheists (or at least you) see atheism-ism, or science-ism, and want to get rid of all religion, whether it’s anti-equality or not, and make sure there are never any other religious people ever. Ever. Ever.

    Evangelical Christians would also say that they want to eliminate a ball and chain on society (gays, atheists) while obeying the freedoms we’ve established if they weren’t capable of doing more. What makes you different? What makes you have the right to be the new _master_ (you want atheism to dominate)? What makes you have the right to attempt to eliminate all religions from the world under the guise of ‘freedom of religion?’ Your reason? Your power? Your infinite knowledge? What? You have implied you don’t actually believe in freedom of religion, although not explicitly stated it. If that’s your belief, then, again, my initial point holds, and comparing ornery atheists (or at least you) to people interested in civil rights is inherently false, no matter how they are discriminated against, because they are not interested in civil rights. Just their rights.

    If you are interested in civil rights, your first goal cannot, cannot, CANNOT be the obliteration of everyone who is not in the same group as you with respect to a right. That’s not civil rights. That’s not freedom of religion. That’s not freedom of ANYTHING. That’s ideological/genetic purity. And it’s very, very frightening. The fact that you say ‘But we’ll just convince everyone of it!’ is the same thing a evangelical would say. It as if ornery atheists have just appropriated the evangelical framework, instead of attacking it. And that sets up a scary vision of same shit, different masters.

    Also, again, tying ‘rights’ to ‘things that are not choices’ (the ‘religion is not an appendage’ post) is a misunderstanding of minority theory (which is easy to make) and I debunked it above: Minority theories are not about whether you can choose to be a minority or not. And if someone could ‘fix’ black, or gay, or being female, they would not fall apart. But the bigots and -ists would be plenty glad to ‘convert’ people, using ‘rational, scientific methods’… okay, that’s a bit of an extension scare, but I hope you see the point. Talking about ‘fixing’ people to conform to your morality/philosophy as an endgoal of ‘civil rights’ is not much better than an evangelical trying to outlaw everyone but Christians.

    Why is it different? Because very rarely will a feminist actually espouse, publicly, and repeatedly, that ‘all men are evil’. They will aim at specific examples (sexists), where religious equality activists would hit religious people/groups (or non-religious!) that say crazy things about equality. They also aim at power structures (patriarchy) where a religious equality activst would point out how the Catholic Church or an Evangelical Group or the societal norms favor christians and not every religion. They want equality.

    You seem to say, again and again, that you don’t. And that’s a huge difference. And it’s the kind of difference that makes it impossible for religious people to go, ‘I wanna be on your side! You want to treat me like crap!’ Only converts. You set up your enemies as religious people. Not religious power structures. (If you really believed religious power structures were the problem, you would not decry every religion and religious.)

    If that’s what you believe, that’s what you believe. But please don’t ever, ever, ever call it equality. And don’t be surprised when people who are interested in equality look at you funny, or think you’re damaging their point. Because you are.

    -Mecha

  85. #85 jeffk
    July 3, 2007

    Mecha, we’re on compeletly different terms. You have some weird desire to protect ideas (religion) the way that people (their race, sex, gender, etc.) are protected. Ideas don’t get any inherent protection. If they are shown to be wrong, they are disposed of. It’s why we dismiss all sorts of bad ideas, from alchemy to astrology. Because they don’t stand up to comparison with facts, they don’t stand up to rational scrutiny, and here’s the crux of it, all ideas and claims do not contain the same truth value. Religion is next on the chopping block, because it doesn’t stand up to even the tiniest amount of ration examination. We’re allowed to progress feminism because it’s a fight for equality. Why? Because equality is good for human society. Religion is almost always bad for human society, directly, and even when it’s not directly bad, it’s still bad because it blinds us from using science and ration from finding discovering the naturual world, this inhibiting us. And that’s bad for everyone, even an atheist like me. So, atheists want to advance atheism because it is good for human society.

    Pointing out that there’s some atheist murderers is beside the point, one because it’s a drop in the bucket, two because nobody commits crimes in the name of atheism, they just happen to *be* an atheist, and three, because if we value truth, then it really hardly matters because religion is fiction anyways.

  86. #86 Mecha
    July 3, 2007

    You’re right. We are talking at cross purposes. I’m talking about equality. You’re talking about ideological purity.

    Again, your argument that religion is bad for human society needs support. Real support. Religions run charities. Religions and religious support people. Religions make people happy. Religions do lots of positive things. To claim that religions cannot exist on that front, if you are being proof-happy, you _must prove_ that religions cause inherent problems. And you can’t. You can _assume_ they will. How do you know that in 100 years, they will? What happens if you tear down the power structures? You don’t know. You don’t care. You just want religion gone. You want atheist/scientist control. This is not a solid argument in your ultra-rational worldview. That is just your opinion. Your opinion that it would be better. Not even equal. Just better. We have a Constitution in the USA that disagrees with you. You going to amend out freedom of religion once you get in power?

    Oh, discarding an idea that is patently wrong is now your argument? Prove that all possible religions are wrong, then. Please. Let me save you some time. You can’t.

    Let’s try this again. _You can’t._ You can argue as to why you don’t need them. You can argue as to their lack of parsimony. You can argue that specific religions or religious beliefs defy reality. You can argue a lot of things! I have done so! I have read many such arguments! They are incredibly persuasive! But you cannot argue that all religions are wrong, no matter what they are or what they believe. You seriously can’t. If I believe in a watchmaker god outside all perception (I don’t) you can’t prove it wrong. You can just say it’s _unnecessary_. Which is fine. But it is unnecessary (wrong) that you equate atheism with science, too. After all. There are non-atheist scientists. That’s more proof than you have that there are no gods. On the other hand, you can certainly argue that YECs, for example, have wrong beliefs! GO FOR IT. Not what we’re talking about. Your attempt to box me into ‘wanting to protect lies and untruths’ would be laughable, if it weren’t so common.

    So instead of atheists giving up the argument, of saying, ‘You’re right. We can’t prove that all religions in the world are false,’ the frame equates them with evil. With bigotry. With hatred. With irrationality (solely.) And then says, ‘They’ve got to go! They’re really things that are intolerable in our society!’ That’s a perfect example of framing. And it’s a perfect example of antagonistic attack framing. It’s exactly what an evangelical would do. And does.

    You’re almost getting at a point in the last paragraph, and then you blow it up. It’s not beside the point. You want to throw out a parade of horribles: ‘If religion exists, then science will fail! Then atheists will be beaten! Then children will be indoctrinated! Religious wars! Terrorism! Blue laws!’ Well, guess what? Everyone can throw out parades of horribles. And you would indoctrinate children yourself, in the name of atheism, committing the ‘child abuse’ of religion. And if you value truth, you have to admit that some religion is, at worst, non-parsimonious positives. And if that’s what you want to wipe out (and assume WILL be wiped out, without question) through your education, hey. Your call. But if your goal is strictly atheism, it’s not equality.

    You seem incapable of separating ‘bad ideas’ from ‘all ideas of the same class.’ You claim to be reasonable. Please do so. It is not a hard division to make. And then ask yourself why the majority of ‘ornery atheists’ purposefully or accidentally make the same mistake.

    -Mecha

  87. #87 Zuska
    July 3, 2007

    So, here’s the First Amendment:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    Just as even in the most indoctrinated religious households, some children grow up to be atheists, so in the most rationally educated societies, some people will grow up to invent their own religions. I really think this is the case. New Age crystals, anyone? How about Wicca? The practitioners or followers of these religions or belief systems are often well-educated and reasonably rational in all other respects. Many of them are even scientists. As are many christians.

    So…unless you are planning on re-writing the First Amendment, what happens in your utopian future when you have educated religion out of the populace, and some upstart invents his or her own new religion, and gathers some followers? Or when someone rediscovers the Faith of Our Fathers and decides it’s time for a religious revival? Do you stamp them out? Or realize that according to your own laws, they have a right to exist even if you think that they are mind-boggingly wrong and stupid and dangerous? If the latter, then how do you proceed to behave and take action?

    The religious revival scenario, is basically where we are now, just minus the having wiped out religion prior to. So again I ask, what does a person who is committed to increasing the force of reason in society do, if said person is not interested in rewriting the First Amendment? Note here a slight but meaningful change in my terminology: “comitted to increasing the force of reason”. I have no personal use for religion but I am asking us to consider whether it is possible for an individual to be committed to the use of reason in public, civic life and the practice of religion in private life.

    I don’t know the answer to that but I’m asking us to consider it, because it seems to me that the alternative, which is to say that we are committed to eradicating religion, is treading mighty close to, if not exactly so, to saying we want to rewrite the First Amendment. And this is very, very problematic, because the First Amendment is what protects atheists, however precariously, right now.

    I look upon much of religious practice with an ill-favored eye, but I think many of the commenters here are not considering the full ramifications of their call to eliminate religion. There is a difference – a subtle one, but a real one, I think – between calling for more reason and rationality in public life, calling for less submission to authoritarianism and more willingness to think and reason for one’s self, versus calling for the elimination of religion. There is a difference between wanting to eliminate the influence of religion on public/civic life, religion as a normative structure, versus wanting to eliminate religion completely. The former is theoretically achievable, the latter is, I believe, a hopeless project.

  88. #88 Zuska
    July 3, 2007

    Jeffk, I do believe there is a “measurable difference” between worldviews, if by measurable difference you mean ability to decide that one is preferable to another. I believe a worldview which says that people should be allowed to choose for themselves what to believe is preferable to one that does not, even if in that world some people will choose to believe in a god. A worldview that values reason and rationality more than superstition is preferable to me, because it results in things like vaccines and bridges that are useful and helpful to humans. Another person might feel the same way, and be grateful that God blessed us with such intelligence.

    I am not equating atheism with evangelical Christianity. What I am equating is certain actions and behaviors between two groups. If certain ECs want everyone to think like them, and certain atheists want everyone to think like them, then that is something they have in common. If certain ECs want everyone to think like them, and certain atheists want everyone to use reason and rationality in arriving at their own best judgment about things, then the ECs and the atheists do not have that in common. “Wanting everyone to think like us” and “wanting everyone to use reason and rationality in arriving at their own best judgment” is not the same thing. Reasonable people can disagree. If they didn’t, Scienceblogs would have no comments section.

  89. #89 bsci
    July 3, 2007

    I’ve mostly lost track of this thread, but I wanted to respond to a few people who commented on what I wrote:

    JS:
    “The reason I like the string theory example is that the predictive claims ARE unsupported. It’s still rational and it’s still good science. No, it’s not a perfect comparison to religion, but I hope it gets the point across.”
    The reason that your analogy is invalid is that string theory can in principle be tested. The claims are unsupported, but they are not unsupportable.

    I agree it’s not a perfect analogy, but the key difference is that religion isn’t science and doesn’t require all theories to be testable by the scientific method. This is a big difference, but it doesn’t mean a religion is wrong.

    Ruth:
    “I’ve personally heard the Dali Lama say that if empirical evidence proves a tenent of his type of Buddism wrong, then that tenent will be dropped.”

    This is why it would be more accurate to refer to Buddhism as a philosophy, rather than a religion. Since there is no deity in Buddhism, it is hard to see why it IS regarded as a religion, other than by historical accident.

    Can you name a single other ‘religion’ which acknowledges that EVERY SINGLE TENET OF ITS DOGMA is open to question in this way? All ACTUAL religions, as opposed to philosophies innacurately classed as religions, have at least some basic beliefs which must be accepted on faith, and which it is heresy to question

    Buddhism is definitely a religion. They believe in reincarnation. They worship idols and have many gods. Tibetan Buddhism believes the Dali Lama is a continually reincarnated Buddha. Of course, this would be very hard to disprove so I guess they just need to take it on faith. Buddhist sects extremely diverse with many different beliefs (just like the other large religions), but except for watered down American Buddhist phillosophy, they are definitely religions.

    And to answer your second question, multiple subgroups of Christianity and Judiasm (and probably Islam too) definitely keep their beliefs in line with scientific evidence. In fact much of the classic scientific research of people like Newton and Boyle were done to advance our understanding of God’s world.

  90. #90 Mecha
    July 3, 2007

    Zuska: A very nice comment. And I do think the answer is essentially an activist one. Fight injustice where it appears. Fight dangers where they come up. You lay out a lot of what one would do in calling for reason and rationality in defining the difference between that and eliminating religion, and I think that’s exactly the tack one could take, in a very vocal, very activist way. Be out and atheist. Live your life strongly, morally, responsibly. Carefully tear down religion-ist crap, whether directed at you or others, and make sure that people know. If devoted to reason, why not tear down other crap too. Sexism, racism, genderism, whatever. But live up to your ideals. If you’re devoted to reason, use it on everything. Examine your own assumptions as well. Learn about the social science and minority theories of communication that talk about this sort of thing. Learn about privilege. If you’re going to act like a minority, don’t reject what you can truly learn from the past. (The first part is very like Ed Brayton. The second is more minority theory influenced.)

    Don’t be devoted to wiping out the people that look like the people hurt you. That’s the ultimate in revenge, and it allows the people who really want to hurt you to make your effort blunted. Be devoted to destroying the power structures that allow the people that _want_ to hurt you to do so.

    Sometimes people react out of privilege to things that aren’t about them. It happens with religious, with men, with whites, with anyone who has to fight through privilege. But when you say ‘Yes, it is about you, religions and religious are bad no matter what, religious beliefs make you crazy’, they likely aren’t wholly reacting out of privilege. They’re really being put in an attack frame. And there’s no response anyone else can make that’s truthful to deny it.

    And nobody’s teaching religious about privilege. The concept hasn’t made the jump. How are they supposed to separate their feelings, and determine which are due to true bad argument and phrasing, and which are due to misplaced blame and privilege, when the ornery atheists want to attack them personally? Make them out to be oppressors all? (Which is different from pointing out that their beliefs are unnecessary/unparsimonious.)

    -Mecha

  91. #91 jeffk
    July 3, 2007

    I’m tired of being misrepresented on the “1st amendment” part of this issue. If nobody can understand the difference between forcibly taking peoples’ rights, and simply convincing them to abandon beliefs, then I’m wasting my time. My desire to move towards eliminating religion no more violates the freedom of religion than convincing people to abandon mysogyny violates their freedom of speech.

    “Wanting everyone to think like us” and “wanting everyone to use reason and rationality in arriving at their own best judgment”

    Trust me, the more we get people to do the latter, the more I’ll have my way.

    And just because there are exceptions to the “more educated = less religious” claim, doesn’t mean it’s not wildly statistically true, and therefor support the theory that if people are edcuated about religion and rational thought processes, they will begin to abandon their belief.

  92. #92 poke
    July 3, 2007

    The New New Atheist’s message might be something like: From my point of view, religion is irrational, but I recognize the right of my fellow Americans to private religious practice of their choice. I firmly uphold the separation of church and state and oppose any attempt of any religion or religious person to dictate science education or research based on religious belief or teachings.

    This is fairly succinct summation of what “New Atheists” like Dawkins and PZ actually profess to believe. I’ve been reading PZ’s blog for several years now and he constantly reiterates the fact that he has no problem with private religious belief and supports the separation of church and state. Dawkins has very similar beliefs despite not being American. (I’m British and would personally support state humanism over American-style secularism.) The thing PZ has received flak for (from Ed Brayton et al) is criticizing theistic evolutionists like Ken Miller. From this people apparently conclude that he is intolerant of religious people. It just doesn’t follow.

  93. #93 Mecha
    July 3, 2007

    Poke: Again. You say it is. But the frame does not support it. The framework, the language, the invectives, the slurs thrown around all are specifically against these things. The slurs thrown around against framing are indicitive of being defensive to analysis.

    Again. I pull out examples. Rob was derided _as a scientist_ for being Christian. That isn’t respect. JeffK wants all religion gone (and deigns to use legal means to do it! How thoughtful of him! I’ll just make sure that next time I want to create a massive power structure that keeps a minority group down, I’ll use legal means. Like, say, a patriarchy, or a judeo-christian norm, or hetronormative society, and that’ll be _perfectly okay_.) That isn’t respect. That isn’t equality. He says it is. After all, he has to! He has to believe that he believes in equality. But then he wants all religion gone. That isn’t equality. That isn’t civil rights. That’s ‘I can win if I get enough power.’ And every time he says ‘That’s not what I believe!’, he goes right back into making sure that getting rid of religions is exactly what he means. He’ll just do it ‘the right way.’

    Furthermore, again and again, in this thread and others, people assert all religions are bad. Let me point that out again. _All religious are bad_ is the assertion. All of them are irrational (under the assumption that parsimony is the best, of course. Not under actual logic rules, or a reasoning framework of any sort, which work strictly from ‘base principles’ -> ‘consequences’. MarkCC, I think, pointed out that particular misuse of logic) and irrational is bad, damaging, unallowed. All of them dismissed with a broad stroke of the pen. All of them do damage (note Science Avenger’s frequent insults: all religious seem to do in his mind is ruin things. All of them! No universal unitarians! No clockmaker gods!) because of being irrational (the clear implication there is that irrationality is _infectious_. If you believe in religions, you can’t believe in reason! In rationality!) These is the assertions. These are the assumptions. Maybe people have internalized them so much they refuse to examine them.

    Look at people in the recent discussions argue ‘Buddhism isn’t a religion! It’s just a _philosophy_’ You know what that’s a sign of? A frame. Where labels have meanings. Buddhism can’t be a religion. Otherwise it’s bad. Or buddhism can’t be a religion, I can’t criticize it. Quick, it can’t be a religion. Social scientists can’t be scientists. Nisbet can’t be a scientist. Mecha _has_ to be a troll from an ivory tower (That is awesome, by the way. ‘Ivory Tower’ = Insult against academics. Used _by a scientist, against a scientist_, to prove that he cannot possibly know what discrimination is, or have ever felt the pain of being an atheist and isolated from his family and friends and others, or other people around him, or bisexual, and isolated from his family, or other people around him. That he cannot have _possibly_ dealt with the same questions.) Dismissing. Assigning people to undesirable groups so they are no longer worthy of _true_ consideration. Just tolerance. You’ll talk to a religious person, Science Avenger. As long as they agree they’re inferior.

    Think about how on scienceblogs, the worst insult is not that you hate people, or that you are a bigot, or a sexist, or anything. But that it is that you are religious, irrational. That people can’t be scientists, but must be “scientists” if they allow for anything that isn’t agreeable. Think about the language that has allowed this. Think about the attacks that go on around this.

    And since I’m waiting for this process to finish, here’s another framing example. There’s a discussion going on on another blog right now _defining what makes someone a scientist_. Because it’s important to know who the real rational people are. CS? Math? Not real scientists. Social sciences? Political science? Not real scientists.

    At Scienceblogs, real scientists are rational. Good. The ideal of humanity, almost. Only your enemies are irrational. Where does that leave social scientists, like Nisbet, who are told that the theories they study are bad? Who are actually told they are “scientists” who are as _bad as religion_? Do you not comprehend what that means? Using religion as a _slur_? An equivalence to bad, to irrational? Where does that leave non-practicing scientists, like Zuska? The same bucket? Well, she’s certainly been treated like that in the past. Where does that leave Mark CC? He’s a _mathemtician_. Oh my stars and fragging garters.

    That’s not equality. Nobody who believes in equality, in freedom of religion, would use religion as a slur. Would equate social scientists with ‘religion’ to prove they’re evil (let alone mathemeticians.) That’s equivalent in mindset (but not in power) to calling a guy a ‘pussy’. Associating him with something weak. Feminine. _Bad_.

    Does that make it clear to anyone? Is anyone even interested in this conversation anymore, except to troll, or _assert_ that framing doesn’t exist, or to _assert_ that there is no negative frame on scienceblogs towards religious people? Because I have provided support for my positions. The only ‘support’ for the position that all religions and religious are evil is, ‘… but there are evangelicals which say that atheists are bad! But they wouldn’t vote for atheists for president!’ Those are _proof of discrimination_. Those are not proof that religion must be knocked aside, any more than sexism is proof that men must die. ‘But religious people are irrational!’ So is most everyone! Assuming parsimony is truth, assuming that people don’t disappear when they come out of vision, assuming that we aren’t brains in jars. Assuming, assuming, assuming. Always assuming. (Nisbet would call this assumption/heuristic being a ‘cognitive miser’, I think.)

    I have done far more to agree with any activist atheist than has been given to me. I do not argue the discrimination. I do not think that silence is the answer. I support activism. But that doesn’t make every action right, nor does it make frames not exist. It does not make discriminatory language from anyone not exist.

    I sympathize, in a way. Dawkins and such are the first public atheists of the modern era. How can you not want to defend them? But it doesn’t make what they do perfect. And if you can’t critically examine your own leaders, if you don’t even dare study the theories that might imply he isn’t perfect… then you’ve just accepted one authority you agree with in place of another you haven’t.

    I mean, I can see it. He has to be good. He’s in the public eye. He’s your paper mirror. He’s the one who had the same feelings you had. Your hero. The one who has thought of things that you have. He gave atheists _belonging_. A voice. Something to hold onto. (PZ is so very similar.) Atheists wouldn’t be the first minority group to have that feeling. And they won’t be the last.

    But in the process of doing so, he set up a frame of religious delusion that sets up the entire debate as an unavoidable conflict. Religion as crazy. Religion as a treatable disease. Religion as anything but equal.

    -Mecha

  94. #94 poke
    July 3, 2007

    Mecha: I want to address some of your points but in doing so I can no longer claim to speak for other radical/activist atheists who post and comment on Scienceblogs because my views here are substantially different. I believe that, yes, all religion is irrational and that irrationality is a bad thing. I include in this the Buddhism of the Dalai Lama and the post-War apologetics for Zen Buddhism that Westerners are usually thinking of when they discuss Buddhism as a non-theistic rationalist religion. I don’t believe this on the basis of parsimony. I’ll give you my argument shortly.

    You make a statement that I think is very illustrative of a particular form of anti-atheist discrimination:

    Assuming parsimony is truth, assuming that people don’t disappear when they come out of vision, assuming that we aren’t brains in jars.

    This is what I call the “flight to metaphysics.” If we were having an argument about, say, who ate the last slice of cake and I argued that it can’t have been me since strictly speaking material objects beyond collections of atoms do not exist you’d dismiss me as either insane or a huge jerk. You’d be right to do so. But if I make exactly the same move in an argument about religion it’s considered perfectly acceptable. This discriminatory credulity is so ingrained in our society that right now you’re probably thinking, “That’s ridiculous! Religion is a metaphysical topic par excellence!” The problem is that religion is not an inherently metaphysical topic.

    There is a historical association between religion and metaphysics to be sure. This association developed because scholars in Western universities wanted to study both Aristotle and the Bible without infuriating the Church; it’s a product of the power relationship between the Church and the universities. (Interestingly the “problem of induction” usually credited to Hume was first introduced by the Scholastics as a means to reconcile God’s miracles with Aristotle’s physics.) The reason the association persists today is that there is no room in science for religion and the supernatural; religious argument can only take residence in metaphysics because otherwise it is provably and obviously false.

    This historical association – the power relationship created between the Church and the universities – is utilized to shout down atheists. Yet the actual argument being made is no better suited to public discussion than the cake example I gave above. (Metaphysics has its place but public debate and science would be irrevocably broken if the “flight to metaphysics” was considered a reasonable move. This, I think, is made obvious by the fact that most metaphysical and epistemological arguments against strong atheism apply equally to religious, agnostic and weak atheist positions. They throw the baby out with the bathwater in a big way.) Again, religion is not an inherently metaphysical topic, science deals with things unseen and there is no reason at all (beyond socially sanctioned credulity) to think is does not rule out religion.

    With this in place my argument for all religion being wrong should be obvious: It’s not science. Science has established what does and does not exist in a very precise manner. We know the forces that exist at the energies available in the local environment (in the absence of special apparatus that does not exist in Nature) and we understand how these forces interact. We have ruled out a great many possibilities; including, for example, psychic phenomena, prayer, dualism, and an interventionist God. Nor does a “clockmaker God” make sense under our scientific understanding of the world. The metaphysical and epistemologically issues, while interesting in and of themselves, are not relevant to the discussion we are having here or to the public or scientific debate about religion.

    I don’t expect to convince you of this and it is emphatically not what PZ, Dawkins, et al, believe. What I hope to do is illustrate that one can adopt a reasoned position in which religion, as a whole, is considered irrational (or, as I’d prefer to say, “incorrect”). (And, before anyone says it, I accept that “I love my wife” and “democracy is good,” and so on, are, on this basis, also false. The difference between those examples and religion is that I continue to say “I love my wife” and “democracy is good” in the face of uncertainty – even a folk theory is better than nothing – whereas religious statements contradict known science. The issue is not problematic.)

  95. #95 poke
    July 3, 2007

    Oops. That should have read:

    And, before anyone says it, I accept that “I love my wife” and “democracy is good,” and so on, are, on this basis, also potentially false.

    Since it’s possible some of our folk theories will reduce to scientific theories.

  96. #96 Ruth
    July 4, 2007

    “So…unless you are planning on re-writing the First Amendment, what happens in your utopian future when you have educated religion out of the populace, and some upstart invents his or her own new religion, and gathers some followers? Or when someone rediscovers the Faith of Our Fathers and decides it’s time for a religious revival? Do you stamp them out?”

    Straw man, Zuska.

    Can you point out where any of the ‘uppity atheists’ have expressed the wish to outlaw religion? As opposed to outlawing religious indoctrination, which is a quite different thing.

  97. #97 jeffk
    July 4, 2007

    Well, I’m about exhausted. Mecha is mostly simply spewing out 2,000 word posts that could be easily summarized as “oh you evil evil person, how DARE you try to convince people their unsupported beliefs are wrong. They have a CIVIL RIGHT to their IGNORANCE. How horrible of you to say they’re irrational or delusional.” Why don’t you waste less time repeating me with shock and outrage and more time actually engaging my arguments, my analogies? What happened to my religion I invented earlier in the thread – how is respecting it and not calling it into question and not trying to convince me I might be wrong going?

    I’m sorry Mecha, but civil rights don’t stop me from trying to influence people. That sort of action is the basis of our democracy; it is the reason for civil rights – so people can have use speech to change the minds of others. I just go one step further and clearly admit where I’d like to get my exercising my freedom of speech.

    The implication that theists need some sort of protection from big bad atheists like me who want to shine the light of reason on their stone-age bullshit is insulting to me as well as them. You seem shocked, SHOCKED that is legal for me to – oh my god! – have conversations with people.

    Is religion bad? Well, it seems obvious to me, but you know what, I don’t even have to prove that. All I have to show is that it is not true, and I value truth, and I think that valuing truth one of the better things a society can aspire to. Regardless, the discussion over just how bad religion is is beside the point. At this point, I’d call it great to get Mecha to understand how religion is an idea, that arguing with a fellow citizen about its truth value is not only legal but responsible, just as is arguing the case of feminism, and that the religious are no more a valid minority than the Constitution Party – a group of people with a common (wrong or unprovable) set of ideas. But Mecha can’t see religion for what it is, for him, it should have this weird fence around it to prevent it from being subjected to all of the scrutiny of any other idea.

    The upshot is this: if using run-of-the-mill, constitutionally-protected discourse to present to people my argument that their religion is not supported by rational scrutiny is ethically or legally wrong, then so is doing the same in the name of feminism. I don’t believe I’ve been shown to be wrong on this.

  98. #98 Mecha
    July 4, 2007

    Poke: Okay. You are not speaking for any other atheists. I’ll keep them out of my response (which means not dealing with framing, because it almost exclusively deals with other factors.) But that should be easy, because you bring up some excellent points, and I would love to respond clearly to them.

    What you say is eloquently argued (I do like that idea, ‘flight to metaphysics’. It’s an excellent way to criticize someone pulling out the ‘But it’s _possible_’ in an scientific/consequential setting/argument). And the fact that you are willing to at least think of ‘I love my wife’ and ‘democracy as good’ as falling in this same class means that I think you’re being relatively consistent. (I’m not sure I agree, but I can’t begrudge you the apparent sheer consistency of such an argument!)

    However, it’s excellently argued only in the context of religion trying to make itself science (creationism.) Not ‘make itself rational’. Not ‘make itself good’. Make itself science. Which is what some religions and religious do (but not all!) You almost say it yourself. ‘not relevant to… the public or scientific debate about religion.’ About religion… as fact. As science. Which is absolutely right.

    Or, alternately (I’m not sure if this is what you hold) only excellently argued in the context that anything that is not ‘science’ is not of worth. Which is a tough claim to hold to truth, I think. (One, what makes something science? Many people on scienceblogs argue that the study of communication, or people, or math, aren’t science. Two, what about art? Some music? Some cooking? The difference between ‘science’ and non-science is sometimes nothing more than philosophy or knowledge of the doer. That comes dangerously close to ‘only those of my ideology are acceptable’, and requiring ideological purity to be considered of worth.)

    The concept that it’s used to silence debate is an interesting one as well. I think you’re right in that respect, when used specifically to say, ‘My belief about the world which has scientific evidence of falsehood and a theory that explains without it is still right because I’m religious and I say so’, that it can be easily used as a silencing technique. Again, if you are attacking people who hold something which is scientifically untenable, and teaching it to people as truth/science, then attacking this idea is well suited to you. But if they’re not, your argument isn’t as strong. Mind you, you are no doubt often arguing against people who are insisting that their religious beliefs are scientific. But that isn’t always the case.

    What if a religious statement, religious belief, contradicts no known science? Numerous possible religious beliefs do. Some are weirder than others. Some are all but metaphorical. But if the religious belief does not reflect upon science, why is it any worse than ‘I love my wife’ and ‘democracy is good’, which you see as ‘irrational, but okay’? You don’t argue that.

    The only thing such gods, say clockmaker gods (and I should make it clear that ‘clockmaker god’ simply means ‘powerful being that, in some way, ‘constructed/created’ the universe. Necessary? Of course not. Possible? Well…) that made the universe, break, is philosophy of science. Parsimony. The idea that only things with evidence should be believed/taught. Other things. You can’t consider certain religious beliefs any worse than ‘I love my wife’ and ‘Democracy is good’ (as opposed to others, which are patently anti-science.) But you do not seem to want to draw that distinction.

    -Mecha

  99. #99 Mecha
    July 4, 2007

    Jeff, at this point, you have strawpersoned me so much, and ignored my ideas so thoroughly, such as my repeatedly discussing how feminism and atheism are not the same and do not pursue their goals similarly, and why that is a problem, and we have run around in circles quite well. It is once again not worth our discussion continuing, and wasting everyone’s time and space.

    Thank you for the posts of yours that weren’t explicitly insulting. They were honestly illustrative.

    -Mecha

  100. #100 Science Avenger
    July 4, 2007

    Zuska said: Mecha is not a troll. He’s a regular commenter on this blog and I value his contributions.

    With all due respect, the hell he isn’t. He constantly misrepresents what people say, ignores their corrections, and keeps repeating the same refuted claptrap over and over again, and in as many words as possible. Jeffk experienced this, Poke experienced it, and so have I. Look at their commments. He misrepresents me at every turn. For example:

    Mecha said: It all makes sense inside of a frame which treats atheism as equivalent to reason, to rationality, to good, to science, and religion (and religious) irrational, crazy (The God Delusion!), evil, wrong, and out to get all atheists. No matter the religion. They’re all ruining the world, always harmful. You’ve got to get rid of them. (You have almost said as much yourself recently, and Science Avenger explicitly talks about how that’s the normal view, again and again!)

    Bullshit! I’ve never said that anywhere, and I’ve never believed it. He simply uses this “framing” nonsense as a cover to claim people are saying extreme things they clearly aren’t. He does it over and over again. And in true troll style he has the audacity to claim others have “strawpersoned” HIM?!?!?

    Maybe on other topics he’s had worthwhile things to say. I can’t speak to that. But on THIS topic he is every bit the troll Realpc and Larry Fafarman are, and every bit the waste of bandwidth.

  101. #101 Mecha
    July 4, 2007

    Science Avenger, you have explicitly said that, and I quote,

    “As for polarization, just check your average pulpit this weekend, where thousands of ministers will be ranting to their flock of how atheists have no morals, and aren’t really atheists anyway, and can’t be trusted to tell the truth, or be faithful, or a whole host of bigoted garbage. Hitchens at his acrimonious best doesn’t begin to come close to that.”

    Your theoretical average pulpit is preaching the evil of atheism and bigotry. Average pulpit. I don’t believe it takes any interpretation to see what you think of the ‘average’ pulpit, the ‘average’ religious person, or the ‘average’ religion. (And that atheists are better, clearly.)

    You are the one labelling me ‘whiner’, ‘troll’, ‘illogical.’ Note how I have contributed to the conversation on this blog, and what Zuska has said. And you have not.

    I don’t think it needs to be made any clearer who’s doing what.

    -Mecha

  102. #102 Science Avenger
    July 4, 2007

    Yes, I did say those things, and that’s the ugly reality you’d like to bury your head in the sand and ignore. It’s as if you were born yesterday.

    And go look up the difference between “average” (which is what I said) and “all, no matter the religion” (which is the lie you keep repeating), and get back to me when you have some integrity. This is really basic stuff. Then learn the difference between “contributing to a conversation” and “typing a lot of made up nonsense”.

    And finally, to borrow from Bill Bennett, there’s nothing wrong with calling someone a lying illogical whining troll if they are a lying illogical whining troll.

    Troll.

  103. #103 poke
    July 4, 2007

    Mecha: You don’t need parsimony or the belief that anything non-scientific is worthless to rule out religious belief. Physics, as I said, tell us what forces and interactions to expect at all the energy levels available in the local environment; that includes what not to expect. This is a very broad understanding: it tells us what can and can’t exist. It’s not just creationist claims that are ruled out by science it’s any existence claim. Karma, chi, divine intervention, etc; it’s all ruled out. Anything that exists in the local environment must be a product of known physical forces.

    That’s not parsimony: we’ve explored these energies and know precisely what does and doesn’t happen; we know it with a precision greater than anything else we know. Remember: I’m not allowing the “flight to metaphysics” so you can’t say “X is made of a different kind of stuff that is outside the scope of science.” That leaves only deism; but the notion of a deist/clockmaker God is not compatible with what science tells us about spacetime and causality: you can’t put our Universe “in motion.”

    “I love my wife” and “democracy is good” are claims about psychology and society respectively. The reason they’re different is that the sciences of psychology and sociology aren’t yet developed enough to rule on them either way. I suppose you could have a religion that only made claims about psychology and society (some forms of Westernized Zen Buddhism and New Age Spiritualism might fall into this category). That would work if it took a stance of agnosticism toward its own claims (as I do to “I love my wife” and “democracy is good”). You’d have to reject that based on parsimony. (Although I’ve been arguing without relying on parsimony I think there is a case to be made for parsimony in the face of uncertainty: the less you claim, the less wrong you’ll be, statistically speaking.)

    The other place to go, if you’re not going to make the flight to metaphysics, is what you might call “the flight to non-cognitivism.” That is, statements about religion (or at least your statements), lack truth-value. They’re metaphorical or like aesthetic judgments or what have you. Once again I think the “flight to non-cognitivism” is a way to avoid criticism much like the flight to metaphysics. I’d be happy to allow religions of metaphor in the world but I honestly don’t believe they exist. It’s a common argument in modern apologetics, sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s what anybody actually believes or practices. I think the arbiter here (of whether religions of metaphor exist), as far as the activist is concerned, should be the anthropologist or sociologist of religion and not the claims made by apologists.

  104. #104 Mecha
    July 4, 2007

    Your first paragraph has nothing do with what I’m saying. I don’t believe I actually, uh, espoused chi, or divine intervention, or any of that stuff. That is, again, very good places to use your ‘flight to metaphysics’ arguments. (Although some people use chi and their ilk as metaphor, nowadays.)

    As to the second, two things. 1) Again, you assume that ‘all arguments must involve science.’ It’s only a flight to metaphysics if you weren’t in metaphysics to begin with. ;) Trying to argue that something is scientific requires science. Trying to argue that something is believable requires… almost nothing except that it doesn’t contradict the facts. (And if things change? Change your belief! That’s what scientists do. Why can’t religious? AS long as what they believe _is not contradicted_, their theories are no worse than an untested scientific theory, even in the scientific argument method. Again. Difference between ‘people who claim things which are provably false’ and ‘people who claim things which have no known truth value.’)

    And 2) You can’t put our universe ‘in motion’? I remember vaguely reading about recent research which tried to go pre-Big Bang, but that’s a fairly strong claim. And I don’t remember seeing anything that rules them out. Is there a body of work proving this that somehow doesn’t ever come up? Ever? Because, you know, proving that there can not be anything that started would be sorta important. You’d think that’d make a real big splash. I mean, maybe work has made me miss a few things. If you mean ‘couldn’t start it, say, 6000 years ago’, okay, that’s a little different, trying to sneak ‘creationism’ in under ‘clockmaker’, and that’s lame. ‘Couldn’t start it in motion pre-Big Bang’ is an entirely different bag of chips.

    So you only allow them as sort of a ‘ideology of the gaps’ argument? Eventually, there will be only one (or a handful) of known ‘good’ philosophies, and we’ll know for sure whether someone loves their wife? Interesting, to be sure. It meshes with the rest of it. Sadly, super-OT (,as if we weren’t OT already!)

    A lot of religious people believe in religions of metaphor, though. I mean, it’s not just something that’s made up. It is the classic C&E Catholic, the semi-lapsed religious, the ‘going through the motions’ sorts, as well as a number of scientists (including Rob, I think.) Belief in ‘god’ as a vague concept, or really more as a feeling, or other sometimes very weak grasps at what they perceive as a deeper truth. Part of that is due to societal norms (people having only the word ‘god’ to use), and part of it isn’t (people who really do believe that there’s something greater in a more… uh, not really corporeal, but ‘solid’ form, I guess?) Using ‘apologist’ to tar everyone who says that there are religions which aren’t ‘bad’ is a bit annoying too. ‘Clearly, the apologists are just being devil’s advocates. They can’t be arguing because they know anything about people, or have met people!’ How about dealing with the simple reality that there’s a wide variety of religious beliefs? All religious aren’t actually a hivemind.

    (And since when have the activists here been listening to _anthropologists_ and _sociologists_? If a ‘soft science’ doesn’t agree with activists such as PZ, he just equates it to something evil. (See: Framing.) Ed has a lot of experience with ‘normal’ religious, and he’s equated with all sorts of bad things. Maybe you aren’t that sort of activist, but you also aren’t the one in the spotlight, being talked about in Nisbet’s post. That’s a side note, though.)

    I personally think you’ve got a pretty solid, although a bit odd, worldview. But I’m not sure how that reflects on the main discussion. Your worldview is just that. A worldview. A personal theory of morality and action, of what is more or less important, and why. Which, by its very nature is very consistent. It’s very neat. And it makes it clear why you argue against all religions with any sort of falsifiable/testable statements. What isn’t personally clear to me is why you seem to claim more is false than you can disprove. It doesn’t seem consistent with your general mindset.

    You definitely don’t seem interested in arguing the power structure arguments. Nor do your arguments make the ‘it’s bad PR’ point go away. If you’re really not interested in those, okay, but that’s what the conversation was initially about, and we’re just sorta babbling about very interesting things very off topic. (Just wanna keep it mentally clear. BSing about philosophy of philosophy is just plain different.)

    -Mecha

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