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Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it. The Greek mind dying, came to a tranmigrated life in the theology and liturgy of the Church; the Greek language, having reigned for centuries over philosophy, became the vehicle of Christian literature and ritual; the Greek mysteries passed down into the impressive mystery of the Mass. Other pagan cultures contributed to the syncretist result. From Egypt came the ideas of a divine trinity, the Last Judgement, and a personal immortality of reward and punishment; from Egypt the adoration of the Mother and Child, and the mystic theosophy that made Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, and obscured the Christian creed; there, too, Christian moanasticism would find itsw exemplars and its source. From Phrygia came the worship of the Great Mother; from Syria the resurrection drama of Adonis; from Thrace, perhaps the cult of Dionysus, the dying and saving god. From Persia came millennarianism, the "ages of the world," the "final conflagration," the dualism of Satan and God, of Darkness and Light; already in the Forth Gospel Christ is the "Light shining in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out." The Mithraic ritual so closely resemled the eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass that Christian fathers charged the Devil with inventing these similarities to mislead frail minds. Christianity was the last great creation of the ancient pagan world.

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Baby Bear's lament: James Wood in the New Yorker

Category: Godlessness
Posted on: August 27, 2009 11:35 AM, by PZ Myers

I must admit that I quite like the subtitle for this new anti-atheist lament in the New Yorker by James Wood: "A don defends the Supreme Being from the new atheists." I just picture a gigantic graying gentleman in academic robes, his sleeves flapping as he swats aside the helicopter gunships piloted by Dawkins and Dennett and Harris and Hitchens as they swoop in to take out a cowering, defenseless, and semi-transparent Bronze Age patriarch behind him. It's a peculiar arrogance of the true believers that at the same time they fervently follow this imaginary being that they claim is omnipotent and manifest in everything around us, they also flop into paroxysms of flustered, frantic defensive denial when some guy merely criticizes their holy hero. That's it; we say, "we don't believe in your deity, can you give us a reason we should?" and they immediately start blustering about how we should believe, and it's good for us, and all these other smart people believed, and atheists are unlettered nuisances who should quit annoying us with these questions. But they never, ever give us any evidence or any reason.

Unfortunately and typically, Wood's essay plummets into that tawdry and familiar territory immediately after the subtitle…a subtitle which was probably written by an editor anyway. And yes, it is the same old stuff, with the only novelty being that Wood also waves away all the theologians peddling an abstract immaterial rarefied deity — he wants a good old fleshily incarnated, interventionist and activist god who did not impregnate Mary with "aristocratic philosophical vapor", but presumably got busy with a Lordly wang (details not to be discussed, because Harvard Professors of Literary Criticism are apparently discreet about matters of meat and biology). It makes for an awkward mix, because while he begins by taking trite swipes at atheists, he's actually trying to criticize Terry Eagleton's views on religion; Eagleton also detests atheists, but is one of those religious apologists to whom god is an ideal, but not necessarily one that has to have any kind of empirical reality.

This situation puts Wood into a dilemma. He's writing a review that pans Eagleton's book; he really doesn't like his theology, or his Marxist phantasm of a god. But Eagleton is a loud critic of the New Atheists, and that's a central point of his book, and Wood despises them, too! How to make sure no one confuses him for a supporter of those awful god-haters? Easy enough: begin with a long rant condemning atheists. And so he does.

Unfortunately, he chooses to argue against those familiar straw man atheists, damning them for an ironic reason: because they criticize a literal god, the familiar Abrahamic thunderer, and do not engage the more refined philosophers and theologians. It's a bad move, because first of all, the New Atheists are not so narrow as he imagines, putting this whole diatribe off kilter, and secondly, because he is then going to harangue Eagleton for being too refined. Apparently, religion to Wood is like the story of the three bears: Papa Bear's religion is too hard and fundamentalist, Mama Bear's is too gooey and nebulous, but Baby Bear's religion is juuuuuust right. And no one ever criticizes Baby Bear.

I will skip over the whole anti-atheist prelude — it's just too trite, and his only arguments are a) that smart philosophers have believed in God, and b) God inspired J.S. Bach, therefore, atheists must be wrong. His criticism of Eagleton is a little more interesting, because I made the same damned argument myself. In fact, a lot of atheists have said this, that one of the reasons to disbelieve in specific religious sects is that they are indefensible, and their proponents always retreat into a brand of mushy deism when questioned. This, of course, is another reason to dismiss the first third of Wood's essay, since he is merely claiming that atheists never make the argument against rarefied religion that he will, when we know full well that we've sneered at it routinely and with vigor on many occasions before Wood discovered it.

For example, he gives a brief account of John Rawls' loss of faith, which was a mixture of dismay at religious hypocrisy, personal loss, and the observation of real evil in the world. Wood seems to respect this, because it is a rejection based on certain specific expectations of a deity. Eagleton, however, is wrong because his expectations are non-existent or nebulous.

This familiar recoil from belief—it has the typicality of a case study—is surely as propositional as it is performative. Daily religious belief is full of such implied propositions (e.g. "God is just"; "God saves my soul"; "Christ was a God made man"). It is no good for Eagleton to turn on Rawls and say, in effect, "But I don't mean your kind of belief in God or even your kind of God; I mean something much more sophisticated and ethereal. There is really no such thing as what you call 'the supremacy of the divine will,' because God doesn't 'exist' as an entity in the real world." Theologians and priests are always changing the game in this way. They accuse atheists of wanting to murder an overliteral God, while they themselves keep alive a rarefied God whom no one, other than them, actually believes in.…They denigrate ordinary belief as a set of benighted misconceptions, while, out of the other side of their mouth, they can praise ordinary belief as a set of non-propositional practices. ("It's not about the proposition that the resurrection happened so much as about doing good, preparing the flowers at church, kissing icons, and so on.") Sure enough, Eagleton engages in this dialectical chicanery, too. He can do so because Christ's divinity seems to have no palpable value for him.

He goes on to complain that both Eagleton and the New Atheists have completely missed the boat on real religion, the moderate religion practiced by most people, which is neither fire and brimstone fundamentalism nor the ghostly shell of a religious pretense practiced by over-educated philosophers. He describes it nicely and positively (to his mind) as the "idolatrous forcing and appropriating of God, the desperate and faithful submission to divine will and succor." While Eagleton does seem to gloss over that, it's silly to accuse the New Atheists of ignoring it: we consider that to be a rank load of steaming goat offal, too. Just to say that there's a kind of general religious belief that is more literal and more anthropomorphic than an over-intellectualized deism does not mean that that kind of god is real. If Wood wants us to take him seriously (I doubt that he does), he has to present some substantial evidence for the existence of his real and immediate god than to just declare that he has a lot of worshippers.

I mentioned that he seems to be more appreciative of the god-loss of John Rawls. He returns to this wishful idea of an atheist he might like in his conclusion.

What is needed is neither the overweening rationalist atheism of a Dawkins nor the rarefied religious belief of an Eagleton but a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief. Such atheism, only a semitone from faith, would be, like musical dissonance, the more acute for its proximity. It could give a brother's account of belief, rather than treat it as some unwanted impoverished relative. It would be unafraid to credit the immense allure of religious tradition, but at the same time it would be ready to argue that the abstract God of the philosophers and theologians is no more probable than the idolatrous God of the fundamentalists, makes no better sense of the fallen world, and is certainly no more likable or worthy of our worshipful respect—alas.

Awww. The only good atheist would be one who is sad that there is no god, and is willing to be James Wood's ally and help beat up on those fundies and weird Oxford abstract theologians.

Baby Bear needs a friend.

I'm so sorry, Baby Bear. All we've got here are hordes of triumphal atheists who think the whole enterprise of religion is hairy effin' bollocks, and we aren't at all sad about our loss of faith, a loss that we've found liberating and joyous. The Goldilocks of the 21st century are going to eat all your porridge, romp on your furniture, and turn all three of you out of the house to live in a nice wildlife preserve, where you belong. Won't that be lovely? Try not to eat each other, but don't expect the humans to think you are members of modern civilization.

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Comments

#1

Posted by: TExas REader | August 27, 2009 11:42 AM

great commentary on that drivel that besmirches my fave magazine!
lots of caffeine this a.m, eh PZ?

#2

Posted by: R. Schauer | August 27, 2009 11:43 AM

PZ said,

"...who think the whole enterprise of religion is hairy effin' bollocks"

You're never one to mince words, PZ...excellent description of our thoughts regarding religion.

#3

Posted by: Naked Bunny with a Whip Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 11:45 AM

presumably got busy with a Lordly wang

That's it. From now on, I buy all of my Bible-study material from Adam & Eve.

#4

Posted by: Texas Reader | August 27, 2009 11:45 AM

MK - i'm sorry!
if it makes you feel better, i've never been first and will likely never again be first.

#5

Posted by: Glen Davidson | August 27, 2009 11:45 AM

What's to be happy or sad about regarding no existence of god?

It's like being happy or sad that there's a moon orbiting earth. It either exists or doesn't, and we deal with it.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

#6

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution | August 27, 2009 11:49 AM

Dear Mr. James Wood -

That was a very.... long... article. Lots of words. So, ummmm... where is the evidence for god again? Did I miss it in there?

#7

Posted by: ELR | August 27, 2009 11:52 AM

No one puts Baby Bear in a corner.

#8

Posted by: Your Name's Not Bruce? | August 27, 2009 11:53 AM

When I was younger and tending more to agnosticism,than atheism I sometimes thought of my inability to "see" or "appreciate" God as some sort of colour blindness or tone deafness, that I was missing something that was really there.. No longer. Now I figure that believers are the ones with the cognitive difficulties, "seeing" things that just aren't there, over-interpreting (or under-understanding) things. I guess this is the "I'm okay, you're fucked up" school of thought.

#9

Posted by: stephanie | August 27, 2009 11:55 AM

the three bears is an excellent analogy. Baby bear also doesn't realize he's probably the weakest of the three. all it takes is a little bit of questioning...and he becomes a goldilocks? ah crap I ruined it.

#10

Posted by: Chemgirl Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 11:56 AM

he wants a good old fleshily incarnated, interventionist and activist god who did not impregnate Mary with "aristocratic philosophical vapor", but presumably got busy with a Lordly wang

Pity they hadn't invented rape kits yet. I'd love to see an electropherogram of God's semen.

Interestingly, Firefox's spellchecker does not recognize the word "electropherogram". I blame the pervasiveness of science illiteracy.

#11

Posted by: Naked Bunny with a Whip Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 11:57 AM

a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief

I wonder what other mythical beings we should be disappointed over. Unicorns seem nice, at least some of them. Gentle, herbivorous talking dinosaurs, perhaps? Not fairies, though; they're nasty.

#12

Posted by: MK | August 27, 2009 12:01 PM

DAMN YOU TExas REader :-(
/Sulks

#13

Posted by: Lauren Ipsum | August 27, 2009 12:02 PM

I'd love to see an electropherogram of God's semen.

I wonder if it would look the way Larry Niven posited Superman's semen to appear? (Beautiful demonstration of applying scientific logic to fiction. My favorite line is "The Metropolis night comes alive with a network of narrow, eerie blue lines of Cherenkov radiation.")

#14

Posted by: Cliff Hendroval | August 27, 2009 12:04 PM

theologically engaged atheism

Jumbo shrimp

Military intelligence

Genuine imitation

#15

Posted by: Lauren Ipsum | August 27, 2009 12:04 PM

not sure why the link didn't work... sigh

http://www.rawbw.com/~svw/superman.html

#16

Posted by: bcoppola | August 27, 2009 12:06 PM

#13:

Be thou consoled. Is it not written that the first shall be last?

Heh, when I saw the headline I thought, what's James Wood(s) (the actor) doing writing about theology? C'mon, I can't be the only one...

#17

Posted by: BAllanJ | August 27, 2009 12:07 PM

Hey Glen D.

It isn't that we're happy or not about there not being a god so much as it is that we're happy about not being controlled by the religious into believing something that's not there.

To follow your analogue a bit... we're not happy about there being a moon so much as we're thrilled at having some real knowledge about that thing we see up in the sky.

#18

Posted by: wright | August 27, 2009 12:07 PM

There was a time when I felt sad after realizing there was no benevolent, omnipotent, eternal friend who would receive my immortal soul and preserve me from the inevitable cost of life. But I found it to be waking up from a lovely dream to an even more lovely day, one that engages me, rewards me, challenges me as no dream ever could.

The theologians are upset, even the "moderate" ones, because atheists are daring to speak up and out. In societies where religion no longer has a stranglehold on social and political discourse, that means people are (gasp!) saying things the theologians and their followers disagree with! The horror!

You'd think they'd be more welcoming of such skepticism and criticism. As a former Christian, I seem to recall scripture that says it's a good thing to have your faith challenged... Hold on, there's also that bit about stoning the unbelievers until they die and burn forever. Never mind, then.

Carry on, PZ. No tyrants, FREEDOM!

#19

Posted by: toth | August 27, 2009 12:07 PM

@#6:"What's to be happy or sad about regarding no existence of god?
It's like being happy or sad that there's a moon orbiting earth. It either exists or doesn't, and we deal with it."

To paraphrase Hitchens: it's something to be very glad about that there is no evidence we live in a celestial North Korea.

#20

Posted by: DingoJack | August 27, 2009 12:07 PM

But does a Baby Bear shit on James Woods? ;) - DJ
____________
Someone had to say it!

#21

Posted by: Lily | August 27, 2009 12:09 PM

But I want to hear about the Lordly Wang. I bet it was huuugge.

#22

Posted by: bootsy | August 27, 2009 12:09 PM

"disappointed belief"

I'm sad every time I look at a thunderstorm and fail to see Almighty Thor within a cumulonimbus, slaying frost giants.

#23

Posted by: Brian S. | August 27, 2009 12:10 PM

#17:

Don't worry. You aren't alone.

#24

Posted by: kamaka | August 27, 2009 12:10 PM

a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief.

I've read this sentence a couple of times now, and it makes no sense to me. "Theologically engaged atheism", huh?

I'm thinking this sentence might mean I should feel bad for not buying into made-up stuff.

#25

Posted by: marcus Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 12:12 PM

Somebody paint that image! It will be our battle flag (no, not the "hairy effin' bollocks") the King Kong pastiche.

#26

Posted by: amphiox | August 27, 2009 12:14 PM

re: "sad that there is no god"

But I must admit, the existence of a benevolent supernatural force (omnipotence and omniscience not required, just superhuman will do), would be a pretty nice thing.

Sometimes reality is kind of disappointing.

#27

Posted by: Alverant | August 27, 2009 12:14 PM

I'm always amused when Christians try to show there is a god that it's automatically THEIR god they're trying to prove the existence of. The idea that some other religion and another god is actually the right one. Because of that they're doomed to fail because the god of the christians is Frankenstein's Monster of a god with bits stolen from other religions.

It's pretty much always the same thing.
1) A Creator made the universe
2) That Creator is the same Creator in my holy book
And there's no logical link between the two points.

#28

Posted by: Irene Delse | August 27, 2009 12:14 PM

Fascinating. So, for Wood, the only atheists worthy of his consideration is the ones who're sad they can't believe but still long for it?

Wishful is the word.

Funnily enough, when I recall my own experience of losing faith, I don't feel a sense of loss, or anger either. I just gradually began to see the Bible as an other form of mythology. I loved stories from Greek and Egyptian mythology as a child. But then I came upon what I think is the most dangerous book I've ever read: a big anthology of creation stories, with the Genesis recounted just after the Babylonians and Sumerians myths of creation and flood...

I just couldn't go back to a belief in Yahweh after that.

#29

Posted by: Spiro Keat | August 27, 2009 12:15 PM

Sad that there is no god?

No one can read the old testament and not be relieved and happy that there is no such psychopathic deity.

#30

Posted by: Alyson Miers | August 27, 2009 12:16 PM

PZ, that is probably the coolest metaphor I've seen for the better part of this year.

What is needed is neither the overweening rationalist atheism of a Dawkins nor the rarefied religious belief of an Eagleton but a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief.

When did "rationalist" become a bad word?

Wood to English: "Dawkins is too MEEN for my delicate sensibilities! Teh nasty Nu Ay-thists need to play in MY sandbox, or else it's not FAIR. Waaaah!"

Pfft. Tough shit. Play with the big kids or go home.

#31

Posted by: David Miller | August 27, 2009 12:18 PM

I kept thinking it was James Woods not Wood, which made me chuckle because James Woods did the voice of Hades in the Disney movie Hercules.

#32

Posted by: RamblinDude Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 12:22 PM

What is needed is neither the overweening rationalist atheism of a Dawkins nor the rarefied religious belief of an Eagleton but a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief.

Well, that was good for a laugh.

#33

Posted by: David Wiener | August 27, 2009 12:23 PM

Religious people freak out when you tell them you think its all make believe, no more real than the tooth fairy (hope my 6 year old isn't reading this...)

Where does the anger come from? Where it always comes from - fear. They are literally afraid to hear the rational truth because they prefer their delusions. Well, they can have their delusions, so long as it stops being such a danger to the rest of us.

Until that day we must do as PZ does and speak out.

#34

Posted by: Richard Dawkins | August 27, 2009 12:24 PM

PZ, please write a book. And then another. And another. Irreverence of this kind is such gloriously liberating fun. Strident? No. Shrill? No. Arrogant? No. Just wonderfully FUNNY, the sort of style (as I once said of Peter Medawar's) that makes me want to rush out into the street, waving the page, to show somebody -- anybody.

#35

Posted by: beebeeo | August 27, 2009 12:24 PM

"What's to be happy or sad about regarding no existence of god?"

I am not a philosopher but isn't this what "Thus spooke Zarathustra" by Nietzsche was all about?

The fact that it became more and more obvious that God is dead made a lot of people sad. The idea that there might be no ultimate ethereal god-given purpose in life but that we actually have to to give it one ourselves. The extreme nihilism that can result (but does not have to) from the realization that "god is dead".
I guess nowadays most atheist have moved on and accepted this fact, but I guess that if you have lived all your live with the idea that there is a god, it can be quite unsettling to realize that there isn't. It wasn't like it for me because my belief never was very strong but I can imagine how someone else might feel.
Also, don't forget the afterlife. Even though I am not afraid of dying, it is not something I would like to happen any time soon and it is obvious that is appealing to believe in it.

#36

Posted by: TiG | August 27, 2009 12:25 PM

So wait...we're supposed to be crying into our beer about the lack of a nasty-tempered, genocidal, rapist deity?

Uh...think not.

#37

Posted by: Joffan | August 27, 2009 12:26 PM

Mmmmm, goat offal.

#38

Posted by: Gruesome Rob | August 27, 2009 12:27 PM

Not fairies, though; they're nasty.

Nasty in a good way (language NSFW, use headphones)

#39

Posted by: Ray Moscow | August 27, 2009 12:27 PM

Personally I'm very glad that there is no god -- particularly the dangerous psycopath of the NT who threatens to cast the majority of people into everlasting torture for no good reason whatsoever.

The benevolent, nuturing, watered-down parent god of recent invention? I can live without it, too.

#40

Posted by: Zachary Voch Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 12:27 PM

I am guessing we are supposed to mourn at Gods funeral and regret his loss, eulogizing that in which we do not believe with an air of misfortune and regret, that we could not, despite our great efforts otherwise, come to accept that which others do so easily. It seems that we are not entitled to state our beliefs proudly or openly, unless we first state how very much we wish we were wrong. We must first condemn our inability to agree with our chastisers before returning the favor, gently soothing the sensibilities of the religious while we attempt to guide them down the path of a painful possibility, that is, if we are allowed to do any such guiding. We are to envy religious belief, holding it dear and precious, close but unattainable. Like Tantalus in Hades, so shall we in doubt be mired as we miserably grope for the forbidden fruits of faith dangling before our eyes, ever escaping our grasp. Eli eli, lama sabachthani, we cry, mourning that we are the fools who have said within our hearts that there is no God. Almost ritually, we partake in the same forwards and familiar phrases, `in this I wish that I were wrong or could believe that you were right'.

Or, we could smile at our finite lives and tell James Wood to shove it.

#41

Posted by: becca | August 27, 2009 12:28 PM

I suppose you could say I'm a disappointed disbeliever. I'm disappointed that the "god of love" I was taught about isn't reflected in the bible, once I actually read it. I'm disappointed in the years of therapy it took to get me over a sense of guilt that I existed - I swear, the concept of original sin is one of the most pernicious ideas ever invented. I'm disappointed that the religion I was taught as a child didn't - couldn't - live up to the promises for it.

but then, I don't think that's what Woods means.

#42

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 12:29 PM

SHUT UP, JUNIOR

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4L6RyfPTgs

#43

Posted by: Zen Druid | August 27, 2009 12:29 PM

For your "disappointed belief", refer to Thomas Jefferson's writings on the Christian religion.

#44

Posted by: Moggie | August 27, 2009 12:29 PM

When I saw the words "A don defends the Supreme Being from the new atheists", I had a mental image of Dawkins waking up to find a severed horse head under the sheets. Kind of disappointing to find that it's the other kind of don.

#45

Posted by: Walton Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 12:29 PM

Maybe I'm Wood's kind of non-believer. I'm a very recent ex-Christian, and I was brought up in exactly the kind of middle-of-the-road religious tradition to which he refers - the Anglican churches in which I grew up were, largely, theologically orthodox (believing in the divinity of Christ, a literal Resurrection, etc), but also fairly liberal on moral issues, and very much non-fundamentalist and pro-science.

But after a long process of exploration, I gradually came to realise that there was just no empirical evidence supporting the existence of the Judeo-Christian God, or supporting any of the doctrinal claims made by orthodox Christianity. I also read the Bible cover-to-cover, researched it, and read about its historical background; I honestly don't think anyone who's really researched the history of the Bible, and read works of secular biblical scholarship, can honestly believe that it is "inerrant" or "divinely inspired" in any meaningful sense. And so, by the time I came to Pharyngula, I was a kind of liberal deist/pantheist who was desperately trying to be a Christian, and ignoring the elephant in the room: namely, the fact that there is no evidence for an interventionist god or gods. So, after a lot of thought and instrospection, I eventually came to the realisation that I am an agnostic.

I still have a cultural and aesthetic attachment to Christianity, and there is a part of me that would like to believe it. But the fact is that it is intellectually dishonest to try and force oneself to believe something for which there is no evidence; as Jefferson said, our opinions must "follow the evidence proposed to our minds". And there is no evidence supporting a belief in gods; and where an extraordinary claim is made without any evidence, the proper response of the rational person is to be sceptical.

#46

Posted by: Sastra | August 27, 2009 12:31 PM

Apparently, we're not supposed to seriously engage with the question of whether God exists or not. That's "overweening rationalism." Instead, we need a weening rationalism. We 'ween' that God exists. No need for any more weening. Just whining.

Which God? The one in the middle, of course. Split the differences to find the Golden Moderate Position. It's always right.

And everyone is always in the middle, from their perspective. A theist announcing that his belief stands between two extremes is as predictable, dull, and meaningless as a theist proclaiming that he seeks to understand God, instead of forming a God in one's own image, like those other guys do. I've got news for you. That's what the other guys are saying, too -- about you.

#47

Posted by: heliobates | August 27, 2009 12:32 PM

But I want to hear about the Lordly Wang. I bet it was huuugge.

I bet it's tiny.

Any being who needs to create an entire universe just to put a privileged planet in it so that a species of naked ape can glorify It for eternity... has to be compensating for something.

#48

Posted by: TheVirginian | August 27, 2009 12:33 PM

I have never seen any theist apologist address what I think really angers them: Atheists essentially are calling theists liars. The theist says there is/are a god or gods, and this is what he/they are like, and we say that we don't believe you.

There is an easy solution to this. If the gods exist, just come tell the world in a way that is so clear and obvious that no one can doubt it. Tell us which of the world's many religions - if any - are correct. Is it the Hindus, the ancient Greeks, the Aztecs, the Christians, the Muslims, etc.? Is Eagleton correct, or Woods, or Falwell, etc.?

So, yes, I am calling Woods, Eagleton, etc. liars in that they are writing as if they actually know what they are talking about when I see no reason to accept anything they say is true.

#49

Posted by: murgadroid | August 27, 2009 12:34 PM

David Wiener #34: When my younger daughter was about 5 or 6 we had such an insight. The pizza delivery dude was coming to the door and I was short a couple of bucks. My daughter said, "Just take some out of the drawer where the tooth fairy keeps all the teeth and the money for (under) my pillow." It opened my eyes!

#50

Posted by: TiG | August 27, 2009 12:35 PM

@ #48

Ah...compenSAtion...I knew it would fit in here somehow.

Oh wait. Maybe it's too small to fit anywhere without falling out. Typical.

#51

Posted by: Davianed | August 27, 2009 12:35 PM

So, rational thought is bad, mmkay? Can't have you thinking and making logical decisions, mmkay?

The only real reason I would be particularly saddened by the lack of any afterlife is simply that I would enjoy knowing what's going on after this. I'd like to see what happens to the world, humans, etc. in the future; where our current destructive path is going to take us, can we reform, etc.

So why is it a sad thing to not believe? Instead of looking out at nature and saying, "Thank you for all this, Mr. Deity!", I look out instead and appreciate the amazingly complex series of events which brought us to this point. It brings an appreciation of exactly how many organisms over so many millions and billions of years interacted and evolved, in so many seemingly random occurrences, to bring us to the point we're at.

That, to me, will bring an appreciation and awe that no spirituality, deity, religion, or other type of experience will bring. I find it far more compelling than a man in a white robe with a long white beard pointing his finger, saying, "Bang!", and suddenly there's a world. So why exactly should I be sad?

#52

Posted by: SC, OM | August 27, 2009 12:40 PM

What is needed is neither the overweening rationalist atheism of a Dawkins nor the rarefied religious belief of an Eagleton but a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief.

I'm thoroughly confused. He's not an atheist, right? Who are "we" and why would a we that includes him need any kind of atheism at all?

Weird. As these people get more desperate, their arguments become stranger and stranger. It's often hard to believe they take themselves seriously.

#53

Posted by: Davianed | August 27, 2009 12:41 PM

Also, there is apparently much interest in this product titled, "the lordly wang." I think we need some information on the recommended uses of said product, as well as any potential problems from improper use.

Agreed @#48 that there's some compensation issues.

#54

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 12:41 PM

Walton, perhaps you should take up correspondence with Mr Wood and demonstrate to him the glaring lack of evidence. Then he can be the disappointed atheist he wants to see in the world.

#55

Posted by: Lily | August 27, 2009 12:42 PM

#48, You have a point there. However, Isn't god supposed to be inside of all his creations? Doesn't he then need many penises of all different shapes and sizes in order to penetrate them all simultaneously? Or maybe he just has one shape shifting penis, which is also capable of making time stand still so that he may be inside of everything all at once.

#56

Posted by: rrt | August 27, 2009 12:43 PM

Y'know something, Jimmy? I WAS sad, a little. I missed the inoffensive Cosmic Muffin/Buddy Christ imaginary friend I used to believe in. But I got over it. And in light of that asinine attempt to lobby for a pathetic atheism YOU are comfy with, now I'm MAD. I'm not gonna be anyone's poster child for the poor, suffering atheists with god-shaped holes in their hearts, thank you very much.

#57

Posted by: Ed Rowland | August 27, 2009 12:43 PM

One has to ask: who needs these nuanced, subtle, sad atheists? Mr. Woods doesn't say so explicitly; but on careful reading, it's apparent that Mr. Woods does. And what does Mr. Woods need one of these sad nuanced atheists for? Presumably, to resonate with the remnants of his crumbling belief, in order to make the final argument that convinces him that God is not real. Can no one strike the neccesary pose to put Mr. Woods out of misery?

#58

Posted by: TheVirginian | August 27, 2009 12:44 PM

Drat! Wood, not "Woods." Still just waking up.

#59

Posted by: Blenster | August 27, 2009 12:47 PM

Poor Baby Bear doesn't need a "friend", he needs a funeral, along with the other two metaphorical bears.

#60

Posted by: Gerry | August 27, 2009 12:47 PM

In discussions about the efficacy of prayer I always ask christians the following question- "If you were in an aircraft that was damaged and was about to crash, would you prefer the pilot to devote his/her entire attention to trying to land the aircraft safely or pray to god to save the plane?"

#61

Posted by: Carl | August 27, 2009 12:52 PM

I think perhaps you need to reconsider your attitude towards Eagleton and the erroneous notion that he hates atheists. He is my country's leading proponent of Slavoj Zizek, who is not only an atheist, but one who has cross-referenced theology with materialism, in short Zizek is far more qualified to talk on the intricacies of theology than many belligerent atheists who write it off lock, stock and barrel.

Consider Eagleton's first line from his review of Dawkins' The God Delusion;

"Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

Its not atheism Eagleton hates, its hubris. Its the pretence at the understanding of theology that the new atheists hold that gets Eagleton's goat. And fair enough. For if how Dawkins replies to this kind of criticism - that he, as a biologist need not understand the ins-and-outs of theology in order to criticise belief in God - was true, this seems irrefutable, at worst lazy. But its the fact that the Ditchkins' of the world are hubristic enough to take on theology like they know what they are talking about, thats bound to alienate close readers. And I'm afraid to say, P Z Myers, you are a cohort to this group of hubristic chumps.

#62

Posted by: Chiroptera | August 27, 2009 12:52 PM

*Whew*

I'm glad that I wasn't the only one who thought of James Woods and mafia dons when I read the title.

#63

Posted by: Fatboy | August 27, 2009 12:52 PM

Count me as one of the atheists who was sad when I first came to the conclusion God didn't exist. The typical Christian conception of God isn't the fire and brimstone one from the old testament, it's the Jesus is love one from Sunday school. Losing that eternal best friend and protector is a bit sad, along with, as someone already mentioned, the promise of an afterlife.

Now that I've had some time to get used to being an atheist, however, I can't imagine going back to being happy to have live under the arbitrary rules of a cosmic dictator. I'm also happy to see reality for what it is, and not have to go through all the mental gymnastics required to keep believing in God despite all the evidence that contradicts the Bible. I still miss the promise of an afterlife a bit, but what're ya gonna do?

#64

Posted by: heliobates | August 27, 2009 12:54 PM

Lily you and I aren't stoned enough to be having this conversation.

#65

Posted by: Robocop | August 27, 2009 12:55 PM

"All we've got here are hordes of triumphal atheists who think the whole enterprise of religion is hairy effin' bollocks, and we aren't at all sad about our loss of faith, a loss that we've found liberating and joyous."

Is the echo chamber here oblivious to the irony underlying the idea of scientific triumphalism? Last I checked, that's pretty incongruous. I would have thought that a healthy understanding of science should lead not to triumphalism but to humility and egalitarianism. But I guess it's hard to be humble when yer purrfict in e-ver-ree way.

#66

Posted by: Thorne | August 27, 2009 12:56 PM

there is apparently much interest in this product titled, "the lordly wang." I think we need some information on the recommended uses of said product, as well as any potential problems from improper use.

Obviously, there can be no lordly wang! He had to use a surrogate (Holy Spirit) to get her pregnant. Something like the best man boffing the bride, I suppose.

#67

Posted by: Agathodemon | August 27, 2009 12:56 PM

Re: #49

Actually, I think it may be a bit more than this. I think that they believe that atheists are saying that they themselves do not exist. They believe that their "true" self is some sort of supernatural soul. If the supernatural does not exist, then the transcendant soul does not exist, so in a sense we are denying their very existence. All the talk of the "flesh" versus the "spirit" and how the "spirit" is what is genuinely real makes any denial of the "spirit" world very threatening indeed.

#68

Posted by: Sastra | August 27, 2009 12:56 PM

In his book, Dawkins defines the God Hypothesis as:
"... there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it."

It seems that most of the critics primarily focus on attacking Dawkins for this definition. It's so, so wrong. That's not what theists believe. Not sophisticated theists, that is. Dawkins has built up a straw man, a fundamentalist caricature which is easy to knock down. Like most atheists, he doesn't believe in God because he doesn't understand God.

I could sort of see the consistency of Eagleton taking this tack. Eagleton's version of God really does appear to be a lot of empty handwaving, poetry, and useful functions. But what quarrel would "moderate" theist Wood have with this definition?

If he's not upset about the definition, that leaves him with the other major critique made against Dawkins: the existence of God is not a hypothesis, or anything like a hypothesis, because God is not an empirical fact or entity or being. It doesn't have to be consistent with discoveries. Again, this only makes sense if you're flipping into category errors involving abstractions and emotions, and dancing around with vague obscurity involving the Ground of Being. Doesn't seem available to Wood.

Not sure where he's coming from then. Why believe God exists? What the heck is it? How would you know if it wasn't real? Why believe in belief?

#69

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 12:58 PM

It would be unafraid to credit the immense allure of religious tradition...

Yeah, like deceit, genocide, denying reality, willful ignorance, segregation, rape, indoctrination, and hypocrisy just to name a few gems. What an allure indeed.

#70

Posted by: cag | August 27, 2009 12:59 PM

Religion: a thought experiment gone wrong.

#71

Posted by: Ron Sullivan | August 27, 2009 1:00 PM

Wow, PZ. Richard Dawkins just bunched you with Peter Medawar! That would sure as hell make my day.

I read that New Yorker piece last night. After a few iterations of "What does that even mean?" I realized what it was reminding me of: Way back in my devout late teens, I used to read Teilhard de Chardin and get all drunk and dizzy wrapped up in the words. Some people read romances or surrealist poetry for that feeling.

Some of us, after having had that Waitaminnit moment, go on to find the feeling in reality, where it's readily available for free, no soul-tax required. It dawns on us that it's our birthright and heritage—literally, physically, it's the family history and record of our origin and constant, unbreakable connection with the world, every atom of it.

I remember the transports of ecstasy that I suspect people like Wood assume are available only to the religious. I've had those since turning away from religion, too, though, and at least as strongly. You want an "oceanic feeling": try watching the actual ocean, drinking in the sight of those incredibly, variably complex wave-edges of the surf, feeling the immense power of them as they boom and vibrate the rocks below you. Then consider that all this power is just a flick, a casual fraction, an accident of the energy that is the ocean, the planet moving routinely beneath and around and within you, as it has for eons and will for eons to come. That you, your life and singularity, pleasures and hurts and the gossamer structure of your thoughts, are part and product of this huge booming tide, that it's yours the way your mother is yours and similarly you're its.

And that the knowledge and understanding of it all are available, to a depth we have yet to sound, free for the taking, free for the knowing and discovering, and that learning whatever part of it you want is as much fun as learning your best beloved for all your life.

"Disappointed"?? Oh hell no.

#72

Posted by: Lily | August 27, 2009 1:00 PM

Heliobates, I guess we better bake some "special" brownies so that we may further our philosophical discussion of the mysterious Lordly Wang.

#73

Posted by: Louise Van Court | August 27, 2009 1:02 PM

@Gerry #61. In my experience a person can easily pray while simultaneously performing other tasks such as in the emergency situation you describe. You don’t have to close your eyes or bow your head or anything. It is a lot safer in my mind to pray while driving a car than to try to send a text message or make a cell phone call that involves taking hands off the steering wheel.

#74

Posted by: Buford | August 27, 2009 1:02 PM

PZ: "...we aren't at all sad about our loss of faith, a loss that we've found liberating and joyous"

This is certainly one reason that I don't really feel at home here. I never had faith. My mother did, but didn't take us to church or expect us to believe as she did. After my Cub Scout Den visited a local church (!) I was curious enough to attend for a few months, trying to see what it was all about. Even at 10, they failed to give me enough reaons to believe.

At different stages of her life my mother explored LDS, Edgar Cayce, Scientology and various feel-good systems. She was willing to talk about it if we were interested, but never imposed anything on us.

As a cocky know-it-all young adult, I would challenge believers on the occasions that they tried to convert me, but that was similar to my choice in debates; I would often argue for the side I was actually against- just for fun.

I don't share the joyous liberation. I'm just saddened by the waste of time and talent. It doen't matter how much time and effort people have put into their religion, the 'serious theology' that they tell us we have to study before we can understand or criticize. I have D&D characters that have hundreds of hours of development and game play. They histories and family's and homes and pets. They are also imaginary, just like all their gods.

#75

Posted by: Alun | August 27, 2009 1:04 PM

BUT IS DAWKINS THAN JESUS?

#76

Posted by: Dwimr | August 27, 2009 1:06 PM

Is the Lordly Wang the same thing as the Overweenie? Or am I being too frank?

#77

Posted by: Chiroptera | August 27, 2009 1:06 PM

Carl, #62: For if how Dawkins replies to this kind of criticism - that he, as a biologist need not understand the ins-and-outs of theology in order to criticise belief in God - was true, this seems irrefutable, at worst lazy.

I dunno. Maybe this is true. But then, I think how I don't know anything about astrology -- the characteristics of each sign, the meanings of the planets or the significance of the houses -- but I still know that astrology is wrong.

Is belief in God different?

#78

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 1:08 PM

He had to use a surrogate (Holy Spirit) to get her pregnant.

So their deity rapes virgins in their sleep. Nice. I wonder how many universes he's created just so he can get some virgin nookie.

#79

Posted by: Davianed | August 27, 2009 1:08 PM

@ #67:Something like the best man boffing the bride, I suppose.

Well, you know how it goes. Mr. Deity and the Holy Spirit are out griping about women over a couple of drinks, someone breaks out the tequila... Holy Spirit wakes up the next morning with a hangover and a Mary, doesn't remember anything.

9 months later, Holy Spirit's talkin' to Mr. Deity. "Musta been a virgin birth, boss!"

#80

Posted by: Sastra | August 27, 2009 1:09 PM

Carl #62 wrote:

Its not atheism Eagleton hates, its hubris. Its the pretence at the understanding of theology that the new atheists hold that gets Eagleton's goat. And fair enough. For if how Dawkins replies to this kind of criticism - that he, as a biologist need not understand the ins-and-outs of theology in order to criticise belief in God - was true, this seems irrefutable, at worst lazy.

If Dawkins was "criticizing theology," then he would have been arguing that God was misunderstood, or misinterpreted. He wasn't doing that. He was looking at the concept as if it were supposed to be a conclusion derived from evidence -- particularly scientific analysis. Does it stand up?

Theology is the study of God, knowledge of God. It presumes God exists. It talks about how we know God exists.

Therefore, to seriously examine the question of whether God exists or not, you need to go outside of theology. You only intersect with theology when it comes to finding a definition. And the definition is not allowed to define God as existing.

#81

Posted by: kamaka | August 27, 2009 1:09 PM

But its the fact that the Ditchkins' of the world are hubristic enough to take on theology like they know what they are talking about

Oh, please, the religionists make it all up lock stock and barrel, and they pretend to know what they're talking about every time they open their mouths. Hubris is the expectation that anyone should give their godspeak the time of day.

Understanding theology is simple: it's a bunch of ridiculously stupid, made up shit pretending to be "knowledge".

#82

Posted by: Gruesome Rob | August 27, 2009 1:11 PM

In my experience a person can easily pray while simultaneously performing other tasks such as in the emergency situation you describe.

Except for you know, those dead people

#83

Posted by: zeroangel | August 27, 2009 1:12 PM

The Goldilocks of the 21st century are going to eat all your porridge, romp on your furniture, and turn all three of you out of the house to live in a nice wildlife preserve, where you belong. Won't that be lovely? Try not to eat each other, but don't expect the humans to think you are members of modern civilization.

LOL. Oh man. That made my day. This is why I come to this site. "Romp on your furniture" Hah! Boy do I want to go jump up and down on a bed now, too bad the one I have at home is memory foam. Thanks PZ!

#84

Posted by: Eidolon | August 27, 2009 1:13 PM

Wood is one with the multitude who is most discomforted by the new atheists. He longs for the good ol' days when the atheists really wanted to believe but because of some terribly unfortunate factor could not.

How the theists wish we would just go away and back into the proverbial closet. It comes down to when the statement is made "There is no evidence for an interventionist god or gods." their response is "Is so!!" We asked for that evidence, like ID'ers, they never seem to have anything. We keep pointing out just how irrational their positions are and thus "rationalist" becomes another code word for "blaspheming atheists". I suspect it's not fun for the emperor to keep hearing about his lack of apparel.

#85

Posted by: HumanisticJones | August 27, 2009 1:13 PM

What is needed is neither the overweening rationalist atheism of a Dawkins nor the rarefied religious belief of an Eagleton but a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief.

Soo... he wants all atheists to be the Straw Man "Mad at God" atheists? I can see why he'd want that, if all atheists were really just angry at god then there wouldn't be any questions asked. God would be accepted to exist and atheists would just be petulant teenagers who aren't talking with Dad anymore after he took away their car.

Kinda funny that he attacks all atheists for being a Straw Man, then longs for a world where all atheists are a Straw Man. Talk about blinkered world views.

#86

Posted by: CJO | August 27, 2009 1:14 PM

But its the fact that the Ditchkins' of the world are hubristic enough to take on theology like they know what they are talking about, thats bound to alienate close readers. And I'm afraid to say, P Z Myers, you are a cohort to this group of hubristic chumps.

See 'courtier's reply.' The difference between biology and theology is that there is demonstrably a referent of biology. Notice that the textbooks, up to a certain level, all say the same thing. Notice how a Dawkins or a PZ can not only tell you what they know about biology, but how they know it. Bring me two theologians who agree on matters and can demonstrate a transparent method via which their results were obtained, that furthermore I can take and use reliably to draw more conclusions regarding gods. Until I see such a demonstration, and can take this theological methodology for a spin myself, please explain to me why I am not justified in concluding that theology is, at root, an obscurantist exercise; that not only does Hitchkins not get it, NOBODY does.

#87

Posted by: Peter G | August 27, 2009 1:16 PM

Reason denies faith. God requires faith. Exactly like a malicious prankster who invites you to close your eyes and fall backwards while promising to catch you. Most times he doesn't, giggling while you crack your skull on the ground. Curiously, he does this in a purely random manner so as not to reveal his existence in a pattern. I'd watch that guy. I don't trust him.

#88

Posted by: Lynna | August 27, 2009 1:16 PM

Damn! The New Yorker and I have a long-term relationship going on. We're mostly in love. And now this. Why, Oh New Yorker Editors, did you allow this drivel into print. It does not live up to your usual standards.

#89

Posted by: AdamK | August 27, 2009 1:17 PM

Isn't god supposed to be inside of all his creations? Doesn't he then need many penises of all different shapes and sizes in order to penetrate them all simultaneously?

I think the term you're looking for is "noodly appendage."

#90

Posted by: What | August 27, 2009 1:17 PM

The question: "Do gods exist?", is without meaning. It is ill-posed. I have never come across an operational definition of the words "god" and "exist" that makes the question anything but nonsensical. I mentioned on another thread that Dawkins does not have a number for me on his scale ... because he is asking a nonsensical question. Our first mistake in debating theists is to accept this question as well posed.

I am an atheist, not because of an answer to said question but rather because I am not a theist.

#91

Posted by: Zachary Voch Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 1:17 PM

Carl@62 - "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

Dawkins wasn't writing a treatise on theology, but rather a criticism of religious belief. And yes, there is a difference, see: general criticism of Dawkins ignoring `sophisticated theologians' and going at popular religion, between which there are enormous differences. Also, if I might add, you can be easily demonstrated to be wrong when it comes to most matters of biology, but that's hardly the case in theology unless you screw up the historical bits. Dawkins did not write a book on theology.

``Its not atheism Eagleton hates, its hubris. Its the pretence at the understanding of theology that the new atheists hold that gets Eagleton's goat.''

Eagleton could turn his attention to many popular religious works as well, if his genuine sentiment was outrage at ignorance of theology or arrogance.

``But its the fact that the Ditchkins' of the world are hubristic enough to take on theology like they know what they are talking about, thats bound to alienate close readers.''

For the new atheists in general, sophisticated theologians are hardly the concern. I think that the `hubris' you refer to is the irrelevance which new atheists assign theology, not uneducated focus. The highly deistic or pantheistic gods of the learned theologians have little about them needing criticism, as firstly, there is little about them in general, and secondly, they are not representative of popular religion. Most importantly, these gods do not demand violence in the political sphere nor demand nonsense be taught in schools, so there is little incentive to criticize them, except for when they serve as recourse for those that do upon receiving criticism.

Carl, if Dawkins writes a book on theology and displays ignorance of theology in the process, I'll criticize him along those lines. Until he does, quit pretending that he was addressing the religion of Eagleton or yourself. Hence, another theme arises, every criticism of religion in general is taken as specific to the views of the listener by that listener. When Dawkins decides to write on the Essays and Reviews, he should do his reading. When Dawkins decides to write on apophatic theology, he should know what he's talking about. Until then, shut up.

I would like to inform the readers of Pharyngula ignorant of theology that they are missing little of interest or relevance and would be better off spending their time learning something more useful, like mathematics or the natural sciences, though I highly doubt this is news.

#92

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 1:18 PM

Eagleton also detests atheists, but is one of those religious apologists to whom god is an ideal, but not necessarily one that has to have any kind of empirical reality.

In other words, he's an atheist who detests atheists. Karen Armstrong is sort of like that.

#93

Posted by: Spiro Keat | August 27, 2009 1:18 PM

@61
"In discussions about the efficacy of prayer I always ask christians the following question- "If you were in an aircraft that was damaged and was about to crash, would you prefer the pilot to devote his/her entire attention to trying to land the aircraft safely or pray to god to save the plane?"

Ah, prayer. Why pray?

God made innocent humans; he put a forbidden tree where they could get at it; he told then not to eat of it; they, being made with no knowledge of good or evil, ate the fruit.

This angered the psycho who decided to kill his son/himself to make up for his cock up.

God has already decided EVERYTHING, so praying is a totally pointless activity. "Father, if it be thy will....."; of course it will be his will; your request will be ignored.

Sad that I don't believe? Fuck no.

#94

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 1:19 PM

#85

and thus "rationalist" becomes another code word for "blaspheming atheists".

Great post. They also love the idea of calling us "god haters". They just can't seem to wrap their brains around the notion that atheists have concluded that there are no real reasons to think that deities exist. They just can't seem to fathom the idea.

#95

Posted by: Tyler | August 27, 2009 1:19 PM

Carl: Consider Eagleton's first line from his review of Dawkins' The God Delusion;

"Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

Its not atheism Eagleton hates, its hubris.

Well then, if that's actually the case, considering Dawkins was raised in a religious household, it appears Eagleton is just another in a long line of self hating purveyors of what can only be called... hubris.

#96

Posted by: Dwight Jones | August 27, 2009 1:26 PM

ogi Berra might observe here that “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Will it be atheism or theism? - or like the excellent candlesnuffer analogy (and Mr. Berra) must suggest - they are the same road, two sides of the same coin.

Like good and evil, there isn’t much middle ground - or is there? I maintain that Humanism is the areligious branch, if it can only be relieved of its association with atheism, its hijacking parasite.

Species governance is much more interesting and critical to global affairs than someone’s private beliefs/nonbelief. If Humanism can dump its overweening 800 lb cousin, then intellectuals can get past this fixation with theism and turn their attention to more urgent matters, especially given that an areligious Humanism is the only worldview every likely to be globally accepted.

Boycott religious discourse and purify your soul.

#97

Posted by: Sastra | August 27, 2009 1:26 PM

HumanisticJones #86 wrote:

Soo... he wants all atheists to be the Straw Man "Mad at God" atheists?

No, he wants all atheists to be regretful, depressed, God-shaped-hole-in-my-heart faitheists, wishing they had the courage, imagination, and strength of character to take the leap of belief.

Their second-favorite kind of atheist is the one who says "I could believe in God if it weren't for the horrible things so many of His followers do." They love this. It reinforces their hope that atheists are really just disappointed over bad theology. And they've got good theology. They can reply "the God you don't believe in -- I don't believe in either." And then feel all smug and comforted.

#98

Posted by: DaveL | August 27, 2009 1:29 PM

It occurs to me that a theologically engaged atheism is very much like a stork-conscious approach to family planning.

#99

Posted by: Gruesome Rob | August 27, 2009 1:35 PM

I would say that single statement @99 by DaveL is enough to warrant a Molly.

#100

Posted by: Drosera | August 27, 2009 1:37 PM

Carl @62,

Do you think that you can compare theology and biology as if they are somehow at the same intellectual level? Don't make me laugh. Those parts of theology that assume that a deity exists are all bullshit; the remainder has at best curiosity value, demonstrating the silly things people can make themselves and others believe. Theology is a completely irrelevant subject for any rational human being. We know that cannibalism (=religion) existed; we don't need to know the recipes (=theology).

Now fuck off with your courtier's reply.

#101

Posted by: Rolan le Gargéac | August 27, 2009 1:40 PM

David Wiener #34

hope my 6 year old isn't reading this...

If it is, wouldn't you be pleased ? Impressed, even ?

#102

Posted by: Paul | August 27, 2009 1:41 PM

If Humanism can dump its overweening 800 lb cousin, then intellectuals can get past this fixation with theism and turn their attention to more urgent matters, especially given that an areligious Humanism is the only worldview every likely to be globally accepted.

Have you ever had to try and have an areligious discussion with any brand of theist? It's fine when you're talking about sports, but regarding anything of substance (say, law, or foreign relations) they cannot help but inject their particular flavor of theism.

If you're serious about advancing areligious humanism, you're preaching to the wrong choir. The main reason atheists spend so much time attacking theism is because the theists are injecting said theism into public policy.

#103

Posted by: bcoppola | August 27, 2009 1:41 PM

My theologically engaged atheism has Biblical foundations. 1 Corinthians 13:11, for instance:

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

#104

Posted by: Louis | August 27, 2009 1:43 PM

@ Carl #62:

Hi there,

I asked this of people in another thread and was probably missed/ignored due to the overwhelming speed of thread. I hope before this one goes nuclear you might be able to help me.

I'm an atheist (I lack a belief in god or gods). I'm probably even one of those darned "militant" (except I've never harmed anyone in the name of my lack of belief), "new" (except we seem to have been around for a millennium or three) atheists, depending on your definition of that term of course! ;-)

I've read Anselm, Aquinas, Augustine, Bonhoeffer, Erasmus, Kierkegaard, Plantinga, Tillich etc etc. I've read the major sacred texts of the major world religions, and a few historical ones. Hell, I even understood most of them! The point being I've yet to encounter this mythical beast "sophisticated theological arguments for the existence of god". At least I've encountered none that don't either equivocate on definitions, appeal to mystery, retreat immediately to deism, or simply just rehash the worst kind of sophist shennanigans. As someone else said recently McGinn and Mackie, Hume and Russell et al. have dealt with the core of these things sufficiently well for them to be considered refuted. I'm relatively sure that Dawkins and a few others (Dennett certainly) are in the same camp.

So please enlighten me, what knock-down arguments for god(s) have we atheists missed?

I ask simply out of intellectual interest. I am serious, point me to them, link to the book on amazon, give me some idea of what I am missing. And please don't do me, yourself and everyone else the great disservice of linking to/regurgitating some jejune piece of pseudo-profundity or wimping out with some soppy appeal to faith.

Ta.

Louis

#105

Posted by: corpus.callosum | August 27, 2009 1:43 PM

Surely 'Goldilockses', PZ?

#106

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 1:45 PM

Posted by: DaveL | August 27, 2009 1:29 PM

It occurs to me that a theologically engaged atheism is very much like a stork-conscious approach to family planning.

Congratulations, sir. You have just won the internet.


I think what Wood wants is for us to admit that, while we know the emperor has no clothes, we really wish he were wearing clothes and we admire his tailors.

#107

Posted by: Sastra | August 27, 2009 1:46 PM

Peter G. #88 wrote:

I'd watch that guy. I don't trust him.

"[Worshipping God] is like fellating someone who intermittently stubs fags out on your head for no good reason. And we all know how unsatisfying that can be."
--Charlie Brooker

#108

Posted by: Chiroptera | August 27, 2009 1:47 PM

Louis, #105: So please enlighten me, what knock-down arguments for god(s) have we atheists missed?

Oh, please let him quote CS Lewis. Please, please, please!

#109

Posted by: Screechy Monkey | August 27, 2009 1:48 PM

"Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

When someone is claiming that the Crocoduck exists, but fails to provide any evidence, I don't need a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology to say he hasn't proven his case.

#110

Posted by: momus | August 27, 2009 1:51 PM

Shorter James Wood, "Bring me a few wishy-washy agnostics."

#111

Posted by: DaveL | August 27, 2009 1:56 PM

"Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

Eagleton's bird analogy is faulty, but there's an easy way to rehabilitate it. Imagine if nobody had ever seen a bird. Imagine if there were no preserved specimens, no photos, no dissections, no DNA samples, no recordings of bird song, no expeditions to nesting grounds... nothing.

I could then very well imagine a layman challenging an ornithologist in exactly the same way Dawkins takes theologians to task. Of course, I could well imagine the Eagletons of our hypothetical new ornithology would protest, perhaps scolding the nay-sayers that birds are not actual animals, but the underlying essence of life forms in flight.


This despite the fact that flight in animals like bats and insects already has its own well-established field of study, to which this talk of 'birds' adds precisely nothing.


And begging the question of what these same learned ornithologists are going on about when they hold forth on "feathers" and "beaks".

#112

Posted by: Alyson Miers | August 27, 2009 1:57 PM

Tenuously related bullet points:

--I second Prof. Dawkins's suggestion that PZ write a book. He will be the Fifth Horseman of the Freethinking Apocalypse.

--New rule for Pharyngula: anyone who refers to "Ditchkins" without irony automatically loses.

--@49: I don't think theists are liars so much as mistaken, kidding themselves at worst. To be liars, they'd need to be aware of the truth. If they genuinely believe what they're saying, then they're not lying, but they're not telling the truth, either. The real romping-on-furniture that atheists perpetrate, from this angle, is to tell theists that they're devoting such significant portions of their time, money and energy to something that doesn't exist. We tell them they are wasting their lives, that they have bought into the world's biggest con.

#113

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 2:00 PM

So please enlighten me, what knock-down arguments for god(s) have we atheists missed?

Louis, have you ever really looked at the banana? It really is a marvelously designed object.

#114

Posted by: Screechy Monkey | August 27, 2009 2:01 PM

"I second Prof. Dawkins's suggestion that PZ write a book. He will be the Fifth Horseman of the Freethinking Apocalypse."

Arguably Victor Stenger is already the 5th Horseman. But the Freethinking Apocalypse needs a naval presence, and who is better suited to be the First Squidman?

#115

Posted by: gruebait | August 27, 2009 2:04 PM

"theologically engaged atheism".

That sounds a lot like like Libertarian based Communism.

#116

Posted by: MikeyM | August 27, 2009 2:04 PM

we consider that to be a rank load of steaming goat offal, too.

Band name!

#117

Posted by: Capt.Rhodes | August 27, 2009 2:04 PM

so i need someone who's spent his/her life studying tolkien and his works to tell me whether or not middle earth is real? and that me, being merely a fan of his writing, should keep my mouth shut about the subject? that i should be scolded for having the "smugness" to even think that hobbits and the like aren't real? i was under the assumption that when it came down to theology, aside from who CAME UP with what, it was all just a matter of opinion, oops, i'm sorry, belief.

#118

Posted by: chanson | August 27, 2009 2:06 PM

I'm a big fan of The New Yorker, so I was excited the other day when I saw there was an article about the "new atheists". I imagined that -- in true New Yorker form -- there's be some original insights about this new and rapidly evolving popular movement.

Imagine my disappointment when I read the opening rant -- containing nothing more than the same old tired whine points you can read for free on random people's blogs all over the Internet! Even though it's just a book review (their book reviews are often their most interesting articles, BTW) I expect a lot better from The New Yorker than this.

#119

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 2:08 PM

Capt. Rhodes, if you were more sophisticated and had devoted your life to this study, you would understand that hobbits are in the category of things that neither exist nor don't exist.


.............

And if you can write pages and pages of nonsense like the paragraph above, you too can be a theologian!

#120

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 2:11 PM

I just had an awesome idea (please steal/spread if you agree).

Text message breakup! Text message breakup with your deity.

Even better, text message breakup with your deity on Twitter for all the world to see!

Yahweh, we're through.
Ganesh, this just isn't working out any more. I think we should start seeing other people.

Fame! Fortune! Just set up the site to aggregate the god breakup tweets. You know, like that site where you sell your soul/sell your god, but more pithy and therefore, fun.

So whaddya say?

#121

Posted by: Iris | August 27, 2009 2:13 PM

I agree with Richard Dawkins about nearly everything, but especially that PZ should write some freakin' books already!

I'll never understand these writers (and commenters here) who think Dawkins or atheists in general have no clue about "sophistcated" Christian theology, as if we've never been exposed to it, and therefore don't understand exactly what we criticize.

Bullshit. The only thing "sophisticated" about it is the complexity of the delusion and the correspondingly dizzying rationalizations for it in the believer's mind.

#122

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 2:13 PM

you would understand that hobbits are in the category of things that neither exist nor don't exist.

What do you mean? There is video documentation out there showing that they exist! The evidence is clear.

#123

Posted by: Screechy Monkey | August 27, 2009 2:14 PM

Capt. Rhodes, of course Middle-Earth doesn't exist in the trivial physical sense that your narrow untrained mind contemplates. Only very shallow and unsophisticated Tolkeinists would claim such a thing.

No, we sophisticated Tolkeinists know that Middle-Earth is a spiritual place, not a physical one. Gandalf is a numinous presence, not some old man in a hat as childish aTolkeinists seem to assume.

If you would take the time to read (in their original Elvish, of course) the works of the finest minds of Tolkeinology, you would understand this.

#124

Posted by: Steve in MI | August 27, 2009 2:15 PM

I take issue with the idea that god inspired J.S. Bach. God *paid* Bach, certainly. In the days when the church was the primary funding source for the music industry, much of the music was dedicated to the glory of their god. In the days when the music industry is funded by people who sell to angsty teenagers, a lot of music is about teenage angst.

#125

Posted by: littlejohn | August 27, 2009 2:18 PM

I look forward to my weekly New Yorker, and the title of the article was intriguing. But good gawd what a shallow excuse for intellectual discourse.
He seems to be saying that of course there's no god, but how vulgar and foolish to be an atheist.
He apparently hasn't thought this thing through, or else he has and doesn't like where the logic leads him.

#126

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 2:19 PM

@9

That's exactly how I used to feel--confused because others had this experience I didn't.

I've learned to be tolerant, though. My wife says "evolution is my religion" but she also talks to God (and he talks back). Theory of mind gone wild. She has better social skills than me, so I figure it's okay.

Now, once you pile a lot of stupid superstition on TOP of that, we've got problems.

#127

Posted by: Patricia, OM | August 27, 2009 2:20 PM

Gruebait @116 - Using that L word around here will get you pelted with slugs and goat offal. It's a magical charm that lures lunatics out of hiding.

#128

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 2:21 PM

a healthy understanding of science should lead not to triumphalism but to humility and egalitarianism.

Nice assumption. From where I sit, it looks like the knives are out. but you humanitarians and egalitarians, lacking support beyond "please be nice...." are lunchmeat for the plutocrats and nihilists.

#129

Posted by: amphiox | August 27, 2009 2:22 PM

#122: At any rate the complicated theology argument is a red herring. It's like building a Notre Dame on quicksand. Doesn't matter how pretty and sophisticated your gothic filigreed spandrels are, your foundation is still quicksand.

If your foundational premise is false, your whole logical edifice, no matter how intricate, falls. And it requires no sophistication whatsoever to point that out.

Theology is fan fiction wearing a musty hat.

#130

Posted by: william e emba | August 27, 2009 2:22 PM

James Wood has been a litery critic for The New Yorker for years, which is pretty much why they printed him in the first place. Frankly, that's where I learned to disregard Wood way way long ago. He's completely tone deaf to modern and postmodern literature, and pretty much all he can do is whine about how it isn't the kind of novels he likes.

I mean, I'm perfectly happy if you like 19th century literature and I like 20th century literature. Wood is, ultimately, one of those worthless jerks who simply can't cope with that kind of accommodation. (To be honest, I like 19th century literature.)

#131

Posted by: AdamK | August 27, 2009 2:25 PM

Surely 'Goldilockses', PZ?

Yesss, my precioussss.

#132

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 2:25 PM

The theologians are upset, even the "moderate" ones, because atheists are daring to speak up and out. In societies where religion no longer has a stranglehold on social and political discourse, that means people are (gasp!) saying things the theologians and their followers disagree with! The horror!

Yup. They might end up out of a job.

Look at the woes of Harvard Divinity School. All the colleges at Harvard have separate funding, so while Harvard Business School advances across the Charles and colonizes the south bank, they can barely keep the lights on.

(Of course, "B" school is a brand of woo all its own--it's just more popular these days because there's the clink of cash attached to it.)

Quick, theologians! Better brush up on all your rusty classics education and move over into the field of antiquities. People actually give a s*** about ancient Greek child-rearing and ancient Egyptian grooming habits...

#133

Posted by: Capt.Rhodes | August 27, 2009 2:26 PM

"you would understand that hobbits are in the category of things that neither exist nor don't exist."

kind of like the sandwich i was thinking about having tomorrow for lunch?

#134

Posted by: becca | August 27, 2009 2:27 PM

If your foundational premise is false, your whole logical edifice, no matter how intricate, falls. And it requires no sophistication whatsoever to point that out.

this is what did it for me, finally. When I rejected the notion of original sin, the whole Christian house of cards fell down. And without the cards in the way, I could see there there really wasn't much (any?) argument in favor of a universal god.

#135

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 2:32 PM

@42 becca

Wow, you too?

F***ing priests can all jump in a f***ing lake.

There, I said it.

Huh. I used to think French anti-clericalism was extreme. Guess I was just naive. Heck, maybe Rousseau was actually right about one thing. (Still think he was wrong about everything else. Go Hume!)

#136

Posted by: Sastra | August 27, 2009 2:35 PM

Iris #122 wrote:

I'll never understand these writers (and commenters here) who think Dawkins or atheists in general have no clue about "sophistcated" Christian theology, as if we've never been exposed to it, and therefore don't understand exactly what we criticize.

This criticism is particularly strange when you consider that the major spokespeople of the so-called 'new atheism' are all either academics, or part of the intellectual elite.

We have a well-known tendency to mentally over-emphasize the prevalence of the religious views around us: if we live in the Bible Belt, we will think of fundamentalism as basic; if we live in Utah, then Mormonism is common; if we're in Italy, the whole world can look Catholic. In their personal lives, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens are surrounded by the sort of theism which is popular among academics -- rarified Deism, handwaving theism, Ground-of-Beism. That's what they encounter from their peers.

And therefore, those versions of God are likely to be the default assumption. They had to learn about the less sophisticated versions, or remember them from their childhoods.

Dawkins spent much of his introduction to The God Delusion explaining this, and assuring his reader that he knows that they don't believe in "some old guy in the sky with a beard." And yet, most of the critical reviews of his book brought up the idea that Dawkins would be surprised to discover that most people don't believe that God is some old guy in the sky with a beard.

#137

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 2:38 PM

@50 murgadroid

When my younger daughter was about 5 or 6 we had such an insight. The pizza delivery dude was coming to the door and I was short a couple of bucks. My daughter said, "Just take some out of the drawer where the tooth fairy keeps all the teeth and the money for (under) my pillow." It opened my eyes!

My mother got seriously into the tooth fairy thing, going so far as to write letters (!) from toothfairyland (where all the buildings are made from teeth--it was cute). She was pretty determined at Christmas too.

What I can't figure out after all these years was why she was so desperate for me to believe in Tooth Fairy/Santa Clause ... and what's really effed up is that she's so much nicer to me in that "tooth fairy" letter than she ever was as a mother. It's perverse.

#138

Posted by: becca | August 27, 2009 2:42 PM

Not a gator #138: have you read Terry Pratchett's book Hogfather? gives you a whole new look at the tooth fairy.

#139

Posted by: carl | August 27, 2009 2:42 PM

OK, well a few of you replied to me so I will attempt to reply back, and unfortunately there will be no talk of C.S. Lewis I can assure. What I will say to begin with is that the belligerence with which a criticism is met with on the topic of Dawkins astounds me.

Firstly, chiroptera (78) its not wrong to hold the opinion that astrology is wrong, I tend to agree, but an interesting parallel can be drawn from recent talk by a brilliant writer David Aaronavitch when talking about his book on conspiracy theories. He knew he didn't believe in them, but when someone was engaging in a tirade about how the moonlanding was a hoax, all he could do was nod his head. He started research on conspiracies so as to have something to talk about when denying their existence, so what I'm trying to say is that its not wrong to deny astrology without having a PhD in it, but one cannot expect to change the minds of those who do know and embrace astrology. Dawkins does want to change minds, and does engage in theology from time to time - despite what many of you have said - and so this might be one of his shortfalls.

sastra (81) again, Dawkins does enter into scriptual debate, but more on this in a moment.

Kamaka (82) I'm sorry, but yours is a veil with which you use to pretend those with more mature opinions than your own are wrong!

CJO (87) The 'Get me 2 (insert practioners here) and we'll see if they agree' doesn't necessarily hold up as an argument, not even from a Popperian nexus. Lets say you couldn't find two theologians that agreed, and lets also say we couldn't find two biologists who agreed also, both equally likely, does that logically attribute to a fact that they are both wrong? Truth, as such, exists even if we can't find two people who agree on that Truth, be that Truth one that reveals God or does not. I'm not bothered whether two people agree, I'm bothered with what is Truth, and am unperterbed by how it stands up, because it is just as reasonable to suppose biology cannot reach what is Truth as it is that theology cannot reach what is Truth also.

Zachey-Voch (92) Dawkins does get himself involved in theology. Anyone that is prepared to say that extreme elements of religion are natural emergent properties like Dawkins does is engaging with biblical/Koranic/Toranic criticism. Sam Harris, for example, notes that the violent terrorism committed by Islamic terrorists is the logical outcome of scriptural literalism, well, no matter our opinions on this notion, if this is not a piece of theological enquiry then I don't know what is. It would help if they went a bit further, then they would perhaps find the works of Mahmoud Taha who posited that Islam had been written in two places - Medina and Medusa - and as such were subject to societal influences as much as anything else. As such there are two versions of Islam, and only one is used in justification of terrorist crimes, the other was a much more peaceful, multicultural text that is equivalent to some of the more liberal offshoots of Islam, to which Harris opined were perversions of Islam. His lacking, therefore, in theological enquiry caught him short of the mark as far as this view is concerned.

Drosera (101) I don't really want to reply to you as you told me to fuck off, which as you can see I ignored. I should just like to say that cannibalism doesn't lead logically to religion, many of my religious friends gave up cannibalism years ago. Cannibalism has as much a relationship to religion as I suppose biology has to atheism; it makes up a small proportion but given the fuss thats made about it you'd think it was the only alternative. Ironically though, if you do feel that this type of evil summarises religion perfectly (as do people who feel that Abraham's act sums up, and thus informs, the evil that has been committed in the name of religion) then, well, are you not engaging in a small amount of theology, that is trying to define the peculiarities of a religion or religion in general. That said, Dawkins does all the time talk about Abraham, Job etc, Hitchens even more so, Harris will tell his audience what Islam really is, this is all theological enquiry before it is cultural or social studies.

Ad lastly Louis (105) it might surprise you to find out that I am also an atheist, but books by Mark Vernon, Slavoj Zizek, Julian Baggini, Sigmund Freud, Alistair McGrathe even, have all taught me that my atheism should not be in violent distinction to theism, it is a logical position that can just as well be falsified and I like to think I'm open enough to let go should that day come. I also do not denigrate the religious, because I believe we have both reached our opinion in much the same way, by both lacking in proximity to the truth, that is to say that my position can never be proven true, I can never prove there is no God, I can only speculate on how his existence weighs up with logic, science, and those things can only reach so far.

There you go, I thought I was going to post on something non-controversial like Eagleton actually doesn't hate atheists, and actually I at no point compared theology to science.

I am off to the pub now, so what I will do is repost on my blog an entry outlining my philosophical position on all of this, and then if any of you want to reply to any of this on there you can, otherwise its going to be very difficult (and probably out of date) to reply back to your immediate comments.

All the best, Carl

#140

Posted by: uncle frogy | August 27, 2009 2:42 PM

this>
abstract God of the philosophers and theologians is no more probable than the idolatrous God of the fundamentalists, makes no better sense of the fallen world,

I beg your pardon but just what makes them think like that? A fallen world? what pray tell is that from where did it fall anyway. I would need a god of some kind or other if I thought this world was "fallen"
Instead of just looking to see what this world may be they start out from the place of being in some kind of fallen world no wonder they prefer to live in some dream world and demand that the rest of us be made to join them.
when I see things like this
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAVjF_7ensg&eur

there is no way I can see this as a fallen world

wake the fuck up!!!

#141

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 2:44 PM

@57

Ah, Cosmic Muffin. Now that brings back memories. I googled him and found out he died three years ago. On the good side, he was able to marry his partner of three decades a few years before he died.

You know, as a kid, I never did figure out what a "cosmic muffin" was. I preferred corn muffins, actually.

#142

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 2:50 PM

@74 Louise

What ME put my full concentration into an emergency?

#143

Posted by: Robocop | August 27, 2009 2:51 PM

129: "Nice assumption. From where I sit, it looks like the knives are out. but you humanitarians and egalitarians, lacking support beyond 'please be nice....' are lunchmeat for the plutocrats and nihilists."

I get your point, Marcus, but niceness isn't the purpose and really has nothing to do with it. I'm not even referring to the We're number one ranting echoing around here. Plus, I think there's plenty of support.

The heart of the matter is that science doesn't offer certainty and simply cannot answer all questions. Instead, it offers some indications and excludes some hypotheses. At best (and its best is pretty awesome), engaging in the pursuit of science may help us make fewer mistakes. It demands that we remember how little we really know and punishes us when we don't. Even more daunting is the brute fact that, by definition, we don't know what we don't know and how that can sting us. Show me a scientist who doesn't hold what s/he perceives to be true lightly and, odds are, you're showing me a pretty lousy scientist.

#144

Posted by: cowalker | August 27, 2009 2:54 PM

Buford at #75 said:

I have D&D characters that have hundreds of hours of development and game play. They histories and family's and homes and pets. They are also imaginary, just like all their gods.

Well maybe you've got the right to say that Buford, since you have years of experience at game play and an encyclopedic knowledge of the characters and the rules. But I would certainly not have the right to dismiss the D&D universe as fictional until I had equivalent knowledge of it. And after devoting years to learning about it and stil concluding that it was imaginary, I should at least have the decency to be disappointed about it.

So many belief systems--so little time.

#145

Posted by: Patricia, OM | August 27, 2009 2:58 PM

Kamaka - Well I'm shocked. You turned out to be a disrespector of mature opinions. That's a big step down the highway to hell.

#146

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 2:58 PM

@ 80

Holy Spirit wakes up the next morning with a hangover and a Mary, doesn't remember anything.

A Brazilian transvestite?

#147

Posted by: Davianed | August 27, 2009 3:04 PM

@#147

Hey, different strokes for different folks... Maybe the Holy Spirit is kinda kinky.

#148

Posted by: babel | August 27, 2009 3:07 PM

Et tu, Woodie?

#149

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 3:08 PM

@91

The question: "Do gods exist?", is without meaning. It is ill-posed. I have never come across an operational definition of the words "god" and "exist" that makes the question anything but nonsensical.[...] Our first mistake in debating theists is to accept this question as well posed.

THANK YOU!!

The whole concept is flimsy trash before you even get out of the gate. "Look, I'm going to run the Kentucky Derby with a horse made of butcher's styrofoam plates attached to pipe cleaners!"

@ theology apologists

You want to spend your life debating philosophically incoherent drivel (dualism, supernaturalism) and pretend it's a Real Academic Discipline, go on and knock yourself out, but don't be surprised when the rest of us laugh at you.

Just think, if you really hone your propensity for bullshit, you might make it into the English department some day!

#150

Posted by: Chiroptera | August 27, 2009 3:12 PM

carl, #140: Dawkins does want to change minds....

Maybe this is where we find out that this debate really isn't for me. I don't know what Dawkins really wants to do -- The God Delusion is on the queue to be read, but it'll be some time before I get to it.

In the meantime, I have to admit that I'm not really interested in theology and I don't really care whether people believe in God. In fact, to be honest, I don't much care whether God exists -- it doesn't seem to affect my life any, the rantings of the evangelists notwithstanding.

What I find more interesting is when the evangelicals try to change my mind. Discussing the matter with these folks don't really require a very deep knowledge of theology -- their own theology is usually so superficial that a three year old can see through it.

Another thing that interests me is, um, "discussions" of social policies with fundamentalists -- whether the earth is 6000 years old, whether the Founding Fathers intended to found a theocratic republic, whether comprehensive sex education leads to universal temple prostitution, whether President Obama was born in Kenya, and so forth. But, again, no real knowledge of theology is required to discuss these -- simple real life facts and high school level critical thinking pretty much suffices in this case.

But that's just me. Other people may have a different take on all of this.

#151

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 3:13 PM

Robocop writes:
I get your point, Marcus, but niceness isn't the purpose and really has nothing to do with it

You said:
a healthy understanding of science should lead not to triumphalism but to humility and egalitarianism.

Egalitarianism based on what? Humility - why? They aren't christian values any more.

I know a lot of secular humanists who seem to think that because rationality has saved them from the inquisition, it will also give them purpose. Um. no. There are always those standing by to swap one collar for another. That worries me, as one who tends to reflexively savage collars.

#152

Posted by: Pablo | August 27, 2009 3:14 PM

In contrast to Wood's strawman, it is the Baby Bears of religion that made me an atheist.

When I saw the extent to which they cherry-picked the bible, selectively believing the stuff they liked and not believing the stuff they found objectionable, it was obvious to me that they were not using the bible to learn about God, but were using the bible to reinforce their view of what God is like. They will say things like, "I think what really God wants is ..." Really? Why do you think that? (find some bible passage) Well, this bible passage next to it also says X. Do you agree? "No, I don't think God is like that."

That's not some "sophisticated theology," that's "making shit up and looking to the bible to support it where you can." Things you make up that aren't in or are contrary to the bible are those things that you say "are part of a non-literal perspective."

Either way, it's wishful thinking. And whether you call it wishful thinking or sophisticated theology, there's no reason to think it is true.

#153

Posted by: pdferguson | August 27, 2009 3:16 PM

It would be unafraid to credit the immense allure of religious tradition, but at the same time it would be ready to argue that the abstract God of the philosophers and theologians is no more probable than the idolatrous God of the fundamentalists, makes no better sense of the fallen world, and is certainly no more likable or worthy of our worshipful respect—alas.

Woods completely misses the point. It's not the abstract God versus the idolatrous God. It's that these gods are all just products of human imagination. Some people construct abstract gods, some create idolatrous gods, benevolent gods, vengeful gods, gods of peace, gods of war, the list goes on and on. Every god simply reflects the person's own hopes and desires, and so is infinitely malleable. God is nothing more than the eyes staring back in the mirror, which certainly is no more likable or worthy of our worshipful respect—alas....

#154

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 3:20 PM

@125

And when music is funded by academic grants funneled through academic music theoreticians, you get Schoenberg.

Damn!

#155

Posted by: Insightful Ape | August 27, 2009 3:22 PM

Carl, do you need a PhD in greek theology to conclude that Apollo doesn't exist?
Incidentally, why don't you comment on the hubris of people with no background in neuroscience, asserting that there are such things as souls and spirits, free will, etc?
It seems to me you are yourself guilty of hubirs and on top of that, hypocrisy.

#156

Posted by: Alyson Miers | August 27, 2009 3:22 PM

Lets say you couldn't find two theologians that agreed, and lets also say we couldn't find two biologists who agreed also, both equally likely, does that logically attribute to a fact that they are both wrong?

I'll take false equivalencies for $1200, Alex!

#157

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 3:24 PM

@139 becca

*skritch, skritch*
h-o-g-f-a-t-h-e-r

Thanks. I'm working my way through Pratchett. I just read the one about fiat currency. (Fun!) Was going to read Mort next. Anyway, I think I did see that one at the library. Will borrow.

#158

Posted by: CJO | August 27, 2009 3:25 PM

The 'Get me 2 (insert practioners here) and we'll see if they agree' doesn't necessarily hold up as an argument, not even from a Popperian nexus.

Okay, but that's not the whole of the argument. Even if they agree, I challenge, respectively, the two theologians and the two biologists to tell me how they know what it is on which they agree, and, crucially, how I can use that method to find out more for myself. The biologists will happily describe empirical epistemology to me and get into the guts of hypothesis testing and Bayesian analysis and experimental design. The theologians are likely to advise me to "open my heart" or "contemplate the divine ground of being," or some such codswallop, as referent-free as the rest.

Lets say you couldn't find two theologians that agreed, and lets also say we couldn't find two biologists who agreed also, both equally likely,

Really?

does that logically attribute to a fact that they are both wrong?

No, and I'm not saying any of this is coercive, because...

Truth, as such, exists

I contest this. At least, I contest the idea that we could ever know if it does or not.

even if we can't find two people who agree on that Truth, be that Truth one that reveals God or does not. I'm not bothered whether two people agree, I'm bothered with what is Truth, and am unperterbed by how it stands up, because it is just as reasonable to suppose biology cannot reach what is Truth as it is that theology cannot reach what is Truth also.

As an empiricist, I maintain that the closest approach to your transcendental, capital-T TROOF is a model that agrees with experiment to an arbitrary level of accuracy. We never have warrant to say we are in possession of your mythical absolute, and that is sort of the crux of the issue: the biologist won't ever tell me he does, and the theologian can't shut up about having it.

#159

Posted by: jaynie | August 27, 2009 3:25 PM

Just the other day, "god" came up in conversation.

"An atheist may think I'm a goofy catholic and I'd say that atheists are misinformed."

Ooooh, I got to say "So, the catholic religion misinformed me so much that I had to leave the church & all that god crap?"

Yeah. You keep believing that.

Peace.

#160

Posted by: becca | August 27, 2009 3:26 PM

not a gator @ #158 - for a more on-topic book, try Small Gods.

#161

Posted by: Alan Kellogg | August 27, 2009 3:29 PM

One advantage atheists have over the hard core religious is that the atheist is willing to admit he must handle matters on his own, without reliance on some patriarchal figure. Now if we could only get some atheists to stop replacing God with the state.

#162

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 3:31 PM

not a gator writes:
I used to think French anti-clericalism was extreme.

The church owned something like 30% of the real estate in France (the monarchy, as its anointed executor)about 50% - depending how you count it. The church was treated as a vast sinecure/make-work project where sons of the nobility could be given jobs they'd draw safe stipends from. The peasants, ummm..... didn't buy it.

#163

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 3:31 PM

Anyone that is prepared to say that extreme elements of religion are natural emergent properties like Dawkins does is engaging with biblical/Koranic/Toranic criticism. Sam Harris, for example, notes that the violent terrorism committed by Islamic terrorists is the logical outcome of scriptural literalism, well, no matter our opinions on this notion, if this is not a piece of theological enquiry then I don't know what is

It's not theological enquiry, it's psychological enquiry. Given a piece of text that says x, and given a population of people who have been trained to think a certain way and make certain assumptions, how do we expect they will react to that text?

I also do not denigrate the religious, because I believe we have both reached our opinion in much the same way, by both lacking in proximity to the truth, that is to say that my position can never be proven true, I can never prove there is no God, I can only speculate on how his existence weighs up with logic, science, and those things can only reach so far.

Having talked to many believers, it seems to me that we have not reached our decisions in the same way at all. I have examined the available empirical evidence and have found nothing to suggest the existence of a consious, interventionist divine entity. They have examined the same evidence, seen the same lack of empirical evidence - which they have admitted to me - , but believe in the existence of such an entity anyway.

#164

Posted by: NitricAcid | August 27, 2009 3:32 PM

Baby Beaw needs a fwiend.
Pwecious Weadew thwowed up.

#165

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 3:38 PM

carl

Help. I can't figure out what you even mean here:

CJO (87) The 'Get me 2 (insert practioners here) and we'll see if they agree' doesn't necessarily hold up as an argument, not even from a Popperian nexus. Lets say you couldn't find two theologians that agreed, and lets also say we couldn't find two biologists who agreed also, both equally likely, does that logically attribute to a fact that they are both wrong? Truth, as such, exists even if we can't find two people who agree on that Truth, be that Truth one that reveals God or does not. I'm not bothered whether two people agree, I'm bothered with what is Truth, and am unperterbed by how it stands up, because it is just as reasonable to suppose biology cannot reach what is Truth as it is that theology cannot reach what is Truth also.

First of all, speaking of convincing someone, you completely invert 87's claim, which means you don't speak to the substance of what he was talking about. "lets also say we couldn't find two biologists who agreed also, both equally likely' And I'm inclined to agree with 87--there are vast realms of consensus in biology now and some great biochemical models as well as natural selection models & so on and so forth that really work. When a model works, nobody's really going to dispute that until they find a model that they think works *better*, and hey, if it does, then you have a shift in consensus.

Biology is contentious on the edges. (Naturally, that's the fun part.)

Theologians are all precious and beautiful snowflakes. Sure, they influence each other, but they're eager to point out where they disagree, because if they didn't, they wouldn't be doing important work. Hence my thoughts that it was a heck of a lot like literary criticism, except that deals with actual culture that people care about, not the discarded dregs of history.

So anyway, you already just committed your own polemical mistake. Failing to accept the premises, you argue from premises you make up, without justifying your doing so. Not very convincing.

But then you really lost me with all this truth is truth isn't stuff. Do you seriously believe this? Didn't your theist hero Kant already explain to you folks that the only "truth" you can know is phenomenal, and that "noumenal" truth, aka Truth (cue putti and sopranos) is unknowable? Did you also miss the fact that Hume et al actually agree with this view? Have you never spoken to a scientist who explained that scientific theory is about models, that our picture of the atom is a model, that our theory of EM fields is a model, etc, etc?

Aren't you essentially admitting that theology is just a lot of wanking? "Oh yeah, baby, I've got an insight to noumenal reality (fap, fap), real soon now."

I think I'll stick with non-"Troof!" truth--you know, that world I can interact with and use my MODELS to predict the behavior of.

#166

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 3:41 PM

They have examined the same evidence, seen the same lack of empirical evidence - which they have admitted to me - , but believe in the existence of such an entity anyway.

Exactly. They hold a belief in their deity's existence in spite of the evidence. It's not that they can show it to be true, it's that they want it to be true. It that virtuous thing they call faith.

#167

Posted by: Sarah Trachtenberg | August 27, 2009 3:42 PM

Dr. PZ, how do you find time to write several long (!) posts every day? Wow! You must never sleep.
At any rate, my dad always told me "Know thy enemy." That's true with regards to this James Woods fellow.
I'm writing a book on the personal stories of atheists, and while many people find becoming an atheist liberating, there are also many who are sad and disappointed and struggle with that-- I hope that ultimately, these people will find atheism liberating. I know I'm a happy atheist, contrary to what Mr. Woods might think.
I've had quite enough of religious folks who feel free to dish it out to atheists, but can't take it. At least be a good sport about it, guys!
--Ditchkins' bulldog

#168

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 3:47 PM

As an empiricist, I maintain that the closest approach to your transcendental, capital-T TROOF is a model that agrees with experiment to an arbitrary level of accuracy. We never have warrant to say we are in possession of your mythical absolute, and that is sort of the crux of the issue: the biologist won't ever tell me he does, and the theologian can't shut up about having it.

*nod nod nod*

Some basic science education (yes, that means--horrors!!!--learning some math) should really be mandatory before studying Western Canon. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

#169

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 3:49 PM

@161

I loved Small Gods! That was my first Pratchett book. I had found the Ankh-Morpark milieu too confusing, so Small Gods was an easier way into the Discworld universe.

#170

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 3:50 PM

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Or in the case of deluded religionists...a mind is a terrible thing.

#171

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 3:52 PM

@163

I know it's a thread-jack, but I'm curious: I thought the parish priests, having come from the peasantry, sided with them against the red hats during the Revolution?

A lot of French literature says nasty things about priests and how venal they are, which would seem to have little to do with politics.

#172

Posted by: cowalker | August 27, 2009 3:55 PM

Carl at #140 said:
". . . Harris will tell his audience what Islam really is, this is all theological enquiry before it is cultural or social studies."

Do you really think that if I were to try to tell an audience "what Catholicism really is" it would be a theological enquiry before it was cultural or social studies? I have no personal experience with Islam, but I can tell you that there is the Catholicism of the current Pope and the Catholicism of a present day American woman Catholic who is divorced, re-married, uses contraceptives, thinks women will someday be ordained as priests and who prayed at a Catholic friend's same sex wedding ceremony. Who is to say that the Pope's theology defines Catholicism rather than the practices of the woman who considers herself to be a Catholic?

Catholicism as practiced by persons calling themselves Catholic changed over the centuries and from place to place, as Islam did, and both will continue to do so. The theology cannot be separated from the culture and society. The revenge-crazed terrorist has as much right to label himself a Muslim as the smooth, Westernized citizen who believes Mohammed just wanted us all to get along. That's the thing about any religion. It has no existence outside of the believer's beliefs. Why is any one believer's version the "real" version?

#173

Posted by: robinsrule | August 27, 2009 3:56 PM

...they also flop into paroxysms of flustered, frantic defensive denial when some guy merely criticizes their holy hero.

That was what got me out - instead of calm & confident arguments for religion it always came back to fear, guilt and gullibility. That and Genesis 6:2: the sons of god marrying the daughters of men? How far back does that one go?

#174

Posted by: truebutnotuseful | August 27, 2009 4:03 PM

lose_the_woo wrote @ #79:

So their deity rapes virgins in their sleep. Nice. I wonder how many universes he's created just so he can get some virgin nookie.

Which brings to mind the important philosophical question: Can God create a virgin so hot he can't score with her?

And all this talk about sad atheists just makes me think of this.

#175

Posted by: strangebrew | August 27, 2009 4:04 PM

Seems that the point of atheist scorn and derision is not the holding of a belief per se or getting all ridiculous about some mewling brat some 2000years ago...it is that this banal and rather juvenile heavy breathing for a theology with no definitive consensus amongst the contaminated is allowed such reverence as to be completely regarded as a subject not to be criticized.

In fact so diverse is the theology and ideas surrounding the nonsense that the delusion was split up into three major religions that competed against each other quite early on...and seems they have continued to squabble and bitch and whine ever since... all three original branches now a cascade of split gobblygook and all kitted out with their own brand of subjective and conflicting theology...all looking cute and deadly...and all resulting branches offshoots and affiliated claiming preferential treatment cos they are the one true way...

Maybe a more probing and relevant question is not ...

"Why God?"

But rather...

"Why Religion?"

And frame of reference is not a valid answer...it is the actual concept in infallibility they all boast that is the fault line that snakes unmistakably throughout all their dogmatic positions....not the tacky fairy story they blithely purport to support!


#176

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 4:06 PM

...theological enquiry...

As mentioned upstream, there is no such thing as theological enquiry. The object of the "study" simply has never been shown to exist, nor have empirically-based reasons been produced explaining why it should exist. At best it's mythology, or religious psychology, or religious studies. IMO it's a great example of how the religionists love to hijack the meaning of language to prop up their empty assertions.

#177

Posted by: Robocop | August 27, 2009 4:07 PM

152: "Egalitarianism based on what?"

Two things. Firstly, it's based upon the idea that since we all have a great chance of being wrong about any number of things, we ought to be careful not to push our views too hard and ought to be courteous and civil to those who think otherwise. Secondly, its based upon the simple recognition that, historucally, loads of seemingly rock solid ideas have turned out to be fundamentally flawed or even flat-out wrong. Given that history, it's prudent not to push too hard and to give the "other guy" a break.

"Humility - why? They aren't christian values any more."

They ought to be. And science gives us good reasons for thinking so.

"I know a lot of secular humanists who seem to think that because rationality has saved them from the inquisition, it will also give them purpose. Um. no. There are always those standing by to swap one collar for another. That worries me, as one who tends to reflexively savage collars."

Excellent point. Notice this is #159: "As an empiricist, I maintain that the closest approach to your transcendental, capital-T TROOF is a model that agrees with experiment to an arbitrary level of accuracy. We never have warrant to say we are in possession of your mythical absolute, and that is sort of the crux of the issue: the biologist won't ever tell me he does, and the theologian can't shut up about having it."

The first sentence makes great sense, but the second part of the second sentence is disproven by the very post under discussion here, with a real-live biologist screaming from the rooftops that indeed he does, yesssirreee/


#178

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 4:07 PM

not a gator writes:
I thought the parish priests, having come from the peasantry, sided with them against the red hats during the Revolution? I thought the parish priests, having come from the peasantry, sided with them against the red hats during the Revolution?

I should refer you to my dad's books - the French Revolution was his thing; for me it was just dinner-table stuff. (I recommend http://www.amazon.com/Fronde-French-Revolution-1648-1652-Revolutions/dp/0393035506) short form is that revolution only becomes popular when economic injustice is too obvious and only succeeds when the state loses control of its own military. If the catholics weren't idiots (i.e: convinced god wasn't on their side) they would have contained Luther (Stalin could have offered the pope a tutorial)

#179

Posted by: Frank Oswalt | August 27, 2009 4:08 PM

Carl, in theory you have a valid point when you say that theologically sophisticated arguments could help Dawkins when trying to convince religious people.

In practice, there are two problems with this idea.

First, religious people tend NOT to be theologically sophisticated, so those arguments would be completely wasted.

Second, the existence of supernatural beings is not a theological issue and therefore cannot be addressed on the basis of theological arguments.

#180

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 4:09 PM

@ strangebrew

I can't even imagine what it is you've been drinking, but if your manic, stream-of-consciousness logorrhea is anything to go by--

SWITCH TO DECAF!

#181

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 4:11 PM

Which brings to mind the important philosophical question: Can God create a virgin so hot he can't score with her?

That's easy. The answer is yes. That's why he's got to get them while they're sleeping!

#182

Posted by: teachingsapiens.wordpress.com Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 4:12 PM

New post up on the Creation "Museum" sideshow, The Creation Petting Zoo.

Robert B / Robster FCD

#183

Posted by: sbh | August 27, 2009 4:13 PM

You are a fluke of the Universe. You have no right to be here, and whether you can hear it or not, the Universe is laughing behind your back. Therefore, make peace with your god, whatever you conceive him to be: hairy thunderer or cosmic muffin. With all its hopes, dreams, promises, and urban renewal, the world continues to deteriorate. Give up.

From "Deteriorata"

#184

Posted by: Tulse | August 27, 2009 4:13 PM

I also do not denigrate the unicornists, because I believe we have both reached our opinion in much the same way, by both lacking in proximity to the truth, that is to say that my position can never be proven true, I can never prove there is no unicorn, I can only speculate on how unicorn's existence weighs up with logic, science, and those things can only reach so far.

As someone else has said, the Unicorn Test does indeed work every time.

And not a gator, you are in for a huge treat with Hogfather -- that may be my favourite Discworld novel. But don't give up on Anhk-Morpork, as many of his best novels are set there (and Commander Vimes is a fabulous character).

#185

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 4:13 PM

@177

Hmm, so would that, by your lights, put theological inquiry in the Philosophy dept or the Poetry dept?

#186

Posted by: Pablo | August 27, 2009 4:14 PM

First, religious people tend NOT to be theologically sophisticated, so those arguments would be completely wasted.

Word on that.

Seriously, from what I've seen, the closest thing your typical religiousite comes up with in terms of theology is to come up with Pascal's wager all on their own.

Or they may have read CS Lewis.

#187

Posted by: cowalker | August 27, 2009 4:16 PM

Carl said at #141 ". . . it might surprise you to find out that I am also an atheist, but books by Mark Vernon, Slavoj Zizek, Julian Baggini, Sigmund Freud, Alistair McGrathe even, have all taught me that my atheism should not be in violent distinction to theism, it is a logical position that can just as well be falsified and I like to think I'm open enough to let go should that day come. I also do not denigrate the religious, because I believe we have both reached our opinion in much the same way, by both lacking in proximity to the truth, that is to say that my position can never be proven true, I can never prove there is no God, I can only speculate on how his existence weighs up with logic, science, and those things can only reach so far."

It's good of you not to denigrate the religious. It's too bad they don't return the favor. Instead they try to impose their certainty on your modest disclaimer to owning the truth. If the religious kept their religion off my body, out of public school curriculums and government institutions, didn't require it of political office holders and didn't use it to justify violent terroristic attacks, genital mutilation of children, execution for heresy and honor killings it would probably never occur to me to denigrate religion either. I wouldn't think about it any more than I think of those practicing astrology, since astrologers don't picket abortion clinics, thwart embryonic stem cell research, pass laws against assisted voluntary euthanasia and kill innocent civilians in the name of Pisces.

#188

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 4:21 PM

@187

Pascal's wager was the devastating argument for the existence of Dog given by my (rather undereducated) CCD teachers.

They also mumbled something about Aquinas proving God existed.

Pascal's wager is a let-down because it doesn't prove anything!

#189

Posted by: Margaret | August 27, 2009 4:25 PM

Wood sounds like an (unacknowledged) atheist who is saddened by his loss of belief and is now arguing about the nature of the god he doesn't actually believe in: not too real, not too abstract, but something in-between.

#190

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 4:25 PM

Robocop writes:
Firstly, it's based upon the idea that since we all have a great chance of being wrong about any number of things, we ought to be careful not to push our views too hard and ought to be courteous and civil to those who think otherwise.

"ought"??
One could just as easily conclude that since "we all have a great chance of being wrong about any number of things" we may as well act randomly.

"ought to be courteous and civil to those who think otherwise" sounds more like appeal to fear of retaliation from those who who think otherwise.

the second sentence is disproven by the very post under discussion here, with a real-live biologist screaming from the rooftops that indeed he does

I have no idea where people come up with such ideas, and I make no effort to defend their views.

#191

Posted by: BAllanJ | August 27, 2009 4:26 PM

"Humility - why? They aren't christian values any more." They ought to be. And science gives us good reasons for thinking so.

Ummm... only if being humble gets you chicks...


OK, my model of religion:

I think that "spirituality" is a psychological phenomenon somewhere in the neighbourhood of emotions and coping mechanisms. It may well have a reason for being in our heads from an evolutionary point of view.

I think religion is the use/abuse of this spirituality by some people to control other people. It may be used benignly, such as for group bonding, or coping. It's more likely to be used just for political control... I would consider theology to be a branch of political theory.

The folks that identify themselves as religious could belong to the exploited or the exploiting.

#192

Posted by: Pablo | August 27, 2009 4:29 PM

Pascal's wager was the devastating argument for the existence of Dog given by my (rather undereducated) CCD teachers.

I'm sure they thought so. I should have added in my last post that, they come up with PW all on their own, and then think they are really clever for doing so. Of course, they don't realize that a) it is an extremely old argument and hardly original to them, and b) it is extremely lame (come on, even Homer Simpson could counter it! "But Marge, what happens if we chose the wrong God? Then every time we go to church, the real God gets madder and madder!")

BTW, you actually remember CCD? The only things I remember are listening to the soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar and that the nun's name was Sister Carrie (it was right at the time that Night Ranger came out with Sister Christian so we changed the name). Oh, and I think she talked about the Sadducees once. But I don't remember what she was talking about.

#193

Posted by: Louis | August 27, 2009 4:34 PM

@ Carl #140:

Thanks for the reply.

Well my atheism isn't in violent (or indeed any) opposition to theism. I just don't believe in god(s). Never did. Note lack of belief does not equate to belief of lack. So no, my atheism is not a faith position analogous to that of theism (or indeed deism etc).

I don't denigrate the religious, only the sanctimoniously anti-reason and credulous. Some religious people fall into that category. And to be frank I don't really denigrate them, I disagree with them (albeit occasionally vehemently. I am merely human after all).

You say that science and logic etc can only go so far. I agree. But nothing else can go any further nor even come close epistemologically. Or at least, just like the ephemeral "sophisticated theological arguments for the existence of god(s)" these equally ephemeral "different ways of knowing" either fail to butter the parsnips claimed for them or are in reality the phantasms they claim to support.

I'd agree that atheism can be a logical position open to Popperian falsification, but theism certainly is not its opposed counterpart. Implicit in theism is an epistemological claim of the value of faith as a mechanism of acquiring knowledge. No such claim, or its counterpart, is implicit in lack of belief in god or god(s), which is all atheism is. Forgive the careful use of terms but if we want to refer to the "belief that god(s) do(es) not exist" then that is not merely atheism, that is (as some call it) strong atheism or antitheism (that word is both Greek and Latin, no good shall come of it. I prefer anterotheism, all Greek, sets up the sense of opposition nicely). That's a different beast and not one I need to defend since I don't hold to it in the sense it is often described by theists and chums (Dennett's believers in belief). If you, or anyone, thinks atheism is interested in, or requires disproving the existence of god(s) then you've utterly missed the point and have bought the standard fallacious theist line which involves disingenuously shifting the burden of proof.

I've also read Vernon, McGrath and Baggini (not the other chap, I'll look him up, thanks) and was bitterly disappointed. I saw Mark Vernon talk once, and "won" a copy of his book from him and, to be blunt, it was well written but awful. I'll hold my hands up right away and say that it was sufficiently and specifically awful enough in its "reasoning" for me to briefly want to write a thorough rebuttal/review which I have never done. It's one of those projects that seem to go out of the window with real life intruding in the way it has of late. It's on the list! Honest! The one take home message I do remember is that he was arguing against the wrong sort of "atheism" for most of the book and had utterly missed the point. I'd have to re-read it to do it justice on a more thorough basis than this brief hand-wave though.

Cheers

Louis

P.S. Enjoy the pub, I usually do.

#194

Posted by: Louis | August 27, 2009 4:39 PM

And a P.P.S.

As What said @ #91 and Not a Gator echoed in #150 the question is usually arranged around an ever shifting definition of a couple of key terms. I mentioned that thus far, many of the "sophisticated theological arguments" I have encountered relied heavily on this equivocation. Theologians need to define things better in my experience, although unfortunately that would be like them shooting themselves in the foot....

Louis

#195

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 4:39 PM

What I found most annoying about the article is a reminder that Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are now the popes of atheism as far as the believers are concerned.

I like the quartet's vocal anti-religion views, but two of them are evolutionary psychologists, Harris believes that Islam is more likely to provoke violence than any other religion due to its dogma (as if having a "Prince of Peace" has ever put the brakes on Christian violence) and Hitchens is a gigantic douchebag.

I want a group of new New Atheists (preferably not all white men) to represent me.

#196

Posted by: Tulse | August 27, 2009 4:43 PM

If the religious kept their religion off my body, out of public school curriculums and government institutions, didn't require it of political office holders and didn't use it to justify violent terroristic attacks, genital mutilation of children, execution for heresy and honor killings it would probably never occur to me to denigrate religion either. I wouldn't think about it any more than I think of those practicing astrology, since astrologers don't picket abortion clinics, thwart embryonic stem cell research, pass laws against assisted voluntary euthanasia and kill innocent civilians in the name of Pisces.

Quoted for truth. People wonder why atheists are so "militant" and "angry"? This is why.

#197

Posted by: Alyson Miers | August 27, 2009 4:45 PM

In response to Pascal's Wager, I would like to offer the following wager. I'm not the first person to come up with this, but I did piece it out independently:

1. There may or may not be any God(s), there may or may not be any life after this one on Earth, and the quality of that afterlife, assuming it exists, may or may not depend on one's relationship with the God(s) who may or may not exist.

2. However, we do know, undeniably, that we have the life we are living now.

3. And if there really is at least one God of some sort, who really does reserve an afterlife for us, then we may or may not be rewarded for worshipping Him in this life.

4. However, if there is no God, or no afterlife, or God simply doesn't give a toss about whether we spend this life grovelling to Him, then we will definitely be wasting our lives in the here and now by worshipping something we cannot see outside of our own heads.

5. Therefore, it is a better bet to make the most of the life we have on Earth than to assume that what comes after death will make up for what we could have done here.

In other words: I'm going to live while I'm alive, and hellfire is a risk I'm willing to take.

Unless it's already been copyrighted by someone else, I'm going to call it the Humanist's Wager.

#198

Posted by: GOD | August 27, 2009 4:46 PM

Hi there. I am getting tired and pssed here. I do exist and everything there is is because of me. Stop questioning me, faitheists. Pay attention to atheists for a moment.

Faitheists. Yes, I am God and in my name you have been raging wars, mutilating your children, performing stupid rituals, whatsoever. I do not want that. You see, I do not need people believing in me out of fear. Skip the hell part too. I do not want you to mutilate your children or others. It doesn't make sensen. I definitely don't like stupid rituals in order to make me do some personal favors for you or anything. Capice? What are you thinking? That I am some kind of powerful psychopath magician that needs to be told what to do in order to fulfill my own plans? Or that I favor your pity selfishness over others? Are you kidding?

Sure. You think I am not real. You think I am just an imposer. A bad joker. Not God writing a comment on a blog. But why exactly? You are perfectly fine with the idea that I addressed some lunatics to write stories in times when man wasn't even sure about the shape of the earth. Well, I have news for you. I probably didn't address anybody. I probably helped people personally in very subtle ways, if there was a me, and retained from do stupid things as having people writing books and testifying anecdotes in their own languages within their own time frames and in the context of their own cultures. I'd probably rather would have waited until the age of internet to do that, wouldn't you think? And then there would be enough questions about my posting. Bad english would be exhibit nr. 1.

OK. Some answers for you. I could not have created myself since I was not there in the first place. I did not have created the environment where I lived in before that. I couldn't. I couldn't have lived for an eternity in nowhere and nothing to decide at a certain non-day I was going to create everything. I was not that powerful. To me 1+1 is 2 without exceptions. I do not cheat. I did not create a male and later a female and later reproduction. I did not create flowers and fruits before reproduction. Sense the nonsense?

I am aware of biodiversity and did not order animals to enter a stupid boat in pairs. I did not commit genocide++ by drowning planet earth in miles of water. I do not talk to opportunistic lunatics in private who are after your money or influence. I did not get an ordinary woman pregnant in pre-medieval times to have a son who was me to die for myself, like in early Egyptian mythologies. I do not like elder people living in palaces telling poor people not to use rubbers because I want more and more and more followers and need money for palaces to worship me. Not in this state of diversity where all kind of followers smash each others heads because of some interpretations of scripture that I didn't write in the first place. Not even ever. How could I be such a primitive monster? You say you known me but you don't. Except deep inside maybe. There I am, wishful thinking.

Why don't you just quit stupid rituals, starting with hating other people because of me. I don't want it. Period. You're not going to any heaven where there is just only somebody in the whole universe suffering or fearing. Heaven is lack of suffering. Period. No exceptions. If you cannot draw the line I will. You have the means, the guts and the brains to make such a universe while understanding why there is no other way. The smallest kid understands why suffering is bad. Adults may be conditioned, but are capable understanding why some people do horrific things and how these things can be prevented. You will do fine.

I must go now and I won't return. You are capable by yourself to figure out what the universe is about. What eternity is. Within 50 years you'll have figured out how to repair yourself to eternal youth and you'll now how to sail out to other star systems. There is plenty of them, plenty of worlds to discover. Plenty of other people to meet eventually even. Not like you at first sight, but real close family. You will be able to sustain the universe when it would come to an end by natural causes and celebrate a party.

The universe is not a cruel playground of a sick invisible super creature. I do not allow that and you won't allow that yourself when you have the means. Bye. My name is common sense and I am with the most of you.

#199

Posted by: Frank Oswalt | August 27, 2009 4:48 PM

@ Nancy (#195), Hitchens may be a douchebag, but he is a spectacularly brilliant, educated, sharp-witted and -- although you have to listen closely to him to realize this -- caring douchebag. In fact, he only acts like a douchebag in situations where this is the only way to get religious retards to listen to him. Plus, of course, he is OUR douchebag.

#200

Posted by: Frank Oswalt | August 27, 2009 4:52 PM

@ God (#199), THERE you are! You still owe me that red bicycle that I prayed for so hard when I was six.
.
God?
.
.
.
.
God?

#201

Posted by: CJO | August 27, 2009 4:53 PM

The first sentence makes great sense, but the second part of the second sentence is disproven by the very post under discussion here, with a real-live biologist screaming from the rooftops that indeed he does, yesssirreee/

Well, first, I meant the biologist would not claim such a warrant for biological propositions. They would explain to what degree the model in question conformed to experimental and observational results, while theologians would claim that warrant in the realm of theology having strictly speaking no (reproducible) results at all.

Second, I don't think that PZ is in fact claiming to be in possession of absolute Truth when he denies the existence of gods. It's a matter of justification, the 7-point scale of agnosticism, and the "atheists just disbelieve one more god" principle. "Sure all those other spoon-benders are quacks and charlatans, but my guy, man can he bend some spoons!" is a basic logical problem with all god-talk, sophisticated theology emphatically included. Atheists can deny theology the warrant, and hence see no justification for belief, without necessarily having to claim it for themselves.

And Marcus (#191): what in my comment was so problematic that you say you "have no idea where people come up with such ideas"?

#202

Posted by: SteveM | August 27, 2009 4:53 PM

re #2:

MK, not only were you not first, what you wrote was not a comment. You should also be aware that PZ will ban people who post "First!" comments.

#203

Posted by: aratina cage Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 4:54 PM

@cowalker

If the religious kept their religion off my body, out of public school curriculums and government institutions...
That struck a chord with me. Even lifetime atheists in the U.S. have to put up with "under god" in the Pledge of Allegiance and perhaps even "moments of silence" at academic and sports events while in public school. Even though I was semi-religious growing up, it irked me to no end that we were compelled to pay homage to "god" every day at school. Whose god, anyway? The god of crackpot parents who threw fits if their children were exposed to the word "demon"? No thanks. I spent my whole primary and secondary school years saying anything but "god" in protest during the Pledge of Allegiance after learning about church-state separation. Actually, the Pledge never made any sense in the first place. It's a flag, people! It can't hear you.

#204

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 4:55 PM

Nancy writes:
I want a group of new New Atheists (preferably not all white men) to represent me.

Bigot much?

#205

Posted by: Alyson Miers | August 27, 2009 4:57 PM

If the religious kept their religion off my body, out of public school curriculums and government institutions, didn't require it of political office holders and didn't use it to justify violent terroristic attacks, genital mutilation of children, execution for heresy and honor killings it would probably never occur to me to denigrate religion either.

Also, if they kept their religion out of our marriage laws, that would help us get along.

#206

Posted by: ereador | August 27, 2009 4:59 PM

Excellent post. I agree with the first part and disagree with the second part of the quotation (of the quotation):

"There is really no such thing as what you call 'the supremacy of the divine will,' because God doesn't 'exist' as an entity in the real world."
Gods do have a reality -- in the imaginations of humans (maybe others; who knows?) -- but that reality of course is imaginary. If I feel like it, I can entertain loving or wrathful, vengeful gods, or alien predators, or succubi, or vampires (I love vampires), or whatever. Shakespeare imagined wonderful stories about spectral beings and creatures of the wood, etc.


A college buddy of mine and I used to claim in jest that there were invisible lizards under the dorm-room beds. We knew they were there because they were invisible. If we had been able to see them, we would know they were not really there, because, obviously, you cannot see invisible lizards.


I find it hilarious and sad that people argue for the real existence of something by claiming that we can be confident of its existence apparently by virtue of its having no real existence.

#207

Posted by: Pablo | August 27, 2009 4:59 PM

Unless it's already been copyrighted by someone else, I'm going to call it the Humanist's Wager.

Don't know about that, but I have laid claim to Pablo's Wager:

If God exists, then he created me as a thinking, rational being. Meanwhile, God has not provided evidence for his existence. Therefore, in order to believe in him, I would have to resort to irrational faith, and not use my god-given gift of rational thought. However, not using the gift God gave me would be an affront to him, and a sin. Therefore, I conclude that, if God exists, it would be a sin for me to believe in him.

#208

Posted by: a different phil | August 27, 2009 5:01 PM

Pascal's wager is a let-down because it doesn't prove anything!

Sure it does. It proves that if you assume God exists, then you should bet that God exists.

#209

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 5:03 PM

Actually, the Pledge never made any sense in the first place.

I pledge allegiance,
to the bible,
of the United States of America,
and to the god,
for which it stands,
one nation,
under siege,
with piety,
and subjugation,
for all.

#210

Posted by: Chiroptera | August 27, 2009 5:04 PM

Marcus Ranum, #205: Bigot much?

Take it to the Ted Kennedy thread.

#211

Posted by: MadScientist | August 27, 2009 5:06 PM

Eagleton didn't ghostwrite the PZ chapter of "Unscientific America" did he?

I love the "you can't be moral without god" delusion. It just opens 'em wide open to this series of questions:

1. is murder good?
2. is rape good?
3. is stealing good?
4. so why did your god order his people to commit all those crimes multiple times in the bible?

#212

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 5:06 PM

CJO writes:
And Marcus (#191): what in my comment was so problematic that you say you "have no idea where people come up with such ideas"?

I'm only interested in defending ideas I offered, that's all I mean. Unless I came up with them, I have no idea where they came from and I treat them accordingly.

#213

Posted by: CJO | August 27, 2009 5:10 PM

Marcus,
Gotcha. myself, I'm defending others' ideas all the time. Your way does seem safer. Cheers.

#214

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 5:10 PM

Chiroptera writes:
Take it to the Ted Kennedy thread.

Pound sand.

#215

Posted by: Robocop | August 27, 2009 5:10 PM

191: "'ought to be courteous and civil to those who think otherwise' sounds more like appeal to fear of retaliation from those who who think otherwise."

Not to me. It sounds to me like the basis for religious freedom generally, which I grant includes a measure of your fear of retaliation, as well as a bit of Popper's principle of charity.

198: " However, if there is no God, or no afterlife, or God simply doesn't give a toss about whether we spend this life grovelling to Him, then we will definitely be wasting our lives in the here and now by worshipping something we cannot see outside of our own heads."

I don't see this statement and the offered #5 as being necessarily inconsistent. I don't see, for example, Martin Luther King's life as having been wasted.

#216

Posted by: Sastra | August 27, 2009 5:13 PM

GOD #199 wrote:

Faitheists. Yes, I am God and in my name you have been raging wars, mutilating your children, performing stupid rituals, whatsoever.

You're not God. If you were God, you would know that the term "faitheists" doesn't refer to religious people: it identifies those atheists who believe that faith deserves a special respect (faith + atheist.) Faitheists believe that religion-bashing, God-denying militants like Dawkins only hurt the cause of science, and make it harder for all atheists to be socially accepted (instead, one should presumably exhibit a theologically engaged atheism which resembles a disappointed belief.) Jerry Coyne had a contest on his website, and "faitheists" won.

See here, it's these subtle things that add up and disprove those God candidates, one by one.

#217

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 5:15 PM

Pound sand.

"This is sometimes used with the intention of meaning 'go and beat/whack sand' - with the back of a shovel or similar. That's not the original meaning though, as is made clear from the longer and less-often used version of the phrase - 'go pound sand up your ass'.

The phrase originated in the US and although common there, especially the midwest states, it isn't frequently heard in other countries.

The version 'go pound salt up your ass' is also sometimes used, presumably to heighten the image of discomfort."

I've just increased my insult vocabulary and gained a hearty chuckle at the same time. Thanks Marcus.

#218

Posted by: DominEditrix | August 27, 2009 5:15 PM

a theologically engaged atheism Satanism that resembles disappointed belief

There! Fixed!

Such atheism, only a semitone from faith, would be, like musical dissonance

In other words, only in need some delicate tuning to be returned to the fine musical tones of belief. Methinks he doesn't grasp the difference between "doubting" and "disbelieving".

sad that there is no god

I'm certainly not sad that the Xtian god of the OT doesn't exist. I think it would be much more happy-making if, say, Bacchus existed. [Absent, perhaps, the Bacchae - tearing random folk to pieces, not so happy-making.] I would definitely enjoy a muse or two, Eir would be useful, a random earth goddess or two...but I cannot fathom why anyone wants to believe in ol' Yahweh, what with the smiting and drowning and random destruction. [And forcibly impregnating young girls, let's not forget that.]

#219

Posted by: Robocop | August 27, 2009 5:17 PM

217: "See here, it's these subtle things that add up and disprove those God candidates, one by one."

Actually, God is subtler than you by at least half. Unless Coyne is God, his proferred definition needn't be followed. God is merely establishing, ever so subtly, that S/He, rather than Coyne, is in fact God.

#220

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 5:19 PM

Sastra opines:

...it identifies those atheists who believe that faith deserves a special respect (faith + atheist.)

Hmm. I thought they were called ass-clowns. My bad, I guess.

#221

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 5:19 PM

Robocop writes:
It sounds to me like the basis for religious freedom generally, which I grant includes a measure of your fear of retaliation, as well as a bit of Popper's principle of charity.

Certainly, if I believed in "freedom"s I'd be concerned with their basis, as you appear to be. However, I am not.

#222

Posted by: babel | August 27, 2009 5:23 PM

Hmm, I read the article and I really don't see a problem with what he is saying (aside from the obligatory cheap shots at Dawkins et al.).
If I understand it correctly, he is only saying that we should have more understanding for believers and that it would be nice if God existed, but unfortunately he doesn't. It's a valid point, whether we agree with his sentiment or not. And he is not a 'true believer' but an atheist and author of a pretty good novel called 'The Book against God.'


#223

Posted by: Tulse | August 27, 2009 5:27 PM

Unless it's already been copyrighted by someone else, I'm going to call it the Humanist's Wager.

I think Pratchett's Wager works better:

This is very similar to the suggestion put forward by the Quirmian philosopher Ventre, who said, "Possibly the gods exist, and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it's all true you'll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn't then you've lost nothing, right?" When he died he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said, "We're going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts..." -- (Terry Pratchett, Hogfather)
#224

Posted by: Drosera | August 27, 2009 5:28 PM

Carl @140,

You misunderstood my reference to cannibalism, which disappoints me from a sophisticated thinker like you. Never mind.

In your defense of theology you do make a valid point, which is that it can be useful to know what people believe, and how their beliefs arose. Not because the beliefs are in themselves particularly interesting, but because it can help to explain the actions of people who hold these beliefs. This kind of research comes very close to anthropology, psychology and history. It does not investigate the epistemological status of those beliefs. If you call this theology, then I will not say that it is worthless.

But you become completely incoherent, in my opinion, when you claim that is “just as reasonable to suppose biology cannot reach what is Truth as it is that theology cannot reach what is Truth also.” Truth? Truth about what? Do theologists set up experiments? Do they use mathematics? Or do they have other, possibly superior means to obtain data? What is more likely, that a biologist reaches the truth regarding a statement about the natural world — even if she wouldn’t know for sure that she actually reached the truth — or that a theologist reaches the truth about a metaphysical question? The theologist has, as far as I can tell, no way of knowing anything useful about his subject (which most likely does not even exist), so I would say that it is virtually impossible for him to hit upon the truth. My opinion about this kind of theology remains as before (#101).

#225

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 5:33 PM

Nancy writes: I want a group of new New Atheists (preferably not all white men) to represent me.

Bigot much?

Tell us, Marcus, why it's bigoted to wish that more women and people of color were public representatives of atheism.

#226

Posted by: Ichthyic | August 27, 2009 5:33 PM

But I guess it's hard to be humble when yer purrfict in e-ver-ree way.

there he goes again, king of the strawman army.

the very definition of Trolling.

I don't see this statement and the offered #5 as being necessarily inconsistent. I don't see, for example, Martin Luther King's life as having been wasted.

you REALLY need to learn to separate accomplishment from ideology.

really.

The moment you can show that his devotions to his idea of a deity moved a non-existent deity to effect accomplishment in his life, I'll start taking what you say seriously.

until then...

you're just deluding yourself.

someone above said something to the effect that one can both pray and rely on the pilot to land the plane safely.

which one of those two things is a waste of time, do you think?

#227

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 5:34 PM

Posted by: babel | August 27, 2009 5:23 PM

If I understand it correctly, he is only saying that we should have more understanding for believers and that it would be nice if God existed, but unfortunately he doesn't.

Those are the two points I disagree with him on.

#228

Posted by: GOD | August 27, 2009 5:36 PM

Frank #201

Go away! I'm doing the dishes.

#229

Posted by: Ichthyic | August 27, 2009 5:38 PM

This kind of research comes very close to anthropology, psychology and history. It does not investigate the epistemological status of those beliefs. If you call this theology, then I will not say that it is worthless.

However it's not theology, so don't confuse it.

That said, several prominent theologians have suggested that those who are involved in theology give it up in favor of migrating into the disciplines you just mentioned, where their skills would be of more use.

#230

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 5:41 PM

strange gods before me writes:
, why it's bigoted to wish that more women and people of color were public representatives of atheism.

Tell me why someone's color is relevant, and let's go from there.

#231

Posted by: Robocop | August 27, 2009 5:42 PM

227: "you REALLY need to learn to separate accomplishment from ideology.

"really."

Sure, Icky, but even a cursory reading of Dr. King's life and work establish unequivocally that he made no such separation and, in fact, saw each as necessarily connected to the other. His work was necessarily part of his worship. Thus the idea that following God (or one's idea of God) is necessarily wasteful can't withstand scrutiny.

#232

Posted by: HarmlessEccentric | August 27, 2009 5:46 PM

Dear Pharyngula:
I'm a Christian, but I don't mind if you're an atheist. It doesn't seem to be any business of mine. We can still be friends, and I still like reading your blog. Have a nice life.

Love,
The non-crazy kind of Christian. I wish there were more of us.

#233

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 5:48 PM

Tell me why someone's color is relevant, and let's go from there.

Maybe because atheists of color would like the general public to be more aware of their presence, and a well-known person of color in a public representative role like Dawkins' would help facilitate this awareness.

#234

Posted by: lose_the_woo | August 27, 2009 5:50 PM

OT

Gosh. More trouble for ID. Poor fellas.

#235

Posted by: amphiox | August 27, 2009 5:53 PM

Robocop #232:

But if King had not been indoctrinated into that particular faith earlier in his life, would he, or would he not, have still done the things he did, and found a different motivating factor? And would this alternate motivation have been even more effective and resulted in him accomplishing even greater things?

It is upon that unanswerable question that your argument hangs. And because it is an unanswerable question, your argument cannot stand.

#236

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 5:58 PM

But if King had not been indoctrinated into that particular faith earlier in his life, would he, or would he not, have still done the things he did, and found a different motivating factor? And would this alternate motivation have been even more effective and resulted in him accomplishing even greater things?

They're good questions, but there's also the issue of public perception. King was largely hated in his time, but where he was accepted it was partly due to his role as a minister of the general public's religion. Reaction to black Muslims was even more harsh, and if he'd been an atheist that just would have added strength to the claims that he was a communist.

#237

Posted by: Ichthyic | August 27, 2009 5:58 PM

Sure, Icky, but even a cursory reading of Dr. King's life and work establish unequivocally that he made no such separation

delusion isn't equable with being correct. There is no evidence that any amount of effort he put into praising his choice of deity had any external effect whatsoever. Exactly like a football player pointing at the sky after a touchdown certainly is delusional if they actually think "god" helped them score a touchdown. It's indeed a waste of time to think so.

you "ought" to learn that lesson.

Thus the idea that following God (or one's idea of God) is necessarily wasteful can't withstand scrutiny.

you mean, you're living in denial, since I just did, and hardly the first to do so.

Here's a different angle for you:

Would it be ANY different if I devoted a large portion of my life to painting underwater scenes, and said that scuba diving inspires me to do great works of art?

Unless there IS a distinction (there's not), then no, there is no unique aspect to religion that makes it any more beneficial or necessary than any other source of inspiration.

It's not that spending time constructing things that personally motivate is wasteful, what's wasteful is thinking that they have value above and beyond any other imagined source of inspiration.

So, constructing imaginary sources of inspiration? Well, if that's what floats yer boat. Trying to convince yourself and others that said imaginary deity is real, and that others could get wishes granted if they prayed hard too?

WASTE OF EVERYONE'S TIME.

speaking of people wasting everyone's time...

are you done yet?

because this is not the first time you've presented this line of "reasoning", and I'm not the first to shoot it down.

it is the last, though, for me, as you've become exceeding boring.

*plonk*

#238

Posted by: Peter G | August 27, 2009 6:01 PM

Carl@62 I can imagine no more futile an existence than a life spent studying theology unless it were a psychologist who spent his entire life cataloging every manner of delusion without ever looking for a pattern or a cure. Sisyphus had a cushier job.

#239

Posted by: Ichthyic | August 27, 2009 6:02 PM

if he'd been an atheist that just would have added strength to the claims that he was a communist.

so long as you're not implying that the religion itself had extrinsic value outside of political benefit.

...cause that's what Robo is trying to imply.

In other words, related to Robo's argument, yours is a bit of a red herring.

#240

Posted by: Katkinkate | August 27, 2009 6:03 PM

Posted by: MK @ 2 "Yay! First to comment at last. Great!!"

And yet, you didn't actually comment on the issue.

I think James is just being selfish. He wants the world to conform to his expectations, so hits out at all those who persist in not conforming. As if he's got some authority to dictate other's belief. Selfish and delusions of godly authority.

#241

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 6:05 PM

so long as you're not implying that the religion itself had extrinsic value outside of political benefit.

...cause that's what Robo is trying to imply.

In other words, related to Robo's argument, yours is a bit of a red herring.

Ah. Yes, it is a red herring then.

I don't doubt that there are some people who are motivated by the memes of their religion to do things they otherwise would not have done, and I don't doubt that the same is true of some humanists concerning the values of the Enlightenment. But there's no way of exploring alternate histories with any certitude.

#242

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 6:05 PM

strange gods before me writes:
Maybe because atheists of color would like the general public to be more aware of their presence, and a well-known person of color in a public representative role like Dawkins' would help facilitate this awareness.

So, are you saying their color is more important than their ideas? Personally, I suspect we're both on the same side of that particular ordering function, which is why I was rather surprised to see someone complaining (hypothetically) that Hitch isn't black enough.

#243

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 6:10 PM

So, are you saying their color is more important than their ideas?

No. And I fail to see how this is relevant to the fact that atheists of color might want more public recognition.

Personally, I suspect we're both on the same side of that particular ordering function, which is why I was rather surprised to see someone complaining (hypothetically) that Hitch isn't black enough.

No, the complaint was that "Hitchens is a gigantic douchebag."

#244

Posted by: Ichthyic | August 27, 2009 6:16 PM

So, are you saying their color is more important than their ideas?

I think he's simply saying diversity of representation carries weight in popular opinion.

#245

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 27, 2009 6:27 PM

Why should we act sad that God is dead? I don't get this kind of thinking at all. this is the 21st century, it's time to move on and work towards a philosophy befitting the science and ethics of our age. The problem as I see it is that so often we are perceived as replacing God with nothing, that the world is meant to me just how theists see it but without a God in it. And that to me is nonsense.

#246

Posted by: Sastra | August 27, 2009 6:29 PM

Robocop #220 wrote:

Actually, God is subtler than you by at least half. Unless Coyne is God, his proferred definition needn't be followed. God is merely establishing, ever so subtly, that S/He, rather than Coyne, is in fact God.

Ah, good catch.

Though, if this is His way of subtly establishing His dominion over vocabulary and therefore His godship, it would be even more subtle to pretend He must play along to Coyne's tune, thus making God subtler than me by at least a fourth. Unless, of course, God realized we would reason this way, and is being subtler than me by an eighth. Or, perhaps, less. And then again.

Maybe we should just quit with God as infinitely subtle.

#247

Posted by: TheVirginian | August 27, 2009 6:29 PM

@113 Alyson Miers:

You're correct that if theists believe what they say, then they are not liars. But when nontheists express disbelief, the perceptive theists interpret it at some level that we are calling them liars.

I think many critics of the "new (fundamentalist, militant, etc.) atheists" are angry precisely because they understand that they're being called liars, and are also intelligent enough or educated enough to understand the problems with theism, which is why their responses are often false or incoherent. They are knowingly arguing for something they don't really believe. In reading Eagleton's criticism of Dawkins, I kept asking: "How do you know that? How do you know that? How do you know that?" The answer is, he doesn't know anything about the "god" he's describing, he really is just making it up and must know that.

#248

Posted by: Your Name's Not Bruce? | August 27, 2009 6:32 PM

It's not that the emperor has no clothes; there is no emperor to wear all the fancy clothes of theology.

#249

Posted by: Robocop | August 27, 2009 6:35 PM

236: "It is upon that unanswerable question that your argument hangs. And because it is an unanswerable question, your argument cannot stand."

Nonsense. I'm prepared simply to take Dr. King at his word. That you won't is proof positive that your ideology prevents you from looking at this matter with any degree of rationality or objectivity.

238: "Would it be ANY different if I devoted a large portion of my life to painting underwater scenes, and said that scuba diving inspires me to do great works of art?"

In that case, it would be foolish to claim that scuba diving was necessarily a waste.

"because this is not the first time you've presented this line of 'reasoning', and I'm not the first to shoot it down.

"it is the last, though, for me, as you've become exceeding boring."

Promises, promises.

#250

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 6:35 PM

I fail to see how this is relevant to the fact that atheists of color might want more public recognition.

Hey, I'm not the one coupling the two. To me there's just plain old atheists. But if you think white supremacist atheist or atheists of color should go turning something that has nothing to do with "race" into a racial question, I think it's a strategic blunder.

#251

Posted by: Irene Delse | August 27, 2009 6:45 PM

Steve in MI #125: Yep, religious music was what put bread on J. S. Bach's plate (and his many children's plates) and he was well aware of it. For instance, though he was Lutheran, he could as well expand into Catholic masses when a Catholic prince was willing to pay.

#252

Posted by: kamaka | August 27, 2009 6:49 PM

Yep, religious music was what put bread on J. S. Bach's plate (and his many children's plates) and he was well aware of it.

And as I recall, he had problems with the churches hampering his creativity.

#253

Posted by: Peter G | August 27, 2009 6:51 PM

Kel,OM@246 Not quite dead. He's in somewhat frail health but still crotchety and he wants you to get off of his lawn.

#254

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 6:56 PM

Bigot much?

Bigot not at all - I didn't say NO white men, I said not ALL white men.

Unless you believe that all representative bodies must be exclusively composed of white men, what possible objection could you have to my preference?

#255

Posted by: 'Tis Himself, Quel Dommage Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 6:57 PM

Robocop #250

Nonsense. I'm prepared simply to take Dr. King at his word. That you won't is proof positive that your ideology prevents you from looking at this matter with any degree of rationality or objectivity.

Could Dr. King have been delusional? The fact that you insist that he was motivated by his religious beliefs and refuse to consider any other explanation prevents you from looking at this matter with any degree of rationality (which is expected of irrational goddists) or objectivity (also expected from irrational goddists).

#256

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 7:01 PM

Hey, I'm not the one coupling the two. To me there's just plain old atheists. But if you think white supremacist atheist or atheists of color should go turning something that has nothing to do with "race" into a racial question, I think it's a strategic blunder.

Whatever your ideas about strategy, you were wrong to call Nancy a bigot.

#257

Posted by: Carlie | August 27, 2009 7:04 PM

Tell us, Marcus, why it's bigoted to wish that more women and people of color were public representatives of atheism.

I think I can explain it. See, Marcus is one of those "post-racial" and "post-sexism" white guys. He doesn't see color, see? It doesn't matter a bit to him whether someone is black or white or a woman or a man. Why, he probably wouldn't mind a bit if there were a woman or a POC as one of the advocates of his own position. Although he probably hasn't ever actually seen that happen, he's pretty sure he wouldn't mind if there were one or two. Race and gender don't matter to him! He doesn't see any reason why they might have any bearing on other people, either, or why anyone else with a different life and history and culture and place in society might see things differently than he does. Therefore, women and POC ought to be perfectly happy with the situation as it is, because white guys can represent everyone just as well as anyone could, since we're all the same. Does that about cover it, Marcus?

#258

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 7:06 PM

Hitchens may be a douchebag, but he is a spectacularly brilliant, educated, sharp-witted and -- although you have to listen closely to him to realize this -- caring douchebag.

I'll give you educated. Now go and read this:

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2007/01/hitchens200701

And then tell me again how brilliant, sharp-witted and caring he is. He is a shameless media whore who shilled for Bush. And as the article demonstrates, he's a hack and a misogynist. And he couldn't even be bothered to tap into some evolutionary psychology explanation for why it's an adaptation that "Women Aren't Funny." It's just a rambling hideous mess, published, I suspect because the editors at Vanity Fair like to think of themselves as provocative.

Maybe he was brilliant 20 years ago - and feel free to share evidence - but he's a fucking joke now. He does not impress me in the least.

And sorry, I'm not so into the atheist brotherhood movement that any giant douchebag is MY douchebag, just because he's an atheist.

And hey, he completely flipped from left-wing to right-wing, with any luck he'll flip over to the faithiest side - if they offered him enough money, he might.

#259

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 7:07 PM

Nancy writes:
Unless you believe that all representative bodies

Were we under the mistaken impression that atheism has or should have a representative body?

must be exclusively composed of white men, what possible objection could you have to my preference?

I wouldn't object if you wanted a transexual white supremacist. But I might still wonder what skin color or gender had to do with you preference in atheists. As far as I can tell they are not connected except in the minds of racists or sexists.

#260

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 7:10 PM

Were we under the mistaken impression that atheism has or should have a representative body?

It's a fact that the mainstream media has decided the Four Horsemen are our representatives.

But I might still wonder what skin color or gender had to do with you preference in atheists. As far as I can tell they are not connected except in the minds of racists or sexists.

Are you still calling Nancy a racist and a sexist?

#261

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 7:12 PM

strange gods before me writes:
Whatever your ideas about strategy, you were wrong to call Nancy a bigot.

She played the race card. I didn't. Just because you can't defend it without performing amazing backflips of bullshit - as Lord John Whorfin says: s'notta my problem.

#262

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 7:13 PM

Unless you believe that all representative bodies

Were we under the mistaken impression that atheism has or should have a representative body?

Holy hopping Jesus on a pogo stick - did you bother to READ what I wrote about the "New Atheists" being considered a representative of atheists? And how I found that annoying?

I don't think it has a representative body - my point is I'm sick of religionists going on and on about two evolutionary psychologists, an anti-Islam bigot and a gigantic douchebag as if they are the last word in atheism. All they are is better publicized than other atheists.

So my point, which I can't believe I have to spell out, is that if there WAS a group that represented atheists, I'd prefer if it wasn't only white men. I almost said old white men, but Sam Harris is relatively young.

#263

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 7:17 PM

She played the race card.

What the fuck does that even mean?

I didn't. Just because you can't defend it without performing amazing backflips of bullshit - as Lord John Whorfin says: s'notta my problem.

So it's bullshit that atheists of color might want more public recognition. And if they do, then they're all bigots.

Are you an oppressed white man, Marcus?

#264

Posted by: Owlmirror | August 27, 2009 7:18 PM

Pascal's wager is a let-down because it doesn't prove anything!
Sure it does. It proves that if you assume God exists and cares enough about being believed in that he rewards believers eternally and punishes nonbelievers eternally, then you should bet that God exists.

Tweaked a bit.

#265

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 7:21 PM

She played the race card.

Apparently mentioning someone's ethnicity is "playing the race card."

You do realize that in the USA white men - especially older white men - STILL RUN EVERYTHING right?

So it's no surprise that the media's favorite atheist go-to guys are white men - most of them older.

I find the situation annoying. How is that playing the race card?

#266

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 7:21 PM

Nancy writes:
- did you bother to READ what I wrote about the "New Atheists" being considered a representative of atheists? And how I found that annoying?

Yep. Did you not then play the race card?

#267

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 7:24 PM

Yep. Did you not then play the race card?

Again, what the fuck does that even mean?

#268

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 7:24 PM

No, Marcus, you played the race card.

#269

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 7:26 PM

Apparently mentioning someone's ethnicity

I don't see what about someone's ethnicity or gender has to do with their atheism. You appear to. It wasn't me that raised it. Hey. I don't care what color or gender mr atheists are but you appear to. It's not something I have to defend.

#270

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 7:30 PM

It's not something I have to defend.

But calling someone a bigot for wanting more diverse representation is something you have to defend.

#271

Posted by: CJO | August 27, 2009 7:30 PM

two evolutionary psychologists

Not getting involved, but I'll simply point out that neither Dennett or Dawkins fits this description. Dawkins is a zoologist by training and Dennett is a philosopher/cognitive scientist.

Somewhat getting involved, how does Harris's criticism of Islam make him a bigot, whereas, say, our host's frequent denigration of Christianity not make him a bigot?

Fully agreed that Hitchens is a douchebag.

#272

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 7:33 PM

Not getting involved, but I'll simply point out that neither Dennett or Dawkins fits this description. Dawkins is a zoologist by training and Dennett is a philosopher/cognitive scientist.

And while I'm not so familiar with Dennett's work, Dawkins does not believe that very much of modern human behavior is genetically determined. He doesn't talk about it very often, but when he does, he attributes our morality and such to culture, not genetics. I can dig up a couple citations if anyone cares.

#273

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 7:35 PM

Well Marcus, I have a conference scheduled with my dining room table in a few, but I'll try, one more time.

The media, as strange gods rightly observed, has decided that "The Four Horsemen" (gag) are the official Voice of Atheism. With, it seems to me, the complete cooperation of the Horsemen.

It annoys me that atheism is represented by a group composed exclusively of white men. And really, it's the sexism that bothers me more, because while you could argue that whites make up a greater population than non-whites in the USA and England, and therefore it's just luck of the draw that all four are white men, females make up 50% of the population of the entire world.

But really - I should have waited until you answered strange gods appropriate question: what DO you mean by "playing the race card"?

#274

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 7:36 PM

strange gods before me writes:
Are you an oppressed white man, Marcus?

For all that "race" influences me, you may as well assume I'm a perl script.

I'm just looking for rationality and consistency wherever possible.

#275

Posted by: BlueMonday | August 27, 2009 7:38 PM

How 'bout the xians act sad that they believe in gawd? Funny how it never occurs to the godbothered that maybe, just maybe, their position is offensive to an atheist. Never occurs to them to shut down and keep their mouths closed in the presence of an atheist. Such a whiny, demanding majority.

Perhaps I'm just especially annoyed because I'm forced to be around xians all of the time now, and they have no qualms praying or quoting scriptures in front of me, but they flip shit if I mention anything at all about using reason and evidence to understand the world. Or if I mention evolution. So self-centered and hypocritical.

#276

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 7:43 PM

For all that "race" influences me, you may as well assume I'm a perl script.

Perhaps you should assume differently.

I'm just looking for rationality and consistency wherever possible.

And what's inconsistent about atheists of color wanting the general public to be aware of their presence?

#277

Posted by: RichardPrins | August 27, 2009 7:44 PM

Then again, Bach was also inspired by Pan and Phoebus, and some of his sacred works were re-workings of his earlier secular works, such as the one mentioned.

So much for divine inspiration. Unless we'd want to include those Greek/Pagan gods as well, which probably wouldn't go over that well with Christians such as this 'don'.

#278

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 7:47 PM

So you mean Dawkins changed his mind since he wrote this?

http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/clinton/sociobiology.html

But wait - doesn't Dawkins post here? I'll just ask him - did you change your mind, Richard Dawkins? Are you aware of the thorough debunking given to Napoleon Chagnon's Yanomamo-based theories by a variety of sources?

And while I'm at it - do you buy into the usual EP idea that men are much more interested in sexual variety than women are?

#279

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 7:50 PM

strange gods before me writes:
But calling someone a bigot for wanting more diverse representation is something you have to defend.

I seem to recall the complaint was about too much white male.

What about: From Nancy
(preferably not all white men)

is not racist and sexist? Again, I am not interested in detending this stated view any more than I would if the white aryan sisterhood said it.

It was not my mistake to link gender and skin color - atheism has/is neither. If you start saying crap about how atheism needs more spokespeople of color, you're offending Neil Tyson - which I would not presume to do - or gender - etc - like I said, it's nott'a my problem monkey (favorite-gender-pronoun).

If someone is "anounting" representatives of some movement then a) muahhahaa they are very mistaken and b) apparently they haven't talked to the political correctness police. Again. Not my problem: not my beliefs.

#280

Posted by: Smoggy Batzrubble OM4Jesus | August 27, 2009 7:50 PM

Dear Atheists,

Do not worry about what color or gender you are. Once you are screaming for eternity in the deepest, darkest depths of hell, with you skin charred to the crispiness of burnt turkey and demons violating your orifices indiscriminately, such distinctions will seem meaningless and trivial.

And be reassured, no matter how equal you might think we all are, even the Holy Trinity has learned that if you are not white then you are not right. Consider Jesus: he was born a Jewish man the Holy Land some 2000 years ago, which makes it quite likely that he wasn't much over five foot, his skin was likely quite swarthy, and he may have had distinctly middle-eastern features. Yet now he has marvelously changed (oops--I almost said 'evolved') into a 6'1" Aryan with blue eyes and all the physical presence of an androgynous East-European catwalk model. And how many times have you seen the Holy Spirit descending on anyone as a black dove?

Even God must have undergone a whitening and brightening (or else he had a divine case of chronic vitiligo like MJ). The clear evidence is that the earliest humans, the ones the Bible said were created in God's image, must have been exceedingly dark skinned. But thanks to the great artists of Europe and Answers in Genesis, visually interpreting the scriptures for us, God, Adam, Noah, Abraham and all the other Biblical blokes have developed uniformly light skins (and thanks to Hollywood they also speak English with a North American accent). As for women... well, just blame the snake for your wonderfully equal rights (the old patriarchal one-eyed-trouser-snake that is).

Yours in Sensitivity to Biblical Prejudice
Smoggy

#281

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 7:55 PM

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 7:50 PM

strange gods before me writes:
But calling someone a bigot for wanting more diverse representation is something you have to defend.

I seem to recall the complaint was about too much white male.

What about: From Nancy
(preferably not all white men)

is not racist and sexist?

I'll bold the part that gives it away:

(preferably not all white men)

#282

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 7:57 PM

strange gods before me writes:
Perhaps you should assume differently.

If my own internal states are inconstitent against my own measurements, then we've more more serious problems than either of us can resolve, no?

And what's inconsistent about atheists of color wanting the general public to be aware of their presence?

Nothing. It's not any more or less racist than if the white supremacist atheists wanted more public awareness. I didn't say it was "incomprehensible" only that it was "racist"

#283

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 7:59 PM

What about: From Nancy (preferably not all white men) is not racist and sexist?

No, it is not racist and sexist to want more women and people of color to be publicly represented.

How could it possibly be, Marcus?

It's starting to sound like Carlie was exactly right about you.

If you start saying crap about how atheism needs more spokespeople of color, you're offending Neil Tyson

Neil is not one of the New Atheists, in fact he is opposed to their approach and has argued against it in public debates. Nancy did clearly say she wanted "new New Atheists."

If someone is "anounting" representatives of some movement then a) muahhahaa they are very mistaken and

Do you deny that the mainstream media most often go to one of the Four Horsemen when they want to talk to an atheist? Do you deny that this is how most people in the general public get to hear the words of an atheist?

b) apparently they haven't talked to the political correctness police.

Oh, now women and people of color who want public recognition are thugs. Very good, Marcus. Very good.

Again. Not my problem: not my beliefs.

That you called Nancy a bigot is your problem, and you're going to have to start defending this belief.

Now explain yourself: what do you mean by "playing the race card?"

#284

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 7:59 PM

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 7:57 PM


If my own internal states are inconstitent against my own measurements, then we've more more serious problems than either of us can resolve, no?

No, that's about normal for humans.

#285

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 8:03 PM

And what's inconsistent about atheists of color wanting the general public to be aware of their presence?

Nothing. It's not any more or less racist than if the white supremacist atheists wanted more public awareness. I didn't say it was "incomprehensible" only that it was "racist"

So you are in fact claiming that people of color who want the public to be aware of them are equivalent to white supremacists.

Wow.

Wow, Marcus. What is wrong with you?

#286

Posted by: Paul | August 27, 2009 8:05 PM

Do you deny that the mainstream media most often go to one of the Four Horsemen when they want to talk to an atheist? Do you deny that this is how most people in the general public get to hear the words of an atheist?

Do you deny that there is a very good reason for this aside from gender/race reasons? Possibly that the four have written very widely read books? Why isn't the push at women and minority atheists to publish, instead of just sitting around bemoaning the fact that they are not among the sources cited for media?

I mean, it's not something I feel strongly about, but complaining about the prominence of white male atheists in the movement could very easily be seen as implicit racism/sexism unless the argument is that women and minority voices are being suppressed (as opposed to quiet or absent on a large scale). And that is a rather serious charge.

#287

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 8:07 PM

Anyway, here's why I am not really interested in trying to be more understanding of believers. I've been trying to understand my whole life. When I was seven years old I asked questions that I still haven't heard a satisfactory answers to. Some of those questions were similar to the ones Diagoras of Melos was reported to have asked in the fifth Century BC. After 32 years I'm out of patience. After 2400 years atheists as a whole are out of patience.

Unless you have some new reason to believe in your god that I haven't heard before, don't waste my time.

#288

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 8:10 PM

Paul, you have a point. Indeed, you touch on a much larger problem with the mainstream media: issues are only talked about if someone writes a book about one and goes on a promotion tour.

But, when someone reports on the "new atheists", they hardly ever call Julia Sweeney.

#289

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 8:14 PM

Somewhat getting involved, how does Harris's criticism of Islam make him a bigot, whereas, say, our host's frequent denigration of Christianity not make him a bigot?

The article in question is in the Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/losing-our-spines-http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/bombing-our-illusions_b_8615.html

Specifically:

So let us now make sense of the impossible by acknowledging the obvious: there is a direct link between the doctrine of Islam and Muslim terrorism. Acknowledging this link remains especially taboo among political liberals. While liberals are leery of religious fundamentalism in general, they consistently imagine that all religions at their core teach the same thing and teach it equally well. This is one of the many delusions borne of political correctness. Rather than continue to squander precious time, energy, and good will by denying the role that Islam now plays in perpetuating Muslim violence, we should urge Muslim communities in the West to reform the ideology of their religion. This will not be easy, as the Koran and hadith offer precious little basis for a Muslim Enlightenment, but it is necessary.

His argument that Islamic doctrine is the cause of Muslim terrorism is absurd. The god of the Old Testament was a mass-murdering slavery-loving monster - so you could say that any violence from the "people of the Book" is due to that.

The reason that there is violence from people in that region is NOT because they are Muslim - it's because the material conditions the people are living in are causing the desperation that makes fundamentalist craziness seem appealing. They just happen to be Muslim.

He elsewhere charges that Islam is responsible for lousy treatment of women - but lousy treatment of women is the standard throughout the world and has been forever - it isn't primarily Muslims, as far as I know, who are profiting from sexual slavery, and regions that practice other religions besides Islam are responsible for bride-burning.

As far as I know, PZ Meyers doesn't single out Christianity as the most evil religion. All religious tenets are objectionable for the same reason. Harris's commentary is much more about politics than promoting rational thought.

#290

Posted by: 'Tis Himself, Quel Dommage Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 8:16 PM

You do realize that in the USA white men - especially older white men - STILL RUN EVERYTHING right?

Speaking as an older, white man with extensive connections in finance, government and business, I have to agree with this statement. The glass ceiling is a real phenomenon.

I can certainly understand why Nancy would wish that other groups besides older white men be representatives of atheism. One of the reasons for the popularity of Neil DeGrasse Tyson as a science speaker is that he's a non-white scientist. Having women and non-whites being more prominent in atheism could only be a benefit. Yes, there are reasonably well known atheist women (Eugenie Scott comes immediately to mind) but not many. I don't know of any atheist people of color, certainly not any prominent ones.

#291

Posted by: Carlie | August 27, 2009 8:22 PM

Why isn't the push at women and minority atheists to publish, instead of just sitting around bemoaning the fact that they are not among the sources cited for media?

That would be nice, too, but there are a number of prominent women atheists and skeptics who have done quite a lot, thank you very much, but still do not get much media attention. I believe this exact discussion happened on a post about speakers at TAM; there were a lot of successful, prominent women authors and leaders of skeptical and atheist organizations listed and linked to there. Part of it is inertia; when there is one name people in the media know and have the phone number in their Rolodex, why bother finding and hunting down someone else? But the point, for people like Marcus to understand, is that it's easier to identify with a movement if you know that someone speaking about it is doing so from a place and life that you can also identify with. White males don't have to ever even think about that; it's always theirs by default.

#292

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 8:23 PM

They just happen to be Muslim.

Nancy, this ignores the specific teachings and practices of several extreme sects of Islam, the Wahhabi school in particular. The Taliban aren't sexist patriarchs who just happened to be Muslim. They use a sexist religious tradition to justify a extremely sexist social practices.

Where I disagree with Hitchens is in how likely an Enlightenment-style reform of Islam is possible. As we have seen with Judaism and Christianity, people can radically change what they think their religion says. I think Muslims could do the same thing, and many already have. But the traditions of sexism and religiously-justified violence have a long history and are still strong.

And they can also change back, as we have seen with some Christian and Jewish sects, which is why I advocate abandoning faith-based modes of thinking entirely.

#293

Posted by: Sean Micheal | August 27, 2009 8:27 PM

Paul:

I don't speak for Nancy, but I think that basically is what she's asking for: For more women and people who aren't white to speak out and write about atheism vocally and being critical of religion, so that as a result of that, the media coverage of them can be more common.

#294

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 8:45 PM

It's starting to sound like Carlie was exactly right about you.

Well, if you want to shoehorn a bunch of thinking into a fine point, sure - yeah - I think that, ultimately, if we argue about how to accomplish some kind of balance about "race" (which is a fiction) and gender (which is a set of tradeoffs then you're trying to do something that's ultimately very silly. Social equality would be a more worthwhile but equally fruitless tilting-post. But - no - by shrieking and yelling about representation, fairness is never going to be achieved. I'm sorry your dearly-held illusions make you wish that, but, well, santa-claus isn't real either. You probably hated the nasty person who broke that little bit of bad news to you, too.

strange gods before me writes
, it is not racist and sexist to want more women and people of color to be publicly represented.

I love your creo-style argument through vigorous assertion. Did you get that from the priceless buddhist palm kung fu guide? What about treating people differently based on race isn't "racism" ?? I'm just asking? I mean, it's the fucking definition of "racism" for crying out loud!! Bring any other single criterion - whether someone speaks well, writes well, owns a blog, is a jerk - whatever - any other criteria than race and it's not racism. Fine. But if you're saying race is your criteria (I don't even really know what "race" is but it's not my problem) for atheists then what, other than race, is your criteria?

Wanna talk about the "biggest assholes in atheism"? We can argue.
Wanna talk about "atheists that can't hold their liquor?" Another topic?
Wanna talk about "atheists with penises" FAIL
Wanna talk about "atheists with blond hair"? FAIL

The reason some people have been fighting racism is because there is no connection between your IQ and your skin color. Or whether you're an atheist and a male. Or white. Or whatever. If you want to say someone isn't as good an atheist because they're a male (or whatever) then, if you're leaning on arguments based on the status quo or demograpghics/representational democracy you can line up over there with all the other clowns who've ever rigged an election.

Neil is not one of the New Atheists

Whatever. I had no idea what Neil looked like until I met him in Las Vegas last year. Have you been judging him for how he looks? I sure don't, and never have.

It's a stupid issue, anyhow. I'm not the one saying that someone's gender or skin color has anything to do with whether I want them to be a "spokesperson" selected by the media as a stereotypical atheist. But wouldn't a few people here be screaming if someone had made equally sexist/racist comments going in another direction?

Do you deny that the mainstream media most often go to one of the Four Horsemen when they want to talk to an atheist?

What the media does is outside of my control; if it were within my control, we would be having a very different conversation.

Oh, now women and people of color who want public recognition are thugs.


It's always in the details, isn't it? Ultimately, I don't think there's any such thing as "public recognition" and neither, I suspect, do you - if you look at it closely enough. There's power and influence. And there's social equality. What's it based on? Do you want to base your social equality on economic fairness, or what? Again, I am not the one here advocating a gender-biased or race-biased view of atheism.

But if you'd climb down off your high horse for a second, maybe you can offer some proposals for how you'd correct this inequality among atheist spokespeople. We've seen Nancy's view that white males are overrrepresnted. What about ex-hindoos? Or ex-muslims? How about something fucking relevant to atheism not skin color or gender Oh, no, you'd rather daemonize Marcus.

Now explain yourself: what do you mean by "playing the race card?"

Bringing the fictitious construct of "race" into a forum where it was irrelevant.

Before the question was raised about the "four horsemen" being too male and too white - was it a question?

Personally, I think it's a stupid question. But - again - it was not me that raised it, nor is it me that's rushing to its defense.

#295

Posted by: Alyson Miers | August 27, 2009 8:49 PM

as Lord John Whorfin says: s'notta my problem.

Here's the problem I'm seeing: No one had any problem with Nancy's remark except for you. You're the only one here accusing Nancy of being racist and/or sexist for saying she'd like to see some diversity in the visible leaders of the godless movement. It is because of your objections that this thread has been hijacked into a discussion of the significance of diversity. Which means if it's not your problem, then stop beating that horse. You've made it your problem.

#296

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 8:53 PM

For more women and people who aren't white to speak out and write about atheism vocally and being critical of religion, so that as a result of that, the media coverage of them can be more common.

I'm hugely in favor of that!! If any good come out of this, maybe a small army of (simply to invert Nancy's critera:) nonwhite nonmales will run out and start attacking religion, writing, doing science and manipulating the media to improve their coverage.

This is what chaps my ass, personally, about this. The probelem is not Hitch and Dawk and PZ and so forth - it's that the media need to be more effectively "played." Feel the media isn't treating you right? Hint: complaining works less than getting inside and learning how to manipulate the message. Disimpowerment is a strategic problem not a tactical problem and if all you can do is kick about the situations that represent tactical reality there's a word for you: loser in the big game.

#297

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 8:54 PM

Thanks all for your supporting statements.

Marcus - I have nothing against individual white men. My dad was a white man - an older white man even. My three brothers are white men. My ex-husband is a white man. There are many admirable white men. They are capable of great things.

But they've been running everything in this country for too long. Even now, in spite of our first President who is not entirely white.

And yeah - JULIA SWEENEY? How great a representative for atheism is SHE?

Katha Pollitt is a huge atheist - and a much better writer than Hitchens - and they both had columns (she still does) at The Nation.

Kathy Griffin. Janeane Garafolo, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bjork, Natalie Angier, Sarah Vowell - all atheists.

#298

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 8:55 PM

I mean, it's not something I feel strongly about, but complaining about the prominence of white male atheists in the movement could very easily be seen as implicit racism/sexism

Half the people in the world are women. It is not sexist to wish that a roughly proportionate number of atheist women get into the media spotlight. It is not racist to wish that whatever a particular nation's demographics, may be, a roughly proportionate number of atheists of color get into the media spotlight.

unless the argument is that women and minority voices are being suppressed (as opposed to quiet or absent on a large scale). And that is a rather serious charge.

The publishing industry is already aware of its racial problems, and some publicists are trying to address those problems. That's a good start, but it's not done yet.

There have been lots of discussions on ScienceBlogs about the biases that women face in scientific academia. While I agree that these are serious charges, they are not new, they are not unknown, and they are well documented.

Anyway, off the top of my head without clicking Carlie's link yet, Susan Blackmore is a published New Atheist. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a published New Atheist of color; though she is extremely reactionary and I personally would not want to hear more from her, her views ought to have public consideration. Both are fairly well known within atheist circles, but not in the public at large. It seems they have been relegated to niche status by the media.

#299

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 9:01 PM

Alyson Miers writes:
No one had any problem with Nancy's remark except for you.

Then I'm easy to dismiss as a lunatic and you can carry on with complete moral certitude.

#300

Posted by: Piltdown Man | August 27, 2009 9:06 PM

The Goldilocks of the 21st century are going to eat all your porridge, romp on your furniture, and turn all three of you out of the house to live in a nice wildlife preserve, where you belong. Won't that be lovely? Try not to eat each other, but don't expect the humans to think you are members of modern civilization.


You know, I'm sure I once read a story about bears and children in some old book ...

#301

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 9:20 PM

No one had any problem with Nancy's remark except for you.

Then I'm easy to dismiss as a lunatic and you can carry on with complete moral certitude.

Actually, this is a novel sensation for me - I'm not used to being agreed with by so many other commenters - clearly I've been hanging out on the wrong blogs.

Marcus, you are easy to dismiss because you haven't explained what you mean by "race card." And as far as I can tell you are not entirely sure, yourself, and painted yourself into a rhetorical corner.

Maybe it's time to reconsider your initial apparent belief that my comment about white men was a sign that I am a racist.

#302

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 9:20 PM

But - no - by shrieking and yelling about representation, fairness is never going to be achieved.

This amounts to saying that being aware of a problem is not one of the steps toward fixing the problem.

What about treating people differently based on race isn't "racism" ??

People of color are already treated differently by the publishing industry. Wanting this to end is not racism.

If you want to say someone isn't as good an atheist because they're a male (or whatever)

No one has said this. You keep bringing it up like someone said it, but no one said it.

Whatever. I had no idea what Neil looked like until I met him in Las Vegas last year. Have you been judging him for how he looks?

What the fuck are you talking about?

What the media does is outside of my control; if it were within my control, we would be having a very different conversation.

You said that there are no such thing as representatives of atheism. I pointed out that there are; the Four Horsemen are. For you to reply "it's out of my control" is a non sequitur. What's in your control or not is completely irrelevant to the fact. Quit bringing up red herrings.

How about something fucking relevant to atheism not skin color or gender

Skin color and gender are relevant to the atheist movement. So is whether or not someone is a sports fan, or an ex-Muslim, or a volunteer at a soup kitchen.

If we want all sorts of ordinary people to feel welcome identifying as atheists, so that we can have the largest effective movement we possibly can, then we have to have all sorts of people represented in the public spotlight.

Oh, no, you'd rather daemonize Marcus.

You demonized yourself when you said that people of color who want to see people like themselves in public roles are equivalent to white supremacists.

#303

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 9:22 PM

Thank you, Nancy, for finally offering us a roster of ethnically diverse gender-neutral non-white-male role models as atheists.

And they are great. Especially Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Why isn't she one of the horsemen or atheism?

In fact I have heard Hitch speak highly of her many times (and Dawkins, too). Why aren't her constitutuents doing what they can to get her in front of microphones more often? Let's hereby encourage PZ to talk her up! What about Dawkins, too? Why is that cheap gladhanding conman Gatzo and that psychotic masochist Bojaxhiu getting Nobel prizes \

In. fact. if. you had left "race" and gender issues out of it, I'd heve been all aboard with you all along. And I suspect that PZ, Dawkins, and the other "horseppl" would, too.

#304

Posted by: Ichthyic | August 27, 2009 9:23 PM

You know, I'm sure I once read a story about bears and children in some old book ...

I know the exact book you mean:

2 Kings 2:24 (New International Version):

24 "He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths."

I'm sure Pilty would love to call on bears to eat us all.

You're just not praying HARD enough, Pilty.

#305

Posted by: Nerd of Redhead, OM Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 9:25 PM

You're just not praying HARD enough, Pilty.
Yep, if he is posting here, he definitely isn't praying hard enough.
#306

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 9:28 PM

Now explain yourself: what do you mean by "playing the race card?"

Bringing the fictitious construct of "race" into a forum where it was irrelevant

So you think that mentioning skin color is by definition racism.


Marcus, people of color do have to think about these issues, even if you don't. They do have to worry that their children don't see enough scientists on TV who look like them. If children of color grow up seeing only white scientists, then they can learn to believe that science is not a career path that is available to them. The same applies to little girls seeing women who are scientists.

Tell me, is wanting a child to have big dreams equivalent to white supremacy?

#307

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 9:31 PM

In. fact. if. you had left "race" and gender issues out of it, I'd heve been all aboard with you all along.

Yes, because the most important thing in any discussion is to make sure that insecure white men don't feel uncomfortable.

#308

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 9:35 PM

Thank you, Nancy, for finally offering us a roster of ethnically diverse gender-neutral non-white-male role models as atheists.

Did "we" ask for a roster? I missed that.

In any case, the list I gave was female but alas, all white. Even Bjork.

(wait - she's from Iceland - maybe they are the whitest?)


#309

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 10:02 PM

@192 Pablo

Most of my CCD teachers, except for the evil Sister Monice in 2nd grade (she really is evil!!) were just parents. The one I'm referring to actually said after some questioning that she thought Pascal and maybe Descartes had proved God's existence or something like that. (Descartes couldn't prove his own existence, but whatever.) I'm not sure if she was able to recount what Pascal's wager was until the next week! She definitely identified it as Pascal's, though.

Those are the special details they make sure to teach you in Catholic high school, I suppose. What a shame my parents couldn't afford it and I was forced to go public.

Best memory from CCD is pissing off Evil Sister Monice when I was 7. My real 2nd grade teacher (one of the Old School) had just taught us how to do quote marks (66/99), so I officiously pointed out to the Evil Witch that her quote marks were sloppy. She bitched me out but good, but who's laughing now? HahahHAHAHAHAHAHhahhahahah! Hope you enjoy all that sand in your vagina!

#310

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 10:03 PM

strange gods before me writes:
This amounts to saying that being aware of a problem is not one of the steps toward fixing the problem

This is going waaaaaay OT but it's actually pretty cool. What you've hit upon is the reason why there are these huge trouble spots in human history, where people refuse to "see rationality" - nobody is willing to accept that there's a "level playing field" that can ever be reached because all the parties involved in negotiation expect either reparations/war debt and it'd this insanely complex balance that is very hard to achieve. (I had some experience with this, once buying tequila shots in Dubrovnik at a table with an ethnic Serb, a Montenegran, a Pole, a Russian, and a US Marine) Social equality, eventually, becomes a question of when reparations get abandoned. This is just reality.

Marcus, you are easy to dismiss because you haven't explained what you mean by "race card."

I apologize to many of pharylgula's followers like yourself who can't read. I have been quite clear. I used the term 'race card' to describe bringing race/gender politics into areas where I think it's pretty clear the race/gender of an individual has little effect. Saying that one wishes that more prominent atheists were not white, and male, is - well, it shocked me. I'd have been as shocked it someone offered any other racial or gender-specific filter for who might be prominent atheists. You would, too, if you had any intellectual honesty, I expect.

You said that there are no such thing as representatives of atheism. I pointed out that there are; the Four Horsemen are. For you to reply "it's out of my control" is a non sequitur. What's in your control or not is completely irrelevant to the fact.

Oh, that makes perfect sense, then. Someone complained about something I have no control over, I shouted, "bullshit" and there was some muttering.

If we want all sorts of ordinary people to feel welcome identifying as atheists, so that we can have the largest effective movement we possibly can, then we have to have all sorts of people represented in the public spotlight.

(eyeroll)
OOooOOOooh, then why didn't you just say you were more interested in perception rather than reality? That's OK, then. But, then you should go work for the media, where Nancy is talking about. And then you can deal with media reality and goodness knows, media reality is - whatever.

Seriously, though - follow your own argument through. Then that means we should get rid of that beard on PZ - it's so un-photogenic. And let's lose Hitch he's a boozer; replace him with a vegan from Tibet. Definitely plug in Hirsii Ali and maybe, well, Dawk's no Darwin, is he? We need more women - what would you think of maybe having Hillary Clinton as the new face of atheism?

#311

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 10:07 PM

So you think that mentioning skin color is by definition racism.

In context where it has nothing to do with a person's abilities, yeah. Hello? Like: whether they can play basketball or not believe in god?

#312

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 10:07 PM

@194

What I found most annoying about the article is a reminder that Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are now the popes of atheism as far as the believers are concerned.

Yeah, what about The Infidel Guy? He's been doing this for years! All guts, no glory.

(I guess he should write a book.)

#313

Posted by: Caravaggio | August 27, 2009 10:08 PM

Yes, yes, James Woods's piece in the NY-er should infuriate all atheists--just as Robert Wright's dunderheaded piece in last Sunday's NY Times was the same "atheists are fundamentalists" drivel too. Is anyone else sick and tired of these people--who have no arguments of their own--seeking to position themselves as temperate (and somehow smarter) because they criticize "both sides" of the science/religion feud? To see otherwise rational people, like James Wood, exhibit this kind of junk is truly troubling. PZ's rebuttal is spot-on.

#314

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 10:13 PM

Social equality, eventually, becomes a question of when reparations get abandoned.

Who brought up reparations? Keep going though dude, I am about to win White Insecurity Bingo.

OOooOOOooh, then why didn't you just say you were more interested in perception rather than reality?

Marcus, the discussion from the beginning has been about the New Atheists in the media. This was obvious since Nancy's original post. For you to suddenly act like you're just now realizing what we're talking about is dishonest. It's pretty clear that you're trying to back away from your outrageous statements about people of color being equivalent to white supremacists, without actually acknowledging that what you said was wrong.


Again, Marcus, people of color do have to think about these issues, even if you don't. They do have to worry that their children don't see enough scientists on TV who look like them. If children of color grow up seeing only white scientists, then they can learn to believe that science is not a career path that is available to them. The same applies to little girls seeing women who are scientists.

Tell me, is wanting a child to have big dreams equivalent to white supremacy?

#315

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 10:15 PM

@208

if you assume god exists, you should bet god exists

Yeah, but you have to die to collect!

#316

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 10:16 PM

So you think that mentioning skin color is by definition racism.

In context where it has nothing to do with a person's abilities, yeah. Hello? Like: whether they can play basketball or not believe in god?

Then you do in fact believe that parents who want their children to see people of color on TV are racists and just like white supremacists.

Just wanted you to make that clear.

You are a nut.

#317

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 10:17 PM

stange gods before me writes:
people of color do have to think about these issues, even if you don't. They do have to worry that their children don't see enough scientists on TV who look like them.

When have I ever said that social equality was not a worthwhile goal? I just don't think halfassed patzers like you are going to achieve it, nor would you know it it if 10,000lbs of it was dropped on your foot. If you or Nancy were making arguments that the representation of atheists in popular media could be improved by the positive addition of female role models like Bjork and Aayaan Hirsi Ali, I've missed it.

#318

Posted by: Carlie | August 27, 2009 10:20 PM

Saying that one wishes that more prominent atheists were not white, and male, is - well, it shocked me.

That's because if you are, as it seems to be, a white male, that's just normal for you. That's one of the concepts behind the idea of invisible privilege - it shocked you because you've never had to think about it before, because they all have always looked just like you. Let's say you're an accountant, just for the sake of argument. Are you honestly saying that if every other accountant you ever met, every accountant ever shown as a character on a tv show, every other student in your accounting classes in college, every accountant interviewed on the news or writing an article in the papers were black, you wouldn't feel just a tad bit out of place being an accountant?

#319

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 10:21 PM

strange gods - did he mention "political correctness" yet?

#320

Posted by: The Silent Moose of Doom Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 10:21 PM

I got to 'Lordly wang' and choked.

(On my coffee, thanks very much.)

#321

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 10:30 PM

When have I ever said that social equality was not a worthwhile goal?

When you said that wanting to see more atheists of color was equivalent to white supremacy:

And what's inconsistent about atheists of color wanting the general public to be aware of their presence?

Nothing. It's not any more or less racist than if the white supremacist atheists wanted more public awareness. I didn't say it was "incomprehensible" only that it was "racist"

#322

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 10:31 PM

I apologize to many of pharylgula's followers like yourself who can't read. I have been quite clear. I used the term 'race card' to describe bringing race/gender politics into areas where I think it's pretty clear the race/gender of an individual has little effect.

Well I thought we were going to be agreeable - but thanks to that "can't read" crack I guess you need a smack down.

I used the term 'race card' to describe bringing race/gender politics

Really? Race card = race AND gender politics? Is this some kind of right-wing code? Because normally, not being clairvoyant, I would not have known that you were including gender in with race when you only mentioned race.

Don't right-wingers have a term to describe race and gender politics that includes a reference to both race AND gender?

#323

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 27, 2009 10:33 PM

I'm getting sick of this straw man that keeps popping up that we are rejecting the fundamentalist notions of God, it's nonsense. For myself personally, I grew up around a liberal Christian protestant notion of God. The two options presented: the fundamentalist God or the nebulous god of the philosophers were oddities to me.

This moderate version of God is just as absurd as the fundamentalist version, just as other gods from other cultures are just as absurd. Theism is an vacuous position, intellectually indefensible and justified on what is the scourge of reason - faith.

Of course if you think I'm wrong, you can present evidence to demonstrate so. But until there's sufficient evidence, I'm sticking to the null hypothesis.

#324

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 10:34 PM

@250

Hey, I'm not the one coupling the two. To me there's just plain old atheists. But if you think white supremacist atheist or atheists of color should go turning something that has nothing to do with "race" into a racial question, I think it's a strategic blunder.

1. The most charitable interpretation is that you misspoke...

"white supremacist or [person] of color"--?

Why did you use an appositive construction here?

2. I disagree about strategy. In the US the African-American community is pretty badly godsoaked. (Since the largest Black population centers are in the South, this may be as much geography as anything else.) As a matter of strategy, especially when we're talking about matters of public policy being meddled with by religionists, it may be both crassly useful and for those who are atheist and live within that community (with all their godbothering relatives) genuinely uplifting to have nationally prominent, atheist, African-American voices.

3. These voices do exist (heard of YouTube?), starting with Reggie Finley, who's been broadcasting since 1999. Can a brother get a little recognition up in here?

#325

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 10:35 PM

If you or Nancy were making arguments that the representation of atheists in popular media could be improved by the positive addition of female role models like Bjork and Aayaan Hirsi Ali, I've missed it.

I hate to break this to you, Marcus, but if Ayaan Hirsi Ali were one of the major faces of the New Atheists, then Nancy's request for "a group of new New Atheists (preferably not all white men)" would come true.

And yet you called her a bigot for even bringing up such a thing.

Really, what the hell is wrong with you?


strange gods - did he mention "political correctness" yet?

Of course he did, Nancy. Of course. Was that your Bingo?

#326

Posted by: Pablo | August 27, 2009 10:36 PM

Those are the special details they make sure to teach you in Catholic high school, I suppose. What a shame my parents couldn't afford it and I was forced to go public.

I guess it must be in high school, but I only went to catholic school through grade 8. The concept of CCD in 2nd grade doesn't compute with me.

My second grade was taught by big old Sister Claire Marie, the most evil witch ever. Most are shocked to hear of the abuse that we endured, both mental and physical. I tell my students and TAs, one thing I learned from catholic grade school is that hitting and humiliation is not a good approach for teaching penmanship. I learned that at the hand and mouth of Sister Claire. She liked to slap us upside the back of the head. She would use whatever was in her hand as a weapon, like a ruler or the handle of a scissors. If her hand was empty, she'd just turn her big-ass nun ring around and use the stone. She would hit you if you did something really bad, like color outside the lines in art, or go above or below the lines on the writing paper, or have a mis-shaped cursive G in penmanship.

Then, after hitting you, she'd taunt you. "Oh, poor baby, are you going to cry now?" (we were in second fucking grade and getting beaten by a fat ass 50 year old nun - you damn right I cried)

Interesting, I was listening to one of shows about childhood medicine on Dr Radio this summer and they were talking about some of the characteristics of bullies. Pretty sad that I recognized them in the nun that was my second grade teacher.

#327

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 10:36 PM

Saying that one wishes that more prominent atheists were not white, and male, is - well, it shocked me.

Hm - who said that? Because I sure never said I wished more prominent atheists were not white and male. Maybe your "can't read" crack was projection?

What I said was that I wanted a group of new New Atheists - that is, the go-to group for *believers* who wanted to talk about atheists - that was not exclusively white male.

Do you understand the difference? Or shall I break it down further?

#328

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 10:37 PM

strange gods - did he mention "political correctness" yet?

Of course he did, Nancy. Of course. Was that your Bingo?


BINGO!!!!!

#329

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 10:37 PM

And hey, he completely flipped from left-wing to right-wing, with any luck he'll flip over to the faithiest side - if they offered him enough money, he might.

Oh, so that IS the same Christopher Hitchens who left the far-left for the right-wing in a giant cloud of spleen! I'd been wondering about that!

#330

Posted by: AJ Milne | August 27, 2009 10:39 PM

It doth continue to amuse me how the remaining defense of religion is now (and still) 'oh... but, the notions of god they're criticizing are so beside the point when it comes to me... see, my belief is different as follows...'

And ah yes, dear James, yours is so much better... I see that now... such a nice, middle of the road obnoxious stupidity you've got going there... (Pats his head...) There there... Ver' nice... So very... Umm... Different. Really. Yeah. So substantively so. Seriously. Putting it right there in the middle between those two other well-profiled and deservedly ridiculed banal embarrassments to the human intellect makes all the logical difference in the world. Clearly. I mean, obviously the pure white invisible unicorn is utterly nutty, and the deep red one, that's just insane... but what if it were pink...

Well, of course... That, I buy. It must be pink. So your unicorn gets a pass, guy... And ain't you brilliant...

As if. And speaking of obnoxious, it doth likewise amuse me how every single one of these guys is so full of helpful advice for and ever so unpresumptuous requests of those callin' 'em out on their BS, too... 'See, what we need from you is...'

James, ye blithery twat, and all of your dotty, whiny, demented ilk, just so we're perfectly clear: I don't give a mangy, rotted rat's ass what you claim you think you 'need' from me...

But seein' as apparently you feel this is the time and place for such requests of each other, what I need from you is for you to stop blowing these immense, windy, revoltingly rank clouds of pious smoke out of yer ass. Now.

Failing that, shut it entirely...

No, seriously. Shut. It. You talk too much, say too little. Common failing of your type, I've noted. So until you're up to talking sense, do please save us all a bit of time, save us all a lot of unneeded heat in the atmosphere, and zip it completely. And thank you kindly.

#331

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 10:41 PM

@274

For all that "race" influences me, you may as well assume I'm a perl script.

You see, Marcus doesn't see race. Because he's colorblind.

Therefore, it's impossible for him to experience racial privilege. Whew, what a relief.

#332

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 10:42 PM

strange gods before me writes:
Who brought up reparations?

Sorry... back away from your preconceptions. I was thinking about innumerable "irreducible" conflicts in human history. As I referred to, the apparent intractability of Balkan peace bears similar problems to the amerindian/american arab/israeli european/american african/american etc etc - ultimately it is impossible to make everyone happy anymore. OK? Consider that as your starting point for discussion and you can join the grow-ups at the big table. The bad news is that nobody gets their 40 acres and a mule. The good news is that the holy jewish empire won't happen unless the republicans get back in power. My Irish immigrant ancestors who dug the railways didn't get jack and my Norwegian immigrant ancestors started 3M and did OK and if there's a moral there I think most of us can agree that it was better to be a colonial power than to be the subjects of one, OK?

Marcus, the discussion from the beginning has been about the New Atheists in the media.

Good attempt to shift the goal-posts. The whole topic everyone's been jumping up and down about, with respect to me, has been my calling "foul" on someone's comment that it'd be nice if there were more women and colored among the "atheist horsemen." A view I still have not heard you explicitly come out and said you support. Do you? Do you think that, for example, some atheist spokesperson isn't as good because of their gender and skin color? Can you answer a direct question?

Again, Marcus, people of color do have to think about these issues, even if you don't. They do have to worry that their children don't see enough scientists on TV who look like them. If children of color grow up seeing only white scientists, then they can learn to believe that science is not a career path that is available to them. The same applies to little girls seeing women who are scientists

Nice moving the goal-posts, again. Are you saying that they need to see atheists that are their own skin color, in order to take them seriously? Is that the most patronizing victorian nonsense I have ever heard?

For f()Q&$)!&*!'s sake!!

#333

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 10:45 PM

@286

I agree with you, Paul. Which is why I was going to just ignore Nancy's comment until Marcus stepped in it.

Reggie Finley was out there before Sam Harris, but Harris wrote a book.

And the press does call Eugenie Scott all the time, but AFAIK she isn't a "New" Atheist.

#334

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 10:51 PM

Nancy writes:
I wished more prominent atheists were not white and male.

Yep. And I reacted exactly the same way I would have if you'd said "I wish we didn't have so many (pick favorite group) or {pick favorite gender)." It shocked me, but apparently you think it's OK. In a couple hundred years I hope your view is in the minority, if human societies can achieve some degree of social equality. (I doubt they will, we have thousands of years of "tit for tat" to work through)

#335

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 10:54 PM

Are you honestly saying that if every other accountant you ever met, every accountant ever shown as a character on a tv show, every other student in your accounting classes in college, every accountant interviewed on the news or writing an article in the papers were black, you wouldn't feel just a tad bit out of place being an accountant?

Or to take a more concrete example, the only heterosexual guy at the Catholic seminary? *grin*

Btw, I can affirm what the others were saying--it was very disinheartening to me as a child to see the bespectacled, red-headed boy as the picture of a science nerd EVERY SINGLE TIME, even on the damn chemistry set box. It made me feel excluded and unwelcome. Eventually I landed in college and was shocked when my professors actually encouraged me instead of telling me I should quit Physics because my grades sucked (=not all A's) and I wasn't cut out for it (=not the top of my class). After years of invisibility, I was expecting discrimination.

#336

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 10:59 PM

I was thinking about innumerable "irreducible" conflicts in human history.

Who cares? Who is talking about anything like that but you? Does your mind always wander like this?

Marcus, the discussion from the beginning has been about the New Atheists in the media.

Good attempt to shift the goal-posts.

Bullshit. From the very beginning this has been about people feeling like they belong in the atheist movement. I said as much at #233. You're the one who's trying to move the goalposts so that you don't have to explain your comparison of atheists of color to white supremacists.

The whole topic everyone's been jumping up and down about, with respect to me, has been my calling "foul" on someone's comment that it'd be nice if there were more women and colored among the "atheist horsemen." A view I still have not heard you explicitly come out and said you support. Do you?

I don't much care for Christopher Hitchens. It would be nice if he were replaced by a potted plant. A Björk is fine too.

Do you think that, for example, some atheist spokesperson isn't as good because of their gender and skin color?

Again, this is a non sequitur. You're the only person who is saying this racist stuff. Truthspeaker was right; you're the one who "played the race card."

Are you saying that they need to see atheists that are their own skin color, in order to take them seriously?

I'm saying that atheists of color are not racists for wanting more visible public roles for atheists of color, so that the general public does not get the false impression that atheism is a movement of only white people.

And I'm saying that agnostics and on-the-fence theists of color would probably feel more welcome identifying themselves as atheists and coming to atheist meetups if there were more publicly visible atheists of color, again, giving the general public a more balanced and representative impression of the atheist movement.


Now, Marcus, can you answer a direct question?

People of color do have to think about these issues, even if you don't. They do have to worry that their children don't see enough scientists on TV who look like them. If children of color grow up seeing only white scientists, then they can learn to believe that science is not a career path that is available to them. The same applies to little girls seeing women who are scientists.

Tell me, is wanting a child to have big dreams equivalent to white supremacy?

#337

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 11:01 PM


Nancy writes:
I wished more prominent atheists were not white and male.

No, actually Nancy wrote: "I sure never said I wished more prominent atheists were not white and male. "

Why are you just making things up?

Do you really NOT understand the difference between wishing that the representative atheists (the New Atheists) were not EXCLUSIVELY white males and saying I wished more prominent atheists were not white and male?

Apparently you really really don't.

I think I'm going to have to draw up a Venn diagram for this discussion. Or maybe a Visio chart.

#338

Posted by: not a gator | August 27, 2009 11:01 PM

I tell my students and TAs, one thing I learned from catholic grade school is that hitting and humiliation is not a good approach for teaching penmanship. I learned that at the hand and mouth of Sister Claire.

Of course not. She probably got off on being cruel to other women's children, though.

My second grade teacher, Mr. Utka, was from the old school... Massachusetts public schools old school (no corporal punishment). He gave us a strict formula for each letter (basically a stroke order) and had us redo our work, slowly when it wasn't coming out right. He kept it quiet, too. Always felt safe in that classroom.

(He had a list of rules, which you had to copy out 2^N times where N is the number of times you broke them. I got to 64 for "leaning back in your chair is dangerous" before he called it off.)

I'll also always be grateful to him for introducing me to Harriet Tubman, GW Carver, and Garrett Morgan. History skips Morgan, and usually Carver as well, in favor of lightning rod (and religion-founder) Garvey. Also, we learned who du Bois was, but never read much of his actual work. Which is a shame.

#339

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 11:02 PM

strange gods before me writes:
I hate to break this to you, Marcus, but if Ayaan Hirsi Ali were one of the major faces of the New Atheists, then Nancy's request for "a group of new New Atheists (preferably not all white men)" would come true.

Yep. And if it was somehow in my control, and I could make up the Supreme Atheist Council, she'd be on it: because she's done a huge amount to demonstrate that you can leave Islam, and is certainly having an influence.

But would I invite her on because Hitch and Dawk and Dennett are too white and male? That'd be an isult. Someone's work should speak for itself, not their gender or color.

#340

Posted by: Carlie | August 27, 2009 11:03 PM

I wished more prominent atheists were not white and male. Yep. And I reacted exactly the same way I would have if you'd said "I wish we didn't have so many (pick favorite group) or {pick favorite gender)."

I think I see the issue here. Nancy's statement meant that she wished the entire sum of prominent atheists were not all white males, and you took it as her saying that she'd rather replace ones already in existence with nonwhite nonmales? It's a difference between adding and subtracting. Her statement was a wish to add, and it looks like you took it as a wish to subtract.

#341

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 11:07 PM

In a couple hundred years I hope your view is in the minority, if human societies can achieve some degree of social equality. (I doubt they will, we have thousands of years of "tit for tat" to work through)

In a couple hundred years it would be nice if nobody needed to say these things, because the public face of atheism might then be demographically similar to the world at large.

But nobody is talking about "tit for tat" except you.

Nobody said we should get rid of all the white guys and replace them with women and people of color to make up for the past.

Instead, the hope has only been that the public face of atheism right now could be approximately the same ratio as the demographics of the community at large.

That's not "tit for tat" and only you are making these racist associations.

#342

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 11:08 PM

Nancy writes:
Why are you just making things up?

I'm not. There's a chance I am wrong, though. If I mis-parsed your words I'm gonna have a mine-shaft gap....

#343

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 11:14 PM

But would I invite her on because Hitch and Dawk and Dennett are too white and male? That'd be an isult. Someone's work should speak for itself, not their gender or color.

And Nancy said from the beginning that she had problems with the work of Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris. I certainly don't agree with her assessment of Dawkins, and I certainly agree with her assessment of Harris. But the point is, she made the claim that their work was poor on its own merits.

So you're the one that has invented this idea that people should be disposed of based on their race or gender. You're the one who is trying to put racist arguments in everyone else's mouths. You're the one who keeps bringing up reparations, "40 acres and a mule" you said. You're the one who compared atheists of color to white supremacists.

You're a nut. And you've demonized yourself.

#344

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 11:16 PM

I certainly agree with her assessment of Harris Hitchens.
#345

Posted by: JefFlyingV | August 27, 2009 11:18 PM

The Holy Jewish Empire? WTF, am I being fed white supremacy or inner city radicalism?

#346

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 11:19 PM

Do you deny that there is a very good reason for this aside from gender/race reasons? Possibly that the four have written very widely read books? Why isn't the push at women and minority atheists to publish, instead of just sitting around bemoaning the fact that they are not among the sources cited for media?

I said I didn't want those particular individuals to represent me, for reasons I explained, and THEN I said that I'd rather there be a new New Atheists group, and preferably one that isn't exclusively white and male.

I said it was my preference. Why do you have a problem with me expressing a preference?

#347

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 11:26 PM

Carlie writes:
I think I see the issue here. Nancy's statement meant that she wished the entire sum of prominent atheists were not all white males, and you took it as her saying that she'd rather replace ones already in existence with nonwhite nonmales? It's a difference between adding and subtracting. Her statement was a wish to add, and it looks like you took it as a wish to subtract.

The original comment was:
I want a group of new New Atheists (preferably not all white men) to represent me.

Yeah, I understood it correctly. No mis-parse (so, Nancy, no apology) I'm getting the point that everyone appears to disagree with me (which is making my head spin because my views appear perfectly rational and consistent - more consistent than others' - to me).

Whenever topics of race and gender come up, my first strategy (which breaks down, sometimes, as you can see) is to try to bypass it entirely. My next strategy is to start flipping things around; it's a sort of built-in BS-meter I use when people talk to me about moral stuff. So, when I read Nancy's comments, I immediately imagined the hue and cry there would be if - imagine the "four horsemen" were women of color and some white supremacist said "I wish there were more white men." Explosion. That's the problem with trying to balance this race and gender stuff; you either have oppression or oppresion and - since there's no god-given external morality - I'd argue there's no justifiable way to say which one is right. (Please let's not go down that rat-hole or we'll be here for days)

Nancy writes:
Do you really NOT understand the difference between wishing that the representative atheists (the New Atheists) were not EXCLUSIVELY white males and saying I wished more prominent atheists were not white and male?

Apparently you really really don't.

I understand perfectly. I think we actually understand eachother quite well. I'd never say something like what you said, because to do so would justify some other racist/sexist to reverse it. That's all.

#348

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 11:28 PM

Still accusing Nancy of racism and sexism, then. What a nut.


Now, Marcus, can you answer a direct question?

People of color do have to think about these issues, even if you don't. They do have to worry that their children don't see enough scientists on TV who look like them. If children of color grow up seeing only white scientists, then they can learn to believe that science is not a career path that is available to them. The same applies to little girls seeing women who are scientists.

Tell me, is wanting a child to have big dreams equivalent to white supremacy?

#349

Posted by: Kristine | August 27, 2009 11:30 PM

I spent some time today in our fishing boat crafting a reply to this crap. I should have known PZ was on it!

Wood says that no one wrote a St. Matthew's Passion to celebrate anything secular, say, the car. So what? No one wrote a great chorale or sonata to celebrate sex, either. Some things don't need great symphonic or choral works, because we appreciate the thing-in-itself.

I love how Wood seeks to replace Dawkins' shining "sun of science and liberal positivism that casts no shadows" with his pseudo-atheist "disappointed belief." Yeah, thanks but no thanks - I'd rather enjoy the happiness of my supposedly joyless existence than the dubious joys of "disappointed" faith. (Disappointed in what, BTW? Wood trashes fundamentalist Biblical literalism, then trashes Dawkins and Hitchens for seeking scientific explanations for faith. What is it that Woods is advocating - a God without anger redeeming a people without sin who never really lived in the Garden by having his Son kinda-sorta die on a cross?)

What is this fear of a "shining sun of science and liberal positivism" coming from? That sounds much better to me than
a religious fanatic kidnapping an 11-year-old girl and keeping her prisoner so that she can bear him two kids.

#350

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 11:31 PM

Her statement was a wish to add, and it looks like you took it as a wish to subtract.

Awww... I was gonna have a Venn diagram! And now you and your articulateness - there's really no need for one.

>sulk

Well actually, it depends on how many total representative "New Atheists" we get to have. Right now it's four, but that's mainly because that's who is in the clubhouse set up by the gang: http://newatheists.org/ - and that seems to be the representatives accepted by the media - well, mostly believers who want to attack atheists.

If we MUST have only four... we could keep two of the current white guys - I'm not sure which ones but definitely not Hitchens - and then add two people who are not white and/or not male.

So it's more replacement, which I guess is addition and subtraction. OR vice versa.

Ideally there would be other people who represent atheists out there in addition to the "Four Horsemen" (who decided to call them that?) who are not necessarily Bill Maher. Oh god he annoys me too.

Part of the problem is that any woman who has achieved any level of fame has done so by moderating her expressions of hostility (except Ann Coulter), while Maher, Hitchens and the gang don't have the same be-nice pressures. And the reason that the New Atheists are such a lightening rod is because they are not nice about religion.

#351

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 11:32 PM

Nancy, I'm really sorry to hear that you hate white men. :(

As a white man, I am deeply offended by your suggestion that it would be nice if women and people of color were treated more equally in this world.

That's totally racist and sexist of you.


But congratulations on your Bingo! :D :D :D

#352

Posted by: Carlie | August 27, 2009 11:32 PM

Whenever topics of race and gender come up, my first strategy (which breaks down, sometimes, as you can see) is to try to bypass it entirely.

And it's your privilege to be able to do so. For you, it's just an intellectual exercise. For other people, not so much. For someone who has never seen a role model in the media who is like them, it's not something they can just "bypass" it as a "strategy".

#353

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 11:35 PM

Nancy writes:
I said it was my preference. Why do you have a problem with me expressing a preference?

It just means that you have no moral high ground if someone expresses a preference to you, in return, which is repugnant.

I got into a similar discussion to this with one of my neighbors - a one-eyebrow cracker who still flies a confererate flag outside his house. He made a few offensive comments about the work-habits of hispanic immigrants and I told him that by doing so he'd just authorized me to make disparaging comments about "his people." He hasn't talked to me since, which is some kind of win, I guess. The problem with freedom of speech - as long as you're not crossing into incitement - is that most people don't have the fortitude to swallow their own medicine.

#354

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 11:37 PM

And it's your privilege to be able to do so.

Silly Carlie. Mr Marcus Ranum knows better. There is no such thing as white privilege or male privilege. And he sure as hell doesn't have to be open to learning new concepts.

#355

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 11:40 PM

I think we actually understand each other quite well.

Well actually...

In any case, and with any luck the situation will continue to improve, and white men will no longer be the default model of human for almost every endeavor.

#356

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 11:43 PM

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 8:54 PM

And yeah - JULIA SWEENEY? How great a representative for atheism is SHE?

She's pretty damn great.

#357

Posted by: The Silent Moose of Doom Author Profile Page | August 27, 2009 11:43 PM

with any luck the situation will continue to improve, and white men will no longer be the default model of human for almost every endeavor.

Hear, hear.

#358

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 11:45 PM

It just means that you have no moral high ground if someone expresses a preference to you, in return, which is repugnant.

Wrong, Marcus. You are blatantly feigning ignorance now. How many times do I have to tell you this before you acknowledge it? Nancy is only asking that the public face of atheism be demographically representative of the actual population.

That's just fair. And someone expressing a different preference would not be simply "reversing the races" or whatever dumb shit is in your oh-so-logical head at the moment, but they would instead be asking for the group to be unfair and unrepresentative.

#359

Posted by: DLC | August 27, 2009 11:45 PM

Quibbling about the length of the Emporer's cuffs a bit ?
In the marketplace of ideas, it's the ideas that matter, not the individual or group who put them forth.

#360

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 11:48 PM

It just means that you have no moral high ground if someone expresses a preference to you, in return, which is repugnant.

Well actually...

If you said your preference was that the representatives of atheism would ONLY be white men - you are entitled to your preference, but if your answer to "why is that your preference" was "because white men are superior to all women and all non-white men" - well, then my friend - IT'S ON!

#361

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 27, 2009 11:49 PM

not a gator writes:
1. The most charitable interpretation is that you misspoke...

"white supremacist or [person] of color"--?

Why did you use an appositive construction here?


I was trying to illustrate the problem that if it is a socially acceptable public statement for a person to say (not trying to paraphrase Nancy here) "I wish there were fewer white people representing me" it should be an equally socially acceptable public statement for a KKK nutbar to say "I wish there were fewer colored people representing me."

Unless you can appeal to some kind of external morality that says disparaging whites is OK but disparaging non-whites is not. I don't see any means of deriving a workable moral system that favors one of those statements over the other; therefore they should be equally acceptable, or equally unacceptable.


2. I disagree about strategy. In the US the African-American community is pretty badly godsoaked. (Since the largest Black population centers are in the South, this may be as much geography as anything else.) As a matter of strategy, especially when we're talking about matters of public policy being meddled with by religionists, it may be both crassly useful and for those who are atheist and live within that community (with all their godbothering relatives) genuinely uplifting to have nationally prominent, atheist, African-American voices.

Yep; that's kind of secondary. I wouldn't be having this protracted debate if Nancy's original comment had been race and gender neutral. Is there a tendency to listen more careful to leaders drawn from one's own community/tribe or who are visually identifiable as part of that community/tribe? Probably.

My response on strategy was predicated on it being a bad idea to establish "more people of color, less men" as a desirable criteria because it could blow up in both the face of that individual (who might feel they had been chosen for their skills not their gender or skin) or the public (who might feel that they were being cynically manipulated).

3. These voices do exist (heard of YouTube?), starting with Reggie Finley, who's been broadcasting since 1999. Can a brother get a little recognition up in here?

And that, ultimately, is the problem. Social equality, in terms of access to mainstream media, is critical.

If anything comes of all this fuss, I hope it's that Dawkins and Dennett and Hitchens and Harris try to think of some way to expand the circle of "horsemen." Perhaps we need a round table.

#362

Posted by: Rev. BigDumbChimp | August 27, 2009 11:51 PM

And yeah - JULIA SWEENEY? How great a representative for atheism is SHE?

She's as good a representative of atheism as her SNL co-star Victoria Jackson is for Christianity.

Perfect.

#363

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 11:52 PM

In the marketplace of ideas, it's the ideas that matter, not the individual or group who put them forth.

Which is why it's not the least bit disconcerting that many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were slave-owners.

#364

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 11:52 PM

Marcus, there is no way you don't understand what Nancy meant. Your continuing pretense at misunderstanding is just trolling.

#365

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 27, 2009 11:53 PM

Quibbling about the length of the Emporer's cuffs a bit ? In the marketplace of ideas, it's the ideas that matter, not the individual or group who put them forth.

Hey DLC, read the thread before you trot out the same old strawmen.

#366

Posted by: Nancy | August 27, 2009 11:57 PM

OK, maybe I'll end up regretting this but I kind of think Marcus really is misunderstanding...


Plus he'd be a fool to troll this school of rhetorical samurai...

#367

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 27, 2009 11:58 PM

Here's what I'm talking about with Julia Sweeney. I thought everyone knew about her show about leaving Catholicism.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1083


This link has audio that plays right away:
http://www.juliasweeney.com/letting_go_mini/

#368

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 28, 2009 12:00 AM

strange gods before me writes:
Wrong, Marcus. You are blatantly feigning ignorance now.

Let me assure you; if I ever decide to feign ignorance, it'll be a lot more obvious than that.

I've been dialing back on answering your sallies because I'm not very impressed by how you argue and you're starting to bore me. That's all.

How many times do I have to tell you this before you acknowledge it? Nancy is only asking that the public face of atheism be demographically representative of the actual population.

Do you speak for Nancy now? You shouldn't, because you've made a horrible mistake. If your premise is that demographic representation of the actual population was the objective - and I do not think it was Nancy's - then you fail to address the problem of all the multiple religions (and genders, for that matter!) that are out there. If you take a representationalist view, you're going to look mighty silly offering "1 horseman, 1 horsewoman, 1/10 of a lesbian" and don't even get me started about what color they should be -- because it's not my ridiculous position to defend.

For what it's worth, mister "feigning ignorance" I dispatched your silly objection in advance in comment #249.

The bottom line is that if you're going for "representation" you need the UN. If what you're going for is good spokesppl for atheism, you should pick with a blind eye to gender or skin color.

#369

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 12:02 AM

Unless you can appeal to some kind of external morality that says disparaging whites is OK but disparaging non-whites is not. I don't see any means of deriving a workable moral system that favors one of those statements over the other; therefore they should be equally acceptable, or equally unacceptable.

No one was disparaging white people, you race-baiting loon.

Nancy only said that the public face of atheism should be demographically representative of the actual population.

And you called her a bigot for this.

And you've said that people of color, if they would like to see more people of color in the public spotlight, are just like white supremacists.

#370

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 28, 2009 12:04 AM

I'm getting sick of this straw man that keeps popping up that we are rejecting the fundamentalist notions of God, it's nonsense. For myself personally, I grew up around a liberal Christian protestant notion of God. The two options presented: the fundamentalist God or the nebulous god of the philosophers were oddities to me.

This moderate version of God is just as absurd as the fundamentalist version, just as other gods from other cultures are just as absurd. Theism is an vacuous position, intellectually indefensible and justified on what is the scourge of reason - faith.

Of course if you think I'm wrong, you can present evidence to demonstrate so. But until there's sufficient evidence, I'm sticking to the null hypothesis.

When statements come like this, it makes me wonder whether people who make them actually read the books they criticise.

I recently re-read The God Delusion, and this kind of criticism misses the mark totally. Did Dawkins write a theological dissemination of theology? No, he did not! His book is not a critique of theism, so why should there be theological scholarship? The God Delusion wasn't about any particular beliefs, it was about the entire notion of theism and he backed it up with science, psychology, history, etc. in order to support his point.

Dawkins' book is not an argument of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, it's an argument that angels dancing on the head of a pin is an absurdity and seeks to demonstrate why the question is flawed.


The God Delusion is far from perfect, but take it for what it is as opposed to what it isn't. For theological critiques, why not try Avalos, Ehrman or Loftus? Loftus' Why I Became An Atheist was against Christianity on Christianity's terms. The God Delusion is not.

#371

Posted by: J Dubb | August 28, 2009 12:06 AM

I wouldn't say I'm sad that there's no God, because that would be pretty messed up, what with the whole burning in Hell part and all the arbitrary rules.

But I am genuinely sad that millions of ordinary & kind people believe in something that's not real. The church people I've met in my personal life have been pretty generous and kind. I'm happy to work alongside them when we have common goals, like helping the poor.

How do we let 'em out of their delusion without exploding their minds?

#372

Posted by: advertisinglies | August 28, 2009 12:07 AM

@353

...cracker? Aren't you the one accusing others of being racist? I am so confused now. Is it ok to be racist towards racists because 'they started it'?

I read what Nancy wrote and assumed that she meant what she's been saying over and over again that she meant - ideally there should be more diversity in regard to 'mainstream' atheists. You seem to be willfully ignoring that she meant that (even after she's clarified over and over what she meant) and instead are hell bent on calling her out for being a bigot and a racist!! (clutch pearls here)

Then you post a story in which you refer to your neighbor as a 'cracker'. So far the only person I've seen on this thread being racist is you.

#373

Posted by: Nancy | August 28, 2009 12:08 AM

How many times do I have to tell you this before you acknowledge it? Nancy is only asking that the public face of atheism be demographically representative of the actual population.

Do you speak for Nancy now? You shouldn't, because you've made a horrible mistake.

Well geez - a "horrible mistake"? That's a bit dramatic.

Nancy would like it if the go-to group for all things atheist was NOT the "New Atheists" primarily because I'm not a fan of any of them - and that's an understatement when it comes to Hitchens.

Secondarily because they're all white men, which is just so tiresome and business-as-usual.

Is that really such a big deal? Do you actually feel threatened, as has been suggested, Marcus, by the idea that some feel it's not fair that white men monopolize all the best stuff - money - power - prestige?

#374

Posted by: Nancy | August 28, 2009 12:11 AM

Here's what I'm talking about with Julia Sweeney. I thought everyone knew about her show about leaving Catholicism.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1083

LOVE IT - thanks for posting. It should be required listening for all New Atheists, new New Atheists, and even old school atheists.

#375

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 12:13 AM

If your premise is that demographic representation of the actual population was the objective - and I do not think it was Nancy's

Read the link, dimwit. No, here, I'll quote her for you.

"It annoys me that atheism is represented by a group composed exclusively of white men. And really, it's the sexism that bothers me more, because while you could argue that whites make up a greater population than non-whites in the USA and England, and therefore it's just luck of the draw that all four are white men, females make up 50% of the population of the entire world."

Plainly obvious, she is asking for demographic representation.

then you fail to address the problem of all the multiple religions (and genders, for that matter!) that are out there.

Also wrong, I addressed this. I'm sure you didn't read it.

If you take a representationalist view, you're going to look mighty silly offering "1 horseman, 1 horsewoman, 1/10 of a lesbian"

It would be great if there were so many famous atheists that such varied representation were to become possible! Nobody is arguing otherwise. This however is irrelevant to your claim that Nancy is a bigot, racist and sexist (and apparently homophobe, now, since you seem keen to keep tacking these on).

The bottom line is that if you're going for "representation" you need the UN. If what you're going for is good spokesppl for atheism, you should pick with a blind eye to gender or skin color.

Again, Marcus, nobody gives a shit what you think about strategy. You suck. No one wants your opinions, and you might as well choke on them.

The only thing at issue is your claim that Nancy is a racist and a sexist.

In making your case, you've had to race-bait everyone in this thread.

Maybe you should admit that you screwed up, and quit.


Or, maybe you can answer a plainly worded, simple question, since I answered yours:

People of color do have to think about these issues, even if you don't. They do have to worry that their children don't see enough scientists on TV who look like them. If children of color grow up seeing only white scientists, then they can learn to believe that science is not a career path that is available to them. The same applies to little girls seeing women who are scientists.

Tell me, is wanting a child to have big dreams equivalent to white supremacy?

#376

Posted by: Rev. BigDumbChimp | August 28, 2009 12:13 AM

LOVE IT - thanks for posting. It should be required listening for all New Atheists, new New Atheists, and even old school atheists.

what about atheists?

#377

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 12:17 AM

what about atheists?

Them too. And even the athiests. They'll eat it right up.

#378

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 28, 2009 12:20 AM

truthspeaker writes:
Marcus, there is no way you don't understand what Nancy meant. Your continuing pretense at misunderstanding is just trolling.

I absolutely do. You don't know me well enough to say what I understand or don't understand; we haven't been properly introduced. This isn't worth lying over.

I do understand! If Nancy wants representation, then ask for representation. Don't complain about white guys. The question of representation is interesting but it's way huge and it's really not my topic (I have all the atheism I need, right here, and then some).

The reason a lot of your arguments aren't convincing me is because they're not very good.

For example:
Nancy writes:
If you said your preference was that the representatives of atheism would ONLY be white men - you are entitled to your preference, but if your answer to "why is that your preference" was "because white men are superior to all women and all non-white men" - well, then my friend - IT'S ON!

The problem with this example is that you've constructed it so that there's an objective argument. Some idiot might argue all day about superiority/nonsuperiority and, unless someone was able to present arguments that explained why that superiority was real, then it's a waste of time. We could, depending on what we were trying to do, measure and determine. If your initial comment had been "I think that there might be atheist spokespeople who would have broader appeal to minority groups" then that's something we can measure and argue about. Yes, there's an implicit argument in your "I want a group of new New Atheists (preferably not all white men) to represent me." And in many circles that would be interpreted correctly as "I want people of my own race and gender in there."

If you'd said "Hitch is a dick!" I'd have hoisted a beer! If you'd said "Haggard handed Dawkins his own ass on TV during that interview. He's not aggressive enough." I'd have pounded my desk. But too white and with a penis? If that's how you judge your atheists I think we could offer some better algorithms like: global public speaking dates, books sold, TV face time, DVDs sold, no?

#379

Posted by: Rorschach | August 28, 2009 12:24 AM

Last time we had this discussion it was about the number of male vs female speakers at that atheist convention, and that didnt end well.

To ask for representation by demographics or quota in any given situation is problematic IMO because it always carries the risk of exposing the person that gets elected/selected to criticism about their qualifications to be in that position, other than the quota system that got him/her there.

I can see the point in saying that a, say, black atheist spearhead might have more influence with the african-american community.

And Im staying the hell out of this silly racism debate.

#380

Posted by: Rey Fox | August 28, 2009 12:24 AM

My brother put a link to one of Victoria Jackson's screeds on his Facebook page. Somebody please, please tell me that it's all a big Colbert-esque put-on. Please.

#381

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 12:28 AM

I do understand! If Nancy wants representation, then ask for representation. Don't complain about white guys.

So it's fine to ask for more demographic representation, but it's not fine to note that the current representation is dominated by white guys.

These amount to the same thing. The only difference is that one makes you feel more uncomfortable.

Yes, there's an implicit argument in your "I want a group of new New Atheists (preferably not all white men) to represent me." And in many circles that would be interpreted correctly as "I want people of my own race and gender in there."

Not coincidentally, having people of Nancy's own race and gender in there would also mean a step toward demographic representation.

So what the hell is your problem, again?

#382

Posted by: advertisinglies | August 28, 2009 12:30 AM

Rey, I wish it were a joke too. Makes sense why she always pulled off those cloudy eyed clueless characters so well. Turns out, she wasn't acting!

#383

Posted by: Gnostically Diffuse | August 28, 2009 12:34 AM

Funneh...

I accepted Nancy's original comment as suitably ironic, actually. Perhaps the first salvo of 'Bigot!' was given in the same vein.

My personal objection to the two more vocal Horsemen concerns their delivery. You don't win friends and influence people by carrying on like a braying douchebag, no matter how righteous your cause might actually be.

I recognize that it's difficult to make a similar impact as a moderate, since the situational topography precludes Making Big Noises. That's mainly a Fringe phenomenon, imo.

I posit that God is a figment of the imaginations of believers and unbelievers alike*, defined and tempered by their own individual passions; in the best of worlds, this figment is unique to the individual and not externally imposed. My 'holy figment' is known by me to be perfect and complete. Ergo, what is the point in kissing its ass and actually fearing it?

I'm an Antitheist as regards that Chaos creature Jehovah. Still, the Jesus character of the myth embodied something vastly different, if you ignore the Pauline bullshit.

*I know, I know..."Don't presume to tell me what I believe!"

#384

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 12:34 AM

To ask for representation by demographics or quota in any given situation is problematic IMO because it always carries the risk of exposing the person that gets elected/selected to criticism about their qualifications to be in that position,

Only on racist or sexist presumptions that assume the only people qualified for the job are necessarily the ones who were already benefiting from privilege, in this case white men.

To complain that a quota system will select unqualified people is to insist that people of a certain race or gender are inherently unqualified.

Not that you were saying that, clinteas.

#385

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 28, 2009 12:34 AM

strange gods before me writes:
Read the link, dimwit. No, here, I'll quote her for you.

"It annoys me that atheism is represented by a group composed exclusively of white men. And really, it's the sexism that bothers me more, because while you could argue that whites make up a greater population than non-whites in the USA and England, and therefore it's just luck of the draw that all four are white men, females make up 50% of the population of the entire world."

That was not the original post on which I called "bullshit." And you know it.

Again, Marcus, nobody gives a shit what you think about strategy. You suck. No one wants your opinions, and you might as well choke on them.

Wow, did you learn how to refute an argument by reading Bazooka Joe or something?

Or, maybe you can answer a plainly worded, simple question, since I answered yours:

Sure.

People of color do have to think about these issues, even if you don't. They do have to worry that their children don't see enough scientists on TV who look like them. If children of color grow up seeing only white scientists, then they can learn to believe that science is not a career path that is available to them. The same applies to little girls seeing women who are scientists.

I see you talking about scientists. Are you generalizing "scientists" to atheists? But that's neither here nor there.

I can't think how many times, in this thread, I have said I am in favor of social equality. Do you understand what that means? It doesn't mean simple little crap like who gets how many hours of airtime. Do I have answers? No. Do you? No. As I have said repeatedly, the question of whether or not representative access is feasible and how - utterly irrelevant to me. You want to make me the president of the world? I'll solve it for you. Short of that? No thanks.

Tell me, is wanting a child to have big dreams equivalent to white supremacy?

That's too simple a question. What are you basing it on? How are you guaranteeing it's fair? "I feel it is" doesn't wash.

#386

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 12:38 AM

Funneh...

I accepted Nancy's original comment as suitably ironic, actually. Perhaps the first salvo of 'Bigot!' was given in the same vein.

I thought maybe so, too. That's why I asked. Too bad it wasn't.

#387

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 28, 2009 12:45 AM

strange gods before me:
So it's fine to ask for more demographic representation, but it's not fine to note that the current representation is dominated by white guys.

These amount to the same thing. The only difference is that one makes you feel more uncomfortable.

What about "I support social equality in all ways" don't you understand? Did I say I think the current representation is good? I just offered to take over as planetary overlord and fix it. Obviously, I think a lot of things need to be cleaned up.

Not coincidentally, having people of Nancy's own race and gender in there would also mean a step toward demographic representation.

So what the hell is your problem, again?

I thought I was pretty clear about that. I do not think that representational schemes around race or attempts to reverse inequality will work. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell because we can only collectively try one path. I'll observe that tit-for-tat attempts to re-balance inequality have resultedin genocide more often than happiness. But, presumably we wouldn't have any genocide on the Secret Atheist Roundtable. Right?

You seem to be dead set trying to demonize me as some kind of comfortable white whatever but you've got absolutely no idea what you're talking to (Like I said: I'm a perl script) you can't be truly said to know me until I've rammed my tongue down your throat. So come on out here and let's have a beer and talk, before you make any more silly comments about what a bitter white male I am, or whatever. If you were anything but a fool you might have researched me a bit and noticed that there is absolutely zero in my life for me to be bitter about; I have gotten and used every opportunity that comes my way. That may not make you like me as a human being, but it certainly refutes this weird straw-man Marcus you seem to be building in your little fantasy-world.

#388

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 12:59 AM

That was not the original post on which I called "bullshit." And you know it.

The fuck? Have you lost track?

Nancy said at #273: "It annoys me that atheism is represented by a group composed exclusively of white men. And really, it's the sexism that bothers me more, because while you could argue that whites make up a greater population than non-whites in the USA and England, and therefore it's just luck of the draw that all four are white men, females make up 50% of the population of the entire world."

At #358 I linked to her post of #273 and said: "How many times do I have to tell you this before you acknowledge it? Nancy is only asking that the public face of atheism be demographically representative of the actual population."

At #368 you responded to my post of #358 and you said: "Do you speak for Nancy now? You shouldn't, because you've made a horrible mistake. If your premise is that demographic representation of the actual population was the objective - and I do not think it was Nancy's"

At #375 I responded to your post of #368 and I said: "Read the link, dimwit. No, here, I'll quote her for you."

Now, following that back, it's clear that you did call bullshit on Nancy's post of #273, when I linked to it at #358.

It's pretty straightforward.

Wow, did you learn how to refute an argument by reading Bazooka Joe or something?

Chump, I'm just telling you a fact. Nobody gives a shit what you think about strategy. You are not a people person. You are a nihilist, an anarchocapitalist, and an all-around misanthrope. You do not have social skills. Your ideas about strategy, about relating to people, are worthless.

And that's why no one is bothering anymore to talk strategy with you. Because it's obvious you are unqualified to speak of it.

I see you talking about scientists. Are you generalizing "scientists" to atheists?

No, I'm talking about scientists because kids plan to be scientists when they grow up; they don't usually think much about whether they'll be atheists or not.

Tell me, is wanting a child to have big dreams equivalent to white supremacy?

That's too simple a question. What are you basing it on? How are you guaranteeing it's fair? "I feel it is" doesn't wash.

And there we have it. According to Marcus Ranum, a person of color may in fact be just like a white supremacist if they want their children to see scientists of color on TV.

What are you going on about? How am I guaranteeing that what is fair? Are you talking about hours of airtime? What are you talking about?

I asked a simple question. Right now in our society, if a person of color is worried that their children don't see enough scientists on TV who look like them, and they want there to be more, so that their children can have role models of scientists who are people of color, is that parent a racist? Are they just like a white supremacist?

Just answer the question. Well, you already have, you've said "maybe, yes." But go on, keep digging a deeper hole for yourself.

#389

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 28, 2009 1:08 AM

Nancy asks:
Do you actually feel threatened, as has been suggested, Marcus, by the idea that some feel it's not fair that white men monopolize all the best stuff - money - power - prestige?

Not at all.

My way of looking at the world is that we're born into economic or political servitude, as a side-effect of the great dice-toss that is birth. Personally, I think it's parochial nonsense that you're spouting about white man this and that, because - yeah - that's how it is right now, but it wasn't exactly that way 3,000 years ago. Again - luck of the dice. If I'd been born in Europe, who knows, I might have been a king? Or a peasant. Or just dead. I might have been born Chaka Zulu and that'd turn some of your theories about white oppression on their silly little heads, too. But, of course, like most of us, I got lucky and avoided the 1/4 chance of being a Chinese peasant. Get your head out of your US-centric spin and, yeah, if someone told me I had to leave the US forever and go work in a Pakistani rice field, I'd kick a bit while they loaded me on the plane. And so would anyone in their right mind, except for some of the poor bastards in refugee camps in Rwanda, for whom it'd be heaven.

Honestly, when I think about how random and complicated it all is, it just seems completely pointless worrying about any of it beyond what's likely to happen in the next couple weeks. So, no - I don't feel threatened.

#390

Posted by: JefFlyingV | August 28, 2009 1:13 AM

Again, WTF is the Holy Jewish Empire?

I'd love to see some high profile black, asian, female... atheists write best sellers and step into the atheist forefront of providing diversity. What is holding any of these divergent people back?

#391

Posted by: Sean Micheal | August 28, 2009 1:14 AM

If it's completely pointless, and you don't see the point in arguing with us, and you are just oh-so-above it all, man, why are you still arguing with us? And, perhaps more to the point, why should we give a shit what you think?

#392

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 1:15 AM

What about "I support social equality in all ways" don't you understand?

The part where Nancy is a racist. Please explain that part again.

I thought I was pretty clear about that. I do not think that representational schemes around race or attempts to reverse inequality will work.

That has nothing to do with Nancy's wish that the media would spread their coverage out and talk to some atheists who are women and people of color. It's not like she's talking about appointing death panels to oversee this, you race-baiting loon. Now you've gone from calling her a bigot to pinning a future genocide on her.

I'll observe that tit-for-tat attempts to re-balance inequality have resultedin genocide more often than happiness.

This is blatant race-baiting. Absolutely no one has used this racist language about "tit for tat" except for you. Nobody said we should get rid of all the white guys and replace them with women and people of color to make up for the past. Instead, the hope has only been that the public face of atheism right now could be approximately the same ratio as the demographics of the community at large.

You seem to be dead set trying to demonize me as some kind of comfortable white whatever but you've got absolutely no idea what you're talking to (Like I said: I'm a perl script)

You ain't no fucking perl script, and the joke was only cute once. I assume the earlier references to white privilege are what makes you mention comfort and whatever. You do have white privilege, as do I. You ought to google this concept instead of assuming that it's some kind of judgment of your character. It totally is not. Don't fear it.

You have been race-baiting throughout this thread. If you aren't race-baiting because you're bitter, then I can't begin to imagine what your problem is. But honestly, I don't care. I don't have to get inside your head to note that you are behaving like a complete nutter.

#393

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 28, 2009 1:24 AM

strange gods before me writes:
That was not the original post on which I called "bullshit." And you know it.
The fuck? Have you lost track?
Nancy said at #273

I was responding to #194. I don't give a rat's ass about whatever post-facto self-justification came afterward. So, no, I have not lost track.

. You are not a people person. You are a nihilist, an anarchocapitalist, and an all-around misanthrope. You do not have social skills. Your ideas about strategy, about relating to people, are worthless.

Calling me an "anarchocapitalist" - ouch! That hurt. Everything else: So what? And, is this your finest hour?

No, I'm talking about scientists because kids plan to be scientists when they grow up;

Apparently it's been a long time since you were a kid. It always seemed to me that kids sort of slither around through life picking what opportunities come their way - and they come in some mighty unexpected places, sometimes - and doing what "seems right at the time." The few kids I remember who had their whole lives charted our were the guys who wanted to be generals. :D But - hey - don't let me interrupt your little fantasy world! You're on a roll!

What are you going on about? How am I guaranteeing that what is fair? Are you talking about hours of airtime?

(groan) If you're going to argue that you are somehow righting social wrongs, presumably you can defend your reasoning? And that your actions are correct? I'm not talking about airtime; that's a side-show. The question is: if you think you're able to strike meaningful blows for social justice, on what basis are you sure you're not making things worse?

I asked a simple question. Right now in our society, if a person of color is worried that their children don't see enough scientists on TV who look like them, and they want there to be more, so that their children can have role models of scientists who are people of color, is that parent a racist? Are they just like a white supremacist?

It's a stupid question. First off, because you're trying to drag me into making assumptions of how someone might or might not behave based on "race." Sorry. I won't play that. Want to say "economically disadvantaged?" Or are you going to prove, somehow, that "race" role models have a greater effect on a child's opportunities than a parent's economic status and where they live? (And, please, don't say "where they live blah blah depends on race blah blah" because there are economically disadvantaged members of all "races" and you're going to have one hell of a time sorting that out to make an argument that'll hold water.

is that parent a racist? Are they just like a white supremacist?

If a parent believed that there was something inherent in their "race" that made them or their kids better or worse, then I'd say they're drinking from the same fountain of bullshit as a white supremacist or any other racist.

#394

Posted by: Marcus Ranum | August 28, 2009 1:33 AM

strange gods before me writes:
The part where Nancy is a racist. Please explain that part again.

I'm sorry; this is getting boring. Why don't I write it for you in really big crayon, OK? Wait. No. I've made it clear; your inability to understand is your problem.

That has nothing to do with Nancy's wish that the media would spread their coverage out and talk to some atheists who are women and people of color. It's not like she's talking about appointing death panels to oversee this, you race-baiting loon. Now you've gone from calling her a bigot to pinning a future genocide on her.

You have an elaborate fantasy reality. Why don't you go away and let Nancy speak for herself? Your white knight routine is getting pretty tired.

Genocide? I'm guessing that as we've been having this little chat, you've been consuming more and more alcohol, or something. Because you're really getting quite roccoco in your imagingings.

Absolutely no one has used this racist language about "tit for tat" except for you.

It's a term of art in game theory. Calm down.

You have been race-baiting throughout this thread.

Yeah, you're right. If Nancy had said "there are too many people of color speaking for atheists" everyone would have lined up to punch her a new asshole but, hey, you don't have to tell me about "atheist morality" because I never believed in it in the first place.

#395

Posted by: advertisinglies | August 28, 2009 1:50 AM

You're right about one thing, Marcus - this is getting boring. Your constant dancing around subjects, backpedaling, refusing to answer questions in a straightforward manner, being purposefully dense when it suits you - all very very boring. My hat is off to you, strange, for bothering with it for this long. Bravo.

#396

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 1:52 AM

Calling me an "anarchocapitalist" - ouch! That hurt. Everything else: So what?

Dude you are an anarchocapitalist. Don't try to hide it. The rest of it? I'm not judging you. I'm just telling you a fact: that's why nobody cares what you think about strategy. You suck at relating to people, so no one listens. You keep trying to talk about strategy, everyone backs away. You might as well be a cobra.

Apparently it's been a long time since you were a kid.

Sheesh, I'm not that old. Ask actual scientists when they knew they wanted to be scientists. A lot of people actually do make these decisions quite young. I'm surprised that this surprises you. Or do you just reflexively spit venom at everything to be a good nihilist?

(groan) If you're going to argue that you are somehow righting social wrongs, presumably you can defend your reasoning?

Who is talking about righting social wrongs? I am talking about parents trying to ensure that their kids feel like they have opportunities.

It's a stupid question. First off, because you're trying to drag me into making assumptions of how someone might or might not behave based on "race." Sorry. I won't play that.

Oh yes you will; you've been doing it over and over in this thread, calling Nancy a racist.

Want to say "economically disadvantaged?" Or are you going to prove, somehow, that "race" role models have a greater effect on a child's opportunities than a parent's economic status and where they live?

This is really hard for you to understand, isn't it? I'm not talking about the school opportunities available to a kid. I'm talking about seeing someone on TV who is the same color as you and thereby being able to imagine yourself doing what they do.

Look at what not a gator said above. That's what I'm talking about.

Are you seriously so ignorant that you do not understand that in our culture there are certain stereotypical beliefs that black kids tend to have about themselves and their abilities?

If a parent believed that there was something inherent in their "race" that made them or their kids better or worse

Another red herring. How predictable. What the hell does that have to do with anything?

How do you take a simple question about a parent hoping that their kid can grow up to be a scientist, and you get so turned around?


Look, Marcus, this is what you said:

And what's inconsistent about atheists of color wanting the general public to be aware of their presence?

Nothing. It's not any more or less racist than if the white supremacist atheists wanted more public awareness. I didn't say it was "incomprehensible" only that it was "racist"

This was ludicrous, but it led me to ask if other kinds of public representation were also just like white supremacy. If a parent wants their kid to see role models who share the kid's skin color, is that racism?

#397

Posted by: Richard Dawkins | August 28, 2009 2:00 AM

When the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS) convened the meeting of 30th September 2007, later released as the 'Four Horsemen DVD' (http://store.richarddawkins.net/products/the-four-horsemen-discussions-with-richard-dawkins-episode-1) we invited Ayaan Hirsi Ali to be among us. There were to have been five, not four, and that arrangement stood right up to the last minute. Unfortunately, the day before the recording, Ayaan had to fly to Holland on an urgent emergency mission connected with her personal security. That is the sole reason why only four of us, instead of five, sat around that table. Later, when the accumulated takings from the DVD had reached $30,000, RDFRS took the decision, with agreement from the four participants, to donate the entire sum to the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Fund, in recognition of the fact that she should have been there but for her last minute emergency.

#398

Posted by: JefFlyingV | August 28, 2009 2:01 AM

Game theory also marginalizes individualism and reinforces cooperation.

#399

Posted by: Paul | August 28, 2009 2:07 AM

Game theory also marginalizes individualism and reinforces cooperation.

Now that depends on the parameters of the game.

#400

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 2:09 AM

You have an elaborate fantasy reality. Why don't you go away and let Nancy speak for herself? Your white knight routine is getting pretty tired.

I'm sure she's gone to bed or is beyond bored. She said I was interpreting her just fine, though. It's not as though only one person is allowed to criticize you. Anyone who spots bullshittery is justified in calling it.

Genocide? I'm guessing that as we've been having this little chat, you've been consuming more and more alcohol, or something. Because you're really getting quite roccoco in your imagingings.
I thought I was pretty clear about that. I do not think that representational schemes around race or attempts to reverse inequality will work. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell because we can only collectively try one path. I'll observe that tit-for-tat attempts to re-balance inequality have resultedin genocide more often than happiness.

You can't even remember what you wrote.

It's a term of art in game theory. Calm down.

I don't care where it comes from, it refers to righting past wrongs. But that is clearly not what is being discussed here. Again, we've been talking about the current face of atheism being more demographically representative of the current population. That's all. Nobody is talking about righting past wrongs except for you, and along with your invocation of reparations, it's blatant race-baiting.

Yeah, you're right. If Nancy had said "there are too many people of color speaking for atheists" everyone would have lined up to punch her a new asshole

Since there are almost zero people of color speaking for atheists, that would be an obvious declaration of race-hatred. Likewise if there were almost zero white people speaking for atheists, and someone said "there are too many white people," that would be obvious race-hatred.

You're the dishonest one who won't admit that there is a difference between trying to approach demographic representation and simply flipping the script.


I was responding to #194. I don't give a rat's ass about whatever post-facto self-justification came afterward. So, no, I have not lost track.

So you're determined to decide that Nancy is a racist, based only on that post, but you won't take any further explanation from her.

Unless something in post #273 actually contradicts #194, you have no justification for not allowing the clarification.

You're obviously just decided to call her a racist no matter what. Then your whining about how I'm building a strawman of you rings pretty hollow.

#401

Posted by: Feynmaniac | August 28, 2009 2:10 AM

This video might be relevant to the discussion:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEeBPSvcNZQ

Starting at about 1:02:00 Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about the difficulty of being black and going into the sciences (while sitting next to Richard Dawkins!).

#402

Posted by: JefFlyingV | August 28, 2009 2:10 AM

It would also depend on the size of the group. In real life game theory would erradicate anarchy or the group would be destroyed from within.

#403

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 2:13 AM

Richard, thanks for the update. That is an unfortunate circumstance.

#404

Posted by: AG | August 28, 2009 2:18 AM

Phew! For a minute there I thought this was about James Woods. That would have been so disappointing...

#405

Posted by: Rorschach | August 28, 2009 2:32 AM

sgbm reinforcing @ 384 while I usually avoid getting into debates with him by totally misconstruing what I said @ 379 :

This:

To ask for representation by demographics or quota in any given situation is problematic IMO because it always carries the risk of exposing the person that gets elected/selected to criticism about their qualifications to be in that position, other than the quota system that got him/her there.

gets turned into this:

To complain that a quota system will select unqualified people is to insist that people of a certain race or gender are inherently unqualified.

Please at least try and read what I wrote.Nowhere did I say that a quota system selects unqualified people you lying dumbass, I said the people selected on a quota basis might be susceptible to criticism of their work based on the fact that they were selected by quota.And nowhere did I say anything at all about people of a certain race or gender being inherently unqualified.

Stop putting words into people's mouths ffs.

#406

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 2:42 AM

Rorschach for fuck's sake I did not say that you were saying that. I said that such criticism as you mention would have to come from racist premises.

That's completely different from saying that you were making those criticisms. I recognized that you were only pointing out that such criticisms do occur.

What did you think "Not that you were saying that" meant?

#407

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 2:51 AM

Man, I am truly sorry for the misunderstanding. I wish I had made myself clearer. You are on my shortlist of people who I am trying to be conscious about not being an asshole toward.

#408

Posted by: Rorschach | August 28, 2009 2:58 AM

What was your motivation of saying it then in a comment addressed at me, other than misrepresenting what I said?

My point here is that you are not doing anyone a favor by selecting them through a quota system.
But that is probably a discussion for another time and place anyway.

Interesting what Prof Dawkins said above, it would have been great and important to have her there.

#409

Posted by: Roel | August 28, 2009 3:06 AM

Papa Bear's religion is too hard and fundamentalist, Mama Bear's is too gooey and nebulous, but Baby Bear's religion is juuuuuust right. And no one ever criticizes Baby Bear.
Great metaphor!
#410

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 3:06 AM

What was your motivation of saying it then in a comment addressed at me, other than misrepresenting what I said?

Just as a reply to your objection. You said there would be criticism. You're right. I just wanted to note that such criticism could be easily exposed as racially motivated, so it's not as damaging as it might otherwise be. And so in my opinion it's not a big deal to worry about.

My point here is that you are not doing anyone a favor by selecting them through a quota system.

I would disagree, but it probably is a discussion for another time. Especially since there's been no serious discussion of any quota system in this thread. It was someone's strawman way upthread. We could hardly discuss quotas of any type seriously in this context.

#411

Posted by: KevinC | August 28, 2009 3:27 AM

New Rule: You don't get to have an "-ology" until you can demonstrate the existence of your object of study.


Come on, "sophisticated theologians" provide some evidence for the reality of this thing you call a "god." If you don't even have enough real knowledge of your purported subject matter to do that much, then you have no expertise atheists or anyone else is obligated to respect.


And please, don't waste our time with any silly wankery about how the Emperor's robes can neither be said to exist or not exist, but are philosophically necessary. If you really enjoy that sort of mental three-card monte, why not just go over to stardestroyer.net and explain why a Galactic Empire that can build kilometer-long armored battleships like the Acclimator Transport which can hover over ground indefinitely using magic anti-gravity, would then use such ships to carry absurd, slow, clumsy, AT-AT "walkers" instead of just using the Acclimator Transport as a tank.*


At least with that mythology there's some pretty cool movies involved, and you don't have to make a fool of yourself by taking the retcons seriously.


*In sophisticated Sci-Fi Spaceshipology, this is known as the Caboose Argument, as spelled out in the first season of Red vs. Blue:


"I asked him, how did you get the tank here, and he said, 'We brought it on a ship,' and I said, if you've got a ship that can carry a tank, why not put guns on the ship and use that instead?"

#412

Posted by: Aquaria | August 28, 2009 3:30 AM

what I'm trying to say is that its not wrong to deny astrology without having a PhD in it, but one cannot expect to change the minds of those who do know and embrace astrology.

Bullfuckingshit.

I was once an astrology fanatic. Through his arguments against religion's logical fallacies, Dawkins helped me see the illogic of astrology. He helped me understand why science works, thanks to evidence, rigorous experiments, etc., and how the lack of scientific rigor negated the nebulous claims of religion (so much like the claims about astrology or any other woo).

He knew jackshit about astrology, wasn't even writing about it--but the principles are the same, for all woo. Not even Carl Sagan laid out the path to good critical thinking the way Dawkins did, in a language that non-PhD people could understand.

And for the record, I have read a great deal of theological work. I laughed my ass off at it all, because it was so incredibly stupid. Even when I was hopped up on astrology, it was stupid to me. It was always 250,000 words describing the gold stitching on the Emperor's right front collar.

Even Bulwer-Lytton wasn't that grotesquely verbose.

#413

Posted by: truth machine, OM | August 28, 2009 3:41 AM

Well actually, it depends on how many total representative "New Atheists" we get to have. Right now it's four, but that's mainly because that's who is in the clubhouse set up by the gang

No, that's mainly because that's how many wrote books that ended up at the top of the NY Times bestseller list. Racism and sexism are causal factors, but they are far more systemic and subtle than this sort of conspiratorial charge.

#414

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 3:45 AM

Racism and sexism are causal factors, but they are far more systemic and subtle than this sort of conspiratorial charge.

Are you sure that was a conspiratorial charge? I read it as an acknowledgment of a marketing tactic, and thus motivated by nothing more conspiratorial than profit.

#415

Posted by: truth machine, OM | August 28, 2009 4:09 AM

And yeah - JULIA SWEENEY? How great a representative for atheism is SHE?

Katha Pollitt is a huge atheist - and a much better writer than Hitchens - and they both had columns (she still does) at The Nation.

Kathy Griffin. Janeane Garafolo, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bjork, Natalie Angier, Sarah Vowell - all atheists.

There you go -- there's your representation among atheists. And the ones who have gained the ire of apologists for religion (including accomodationists) by writing popular books that systematically challenge religion are "new" atheists -- which are those?

#416

Posted by: truth machine, OM | August 28, 2009 4:20 AM

The media, as strange gods rightly observed, has decided that "The Four Horsemen" (gag) are the official Voice of Atheism. With, it seems to me, the complete cooperation of the Horsemen.

Yes, I'm sure that Daniel Dennett completely cooperated with the media in this or some other project.

Are you sure that was a conspiratorial charge? I read it ...

You've read a lot of things wrong here. Marcus Ranum is a loon, but Nancy has made some quite ridiculous charges that you have systematically ignored in your rebuttals.

#417

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 28, 2009 4:27 AM

what I'm trying to say is that its not wrong to deny astrology without having a PhD in it, but one cannot expect to change the minds of those who do know and embrace astrology.
To be honest, I'd think having knowledge in astronomy / astrophysics / cosmology / celestial mechanics / etc. would be a far better thing to have. You can talk to true believers until you are blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is those who know and embrace astrology are not going to give it up no matter how we can argue with them on their own terms. Whereas if we can show that the whole enterprise is fundamentally flawed, it can get those sitting on the fence to actually get up and take notice. Astrology doesn't work, it cannot work, do we really need to be able to discuss the significance of being in the house of Aquarius as opposed to Pieces to say so?


Then there's the other unfortunate side effect, that by engaging astrology on its own terms, it actually shows the layman audience that there is something to it.

#418

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 4:28 AM

There you go -- there's your representation among atheists.

And when the media is looking for a spokesperson to comment on this or that current event concerning atheism, which of these women do they turn to?

You've read a lot of things wrong here.

Always impressive, TM. How about you make me a list.

#419

Posted by: truth machine, OM | August 28, 2009 4:53 AM

And when the media is looking for a spokesperson to comment on this or that current event concerning atheism, which of these women do they turn to?

Did you fail to notice that I explained why they don't in the paragraph immediately following? When has the media ever gone to someone for comment because they are a columnist in the Nation? That certainly isn't why they go to Hitchens. Who in the media knows that Julia Sweeney is an atheist or that she has anything to say about current events concerning atheism? And just what "current event concerning atheism" is there, other than some piece written by some prominent atheist in some prominent media like the NYT? You apparently have no understanding of how the institution you are referring to operates.

How about you make me a list.

Nancy directly made a claim of conspiracy -- if you're too dishonest or dimwitted to see that then you aren't worth talking to. Perhaps you could get some insight if you were to look into the identity of newatheists.org -- the site that Nancy cited in her claim about a "gang". Are they the media? Are they the Horsemen? Is that the site that the media goes to when they want to talk to someone about "this or that current event concerning atheism"? Or is it just some random site run by some random atheist and thus completely and utterly irrelevant? Perhaps you could get some insight, but I doubt that you will, and I'm not going to waste more of my time on you.

#420

Posted by: Drosera | August 28, 2009 5:06 AM

Kristine @349,

No one wrote a great chorale or sonata to celebrate sex, either. Some things don't need great symphonic or choral works, because we appreciate the thing-in-itself.

I forgot where I read it, but it has been suggested that the music of Liszt was often modelled on love-making. Rachmaninov said that every composition should have one big climax. Draw your own conclusion.

As for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has often been mentioned in this thread, I'm not so sure if I would like to be associated with someone who works for a neocon think tank (the American Enterprise Institute).

#421

Posted by: MIchael X | August 28, 2009 5:52 AM

Sadly, due to the nature of my job I'm here late (and agreeing with TM, which is odd, in many ways), but, I can't see how Marcus has gone wrong in any general way here; despite how I may disagree otherwise with his tone or angle of attack (and the same could be said of TM). Frankly, if anyone wishes that the public representation of atheists followed a demographic (racial or sexual) breakdown vs a breakdown based on merit; that creates a racist/sexist argument no matter how you look at it. PERIOD. There is no way around this. When one person says i wish that i weren't represented by "ALL white males" one is inherently implying that there is (in any small way) a racial test, or a sexist one at that, or worse, both. If you don't like this implication take a logic class and then never make this implication.

If, of course, someone states that the system currently favors any type of human being, then the focus should be on repairing that. But the fix cannot be by over-favoring another group instead, as it creates the same problem in reverse.

This is simple logic. Follow it.

#422

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 6:34 AM

I wonder why it is that the only people I've ever heard strenuously arguing that there is no reason to ever notice or consider race or gender as a factor in a person's background, opportunities, and representation are the ones of the race and gender that is the default dominant holder of power in our society? Hmmmmm...

#423

Posted by: chrisD | August 28, 2009 6:40 AM

I'd ask Marcus how he felt about affirmative action and EOE, but I think I have my answer already.

#424

Posted by: KevinC | August 28, 2009 6:43 AM

Robocop @177

Two things. Firstly, it's based upon the idea that since we all have a great chance of being wrong about any number of things, we ought to be careful not to push our views too hard and ought to be courteous and civil to those who think otherwise.


This reminds me of a quote from Ingersoll:

"There is no harmony between religion and science. When science was a child, religion sought to strangle it in the cradle. Now that science has attained its youth, and superstition is in its dotage, the trembling, palsied wreck says to the athlete: 'Let us be friends.'"


Secondly, its based upon the simple recognition that, historucally, [sic] loads of seemingly rock solid ideas have turned out to be fundamentally flawed or even flat-out wrong. Given that history, it's prudent not to push too hard and to give the "other guy" a break.


This is precisely why theology should be laughed to scorn. We can point to examples of science overturning "seemingly rock solid ideas" because science employs a method that works for giving us a useful understanding of the world we live in. Is it perfect? No, but it is self-correcting, when practiced properly. When, in the entire history of "theology," has it ever overturned a devoutly-believed "seemingly rock solid idea" and provided a demonstrably accurate model for understanding its subject matter? What method does theology have (save those that it can borrow from other fields like science, history, textual criticism, etc.) by which it could ever hope to advance at all? Name one discovery about anything made by theology employing uniquely theological methods.



"Humility - why? They aren't christian values any more."

They ought to be. And science gives us good reasons for thinking so.


And theology, traditionally, has asserted that it has an inside track on capital-t Truth, to the point of waging wars and Inquisitions on behalf of its claims. When the fundamentalist faith-heads and the tweedy "sophisticated theologians" start demonstrating some epistemological humility ("Well, it turns out that God isn't philosophically necessary after all, and the Trinity could indeed be bunk"), then we'll talk.


The first sentence makes great sense, but the second part of the second sentence [asserting that biologists don't claim certain knowledge of Truth] is disproven by the very post under discussion here, with a real-live biologist screaming from the rooftops that indeed he does, yesssirreee/


Just as soon as the theologians, "sophisticated" or otherwise can define what they're talking about and provide compelling evidence for their conclusions, we'll all be happy to say, "Whelp, OK, we were wrong." However, since they haven't made any noticeable advance in that direction since Pythagoras, I doubt that's an outcome we have to be terribly worried about. So long as they continue with blatant pseudo-intellectual fraud, and their best argument for their position is "But you atheists are so meeeeean! You should respect us!" they will continue to deserve our mockery and derision.

#425

Posted by: kamaka | August 28, 2009 6:45 AM

Carlie @ 422

And when they get to the line "I don't care if they have purple polka-dots", you know for sure what you're dealing with.

#426

Posted by: SD | August 28, 2009 7:09 AM

Interestingly, James Wood is an atheist.

#427

Posted by: KevinC | August 28, 2009 7:11 AM

Carlie @422:

I wonder why it is that the only people I've ever heard strenuously arguing that there is no reason to ever notice or consider race or gender as a factor in a person's background, opportunities, and representation are the ones of the race and gender that is the default dominant holder of power in our society? Hmmmmm...


Well, one could point to people like Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell, but then they would probably be dismissed as lackeys for the Man. I don't see why a society in which "there is no reason to ever notice or consider race or gender as a factor" WRT opportunities, representation, etc. would not be a good thing to aspire to, but I don't think we're there yet.


One of the signs of arrival would be (IMO) a situation in which ethnic and gender representation would more or less follow demographics (i.e. ~50% women in the population = ~50% women executives, Congresswomen, etc., and so on for each demographic group), as a matter of statistical probability.


I think the near-ubiquity of white maleness in positions of power, etc. is very likely to be indicative of a non-random sorting process, i.e., the systematic bias things like affirmative action, etc. are intended to counteract. I don't see it as "racist" to want to counteract this apparent subtle-but-pervasive advantage for White Guys by wishing that a group of new-New Atheists (I dunno, the Beasts from the Sea?) would be more demographically representative. Not as the result of a new bias in favor of minorities and women, but of the elimination of the bias in favor of white males.

#428

Posted by: John Morales | August 28, 2009 7:23 AM

KevinC,

... the systematic bias things like affirmative action, etc. are intended to counteract.

I reluctantly accept the need for affirmative action in some areas, but consider that anyone espousing it has no right to argue that "two wrongs don't make a right".

Hypocrisy, I hate it!

#429

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 7:24 AM

I don't see why a society in which "there is no reason to ever notice or consider race or gender as a factor" WRT opportunities, representation, etc. would not be a good thing to aspire to, but I don't think we're there yet.

Exactly. We aren't there, and it's counterproductive to pretend as if we already are. Pretending that we're already a post-racial post-sexist society leads directly to the incorrect conclusion that everyone in power is there simply and only because of their own merits, so since almost all of those people are white males, well then they must be the best at what they do. Nice self-perpetuating fallacy, that.

#430

Posted by: John Morales | August 28, 2009 7:32 AM

I note this thread is being derailed, but in a worthwhile way. :)

#431

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 7:50 AM

My 2 cents, building a bit on what I said on an earlier thread:

I'm interested in certain intellectual debates, particularly as they relate to political action (e.g., incompatibilism and accomodationism). I appreciate the intellectual work of the "New Atheists" (though some of the more sociological and historical segments in Hitchens' book were seriously weak, and I disagree with several of them politically). But I consider the matter of atheism as an intellectual position settled, and spectating at debates on the subject - which have become repetitive and increasingly abstract and abstruse as the superstition-based resort to ever more desperate rhetorical tactics - has grown old. Moreover, it gives the impression of atheism as something of an elite movement. It happens that the most prominent voices in those intellectual debates are white male authors (as opposed to moments in the past when activist writers like Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre were atheist spokepeople). So if that's where the focus, of atheists ourselves and of the media, is going to stay, the usual suspects will continue to be featured.

But there's nothing to say our focus can't (also) be elsewhere. (In addition to a strong interest in science and the history of atheism,) I'm extremely interested in what's happening on the ground around the world in the atheist, secular, and skeptical movements. I would love to hear more from representatives of student groups and local campaigns - especially in religion-dominated regions of my country and in other countries - about strategy, tactics, challenges, and experiences. Having looked into it a bit at the time of that conference thread, in addition to just reading comments here, it appears that there are many women at least involved in these movements in leadership roles. I don't think we should reactively rely on the media to bring us reports, but should actively contact people (making an effort to engage those from marginalized groups) and solicit their contributions somehow.

#432

Posted by: Mr. Ø. | August 28, 2009 7:54 AM

Marcus Ranum, give it up. As brilliant and clearsighted Prof. PZ Myers is, most of the commenters on his blog are exactly the kind of irrational, fundamentalist atheists that Christians like to caricature them as. They do not believe in rational discourse, they believe in parroting half-digested opinions that they read here or on other atheist websites. Nancy has as good as admitted that she simply does not like Dawkins/Dennett/Harris/Hitchens and that this dislike was the sole reason for her initial complaint. She just threw in the race/gender issue to make the whole thing sound as though her dislike was somehow a noble thing. You were right to call her on this and the feeding frenzy that ensued nicely demonstrated that the average atheist is just as immune to logical arguments as the average Chistian/Muslim/etc. You can bet your bottom dollar that none of them has a consistent, thought-through and evidence-driven opinion about race or gender. They have decided not to like you, and nothing you say will change that.

#433

Posted by: Nerd of Redhead, OM Author Profile Page | August 28, 2009 7:58 AM

Yawn, Mr ∅, your boring concern is noted and rejected.

#434

Posted by: John Morales | August 28, 2009 8:01 AM

Mr. Zero:

As brilliant and clearsighted Prof. PZ Myers is, most of the commenters on his blog are exactly the kind of irrational, fundamentalist atheists that Christians like to caricature them as. They do not believe in rational discourse, they believe in parroting half-digested opinions that they read here or on other atheist websites.

Care to justify this assertion, using rational discourse?

#435

Posted by: Rorschach | August 28, 2009 8:08 AM

Mr Wanker @ 432,

As brilliant and clearsighted Prof. PZ Myers is, most of the commenters on his blog are exactly the kind of irrational, fundamentalist atheists that Christians like to caricature them as

Define irrational fundamentalist atheist.

You were right to call her on this and the feeding frenzy that ensued nicely demonstrated that the average atheist is just as immune to logical arguments as the average Chistian/Muslim/etc.

Wrong.There are fundamentalists on all sides of the spectrum, and the tendency to take command of what someone says and to claim to know what they "really" mean by what they say is not exclusive to xtian fundies unfortunately.The "average atheist" is rational and does not need fundie tactics to win a debate.
Unfortunately some here do use these tactics.

Nancy has as good as admitted that she simply does not like Dawkins/Dennett/Harris/Hitchens and that this dislike was the sole reason for her initial complaint. She just threw in the race/gender issue to make the whole thing sound as though her dislike was somehow a noble thing

You are mistaken.Her critique was directed to Hitchens.I dont agree with it, but she did not extend her critique to all of the 4 horsemen.

#436

Posted by: KevinC | August 28, 2009 8:12 AM

John Morales @ 428:

I reluctantly accept the need for affirmative action in some areas, but consider that anyone espousing it has no right to argue that "two wrongs don't make a right".

Hypocrisy, I hate it!


Hmmm, interesting comment, and it may be right. But as I chew on it, it seems to me that it is arguable that white male privilege (WMP) and affirmative action are not necessarily equivalent in the "two wrongs" sense.


White male privilege arose from a context of imperialism and colonialism, in which people of color, indigenous peoples, and women were deliberately and brutally subjugated in the interests of white males generally, and a white male aristocracy in particular. This, I think we can all agree, is a Wrong.


Affirmative action and other similar efforts to break down the array of self-perpetuation mechanisms of WMP (good-ol'-boy networks, subconscious biases, inequality of opportunity, access to education, etc.) is arguably not a "wrong" in the same sense. If affirmative action was being implemented to "get back at whitey" and establish a new minority/female Privileged Class, then it would be a Wrong in the same sense that the establishment of WMP was wrong, and your argument would apply.


Like you, I am reluctantly in favor of affirmative action, and I think that's the way it should be. IMO, affirmative action-type programs ought to be engineered to foster their own obsolescence, and that as a society we ought to be looking forward to the day they can be abolished. But only when they're actually not needed anymore. That's all easier said than done though. :)

#437

Posted by: Drosera | August 28, 2009 8:24 AM

Did anybody notice that James Wood's ideal of a God agrees closely with that of the Mormons? The Mormons don't follow the prudish Christian dogma that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit; they believe that Mary actually had sex with God. I don't know if they romped on the furniture, though — I suppose the Book of Mormon is silent on that issue.

#438

Posted by: Chiroptera | August 28, 2009 8:30 AM

Mr. Ø, #432: ...fundamentalist atheists....

Do you even know what "fundamentalist" means? Can it really be applied to "atheist"?

#439

Posted by: John Morales | August 28, 2009 8:30 AM

KevinC, I take your point, and I think we're in agreement.

At the end of the day, it boils down to a "the ends justify the means" argument; in this case, one with which I agree — but that is because I don't adhere to hard'n'fast rules, but to a case-by-case determination to which I apply my best judgement.

#440

Posted by: Wowbagger, OM | August 28, 2009 8:40 AM

You were right to call her on this and the feeding frenzy that ensued nicely demonstrated that the average atheist is just as immune to logical arguments as the average Chistian/Muslim/etc.

Yes, atheists may act in irrational ways - it's part of being human. But, unlike theists, an atheist does not require an immunity to logical arguments in order to remain an atheist.

Any theist calling an atheist out for irrationality over a single incident is a bit like the lady in that anecdote about Winston Churchill.

'Yes, I may be irrational now - but in the morning I'll be rational, and you'll still believe in a nonsensical antique fairy tale based on the folk tales of Bronze Age goat herders.'

#441

Posted by: Drosera | August 28, 2009 8:41 AM

Do you even know what "fundamentalist" means? Can it really be applied to "atheist"?

Let's see. Is a fundie atheist perhaps an atheist who insists that the Big Bang happened 6000 years ago? No?

#442

Posted by: KevinC | August 28, 2009 8:44 AM

Mr. Zero @432:

Why don't you try making an actual argument in favor of your position on race/gender instead of just resorting to name-calling and unsubstantiated assertions?

#443

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 8:47 AM

I'd just like to tell Marcus he's not alone on this one.

Oh and by the way, Baby Bear: your argument sucks balls.

Now a few subtle points that need tweaking:

I know it's been pointed out already that Dawkins and Dennett are not evolutionary psychologists. Nancy, considering you somehow made that mistake, perhaps everyone should take your judgment of their arguments with a big fucking grain of salt and just move on.... oh, to Julia Sweeney is it?! Ah! haHA! She's got something say that every atheist needs to hear? And what is that, exactly?

Oh yeah, and I'm guessing Harris is the Anti-Islam bigot and Hitchens the giant douchebag, is that right? (I suppose, when you can't even make up an occupation off the topic of your head, then insults will just have to do.) What can I say but your concern has been noted. You haven't been able to argue your way out of a wet paper bag even on this tiny issue, and you intend to slag on these two (or presumably any of the "four horsemen") for nothing in particular about their arguments?

We need intellectuals who can form and defend every kind of argument. We can need people to tell stories, write music, and create art. We need all sorts of things, but don't presume you've got some magic fix by replacing people who've actually been successful enough to get the media's attention.

#444

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 8:53 AM

"We can need" is sort of the same thing as "We need", wrighte?

Oh well, I admit it when I make mistakes. I try to admit when I realize my meager attempts at comments are misguided....

#445

Posted by: aratina cage Author Profile Page | August 28, 2009 8:59 AM

Did anybody notice that James Wood's ideal of a God agrees closely with that of the Mormons? -Drosera
While considering that, I noticed how the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears also carries over nicely to Vladimir the Great's choice of Christinsanity over Judaism and Islam. First he tried Islam, but they didn't allow vodka, so then he tried Judaism, but they didn't allow bacon, so then he tried Christianinanity and it was juuuusssst right. :)
#446

Posted by: Wowbagger, OM | August 28, 2009 9:04 AM

Atheism is the lack of belief in gods - that's it, the whole kit and caboodle1. Therefore, 'fundamentalist atheist' is a redundant expression because it is necessarily true of all atheists to believe in that 'fundamental concept'.

So, either all atheists are 'fundamentalist atheists' - or none are.

Of course, this isn't what people mean when they use the expression; it's chiefly an attempt to insult atheists by likening their behaviour to that of actual fundamentalists, i.e. those who follow a literal interpretation of a holy text or dogma.

However, the term is becoming more common - and there's probably not much point explaining this to anyone using it, since I doubt it's going to stop them.

1If you actually have a caboodle, count yourself lucky; they're in very short supply these days.

#447

Posted by: Mr. Ø. | August 28, 2009 9:10 AM

Nerd of Redhead @ 433, I was not expressing concern. I was offering a bit of support to Marcus Ranum, who is being viciously attacked for no apparent reason.

John Morales @ 434, Exhibit A: This comment thread. I rest my case.

Rorschach @ 435, An "irrational fundamentalist atheist" is someone who does not use reason, who adheres to some doctrine regardless of evidence and who does not believe in the existence of gods. I was applying it in this instance to the majority of commenters on this blog, who do not use reason, who adhere to the doctrine that atheists (especially their atheist friends on this blog) are always right, and who do not believe in the existence of gods.

You are mistaken.Her critique was directed to Hitchens.I dont agree with it, but she did not extend her critique to all of the 4 horsemen

Guess again. Nancy says at 373 (don't be confused by her use of her own name at the beginning of the quote):

Nancy would like it if the go-to group for all things atheist was NOT the "New Atheists" primarily because I'm not a fan of any of them - and that's an understatement when it comes to Hitchens.

Chiroptera @ 438, see my reply to Rorschach.

Wowbagger @ 440, I know. That is certainly an advantage of atheism -- we can be irrational in any way we like, while believers have to be irrational in the precise ways prescribed by their texts and their leaders. That still does not make atheist irrationality of the kind that Nancy and others have shown on this thread desirable.

KevinC @ 432, my position on race and gender is the one that Marcus Ranum has made extensively: race and gender are completely irrelevant concepts in the context of a debate on atheism and its publicly visible figures. If Nancy does not like white men (or finds them "tiresome and business-as-usual", see again her comment at 373), then she is, of course, free to express that opinion, but then SHE is the one who has some explaining to do concerning her position on race and gender. This she has not done (although a number of Pharyngulite apologists have tried to do it for her), and I suspect she is not actually able to do so in any coherent way.

#448

Posted by: John Morales | August 28, 2009 9:22 AM

Mr. Zero:

Care to justify this assertion [most of the commenters on his blog are exactly the kind of irrational, fundamentalist atheists that Christians like to caricature them as. They do not believe in rational discourse, they believe in parroting half-digested opinions that they read here or on other atheist websites.], using rational discourse?
Exhibit A: This comment thread. I rest my case.

I see.

Your case isn't just resting, nor even moribund — it's not even alive. It's a non-case.

#449

Posted by: RHM | August 28, 2009 9:27 AM

Robocop #177:
"Secondly, its based upon the simple recognition that, historucally, [sic] loads of seemingly rock solid ideas have turned out to be fundamentally flawed or even flat-out wrong. Given that history, it's prudent not to push too hard and to give the "other guy" a break."

If you are able to recognize (or have a "simple recognition" of)a flawed or wrong idea, what criteria do you use to make that conclusion? If you accept that an idea, assumed to be "rock solid", can become obsolete or no longer true, what allows you to accept the change? What method do you use to determine your understanding and belief of "wrong"?

I like KevinC's reply #424:
"This is precisely why theology should be laughed to scorn. We can point to examples of science overturning "seemingly rock solid ideas" because science employs a method that works for giving us a useful understanding of the world we live in. Is it perfect? No, but it is self-correcting, when practiced properly. When, in the entire history of "theology," has it ever overturned a devoutly-believed "seemingly rock solid idea" and provided a demonstrably accurate model for understanding its subject matter? What method does theology have (save those that it can borrow from other fields like science, history, textual criticism, etc.) by which it could ever hope to advance at all? Name one discovery about anything made by theology employing uniquely theological methods."

#450

Posted by: Drosera | August 28, 2009 9:35 AM

A more accurate designation for Mr. Zero would be Mr. Empty.

#451

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 28, 2009 9:37 AM

I was not expressing concern. I was offering a bit of support to Marcus Ranum, who is being viciously attacked for no apparent reason.
Viciously attacked? The dude's engaging in an argument, and on sensitive topics it generates hostility. Must we shirk away from human nature so reality when nothing gets harmed but ones sensibilities?


Marcus has shown he is more than capable of handling himself, he's smart enough and can argue his point effectively enough to go at it alone. He doesn't need support any more than Truth Machine or anyone else on here. This. Is. Pharyngula! If you can't handle yourself then you won't make it. Competition can be good when utilised effectively.

#452

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 9:38 AM

255: "Could Dr. King have been delusional?"

Yes, but I don't see how that claim fits with the evidence.

"The fact that you insist that he was motivated by his religious beliefs...."

To claim otherwise is to assert that Dr. King was a constant and consistent liar.

"...and refuse to consider any other explanation...."

I'm happy to consider other explanations and even to concede that there are likely to be multiple explanations. However (and for example), if a trusted friend tells me that he was motivated to become a concert pianist by the love and support of his saintly mother, on that basis alone I see no reason not to take him at his word. There's no reason to view Dr. King's consistent statements about religious motivations differently.

424: "'There is no harmony between religion and science. When science was a child, religion sought to strangle it in the cradle. Now that science has attained its youth, and superstition is in its dotage, the trembling, palsied wreck says to the athlete: "Let us be friends."'"

Neither religion nor science is remotely monolithic.

"Is it perfect? No, but it is self-correcting, when practiced properly."

And religion does a world of good "when practiced properly." More to the point, self-correction in areas of inquiry that don't allow for definitive conclusions is never easy (follow political debate much?). But to suggest that it doesn't happen ignores reality. To pick an easy example, the Catholic Church of today is drastically different from that of the Middle Ages.

"What method does theology have (save those that it can borrow from other fields like science, history, textual criticism, etc.) by which it could ever hope to advance at all?"

Ironically, those "other" techniques were largely developed in religious contexts.

"And theology, traditionally, has asserted that it has an inside track on capital-t Truth, to the point of waging wars and Inquisitions on behalf of its claims."

It's an all too human problem. I'll see your Inquisition and raise you the tens of millions of murders on behalf of "scientific materialism."

435: "The 'average atheist' is rational and does not need fundie tactics to win a debate."

Based upon this thread alone, that's really funny. Really funny. Thank you.

440: "Yes, atheists may act in irrational ways - it's part of being human."

Precisely.

"But, unlike theists, an atheist does not require an immunity to logical arguments in order to remain an atheist."

Nonsense. We simply look at things differently from you. Moreover, how about letting s/he that is without irrationality cast the first stone?

#453

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 9:44 AM

race and gender are completely irrelevant concepts in the context of a debate on atheism and its publicly visible figures.

Irrelevant to atheism, yes. Irrelevant to its publicly visible adherents, only if you don't care if people dismiss it as something that only upper-class white guys care about. Only if you don't think that the experience of a woman who has come out from suffering under a submissive religious culture to become an atheist might ring true to other women in that situation in a way that a man's might not. Only if you don't think the experience of a person from a religious background than Christianity becoming an atheist is any different than that of a former Protestant. Only if you don't think that religion has a different place in different cultures, and that people would have differing consequences of being an atheist depending on the culture they're in.

but then SHE is the one who has some explaining to do concerning her position on race and gender.

Because if you dare to suggest that other voices besides white males might be needed to reach the most people possible, you've got some 'splainin to do? Really?

#454

Posted by: Drosera | August 28, 2009 9:44 AM

Aratina Cage,

While considering that, I noticed how the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears also carries over nicely to Vladimir the Great's choice of Christinsanity over Judaism and Islam. First he tried Islam, but they didn't allow vodka, so then he tried Judaism, but they didn't allow bacon, so then he tried Christianinanity and it was juuuusssst right. :)

Yeah, he was lucky that the Christians also lifted the ban on shellfish, otherwise he would have had to consider a fourth option.

#455

Posted by: Nerd of Redhead, OM Author Profile Page | August 28, 2009 9:47 AM

Mr. Zero, I sometimes think Marcus takes a position just to upset the applecart. He is very capable of arguing his position. He doesn't need your support, any more than I would. I think he was definitely enjoying himself. Whether his tongue was in his cheek, or how far in, I couldn't tell you.

#456

Posted by: Wowbagger, OM | August 28, 2009 9:56 AM

Robocop wrote:

Nonsense. We simply look at things differently from you.

Yes, just like flat-earthers, faith-healers, holocaust deniers, racists and homophobes all 'look at things differently' from rational people, i.e. from a perspective devoid of the unfortunate necessity of reality.

Moreover, how about letting s/he that is without irrationality cast the first stone?

Because irrationality experienced by atheists, as I noted upthread, isn't protected and encouraged and given privileged status like that of the religious. For us, irrationality is bad; for you it's indicative of a strong faith.

#457

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 10:04 AM

Carlie #453:

Irrelevant to atheism, yes. Irrelevant to its publicly visible adherents, only if you don't care if people dismiss it as something that only upper-class white guys care about.

I do care about this. I also agree with the basics of Ranum's position above, as I already said. Nancy's original comment was quite worthy of criticism, and so were her subsequent comments, and others'. If people need some kind of moral support from atheist authorities based on their race or gender, that is going to be a problem for them. (appealing to authorities and celebrities is bad enough) They just need to get over their own prejudices. Then they can write some books or get on TV promoting atheism as they see fit, and they will become the kind of moral support for others they never got. Personally, I'd love it if we could have 4,000,000 Horsepersons of the Apocalypse (that we don't even believe is happening). The white males we all love to villainize can't stop doing what they're doing.

#458

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 10:26 AM

456: "Yes, just like flat-earthers, faith-healers, holocaust deniers, racists and homophobes all 'look at things differently' from rational people, i.e. from a perspective devoid of the unfortunate necessity of reality."

Obviously you believe that. Devoutly even. I get that. But if you really put religious believers -- all religious believers -- in the same category as flat-earthers and holocaust deniers, there's really nothing to talk about. I find that view as disgusting as it is dangerous. And you're offended that some believers think that athiests can't be moral?

"Because irrationality experienced by atheists, as I noted upthread, isn't protected and encouraged and given privileged status like that of the religious."

Bill. Maher.

"For us, irrationality is bad; for you it's indicative of a strong faith."

Nice rhetorical flourish, but don't think this claim has any substance behind it. The disconnect between how believers and non-believers see things truly astounds me. I simply can't figure out how the silly fluff of The God Delusion, which I find hard even to take seriously, could have been written by the same guy who produces such positively brilliant stuff on science.

#459

Posted by: Tulse | August 28, 2009 10:31 AM

you really put religious believers -- all religious believers -- in the same category as flat-earthers and holocaust deniers, there's really nothing to talk about.

They all belong in the category of those who believe things despite negative/contrary evidence.

"Because irrationality experienced by atheists, as I noted upthread, isn't protected and encouraged and given privileged status like that of the religious." Bill. Maher.

And who here has protected and encouraged and given privilege to his wacko notions about medicine and other idiocy? Haven't those views actually been pointed to and laughed at?

#460

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 10:39 AM

Robocop, have you come to a point yet so you can leave us? Just go back to mommy to cry already. What kind of evidence do you have that your religion is true? It doesn't have to be a knock-down proof, just some evidence that would persuade reasonable people the belief is possibly true. Go ahead and share. I'm sure I'll be amazed. Yes, I know, it's just so darned "disgusting" and "dangerous" of me to ask for evidence....

#461

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 10:54 AM

you really put religious believers -- all religious believers -- in the same category as flat-earthers and holocaust deniers, there's really nothing to talk about.

Sure there is. You can explain to us what evidence there is to suggest your belief is more plausible than belief in a flat earth or that the holocaust didn't happen. But as I said above, it has to be something other than the pathetic justifications I've been hearing for the last 32 years. We're not going to pretend your beliefs are plausible just because it hurts your feelings if we don't.

#462

Posted by: Whatevermachine | August 28, 2009 11:01 AM

Lol, I didn't think Americans said 'bollocks'...

#463

Posted by: Paul | August 28, 2009 11:09 AM

Because if you dare to suggest that other voices besides white males might be needed to reach the most people possible, you've got some 'splainin to do? Really?

That wasn't what Nancy said. She said she wanted to be represented by people who were not white males. Her original comment said nothing about tactical concerns or wanting to reach the most possible people. She expressed her feelings that she did not like the preponderance of white male new atheists. That's perfectly fine, of course. But I was bothered by the implication, and don't quite disagree with Marcus's characterization of the statement.

I didn't say anything myself initially because I prefer to err towards giving the most charitable interpretation possible, and was willing to assume there were tactical sentiments behind the statement. But in subsequent posts it seemed pretty clear she just plain doesn't like the four horsemen (although she couldn't even characterize their trades, evolutionary psychologists indeed!). Also fine, but saying there is an issue with them being white males seems to miss the crux of her dislike (e.g. Harris's statements on Islam and Hitchens' douchebaggery) as well as imply that they are not suitable atheist spokespeople because of their race/gender (what does one have to do with the other?).

As I said before, if you want to talk about why some atheists are more prominent than others, it's not as simple as wishing for representative spokespeople. You need to look at the reasons why they are prominent, and "because they are white males" gives no hint on how to fix it and really could be seen as playing a race card. If you take observation of the fact that the four horsemen are popular because they wrote best-selling books, then you can shift the argument to why women and minorities have more trouble publishing and selling books. At least there pointing out implicit race/gender differences in what gets published can serve a purpose (and if there is a push to pressure publishers into removing race/gender biases, you'll likely even have the support of the ones you accuse here of white privilege because they get irritated at the implication that one's race/gender has anything to do with the validity of suitability as an atheist spokesperson). But attaching the bias to atheism, where one's race or gender have no bearing on the validity of one's beliefs, is just silly, and it gets sillier when the people pointing this out get attacked.

And before the accusation, I am not a white male. Not that it matters.

#464

Posted by: Nerd of Redhead, OM Author Profile Page | August 28, 2009 11:11 AM

I see Robocrock is still auditioning for the open "well meaning fool" position. He could avoid this if he would just show some physical evidence for his imaginary deity, but like previous awardees, he won't even try.

#466

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 11:20 AM

459: "They all belong in the category of those who believe things despite negative/contrary evidence."

More accurately, they all belong in the category of those who believe things despite negative/contrary evidence by your estimation. Unless of course, there's some review board with the authority to determine the nature and quality of the evidence under investigation. Which, of course, would necessarily look a lot like a God....

"And who here has protected and encouraged and given privilege to his wacko notions about medicine and other idiocy?"

You must be joking. What better example of atheists protecting and encouraging irrationality could there be than trotting that wack-a-loon out on a stage in front of a fawning atheist herd of admirers and giving him the Richard Dawkins Award to rapturous applause and admiration?

460: "Robocop, have you come to a point yet so you can leave us?"

I'll continue to visit occasionally so long as I remain interested. Sorry 'bout that.

"Yes, I know, it's just so darned 'disgusting' and 'dangerous' of me to ask for evidence...."

If you think that a request for evidence is what I find disgusting and dangerous then, quite obviously, you have trouble reading simple English.

461: "We're not going to pretend your beliefs are plausible just because it hurts your feelings if we don't."

If you think my feelings are hurt you're sorely mistaken. Why would you dream for a second that I care about what you think?


#467

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 11:26 AM

More accurately, they all belong in the category of those who believe things despite negative/contrary evidence by your estimation.

That's right. Flat-earthers and holocaust deniers have evidence that they find convincing too.

If you think my feelings are hurt you're sorely mistaken. Why would you dream for a second that I care about what you think?

Earlier you were saying that lumping religious belief in with flat-earthism and holocaust denial posed some kind of barrier to discussion. Hurt feelings was the only barrier I could think of.

#468

Posted by: Walton Author Profile Page | August 28, 2009 11:28 AM

you really put religious believers -- all religious believers -- in the same category as flat-earthers and holocaust deniers, there's really nothing to talk about.

Sure there is. You can explain to us what evidence there is to suggest your belief is more plausible than belief in a flat earth or that the holocaust didn't happen. But as I said above, it has to be something other than the pathetic justifications I've been hearing for the last 32 years. We're not going to pretend your beliefs are plausible just because it hurts your feelings if we don't.

FWIW, I think Robocop is right that there is a substantial difference, from an atheist/rationalist perspective, between the Flat Earther or YEC-type of believer and the average moderate religionist.

Don't get me wrong. Both types of religious beliefs are non-rational in character, in that, being unsupported by any empirical evidence, they are fundamentally based on faith rather than reason. But what sets apart the more loony kind of believer is that their beliefs are not merely unsupported by evidence, they actively contradict evidence. Believing that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs and humans lived on Earth together, that "faith healing" is an effective means of treatment, or that the Bible is literally true in all respects, is a position which runs directly counter to empirical reality - and does so in a very damaging way, since it forces the believer to reject or deny many beneficial aspects of modern scientific knowledge.

By contrast, theistic evolutionism, and a more nebulous belief in a god or gods who "works through" natural processes, does not directly conflict with scientific evidence. It is unsupported by evidence - in that there's no evidence to demonstrate or even suggest that such a god exists - but it isn't in direct contradiction to reality, and therefore it doesn't really do the same kind of harm to our potential to understand the material world. Moderate non-literalist religious belief, therefore, is a non-scientific perspective, but not an anti-scientific one.

I realise this probably sounds vaguely accommodationist; and don't misunderstand me. I think that we should be absolutely clear that there is no evidence supporting any kind of religious belief, and no rationally defensible reason to pay any kind of lip-service to the idea of god. But at the same time, I would say that if fundamentalism could be eliminated, and all religious believers were moderates (of the kind with whom I grew up) and accepted modern science, then there would be no need to put so much effort into battling religion in the public sphere. I don't think we should "accommodate" faith, but I think we should be clear that there is an important and vital difference between religious moderates and religious extremists. The latter are the sworn enemies of reason; whereas the former are content to compartmentalise their minds, and to apply rational scrutiny to all areas of human endeavour except their personal religious beliefs. While we do not agree with them, and we should not pretend to, we must, at the same time, accept that they are our allies in the fight against lunacy.

#469

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 11:32 AM

Don't get me wrong. Both types of religious beliefs are non-rational in character, in that, being unsupported by any empirical evidence, they are fundamentally based on faith rather than reason. But what sets apart the more loony kind of believer is that their beliefs are not merely unsupported by evidence, they actively contradict evidence.

I see the distinction, but I don't find it substantial at all. The important part is that they are based on faith rather than reason. That's what makes those beliefs unworthy of consideration.

#470

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 11:32 AM

467: "Earlier you were saying that lumping religious belief in with flat-earthism and holocaust denial posed some kind of barrier to discussion. Hurt feelings was the only barrier I could think of."

Yet again, you have demonstrated that the universe of that which you can think of is remarkably tiny.

#471

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 11:33 AM

Robocop:

More accurately, they all belong in the category of those who believe things despite negative/contrary evidence by your estimation. Unless of course, there's some review board with the authority to determine the nature and quality of the evidence under investigation. Which, of course, would necessarily look a lot like a God....

How do you HTML-wizards do comic sans again? No matter.

So, God is the only one who would be capable of deciding if God exists? You've painted yourself into a nice corner there, but the smell of lead-based paint is starting to get to me.

Personally, I think a request for evidence is not all that much to ask, and it's rather disturbing and disgusting that you would be so callous and rude as to deny me this evidence. I mean, you do have evidence, right -- not just circular arguments and hand-waving sophistry?

#472

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 11:34 AM

So why does it present a barrier to discussion?

#473

Posted by: Ty-bo | August 28, 2009 11:39 AM

"b) God inspired J.S. Bach, therefore, atheists must be wrong."

Atheists have Claude Debussy.

Debussy trumps Bach.

#474

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 11:40 AM

Walton, "moderate" religious beliefs also contradict evidence, and I mean big time. About the only one that doesn't is a non-interventionist deity that somehow farted out the universe, and for the next ~13.7 billion years has been practicing his air guitar skillz.

#475

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 11:48 AM

472: "So why does it present a barrier to discussion?"

By your estimation, our views aren't even worthy of consideration. We who think differently aren't just wrong, we're delusional, mentally ill, irrational -- in other words, we're inferior. That sort of bigotry isn't conducive to anything like discussion, which requires relative equality. Instead, we're left with preaching, hectoring, lecturing, haranguing, and the like. And its danger should be obvious. History is replete with the horrors of self-proclaimed superiors keeping the inferiors in their place. Of all people, atheists ought to recognize the danger in that.

#476

Posted by: Mr. Ø. | August 28, 2009 11:50 AM

Carlie @ 453,

[Race and gender are] irrelevant to [atheism's] publicly visible adherents, only if you don't care if people dismiss it as something that only upper-class white guys care about. Only if you don't think that the experience of a woman who has come out from suffering under a submissive religious culture to become an atheist might ring true to other women in that situation in a way that a man's might not.

But nobody was suggesting that women be barred from representing atheism publicly. They are welcome to do so (and I believe, although other people here disagree, that Julia Sweeney, for example, is doing a spectacular job, as are Rebecca Watson and others).

The only person in this thread who suggested introducing a gender-test to determine a person's fitness for public atheism was Nancy.

Nerd of Redhead @ 455,

Marcus ... is very capable of arguing his position.

Absolutely. In fact, in this debate he is one of only a handful of people who is capable of doing so.

He doesn't need your support, any more than I would.

I did not support him because I thought he needed it, but because I felt he deserved it. As for whether you could do with my support, this is impossible for me to determine, as you have not contributed to this discussion.

Paul @ 463,

Well said! I think your analysis of possible sources of gender bias is the most insightful thing that has been said about this issue in this discussion (and before Nerd of Redhead gets all excited again, I don't say this because I think you need my support...).

#477

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 11:51 AM

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 11:48 AM

472: "So why does it present a barrier to discussion?"

By your estimation, our views aren't even worthy of consideration.

That's right. If you disagree, then convince me otherwise. Convince me that beliefs based on anything other than reason and empirical evidence are worthy of consideration.

We who think differently aren't just wrong, we're delusional, mentally ill, irrational -- in other words, we're inferior.

I never said or implied any of that.

#478

Posted by: amphiox | August 28, 2009 11:51 AM

I can't speak for others, Robocop, but I do not consider being delusional, mentally ill, or irrational to be a mark of inferiority. These are afflictions of the human condition that all human beings share to extents that vary with circumstances and subjects, in any individual.

They are, however, a mark of being wrong.

#479

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 11:52 AM

I should note that some of the more effluent influential deist theologians have speculated that this farting possibly occurred as a result of God having made a burrito so spicy that not even His Ethereal Digestive System could contain it.

Ty-bo: Stravinsky was Russian Orthodox, but I'm afraid Russian Orthodox does not trump atheism. Musicians are notoriously woo-filled in all sorts of ways anyway, so why even worry about it?

#480

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 11:53 AM

But nobody was suggesting that women be barred from representing atheism publicly.

No, but what they were saying was that it shouldn't matter that there aren't any now, and that there's no problem with the fact that there aren't any, and Ryan specifically said that just pointing out the fact that there aren't is racist.

#481

Posted by: Tulse | August 28, 2009 11:53 AM

More accurately, they all belong in the category of those who believe things despite negative/contrary evidence by your estimation.

Not my estimation -- the estimation of those whose job it is to evaluate claims about the objectively observable world.

Unless of course, there's some review board with the authority to determine the nature and quality of the evidence under investigation.

Well, science seems to do pretty well in that regard.

What better example of atheists protecting and encouraging irrationality could there be than trotting that wack-a-loon out on a stage in front of a fawning atheist herd of admirers and giving him the Richard Dawkins Award to rapturous applause and admiration

Did you even read PZ's take on the issue?

#482

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 12:16 PM

477: "That's right. If you disagree, then convince me otherwise."

Since you've already decided that my views aren't worthy of consideration, I can't -- by definition.

478: "I can't speak for others, Robocop, but I do not consider being delusional, mentally ill, or irrational to be a mark of inferiority."

Then I think you're in the decided minority. Pick almost any Pharyngula thread at random and I expect you'll see evidence of a triumphalist superiority complex writ large on almost every line.

481: "Not my estimation -- the estimation of those whose job it is to evaluate claims about the objectively observable world."

Who are these esteemed professionals and who put them in charge of making these decisions on my behalf?

"Well, science seems to do pretty well in that regard."

Most of the time, it does. So?

"Did you even read PZ's take on the issue?"

Yes, and it does precisely nothing to mitigate the ridiculous buffoonery I pointed out.

#483

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 12:20 PM

477: "That's right. If you disagree, then convince me otherwise."

Since you've already decided that my views aren't worthy of consideration, I can't -- by definition.

That's not true at all. It's not about you, it's about your views. Maybe you have some justification for your views that I've never heard that would get me to change my mind. All the evidence I've seen to date leads me to believe that religious views aren't worthy of consideration. Do you have something new?

#484

Posted by: Tulse | August 28, 2009 12:26 PM

"Not my estimation -- the estimation of those whose job it is to evaluate claims about the objectively observable world."

Who are these esteemed professionals and who put them in charge of making these decisions on my behalf?

Well, they are generally scientists, and no one is making decisions on your behalf -- if you decide to ignore the evidence of the physical world, you are welcome to do so. But, to go back to the original point, that puts you in the company of flat-earthers and other similar willfully-deluded people.

"Well, science seems to do pretty well in that regard."

Most of the time, it does. So?

So that gives us warrant to accept its provisional conclusions about the nature of the physical world, conclusions which are self-correcting given the methodology of science. What is the point you're making here?

"Did you even read PZ's take on the issue?" Yes, and it does precisely nothing to mitigate the ridiculous buffoonery I pointed out.

Right, the "we should publicly mock his wacko beliefs at the award ceremony if he brings them up" does nothing to mitigate?

#485

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 12:26 PM

Who are these esteemed professionals and who put them in charge of making these decisions on my behalf?

On your behalf? Just a few minutes ago, it was on God's behalf, because you said God is the only kind of being that could make such a decision. Now, sure, that's nonsense, but at least be consistent about it. Suddenly you and other religious folk are capable of making better decisions based on absolutely no evidence than anyone else?

#486

Posted by: Bexley | August 28, 2009 12:52 PM

Strange gods before me said:

Nancy only said that the public face of atheism should be demographically representative of the actual population.


Err surely the best people for the job should be selected regardless of sex/race.

Analogy: you could select the US athletics team to be demographically representative of the actual population or you could use the current methodology of selecting whoever does best at the national trials.

For me defensible arguments are:
a) I'd like to see X & Y to become more prominent as the face of atheism as I like their writing. (where X&Y happen to be non-white/female and are not selected merely because they are non-white/female)

b) I'd like to see more non-whites/females rising to become the prominent face of atheism because they might be more likely to reach certain demographics who tend not to listen to the current four horsemen.


But that wasnt what Nancy originally said nor what you said in the post I quoted.

#487

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 12:52 PM

483: "That's not true at all. It's not about you, it's about your views."

You've already stated definitively not that you don't agree with my views, but that you won't consider my views. Why should I bother to put forth what you won't consider?

"All the evidence I've seen to date leads me to believe that religious views aren't worthy of consideration. Do you have something new?"

Superiority writ large yet again.

484: "[I]f you decide to ignore the evidence of the physical world, you are welcome to do so."

I don't ignore it, I see it differently. And you are aware of the limits of the "black swan" problem, aren't you?

"But, to go back to the original point, that puts you in the company of flat-earthers and other similar willfully-deluded people."

More superiority writ large. If I were simply honest (I'm "willfully deluded" after all), I'd have to see things your way.

"Right, the 'we should publicly mock his wacko beliefs at the award ceremony if he brings them up' does nothing to mitigate?"

Not a thing. The fact of the award alone -- arguably the more significant of its kind within the atheist "movement" -- establishes that irrationality experienced by atheists is protected, encouraged and given privileged status, especially when the privileged one is really famous.

485: "Just a few minutes ago, it was on God's behalf, because you said God is the only kind of being that could make such a decision."

You could probably misread what I wrote more completely, but it would be tough.

#488

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 12:59 PM

Posted by: Bexley | August 28, 2009 12:52 PM

Strange gods before me said:

Nancy only said that the public face of atheism should be demographically representative of the actual population.

Err surely the best people for the job should be selected regardless of sex/race

Exactly. And Nancy's point is that they are not.

#489

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 1:03 PM

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 12:52 PM

483: "That's not true at all. It's not about you, it's about your views."

You've already stated definitively not that you don't agree with my views, but that you won't consider my views. Why should I bother to put forth what you won't consider?

I never said I wouldn't consider your justification for your views. I said that, based on every justification I've ever heard so far, religious views aren't worthy of consideration. The challenge for you is to come up with some justification that I haven't previously considered that would demonstrate for me why religious views should be worthy of consideration.

"All the evidence I've seen to date leads me to believe that religious views aren't worthy of consideration. Do you have something new?"

Superiority writ large yet again.

Saying that in my whole life I have never seen any evidence to suggest that religious beliefs have validity is "superiority"?

Is it "superiority" to say the same thing about flat-earth beliefs and holocaust denial?

#490

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 1:06 PM

You could probably misread what I wrote more completely, but it would be tough.

That's an excellent case of denial you've got going there. Exactly how else am I to interpret your post #466?

Robocop:

459: "They all belong in the category of those who believe things despite negative/contrary evidence."

More accurately, they all belong in the category of those who believe things despite negative/contrary evidence by your estimation. Unless of course, there's some review board with the authority to determine the nature and quality of the evidence under investigation. Which, of course, would necessarily look a lot like a God....

Is it you that can determine the nature and quality of the evidence, or is it something that would "necessarily look a lot like a God"? Any old answer will do with this kind of bullshittery. You'll just have to pick one first. I'm sure it's quite troubling to discover that you're a theist who was arguing a purely agnostic position...

#491

Posted by: Bexley | August 28, 2009 1:09 PM

@ truthspeaker 488

Perhaps she should have said so in her original post then. With some evidence hopefully. All I saw was that there should be more non-white/females without explaining why. Something very open to misinterpretation.

Moreover it would have been even better if she'd said I want X & Y to be prominent as the face of atheism as I like their writing. The way she originally phrased it, made it sound like she wanted to shoehorn some ethnic minorities and females in for the sake of being diverse rather than because she liked their arguments/writing. Something I find patronising and arguably discriminatory.

Assuming that she meant what you say she means - something only she can answer.

#492

Posted by: Rev. BigDumbChimp | August 28, 2009 1:10 PM

I haven't read every one of the comments here and if I am deserving of a throat stomping because of this so be it.

The faces of "New Atheism" are the face because of one thing as far as I know.

Starts with M and ends with oney.

They sell more books, more advertising on talk shows, more editions of magazines and papers. Does that mean they are better representatives or have better ideas than a woman author or someone not from the western world or of a different race? No.

It's just a nature of how information is disseminated. What sells most is naturally what is going to be held up as the examples.


#493

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 1:11 PM

OK, who forgot to close an <i$gt; tag?

#494

Posted by: Rev. BigDumbChimp | August 28, 2009 1:12 PM

Uh oh. Renegade Italics tag

#495

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 1:22 PM

Posted by: Bexley | August 28, 2009 1:09 PM

@ truthspeaker 488

Perhaps she should have said so in her original post then.

She did.

All I saw was that there should be more non-white/females without explaining why. Something very open to misinterpretation.

She didn't have to explain why because it was blindingly obvious. Her statement was only open to misinterpretation by people who are completely ignorant of the current state of racial and gender diversity in the American and British media. Nancy assumed, as I would, that no such people would be reading Pharyngula, because if they understand English and have access to the internet, they would have at least some idea of the current state of racial and gender diversity in the American and British media.

#496

Posted by: AJ Milne | August 28, 2009 1:22 PM

Ah yes. 'Superiority'... I do wonder, sometimes, if the god-besotted truly have no idea how hilariously narcissistic they do appear when they pull this one out, or if there's a deeper madness at work.

Let's review: they claim to know something. They have no evidence. Indeed, there's little evidence they know much of anything whatsoever beyond their rudimentary grasp of, well, typing. Yet the affidavit reads, more or less, 'no, honest, trust us on this one...'

And the claim concerns how the universe was created....

(Oh. And also why...)

And yet somehow, someone who merely sez: 'Nope, not buyin'...' (or, this one step further: stop even trying, thanks, your kind has wasted quite enough of my time with this increasingly hilarious BS) is... well... puttin' on airs or somethin' in doing so...

Yep. Awfully 'superior' of 'em. Boy. Where do they get off?

#497

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 1:23 PM

Did you fail to notice that I explained why they don't in the paragraph immediately following? When has the media ever gone to someone for comment because they are a columnist in the Nation? That certainly isn't why they go to Hitchens. Who in the media knows that Julia Sweeney is an atheist or that she has anything to say about current events concerning atheism? And just what "current event concerning atheism" is there, other than some piece written by some prominent atheist in some prominent media like the NYT?

You're so dense, TM. You're explaining to me what I was already pointing at. These women are not known for being atheists, therefore they are not the public face of atheism. Should I have written "HINT HINT" after my question to help you out?

Nancy directly made a claim of conspiracy -- if you're too dishonest or dimwitted to see that then you aren't worth talking to.

No, it is not at all clear that she referred to anything but marketing.

Frankly, if anyone wishes that the public representation of atheists followed a demographic (racial or sexual) breakdown vs a breakdown based on merit; that creates a racist/sexist argument no matter how you look at it. PERIOD.

Actually, MIchael X, you just made a very racist and sexist claim right there. You are arguing that looking for people of a certain race or gender will necessarily mean finding people of lower merit.

The kind of "racism" you accuse Nancy of, looking for people of a particular skin color, is not widely agreed to actually be racism.

But the kind of racism that you just exhibited, implying that people of certain races are necessarily of lower merit, is universally agreed to be race-hatred.

Nancy has as good as admitted that she simply does not like Dawkins/Dennett/Harris/Hitchens and that this dislike was the sole reason for her initial complaint. She just threw in the race/gender issue to make the whole thing sound as though her dislike was somehow a noble thing.

Uh, Mr. Ø, disliking someone is not ignoble. It doesn't even need to be justified, although Nancy did give her reasons. Wanting a different demographic representation is entirely a separate matter. One could love each of the Four Horsemen dearly and still want better demographic representation.

#498

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 1:27 PM

There are fundamentalists on all sides of the spectrum, and the tendency to take command of what someone says and to claim to know what they "really" mean by what they say is not exclusive to xtian fundies unfortunately.The "average atheist" is rational and does not need fundie tactics to win a debate. Unfortunately some here do use these tactics.

Rorschach, you made a similar claim in the Kennedy thread, so I repeat my questions to you here:

I think your comment was stupid, uncalled for, and undoubtedly sexist, in whichever context you look at it, and your backpedalling was at times painful to watch.

You were however also the victim of a debating tactic that I despise but that is unfortunately not uncommon here, and trust me we have been through this with various words at length over time, which is to claim authority over the "real" meaning of the words you use and the "true" intentions and convictions you have,

1. You are wrong about the inference of true intentions and convictions. As I've said repeatedly now, I have assumed the entire time that Ryan had no intent of being sexist.

2. Putting that aside, and speaking just of the meaning of words, your argument here appears to be self-contradictory. How can you possibly say that Ryan's comment was "undoubtedly sexist" without relying on the meaning of his words? He says his comment was not sexist. How can you disagree with him?

3. Since you agree that the comment was sexist, how would you suggest that this should have been made clear to him, or anyone else in the future? What alternative debating tactic would you use that would be more fair?

#499

Posted by: Forbidden Snowflake | August 28, 2009 1:28 PM

Analogy: you could select the US athletics team to be demographically representative of the actual population or you could use the current methodology of selecting whoever does best at the national trials.

That is a false analogy. The size of an athletics team is a constant, in which each new face introduced requires the elimination of a previous face.
The number/diversity or faces seen on TV screens is not restricted.
This is the addition vs. subtraction issue Carlie [i think] very accurately addressed previously.

Stay tuned for more on tonight's "Italics gone wild"!

#500

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 1:30 PM

489: "The challenge for you is to come up with some justification that I haven't previously considered that would demonstrate for me why religious views should be worthy of consideration."

I don't see how or why you'd consider justifications unworthy of same. Moreover, why do you assume that your previous interpretations of what you say you've considered were infallible?

"Saying that in my whole life I have never seen any evidence to suggest that religious beliefs have validity is 'superiority'?"

Evaluating claims and deciding whether you think them to be true or false is quite different from finding them unworthy. I think President Obama's economic policies, particularly with respect to looming deficits, have us on the road to financial disaster. I hold that view very strongly and don't think the other side has any merit. But I'm willing to consider their views. I might have missed something. Moreover, I don't think they're nuts for seeing things differently.

490: "Is it you that can determine the nature and quality of the evidence, or is it something that would 'necessarily look a lot like a God'?"

Here's a hint: don't focus on the determination per se. Instead, focus on the alleged definitive and conclusive nature of the determination.

#501

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 1:30 PM

I'd just like to tell Marcus he's not alone on this one.

Really, Mr T?

So you agree with him that people of color, who want to see more people of color in the media, are racists, equivalent to white supremacists?

#502

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 1:35 PM

Ode to runaway italics:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

#503

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 1:36 PM

Err surely the best people for the job should be selected regardless of sex/race.

[Leaving aside for the moment the question of why anyone thinks it's important for atheists to have a handful of Important Prominent Examples*] What is the job, and what characteristics are important in fulfilling it? If the job is that of representative, what does representation entail, and does it entail the same thing across contexts?

It would seem that if this

b) I'd like to see more non-whites/females [and, I would add, poor people] rising to become the prominent face of atheism because they might be more likely to reach certain demographics who tend not to listen to the current four horsemen.

is the case, that might be an important consideration in who should be "selected for the job," no? As might, for example, the ability to speak well in public, to write for and inspire different audiences, to relate to different people's experiences; knowledge of the issues facing people coming out as atheists and atheist movements in different contexts (including the most difficult and dangerous); experience with and knowledge of organizing and campaigning; experience dealing with representatives of government; participation in local or regional politics and knowledge of the local scene; experience working with international organizations; experience with education; experience with the media; knowledge of law; etc. It seems to me that different contexts and issues would make different people suited to the spokesperson role. Sometimes PZ, sometimes Annie Laurie Gaylor, sometimes Amanda Metskas, sometimes Eugenie Scott, sometimes student leaders,...

And just what "current event concerning atheism" is there, other than some piece written by some prominent atheist in some prominent media like the NYT?

Bus and billboard campaigns, conferences and meetings, new programs, persecution of atheists, UN human rights resolutions, activism in the military, secular legislative initiatives, new research on religious views, atheism as a smear in political campaigns, legal battles,...

*And Nancy's or anyone else's comments. I haven't read the thread closely at all.

#504

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 1:37 PM

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 1:30 PM

489: "The challenge for you is to come up with some justification that I haven't previously considered that would demonstrate for me why religious views should be worthy of consideration."

I don't see how or why you'd consider justifications unworthy of same.

Because the justification of a belief holds the clue to whether that belief is worthy of consideration.

Moreover, why do you assume that your previous interpretations of what you say you've considered were infallible?

I don't, any more than you consider your intrepretations of your evaluation of arguments for a flat earth are infallible.

"Saying that in my whole life I have never seen any evidence to suggest that religious beliefs have validity is 'superiority'?"

Evaluating claims and deciding whether you think them to be true or false is quite different from finding them unworthy.

Why?

I think President Obama's economic policies, particularly with respect to looming deficits, have us on the road to financial disaster. I hold that view very strongly and don't think the other side has any merit. But I'm willing to consider their views. I might have missed something.

What if every time in the past someone had enacted similar policies it had led to financial disaters, and if Obama used exactly the same justifications for his policies as predecessors had used for their failed policies? Would you still consider his views? I wouldn't.

Moreover, I don't think they're nuts for seeing things differently.

And as I pointed out above, I never said or implied that religious people were nuts.

#505

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 1:38 PM

If Nancy does not like white men (or finds them "tiresome and business-as-usual",

Mr. Ø, she never said she doesn't like white men. In fact she said she does like white men, and her family is full of them.

And she said she finds the common situation in which a group is "all white men" to be "tiresome and business-as-usual."

You deliberately took her remark out of context to make her sound like a racist. You are deliberately race-baiting, Mr. Ø.

see again her comment at 373), then she is, of course, free to express that opinion, but then SHE is the one who has some explaining to do concerning her position on race and gender. This she has not done (although a number of Pharyngulite apologists have tried to do it for her), and I suspect she is not actually able to do so in any coherent way.

She did explain it, and you are deliberately ignoring her explanation like Marcus did:

"It annoys me that atheism is represented by a group composed exclusively of white men. And really, it's the sexism that bothers me more, because while you could argue that whites make up a greater population than non-whites in the USA and England, and therefore it's just luck of the draw that all four are white men, females make up 50% of the population of the entire world."

That's just a call for demographic representation. There's nothing wrong with such a desire.

#506

Posted by: JPS, FCD | August 28, 2009 1:40 PM

Carlie, wasn't that Emily Dickinson?

#507

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 1:42 PM

race and gender are completely irrelevant concepts in the context of a debate on atheism and its publicly visible figures.

Irrelevant to atheism, yes. Irrelevant to its publicly visible adherents, only if you don't care if people dismiss it as something that only upper-class white guys care about. Only if you don't think that the experience of a woman who has come out from suffering under a submissive religious culture to become an atheist might ring true to other women in that situation in a way that a man's might not. Only if you don't think the experience of a person from a religious background than Christianity becoming an atheist is any different than that of a former Protestant. Only if you don't think that religion has a different place in different cultures, and that people would have differing consequences of being an atheist depending on the culture they're in.

Damn it, Carlie wins the thread.

#508

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 1:42 PM

Sure, snowflake, except Nancy even said @ #350:

If we MUST have only four... we could keep two of the current white guys - I'm not sure which ones but definitely not Hitchens - and then add two people who are not white and/or not male. So it's more replacement, which I guess is addition and subtraction. OR vice versa.

First of all, that's a FAIL at comprehending the whole addition v. subtraction idea. But of course, it doesn't really matter what Nancy says, as long as the rest of us maneuver around her careless words and accept that "Ideally" she wouldn't want that.... Whatever. It was a series of thoughtless comments, and while I definitely agree that diversity and nondiscrimination is great, attacking (with no substantial argument) the few successful white guys who've actually been able to be successful (and suggesting they be replaced! Just to keep up the 4 horsemen meme? What?) isn't going to achieve us anything.

#509

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 1:44 PM

Come on, Mr T.

You agree with Marcus that people of color, who want to see more people of color in the media, are racists, equivalent to white supremacists?

#510

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 1:46 PM

496: "And yet somehow, someone who merely sez: 'Nope, not buyin'...' (or, this one step further: stop even trying, thanks, your kind has wasted quite enough of my time with this increasingly hilarious BS) is... well... puttin' on airs or somethin' in doing so..."

Putting aside as a rhetorical device the blatant dishonesty of claiming "no evidence" (when it's really a conclusion concerning the nature and quality of the evidence), for most people the difference between "Nope, not buyin'" and "What you think isn't even wrong -- it's so stupid and irrational that you must be mentally ill, seriously" is pretty obvious.

#511

Posted by: Bexley | August 28, 2009 1:48 PM

Truthspeaker said:

She didn't have to explain why because it was blindingly obvious. Her statement was only open to misinterpretation by people who are completely ignorant of the current state of racial and gender diversity in the American and British media.

Yawn. Merely saying something is blindingly obvious doesnt actually make it so. Given people did parse what she said differently suggest that maybe it isnt as obvious as you think.

Moreover Strange gods before me didnt say this at all - he seems to be implying that having a demographically representative group is somehow an end in itself rather than because he thought non-whites/females are somehow being held down.

#512

Posted by: Medusa4303 | August 28, 2009 1:48 PM

Thanks for shredding that trite waste of ink and paper The New Yorker stuck into the current issue, Pz.

I'm wrting the editors a letter telling them exactly what I thought of it.

#513

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 1:49 PM

I also agree with the basics of Ranum's position above, as I already said. ... If people need some kind of moral support from atheist authorities based on their race or gender, that is going to be a problem for them. (appealing to authorities and celebrities is bad enough)

Really, Mr T?

So you think that if a woman wants to talk to another woman, because they have more experiences in common and can empathize and understand each other, that's sexism?

If a person of color wants to talk to another person of color about racism that they've both experienced against them, then they're both racists themselves?

#514

Posted by: Tulse | August 28, 2009 1:51 PM

"[I]f you decide to ignore the evidence of the physical world, you are welcome to do so."

I don't ignore it, I see it differently. And you are aware of the limits of the "black swan" problem, aren't you?

So you also believe in leprechauns and unicorns, since they are equally susceptible to the black swan problem?

#515

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 1:54 PM

Posted by: Bexley | August 28, 2009 1:48 PM

Yawn. Merely saying something is blindingly obvious doesnt actually make it so.

In this case it does. There is no possible way a reasonable person could misconstrue what Nancy meant.

Given people did parse what she said differently suggest that maybe it isnt as obvious as you think.

It suggests that some people like to troll by deliberately misunderstanding clear statements.

Moreover Strange gods before me didnt say this at all - he seems to be implying that having a demographically representative group is somehow an end in itself

Of course it is.

#516

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 1:57 PM

Analogy: you could select the US athletics team to be demographically representative of the actual population or you could use the current methodology of selecting whoever does best at the national trials.

That is a false analogy. The size of an athletics team is a constant, in which each new face introduced requires the elimination of a previous face.
The number/diversity or faces seen on TV screens is not restricted.

In case I wasn't clear enough above, this is also a silly analogy because performance in athletics is easily measurable (relatively, though there's subjectivity in some sports, and criteria can change), whereas "merit" as a "representative" requires contextual and highly subjective considerations.

Starts with M and ends with oney.

They sell more books, more advertising on talk shows, more editions of magazines and papers. Does that mean they are better representatives or have better ideas than a woman author or someone not from the western world or of a different race? No.

I think this is an important point. The thing is, I don't think (and I know you're not saying this) that we should, actively or merely through passive acceptance, allow that to become our own guiding consideration. "Getting the most attention" may be a goal that at times atheists might share with the for-profit media, but we need to be cognizant of when it conflicts with other goals that might be more important, especially in the long run.

#517

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 2:00 PM

You need to look at the reasons why they are prominent, and "because they are white males" gives no hint on how to fix it and really could be seen as playing a race card.

what the fuck does that mean, Paul? What is a race card?

The only person in this thread who suggested introducing a gender-test to determine a person's fitness for public atheism was Nancy.

You're full of shit, Mr. Ø. No one here ever said that white men were not fit to speak.

And your comment there, in reply to Carlie, misses the entire context of her comment. Marcus was saying that no one should want women or people of color representing atheism for the purpose of public visibility. In fact he said that any person of color who wanted such a thing was a racist and equivalent to a white supremacist.

#518

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 2:06 PM

Robocop:

the blatant dishonesty of claiming "no evidence" (when it's really a conclusion concerning the nature and quality of the evidence)

What evidence are you talking about, specifically? Because, you know, without having any idea of what it is, since you haven't been willing to tell us, yes, it is a bit difficult to conclude the "nature and quality" of it. That's your problem, not ours.

Strange gods: I saw your question the first time. First, let's be clear this isn't about a one-on-one conversation, and who should get to choose who they talk to. I think there is no reason race sex should have some special privilege when it comes to who the media (not even by ourselves, mind you) should label as the "leaders" of the "New Atheists", especially adhering to some tripe about "four horsemen of the apocalypse". It's just ridiculous; let's not limit ourselves to how others stereotype us according to their superstitions. We can support all sorts of different perspectives. I wouldn't want to speak for them, but I'm almost certain Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens completely agree with this sentiment. The label has apparently stuck, but atheists, agnostic atheists, Militant New Atheists, etc. (of all shapes and colors) can all get along if we're not just vying for each others' influence.

#519

Posted by: Paul | August 28, 2009 2:06 PM

"Getting the most attention" may be a goal that at times atheists might share with the for-profit media, but we need to be cognizant of when it conflicts with other goals that might be more important, especially in the long run.

I'm not sure I follow where you're going here, SC. The sidethread regarding the Four Horsemen was based on mentioning the public face of atheism. If we're assuming the discussion is between people who are already openly atheist, they have no need for figureheads that are representational of the movement -- they know more about the culture and likely read more widely from varied atheist sources. But if the discussion is regarding the public face, what concerns are more important than "getting the most [positive, resonating, inspiring, etc] attention"? It's a very honest question, as I'll readily admit you have much more expertise on social movements than I do :-). I'm just a random commenter.

#520

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 2:09 PM

Strange gods before me said:

Nancy only said that the public face of atheism should be demographically representative of the actual population.

Err surely the best people for the job should be selected regardless of sex/race.

Bexley, this is a racist and sexist thing to say.

You are arguing that looking for people of a certain race or gender will necessarily mean finding people who are not qualified for the job.

It is possible to select people on race and gender and merit all at the same time. To imply otherwise is to say that is would not be possible to find people of sufficient merit who are also of a certain race or gender

#521

Posted by: AJ Milne | August 28, 2009 2:13 PM

Moreover, I don't think they're nuts for seeing things differently...

Charitable of him, I'm sure...

'Course, Keynesianism, for all the questions it does pose, does contain relatively few references to talking snakes...

Still, all the same. Nice to hear.

...the blatant dishonesty of claiming "no evidence"...

Ah yes, my mistake. I had forgotten that the testimony of an illiterate iron age goatherder claiming a magical seven foot man with wings sprouting from his shoulder blades done tole' 'im what's what constitutes evidence, in certain areas of study...

A dreadful oversight on my part, clearly. Forgive me, all present, please...

...the difference between "Nope, not buyin'" and "What you think isn't even wrong -- it's so stupid and irrational that you must be mentally ill, seriously" is pretty obvious...

Well, I suppose I should at least be pleased he's still noticing there is a difference... considering how very many times he's crossed that very Rubicon himself, of late...

'Course, we may have to explain to him: cross it enough, and the rest of us, we do begin to see it as rather less of a big thing.

(/Familiarity, see. We've been here before. Rather frequently. It does get old... Totally insane/making very little sense, whatever... Same ole' same ole'... Must be talking with a religiobot on the 'net, I guess...)

#522

Posted by: Paul | August 28, 2009 2:15 PM

sgbm,

As used in that comment, it would be the injection of racial (or gendered I suppose, I could have said 'race or gender card' I suppose) concerns in an issue orthogonal to race in the absence of an actual argument or proposition. For example, calling foul because the four horsemen are white males instead of asking why that is and going from there. Perhaps better to not use a term that drives you insane any time it's used, and I will consider word choice more carefully in the future. But if your contributions are just going to be focused on attacking words instead of the ideas expressed behind them (I didn't think it was all that vague in context), I really don't have any more to discuss with you here.

#523

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 2:16 PM

Strange gods: I saw your question the first time.

Interesting that you did not answer it, then.

The question was, Mr T, do you agree with Marcus that people of color, who want to see more people of color in the media, are racists, equivalent to white supremacists?

Are you embarrassed to answer it, because your answer is yes?

I think there is no reason race sex should have some special privilege when it comes to who the media (not even by ourselves, mind you) should label

So you don't actually care about what Carlie said at #453, even though you said you did.

#524

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 2:22 PM

I haven't read every one of the comments here and if I am deserving of a throat stomping because of this so be it.

The faces of "New Atheism" are the face because of one thing as far as I know.

Starts with M and ends with oney.

You're right, Reverend. But race and gender have an influence on that money. As I said above, the publishing industry does have some issues with racism. And there is gender discrimination in scientific academia, the topic of many discussions on ScienceBlogs. I also recommend the video Feynmaniac linked at #401.

So even though as a very important level there are marketing decisions being made based solely on money, the money available is somewhat dependent upon race and gender.

#525

Posted by: Bexley | August 28, 2009 2:27 PM

SC said

That is a false analogy. The size of an athletics team is a constant, in which each new face introduced requires the elimination of a previous face.
The number/diversity or faces seen on TV screens is not restricted.

In case I wasn't clear enough above, this is also a silly analogy because performance in athletics is easily measurable (relatively, though there's subjectivity in some sports, and criteria can change), whereas "merit" as a "representative" requires contextual and highly subjective considerations.

Addition/subtraction makes no difference - the analogy was attempting to show why selecting based on race/gender rather than ability solely to be diverse is silly. Extending the analagy - lets say I needed to add 5 athletes to the 3 already on the sprint team due to a change in rules then I'd select the guys who came 4th-8th in the trials. I wouldnt select using some kind of attempt to reflect the demographic profile of the population.

Performance in the media is certainly harder to judge - that doesnt mean some people arent better than others judged by most people. (I doubt many people think that Glenn Moon is a better orator than Barack Obama). Again the analogy was about the difference between selecting on ability (even if that is harder to judge here) than on race/sex.


truthspeaker wrote:

Of course it is.

See comments like this show why I interpreted Nancy's post the way I did.

For example if one ethnic group has a culture that values certain jobs differently to other ethnic groups then you would expect a different balance of ethnicities in certain jobs. eg anecdotally british indians have tended to value jobs in the medical and financial professions highly so you might expect them to have a higher representation in these jobs but lower in others.

Secondly just by random chance you may end up the best people being white rather than non-white. Or at least the best not being particularly representative of the underlying population demographics.

Having a group who reflects the underlying population's demographics is absolutely not an end in itself due to the above two reasons. (naturally having a group who fails to reflect the underlying population's demographics due to discrimination is unacceptable).

#526

Posted by: Rev. BigDumbChimp | August 28, 2009 2:30 PM

So even though as a very important level there are marketing decisions being made based solely on money, the money available is somewhat dependent upon race and gender.

I don't deny this at all but I think in most cases we'd find the decisions being more about the all mighty Dollar (Yen, Pound, Franc, Deutschmark etc..) than anything.

But that doesn't mean it can't be and shouldn't be improved.

#527

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 2:34 PM

Strange gods: give me some frickin' time to reply! Also, you don't have to respond the same way every time you read another post. Please save it until after you've read the thread.

Equivalent to white supremacists? No, that's pretty extreme, because the suggestions that were put forward aren't the same thing as claims of racial supremacy. When I said I agreed with Ranum, I'm sorry I didn't address that, because I thought it'd already been addressed.

I do care about Carlie's concerns, but that doesn't mean race or sex need to be put at a special level where nothing else matters quite as much as that. How many "races" are there, anyway? Isn't that pretty much a non-biological, fictional construct? Why just race and sex? No sexual orientation? How about differences of opinion regarding epistemology, different humanistic ideologies, different political inclinations, different viewpoints from every scientific discipline? Why aren't the leading atheist artists, musicians, and writers being represented? Etc., etc., etc.

You know, stuff that's also relevant to the topic of atheism besides just race and sex. Or, did race and sex win the discrimination competition that I never heard about? I'm certainly not trying to diminish any kind of discrimination, but I think that kind of thinking is short-sighted and more harmful than helpful.

#528

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 2:36 PM

As used in that comment, it would be the injection of racial (or gendered I suppose, I could have said 'race or gender card' I suppose) concerns in an issue orthogonal to race in the absence of an actual argument or proposition.

Ergo, mentioning race is itself racism?

For example, calling foul because the four horsemen are white males instead of asking why that is and going from there.

But what's wrong with crying foul? I mean, in order to see any need for "asking why that is and going from there," you have to first recognize that it is a problem.

Perhaps better to not use a term that drives you insane any time it's used, and I will consider word choice more carefully in the future.

99% of the time the phrase is used, it is as part of a campaign of race-baiting. I'm surprised you didn't notice this in whatever discussions you originally picked it up from.

It is always necessary to ask someone "what do you mean by race card" because it almost always means "I am a racist fuckwit." There are a lot of people in this thread. I am perfectly willing to believe that you are that 1% exception.

#529

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 2:37 PM

I'm not sure I follow where you're going here, SC. The sidethread regarding the Four Horsemen was based on mentioning the public face of atheism. ...if the discussion is regarding the public face, what concerns are more important than "getting the most [positive, resonating, inspiring, etc] attention"? It's a very honest question, as I'll readily admit you have much more expertise on social movements than I do :-).

I think the key is what you added in brackets there. People concerned with money do not care about those considerations - the sales/profits can be, and very often is, based on negative, offputting, alienating, etc. attention. Or simply attention to atheism or atheism-related controversy in some general way which is irrelevant to concrete issues and people's lives. That's the nature of the business. Publicity that provides "positive, resonating, inspiring, etc" atention is what we should strive for if one of our important goals is to draw people to atheism, to show them that openly espousing this position is a positive thing that they could see themselves doing, or to provide information on issues or how to get involved. Of course, there are a number of goals (as I suggested in my comment above; and publicity of any sort is only one aspect).

So for example, conference organizers may invite big names to speak because this is expected to increase attendance, but the large attendance may be comprised of the same people who typically attend such events and are there for a "brush with fame" of some sort. A different sort of meeting, surrounding, say, activism among minority groups or in rural areas or whatever, might incite community activists and local leaders. It may get a smaller attendance but could draw new people and also provide new grassroots networking and practical information. I'm not saying it's either/or, but that a publicity/numbers-above-all model should by no means be given precedence above others that may (and I'll go ahead and argue would) be more worthwhile in the long run.

I'm just a random commenter.

So am I. :)

#530

Posted by: Bexley | August 28, 2009 2:38 PM

Bexley, this is a racist and sexist thing to say.

You are arguing that looking for people of a certain race or gender will necessarily mean finding people who are not qualified for the job.

It is possible to select people on race and gender and merit all at the same time. To imply otherwise is to say that is would not be possible to find people of sufficient merit who are also of a certain race or gender

Hmm you seem awful happy throwing racism/sexism accusations around.

My point was explained above. In particular, random chance may mean that certain groups may be underrepresented at certain times if picking by ability. For example one year the 6 most articulate atheists in the US might include 5 women and another it might include 4 men just by chance.

Secondly some groups could end up underrepresented in a preofession because they do not value that profession highly and overrepresented elsewhere if they value a different job more highly.

Note that I am not saying this is the case in any particular scenario right now but instead explaining why it is not racist to argue that you may have sub-optimal choices if you choose by racial/gender profile of the population rather than purely by ability.

#531

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 2:56 PM

A different sort of meeting, surrounding, say, activism among minority groups or in rural areas or whatever, might incite invite [as speakers] community activists and local leaders.

***

...the analogy was attempting to show why selecting based on race/gender rather than ability solely to be diverse is silly. Extending the analagy - lets say I needed to add 5 athletes to the 3 already on the sprint team due to a change in rules then I'd select the guys who came 4th-8th in the trials. I wouldnt select using some kind of attempt to reflect the demographic profile of the population.

Performance in the media is certainly harder to judge - that doesnt mean some people arent better than others judged by most people. (I doubt many people think that Glenn Moon is a better orator than Barack Obama). Again the analogy was about the difference between selecting on ability (even if that is harder to judge here) than on race/sex.

Read #503. Sheesh. Are you seriously suggesting that these four individuals are the best representatives across the board, for every audience, and on every issue? How so? Note that we're not just talking about "performance in the media," but about "representation." Define "ability" in terms of representation and spell out its elements clearly, taking into account the points I made in #503.

This is so typical, and so stupid: 'I think everything should be based only on merit, but I'm going to define merit in an idiosyncratic and retrospective manner that makes white men its examplars (Written a popular book that has to do with atheism? You're in!), even if this makes no sense in the current context, and also ignore that race/gender/location/class might be significant in representativeness'.

#532

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 2:56 PM

Equivalent to white supremacists? No, that's pretty extreme, because the suggestions that were put forward aren't the same thing as claims of racial supremacy. When I said I agreed with Ranum, I'm sorry I didn't address that, because I thought it'd already been addressed.

All right. That's great. Because it looked like you were "maneuvering around his careless words and thoughtless comments."

I do care about Carlie's concerns, but that doesn't mean race or sex need to be put at a special level where nothing else matters quite as much as that.

Nobody said they should be more important than other considerations. I'd like to know why we can't talk about sex and race, though.

How many "races" are there, anyway? Isn't that pretty much a non-biological, fictional construct?

Yes, but constructed race is still a sociological reality, and it does impact people's lives. People are the targets of racism nevertheless.

We can talk about skin color instead. It's important for little kids to see scientists who share their skin color, so that they can imagine themselves being able to cross the same barriers and becomes scientists too. (Think about how many more black children, after 2008, believe that they have a chance of being national political leaders and will now try to achieve that, as compared to in 2004.)

Why just race and sex? No sexual orientation?

Nobody said just sex and race, though. You and Marcus have been saying that. No one disagrees that public visibility of other sexual orientations would be a good thing, and in fact that's necessary across the board, regardless of atheism. As a white man who is gay, that's the only dog I have in this fight.

How about differences of opinion regarding epistemology, different humanistic ideologies, different political inclinations, different viewpoints from every scientific discipline? Why aren't the leading atheist artists, musicians, and writers being represented? Etc., etc., etc.

Now these are good points too, but they're a little different. These attributes change throughout a person's life, and there is no entrenched discrimination against them (except insofar as atheists per se are discriminated against).

These are all viewpoints that ought to be heard, but not as a strategy of combating institutional oppression. So that's really a different discussion, for another time.

You know, stuff that's also relevant to the topic of atheism besides just race and sex. Or, did race and sex win the discrimination competition that I never heard about? I'm certainly not trying to diminish any kind of discrimination, but I think that kind of thinking is short-sighted and more harmful than helpful.

Why are we not allowed to talk about race and sex? Why is it harmful to want more women and people of color to be visible? This last paragraph is a huge leap, a tremendous non sequitur, from other decent points you made, and your conclusion is entirely unsubstantiated.

#533

Posted by: not a gator | August 28, 2009 3:04 PM

@520

Bexley, this is a racist and sexist thing to say.

You are arguing that looking for people of a certain race or gender will necessarily mean finding people who are not qualified for the job.

It is possible to select people on race and gender and merit all at the same time. To imply otherwise is to say that is would not be possible to find people of sufficient merit who are also of a certain race or gender

SGBM, I think you're going too far. Sure, most jobs have plenty of qualified candidates, when you have a country of 300 mill. But this proposition may not work in the extreme.

Remember when Hitler purged German academia of Jews and then lost the war to create the atom bomb?

Also, I find it truly offensive when a woman or member of an ethnic minority is trotted out as window dressing, with no attempt to find someone actually qualified, because women and members of ethnic minorities are stupid and will simply follow someone who looks like them according to their bovine natures. (Or maybe it's projection! Gosh, it worked for GWB.)

See, this is why I think GWB is not a racist. He appointed Powell, who was widely respected (and still would be if he hadn't fallen on his sword for the Bush administration), and Rice. Condi may have been wrongwrongwrongwrongwrong about the Middle East, but there's no dispute that she's very intelligent and she was apparently an expert on the USSR. (Actually, part of her problem was that Rummy the Wrongheaded used to shout her down at meetings.) It's very clear that W and Condi had a meeting of the minds.

Now look at the behavior of the GOP since then. Sarah Palin. MORON. With ethics problems to boot. Bobby Jindal--the new face of GOP. Except he has no clue how to conduct himself in front of a camera. And he's a stupid douche. Michael Steele. Dumb? No. Adept at being RNC chair? Ffffffhahahahahaha. Nice try. (Maybe Bobby "Bumbles" Jindal and Steele should trade places. Steele sounds reasonable and sane and poised in front of the media, while Jindal is willing to say all those crazy things that the base (well named) loves so much.)

Okay, so I'm picking on the GOP. Democrats are plenty sexist as well. Nancy Pelosi? Barbara Boxer is spinning in her grave. Caroline Kennedy? Seriously??? (Of course, GWB was taken seriously with about the same credentials, but hey, at least he had the decency to run for office first.) Dems have their special version of left-wing sexism. "It's a woman in charge--that's all you need to know." You wouldn't believe how many boomer women told me they were voting for Hilary because it was "our turn". (***gag***) I think she's kicking ass in the State Dept, but having ovaries is not the same as qualification for high office, and that's all they really seemed to care about. (Not all Hilary voters. Some of them were a little chary about voting for the shvartze. I mean, he's so young, and unknown...)

Okay, so am I arguing the opposite of yesterday? No, not really. We were talking about leaders or lights in a movement, not applicants for a job or sports team. Politics is maybe somewhere in between.

Personally, I DO resent Hitchens being the "voice of atheism." He IS a douche. Love Dawkins--media can interview him all they want as far as I see it. Hitchens of course has attention because of his long history in media. If FSM forbid some A-list celebrity came out as an atheist, the media would be promoting whatever brain dead thing they had to say (okay, not all A-list celebrities are braindead, they just seem that way on tv), misrepresenting atheists all over again. I'd like to see more prominent female atheists in the press. (And before we start that "qualified" argument again, just WHO got prayer out of the publics schools, HMMM? How quickly we forget.) I'd like to see more of my favorite atheists of color get brought in as pundits or even get a mention. Maybe we should forward some names to Bill Maher.

I have to hand it to Stephen Colbert. He's interviewed numerous Black conservatives--people who are involved in the community who are really intelligent and have cogent things to say. (Even if I sometimes disagree with them.) Not lackwits brought in for "color" like Thomas Sowell (and his missives from La-La Land), Ellis "I have a man-crush on Michael 'Savage' Weiner" Washington, and Clarence Thomas. The only reason they exist is to provide cover for the power elite. (Ellis Washington is still auditioning.) I wish there were more Colberts.

#534

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 3:06 PM

Hmm you seem awful happy throwing racism/sexism accusations around.

I said it was a racist and sexist thing to say. That is a fact. It doesn't necessarily mean that you are a racist and a sexist person. It's up to you to decide why you are saying racist and sexist things.

In particular, random chance may mean that certain groups may be underrepresented at certain times if picking by ability. For example one year the 6 most articulate atheists in the US might include 5 women and another it might include 4 men just by chance.

You are proposing that it is literally possible to pick out "the 6 most articulate atheists?" Is there a Scantron test for this?

Secondly some groups could end up underrepresented in a preofession because they do not value that profession highly and overrepresented elsewhere if they value a different job more highly.

Unless we are trying to select more people of a particular demographic than are available in the field to be selected from, this doesn't pose a problem.

Note that I am not saying this is the case in any particular scenario right now but instead explaining why it is not racist to argue that you may have sub-optimal choices if you choose by racial/gender profile of the population rather than purely by ability.

Oh it definitely is racist. Unless all people of color are unqualified for the role, then it selecting people of color will not require selecting unqualified people.

#535

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 3:08 PM

Also, Rev., (and I may be repeating what sgbm said above), profitability is based on consideration of the best-paying demographic, to appeal to advertisers. The most affluent is of course white men, who tend to relate most in general to other white men. But as we seek attention from the media, we should be careful not to let their priorities drive our actions. (Not, again, that this is what you're arguing - I'm sure it isn't - just want to point it out.)

#536

Posted by: Mr. Ø. | August 28, 2009 3:10 PM

strange gods before me @ 517,

Marcus was saying that no one should want women or people of color representing atheism for the purpose of public visibility.

Show me where he said this. I have looked through the whole thread and could not find this quote.

In fact he said that any person of color who wanted such a thing was a racist and equivalent to a white supremacist.

Talk about taking things out of context. He said no such thing. What he did say was the following (at 250):

To me there's just plain old atheists. But if you think white supremacist atheist or atheists of color should go turning something that has nothing to do with "race" into a racial question, I think it's a strategic blunder.

It takes willful misinterpretation to claim that this equates "people of color", as you so quaintly call them, with white supremacists. What Marcus is saying here is that he does not think that bringing race into an issue that is not about race is strategically a bad idea, regardless of whether it is coming from a white supremacist atheist or from an atheist of some ethnicity other than white.

strange gods before me @ 520,

Err surely the best people for the job should be selected regardless of sex/race.
Bexley, this is a racist and sexist thing to say.

Only under a madman's definition of sexism and racism.

It is possible to select people on race and gender and merit all at the same time. To imply otherwise is to say that is would not be possible to find people of sufficient merit who are also of a certain race or gender.

First, nobody implied otherwise. "Selecting the best people for the job" means selecting the "best people" regardless of any other social categories they might fit into.

Second, the "New Atheists" were not "selected" by anyone. They wrote brilliant books and argued there points forcefully and this is what they became known for. It is not the case that African-American, Asian or Native American women applied for New Atheist Fame and were rejected by the Male White Gatekeepers of New Atheist Fame. Nancy's suggestion to "replace" two of them by non-white women (comment 350) is so ludicrous that I'm beginning to suspect that Nancy is, in fact, a Poe.

The only reason I know that YOU are not a Poe is because you are not funny enough to be satire.

#537

Posted by: Rev. BigDumbChimp | August 28, 2009 3:13 PM

Also, Rev., (and I may be repeating what sgbm said above), profitability is based on consideration of the best-paying demographic, to appeal to advertisers. The most affluent is of course white men, who tend to relate most in general to other white men. But as we seek attention from the media, we should be careful not to let their priorities drive our actions. (Not, again, that this is what you're arguing - I'm sure it isn't - just want to point it out.)

Oh I understand this and it goes directly to my point about "what is going to make us the most money".

#538

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 3:16 PM

SGBM, I think you're going too far. Sure, most jobs have plenty of qualified candidates, when you have a country of 300 mill. But this proposition may not work in the extreme.

Remember when Hitler purged German academia of Jews and then lost the war to create the atom bomb?

Sure it doesn't work in such extremes. I acknowledge that. But we are in a country of 300 million, and in this case we're talking about the entire English speaking world at least, so there's a particular context we're all in.

Someone speaking in this context, USA 2009, is definitely saying something racist to suggest that there aren't enough qualified people of color to select from.

Also, I find it truly offensive when a woman or member of an ethnic minority is trotted out as window dressing, with no attempt to find someone actually qualified,

Oh I absolutely agree with you there. The contrast of Condoleezza Rice to Sarah Palin is illustrative.

Barbara Boxer is spinning in her grave.

Are you saying that the Senate is a graveyard full of zombies? I... I can see it. I think we should look into that.

#539

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 3:24 PM

Strange gods:

Now these are good points too, but they're a little different. These attributes change throughout a person's life, and there is no entrenched discrimination against them (except insofar as atheists per se are discriminated against). These are all viewpoints that ought to be heard, but not as a strategy of combating institutional oppression. So that's really a different discussion, for another time.

So we agree on a lot, then. I'm glad.

If you ask me, the "[discrimination of] atheists per se" ought to be on the top of our list of the kinds of issues atheists as a group should be most concerned about. You have to realize atheism has been variously represented as just a bunch of commies, just Nazis, uber-liberals, neo-cons, etc. It would defuse such an argument right away if there were prominent atheists of every political and ideological stripe out there, talking and writing about their views. We're not all scientists, and not even all evolutionary scientists. We're not all sorts of things. (For that matter, I failed to mention different ethical philosophies earlier as a fairly big issue.) This is the kind of institutional oppression we as atheists get from the religious and other critics.

Perhaps the problem is we're still a small but growing subculture (for lack of a better word in this context), so we should expect that some have been left out so far in this growth of atheists we have. All the L-word and R-word folks get no sympathy from me, but let's not forget they're out there too, and they deserve just as much representation as they can muster... (but not as much as "we" decide is fair" to give to "them"!)

Yes, we should most definitely talk about perceived notions of "race", sex and sexual orientation, and generally all of our different concepts of identity. Talk is fine. Putting one or two things above everything else in a contest of the most important message atheists are missing, which if you ask me is what Nancy did to start this whole argument, is definitely not going to help.

#540

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 3:24 PM

Addition/subtraction makes no difference - the analogy was attempting to show why selecting based on race/gender rather than ability

Which nobody is advocating.


For example if one ethnic group has a culture that values certain jobs differently to other ethnic groups then you would expect a different balance of ethnicities in certain jobs. eg anecdotally british indians have tended to value jobs in the medical and financial professions highly so you might expect them to have a higher representation in these jobs but lower in others.

But if the group were composed entirely of British Indians, and if this happened in a society with a centuries-old history of giving special privileges to British Indians, one might start to get concerned.

Secondly just by random chance you may end up the best people being white rather than non-white.

You might, but it's not very likely. And in a society with the history ours has, discrimination seems a more likely explanation than random dispersion of ability.

#541

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 3:34 PM

514: "So you also believe in leprechauns and unicorns, since they are equally susceptible to the black swan problem?"

No. It's always easier to destroy than to create. But fat tails aren't impossible just because they're, by definition, highly unusual.

518: "What evidence are you talking about, specifically?"

Testimonial evidence, historical evidence, logical evidence and what I think of as narrative evidence for starters. Testimonial evidence might include people saying they've experienced God in various ways. Historical evidence might include what Jesus did and said. Logical evidence might include whether and how volition, consciousness and creativity can meaningfully exist in a wholly material universe. And what I think of as narrative evidence requires looking at the essentially universal human desire for meaning and purpose in a world that, if wholly material, offers nothing but Dawkins's relentless indifference and wondering if that desire is indicative of something more in the same way that flowers reaching toward the sky is indicative of the sun.

I don't expect that evidence to convince anyone. It surely isn't conclusive (though the evidence is always inconclusive when we're talking about the most interesting and important things in life). But it just as surely is evidence by any reasonable understanding of the term.

521: "'Course, Keynesianism, for all the questions it does pose, does contain relatively few references to talking snakes..."

Surprisingly many, actually. More even than the Bible.

"'Course, we may have to explain to him: cross it enough, and the rest of us, we do begin to see it as rather less of a big thing."

If so, you necessarily perceive yourself as being alone in the universe of the not nuts.

#542

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 3:38 PM

JPS, yes, Dickinson.

Several people now have said that race and sex are entirely different from ability. However, what is the ability that you're talking about here? When it comes to a public face in atheism, what criteria are you using? To what end? Is your goal to simply explain what atheism is, to formulate arguments against popular defenses of theism, to explain the history of atheism, to give examples of oppression of atheists in society, to assure other atheists that they aren't as much of a minority as they think, to let people know that atheists can be nice and moral people, to try and convince atheism isn't the end of the world? Different skill sets are needed for each. "Ability" then means something different in each case, and given that communication with others is primary in all of them, what people you are trying to communicate with does then have to take race and gender into account. As SC said, someone from a community really DOES have a better ability to communicate with people within that group than someone from outside of it. So what if perhaps their book didn't sell as many copies as another person's did? If your goal is to reach that group, the first person is preferable to the second.

#543

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 3:42 PM

Marcus was saying that no one should want women or people of color representing atheism for the purpose of public visibility.

Show me where he said this. I have looked through the whole thread and could not find this quote.

In fact he said that any person of color who wanted such a thing was a racist and equivalent to a white supremacist.

Talk about taking things out of context. He said no such thing.

If you can't follow the discussion, you should stay out of it.

Marcus Ranum @282

And what's inconsistent about atheists of color wanting the general public to be aware of their presence?

Nothing. It's not any more or less racist than if the white supremacist atheists wanted more public awareness. I didn't say it was "incomprehensible" only that it was "racist"

You suck, Mr. Ø. It takes willful blindness to supposedly "read the whole thread" and miss that.

First, nobody implied otherwise. "Selecting the best people for the job" means selecting the "best people" regardless of any other social categories they might fit into.

Bullshit. Saying that it is not possible to select for both race and merit at the same time is racist.

Second, the "New Atheists" were not "selected" by anyone. They wrote brilliant books and argued there points forcefully and this is what they became known for. It is not the case that African-American, Asian or Native American women applied for New Atheist Fame and were rejected by the Male White Gatekeepers of New Atheist Fame.

Yes and no. There are gatekeepers in the publishing industry; I gave a citation. Why don't you address this? There are gatekeepers in scientific academia; these discussions are all over ScienceBlogs. Why don't you address this? Feynmaniac linked to an excellent video of Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about the barriers to people of color in science. Why don't you address this?

Nancy's suggestion to "replace" two of them by non-white women (comment 350) is so ludicrous that I'm beginning to suspect that Nancy is, in fact, a Poe.

Nancy gave a silly hypothetical, "If we MUST have only four..." Which no one thinks is the case. She was in fact responding to fools like you who were claiming that she had been actually advocating having only four and replacing two of the white men.

You took a joke and exploded as though it was serious. You're a chump.

#544

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 3:48 PM

521: "'Course, Keynesianism, for all the questions it does pose, does contain relatively few references to talking snakes..."

Surprisingly many, actually. More even than the Bible.

Liars go to hell, Robocop.

#545

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 3:51 PM

OK, on my way out, but:

Putting one or two things above everything else in a contest of the most important message atheists are missing, which if you ask me is what Nancy did to start this whole argument, is definitely not going to help.

I just looked at Nancy's first post:

I like the quartet's vocal anti-religion views, but two of them are evolutionary psychologists, Harris believes that Islam is more likely to provoke violence than any other religion due to its dogma (as if having a "Prince of Peace" has ever put the brakes on Christian violence) and Hitchens is a gigantic douchebag.

I want a group of new New Atheists (preferably not all white men) to represent me.

The part about race and sex is quite literally below her other argument which concerned her views of their scientific opinions, one's statements on Islam, and one's general character.

Anyway, it's neither here nor there. Addressing race and gender and marginalization when it comes to questions of representation is obviously necessary. It doesn't preclude talking about any other issues related to representation.

#546

Posted by: Paul | August 28, 2009 3:52 PM

sgbm @528,

Ergo, mentioning race is itself racism?

Curious. I spent some time thinking about this, in the context of what I said. I don't agree, and if that is how my statement came across I should have included more nuance. What bothers me is racially/sexually charging an issue that has no inherent connection to race/sex. This was, of course, the main thrust of Marcus's position (whatever you think of how he argued it). I have no issue with desiring diversity of representation, and would not label it as a racist goal (of course). But complaining about current representatives on the basis of their gender or race is implicitly bigoted (and yes, after further clarifications by Nancy I would not apply the label, but after the first comment I did not think it was wholly unwarranted). Don't want Hitchens as a rep because he's douchebag? I agree! Don't want Harris because he can turn off the logic switch when talking about Islam? Totally reasonable. Don't want them as representatives because they are white men, that's something completely different...

But what's wrong with crying foul? I mean, in order to see any need for "asking why that is and going from there," you have to first recognize that it is a problem.

I have no problem crying foul that there are no mainstream/high-profile atheist females/minorities among their ranks, but crying foul because they themselves are white males is another thing entirely. The former lends itself to positive action, the latter is glorified race/gender baiting. And yes, again, I recognize that subsequent postings have tried to draw a distinction between being inclusive and exclusive, I am not trying to argue against a straw-man here. But that is what I had in mind when writing the portion you were responding to.

99% of the time the phrase is used, it is as part of a campaign of race-baiting. I'm surprised you didn't notice this in whatever discussions you originally picked it up from.

It is always necessary to ask someone "what do you mean by race card" because it almost always means "I am a racist fuckwit." There are a lot of people in this thread. I am perfectly willing to believe that you are that 1% exception.

Well, I appreciate being given the benefit of the doubt. As for how I picked up "race card", while it may be insular of me I tune out most campaigns, aside from analysis of the actual issues at hand. So the most exposure I have in seeing it used/using it is pointing out where race is being mentioned in an inappropriate/irrelevant manner, which very much applies with regards to atheism outside of tactical/outreach concerns (which was not my impression of its initial use in this thread). I will admit that you asking me in an accusatory manner what I meant by it didn't seem to allow for an exception, which was frustrating but I suppose unavoidable when it comes to language that is charged in common parlance.

@SC, 529

Ok, I get where you're going there. But the only practical way to positively reinforce the values I bracketed is through publicity, recognition, and sales, as obviously that is what drives profitability and exposure. It's not as simple as saying we don't want publicity, since getting any positive messages out to the masses is reliant on publicity in the first place. But I can imagine that I underestimate the ability for grassroots networking etc. to effect a change in people's outlook or exposure to facts; I have never really been one to be overly social (I blame early childhood alienation and never learning how to socialize, heh), so I get most of my information from dead trees and the intertubes. Still, it would seem that mass media appeal would have to be a large goal of any atheist public outreach.

#547

Posted by: Tulse | August 28, 2009 3:52 PM

"So you also believe in leprechauns and unicorns, since they are equally susceptible to the black swan problem?"

No. It's always easier to destroy than to create.

Um...huh?

Testimonial evidence, historical evidence, logical evidence and what I think of as narrative evidence for starters. Testimonial evidence might include people saying they've experienced God in various ways. Historical evidence might include what Jesus did and said.

Which, of course, is also testimonial evidence, since there is no physical evidence of his existence, much less his actions.

Logical evidence might include whether and how volition, consciousness and creativity can meaningfully exist in a wholly material universe.

"Logical"? I do not think that word means what you think it means.

And what I think of as narrative evidence requires looking at the essentially universal human desire for meaning and purpose in a world that, if wholly material, offers nothing but Dawkins's relentless indifference

Or in other words, "if I want it it must exist" evidence.

#548

Posted by: truthspeaker | August 28, 2009 3:55 PM

But it just as surely is evidence by any reasonable understanding of the term.

It's evidence, but not for the existence of a god.

#549

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 3:57 PM

Yes, we should most definitely talk about perceived notions of "race", sex and sexual orientation, and generally all of our different concepts of identity. Talk is fine. Putting one or two things above everything else in a contest of the most important message atheists are missing, which if you ask me is what Nancy did to start this whole argument, is definitely not going to help.

Should she have said, "I want a group of new New Atheists (preferably not all straight white men) to represent me"? She did take issue with their political viewpoints, too, so she clearly thought that was important as well.

Mr T, to say whatever you think she should have said instead, she'd have to have traveled into the future and read this thread to its end, then incorporated all these various considerations into one gigantic and rhetorically unassailable comment.

Some people are thinking more about gender. Some people are thinking more about race. I think more about discrimination based on sexual orientation, because that's the kind of discrimination that I face.

It is not wrong for a person to mention just one or two of these things, the ones which they've been thinking about lately. It is unfair for you to require that every discussion be about everything all at once; that amounts to silencing any discussion of race or gender. And her comment most certainly does not make Nancy a bigot.

#550

Posted by: Ben in Texas | August 28, 2009 3:59 PM

The first time I remember hearing someone use the phrase "race card," it was Johnny Cochran, OJ's lawyer, back in 1994. I kept thinking, "Is he saying race car?"

#551

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 4:05 PM

I kept thinking, "Is he saying race car?"

In another mistake of one letter, I kept reading comments above that said "It starts with M and ends with oney" as somehow referring to Chris Mooney, and trying to figure out how framing fit into the whole discussion.

#552

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 4:10 PM

It is not wrong for a person to mention just one or two of these things, the ones which they've been thinking about lately. It is unfair for you to require that every discussion be about everything all at once; that amounts to silencing any discussion of race or gender.

Nope, it's not "wrong" to have half-formed, narrowly-defined ideas of what you think is important. It can tend to place you in others' minds as the type of person who thinks those things are more important than the real accomplishments of people you just don't happen to like. Yes, it would be unfair for me to require that she build a time machine and do impossible things. At the same time, I'm still pretty sure that doesn't make her or anyone else's ideas immune to criticism.

#553

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 4:23 PM

Paul,

Curious. I spent some time thinking about this, in the context of what I said. I don't agree, and if that is how my statement came across I should have included more nuance. What bothers me is racially/sexually charging an issue that has no inherent connection to race/sex.

For me, it doesn't have any inherent or obvious connection to race or sex, but that is because I am a white man and I have the privilege of ignoring race and sex.

I refer you to Carlie's comment at #453 for a discussion of how it is relevant, if not obvious.

This was, of course, the main thrust of Marcus's position (whatever you think of how he argued it). I have no issue with desiring diversity of representation, and would not label it as a racist goal (of course).

Well as I've pointed out many times, Marcus did label it a racist goal in #282:

And what's inconsistent about atheists of color wanting the general public to be aware of their presence?

Nothing. It's not any more or less racist than if the white supremacist atheists wanted more public awareness. I didn't say it was "incomprehensible" only that it was "racist"

So you might want to distance yourself from that snake.

Don't want Hitchens as a rep because he's douchebag? I agree! Don't want Harris because he can turn off the logic switch when talking about Islam? Totally reasonable. Don't want them as representatives because they are white men, that's something completely different...

This is a misrepresentation of what Nancy said. She gave reasons why she didn't like these people, based on their own work and words.

Then she said she also wished there were some representatives who were not all white men.

One can even wish that there were more diverse representation even while admiring all of the Horsemen.

I don't know why people have to keep misrepresenting the argument.

I have no problem crying foul that there are no mainstream/high-profile atheist females/minorities among their ranks, but crying foul because they themselves are white males is another thing entirely. The former lends itself to positive action, the latter is glorified race/gender baiting.

These are two sides of the same coin. You can't have one without the other. If there are no women or people of color at the top, then there are only white men. If it is a problem that there are no women or people of color at the top, then it is a problem that there are only white men.

This is a tautology. You can't split it apart. It's like you're saying it's fine to point out that discrimination against people of color exists, but it's racist to point out that white privilege exists.

#554

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 4:26 PM

Nope, it's not "wrong" to have half-formed, narrowly-defined ideas of what you think is important.

So a woman who faces gender discrimination is narrow-minded to bring up gender discrimination.

Mr T, I am not impressed.

#555

Posted by: Paul | August 28, 2009 4:27 PM

Me @546

Don't want Hitchens as a rep because he's douchebag? I agree! Don't want Harris because he can turn off the logic switch when talking about Islam? Totally reasonable. Don't want them as representatives because they are white men, that's something completely different...

I should say that I realize Nancy did raise the former two issues in her initial post (although she pegged Dennett and Dawkins slightly inaccurately). I did not ignore those. But that does not change the the implication from the last sentence. To give an example from a fictitious person in California complaining about their Senate representation:

"I like my Senators when they vote for things that interest me, but some of Feinstein's stances on Homeland Security disturb me.

I want Senators that reflect my views (preferably not all white women)."

The validity of the former statement does not reflect on the quality of the latter. I recognise that there are institutional differences between the genders (unfortunately, which really needs to change).

#556

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 4:31 PM

And Mr T I notice you left off the end of my last paragraph:

It is not wrong for a person to mention just one or two of these things, the ones which they've been thinking about lately. It is unfair for you to require that every discussion be about everything all at once; that amounts to silencing any discussion of race or gender. And her comment most certainly does not make Nancy a bigot.

So are you still telling Marcus Ranum that he is not alone in calling Nancy a bigot, a racist, a sexist, and the equivalent of a white supremacist?

#557

Posted by: AJ Milne | August 28, 2009 4:40 PM

Surprisingly many, actually. More even than the Bible.

Right. Robopsycho, dear, it doth seem to me you're probably not terribly competent to assess the validity of Keynes' ideas...

Seein' as those who can't actually count aren't likely to get real far with economics, no matter what they do...

If so, you necessarily perceive yourself as being alone in the universe of the not nuts.

Erm, no, bub. Actually, so far as I can tell, I've a fair bit of company, there...

(/But it's also increasingly evident that whatever universe you're coming from, it clearly ain't this one.)

#558

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 4:40 PM

To give an example from a fictitious person in California complaining about their Senate representation:

"I like my Senators when they vote for things that interest me, but some of Feinstein's stances on Homeland Security disturb me.

I want Senators that reflect my views (preferably not all white women)."

It's ambiguous. What is being requested?

IIRC, are no black people in the Senate now that Obama is out. Wishing that the Senate be more demographically representative of the country's racial diversity is not race-hatred.

There are very few women in the Senate. So wishing that there were even few women in the Senate would definitely be misogyny.

If no women of color, only men of color, ran against these Senators in their primaries, then that would just be unfortunate.

#559

Posted by: Owlmirror | August 28, 2009 4:45 PM

And you are aware of the limits of the "black swan" problem, aren't you?

Didn't you formerly post as Sinbad about that?

As I said then, I think you fundamentally misunderstood the black swan argument: Parsimony only requires that our understanding of empirical reality change with new evidence -- not that we reject all of empirical reality because something formerly understood has been disproven by a new empirical example.


Do you think God is capable of offering empirical evidence of his existence?

Do you think that if God did offer empirical evidence of his existence, it would be rejected out of hand?

#560

Posted by: Mr. Ø. | August 28, 2009 4:46 PM

strange gods before me @ 543,

You cite Marcus Ranum as saying:

And what's inconsistent about atheists of color wanting the general public to be aware of their presence?
Nothing. It's not any more or less racist than if the white supremacist atheists wanted more public awareness. I didn't say it was "incomprehensible" only that it was "racist"

and use this as evidence that he is "equating" "atheists of color" with "white supremacists". But, as in the quote I gave you, he is doing no such thing. He is pointing out, as I've explained to you before, that categorizing people by race and then making demands on the basis of that categorization is racism, no matter who is doing the categorizing. Now, you may agree with that definition or not, but Marcus' statement is not equating the two groups: he is equating their behavior in one specific situation.

I also notice that you have not given a source for your claim that Marcus said that "no one should want women or people of color representing atheism for the purpose of public visibility".

Saying that it is not possible to select for both race and merit at the same time is racist.

One last time: Nobody is saying that it is not possible. What Marcus, I and a few other people have said is that it is not desirable to "select for race" in a context where race is not an issue. One could go a step further an say that selecting people by "race" is racism. The idea that one feels better represented by a member of one's own race (or gender) is, in my view, highly offensive. For the purposes of representing me, these categories are no more important to me than hair color, body height, age, sexual orientation, country of birth, number of siblings, eye sight or health. I want to be represented by people whose outlook on life I share. That does not mean I am "color blind" or "gender blind". I realize that people are discriminated against routinely on the basis of the social categories that they are perceived as belonging too. It has happened to me, it has happend to my friends and it has happened to my enemies. I will fight discrimination wherever I see it. This includes Nancy's original comment and much of what followed just as it includes biases in academia, publishing, the media etc.

Nancy gave a silly hypothetical ... You took a joke and exploded as though it was serious

Right, we must be grateful that we have you to tell us when Nancy is being serious and when she is joking. You should try your hand at Christian apologetics one of these days, I sense that you are wasting your talent here.

There is no do-gooder but Nancy and Strangegodsbeforeme is her prophet.

Anyway, that's me off to bed.

#561

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 4:47 PM

Strange gods: "So a woman who faces gender discrimination is narrow-minded to bring up gender discrimination."

This is definitely not what my point was, but please go ahead and contort what I've written however it pleases you.

She wants a whole "group" of New Atheists to represent her? She could have opted to represent herself then and there with her own views rather than simply insulting the four horsemen. Still, I'm sure there are other groups of atheists to turn to who do align precisely with her particular demographic, if she looks for them. Will anyone replace our current four horsemen? Probably not, and no one has such authority anyway because it's absurd. Could they constitute another "four horsemen", "pentagon of Satan" or "unholy decad"? Quite possibly, and I'm all for it. Defining what the New Atheists should be about so narrowly, and even insisting on it so far as to suggest replacing people, is more than impractical and it's quite a lot more than just bringing up gender discrimination.

Please consider this a bit more closely. I'm trying my best to understand everyone's side here.

#562

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 4:49 PM

What Marcus, I and a few other people have said is that it is not desirable to "select for race" in a context where race is not an issue.

And some of us are saying that depending on your goal regarding public atheists, race and sex are definitely issues.

#563

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 4:58 PM

Because, as I asked in #542, what do you think the purpose of public atheists is? The answer to that will determine whether or not race and gender information make up part of the "ability" of a person to be a public face of atheism who other atheists feel support their values and viewpoints. If any part of your answer is to show that lots of different kinds of people are atheists, or to show closeted atheists that there are people like them who aren't afraid to be vocal, or to show that atheism can come in all sorts of forms and from different backgrounds, then the race and sex of public speakers are certainly part of the issue.

#564

Posted by: Owlmirror | August 28, 2009 4:58 PM

514: "So you also believe in leprechauns and unicorns, since they are equally susceptible to the black swan problem?"

No. It's always easier to destroy than to create. But fat tails aren't impossible just because they're, by definition, highly unusual.

Yeah, going by the way you toss out obscure econ-business jargon, you're Sinbad alright.

I disagreed with PZ banning you back then, you may recall. Like heddle, I think it's interesting to have you around to try and figure out how the theist mind works -- or not, as the case may be.

#565

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 5:11 PM

559: "Parsimony only requires that our understanding of empirical reality change with new evidence -- not that we reject all of empirical reality because something formerly understood has been disproven by a new empirical example."

I agree with you. That said, it's exceedingly dangerous to make conclusions based exclusively upon deduction (as Wall Street found out last fall). We simply don't know what we don't know. It's polemical modesty I'm after, a virtue almost unheard of in human form (much less on-line).

"Do you think God is capable of offering empirical evidence of his existence?"

Yes.

"Do you think that if God did offer empirical evidence of his existence, it would be rejected out of hand?"

In my experience, when the evidence seems to contradict a strongly held position, it tends to get rejected out-of-hand pretty much across the board. I remember a fascinating debate on an atheist forum a decade or so ago when the first major prayer study came out and it seemed to show that prayer worked to some extent even when the one prayed for didn't know about the prayer. The atheists virtually all raced in to say that the study had to be flawed. As it turned out, they were right, but at that point the claim was based exclusively upon their preconceived notions of what was possible rather than upon the actual evidence.

#566

Posted by: Naked Bunny with a Whip Author Profile Page | August 28, 2009 5:11 PM

[Marcus] doesn't need support any more than Truth Machine or anyone else on here.

I could use the occasional hug, to be honest.

#567

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 5:17 PM

*hugs Bunny*

#568

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 5:17 PM

Alright, Naked Bunny with a Whip. Come over here, you big lug. You deserve it. But try to keep your hands off the goods.

#569

Posted by: Owlmirror | August 28, 2009 5:22 PM

We simply don't know what we don't know. It's polemical modesty I'm after, a virtue almost unheard of in human form (much less on-line).

You seem to think that you "know" that there's a God. Where's your polemical modesty? Or are you actually an agnostic now?

In my experience, when the evidence seems to contradict a strongly held position, it tends to get rejected out-of-hand pretty much across the board. I remember a fascinating debate on an atheist forum a decade or so ago when the first major prayer study came out and it seemed to show that prayer worked to some extent even when the one prayed for didn't know about the prayer. The atheists virtually all raced in to say that the study had to be flawed. As it turned out, they were right, but at that point the claim was based exclusively upon their preconceived notions of what was possible rather than upon the actual evidence.

So... if they were right that the study was flawed, why was it wrong for them to reject their "preconceived" notions?

If the prayer study had involved prayers exclusively made to Sri Ganesh, would you have simply believed, converted, and brought an idol into your own house and started praying to it, just on the basis of the study?

#570

Posted by: Naked Bunny with a Whip Author Profile Page | August 28, 2009 5:22 PM

Aww, you're both sweet. Thanks. And I try not to grope on the first hug. Try. ^^

#571

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 5:23 PM

Mr. Ø, I see that you are an extremely dishonest person. Why do you hate America?

and use this as evidence that he is "equating" "atheists of color" with "white supremacists". But, as in the quote I gave you, he is doing no such thing.

What a liar you are. I said was that "Marcus was saying that no one should want women or people of color representing atheism for the purpose of public visibility. In fact he said that any person of color who wanted such a thing was a racist and equivalent to a white supremacist."

I did not claim, as you dishonestly say, that he was he is equating all atheists of color with white supremacists.

Marcus said that "atheists of color [who want] the general public to be aware of their presence [are] not any more or less racist than white supremacist atheists".

And you now say clearly that you agree with him.

I also notice that you have not given a source for your claim that Marcus said that "no one should want women or people of color representing atheism for the purpose of public visibility".

It's right there at 282. Are you fucking blind? Illiterate? Stupid? Dishonest? All of the above?

Okay, wait, he did say that they should want it if they are racists and sexists, just like white supremacists. So yeah, he didn't say no one should want it. Just that racists and sexists understandably would.

One last time: Nobody is saying that it is not possible.

Yes, they did. Let's remember what you're replying to:

It is possible to select people on race and gender and merit all at the same time. To imply otherwise is to say that is would not be possible to find people of sufficient merit who are also of a certain race or gender.

First, nobody implied otherwise. "Selecting the best people for the job" means selecting the "best people" regardless of any other social categories they might fit into.

But MIchael X did say that a selection based on race could not be a selection based on merit. And that is racist.

Bexley also said "you may have sub-optimal choices if you choose by racial/gender profile of the population rather than purely by ability." And that is racist.

You appear to agree with them. If so, what you are saying is racist.

One could go a step further an say that selecting people by "race" is racism.

If one were a race-baiting buffoon who's ideologically opposed to demographic representation, then yes, one could.

The idea that one feels better represented by a member of one's own race (or gender) is, in my view, highly offensive.

Then you agree with Marcus Ranum that if a person of color wants their child to see scientists of color on TV, then that parent is a racist.

Well I'm so sorry that that offends you. Maybe you'll get over it when you gain a little more maturity and self-confidence.

Right, we must be grateful that we have you to tell us when Nancy is being serious and when she is joking.

Get a clue. Read her comment. Read the comments leading up to it. In the context of #346: "I said I didn't want those particular individuals to represent me, for reasons I explained, and THEN I said that I'd rather there be a new New Atheists group, and preferably one that isn't exclusively white and male."

Obviously she does not actually want there to be only four. So when she says "If we MUST have only four" that is not serious.

Honestly, Mr. Ø, why do you hate America? And when are you going to get a sense of humor?

do-gooder

Translation: "I am a far-right extremist."

#572

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 5:25 PM

The idea that one feels better represented by a member of one's own race (or gender) is, in my view, highly offensive.

Then you agree with Marcus Ranum that if a person of color wants their child to see scientists of color on TV, then that parent is a racist.

Well I'm so sorry that that offends you. Maybe you'll get over it when you gain a little more maturity and self-confidence.

Also you are saying that Neil deGrasse Tyson is a racist for hoping that black kids see him on TV and get inspired to be scientists.

#573

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 5:34 PM

And I try not to grope on the first hug.

Damn.

#574

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 5:38 PM

Strange gods: "So a woman who faces gender discrimination is narrow-minded to bring up gender discrimination."

This is definitely not what my point was, but please go ahead and contort what I've written however it pleases you.

Well then just what was your point? Because you've been whining and whining that people who make you uncomfortable by talking about race and gender "have half-formed, narrowly-defined ideas" that make you think less of them.

Here we have a woman, Nancy, who undoubtedly faces gender discrimination as all women do, bringing up the fact that it would be nice if the public face of atheism were more demographically representative of the population. And you can't stop complaining about that. She's offended you somehow, by just talking about race and gender. Why is that?

She wants a whole "group" of New Atheists to represent her? She could have opted to represent herself then and there with her own views rather than simply insulting the four horsemen.

So what if she insulted them. They are not our gods.

Still, I'm sure there are other groups of atheists to turn to who do align precisely with her particular demographic, if she looks for them.

How dense. Other atheists are not the media-go-to public face of atheism. She already listed Julia Sweeney, Katha Pollitt, Kathy Griffin, Janeane Garafolo, Barbara Ehrenreich, Björk, Natalie Angier, and Sarah Vowell.

Obviously she knows who shares her views. That's not what she's talking about, though. The discussion is about who the media turns to when they are looking for a spokesperson to comment on this or that current event concerning atheism.

Defining what the New Atheists should be about so narrowly, and even insisting on it so far as to suggest replacing people,

Another deliberate misrepresentation. She said she didn't like the Four Horsemen because of their political views.

Please consider this a bit more closely. I'm trying my best to understand everyone's side here.

Really? That's hard to believe.

#575

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 5:41 PM

Ok, I get where you're going there. But the only practical way to positively reinforce the values I bracketed is through publicity, recognition, and sales, as obviously that is what drives profitability and exposure.

I find this sentence confusing.

It's not as simple as saying we don't want publicity, since getting any positive messages out to the masses is reliant on publicity in the first place.

Which is why I didn't say that. Please reread my comments, which are more nuanced. Also bear in mind that publicity is a very broad category. The atheist bus campaign and the "Don't believe in God? You're not alone" billboard have been great publicity-generating vehicles. The internet and social networking media offer enormous potential for publicity. Publicity in local outlets might be most useful...

But I can imagine that I underestimate the ability for grassroots networking etc. to effect a change in people's outlook or exposure to facts; I have never really been one to be overly social (I blame early childhood alienation and never learning how to socialize, heh), so I get most of my information from dead trees and the intertubes. Still, it would seem that mass media appeal would have to be a large goal of any atheist public outreach.

I don't think I'd agree if you're talking about the corporate media, and I think publicity is a means rather than an end. But again, I'm not advising anyone to shun publicity. I do, however, think atheists - like scientists - need to approach the MSM with caution and the awareness that, while sometimes their goals and yours might overlap, this isn't always the case and that all publicity isn't necessarily good publicity in the long run. (If you haven't seen the film Berkeley in the Sixties, by the way, you should check out the part about the early days of the Black Panthers and their complex relationship with the media.)

#576

Posted by: Robocop | August 28, 2009 5:54 PM

569: "You seem to think that you 'know' that there's a God. Where's your polemical modesty?"

I don't "know." I'm not remotely certain. I can't even say I'm sure. I (tentatively) think it's the best explanation for the evidence I see. And, for what it's worth, I don't think anyone can know, at least without some new kind of evidence being presented. I'll also add that I think that atheism is a perfectly reasonable conclusion, even if I don't think it's the best interpretation of the evidence.

"Or are you actually an agnostic now?"

In the sense I think you mean, I have always been an agnostic. But I'm also a Christian.

"So... if they were right that the study was flawed, why was it wrong for them to reject their 'preconceived' notions?"

What was flawed was their response to the study -- the idea that it had to be wrong.

"If the prayer study had involved prayers exclusively made to Sri Ganesh, would you have simply believed, converted, and brought an idol into your own house and started praying to it, just on the basis of the study?"

No, but I wouldn't have rejected it out of hand, either (I hope). In my view, the best course when confronted with new evidence is to try to consider it as objectively as possible while being honest with one's presumptions and biases; then, re-evaluate as necessary and appropriate. I've changed my mind on religious and other matters big and small any number of times on account of new evidence (or at least new evidence to me). Doing so is easier said than done, of course. But it's what I strive to do.

#577

Posted by: Walton Author Profile Page | August 28, 2009 5:59 PM

There are very few women in the Senate. So wishing that there were even few women in the Senate would definitely be misogyny.

Strange gods, you know that's a foolish comment.

Yes, if someone were to say "Women have no place in elected office," that would be a misogynistic statement.

But imagine for the sake of argument that Michelle Bachmann were the only woman in the House of Representatives. (Obviously she isn't, but bear with me for a minute.) Now let's assume that her opponent, come election time, is a man. Let's say her opponent, unlike Bachmann, is moderate and sane. Would you seriously suggest that it would be right to support Bachmann against her opponent, despite her wingnut beliefs, simply because she is a woman and women are under-represented in politics?

Likewise, if I were a Californian, I probably would not vote for Dianne Feinstein or Barbara Boxer. That doesn't make me a misogynist. It just means I don't agree with their political beliefs. And yes, I do want them to be replaced by someone with whose beliefs I do agree - and I don't care whether that person is male or female. I care about his or her political ideology and personal integrity.

The greatest Prime Minister my country ever had, Margaret Thatcher, was a woman. She got to the top in British politics - which was then completely male-dominated, and largely controlled by the establishment "old boy" networks in the two major parties - purely through ability and hard work, without the benefit of any positive discrimination. I admire her and support her legacy not because she was a woman, but because she was a very gifted leader and because she stood for principles which I share. I think it's, frankly, patronising to women to suggest that we should support them merely because they are female.

#578

Posted by: Naked Bunny with a Whip Author Profile Page | August 28, 2009 6:03 PM

@Carlie: On the second hug, though, I start behaving like a proper buck.

#579

Posted by: Mr T | August 28, 2009 6:06 PM

Strange gods, I gave you my point. Meanwhile, you've been whining and whining about how everyone and their uncle is a racist. I can be offended, so can she, so can you, just as much as we'd all love to be offended with one another. Have I insulted you or her somehow? You're not gods either. Her points (once they finally emerged) were very poorly-argued from the beginning. No matter what kind of discrimination you (or I or she) is facing, that's asking for criticism.

Obviously she knows who shares her views. That's not what she's talking about, though. The discussion is about who the media turns to when they are looking for a spokesperson to comment on this or that current event concerning atheism.

Obviously, that's not something we can just change with whining and insults on a blog, is it? I would love it if we could somehow force the media to pay more attention to all sorts of atheists with all sorts of ideas and backgrounds. Fortunately, nobody is even in charge of the atheists, not even the four horsemen, so perhaps laying the blame on someone else would be a good idea.

She didn't have a problem with anything else except their political views? Whatever you say, I guess. I wouldn't want to contradict you or Nancy, or I could very well be called a racist.

We've spent quite a few posts arguing over this, and I think it's been great getting some of these things out in the open, but honestly I don't see why you're arguing with me anymore. I'm not Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, or anyone in the media. I'm not trying to suppress anyone's views. I think we actually agree on a lot in regard to this, if you would just stop and notice that before jumping into your next attack.

Go ahead and take your time analyzing every word I've written here for the most objectionable hidden nuggets you can find. I have a dinner party to go to, so I won't be back to check for several hours.

#580

Posted by: Michael X | August 28, 2009 6:07 PM

But MIchael X did say that a selection based on race could not be a selection based on merit. And that is racist.

I'll start simple. Unless you are selecting for BOTH race AND merit then you are by definition selecting for only one or the other.

Here is what I said and it still stands.

Frankly, if anyone wishes that the public representation of atheists followed a demographic (racial or sexual) breakdown vs a breakdown based on merit; that creates a racist/sexist argument no matter how you look at it. PERIOD.

You then derailed the logic train by making an assumption that does not follow from the premises.

Actually, MIchael X, you just made a very racist and sexist claim right there. You are arguing that looking for people of a certain race or gender will necessarily mean finding people of lower merit.

When the focus of your grouping is on race and/or gender alone you could end up with any scale of merit and intelligence because the grouping is not informed by merit. Not because different colors or genders are less intelligent, but because merit and intelligence in that case are not being selected for. Your implication that I think grouping for race and gender would "necessarily" create a group of lower quality speaks volumes about your own character and nothing of my argument.

To finish,
as many have stated race and gender have no inherent relationship to atheism. So to then demand that those represented in the media be based upon a criterion that has no inherent relationship to the issue at hand is discriminatory in any way you look at it. I'm really not going to walk you through this simple problem again.

Now Charlie, somewhere up thread, stated that race and gender may actually hold a role because the real question is not "should those with the best ideas be front and center?" but perhaps it deals with "should we, for publicity purposes, only highlight people who are of varying backgrounds?" It's an interesting question. But you'll have to convince me that it's relevant before I'll grant that selecting for race in atheism is any less discriminatory than selecting for brown or blue eyes.

#581

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 6:21 PM

Strange gods, you know that's a foolish comment.

Comrade, whenever you hear the above sentence echoing inside your head, stop yourself.

Stop yourself, walk away, and think about it for a couple hours or a night, or a year. Because you are invariably about to say something so embarrassingly wrong that you will have wished you could excuse it on being drunk.

"I wish Michele Bachmann was not in the House."

"I wish there were fewer women in the House."

One of these wishes is sexist. One is not.

I never said it was necessary to vote for a woman simply because she is a woman. I have voted for men instead of women. I have volunteered on campaigns for men who were running against women.

I think it's, frankly, patronising to women to suggest that we should support them merely because they are female.

Funny, you're the only person saying it.

#582

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 6:32 PM

*contemplates second hug to Bunny, remembers Mr. C and newly established alt-Bunny, sadly reconsiders*

but perhaps it deals with "should we, for publicity purposes, only highlight people who are of varying backgrounds?"

I think claiming that asking for diversity is just about publicity really downgrades and demeans it. I doubt you mean it that way, but something about "publicity" makes it sound like it's just window dressing for marketing purposes. It's more substantial than that - on one side, it's about making sure that other people see that they are represented by others who from their corner of the world, but on the other, it's also about making sure that representation is there for the benefit of the cause itself. Being too monolithic isn't good for any group. For example, Hemant Mehta just posted some very interesting things about intersections of vegetarianism with atheism, which is a real issue for him given that the reasons he was raised as vegetarian were religious. "Why be vegetarian if you've lost your religious justification for doing so" is something not likely to be even thought of as a discussion point if everyone discussing atheism grew up a burger-eating Protestant.

#583

Posted by: 'Tis Himself | August 28, 2009 6:37 PM

Robocop #541

'Course, Keynesianism, for all the questions it does pose, does contain relatively few references to talking snakes..."
Surprisingly many, actually. More even than the Bible.

Another conservative who proud to trot out his economic illiteracy. Next Robocop will be telling us how FDR prolonged the Great Depression.

#584

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 6:41 PM

Strange gods, I gave you my point. Meanwhile, you've been whining and whining about how everyone and their uncle is a racist.

I have not accused anyone in this thread of being a racist. I have pointed out that many people are saying racist things. The distinction is important, but I am not surprised it is lost upon you.

Her points (once they finally emerged) were very poorly-argued from the beginning. No matter what kind of discrimination you (or I or she) is facing, that's asking for criticism.

Yours have been terribly argued, and you demonstrate a notable lack of skill in reading comprehension. And that's why you're begging for criticism.

But that's not quite the main issue for me. The claim was made, and you agreed with it, that anyone who says anything like what she said is a bigot. Regardless of who's said it, against whom, that's wrong and I'm going to take issue with it. That's the only reason I'm still here.

Obviously, that's not something we can just change with whining and insults on a blog, is it?

And therefore no one should talk about it. You know what else we can't change by talking on a blog? We can't change the fact that the churches are tax exempt. We can't change the fact that fundamentalists and white supremacists are infiltrating the military. We can't change the fact that creationists are taking over local school boards. Not by just talking on a blog, we can't.

Yet if Nancy had mentioned any of those things, no one would have overreacted, and started shrieking at her to shut her up. You could react that way to any topic on any blog, but you chose this topic for a reason.

She didn't have a problem with anything else except their political views?

Yet another misrepresentation. I said "she said she didn't like the Four Horsemen because of their political views."

How do you read that sentence and construe it to say "she said she the only thing she didn't like about the Four Horsemen was their political views"?

I was replying to your ill-thought statement about how "Defining what the New Atheists should be about so narrowly, and even insisting on it so far as to suggest replacing people, is more than impractical and it's quite a lot more than just bringing up gender discrimination."

Relevant is the fact that she had her own reasons for disliking them based on their political views, and so was not suggesting that they should be gotten rid of because they were white men. If she has a problem with their political views, then she'd say the same thing about them if they were women of color. Logic.

We've spent quite a few posts arguing over this, and I think it's been great getting some of these things out in the open, but honestly I don't see why you're arguing with me anymore. I'm not Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, or anyone in the media. I'm not trying to suppress anyone's views.

Yes, you are over and over again trying to silence the views of anyone who asks for more demographic representation. And you have agreed with Marcus that anyone who does is a bigot (though you draw the line at white supremacist).

#585

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 6:45 PM

If you ask me, the "[discrimination of] atheists per se" ought to be on the top of our list of the kinds of issues atheists as a group should be most concerned about.

And in what contexts do you think this occurs? In a vacuum? Which atheists in which places are most vulnerable to discrimination and negative consequences - from social exclusion to violence - for coming out or being active as atheists, and have the least social and institutional support? Academics? Scientists? People like Hitchens and Dawkins? What strategies and specific actions do you suggest for addressing this issue on the ground?

#586

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 6:51 PM

When the focus of your grouping is on race and/or gender alone you could end up with any scale of merit and intelligence because the grouping is not informed by merit.

What a red herring.

No one in this thread has suggested that any selection should not be informed by merit.

You are arguing against a straw man. There's no honest reason for you to have bothered.

Here is what I said and it still stands.
Frankly, if anyone wishes that the public representation of atheists followed a demographic (racial or sexual) breakdown vs a breakdown based on merit; that creates a racist/sexist argument no matter how you look at it. PERIOD.

You then derailed the logic train by making an assumption that does not follow from the premises.

Your entire argument was based on a straw man, so my reply to you was entirely appropriate.

Your implication that I think grouping for race and gender would "necessarily" create a group of lower quality speaks volumes about your own character and nothing of my argument.

You brought it up when no one had suggested selecting without regard to merit, when everyone had agreed that merit had to be selected for as well.

So in the context of the conversation, your comment was racist.

To finish, as many have stated race and gender have no inherent relationship to atheism. So to then demand that those represented in the media be based upon a criterion that has no inherent relationship to the issue at hand is discriminatory in any way you look at it.

Discriminatory against who? Be specific. Who would be discriminated against?

#587

Posted by: Michael X | August 28, 2009 7:11 PM

STBM,
It is irrelevant that we (you and I) actually agree that merit should be a consideration, unles this nearly 600 post thread was populated by only you and I. But there are many many comments in this thread that do not seem so clear cut. You may not have made such an argument (or even noticed that such interpretations could be made) but I did. And for clarity sake I wished to make a clear case against such things.

Frankly, my comment is racist in no way whatsoever. It was a clear and logical refutation of a racist argument that many comments seemed to be graying into. If on this point though, we agree and I see no more posts that verge into problems I've already handled, then I'll say the issue is settled. We'll hear no more of it.

Discriminatory against who? Be specific. Who would be discriminated against?

It would be discriminatory to those who are refused representation due to a criterion that has nothing to do with the issue.

#588

Posted by: Michael X | August 28, 2009 7:21 PM

it's also about making sure that representation is there for the benefit of the cause itself.

Carlie,
This part of your paragraph actually jumped out at me. I like the idea and I wish I could flesh out what that would mean practically. But my mother is in town and I'm already late for dinner!

So one thing before I go.
The question I think we're asking is "Who should represent the intellectual idea that is atheism to the public? I answer: "Those with the best ideas." You seem to want to add "also taking measures to assure (or assist) equal representation' Can you state a way in which such an outcome could be practically gained that would not run the risk of any kind of racism?

I have no doubt that you can, and I look forward to reading your answer later tonight.

#589

Posted by: Owlmirror | August 28, 2009 8:00 PM

I don't "know." I'm not remotely certain. I can't even say I'm sure. I (tentatively) think it's the best explanation for the evidence I see. And, for what it's worth, I don't think anyone can know, at least without some new kind of evidence being presented. I'll also add that I think that atheism is a perfectly reasonable conclusion, even if I don't think it's the best interpretation of the evidence.

Hm. Obviously, we disagree on... many points. I think perhaps the biggest one is this: If God does exist, as defined by the religious as a person who cares about people believing in him -- for various meanings of "believing in" -- then this God would not leave the question of existence as something that could reasonably not be believed.

"Or are you actually an agnostic now?"

In the sense I think you mean, I have always been an agnostic. But I'm also a Christian.

Hm, again. I accept that people define Christianity in many ways, but I am pretty sure that one of the classical ways is the acceptance of the Nicene Creed, which certainly looks to me like a bold statement of certainty about the existence of God and his actions and nature and attributes.

Just out of curiosity, how are you defining "Christian"?

"So... if they were right that the study was flawed, why was it wrong for them to reject their 'preconceived' notions?"

What was flawed was their response to the study -- the idea that it had to be wrong.

Sometimes the only appropriate response to an extraordinary claim is deep skepticism. I am not saying that skepticism is always correct -- indeed, having seen too much radical skepticism on the part of creationists and fundamentalists, I am certain that it is not always correct -- but it sometimes is.

This is because claims always have further empirical implications and consequences. Radical skepticism often arises because these implications as understood or claimed, if they were true, would contradict reality.

Granted, sometimes the implications arise from not understanding the claim itself, and thus we get people who reject evolution because dogs do not give birth to cats, and all of the other strawman arguments out there.

But a consequence of a God genuinely existing who actually answered prayers for healing with true healing, at a statistical level greater than chance, would have further implications than just one study. It would mean that believers everywhere should regularly heal faster nonbelievers; that religious hospitals would have shorter stays and more dramatic healing than secular ones. This would have been obvious even before the study was made.

The appendix to Mark (16:9-20) contains some genuinely extraordinary claims about true Christian believers. If these claims were true, the history of the world would have been very different starting with the rise of Christianity: No Christian would get sick; faith healing would have a 100% cure rate; Christians would regularly prove the benefit of their faith to unbelievers by drinking poison, and so on.

Yet the claims are not true. Christians suffered the same death-rates from disease as everyone else in the milieu that they lived. Christians do not drink poisons and not die. Some sects do handle serpents, but they die of sufficient snakebites just like everyone else. Christians are not extraordinary linguists able to speak to anyone anywhere and be understood -- glossolalia is all well and good, but if it's not comprehensible, I would argue that it's not actually a language.

When a religion has a history of failed predictions and false claims, then, in that situation, where the true implications and consequences prior to the claim being made are both clear, and clearly falsify the claim, skepticism is indeed appropriate.

[Prayer study where prayers to Ganesh work]

No, but I wouldn't have rejected it out of hand, either (I hope). In my view, the best course when confronted with new evidence is to try to consider it as objectively as possible while being honest with one's presumptions and biases; then, re-evaluate as necessary and appropriate. I've changed my mind on religious and other matters big and small any number of times on account of new evidence (or at least new evidence to me). Doing so is easier said than done, of course. But it's what I strive to do.

A generally commendable stance. But is there no analogous situation where you would have simply snorted in disbelief?

How about if the prayers were to the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Or to Satan, for that matter?

#590

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 8:17 PM

You seem to want to add "also taking measures to assure (or assist) equal representation' Can you state a way in which such an outcome could be practically gained that would not run the risk of any kind of racism?

Well now, that's a question that could go somewhere. I don't think it's possible if the charge of racism is lobbed every time a person's gender or ethnic status is brought up in any way, the way Ryan was doing. But in a more realistic and reasonable world, it could begin by happening when it was clear that another viewpoint would bring more pertinent information to that particular topic. For instance, it might make more sense to find a woman to get an "atheist talking point" for a story about France trying to outlaw hijab, or to find a gay atheist to talk about the effects of religious opposition to same-sex marriage, etc. etc., because those would be people who are closer to having first-hand experience of said issue. If that were done enough, then that would help bolster the public presence of a diversity of atheists, and then when a topic that is mostly gender/race neutral comes up, such as the Iowa bus sign campaign, perhaps not every station reporting on it will all go to the same two or three "big names", but also go to those others who they have seen talking about other issues. The big potential pitfall to this initial approach, of course, is that doing so can also backfire and marginalize those issues to being "women's issues" or "gay issues", especially since it's still the case that the majority of society doesn't pay any attention to a topic if it's not being pushed by white males. How to address that too, I'm not sure.

#591

Posted by: Anri | August 28, 2009 8:23 PM

Robocop sez: (in RE to god's existence)

"I don't "know." I'm not remotely certain. I can't even say I'm sure. I (tentatively) think it's the best explanation for the evidence I see. And, for what it's worth, I don't think anyone can know, at least without some new kind of evidence being presented. I'll also add that I think that atheism is a perfectly reasonable conclusion, even if I don't think it's the best interpretation of the evidence."

Ok, then.
Just out of curiosity, what evidence might make you change your mind? Along the lines of 'if it were discovered that...' kind of things?

(and later..):

"What was flawed was their response to the study -- the idea that it had to be wrong."

[citation needed]
When I first heard about the study, I assumed it was flawed, as it seemed to be providing evidence that goes against almost all collected medical evidence up to that point, but I was willing to listen to see what had to be said.

An interesting comparison might be to contrast to number of atheists that vocally proclaimed that the study did not prove that prayer works *before* the study was shown to be flawed...
...with the number of christians that vocally proclaimed the same thing *after* it was shown to be flawed.

To put it another way, do you believe that the fact that the study showed no results whatsoever for the efficacy of prayer counts as evidence against the existence of god?
And if not, again, what results from the study *would* be such evidence?
(A I am assuming you are honest enough to not be willing to trumpet the results of the study in one direction - prayer works, therefore god - but not in the other - prayer doesn't work, therefore no result.)

(And on the question of Sri Ganesh):

"No, but I wouldn't have rejected it out of hand, either (I hope). In my view, the best course when confronted with new evidence is to try to consider it as objectively as possible while being honest with one's presumptions and biases; then, re-evaluate as necessary and appropriate. I've changed my mind on religious and other matters big and small any number of times on account of new evidence (or at least new evidence to me). Doing so is easier said than done, of course. But it's what I strive to do."

What studies would you suggest for the discernment between deities?
What sort of double-blind tests might be worked out for determining which god one should believe in?
And (and this is the question I keep repeating - sorry about that), if all of these studies showed again and again, that there was no effect shown for *any* god or gods invoked, would that suddenly not be a result worth paying attention to?

#592

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 8:27 PM

Carlie:

the way Ryan Marcus was doing.

It says something, though, that it's easy to get them mixed up. ;)

#593

Posted by: Nancy | August 28, 2009 8:27 PM

strange gods, truly your patience and energy is amazing in the face of these dining room tables. I admire your work, although I would have lost it by now and started cursing them out. You are a rock. And you rock.

But wow, while I was away (working for The Man) my comments were being analyzed out the wazoo. What a strange feeling.

There really does seem to be a deadly seriousness to some of the commenters here. And a real conservative streak - if you point out that white men have been running everything, and for the most part still are, and suggest it would be nice if conditions were otherwise they totally freak out, and invent these fantasy scenarios where I am thought to have literally stumped for race and gender quotas for public access atheists.

What the hell is wrong with them?

#594

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 8:36 PM

Oops! Sorry, crossing arguments and people.
strange gods has definitely been acting in a Mollificacious way lately. :)

#595

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 8:37 PM

It is irrelevant that we (you and I) actually agree that merit should be a consideration, unles this nearly 600 post thread was populated by only you and I. But there are many many comments in this thread that do not seem so clear cut.

You are being ridiculous, Michael.

Who would argue that we should just go down to the shopping mall and randomly pick X many white people and Y many people of color? Who would think that would be a good idea?

You are acting like those Christians who say maybe there is a God, because nobody can prove for sure that there isn't, even though there's no evidence for a God and its existence is highly improbable.

Unless you can actually find a quote here of someone suggesting there should be a selection without merit, then you are still disingenuously constructing straw men to knock down. You might as well have made a clear cut case against garden faeries.

To finish, as many have stated race and gender have no inherent relationship to atheism. So to then demand that those represented in the media be based upon a criterion that has no inherent relationship to the issue at hand is discriminatory in any way you look at it.

Discriminatory against who? Be specific. Who would be discriminated against?

It would be discriminatory to those who are refused representation due to a criterion that has nothing to do with the issue.

How could it be discriminatory against them unless they had more merit than the ones who were selected?

#596

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 8:38 PM

The question I think we're asking is "Who should represent the intellectual idea that is atheism to the public? I answer: "Those with the best ideas."

That actually isn't the question I'm asking. Here are its problems: "intellectual idea," "public," "best ideas." And "represent" to some extent.

First, I disagree that atheism is simply an "intellectual idea." We are human beings living in human communities and in the context of social/political/economic relationships. Presenting atheism as merely an intellectual position is naively bracketing all of this off; atheism in reality is a socio-political phenomenon. People are living real lives - facing discrimination, trying to organize local groups, wishing to make contact with other atheists... None of this is captured by describing atheism as simply an idea. Nor is liberalism merely an idea. Or anarchism, or socialism, or mathematics.

Second, there is a wide diversity of publics that we're talking about. People have different experiences and concerns.

Third, the notion that "has written a popular book" equates to having the "best ideas" is silly. Again, and significantly, the relevant ideas and practical knowledge differ immensely across contexts. But, honestly, I read better intellectual ideas here in the comments on almost a daily basis than I saw in Hitchens' book, for instance.

Finally, "represent" is not synonymous with simply "present" or "lecture" or "explain." It involves, as several of us have discussed above, real communication and resonance in myriad ways with other people. This requires a variety of skills depending on context. The idea that "intellectuals" are most capable - or solely capable - of representation just doesn't fly in the real world.

#597

Posted by: Ichthyic | August 28, 2009 8:48 PM

Third, the notion that "has written a popular book" equates to having the "best ideas" is silly.

indeed.

whoever thinks that obviously has forgotten about...

Ann
Coulter

Finally, "represent" is not synonymous with simply "present" or "lecture" or "explain." It involves, as several of us have discussed above, real communication and resonance in myriad ways with other people. This requires a variety of skills depending on context. The idea that "intellectuals" are most capable - or solely capable - of representation just doesn't fly in the real world.

Something Nisbet and Mooney seem to have forgotten themselves, as they rush to burden intellectuals with that very chore wrt to science.

Bottom line is you're of course absolutely right, and especially so in the US, where diversity of those representing an idea tends to especially sway fencesitters (who otherwise tend to ignore the actual arguments themeselves).

for the umpteenth time, I post a link to this little Science article, which describes the research surrounding the idea that most americans don't rely on WHAT constitutes a particular argument, but rather on WHO is presenting it.

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/316/5827/996

#598

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 8:49 PM

Thanks for the kind words, Nancy. I think I have cussed a few of them out though. Actually what I try to do, as often as possible, is I write exactly what I want to say, walk away from the keyboard and do something else for a little bit, then come back and delete everything that seems ungenerous. Not everything can go; sometimes I read it and think "no, you really are a stupid fuck," and it stays.

And a real conservative streak - if you point out that white men have been running everything, and for the most part still are, and suggest it would be nice if conditions were otherwise they totally freak out, and invent these fantasy scenarios where I am thought to have literally stumped for race and gender quotas for public access atheists.

What the hell is wrong with them?

Christians have to invent the devil to have someone to hate.

Some guys have to invent a strawfeminist.

#599

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 8:54 PM

Actually I think it's more like the Christian persecution complex.

They desperately want to be the targets of racism, because they think it's glamorous or some shit.

#600

Posted by: Nancy | August 28, 2009 8:57 PM

It is irrelevant that we (you and I) actually agree that merit should be a consideration,

As Paul Krugman rightly pointed out in his blog today, we don't actually live in a meritocracy.

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/28/heredity-environment-justice/

The reason that white men have run everything for so long is not because they are smarter than women and non-whites. I'm seriously starting to wonder if some commenters here believe that in fact white men SHOULD be running everything. But it wouldn't be fashionable to come out and say that, so they hide behind strawmen and scream "merit!"

Are there fans of Gene Expression (the web site, not the process) here?

#601

Posted by: Nancy | August 28, 2009 9:06 PM

Actually what I try to do, as often as possible, is I write exactly what I want to say, walk away from the keyboard and do something else for a little bit, then come back and delete everything that seems ungenerous.

I will try this technique. Hey - imitation is the most sincere form of flattery!

:)

#602

Posted by: John Morales | August 28, 2009 9:10 PM

sgbm,

Actually I think it's more like the Christian persecution complex.

They desperately want to be the targets of racism, because they think it's glamorous or some shit.

It's Biblicaly justifiable, and a fine rationalisation.

#603

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 9:13 PM

Bottom line is you're of course absolutely right, and especially so in the US, where diversity of those representing an idea tends to especially sway fencesitters (who otherwise tend to ignore the actual arguments themeselves).

for the umpteenth time, I post a link to this little Science article, which describes the research surrounding the idea that most americans don't rely on WHAT constitutes a particular argument, but rather on WHO is presenting it.

Hmmm... I'm sure we don't disagree on the substance of the thing, but I do want to clarify something. I'm not arguing that it's the same intellectual ideas being presented always, and simply the identity of the source that makes the difference. I actually think "There's no good reason to believe in any deity or in the supernatural claims of any religion" is a fairly simple idea. But there are numerous other ideas and knowledge relevant to atheism that need to be communicated, and there is wide diversity in the people possessing this knowledge and the characteristics and skills to communicate it.

So, in other words, I'm not saying "Sam Harris and I are presenting the same information, but women will listen to me more" (although I'm not at all denying the importance of simply seeing others like you as public representatives - quite the contrary, as I've been arguing for months). I'm (also) saying "I have knowledge and skills to share that are different from Harris's but may well be relevant or useful or inspiring or relatable to other atheists or potential atheists."

#604

Posted by: Nancy | August 28, 2009 9:18 PM

Third, the notion that "has written a popular book" equates to having the "best ideas" is silly.

And in any case, Katha Pollitt and Barbara Ehrenreich have each written popular books, and are outspoken atheists. By any criterion they could be full members of any "New Atheist" group the the 4Hs are in. And Pollitt even knows Hitchens pretty well, although I don't know if they're friendly - I guess I could ask if anybody's interested, she's my Facebook friend.

They had an exchange when Hitchens was leaving The Nation which is posted here:
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20021216/exchange

I think Pollitt gave an excellent response to Hitchens:

"As Nation readers know only too well, I am always complaining about the magazine. It isn't perfect. Still, why single out as representative of our politics Alexander Cockburn, Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer (who, a search of our archives reveals, has never appeared in our pages) and not, oh, I don't know, Tony Kushner, Patricia Williams, Marc Cooper or Ellen Willis? Given your recent stint on Andrew Sullivan's blog, not to mention appearances over the years in a flock of right-wing publications, I'd think you'd want to be careful about promoting the idea of guilt by association. In any case, the real issue isn't about writers or magazines--it's about guns and power. You've placed yourself quite forthrightly on the side of Bush, Cheney, Perle and Wolfowitz, whose plans to remake the entire Arab world long predate 9/11, and who seem completely unembarrassed by their own shifting rationales for invading Iraq. (Not even they, however, claim it has anything to do with opposing religious fanaticism. That is your own delusion.) These are your new friends, an Administration that supports with mad vigor everything you excoriated in Clinton--capital punishment, the drug war, punitive welfare reform, privatizing the public realm, letting corporations run wild--while pandering to the Christian right, blasting the environment, withdrawing from international agreements from Kyoto to Cairo and remodeling the federal judiciary to resemble a meeting of the John Birch Society. I think I'll stay right here."

#605

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 9:23 PM

I'm seriously starting to wonder if some commenters here believe that in fact white men SHOULD be running everything.

Wonder no more. They do.

BTW, I've mentioned the book The Chosen by Jerome Karabel here in the past, but it really is quite good - especially the discussion of how criteria of "well-roundedness" and different means of assessment that didn't focus purely on scholarly accomplishments arose in Ivy-League admissions specifically to reduce the number of urban Jewish students. It calls into question the whole concept of "merit-based" admissions (and particularly, in the present, their relation to class).

#606

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 28, 2009 9:26 PM

The greatest Prime Minister my country ever had, Margaret Thatcher, was a woman.
Greatest prime minister? Woah, never thought you'd sink that low Walton.

Even if you were conservative, I'd still have thought that the likes of Winston Churchill would be shrouded in greatness while dear old maggie would be ridiculed and shown as anti-democratic for trying to introduce a poll tax.

#607

Posted by: Wowbagger, OM | August 28, 2009 9:32 PM

Anri asked (of Robocop):

And (and this is the question I keep repeating - sorry about that), if all of these studies showed again and again, that there was no effect shown for *any* god or gods invoked, would that suddenly not be a result worth paying attention to?

What it would do - heck, what it already has done - is prompted the religious to retort that prayer doesn't work - if you're doing it to test their god. Kind of like that guy in Mystery Men who could turn invisible - but only when no-one was looking.

It's the same kind of thinking that led to the post-hoc rationalisation - as illustrated by Robocop upthread - that the reason there's never been any physical evidence for the Christian god is because that god lies 'outside of science' and that expecting to find any evidence of a god through science is some kind of 'category error'.

Which is kind of funny, considering the Christians accept the truth of the bible - to a greater or lesser extent - which is chock full of stories about Yahweh appearing to the Israelites and acting in any number of ways that left absolutely no doubt whatsoever about his existence in the physical world. They also accept that Jesus performed miracles - miracles which would be subject to scientific investigation.

Of course, there's a vast number of sophist tapdance routines choreographed for the purpose of diverting attention away from this little problem. But it doesn't take too long to realise that's all they are - diversions.

In the absence of evidence, the 'convincing' argument for the existence of gods comes down to what can be shortened to 'other ways of knowing'.

To which I generally respond with an analogy: you meet two people with incompatible, contradictory and mutually exclusive belief systems, revealed to the believers by one or more of these 'other ways of knowing', and the arguments to support both belief systems are identical in validity.

Which of the two do you believe?

#608

Posted by: Feynmaniac | August 28, 2009 9:40 PM

Walton,

The greatest Prime Minister my country ever had, Margaret Thatcher, ....

Wow, and I thought the Reaganites in the US were bad...

#609

Posted by: Nerd of Redhead, OM Author Profile Page | August 28, 2009 9:46 PM

In the absence of evidence, the 'convincing' argument for the existence of gods comes down to what can be shortened to 'other ways of knowing'.
Ah, the words that makes one a true "well meaning fool"...
#610

Posted by: Anri | August 28, 2009 9:48 PM

Wowbagger said (in part):

"It's the same kind of thinking that led to the post-hoc rationalisation - as illustrated by Robocop upthread - that the reason there's never been any physical evidence for the Christian god is because that god lies 'outside of science' and that expecting to find any evidence of a god through science is some kind of 'category error'."

Of course - and, really I wouldn't bother asking, save for the fact that Robocop also said (as I quoted) that god was the answer best supported by the evidence at hand. That suggests to me that evidence is being merited with the possibility of demonstrating that god exists or not. Thus, my question as to what evidence Robocop would accept against god's existence.

If Robocop won't accept that there is such a thing as evidence against god's existence, (and by that I mean the specific god Robocop believes in) then we simply have blind faith. All the palaver about evidence is just that - meaningless verbiage.
If, on the other hand, we can actually pin down what might count as evidence weighing against god, we can see if anything like that actually exists.

Oh, and OT, as an aside - the most recent Riverfront Times (the major Alt News paper in St. Louis) had it's cover story on James Randi! Bloody lot of quotes from friggin' Uri Geller in there, though. *grrr*
Anyway, it's on the website at riverfronttimes.com

#611

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 9:49 PM

Are there fans of Gene Expression (the web site, not the process) here?

I had to laugh. A while back on I think ERV, someone was just incensed that his right-wing screeds were being challenged by the other commenters. (Who was it...?) He demanded to know if any of the Sciencebloggers were to the right of liberal (of US liberal - so fairly far right by most world standards). Someone (who was it...?) responded that Orac isn't exactly liberal, but Razib particularly might be just up his alley. The comment said something like "...He's far more intelligent than you, but he's a total wingnut, too." Cracked me the hell up.

#612

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 9:51 PM

Everybody knows Earl Grey was the greatest Prime Minister.

#613

Posted by: Carlie | August 28, 2009 9:51 PM

Ah, the Riverfront Times. In the days long before the internet, I learned more about the ...interesting side of the world from their ad section than anywhere else.

#614

Posted by: Feynmaniac | August 28, 2009 9:55 PM

Walton,

I think it's, frankly, patronising to women to suggest that we should support them merely because they are female.

Are you intentionally trying to make strawmen or are you just too thick to get it?
The people in power are disproportionately white and disproportionately male. Denying this is denying reality. Women generally make less than men and minorities are overrepresented in the lower classes. Both are underrepresented in government. No one is saying you should support someone merely because of their race or gender. The problem is that qualified women and minorities face additional barriers. Go check out my comment @ 401 and hear Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about the hurdles he had to go through.

#615

Posted by: Rorschach | August 28, 2009 10:00 PM

@ 611,

A while back on I think ERV, someone was just incensed that his right-wing screeds were being challenged by the other commenters. (Who was it...?

Wallace the fool IIRC. Or the Kwokster?

#616

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 10:10 PM

Found it:

http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2008/09/queen_for_the_night.php#comment-1090695

Go check out my comment @ 401 and hear Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about the hurdles he had to go through.

I watched that at the time and loved Tyson's response. But the question was so fucking ridiculous and ridiculously posed in the first place. It had virtually no relationship to anything that had been discussed. And it was particularly annoying in that the time for questions was super short. And the woman who commented last (OK, so it wasn't a question) was talking about Sesame Street! I would've loved to have heard a little discussion about that! But again, NdGT [or the wrestling name I gave him - Neil "Snake in deGrasse" Tyson]'s response was so good that it's hard to complain.

(Was Ann Druyan high or what? Is she ill? WTF?)

#617

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 10:15 PM

Wallace the fool IIRC. Or the Kwokster?

I thought it might have been Kw*k, too; but no - Wallace, indeed.

How's that ignoring me coming along? ;)

#618

Posted by: Rorschach | August 28, 2009 10:18 PM

How's that ignoring me coming along? ;)

Working on it ;)

#619

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 10:19 PM

Walton, Are you intentionally trying to make strawmen or are you just too thick to get it?

That depends. What time is it in Oxford?

#620

Posted by: Nancy | August 28, 2009 10:19 PM

I thought Razib had an interesting take on Dawkins:

+++++
Richard Dawkins is no W.D. Hamilton, J.M. Smith, let alone R.A. Fisher. Nevertheless, he is accepted by the public as an "authority," so his words are precious gems that can to be used like drilling diamonds to bore into the established orthodoxy. I doubt most of the public has read The Darwin Wars or Defenders of the Truth, so they would not be aware that Gould and Dawkins were the leaders of two rival evolutionary biology polemical gangs. Rather, Gould and Dawkins are writers of books you have to have, but never need to read! Dawkins can help nullify Gould & co., and more importantly, for some in the liberal set, since Dawkins is European, and it's always "better in Europe," he trumps Gould!
+++

http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/002778.html

#621

Posted by: 'Tis Himself | August 28, 2009 10:22 PM

It cannot be doubted that Spencer Perceval was Britain's greatest prime minister. His actions on May 11, 1815 are enough to gain him this hono(u)r.

#622

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 28, 2009 10:23 PM

Rather, Gould and Dawkins are writers of books you have to have, but never need to read!
what a coincidence, I have a book by each of them sitting on the shelf (The Panda's Thumb, The Ancestor's Tale) which I own but haven't read yet. Though I have read The God Delusion and The Blind Watchmaker...
#623

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 28, 2009 10:26 PM

His actions on May 11, 1815 are enough to gain him this hono(u)r.

He rose from the dead to defeat death itself and save all humankind?

#624

Posted by: Wowbagger, OM | August 28, 2009 10:33 PM

'Tis Himself wrote:

It cannot be doubted that Spencer Perceval was Britain's greatest prime minister. His actions on May 11, 1815 are enough to gain him this hono(u)r.

If he did anything in 1815 then yes, he must have been the greatest - considering the Wikipedia article you linked to has him dying in 1812...

Zombie Prime Minister!

#625

Posted by: Ichthyic | August 28, 2009 10:40 PM

I doubt most of the public has read The Darwin Wars or Defenders of the Truth

both are actually irrelevant to Razib's point though, which I assume is based on this comment:

Dawkins can help nullify Gould & co., and more importantly, for some in the liberal set, since Dawkins is European, and it's always "better in Europe," he trumps Gould!

What he should have stressed is that people use both Dawkins and Gould in attempts to make political points that neither of them would have been comfortable with.

That said, the scientific disagreements between the two (especially on gradualism and level of selection issues) would of course be entirely lost on the vast majority of the general public, even after reading the two books mentioned.
Moreover, while they were notable public combatants, the debates over these issues were hardly resolved by either of their contributions, frankly.

This is what the public most egregiously mistakes about science; it is NOT driven by authority, but by the results of experiments and collected data.

It is a fact that neither Dawkins nor Gould's work drive much of the current body of theory testing in evolutionary biology.

That's beyond the obvious that Gould is no longer around, and Dawkins hasn't actually published an experimental paper in quite a while.

#626

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 10:42 PM

Working on it ;)

For you:

http://www.luckymojo.com/saintjude.html

;D

(I admit it - I find them a fascinating sociological phenomenon. Anyone got a problem with that? I didn't think so.)

#627

Posted by: 'Tis Himself | August 28, 2009 10:42 PM

The mind was thinking 1812 but the fingers typed 1815.

#628

Posted by: Feynmaniacc | August 28, 2009 10:46 PM

Zombie Prime Minister!

In this post-anti-Zombie era it's hard to truly appreciate how much an achievement it was to become Britain's first undead Prime Minister.

#629

Posted by: Wowbagger, OM | August 28, 2009 10:48 PM

'Tis Himself - I read the article, but I don't understand. Getting shot makes him the greatest Prime Minister? I'm assuming I've missed something.

#630

Posted by: Rorschach | August 28, 2009 10:49 PM

For you:

I'm off to work now, to play "patron of lost causes and health miracles" for the next 10 hours.
I'm sure that's what you meant...;)

#631

Posted by: Feynmaniac | August 28, 2009 10:52 PM

The mind was thinking 1812 but the fingers typed 1815.

1812 is too spoiled. Does it really need an overture and a war?

#632

Posted by: 'Tis Himself | August 28, 2009 10:53 PM

The death of Perceval was a contributing cause of the War of 1812. The American government had sent an ultimatum to Britain about various British practices (impressment of seamen, restraint of trade with other neutrals in the Napoleonic War, etc.). The ultimatum expired before Perceval's successor as Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, was able to form a government. Even though Liverpool was willing to concede to most of the American demands, word of these concessions didn't reach the US until after war had been declared by Congress.

#633

Posted by: 'Tis Himself | August 28, 2009 10:57 PM

Wowbagger,

'Tis Himself - I read the article, but I don't understand. Getting shot makes him the greatest Prime Minister? I'm assuming I've missed something.

Never mind, it was a feeble attempt at humo(u)r.

#634

Posted by: Wowbagger, OM | August 28, 2009 11:02 PM

'Tis Himself, #632

This is why I love coming here. There aren't many days when I don't learn something new and interesting.

#635

Posted by: SC, OM | August 28, 2009 11:05 PM

I'm sure that's what you meant...;)

Nope. But whatever helps you get through the day, love, especially if people are helped in the process.

:)

#636

Posted by: Nancy | August 28, 2009 11:57 PM

What he should have stressed is that people use both Dawkins and Gould in attempts to make political points that neither of them would have been comfortable with.

In my experience, promoters of evolutionary psychology theories are very comfortable with turning their theories into political programs - the two most egregious examples are Thornhill/Palmer suggesting that rape victims get counseling in which they are told that rape is an adaptation, and Helena Cronin writing a government policy paper in which she proposes that there be a two-tier employment system in GB - one for women and one for men, based on evolutionary principles.
reprinted here as an op-ed:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,239317,00.html

Dawkins is a big fan of her work

RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes, she is a lovely writer. She wrote this wonderful book called The Ant and the Peacock, which is about Darwin and Wallace, and two sort of famous dilemmas in evolutionary theory: the problem of altruism and the problem of sexual selection, which are respectively the ant and the peacock. In the case of the peacock, it’s a really interesting historical analysis, in the case of sexual selection, because what she shows is...

http://noticiasediciondigital.malaletra.com/?cat=1729

and I have never heard him make a peep out of her desire to turn evolutionary psychology into social policy.

Which is why it's so great to have Gould - among many others - to turn to. Because one of the favorite claims of EPs is that anybody who objects to their theories are doing so on political grounds and are anti-science - Dawkins' buddy Cronin being one of the absolutely most obnoxious promoteres of such a view as you can see here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/mar/12/gender.comment

Based on so many EP promoters like Cronin you would NEVER know that there was any scientific controversy at all about the theoretical underpinnings of evolutionary psychology. It's always presented as stupid political feminists vs. pure scientists. And as I said, Dawkins to my knowledge has NEVER had a problem with this.

Which is why I so enjoyed Gould's review of "The Ant and the Peacock"
(the article is behind a paywall so I'll post his summation:

"I therefore begin my defense by epitomizing my assessment of Helena Cronin's book: She argues that gene selectionism is the key ingredient of a major revolution (she calls it "modern Darwinism") that has reshaped our view of evolution by recognizing that genes, rather than organisms (as Darwin held), are primary units of natural selection. She symbolizes the supposed success of this revolution by the two chief problems putatively solved (sexual selection as displayed by the peacock, and altruism as illustrated by the ant). I summarized the philosophical and empirical arguments that have convinced most of my colleagues that exclusive gene selectionism is both logically and factually wrong, and I supported the hierarchical model that views selection as acting simultaneously at a variety of levels in a genealogical sequence of gene, organism, population, and species. I then argued that the ant and peacock do not support Cronin's scheme because sexual selection (the peacock) can be resolved at the conventional Darwinian level of selection on organisms, while gene selectionism, though successful in explaining many cases of animal altruism (including the ant) cannot render the distinctive human form that set the philosophical problem in the first place. Finally, in reviewing two other books by paleontological colleagues, I argued that short-term selection in populations (at any level) cannot explain major geological patterns in the history of life."


Oh yes, and as you can see at the same location, Dennett is also a fan of Cronin's work:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2702

If anybody has ever heard of Dennett objecting to Cronin's politicization of EP theories, please share - I've never heard of it.

#637

Posted by: Rahul | August 29, 2009 3:59 AM

@sgbm "Saying that it is not possible to select for both race and merit at the same time is racist." (how do you blockquote?)

I did't understand this point. This would be possibly the case when there are only two states , qualified and non qualified and no degrees of qualification. When merit can be measured along a continuum , it is not racist to say that a race based selection would be in most cases sub optimal and in one rare case be equal to the merit based selection. This is just a mathematical fact and doesn't imply judgement and bias of any sort does it? (P.S not a white male :-) )

#638

Posted by: Rorschach | August 29, 2009 4:32 AM

how do you blockquote?

blockquote your text goes here /blockquote ,

with the blockquote thingies in >

#639

Posted by: KevinC | August 29, 2009 6:04 AM

Robocop @541:

518: "What evidence are you talking about, specifically?"

Testimonial evidence,

Do you also believe that aliens from other planets are visiting the Earth? We have a great deal of "testimonial evidence" to that effect, and it is at least as compelling if not more so than lots of people saying "I feel Jesus in my heart." At least with the UFO's there's some (usually crappy) photographs, and some occasional tangible evidence like impressions at an alleged "landing site" or radar recordings.

historical evidence,

Can you produce anything as good as the historical evidence for the Roswell crash? In the case of the Roswell crash, we have a newspaper article and radio broadcast that were immediately contemporary to the alleged events. The Gospels were written decades after the events in question. Earlier Christian writings (like the authentic epistles of Paul) fail to mention the Gospel "history" of Christ even when it would most effectively make the authors' points for them (e.g., why no mention of Lazarus when Paul is arguing for resurrection?). These earlier writings tend to describe "Christ" as a spiritual being or principle rather than a man who walked on Earth and regularly produced actual Holy Shit.

logical evidence

If you're talking about wankery like Anselm's ontological argument or First Cause arguments, these have been routinely debunked, and couldn't validate the Christian god (e.g., personal being(s) who is/are a trinity, who do/does things like help Moses win a sorcerers' duel against Egyptian wizards, impregnate virgins, etc.). Do you have anything better?

and what I think of as narrative evidence for starters.

What is "narrative evidence?" The fact that there are stories? By that standard, there is "narrative evidence" that Darth Vader was conceived by a virgin a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Your explanation below (narrative evidence = people's yearning for meaning and purpose) doesn't make any sense of the term. What's "narrative" about it, and why would it qualify as "evidence?"

Testimonial evidence might include people saying they've experienced God in various ways.

Can you explain why you accept this level of "evidence" for Yahweh/Jesus while denying the same sort of "evidence" in favor of other gods and goddesses? Do you accept the reality of flying saucers as extraterrestrial spacecraft on the same basis? If not, why not?

Historical evidence might include what Jesus did and said.

You mean, like causing the sun to turn off for several hours, simultaneous with a massive earthquake and a zombie invasion of a metropolis of 100,000 people during a mass pilgrimage which (IIRC) could have brought the number of potential witnesses up to something like a couple million people, in a confluence of two literate cultures (Romans and Jews)...without anyone but his small group of followers noticing?

Logical evidence might include whether and how volition, consciousness and creativity can meaningfully exist in a wholly material universe.

Even if it were unequivocally demonstrated that volition, consciousness, and creativity were magical, supernatural forces (hint: this has not been demonstrated), there would still be an unlimited number of known and unknown possible supernatural/magical explanations. To grasp the question marks hovering around volition, consciousness, and creativity and use them to immediately pole-vault to Christianity (without even considering other possibilities) is something defined in logic as: the non-sequitur

And what I think of as narrative evidence requires looking at the essentially universal human desire for meaning and purpose in a world that, if wholly material, offers nothing but Dawkins's relentless indifference and wondering if that desire is indicative of something more in the same way that flowers reaching toward the sky is indicative of the sun.

This "narrative evidence" is not evidence for belief, but motive for belief. The desire to believe in Christianity because it provides a feeling of having meaning and purpose does not lend credence to the truth of Christianity any more than not wanting to believe in Christianity because one considers its god to be a malevolent tyrant constitutes evidence that said god does not exist. Wishing doesn't make it so.

Furthermore, even if human desire for meaning and purpose was evidence that some absolute meaning and purpose existed, you have still offered no reason to believe that said meaning 'n' purpose is to grovel before Yahweh/Jesus, tell him how great he is, and obey his presumed commands (as augured from a book that is as open to differing interpretations as a Rorschach test). How do you know our M&P isn't to worship the Triple Goddess and adhere to the Wiccan Rede, or follow some other religion? For that matter, you haven't even tried to rule out the possibility that the cosmic M&P could be something yet unknown, as Judaism/Christianity was in the time of Pharaoh Thutmose III.

So far, all this just adds up to "I believe in Christianity because I like it." Which wouldn't be a problem if Christians would admit that they're playing a text-based MM[Offline]RPG rather than acting as unique conduits of Divine Revelation, while promulgating the idea that everybody who plays other games or none is immoral and evil, and that the governance of our society ought to be based on their preferred interpretation of the World of Yahweh and Jesus Game Manual.

#640

Posted by: Rorschach | August 29, 2009 6:18 AM

KevinC @ 639,

very well done !

*makes note on Molly list*

#641

Posted by: Bexley | August 29, 2009 7:00 AM

Read #503. Sheesh. Are you seriously suggesting that these four individuals are the best representatives across the board, for every audience, and on every issue? How so? Note that we're not just talking about "performance in the media," but about "representation." Define "ability" in terms of representation and spell out its elements clearly, taking into account the points I made in #503.

SC, I have never said that the current 4 individuals are the best. I havent read enough of their and other peoples stuff to actually comment on whether they are the best out there. Try arguing with what I actually said.

My argument is solely that picking to reflect the underlying demographics of the population will not necessarily lead to picking the "best" spokespeople (however you define best). It may do but wont necessarily.

One reason why (and the easiest to explain) is random chance. Lets say we all agreed on some criteria to rank atheists to come up with some measure of how good a job they'd do as spokespeople. Just by random chance you may not end up with the top 4 being 50% male and 50% female. You might end up with 3 women and 1 man (with 5th place going to a man too, say). If you then insisted that the 4 horsemen/women were actually 2 men and 2 women then you'd need to exclude one of the women and pick the bloke who actually came 5th overall in our ranking.

That choice would not be optimal and that is the only point I am making.

Now there are certainly arguments to be made saying that actually we do need to pick to reflect underlying demographics (eg to act as role models, to counter discimination in the selection process etc.) However some posters here didnt seem to be making these arguments originally they seemed to be asserting that diversity is a good in itself (and I have met plenty of people who DO assert this without having thought about why it may be good). IMO it is only a means to an end - if you have diversity (without it being enforced) then that is a sign of a society that probably lacks prejudice.

Now someone may say that I should assume that Nancy et al are really only arguing for diversity because of the reasons outlined above. However I have met plenty of people who do actually think picking for diversity is a good in itself. Similarly I've met plenty of people who seem to believe criticism of religion is somehow rude and nasty and we shouldnt be criticising the ridiculous religous belifs of others.

As a result, if someone says something like "I think we need more of X-type of people to represent us" without explaining why I no longer just assume that they have thought about and come up with good reasons for this.

#642

Posted by: cartologist | August 29, 2009 8:01 AM

Don't know about other religions but I do know how my ex-religion controls minds. I had twelve years of catholic schooling. Amazingly, I can still remember (I will be 66 next month) the day in grammar school when the nun told us that we are priviledged to know the truth about jebus and that if we even think about not believing then we would be spending eternity in hell. I was thirteen.

#643

Posted by: Richard Dawkins | August 29, 2009 8:15 AM

I don’t know who Nancy is (when I criticize somebody I come out into the open and use my full name) but there is a whiff of prejudiced bigotry in her posts that I find disagreeable.

I like the quartet's vocal anti-religion views, but two of them are evolutionary psychologists, Harris believes that Islam is more likely to provoke violence than any other religion due to its dogma (as if having a "Prince of Peace" has ever put the brakes on Christian violence) and Hitchens is a gigantic douchebag.

Her opinion of Hitchens is so obviously personal and unsubstantiated that I’ll let it pass. If Harris thinks Islam is more likely to provoke violence than any other religion due to its dogma, I, for on, would find it hard to argue against him. At very least, Nancy needs to find a better counter-argument than the undeniable observation that Christianity has a violent past too.

. . . but two of them are evolutionary psychologists . . .
That ‘but’ is very telling. It presumes that there is something so self-evidently damning about calling somebody an evolutionary psychologist that it needs no spelling out. Like saying “but two of them are KKKlansmen.” Actually, evolutionary psychologists are simply psychologists who think in an evolutionary way. Since humans, like all animals, are evolved beings, and our brains and presumably our psychological dispositions are not immune to the evolutionary forces that shape our bodies, wouldn’t it be perverse for a psychologist NOT to think in an evolutionary way?

I don’t think either Dan Dennett or I would claim to be evolutionary psychologists, because we are not professional psychologists. I have a sufficiently positive view of EP to have agreed to write the Afterword to the thousand-page Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (Steven Pinker wrote the Foreword). I am happy to say that some of the leading contributors to the EP literature are women, including Leda Cosmides, Margo Wilson, Laura Betzig, Bobbi Low, Elisabeth Cornwell and Helena Cronin.

Helena is described as “one of the absolutely most obnoxious promoters” (of a view that happens to offend Nancy’s political pre-conceptions). I invite anybody to go and actually read the articles by Helena Cronin that Nancy finds so ‘obnoxious’:
www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,239317,00.html
www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/mar/12/gender.comment
I think if you read them with an open mind you’ll agree that Nancy’s characterization of Helena is verging on the libellous. For example, she says that Helena advocates a “two-tier employment system in GB - one for women and one for men, based on evolutionary principles.”

Nancy rather truculently invites me to answer three direct questions (again, remember, she doesn’t post under her real name, I do, so she can look up my published works, I can’t look up hers). First, have I changed my mind since I wrote this? http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/clinton/sociobiology.html
No, I haven’t changed my mind.

Second, am I aware of the ‘thorough debunking’ of Napoleon Chagnon? I am aware that Napoleon Chagnon was the victim of a shameful campaign of vilification, centred on the scurrilous and now discredited book Darkness in El Dorado, by Patrick Tierney. The most egregiously libellous claim made by Tierney was that Chagnon and his mentor James Neel deliberately infected the Yanomamo with a lethal measles epidemic, in order to test a theory. The literature on the infamous Darkness in El Dorado case is voluminous and easy to find by Googling.

Third, do I buy into the usual EP idea that men are much more interested in sexual variety than women are? Yes I do. I do not buy into the idea that this fact is desirable, or praiseworthy, or should be used to justify political decisions. But I do buy into the fact itself, because the supporting evidence from both anthropology and psychology is quite simply overwhelming. To quote just one psychological experiment, Clark & Hatfield (look up in Handbook mentioned above) sent attractive female and male accomplices out to walk around a university campus, accost a random sample of the opposite sex and say to them, “Hi, I’ve been noticing you around town lately, and I find you very attractive. Would you have sex with me?” 100% of the women accosted said no. 70% of the men accosted said yes, and many of the males who said no did so with an apology, citing previous commitments. Of course that doesn’t show that the sex difference is genetic, it could be a result of cultural upbringing. But numerous studies like that, including much anthropological as well as psychological data, convince me that, whether genetic or cultural in origin, it really is a fact that men are much more interested in sexual variety than women are.

Finally, I agree that it would a good thing to have more than four horsemen, and just as many horsewomen. For this reason I was extremely sorry that Ayaan Hirsi Ali had to cancel, as the result of a last minute emergency, her agreed participation in the original ‘Four Horsemen’ round table recorded discussion. See post #397 above for details.
http://store.richarddawkins.net/products/the-four-horsemen-discussions-with-richard-dawkins-episode-1

Sorry this post has been so long. I felt it needed saying, in the interests of fairness.

Richard Dawkins

#644

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 8:39 AM

Richard,

Third, do I buy into the usual EP idea that men are much more interested in sexual variety than women are? Yes I do. ...

Of course that doesn’t show that the sex difference is genetic, it could be a result of cultural upbringing. But numerous studies like that, including much anthropological as well as psychological data, convince me that, whether genetic or cultural in origin, it really is a fact that men are much more interested in sexual variety than women are.

But evolutionary psychology, being evolutionarily-oriented, asserts that it is genetic in origin. So this amounts to rather faint praise from you, in that you would acknowledge these findings in any field, but you find nothing so notable as to justify an enthusiastic "yes, it's genetic!"

I wonder if you've read James Miles' Born Cannibal. He argues on the basis of your work, as well as George Williams' and John Maynard Smith's, that human morality must be attributable mostly to cultural conditioning, because kin selection and reciprocal altruism couldn't make us much more tolerant of each other than the other chimpanzees are.

#645

Posted by: Rorschach | August 29, 2009 9:11 AM

I dont know whether it is fortunate for an anonymous commenter on an internet blog to call a prolific, if controversial, personality like Hitchens a douchebag, and I agree with Prof Dawkins' assessment that this smells of personal dislike.

This is similar to what people say about Bill Maher, many dont agree with his views on medicine, but he is still awesome in exposing religious woo, the same goes for Christopher Hitchens, despite what some people say about his political views.
And I'm glad the conspiracy theory of the 4 white male horsemen got debunked here as well, good on you Prof Dawkins.

#646

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 9:20 AM

And I'm glad the conspiracy theory of the 4 white male horsemen got debunked here as well, good on you Prof Dawkins.

Yes, it's nice that you can define the issue so narrowly as to wave it away. Yet Richard made no objection to the claim that there are obstacles to women and people of color, in both publishing and scientific academia, which do not impact white men to the same extent.

#647

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 9:26 AM

I dont know whether it is fortunate for an anonymous commenter on an internet blog to call a prolific, if controversial, personality like Hitchens a douchebag, and I agree with Prof Dawkins' assessment that this smells of personal dislike.

I'm sure that "Rorschach" has never insulted any public figure on the internet.

#648

Posted by: KevinC | August 29, 2009 9:42 AM

Robocop @452:

"The fact that you insist that he was motivated by his religious beliefs...."

To claim otherwise is to assert that Dr. King was a constant and consistent liar.

OK, so Dr. King was motivated by his religious beliefs. Not being any kind of expert on MLK, I don't dispute that. But Gandhi was motivated by his religious beliefs, Torquemada by his, and various Aztec high priests by theirs. What matters most is the content of one's religious beliefs, and one of the biggest problems with religious beliefs in particular is that they tend to be strongly resistant to criticism, re-evaluation, and change in response to incoming facts.

Neither religion nor science is remotely monolithic.

Relevance?

"Is it perfect? No, but it is self-correcting, when practiced properly."

And religion does a world of good "when practiced properly."

And how, exactly, by theological methods can you establish that operating a soup kitchen is practicing religion "properly" and driving an airplane into a building to put the "fear of God" into the infidel is not? That is the problem (from a standpoint of trying to get accurate knowledge of reality, ethics, etc.) with religion, and faith in particular. Faith, by definition, is not amenable to reason, evidence, or logic.

More to the point, self-correction in areas of inquiry that don't allow for definitive conclusions is never easy (follow political debate much?). But to suggest that it doesn't happen ignores reality. To pick an easy example, the Catholic Church of today is drastically different from that of the Middle Ages.

And can you demonstrate that something like the Catholic Church's rather recent apology for what it did to Galileo represents self-correction, rather than a foot-dragging acknowledgment that it was wrong forced on it by external correction (i.e. the rest of society grasping that the Church was wrong, centuries before)? The Catholic Church of today is drastically different from that of the Middle Ages because change was forced upon it by stronger outside powers. Three cheers for Gustav Adolf II and his victory at Breitenfeld! :)

"What method does theology have (save those that it can borrow from other fields like science, history, textual criticism, etc.) by which it could ever hope to advance at all?"

Ironically, those "other" techniques were largely developed in religious contexts.

No, really? Everything was "developed in a religious context" (i.e., in societies dominated by religion). The first example of large-scale architecture in stone (the Pyramid of Sakkara) was developed to send Pharaoh Djoser on his way to Orion to dwell with the Gods and Goddesses. Therefore, not only does theology get credit for architecture, architecture proves that Osiris exists. Right? *rolleyes*

No one denies that religion represents humanity's earliest attempt to understand reality. Religion came before science. But as scientific methodologies matured (e.g. astrology---->astronomy), their discoveries displaced religious explanations of the world as the product of Invisible Magic Persons and their activity. It all goes one way. Lightning, storms, crop fertility, the motions of the celestial bodies, all were once believed to be the doings of Invisible Magic Persons. As science developed, natural, non-IMP explanations were found.

Not once have we encountered a situation where an IMP turned out to be the proper explanation. "Well, we thought that all diseases were caused by germs, but then Father O'Flanahan proved that the common cold is, in fact, caused by demons." Now, maybe one day we will encounter some phenomenon that really is the result of Invisible Magic Persons in action.

After 500 years of an unbroken track record in which IMP-based explanations have been falsified and replaced by natural explanations, science is by far the better bet. If science and religion were stocks, valued based on their respective abilities to help us understand reality, science would have had an unbroken record of going up for 500 years, and religion an unbroken record of going down for 500 years. Sure, we still have to include the "past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results" disclaimer, but come on! Which stock would you buy?

It's an all too human problem. I'll see your Inquisition and raise you the tens of millions of murders on behalf of "scientific materialism."

Because the Inquisition and Crusades would not have been any deadlier if the Church had been able to employ the instrumentality of the modern totalitarian state. What the perpetrators of religious atrocities and their secular totalitarian counterparts had in common is the worship of authority and belief that unconditional obedience is a virtue. To this core problem, religion adds faith, which enables it to perpetuate itself without regard to the accumulation of evidence that contradicts its dogmas.

Where a malevolent secular dogma like Soviet Communism will collapse when it's beaten up by a brutal gang of facts, malevolent religious dogmas can just say "Bah! Facts?! What are you gonna trust, man's reason, or GOD'S WORD?"

Now, a religion without that kernel of authority and obedience-worship (like, say, Wicca) is IMO close to harmless, so long as the practitioner does not incorporate that other pernicious element, faith, and try to cure appendicitis with a magick spell instead of calling 911. But then, atheists generally don't bother too much with religions designed to have no adverse consequences in reality.

Your religion, Christianity, is still centered on that core of authority-worship and faith.

Nonsense. We simply look at things differently from you. Moreover, how about letting s/he that is without irrationality cast the first stone?

The human tendency toward irrationality is why we need a set of protocols designed to counter our irrational tendencies. One highly useful "set of protocols" is the scientific method. Another would be the system of trial buy jury with adversarial legal representation.

Humans are just souped-up chimpanzees with bucketloads of cognitive fallibility? Yep. That's precisely why we need science to replace faith and theology as our way of trying to understand reality.

#649

Posted by: SC, OM | August 29, 2009 9:47 AM

A classic from Comrade Physioprof:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/10/whoa_hitchens_endorses_obama.php#comment-1155409

I dont know whether it is fortunate for an anonymous commenter on an internet blog to call a prolific, if controversial, personality like Hitchens a douchebag,

Should we fetch the fainting couch?

#650

Posted by: SC, OM | August 29, 2009 9:59 AM

Her opinion of Hitchens is so obviously personal and unsubstantiated

See #604.

#651

Posted by: Richard Dawkins | August 29, 2009 10:11 AM

But evolutionary psychology, being evolutionarily-oriented, asserts that it is genetic in origin. So this amounts to rather faint praise from you, in that you would acknowledge these findings in any field, but you find nothing so notable as to justify an enthusiastic "yes, it's genetic!"
Evolutionary Psychology, being a field of study, does not 'assert' things, any more than history or geography does. But you are probably right about the majority of individual evolutionary psychologists. I too think it is highly likely that many psychological sex differences have a strong genetic component. There is plenty of evidence for this, and robust Darwinian theory predicts it. But I suspect that Nancy does NOT accept it, so it was important to answer her specific question, which was whether I buy into the factual proposition (regardless of whether it has a genetic origin) that men are much more interested in sexual variety than women are. That is a simple factual proposition, and a great weight of evidence leads me to buy into it.
I wonder if you've read James Miles' Born Cannibal. He argues on the basis of your work, as well as George Williams' and John Maynard Smith's, that human morality must be attributable mostly to cultural conditioning, because kin selection and reciprocal altruism couldn't make us much more tolerant of each other than the other chimpanzees are.
No, to my regret, I haven't read it (and I can't find it on Amazon.com). I hope it doesn't fall into the common trap of focusing on r at the expense of B and C when applying Hamilton's Rule. Hamilton's Rule, you'll remember, states that an altruistic trait will be positively selected if rB > C, where r is the coefficient of relatedness (a fraction between 0 and 1), B is the benefit to the recipient, and C is the cost to the donor. B and C depend upon ecological details that are not easy to measure, and it is consequently not possible, without a great deal of work, to make simply cross-species judgments such as "kin selection and reciprocal altruism couldn't make us much more tolerant of each other than the other chimpanzees." Having said that, I certainly agree that human morality probably does owe a huge amount to cultural conditioning.
#652

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 10:13 AM

Rahul,

I did't understand this point. This would be possibly the case when there are only two states , qualified and non qualified and no degrees of qualification. When merit can be measured along a continuum , it is not racist to say that a race based selection would be in most cases sub optimal and in one rare case be equal to the merit based selection. This is just a mathematical fact and doesn't imply judgement and bias of any sort does it?

Merit in almost every human endeavor is unrankable. Bexley above proposed the fantasy of "the 6 most articulate atheists" and I asked if there's a Scantron test for this, as though this could even be measured. Is Hitchens more articulate than Dawkins? It depends on the topic; it depends on whether either of them has memorized a prepared quip; it depends on how much sleep they got the night before and how far they had to travel. On those topics that either can answer, it's a toss-up, unless you the listener have a preference for literary and political allusions, or grand narratives spanning epochs.

Merit is so unrankable, that in order to pretend otherwise, we have had to invent the greatest story ever sold. The myth that the free market selects and rewards merit is the new Calvinism. It is grudgingly acknowledged that merit is too difficult to rank prior to selection, so instead it is claimed that an invisible hand awards us all with what we deserve in the end. Wealth to the elect, and poverty to the damned. But even for the fundamentalists and easy marks who actually believe this stuff, it is only possible to claim that the final outcome of thousands or millions of variables was justly deserved. The markets still fail to foretell the future. Non-fundamentalists recognize that markets do accomplish certain tasks, occasionally moving necessary commodities to people who need them, but markets do not reward merit.

I did say "almost every human endeavor." There are rare exceptions. Bexley offers something obvious about certain athletics, and SC already had a good whack at it. It was a red herring in the first place, because precisely no one is arguing that we ought to select an athletics team by demographic representation. Picking something obvious, about which your opponents already agree, is not how robust arguments are made.

We know who can run the fastest 100m sprint: the man with a name right out of superhero comics, Usain Bolt. It's easily rankable. But the reason it's so easily rankable is because the task is artificially, arbitrarily, and narrowly contrived. Is 100m better than 1000m, or 746.6m? Just how much would this ranking help you determine if Mr Bolt would excel in less artificial work that values speed, as a courier or a soldier? The complex work at which most people make their livings is not amenable to such thorough quantification.

It turns out that normal work is the sort that divides into binary groupings of competent and incompetent. In the work of governance there are competent people like Barack Obama and Teddy Roosevelt, incompetent people like Glenn Moon, and showoffs like Bobby Jindal who project a facade but turn out to be grossly incompetent. Start comparing Presidents and the issue immediately becomes subjective. Was Richard Nixon a terrible president? Well, he was both competent and corrupt, so there's no simple answer. George W Bush's goals were to deliberately subvert and wreck government, and use its wreckedness as an excuse to hand government's tasks over to the private sector; he was competent at that, so it all depends on whether you agree with his goals.

You can't rank atheists even on Bexley's single criterion. You sure as hell can't rank them when you consider SC's and Carlie's many useful criteria.

So when someone pretends that real work is awarded strictly according to rankable merit, they're just parroting a neo-Calvinist doctrine which conveniently concludes that the privileged were indeed the elect. People can believe in the myth without holding race-hatred in their hearts. But the argument itself ends up being racist.

#653

Posted by: 'Tis Himself, Quel Dommage Author Profile Page | August 29, 2009 10:15 AM

Like many people here, I'm not fond of Christopher Hitchens. Okay, we share some opinions, like atheism and a mistrust of the motivations and ideals of Mother Teresa. However, we disagree on other subjects, like the Iraq misadventure and other interventionist foreign policies. In short, he's a flawed human being.

However, I will not hear anything bad said about the Professor who provided post #643.

He's the Dick to the Dawk to the PhD
He's smarter than me, he's got a science degree.

#654

Posted by: Nick Gotts | August 29, 2009 10:29 AM

Richard Dawkins,

Her [Nancy's] opinion of Hitchens is so obviously personal and unsubstantiated that I’ll let it pass.

I don't know, but I suspect it is Hitchens' support for the immoral and illegal invasion of Iraq which lies behind her hostility to him; certainly, that is what lies behind mine.

If Harris thinks Islam is more likely to provoke violence than any other religion due to its dogma, I, for on, would find it hard to argue against him. At very least, Nancy needs to find a better counter-argument than the undeniable observation that Christianity has a violent past too.

Why? If the historical record shows that Islam is not uniquely violent, that would seem to be a reasonable argument against Harris. How else would you go about testing his claim than by comparing the records of different religions?

Actually, evolutionary psychologists are simply psychologists who think in an evolutionary way.

This is not the case. Rather, the term "evolutionary psychology" is associated with a number of specific hypotheses. The following is from Wikipedia, but I doubt the evolutionary psychologists concerned would object to the characterization:

"The discipline rests on a foundation of core premises. According to evolutionary psychologist David Buss, these include:

1. Manifest behavior depends on underlying psychological mechanisms, information processing devices housed in the brain, in conjunction with the external and internal inputs that trigger their activation.
2. Evolution by selection is the only known causal process capable of creating such complex organic mechanisms.
3. Evolved psychological mechanisms are functionally specialized to solve adaptive problems that recurred for humans over deep evolutionary time.
4. Selection designed the information processing of many evolved psychological mechanisms to be adaptively influenced by specific classes of information from the environment.
5. Human psychology consists of a large number of functionally specialized evolved mechanisms, each sensitive to particular forms of contextual input, that get combined, coordinated, and integrated with each other to produce manifest behavior."

Similarly, pioneers of the field Leda Cosmides and John Tooby consider five principles to be the foundation of evolutionary psychology:

1. The brain is a physical system. It functions as a computer with circuits that have evolved to generate behavior that is appropriate to environmental circumstances
2. Neural circuits were designed by natural selection to solve problems that human ancestors faced while evolving into Homo sapiens
3. Consciousness is a small portion of the contents and processes of the mind; conscious experience can mislead individuals to believe their thoughts are simpler than they actually are. Most problems experienced as easy to solve are very difficult to solve and are driven and supported by very complicated neural circuitry
4. Different neural circuits are specialized for solving different adaptive problems.
5. Modern skulls house a stone age mind."

In my view, of Buss's premises, 1 is only controversial insofar as some might balk at describing the brain simply as an "information processing device" (are the levels of hormones or alcohol present, both of which affect cognition, "information"?). 2 is false if taken to mean that the brain is sufficient to produce our manifest behaviour: we were not selected to read, write, pass laws, or undertake research in psychology; and acquiring these skills depends crucially on the use of external cognitive prostheses. 3 is certainly at least partly true, but does not allow for the possibility that some psychological mechanisms are byproducts of adaptations. 4 is true, 5 is controversial.

Of Cosmides' and Tooby's 5, in my view 1 is true as long as we use a wide-enough definition of "computer", but the brain is not suffiicent to explain human cognition and behaviour: it interacts in crucial ways with the rest of the body and the external environment, including the anthropogenic aspects of that environment. 2 is false: natural selection designs nothing. 3 is true, 4 is at least partly true but how far is controversial, 5 is false: for example, acquiring the skill of reading is known to have physical effects on neuronal connections:
Castro-Caldas A, Petersson KM, Reis A, Stone-Elander S, Ingvar M. (1998). The
illiterate brain. Learning to read and write during childhood influences the functional
organization of the adult brain. Brain 121(6), 1053-63.

Of course, my view is just my view - but this is enough to show that "evolutionary psychologists" does not just mean simply psychologists who think in an evolutionary way: the leading practitioners of the discipline are making substantive claims which may be true or false, and which they themselves describe as central to it.

p.s. I don't normally use my real name here, but have done so since you are making a song and dance about the matter.

#655

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 10:34 AM

I too think it is highly likely that many psychological sex differences have a strong genetic component. There is plenty of evidence for this, and robust Darwinian theory predicts it.

Probably, yes, I agree. Yet to determine which, and to what extent, we need to measure within a culture in which men and women feel equally free to pursue their sexual interests. As long as sexually adventurous men are culturally rewarded as "studs" and women are punished as "sluts," we can't learn much from offering sex to people in public except that women do not want to be culturally labeled as "sluts."

No, to my regret, I haven't read it (and I can't find it on Amazon.com). I hope it doesn't fall into the common trap of focusing on r at the expense of B and C when applying Hamilton's Rule.

I couldn't tell you, as I am only an amateur enthusiast of biology. I'll check at the bookstore where I last saw it, and if they still have a copy I'll post it to you.

#656

Posted by: Richard Dawkins | August 29, 2009 10:47 AM

Nick Gotts (thank you for identifying yourself).

Yes, I have to agree, there are some fields of study where the name is not a neutral description of the field but becomes, by common consent, identified with a school of thought. You are probably right that Evolutionary Psychology is at least teetering on the brink of this category, although the case is less clear than for, say, psychoanalysis or even sociobiology. Looking down your two lists of five propositions, I find myself, like you, in sympathy with most of them but I share some of your reservations. So would, I suspect, many individuals who call themselves Evolutionary Psychologists, which is why I used the phrase 'teetering on the brink'.

Richard Dawkins

#657

Posted by: Walton Author Profile Page | August 29, 2009 10:54 AM

strange gods,

Merit is so unrankable, that in order to pretend otherwise, we have had to invent the greatest story ever sold. The myth that the free market selects and rewards merit is the new Calvinism. It is grudgingly acknowledged that merit is too difficult to rank prior to selection, so instead it is claimed that an invisible hand awards us all with what we deserve in the end. Wealth to the elect, and poverty to the damned. But even for the fundamentalists and easy marks who actually believe this stuff, it is only possible to claim that the final outcome of thousands or millions of variables was justly deserved. The markets still fail to foretell the future. Non-fundamentalists recognize that markets do accomplish certain tasks, occasionally moving necessary commodities to people who need them, but markets do not reward merit.

This is an interesting point, and one that I think merits serious discussion. (Apologies in advance to anyone who sees this as a thread hijack; feel free not to read my posts if you find this a dull topic.)

You are obviously right that "merit", and the notion of who is "deserving", is too vague and ambiguous a concept to be mathematically quantified. Clearly, you're also right to point out that many other qualities, such as "being articulate", are inherently non-quantifiable. Thus I don't think anyone would be so foolish as to claim, without qualification, that a free market invariably "rewards merit". We need to define our terms in a much more specific way for any such statement to be meaningful.

When we speak of "a free market", we refer not to some kind of intelligent directed force, but to a process - or, rather, a complex series of processes - created by large numbers of interactions between different individuals. This process, while undirected, is certainly not random, in exactly the same way that natural selection is not random.

Like natural selection, the free market selects for certain characteristics. Fundamentally, just as natural selection rewards survival ability, a free market rewards productivity: those who succeed in a free market are those who are the most efficient at providing others with goods and services that they want.

Obviously, the characteristics which constitute "productivity" will differ between different environments, depending on what kinds of goods and services are highly prized. For example, let's say X has a great natural aptitude for playing baseball, but has only modest gifts in other areas. If X happens to have been born in the United States, or in another location and era where baseball is popular with consumers, then he is likely to become wealthy and successful. If, by contrast, X was born in a country and era where baseball is virtually unknown, then he is never likely to reach more than an average socio-economic status. In the United States, skill at baseball is a valuable form of "merit" rewarded by the market; in some other countries and cultures, it is considered worthless.

There are other natural traits, of course, for which the free market almost always selects. An aggressive, risk-taking attitude, and a desire to acquire more wealth at any cost, is, in any culture, a useful trait in an entrepreneur; someone who possesses these qualities is, therefore, more likely to acquire wealth and power than someone who does not. Of course, the free market selects for environmental as well as genetic characteristics; someone who is born in a wealthy and well-connected family has an inevitable advantage, in acquiring wealth and power, over someone who is not.

One important point should be made here. You talk about a "fundamentalist" belief that the free market gives everyone what they "justly deserve". To my knowledge, no one seriously holds such a belief. The characteristics I have enumerated above have nothing to do with justice, or with being morally deserving. It isn't a person's "fault" that he or she was born with a lack of entrepreneurial skill, or with no athletic ability, or into a poor and disadvantaged family. Like natural selection, the free market is, from a moral perspective, completely unfair. It rewards those who are fit for purpose, not those who are good.

Rather, the great advantage of the free market is that it ties success to productivity. The people who succeed are the people who are best able to produce goods and services that others want. Just as with natural selection, those who have the right characteristics - genetic and environmental - will succeed, and those who lack these characteristics will fail. It isn't about "fairness" or "justice" and it isn't driven by morality. But what it does create is efficiency. And so the best society, from a moral perspective, is one which combines a generally free market with some level of humanitarian assistance.

#658

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 10:55 AM

As long as sexually adventurous men are culturally rewarded as "studs" and women are punished as "sluts," we can't learn much from offering sex to people in public except that women do not want to be culturally labeled as "sluts."

That, and women have to be more cautious about rape than men do, particularly on a college campus.

Following this, it would be worth investigating how women who do pursue multiple sexual partners go about circumventing the cultural taboos. Known strategies include:

- carefully establishing hidden trust relationships with coworkers and other acquaintances for ongoing affairs,

- participation in the nightlife scene that offers some anonymity and reciprocal hushness to all comers, and

- conspicuous displays of love and commitment to one partner at a time in a pattern of serial monogamy, this last strategy becoming more popular as sex before marriage becomes more accepted.

I think it is plausible women are just as interested in sexual variety as men, but simple studies that do not explore complex strategies will not reveal the true numbers.

#659

Posted by: Rorschach | August 29, 2009 10:56 AM

I'm sure that "Rorschach" has never insulted any public figure on the internet.

Dont think I've ever called an intellectual superior public figure a douchebag , no. Which is of course totally irrelevant anyway to my criticism of Nancy's insult towards Hitchens.

Yet to determine which, and to what extent, we need to measure within a culture in which men and women feel equally free to pursue their sexual interests

I agree with this, wasnt comfortable with that argument based on random interviews, when lots of men men will in such a scenario tend to prove their studness while women will try to show their not-slutness.

#660

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 11:02 AM

Comrade Walton,

Please acknowledge your damnable mistake earlier addressed at #581.

I am an animal who needs at least intermittent rewards to continue pounding on the lever.

You've never taught me a damned thing except that I'd like to pick up a book by Ronald Dworkin. Signs that you are learning something, and/or your grudgingly admitted admiration, are all I can get from you.

#661

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 29, 2009 11:02 AM

Like natural selection, the free market selects for certain characteristics. Fundamentally, just as natural selection rewards survival ability, a free market rewards productivity: those who succeed in a free market are those who are the most efficient at providing others with goods and services that they want.
Just remember what the other side of natural selection is, the phrase "red in tooth and claw" comes to mind.

Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate what you are saying about competition and driving innovation. But even so, it's still not a society I'd like to live in because of how relentlessly the process is red in tooth and claw. Cooperation and the sharing of resources is essential to the survival of our species as it is with others. Just remember that jealous dogs don't play ball.


This is where I see ideology getting in the way of human behaviour. It's no better than the religious claiming a moral code based on the notion of free will, it just cannot work because it doesn't address the kind of animal that we are.

Honestly Walton, would you like to live in a social system red in tooth and claw?

#662

Posted by: Walton Author Profile Page | August 29, 2009 11:07 AM

Please acknowledge your damnable mistake earlier addressed at #581.

OK, I will admit that I misread your post yesterday regarding women in the Senate. I apologise.

You've never taught me a damned thing except that I'd like to pick up a book by Ronald Dworkin.

Really? I'm a little hurt.

#663

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 11:11 AM

Dont think I've ever called an intellectual superior public figure a douchebag , no. Which is of course totally irrelevant anyway to my criticism of Nancy's insult towards Hitchens.

As though the particular word mattered anyway. And as though having a personal dislike for someone was inherently a bad thing. She gave her reasons at #604 and #258. They are defensible reasons.

#664

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 11:18 AM

You've never taught me a damned thing except that I'd like to pick up a book by Ronald Dworkin.

Really? I'm a little hurt.

Okay, you've taught me that at least right-wing libertarian has a little good in him, even if his heart is three sizes too small, and his decency is struggling to escape from the shackles and walls of a fundamentally cruel and contemptuous system of dogmas.

More in a moment, then.

#665

Posted by: Rorschach | August 29, 2009 11:22 AM

And as though having a personal dislike for someone was inherently a bad thing

Well, it is if you believe in things like, say, arguments.

Not your thing, I know.

#666

Posted by: Anri | August 29, 2009 11:39 AM

Walton sez:

"Rather, the great advantage of the free market is that it ties success to productivity. The people who succeed are the people who are best able to produce goods and services that others want. Just as with natural selection, those who have the right characteristics - genetic and environmental - will succeed, and those who lack these characteristics will fail. It isn't about "fairness" or "justice" and it isn't driven by morality. But what it does create is efficiency. And so the best society, from a moral perspective, is one which combines a generally free market with some level of humanitarian assistance."

Short term productivity and efficiency.
Let me quickly clarify what I mean by short term - much, much shorter than a society can aspire to existing.

A single human lifetime can be considered 'short term' compared to how long we hope to be using the earth before we exhaust its various resources.
A truly free market system is not geared towards fostering long-term goals. I'm not saying it cannot do so - of course it can - but the demand of appetite calls for eating your seed corn the first season. It takes planning, and foresight, and (most importantly) ignoring the call of the immediate market to create a structure for long-term sustainability.

I suppose my questions boils down to this type of real-life example: what market desire does the Large Hadron Collider fill? Would it have ever been built in a truly free market system?
Do you think it is a worthwhile cause that it be built?

And if so, does that not expose, not so much a weakness, but an outright failure of a free market system?

#667

Posted by: Knockgoats | August 29, 2009 11:47 AM

Walton,
Rather, the great advantage of the free market is that it ties success to productivity.

No, to profitability. This could, for example include holding onto supplies of some limited resource (say, food in a famine) to increase the price. It could mean driving out smaller competitors using loss leaders - as supermarkets routinely do when built in small towns. Once the competition has gone, prices can be jacked up. The same supermarkets force small farmers into contracts which give practically all the profit to the supermarket.
Also, in a "free market", there are negative externalities: pollution and other forms of harm or nuisance.

The people who succeed are the people who are best able to produce goods and services that others want.

Well, setting aside the fact that by and large, those who succeed will be those who started off in rich countries andor with rich parents, a lot depends on that innocent little word "others". Supplying the wants of the poor will not pay very well: hence, the pharmaceutical industry produces very few drugs for the diseases that kill millions of poor people. Moreover, there is an enormous industry (advertising) devoted to creating and shaping wants and specifically, to making people dissatisfied with their appearance and their possessions.

Just as with natural selection, those who have the right characteristics - genetic and environmental - will succeed, and those who lack these characteristics will fail. It isn't about "fairness" or "justice" and it isn't driven by morality. But what it does create is efficiency.

No, it doesn't, unless you have a very limited definition of efficiency. Clear-cutting tropical forests, strip-mining, overfishing, pouring wastes into the environment, are all highly profitable, but if they are "efficient", we could do with a lot less efficiency. Moreover, competition generates its own inefficiencies, as effort goes into attracting customers, often in deceptive ways, rather than production.

By the way: the argument that "free markets" are good because they resemble natural selection is a dangerous one. The latter has produced not only remarkable inefficiencies, but very numerous, and very horrible parasites. Hmm, well, perhaps the analogy is a good one.

#668

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 12:06 PM

Well, it is if you believe in things like, say, arguments.

Not your thing, I know.

Who's misrepresenting who, Rorschach?

She gave her arguments in #604 and #258.

Did your personal dislike make you ignore my repeated mention of them?

#669

Posted by: Walton Author Profile Page | August 29, 2009 12:14 PM

No, to profitability. This could, for example include holding onto supplies of some limited resource (say, food in a famine) to increase the price.

Yes. As I said, ruthless self-interest is one of the characteristics for which the free market selects.

setting aside the fact that by and large, those who succeed will be those who started off in rich countries andor with rich parents

Again, I acknowledged this in my earlier post. Being from a wealthy and well-connected family is one of the traits that confers advantage in a free market. (Though being the child of a senior state bureaucrat or politician in a socialist system confers an equal, if not greater, amount of advantage. Seeking to pass on one's position to one's children is an inbuilt part of human nature, which we cannot change.)

Supplying the wants of the poor will not pay very well:

Actually, it does - for the simple reason that the poor are far more numerous than the rich. Most of history's great billionaires have made their money by supplying consumer products to the masses at cheap prices. But in general, I take your point; the free market certainly does not guarantee everyone equal access to essential resources. Nor do we pretend that it does.

By the way: the argument that "free markets" are good because they resemble natural selection is a dangerous one. The latter has produced not only remarkable inefficiencies, but very numerous, and very horrible parasites.

Point taken. And I did not argue that free markets were good "because they resemble natural selection". Rather, I was drawing a parallel between free markets and natural selection in order to illustrate the fact that both processes select for certain types of fitness.

But another thing that the processes have in common is that - while imperfect - they both produce a dazzling array of amazing things. Natural selection gave us the tapeworm and the influenza virus, but it also gave us penguins, coral reefs, cephalopods, and, of course, human beings. And for all our ingenuity, we cannot replicate that creative process in a lab.

Similarly, the free market has given us a spectacular array of cheap consumer goods, technological innovations and higher and higher living standards. Yes, it is an imperfect and blind process; yes, it lacks any moral direction or any sense of justice or fairness; and yes, it creates vast inefficiencies and inequalities. But the fact is that we, despite human ingenuity, cannot design any form of socio-economic organisation which produces better results. We have tried again and again and again, and we have always failed - because, as Hayek explains, no human-designed and human-led process can ever have enough information to replicate the effects of the natural process of supply and demand.

#670

Posted by: Rorschach | August 29, 2009 12:16 PM

Did your personal dislike make you ignore my repeated mention of them?

No, sgbm, sorry but I dont dislike you, how could I since I have no idea who you are and what your personal background is, I just find your arguing style and arguments wanting at times.

Quite a few people, you among them, have no such hesitations to presuppositions.

#671

Posted by: 'Tis Himself, Quel Dommage Author Profile Page | August 29, 2009 12:27 PM

Walton,

I was agreeing with your post #657 until you got to this point:

Like natural selection, the free market selects for certain characteristics. Fundamentally, just as natural selection rewards survival ability, a free market rewards productivity: those who succeed in a free market are those who are the most efficient at providing others with goods and services that they want.

As Kel pointed out, efficiency can be quite ruthless. John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil was ruthlessly efficient in driving out the competition. After the competition has left the market, the price becomes anything but free. To be free, a market must be fair to both seller and buyer. Especially with regards to necessities, the market is not balanced but is strongly tilted in favor of the buyer. I can buy margarine instead of butter and hamburger instead of filet mignon, but I still have to buy food.

As you're well aware, I strongly support regulation of the market. It is my firm belief, and I can show massive amounts of evidence to support this belief, that the current economic crisis was caused in large part by deregulation. A balance between the free marketeers and strict socialists is needed to produce the most efficient markets for both buyers and sellers.

Besides an economic market, certain conservatives and looneytarians are pushing a social market: the obsessive, uncritical penetration of the concept of the market into every aspect of American life, and the attempt to drive out every other institution, including law, art, culture, public education, Social welfare, unions, community, you name it. It is the conflation of markets with populism, with democracy, with diversity, with liberty, and with choice. So the denial of any form of choice that imposes limits on the market has become "undemocratic" and even "totalitarian."

#672

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 12:42 PM

Comrade Walton:

...at least one right-wing libertarian has a little good in him, even if...

Okay then.

Like natural selection, the free market selects for certain characteristics.

You'd do yourself a favor to avoid veering toward Social Darwinism, my friend, lest I sic Ben Stein on you.

a free market rewards productivity

Empirical observation: without government intervention, the rich tend to accumulate an increasing percentage of the total wealth.

Hypothesis: an arbitrarily chosen investor's gains and losses are indistinguishable from a Drunkard's Walk. Thus an investor who begins with more money will usually take more time to go bankrupt than one who begins with less money, possibly more than a lifetime, and in the meantime will have the opportunity to accumulate much more money. The investor with less money is more susceptible to ruin, and will lose time getting started again, if getting started again is even feasible. Therefore, a free market primarily rewards already being rich.

This is a much, much simpler hypothesis than anything involving the nearly unpackable notions of productivity and merit. Per Ockham, the simpler hypothesis should be falsified before anything more enigmatic is bothered with.

It isn't about "fairness" or "justice" and it isn't driven by morality. But what it does create is efficiency. And so the best society, from a moral perspective, is one which combines a generally free market with some level of humanitarian assistance.

Notice how tried to shoehorn "a moral perspective" in there suddenly with no prior justification. How very clumsy. I thought grinches slithered and slunk. But let's talk about morals.

It rewards those who are fit for purpose, not those who are good.

And what purpose? What utility? Wealth is not an end in itself, it is a means to other ends. What good is wealth except insofar as it allows the pursuit of happiness?

Empirically, wealth does not have a strong correlation with happiness except for poor or sick people. If you're poor, you're likely to be unhappy, because of the stress of making ends meet, paying bills and putting food on the table. But once your needs are met, a lot more money brings only a little more happiness.

Put another way, wealth itself has a diminishing marginal utility. So a progressive tax does not hurt people as much as a regressive or "flat" tax does. And isn't morality at the very least about doing less harm?

So I leave you again with the words of Comrade Smith:

The proportion of the expense of house-rent to the whole expense of living, is different in the different degrees of fortune. ... The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich; and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be any thing very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.

Yours in Solidarity,
strange gods

#673

Posted by: Knockgoats | August 29, 2009 12:44 PM

But the fact is that we, despite human ingenuity, cannot design any form of socio-economic organisation which produces better results. We have tried again and again and again, and we have always failed - because, as Hayek explains, no human-designed and human-led process can ever have enough information to replicate the effects of the natural process of supply and demand. - Walton

Garbage. Your "free market" exists only in your imagination. Real capitalism has always involved monopolies, tariffs, state subsidies, slavery or near-slavery, destitution for many, massive environmental destruction, and the creation and manipulation of demand. In fact, those rich societies which are furthest from "free market" ideas - corporatist, consensus-oriented Japan, social democratic Scandinavia - do very well on issues that actually matter to human happiness and freedom - I'm sure you know the reference by now. Hayek claimed that any state interference in the economy was "The Road to Serfdom". He was, very obviously, wrong. As to his claims about information - he was living in an age when transmitting and combining information was much more difficult and expensive than it is now. Moreover, he was ignoring the fact that planning based on the flow of information is ubiquitous in a capitalist economy - how on earth do you think large companies function? I do not claim that market mechanisms should be abolished altogether - but markets should be under proper democratic control, and no-one should have to depend either on success in a market, or on charity, for fundamentals such as access to food, health care and education.

#674

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 12:50 PM

Rorschach,

I asked you above for your advice on improving my style of argument. I am most confused about point 2.

#675

Posted by: Walton Author Profile Page | August 29, 2009 1:01 PM

strange gods,

Hypothesis: an arbitrarily chosen investor's gains and losses are indistinguishable from a Drunkard's Walk. Thus an investor who begins with more money will usually take more time to go bankrupt than one who begins with less money, possibly more than a lifetime, and in the meantime will have the opportunity to accumulate much more money. The investor with less money is more susceptible to ruin, and will lose time getting started again, if getting started again is even feasible. Therefore, a free market primarily rewards already being rich.

This is a much, much simpler hypothesis than anything involving the nearly unpackable notions of productivity and merit.

Simple, yes, and manifestly wrong. Certainly, having existing wealth, and coming from a wealthy and connected background, is a major advantage in the acquisition of more wealth; I have repeatedly and explicitly acknowledged this.

But are you seriously claiming that other personal qualities - such as ruthlessness, risk-taking, numeracy, commercial savvy, and special talents such as outstanding sporting ability - are substantially irrelevant to the acquisition of great wealth? Are you claiming that the free market does not select for these characteristics, and that those who have these characteristics are at no substantial advantage in acquiring wealth?

If you want to make such a bold claim, then it ought to be backed up with statistics. If your hypothesis is correct, then, if we take a large random sample of people who are significantly wealthier than the average, we ought to find that a substantial majority of them come from wealthy backgrounds. In other words, if you are correct, social mobility in all capitalist societies ought to be vanishingly small. I doubt very much that this is the case.

#676

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 1:09 PM

But another thing that the processes have in common is that - while imperfect - they both produce a dazzling array of amazing things. Natural selection gave us the tapeworm and the influenza virus, but it also gave us penguins, coral reefs, cephalopods, and, of course, human beings. And for all our ingenuity, we cannot replicate that creative process in a lab.

On the contrary, if we're going to play with these shitty analogies, then Blount, Borland, and Lenski's production of citrate-consuming E. coli is evidence for the superiority of market socialism.

#677

Posted by: Walton | August 29, 2009 1:18 PM

Knockgoats,

In fact, those rich societies which are furthest from "free market" ideas - corporatist, consensus-oriented Japan

I find your praise of Japan surprising, for several reasons. It's hardly a socialist paradise: its tax burden is among the lowest in the developed world, and is lower than that of the United States. The vast bulk of its industry is in private hands; and while there is close co-operation between the government and big business, it's traditionally big business that pulls the strings. And the same, relatively conservative and business-oriented, political party (the LDP) has been in power, with only one brief interruption, for the last fifty years. It's not exactly the kind of political/economic system I would have thought you would advocate, therefore.

(At the same time, I would suggest that Japan's woes - particularly their major economic and financial crisis of the 1990s - demonstrate a substantial failure of centralised government planning. So either way, I don't see how Japan can be used to demonstrate your point at all.)

#678

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 1:19 PM

But are you seriously claiming that other personal qualities - such as ruthlessness, risk-taking, numeracy, commercial savvy, and special talents such as outstanding sporting ability - are substantially irrelevant to the acquisition of great wealth? Are you claiming that the free market does not select for these characteristics, and that those who have these characteristics are at no substantial advantage in acquiring wealth?

I'm claiming that's a decent null hypothesis.

If investors' gains and losses cannot be statistically distinguished from Drunkards' Walks, then there's no empirical reason to assume anything more than wealth consolidation is really going on.

Can you disprove the null hypothesis?


Note also that my arguments about the diminishing utility of wealth are entirely separate, and not dependent on this hypothesis. Regardless of how wealth happens, progressive taxes do less harm and are therefore more moral.

#679

Posted by: Nancy | August 29, 2009 1:45 PM

Well I can see that Dawkins' comment is going to take the greater part of the day to respond to...

First, I am Nancy McClernan, a playwright and a proponent of cultural materialism of the anthropological variety first developed under that name by Marvin Harris.

Here is a link to my site on the subject:
http://www.cultural-materialism.org

But really, why do you need to know? Are not the issues enough in themselves? What does it matter who I am? Unless you plan to use your fame and publishing record as leverage against my arguments?

Now then, as far as being "libelous" - this is not England and I am entitled to have opinions about Christopher Hitchens and Helena Cronin and state as much in a public forum. Sorry, would you like to see me prosecuted?

I am far from the only person who finds Christopher Hitchens to be objectionable, on political/ethical grounds. And the link I posted to his article in Vanity Fair - here it is again:

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2007/01/hitchens200701

is absolutely the work of a douchebag. This is a public intellectual who gets paid well to opine, and this is what he comes up with? A pointless rambling piece of contempt for women?

If Jon Stewart can call Robert Novak a douchebag for his work, and on television, I think I'm well within my rights to say the same of Christopher Hitchens.

And LOOK - here we find him defending Robert Novak - it's a regular admiration society of douchebags.

http://www.slate.com/id/2145889

#680

Posted by: Knockgoats | August 29, 2009 1:56 PM

I find your praise of Japan surprising, for several reasons. It's hardly a socialist paradise: its tax burden is among the lowest in the developed world, and is lower than that of the United States. The vast bulk of its industry is in private hands; and while there is close co-operation between the government and big business, it's traditionally big business that pulls the strings. And the same, relatively conservative and business-oriented, political party (the LDP) has been in power, with only one brief interruption, for the last fifty years. It's not exactly the kind of political/economic system I would have thought you would advocate, therefore. - Walton

All that is true (except that unions have also been involved alongside business and government), and in many way it is far from my ideal (for example, it is also a highly sexist and racist society). Nonetheless, Japan is an economically highly equal society by comparison with most rich countries - because pre-tax incomes differ far less than in just about any other. This is largely the outcome of the high value placed on consensus, both for cultural reasons, and because the US was very keen to avoid the possibility of a communist Japan and so set decision-making up to be far for inclusive than in the USA itself. R&P's evidence appears to show that at least for the matters they look at (health, violence, social mobility, rates of imprisonment, educational performance, teenage births, recycling) it doesn't matter how greater income equality is achieved, so long as it is. You see, Walton, when evidence that doesn't fit my preconceptions comes to my notice, I actually adjust my views accordingly.

I would suggest that Japan's woes - particularly their major economic and financial crisis of the 1990s - demonstrate a substantial failure of centralised government planning. - Walton

Whtever the causes of this crisis - and I think they had a lot to do with failure to restrain a property price boom in time (sound familiar?), but may also have had to do with international factors (at the end of the Cold War the USA turned to protecting its economic hegemony from capitalist rivals), and falling demand in a rapidly ageing society, government investment in infrastructure limited the damage, and it has still left the Japanese a lot better off in terms of health, education and social ills than the British, Americans or New Zealanders. Japan has now come out of recession (alongside France, your other favourite whipping-boy, supposedly a "basket case" IIRC) and Germany (also pretty corporatist) ahead of the US and UK.

#681

Posted by: Nancy | August 29, 2009 2:00 PM

But before I go onto Helena Cronin, I want to note your slamming of Stephen Jay Gould by sharing a SECOND HAND complaint from somebody about something he did years ago:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/06/stephen_jay_gould_and_the_poli.php

Gould is conveniently dead and does not have the opportunity to defend or explain himself. For all we know this could have been a misunderstanding.

This little tattle-tale seems far more objectionable to me than my description of something that anybody can check for themselves and for which I provided a link.

Do you have a different set of standards for yourself and your opponents?

#682

Posted by: Naked Bunny with a Whip Author Profile Page | August 29, 2009 2:21 PM

Dont think I've ever called an intellectual superior public figure a douchebag , no.

Interesting way to phrase that. *snickers*

#683

Posted by: Captain Mike | August 29, 2009 2:26 PM

RE: sgbm @ 655 and 658

You stole the words right out of my mouth.

With that said, I'd be willing to bet that males in general tend to value sexual variety more than females in general tend to, and that there is some kind of genetic component to this. But I wouldn't bet serious money, and I don't think it's anywhere near as strong as most people seem to believe however.

My personal experience would tend to indicate that at least some women both enjoy and value sexual variety.

It's also interesting to note sex with a group of males is a fairly common fantasy among women. Obviously many women either don't want to act that out, or feel they cannot for some reason. But the desires do exist.

#684

Posted by: Nancy | August 29, 2009 2:27 PM

Now onto Helena Cronin and her obnoxiousness. My primary distaste for Cronin stems from her policy paper "The Evolved Family" which was later published in The Guardian as an editorial:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,239317,00.html

I can't find the original piece in the form of a policy paper, but I don't think that the two are different.

But to truly experience her full obnoxiousness, this is the place to go - and I already provided a link:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/mar/12/gender.comment

Summers made the modest claim that evolved sex differences, though not the sole reason for this male predominance, are among the reasons that should be considered. Outrage ensued. Not least, would-be feminists got the vapours, exacted apologies, mooted no-confidence motions, demanded resignation, and told the world of their hurt and humiliation.

Thoroughly obnoxious characterization. "Would-be feminists" - why would-be? Why not just feminists? What an obnoxious way to put it.

"Got the vapours" - again, completely obnoxious.

Now, "obnoxious" is just my opinion and others may disagree (although I can cite other examples) but what she got factually wrong was the part that comes before:

Summers made the modest claim that evolved sex differences, though not the sole reason for this male predominance, are among the reasons that should be considered.

No, he did not say AMONG the reasons, he said:

http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=505844

So my best guess, to provoke you, of what’s behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people’s legitimate family desires and employers’ current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.

My bold for emphasis. He didn't say that intrinsic aptitude was among the factors he said it was the greatest factor (inferred by the fact that he calls socialization and discrimination the lesser factors.)

This refusing to state the actual case is obnoxious, in my opinion. But what is NOT my opinion, but what is fact is that she misstated the case.

#685

Posted by: Nancy | August 29, 2009 2:43 PM

DAWKINS: "For example, she says that Helena advocates a “two-tier employment system in GB - one for women and one for men, based on evolutionary principles.”

Indeed she does. Here is the article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,239317,00.html

And here is the smoking gun:

Contrary to fashionable "gender" thinking, women, like men, have their own distinct evolved psychology. If the government genuinely wants to extend the scope of women's choices then it should allow for the fact that their priorities are not always identical to those of men.

Rather than taking male standards as the universal measure, or expecting the sexes to adopt androgynous working roles, the government should design family-friendly employment practices that reflect the different preferences of women and men.

How is this NOT a recommendation that men and women be treated differently at work? She uses the appealing sounding "family-friendly" to characterize it, but clearly she feels that if a man prefers to stay home more, this is a sign of an evolutionarily-incorrect "androgynous" working role.

Actually, although I have PLENTY more refutations of Dawkins comments, I think I'll stop here and wait for a response. I really want to discover how he could possibly imagine that I have libeled Cronin.

#686

Posted by: 'Tis Himself, Quel Dommage Author Profile Page | August 29, 2009 3:23 PM

I would suggest that Japan's woes - particularly their major economic and financial crisis of the 1990s - demonstrate a substantial failure of centralised government planning.

Everyone knows that Japan's economic problems in the 1990s stemmed from having to rebuild Tokyo every few years after Godzilla came visiting.

What actually happened was a bubble of high land prices and high stock market prices collapsed in 1989. Many banks and businesses had much of their assets in either land or in cross-shareholdings with companies to which they were allied. Suddenly, these assets, and therefore the debts on which they were secured, were wiped out. As a result, banks became burdened with bad debts and commercial lending dried up. A large number of companies with productivity in Japan have shifted some of their factories abroad where commercial credit was available, increasing unemployment. As unemployment rose to record levels, people and other companies stopped spending freely, causing prices to drop.

In addition, Japan suffered from a large debt overhang from its excessive government borrowing, which had to be reduced to lower long-term interest rates. The combination of these factors, with rising unemployment and falling prices, brought about a deep, long recession in Japan.

The Japanese government tried a Keynesian solution, building many, often unnecessary, infrastructure projects, but relatively little of the money spent reached those who were unemployed. Instead, most of the money went into the coffers of Japan's huge construction companies, which had very close links to ruling party politicians.

The ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was influenced by interest groups representing protected, inefficient sectors of the Japanese economy. LDP support for these groups made it difficult for the Japanese state to implement the necessary reforms. Focused on staying in power, the LDP was reluctant to implement reforms or tackle the ominous overhang of nonperforming loans (NPLs). The LDP's coalition of interest group supporters lobbied hard to sandbag or dilute reform measures. The unprecedented length of Japan's asset deflation and liquidity trap was largely due to the absence of effective, far-sighted political leadership.

The lack of political will and effective leadership were reflected in serious policy mistakes. These included the consumption tax hike in 1997, which stifled nascent signs of recovery; the unparalleled slowness in disposing of NPLs; and the heavy-handed reliance on interest rate cuts from to deal with the deflationary impact of sharp yen appreciation. While it would be unfair to blame the bubble, asset deflation, and the liquidity trap solely on Japan's politicians and policymakers, it is accurate to say that policy mismanagement aggravated the problems and prolonged the processes of recovery.

The complex structure of Japan's political economy, particularly the symbiotic ties between the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the corporations under its regulatory jurisdiction also contributed to Japan's problems. The interests of the Banking Bureau of MOF and the banking industry are interdependent. There was little transparency or public accountability. Information is hoarded about the actual scope of bad loans. Old methods of crisis management (specifically, administrative guidance) prevailed. These elements help explain why it took the government so long to deal with the massive hemorrhaging of Japan's financial system. Although Japan made progress toward developing a more transparent, rules-based system, the problems of nontransparency and weak accountability have not disappeared.

Another underlying cause of the bubble, sustained asset deflation, and the liquidity trap was the steep, long-term appreciation of the yen relative to the dollar. For Japan, yen appreciation has been a chronic problem. Exchange-rate factors limited the effectiveness of certain policy tools which might have cleaned up Japan's financial mess. Caught in a classic liquidity trap, for example, the option of designing monetary policy to hit specific inflation targets was difficult, in part because a sudden, sharp devaluation of the yen would put enormous pressure on South Korea and Taiwan to devalue their currencies. In an era of global capital flows, the constant national need to make adjustments in the value of key currencies, and the costs of overshooting, misalignment, and potential speculative attack enormously complicated domestic macroeconomic management.

Okay, enough lecturing from me. Suffice to say that Japan's economic problems in the 1990s were exacerbated by poor market regulation. And frequent rampages by Godzilla didn't help.

#687

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 3:36 PM

Comrade Walton,

One important point should be made here. You talk about a "fundamentalist" belief that the free market gives everyone what they "justly deserve". To my knowledge, no one seriously holds such a belief.

Ha. That's hard to believe. If that statement is true, then you are several orders of magnitude more naive than I previously suspected (and I was already preparing to email you a 419 scam).

Fourteen percent of American adults believe "people who are poor deserve it." Libertarian Brian Caplan explicitly says that "by the metric of desert, the free market does relatively well."

But genuine ignorance on this subject would go far toward explaining your consistent failure to understand the meanings of words in American politics.

#688

Posted by: 'Tis Himself, Quel Dommage Author Profile Page | August 29, 2009 3:42 PM

Nancy,

Just as an aside, Larry Summers' economic policies as Secretary of the Treasury, particularly his support of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act*, which caused me to leave government service. As far as I'm concerned, Summers is an ass, both for his sexist remarks and for his economic fallacies.

*Passed in 1999, it lifted restrictions against banks offering commercial banking, insurance, and investment services by repealing key provisions in the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act. Many critics, including President Obama, have suggested the 2007 subprime mortgage financial crisis was largely caused by this repeal of Glass-Steagall.

#689

Posted by: Walton | August 29, 2009 4:00 PM

strange gods @687: It really depends what you mean by "deserving".

As I've expressed, the market does select for some positive traits: intelligence, commercial savvy, aggressive risk-taking, and special talent (such as athletic ability). All of these are factors which contribute to success in a free market environment. Reading the Caplan article, it seems that this is the kind of "desert" he's talking about. At the same time, he explicitly acknowledges, as I have done, that "...there are more than a few rich incompetents and poor people of talent," though he adds that "...a lot of this balances out over time." But he starts from the premise that the smartest, toughest, and most able people deserve to succeed, and argues that the market, while it does so imperfectly, advantages such people.

A totally different proposition, however, is whether it is morally fair and just that the most productive people should receive the lion's share of the resources, while the less able suffer. In principle, it clearly isn't. It isn't a person's "fault", in any volitional moral sense, that he or she was born with lesser intellectual gifts, or less athletic ability, or fewer advantages in life than his or her neighbour. I would admit, as would any libertarian, that a free market does not create fairness in this regard.

The difficulty, though, is that a society which did create such fairness - that is, a society with virtually complete socio-economic equality, in which being more productive did not confer any kind of privilege or advantage - would be highly inefficient, since there would be no incentive to be productive. People wouldn't spend years establishing factories, or training as doctors, or playing baseball if they could earn just as much money working as floor-scrubbers.

Don't get me wrong; I know that (most) socialists don't advocate quite such extreme levels of equality, and will accept that there should be some rewards for the most able and productive citizens. But once we accept that rewarding productivity is a desirable goal, we are faced with the fact that markets are generally better at it than governments are, for the reasons that Hayek outlined in The Road to Serfdom.

#690

Posted by: Nancy | August 29, 2009 4:24 PM

While I'm waiting for Dawkins (is it really Dawkins? I find it hard to believe) to get back to me on the Cronin/libel issue, I can't resist posting a link to anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson's paper "Materialist, cultural and biological theories on why Yanomami make war"

http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache:uGt3YH2ZAakJ:www.nku.edu/~humed1/darkness_in_el_dorado/documents/pdf_files/a015924.pdf

It has nothing to do with the controversy Dawkins referred to, and no doubt nobody here has heard of this paper, since the proponents of cultural materialist theories lack the genius for public relations that the proponents of evolutionary psychology have.

The paper explains how Chagnon misinterepreted his own data:

But even a statistical reproductive advantage for unokais is extremely doubtful, given the fact that these figures, for reasons never explained, include only those children whose fathers were still living at the time of enumeration. Chagnon himself has stated (1988:985)\ that Yanomamo seeking revenge ‘always hope to dispatch the original killer’. My reconstructions show that six out of eight known individual war leaders were themselves killed in war, with the other two coming under protection of Westerners (Ferguson,1995a:361).

Fierce men often die young. Keeping in mind that Chagnon’s data, with headmen factored out, show at most a statistical advantage for living unokais, it seems very possible that eliminating those killed in war from the sample has reversed the actual ‘reproductive advantage’ here, and that non-unokias enjoy greater lifetime reproductive success than unokais.

In response to this criticism (Ferguson, 1989c), Chagnon (1989: 566) announced that he then had the necessary data to settle the issue, and would publish it when it was analyzed. That was 11 years ago, and it has not appeared yet. Until, and unless, it does, there is no empirical foundation for the claim that among the Yanomami, taking the risks of participating in war leads to greater lifetime reproductive success

And there is plenty more where that came from.

But as I already noted, when you talk to these promoters of evolutionary psychology theories, you would NEVER know that there were any non-political, scientific objections to evolutionary psychology theories - especially objections their claims that virtually everything about the current domination of our culture by men (including who gets to have multiple sex-partners and other sex-related customs) is evolutionarily endowed through the principles of strict adaptationism.

#691

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 4:26 PM

I missed Bexley's comment at #641 earlier:

Lets say we all agreed on some criteria to rank atheists to come up with some measure of how good a job they'd do as spokespeople.

This is just laughable. I've already asked you to explain even how a simple test for being articulate could be ranked, and you've declined to answer. You are trying to impose a fantasy model of human ability onto the real world. People don't actually have Charisma points.

Now someone may say that I should assume that Nancy et al are really only arguing for diversity because of the reasons outlined above. However I have met plenty of people who do actually think picking for diversity is a good in itself.

Carlie makes some good points at #582 that you never addressed. I will add that deliberately selecting for diversity and merit at the same time is a good thing in itself because the alternative is to assume that the people who currently run things, who just happen to be mostly white men, are in fact in their positions only because they really are the best people to run things, and are not privileged at all.

Similarly I've met plenty of people who seem to believe criticism of religion is somehow rude and nasty and we shouldnt be criticising the ridiculous religous belifs of others.

What a vapid and irrelevant analogy. You must have an awfully low Charisma score.

#692

Posted by: Knockgoats | August 29, 2009 4:26 PM

People wouldn't spend years establishing factories, or training as doctors, or playing baseball if they could earn just as much money working as floor-scrubbers. - Walton

Among the many, mnany absurd things you have said, Walton, this is perhaps the most exquisitely ridiculous. The idea that money is the only motivator for people to work is so gobsmackingly stupid, only a "libertarian" could possibly believe it. People enjoy doing what they are good at. They also enjoy feeling useful and appreciated for their skills and their efforts. They like working with others to achieve a common goal. How have these fundamental features of human psychology managed to escape you?

#693

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 4:34 PM

It's so fundamentally dishonest, too, because I just challenged him on it the other day, and he didn't reply, but he did reply to other parts of my comment so I know goddamned well that he read it.

They clearly do these things for other reasons as well, including an altruistic desire to help people, or else no one would be going into science careers today when the pay is absolute shit. These same people are smart enough to make a lot more money trading securities and derivatives, yet they don't.

Obviously, then, people have other real desires, powerfully motivating desires, than mere profit.

I have to bring up this fact again every time we have this discussion, because for some reason you keep conveniently omitting it.

#694

Posted by: Nancy | August 29, 2009 4:38 PM

Oh yes, and since Dawkins has already demonstrated that publishing second-hand testimony about someone that shows them in an unflatteringly light is perfectly acceptable, I will share this bit from Chagnon's student, who did field work for Chagnon and ran into trouble when the studies he did did not support Chagnon's theories. This appears in Kenneth Good's "Into the Heart":

In a bar near State College's bus station we talked with surprising calmness. I told him why I had not come out on schedule and what had happened to me when I tried to come out. Chagnon said that after I hadn't shown up, he sent off several letters to me (which I had never received), then had written to my family to say that if they were in touch with me, they should tell me that he assumed I had abandoned the project. There might even be legal ramifications, he had indicated. I sat there amazed. This man was my field director. If he had really believed I had disappeared, didn't he have a moral and professional responsibility to try to find me? I could have been lost in the jungle or dead. What was he doing telling my family about legal ramifications?

The problems grew more complicated. I was ready to write up my field notes as a doctoral dissertation, but things being what they were, I did not want Chagnon chairing my defense committee (as would have been normal, since he had sponsored my work). "You and I have a lot of problems," I told him bluntly, "and my results may be a little different from yours. You can be on my committee, fine. But I want Bill Sanders as my chair." Chagnon wouldn't accept it.

Eventually the chairman of the anthropology department intervened and decided that my defense committee would have co-chairmen, Chagnon and Sanders - with Chagnon as senior co-chairman. So after all the hot air Chagnon would still be chairman. I dug in my heels and refused to go along with that.

When the department realized the severity of our falling-out, they started to pressure me. One of the senior professors insisted I would have to give a copy of all my field notes to Chagnon.

"You want a copy of my field notes?" I said to Chagnon, incredulous. "I have been working down there for two years with all the difficulties and all the risks, and you want a copy of my field notes? I'm sorry, these are my Ph.D. notes, and they're staying with me."

"No," Chagnon said, "that's not right. Your responsibility was to collect data for the Yanomami project. The fact that you were going to get a Ph.D. out of this was only an ancillary bonus."

This was something new. "I was down there collecting data for the Yanomami project, and my Ph.D. was just an ancillary bonus? I was under the impression for the last two years that I was in there as a Ph.D. candidate doing field research for my dissertion." "No," said Chagnon, "that's incorrect. It was just an ancillary bonus." "Well, I'll tell you what," I said. "I'll flush these things down the toilet before I ever give them to you."

The climax of all this was a round-table meeting with the head of the department, Chagnon, myself, and Bob Carneiro, who was to have been on my committee and had flown in from New York. Carneiro started by saying, "Why don't we let Ken present his points first. " So I did.

"First of all," I said, "I don't think it's proper or ethical for the chairman of a student's committee to forbid him to speak to another member of the profession." I had never forgotten or forgiven Chagnon's attempt to keep me from speaking to Marvin Harris. "This is the United States. I think I can talk to whomever I want to talk to."

"Ah, c'mon," said Chagnon, "I never said such a thing."

...Despite my desire to get on with my Ph.D., I knew I had had it with Napoleon Chagnon. As far as I was concerned, he was responsible for my having almost expired in the jungle - with no malaria pills and no boat. I wasn't going to give him my notes under any circumstances, and I wasn't going to have him chair my committee, either.

"Okay," Chagnon said finally. "This is obviously not going to work out. So let's just drop it. Let's forget it. But, Ken, tell me, what are you going to do with yourself, go to work in your brother's dental lab? Because you're not going to get into any other anthropology department. I'll see to that."

I couldn't believe it. I had just spent two years among the so-called Fierce People, but in terms of ferocity I didn't think they began to match up to this...


#695

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 4:39 PM

While I'm waiting for Dawkins (is it really Dawkins? I find it hard to believe)

It's really him, which is why he has to squeeze in time here and there to make any replies. He doesn't comment often.

#696

Posted by: Richard Dawkins | August 29, 2009 4:40 PM

Nancy thinks the following quotation is the 'smoking gun' that condemns Helena Cronin:

If the government genuinely wants to extend the scope of women's choices then it should allow for the fact that their priorities are not always identical to those of men.
How could any reasonable person seriously object to allowing for the fact that some people's priorities are not always identical to some other peoples's priorities? A good case could be made that it would be totalitarian NOT to make such allowances. Helena's humane and sensible recommendation is parsecs away from the totalitarian phraseology of your mendacious paraphrase: “ . . . two-tier employment system in GB - one for women and one for men.”

Is that the best you can do by way of a 'smoking gun'? Actually, yes, it probably is, given that you seem to think that to label somebody an evolutionary psychologist is self-evident condemnation.

Looking at your performance so far, I can't wait to hear your other "refutations" of my comments.

Richard

#697

Posted by: Nick Gotts | August 29, 2009 4:46 PM

Nancy,
I haven't much to add to what you've said, but your interpretation of Cronin's editorial seems at least reasonable, and I did find her "Oh how brave I am, standing up to the mighty forces of political correctness" act pretty revolting.

#698

Posted by: Nancy | August 29, 2009 4:49 PM

ust as an aside, Larry Summers' economic policies as Secretary of the Treasury, particularly his support of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act*,

Yes, there are lots of problems with Summers outside of his Pinker-inspired speech.

And he did apologize for that speech (does this make him less of a man to Helena Cronin,?) because he was the President of Harvard at the time, a political position, and one which gave him a say in hiring policies - now why would those stupid hysterical would-be feminists think that his opinions about intrinsic female mental abilities was anything to get upset about? Stupid anti-Darwin feminists!

#699

Posted by: Nancy | August 29, 2009 5:01 PM

Nancy thinks the following quotation is the 'smoking gun' that condemns Helena Cronin:

If the government genuinely wants to extend the scope of women's choices then it should allow for the fact that their priorities are not always identical to those of men.

How could any reasonable person seriously object to allowing for the fact that some people's priorities are not always identical to some other peoples's priorities? A good case could be made that it would be totalitarian NOT to make such allowances.

Let us review what she is saying:

Contrary to fashionable "gender" thinking, women, like men, have their own distinct evolved psychology. If the government genuinely wants to extend the scope of women's choices then it should allow for the fact that their priorities are not always identical to those of men.

Rather than taking male standards as the universal measure, or expecting the sexes to adopt androgynous working roles, the government should design family-friendly employment practices that reflect the different preferences of women and men. A recent government survey revealed that women are happier with a different balance of work and family. Following the birth of the first child, women work less, men work more - an arrangement that both mothers and fathers endorse. Another recent study found that of all parents in the 1990s, the most contented groups appeared to be mothers and fathers in "traditional" single-earner families in which only the father worked. The unhappiest mothers and fathers were those in families without an earner, followed by families where mothers were the sole earners.

The government should be tackling the causes of family breakdown. There is no evidence that interfering with the symptoms - re-educating the poor parenting, purveying marriage guidance, instituting prenuptial agreements or redesigning marriage ceremonies - will have any effect on marriage and divorce rates.

Clearly Cronin is not about giving people choices.

The issue is, who stays home after the birth of a baby. If the government did not base it on gender, a couple would have options over who stayed home. THEIR CHOICE.

Cronin is clearly worried that people would not make the right, evolutionarily-correct choice. Which is why she wants the government to mandate two different "preference" tracks.

Surely neither you nor she would argue that every single couple would or should choose that the mother stays home and the father doesn't. You must believe that SOME people vary from this supposed evolutionary norm.

So why have the government make any distinction between men and women? The government could establish a family leave policy and let people sort it out for themselves.

Clearly CRONIN DOES NOT WANT THIS which is why she is trying to explain to those stupid anti-Darwinian bureaucrats that it is vitally important to make sure to give women one family-leave policy and men a completely different one.

IF anybody is a totalitarian, it's Cronin - but hey, that's OK, because it's totalitarianism in the cause of science.

#700

Posted by: Nick Gotts | August 29, 2009 5:02 PM

Richard,

I think when the second paragraph is added (it was not italicised as it should have been in Nancy's post), the impression is indeed rather different:

If the government genuinely wants to extend the scope of women's choices then it should allow for the fact that their priorities are not always identical to those of men.

Rather than taking male standards as the universal measure, or expecting the sexes to adopt androgynous working roles, the government should design family-friendly employment practices that reflect the different preferences of women and men.

How is this not a recommendation to treat members of the two sexes differently on the basis of their sex? A non-sexist alternative would have been:

the government should design family-friendly employment practices that allow for a range of preferences among both women and men, and a range of family arrangements

#701

Posted by: Richard Dawkins | August 29, 2009 5:03 PM

And he did apologize for that speech (does this make him less of a man to Helena Cronin,?)
What a nasty, spiteful, cheap shot.

Richard Dawkins

#702

Posted by: Ben in Texas | August 29, 2009 5:04 PM

Prof Dawkins,

Wanted to share something concerning this video:

http://richarddawkins.net/article,4085,RDF-TV---Nebraska-Vignettes-5---Diatoms-The-Evolution-of-a-New-Species,Richard-Dawkins-Josh-Timonen-Judy-Diamond-RDFRS

I'm good friends with one of the biologists behind that research. (Or maybe it's all his alone; honestly, I'm not sure.) Anyway, I wanted you to know he was happy to see you commenting on it. I know it made his day.

#703

Posted by: Captain Mike | August 29, 2009 5:11 PM

I've got an idea regarding a method to determine how articulate a person is.

1. Pick some concept most people have either never heard of or simply don't understand. The more complex the better. A lot of people have never heard of the Cantor set, but there are probably better examples.

2. Have speakers articulate the concept to an audience of 1000 people. Each speaker would have a different audience. These people should be screened before the presentation to determine that they know nothing of the subject being discussed.

3. Survey the audience members after and determine which one did the best job.

I can spot a flaw in this, though, if we consider that the audience might be predisposed towards a particular race or gender. It might be better to do it in writing.

#704

Posted by: Nerd of Redhead, OM Author Profile Page | August 29, 2009 5:15 PM

Walton, parse the difference between these two phrases: "Good morning god". And, "Good god, morning". Now, which is me (ignore the god, I'm quoting an old friend) getting up in the morning to do science, or me getting up in the morning to try to sell something?

When one has a job that one is good at, and finds fulfilling, work is almost pleasurable. If one can also make a good living at it, bonus.

#705

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 5:16 PM

As I've expressed, the market does select for some positive traits: intelligence, commercial savvy, aggressive risk-taking, and special talent (such as athletic ability).

You've asserted it. I'm not convinced. First you have to overcome the null hypothesis, that performance in the market cannot be distinguished from random chance.

But he starts from the premise that the smartest, toughest, and most able people deserve to succeed, and argues that the market, while it does so imperfectly, advantages such people.

A totally different proposition, however, is whether it is morally fair and just that the most productive people should receive the lion's share of the resources, while the less able suffer.

Walton, your own prior claims -- which you will recognize when I reiterate them, though I am prepared to cite them on your request -- do not allow for you to make any such distinction between some technical desert and moral desert.

For you have argued that it is immoral to tax the rich at a higher rate than the rest of us, and you consistently refer to this with morally-loaded language like punishment of hard-working people (ridiculous, since the poor and middle classes work harder, but that's beside your point).

Now if you are prepared to abandon this language, you'll be reduced to arguing that it is not immoral to raise the top marginal tax rate to 100%, only that it might be inadvisable.

Or maybe we can get to talking about how progressive taxes are more moral because they tax wealth when its marginal utility diminishes.

for the reasons that Hayek outlined in The Road to Serfdom.

I've read it, of course, and I'm embarrassed that I once found it as impressive as you do. The number of social democracies which have not turned into totalitarian states in the intervening years since publication, that is, 100% of them, ought to make you toss it in the recycling bin. (No, not really; I still have my copy because it's useful when showing how some libertarians are not only far to the right of Smith but even to the right of Hayek, who was himself an unreasonable extremist.)

#706

Posted by: Blake Stacey | August 29, 2009 5:17 PM

Cronin:

If the government genuinely wants to extend the scope of women's choices then it should allow for the fact that their priorities are not always identical to those of men.

OK. No two people are going to have "identical" priorities, but moving on:

Rather than taking male standards as the universal measure, or expecting the sexes to adopt androgynous working roles, the government should design family-friendly employment practices that reflect the different preferences of women and men.

. . . the Hell? That's incredibly poorly phrased: it effectively presumes that all women are interchangeable, and that "preferences" can be predicted knowing only the sex of the employee. I agree with Nick Gotts here.

#707

Posted by: Richard Dawkins | August 29, 2009 5:25 PM

Nancy
OK, it looks as though you are genuinely sincere in your misunderstanding of Helena.

Here is what is really going on in this argument. We all agree that people should be free to choose, as individuals and as couples, in matters like who should look after the children, who should go out to work, etc. You think Helena wants the government to COMPEL individuals to conform to a norm in which women ALWAYS do one thing, men ALWAYS do the other. I can't quite see how you manage to read her words as meaning that, but it is now pretty clear that that is how you are reading them. I believe you are sincere in your misreading, but I promise you it is a misreading. She certainly does not want any compulsion based on supposed differences between groups, whether those groups are based on sex or on anything else. She couldn't possibly want such compulsion, because obviously neither she, nor any evolutionary psychologist,nor anybody of even the smallest intelligence, thinks that psychological differences between groups such as sexes are anything other than STATISTICAL. Given that, it would be completely dopey, indeed wicked, to legislate on the assumption that there is no overlap. All she is saying is that policy should not be driven by a doctrinaire assumption that there are NO statistical differences between the sexes (or by a doctrinaire assumption that are NO statistical differences between step-parents and biological parents, to use another of her examples).

Richard

#708

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 5:37 PM

Captain Mike:

3. Survey the audience members after and determine which one did the best job.

If you mean to actually test their understanding of the concept, this can work. People's self-reported opinions are not necessarily going to reflect comprehension; there will be a bias for brevity, even at the expense of communication, especially before lunchtime.

And if it's to be a test, there must be something well-defined to measure. The Cantor set is a fine example.

But communicating about atheism comes down to what the audience finds persuasive, and here you're limited by people's predispositions. Some people will be moved by the Ultimate 747. Others by the community decay that too many tax-exempt evangelical churches cause. This latter group will include some progressive Christians who won't become atheists but can be political allies, so it's not necessarily clear that there's even one goal that we ought to favor over another. That makes the choice of topic very subjective.

#709

Posted by: Blake Stacey | August 29, 2009 5:40 PM

I believe you are sincere in your misreading, but I promise you it is a misreading.

If it's a misreading, then that's great, but to my eye it's quite a likely one. Consider the following two phrases:

A: the different preferences of women and men

B: the different preferences of employees

Option B treats the employees as individuals and refers to differences among them. Two randomly chosen members of the set "employees" can have different preferences, it says. Option A refers to the categories "women" and "men". One could interpret option A as saying that a randomly chosen man and a randomly chosen woman can have different preferences, which is an unobjectionable remark. However, it is quite easy to read option A as saying that the categories "women" and "men" are distinct in their preferences, which is another statement altogether.

The linguist Mark Liberman has occasionally remarked upon how "the ambiguity of plural noun-phrase comparison ('women have better hearing than men') causes — as well as results from — the tendency to interpret small group differences as essential group characteristics" (some links here). I believe this is applicable here.

#710

Posted by: Knockgoats | August 29, 2009 5:49 PM

strange gods before me@693,
I'm not sure it's simple dishonesty on Walton's part - as much as any evidence or argument he can't deal with just not being allowed to make the transfer from short-term to long-term memory. Whichever, it's certainly infuriating.

#711

Posted by: Blake Stacey | August 29, 2009 5:55 PM

The same applies, with perhaps more force, to this line from Cronin:

Contrary to fashionable "gender" thinking, women, like men, have their own distinct evolved psychology.

Does this mean that each woman, like each man, has a psyche composed of adaptations and spandrels; or, does it mean that women and men constitute two separate monoliths, that the means of the sexes are so far apart that their standard deviations could never overlap?

#712

Posted by: Walton | August 29, 2009 5:56 PM

strange gods before me,

Walton, your own prior claims -- which you will recognize when I reiterate them, though I am prepared to cite them on your request -- do not allow for you to make any such distinction between some technical desert and moral desert.

For you have argued that it is immoral to tax the rich at a higher rate than the rest of us, and you consistently refer to this with morally-loaded language like punishment of hard-working people (ridiculous, since the poor and middle classes work harder, but that's beside your point).

Yes and no. I do not argue that it is immoral to confiscate the property of the rich because they "deserve" their wealth. They don't, necessarily; there are plenty of people out there with hereditary, or otherwise unearned, wealth, who are not "deserving" by any definition. And there are people who earn wealth through means that I personally consider bizarre; I will never understand why people get paid so much money to play sports, for instance.

Rather, I have argued in the past that forcible confiscation of wealth is immoral because such confiscation involves coercion, and coercion is prima facie immoral unless it can be justified as morally necessary.

I further suggest that there is no truly objective definition of "deserving". I might not think that David Beckham deserves billions of pounds; but the football clubs and sponsors who paid him that money, and the football supporters who pay thousands to watch him play, clearly do think that he merits that amount of money. And I do not have the right to use the power of government to confiscate money from him merely because I might not personally think that he "deserves" it. He has obtained his money through legitimate means of voluntary commercial exchange. What right do you or I have to take it away?

When I said earlier that a free market produces results which are morally unjust, I was working from a specific and contestable (though widely held) conception of justice; namely, that a person should not be rewarded or punished as a result of factors outside his or her control. Yet this conception of justice is unattainable in the real world. If we did live in a society where the coercive power of government were used to guarantee that everyone "got what they deserved", from a purely moral point of view, then our present material prosperity would be unsustainable: because it is, above all else, selfishness and greed which drives the engine of material progress, and a society which does not reward selfishness or greed will therefore achieve very little.

Now if you are prepared to abandon this language, you'll be reduced to arguing that it is not immoral to raise the top marginal tax rate to 100%, only that it might be inadvisable.

For the reasons I have expressed above, I do contend that such a tax rate would be immoral. However, I don't need to establish that it is immoral in order to demonstrate that it is a bad idea, since it is entirely self-evident that such a policy would destroy the economy completely.

Or maybe we can get to talking about how progressive taxes are more moral because they tax wealth when its marginal utility diminishes.

Assuming that you are right about the diminishing marginal utility of wealth, your conclusion (that progressive taxes are more moral) only if you hold a utilitarian perspective on the role of government: that is, you presuppose that the proper role of government is to ensure the greatest happiness to the greatest number. As I'm sure you will be aware, being widely read in political theory, the utilitarian view of government is far from universally accepted among moral philosophers.

#713

Posted by: Richard Dawkins | August 29, 2009 6:07 PM

or, does it mean that women and men constitute two separate monoliths, that the means of the sexes are so far apart that their standard deviations could never overlap?
No OF COURSE it doesn't mean that! That is the basis of this entire misunderstanding. If you guys seriously believe Helena thinks that, no WONDER you are prejudiced against her! I assure you she doesn't mean that, nor does any evolutionary psychologist, nor does any biologist I have ever met. As almost always in the biological sciences, generalizations are assumed to include an implicit 'statistically speaking'. This is so much second nature to biologists that we don't bother to make it explicit. Cheetahs can run faster than lions. Does anybody read that to mean that every cheetah runs faster than every lion? Surely not. The statement clearly has an implicit 'statistically speaking'. So has any statement of the form "women, like men, have their own distinct evolved psychology."
#714

Posted by: Ichthyic | August 29, 2009 6:16 PM

If it's a misreading, then that's great, but to my eye it's quite a likely one.

For what it's worth, I went through the discussion from the top down, and by the time I had finished reading the quotes from the article by Helena, my impression was that she was talking about simply not homogenizing the approach, rather than forcing a specific adherence.

Indeed, it rather seemed to me that the studies she quoted were showing different preferences in child rearing roles, period.

If taken further, I would have expected the next part of her argument to be about differences in family leave based on non-gender specific child rearing roles.

In fact, I expect she would have applied the same logic to gay couples with children, too.

#715

Posted by: Blake Stacey | August 29, 2009 6:18 PM

If you guys seriously believe Helena thinks that, no WONDER you are prejudiced against her!

I'm just trying to interpret the words on my screen. (They are all I know of a person I've never met.) I find them ambiguous: even if I, as a science person, interpret them in the way you say is correct, I expect many other people wouldn't. In my opinion, the phrasing of the paragraphs we have been discussing is conducive to misinterpretation, particularly for readers who are not accustomed to adding the implicit qualifiers which biologists find second nature.

#716

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 6:19 PM

Rather, I have argued in the past that forcible confiscation of wealth is immoral because such confiscation involves coercion, and coercion is prima facie immoral unless it can be justified as morally necessary.

Is it morally necessary that children not starve to death? I can argue that it is, but you haven't yet, unless I missed something new from you recently. You've relied on your moral intuition. And that's why I believe there's some good in your grinch heart. But it remains a fact that you advocate coercive taxation based on something you can't justify to your own complete satisfaction. Given that fact, and given that you also can't find anything so wrong with your moral intuition as to justify abandoning it, perhaps you ought to be a bit more forgiving of my own calls for death panels redistribution of wealth.

For the reasons I have expressed above, I do contend that such a tax rate would be immoral. However, I don't need to establish that it is immoral in order to demonstrate that it is a bad idea, since it is entirely self-evident that such a policy would destroy the economy completely.

It would change the economy a great deal. I don't see any self-evident destruction there. Certainly rates over 80% and 90% have not destroyed the economy.

Note I am not actually advocating a 100% rate, only that I am not impressed with your assertion here.

As I'm sure you will be aware, being widely read in political theory, the utilitarian view of government is far from universally accepted among moral philosophers.

Yes but it's you and me having this chat, and citing your aforementioned welfare for children, we're both utilitarians to some degree. It's hardly relevant that Tom Regan might not be impressed by our repartee.

#717

Posted by: Ichthyic | August 29, 2009 6:20 PM

Does this mean that each woman, like each man, has a psyche composed of adaptations and spandrels; or, does it mean that women and men constitute two separate monoliths, that the means of the sexes are so far apart that their standard deviations could never overlap?

neither.

why assume there are differences that would never overlap?

two means can be significantly different statistically, but their distributions still overlap to a great extent.

#718

Posted by: 'Tis Himself, Quel Dommage Author Profile Page | August 29, 2009 6:21 PM

Rather, I have argued in the past that forcible confiscation of wealth is immoral because such confiscation involves coercion, and coercion is prima facie immoral unless it can be justified as morally necessary.

If I had a dime for every time a looneytarian whines about taxes being coercive and immoral I'd have a whole bunch of dimes.

Taxation is part of a social contract. Essentially, tax is payment in exchange for services from government. Of course, the looneytarians come roaring back with "Social Contract? I never signed no steenking social contract."

There are several explicit means by which people make the social contract with a government. The commonest is when your parents choose your residency and/or citizenship after your birth. In that case, your parents or guardians are contracting for you, exercising their power of custody. No further explicit action is required on your part to continue the agreement, and you may end it at any time by departing and renouncing your citizenship.

Immigrants, residents, and visitors contract through the oath of citizenship, residency permits, and visas. Citizens reaffirm it in whole or part when they take political office, join the armed forces, etc. This contract has a fairly common form: once entered into, it is implicitly continued until explicitly revoked. Many other contracts have this form: some leases, most utility services (such as phone and electricity), etc.

Some looneytarians make a big deal about needing to actually sign a contract. Take them to a restaurant and see if they think it ethical to walk out without paying because they didn't sign anything. The restaurant gets to set the price and the method of contract so that even your presence creates a debt. What's a looneytarian going to do about that? Create a regulation?

Often a looneytarian will whine: "Why should we be coerced to accept the social contract? Why can't we be left alone?" You are not coerced to accept government services any more than you are coerced to rent or purchase a place to live. If pretty much all livable territory on Earth is owned by governments, and all houses and apartments are owned, well, did you want them to grow on trees? There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

#719

Posted by: Ichthyic | August 29, 2009 6:24 PM

particularly for readers who are not accustomed to adding the implicit qualifiers which biologists find second nature.

well, you do have a point there, since basically that's exactly what I did.

Still, that said, I think Nancy's argument was much too strong a conclusion, even assuming a misreading based on a lack of the qualifiers you posit.

#720

Posted by: Blake Stacey | August 29, 2009 6:32 PM

Cheetahs can run faster than lions. Does anybody read that to mean that every cheetah runs faster than every lion?

Well, judging from the way press releases on scientific findings have habitually been mangled, that type of error is entirely plausible, particularly if the subject in question is more technical or more politically charged than cheetahs and lions. Small differences between group distributions, perhaps not even statistically significant, are promoted to categorical statements that all X are different from all Y. Men and women are surveyed on how happy their lives are, and a gap of 1.9 percentile points becomes a headline that men are now happier than women.

#721

Posted by: Blake Stacey | August 29, 2009 6:41 PM

two means can be significantly different statistically, but their distributions still overlap to a great extent.

Granted. I wanted to clarify what I thought would be the most extreme reading of the passage a person would be likely to have, not exhaust all the possibilities for interpretations.

#722

Posted by: Ichthyic | August 29, 2009 6:47 PM

not exhaust all the possibilities for interpretations.

granted.

I wanted to do the same thing, but you're right that given certain knowledge, some interpretations are more likely than others.

It's too late in the thread to start talking about educational base affecting how one interprets written or spoken statements, though.

#723

Posted by: Blake Stacey | August 29, 2009 7:00 PM

It's too late in the thread to start talking about educational base affecting how one interprets written or spoken statements, though.

It's probably too late in the thread to talk about much anything of consequence. If I weren't stuck at home due to a busted knee, I probably wouldn't even have tried.

#724

Posted by: Anri | August 29, 2009 7:12 PM

Walton sez:

"I further suggest that there is no truly objective definition of "deserving". I might not think that David Beckham deserves billions of pounds; but the football clubs and sponsors who paid him that money, and the football supporters who pay thousands to watch him play, clearly do think that he merits that amount of money. And I do not have the right to use the power of government to confiscate money from him merely because I might not personally think that he "deserves" it. He has obtained his money through legitimate means of voluntary commercial exchange. What right do you or I have to take it away?"

Because the stadium he plays in is protected by a military I helped fund.
Because he didn't die early, because he was immunized against childhood diseases, which I helped fund.
Because his ticket money is protected by a police force I helped fund.
Because the stadium stands upright due to there being building codes enacted by a government I helped fund, and enforced by other branches of government I helped fund.
Because the water he washes his uniform with is not sewage due to structures I helped fund.
Because the technology used to broadcast the game, and thus ensure his paycheck, was refined at a university I helped fund.
Because he learned to read the contract granting him the millions due to a school I helped fund.

(Quick caveat - I am not from, nor living in, nor do I pay taxes to, any government that uses pounds sterling as a currency. This is a general example.)

He did not appear fully formed, as from the head of Zeus.
He, like all of us in society, owe our welfare to a substantial extent to that society, and society therefore has the right to expect us to invest in the next group of people who will owe some of their welfare to it as well.

#725

Posted by: bonze | August 29, 2009 7:15 PM

'Tis Himself #718

You are not coerced to accept government services any more than you are coerced to rent or purchase a place to live.

Oh, that's rich.

I'll buy that one when I can opt out of paying for the War on Some Drugs and Imperialist Adventurism, "services" I could live without.

Why do you find an imaginary "social contract" more plausible than an imaginary Special Friend Who Art In Heaven?

#726

Posted by: Mr T | August 29, 2009 7:34 PM

Why do you find an imaginary "freedom from taxation" more plausible than an imaginary Special Friend Who Art In Heaven? For fuck's sake, I don't support the War on Drugs or any actual wars either, but governments still have to raise taxes for all sorts of other services that aren't so easy to demonize.

By the way, Professor Dawkins: I admire and respect you a great deal, but couldn't you please stop that accursed abomination, "overweening rationalist atheism", in favor of a "theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief"? Just because it's ridiculous doesn't mean that ... oh, okay, never mind.

(my apologies for trying to hijack the thread back from off-topic)

#727

Posted by: Rabbit Scribe | August 29, 2009 7:38 PM

I'm so sorry, Baby Bear. All we've got here are hordes of triumphal atheists who think the whole enterprise of religion is hairy effin' bollocks, and we aren't at all sad about our loss of faith, a loss that we've found liberating and joyous...

It's a double-edged sword. The last time I went to church, I was preached at about how the principles of Christianity would help me become a better parent. If there's a God who will help me become a better parent but won't help that poor little girl from California imprisoned in a back yard for 18 years, I'd spit in His eye.

Of course, that's a totally arbitrary and capricious judgment. There is no ultimate ground of Being, and all metaphysical judgments such as good, evil, and human rights are fantasies. They're by no means universal: it used to be the case that people sincerely thought you to be extraordinarily wicked for not practicing infanticide. Nobody's really embracing utilitarianism, even: that sounds workable until you point out that their healthy organs could save half-a-dozen lives and cure a couple of cases of blindness.

Oh, and the best-case scenario ends with the ultimate heat-death of the universe...

Yeah: "Liberating and joyous."

#728

Posted by: Mr T | August 29, 2009 7:53 PM

Oh, and the best-case scenario ends with the ultimate heat-death of the universe... Yeah: "Liberating and joyous."

Don't Panic. You and I won't be around to experience that.

#729

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 29, 2009 8:21 PM

I'll buy that one when I can opt out of paying for the War on Some Drugs and Imperialist Adventurism, "services" I could live without.

If these are your major complaints then you can improve your situation by moving to the Netherlands. You can stay and I don't insist that you have to love it, but you are allowed to leave.

#730

Posted by: bexley | August 29, 2009 8:47 PM

So when someone pretends that real work is awarded strictly according to rankable merit, they're just parroting a neo-Calvinist doctrine which conveniently concludes that the privileged were indeed the elect. People can believe in the myth without holding race-hatred in their hearts. But the argument itself ends up being racist.

SC if thats directed at me I'll say again I havent anywhere said that work is currently awarded strictly according to rankable merit.

SGBM said:

I've already asked you to explain even how a simple test for being articulate could be ranked.


Since we are discussing selecting people to be the public face of atheism, logically I'd say survey your target audience to see which candidates they find the most convincing and articulate. They are likely to be the most successful.

This leads back to my point. If there are 10 candidates, 5 men, 5 women and the rankings are as follows:

1. Female
2. Female
3. Male
4. Female
5. Male ...

And you are choosing only 4 then picking strictly by merit you'd end up with 1 male and 3 female. Picking to represent underlying demographics and you'd have 2 males and 2 females, with a better female losing out to a worse male.

That is my point - random variation may mean that picking by merit is not identical to picking to reflect the underlying demographics of the population.

You pointed out I havent addressed Carlie's points in 582. Thats because I dont disagree with her - those are good reasons to pick for diversity (maybe even picking for more diversity than there is in your actual population)! If you look at my original post in 486 I wrote the following as an example of what I thought Nancy should have written (because its an acceptable reason to deliberately make sure that you have a diverse group):

"I'd like to see more non-whites/females rising to become the prominent face of atheism because they might be more likely to reach certain demographics who tend not to listen to the current four horsemen."


As Ive been trying to point out picking to be diverse may not be the same as picking by merit (due to random chance amongst other reasons) therefore there should actually be a good reason not to pick solely by merit.

What a vapid and irrelevant analogy.

The point was that having come across plenty of bad arguments before (the "be nice to religion" is one such bad argument) why would I assume that people have actually thought about their positions and have good arguments backing them up if they dont actually present them. In the first posts people put forward nobody actually said why they thought picking to be diverse would be good.

Finally I'll just reiterate that nowhere have I said that the world currently fills its positions by merit, nor am i defending the status quo. Which is what several people just seem to assume.

#731

Posted by: Anri | August 29, 2009 9:35 PM

Rabbit Scribe sez:

"Oh, and the best-case scenario ends with the ultimate heat-death of the universe"

No, the best-case scenario is that we get good enough at science to utilize Planck energy to form a new universe, and quantum tunnel our way into it.

Or figure out an easy and comfortable way to reverse entropy when and where we need to.

Or just manage to digitize our personalities and create some sort of hyper-Matrix that operates off of zero-point-energy and live happily ever after in that.

(Yes, yes, please don't choke on the specifics. I'm not a scientist - or even a college graduate - and I'm not trying to set forth a thesis defense. I'm just tossing our more-plausible-than-some ideas.)

All of these things are far-fetched to one degree or another, and (unfortunately) I imagine that any of them, if they occur, will do so long after I am dead and gone. But if we manage to get to any of them, it will be by embracing science, working for and within it, and getting better and better at it.

You are, of course, free to be unliberated and joyless at the thought of any of these very cool concepts.
Pardon me if I differ in my opinion.

#732

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 29, 2009 9:43 PM

But another thing that the processes have in common is that - while imperfect - they both produce a dazzling array of amazing things. Natural selection gave us the tapeworm and the influenza virus, but it also gave us penguins, coral reefs, cephalopods, and, of course, human beings. And for all our ingenuity, we cannot replicate that creative process in a lab.
Again, just how evolution crafted these creatures was a brutal process. A bloody competition between species and between individuals of a species for a limited set of resources where only those most effective at competing for the resources / finding a mate survived. It's ingenuity comes at a huge cost, we're only looking at the winners and not seeing what it does to the losers.

Modelling a society like that goes against human nature, it cannot work for we have social mechanisms that are at odds with such practices. Nor can I see why you would wish it to work, is profitability the only concern in this life you have?

#733

Posted by: KevinC | August 30, 2009 12:21 AM

Bexley @730:

Since we are discussing selecting people to be the public face of atheism, logically I'd say survey your target audience to see which candidates they find the most convincing and articulate. They are likely to be the most successful.

This leads back to my point. If there are 10 candidates, 5 men, 5 women and the rankings are as follows:

1. Female
2. Female
3. Male
4. Female
5. Male ...

And you are choosing only 4 then picking strictly by merit you'd end up with 1 male and 3 female. Picking to represent underlying demographics and you'd have 2 males and 2 females, with a better female losing out to a worse male.

This assumes it's even possible to rank atheist spokespeople to such an extreme degree of precision. I don't think that it is. Is Richard Dawkins a better spokesperson than Dan Dennett? Is Sam Harris "better" or "worse" than Ayaan Hirsi Ali?

Richard Dawkins is extremely articulate, and in interviews involving woo-peddlers shows a degree of patience that makes him look like the next Buddha. How he managed to face that smarmy expression from Ted Haggard denying all biological science and saying "if you knew what I know..." without beating him about the head and shoulders with a rolled-up copy of the latest edition of Nature is a bona fide Mystery of the Cosmos.

But then, Dan Dennett is a dead-ringer for Santa Claus. Santa Claus! When he compares religious memes to lancet flukes, it's like learning that stuff at Grandpa's knee. And like Dawkins he has a great deal of intellectual gravitas.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is incredibly elegant, passionate about Enlightenment values, and has a lifetime of experience with what is currently the fiercest and most blatantly oppressive of the Abrahamic religions.

Julia Sweeney is (IMO, generally) funnier than the others, and she shares her deconversion as a poignant personal story.

So which is "better?" It's not like we can get out their character sheets and compare averages of their Intelligence and Charisma stats. It doesn't make sense to rank the "top ten" atheist spokespeople with the kind of absolutism that suggests if Ayaan Hirsi Ali should get more press than Richard Dawkins in a given news cycle, that we are settling for lesser merit in order to have a Somali woman rather than an Englishman as our public face.

It's nowhere near that simple. If a news anchor were looking to find an atheist spokesperson to talk about the implications of cognitive neuroscience for religion, Sam Harris would probably be better than Ayaan Hirsi Ali. If the news anchor was doing a segment on Islam, then I think AHI would be the better choice. And if it's someone who was picking an atheist to appear on Oprah, Julia Sweeney could be the "best."

The fact that there is such a diversity of audiences and different media environments means, IMO, that a wider diversity of atheist spokespeople would be a considerable improvement over having only the Four White HorseMen.

I think Dawkins is a great "go-to guy" for atheism and evolution. But does anyone really want to suggest that there is not one black female evolutionary biologist on the planet who could do "about as well as" Dawkins (i.e. better than him in some ways, worse in others, but within the same fuzzy, smeared-out "ranking") at promoting atheism or evolution on a TV show?

I have not seen anyone here advocating replacing any of the "Horsemen" for the sole purposes of creating broader demographic representation. Even Hitchins (for all his controversy) is great in certain situations, like confrontational talk shows. Perhaps my tastes are perverse, but I loved the way he poked holes in the balloon of hagiography being inflated around Jerry Falwell at the time of Falwell's death.

But why can't a group of "Four Horsewomen" (or Five Muses, or Six Goddesses, or whatever mythological label one wants to use, assuming one wishes to bother with that sort of marketing/media trick) be assembled and promoted by the atheist movement? As I see it, a more diverse "ecosystem" of atheist voices could only help.

#734

Posted by: SC, OM | August 30, 2009 12:58 AM

SC if thats directed at me...

Good grief. I walk in the door* and this is the first thing I see. I can't be bothered at the moment to address your repetitively clueless meanderings, or to look up to whom that remark was addressed. I am not the one who wrote it.

If it's a misreading, then that's great, but to my eye it's quite a likely one. Consider the following two phrases:...

Indeed, and I'm not at all convinced it is a misreading.

She said:

Contrary to fashionable "gender" thinking, women, like men, have their own distinct evolved psychology. If the government genuinely wants to extend the scope of women's choices then it should allow for the fact that their priorities are not always identical to those of men.

People's preferences and priorities are shaped by the context in which they're acting. Couples may likely prefer an arrangement in which the women works less after the birth of a child because males earn more money and have better advancement/earning prospects or women's full-time jobs tend to offer little flexibility or whatever. There is absolutely no reason to attribute these preferences (even if the assertion is based on solid research) in, I assume, one country to some "distinct evolved psychology." Quite the contrary - efforts should be made to create a context in which people aren't pushed toward certain arrangements but have the most choice and flexibility possible.

The sort of policy Cronin seems to be suggesting would have a very different impact. I suspect it would create a two-track situation, which would then create circumstances pushing people toward the sort of arrangements that Cronin sees as most "natural" in terms of "evolved" gender roles. And it would very likely serve to devalue women's non-reproductive work even more, since we wouldn't be viewed as the natural primary wage-earners, resulting potentially in hiring discrimination, lower compensation, and fewer opportunities for advancement. This would all also leave single mothers and childless working women worse off.

If she simply wanted individuals or couples to have more options in relation to work and childcare, I think she would have written something very different, and this reading of what she did write strikes me as naive. (I don't believe I'd ever heard of her before this discussion, but so far I'm not impressed with her, her argument, or this field.)

*Great game!

#735

Posted by: Mr T | August 30, 2009 1:02 AM

KevinC, as usual I couldn't agree more with what you've said. You consistently deliver excellent comments.

This is already a well-beaten off-topic horse, but I would like to point out that, among other comments that I find disagreeable, Nancy #373 said:

Nancy would like it if the go-to group for all things atheist was NOT the "New Atheists" primarily because I'm not a fan of any of them - and that's an understatement when it comes to Hitchens.

Secondarily because they're all white men, which is just so tiresome and business-as-usual.

Whether or not one interprets that as bigotry, I just wanted to point out that it sure seems that at least one person was "advocating replacing any of the "Horsemen" for the sole purposes of creating broader demographic representation". It could be argued that the reference to "white men" was just a "secondary" purpose for her, but the first statement just relates to her political or ideological demographic. The way I interpret it, both suggestions seem to be limited to promoting her particular demographic and denigrating others', rather than the more modest goal of creating a broader representation of various different demographics, even those she or I would find disagreeable.

#736

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 30, 2009 1:24 AM

But why can't a group of "Four Horsewomen" (or Five Muses, or Six Goddesses, or whatever mythological label one wants to use, assuming one wishes to bother with that sort of marketing/media trick) be assembled and promoted by the atheist movement?
that's how I see it. Yes, we can argue all day about the need for diversity, about how representation is disproportional, etc. But when it comes down to it, the only way that such things are going to change is for people to actually get proactive about it. Why aren't there more women or non-white males writing "new atheist" literature, putting out blogs, making youtube series on atheism, etc.? This would be great to see, starting at the grass roots and pushing for significance.

As far as I can tell, the reason Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are the "four horsemen" is because the four of them have thrust themselves into the debate. Isn't it enough that they are leading the debate? They are enabling the legitimisation of such outspokenness. They are providing a voice for which there is none, and this shouldn't be disparaged.


To me, there's so much wasted energy going into complaining about this topic when that same energy could be used to actually try to a grass roots movement going. The people at the top didn't get there by the complaints that they were under-represented, rather by doing something about the lack of representation.

#737

Posted by: SC, OM | August 30, 2009 1:59 AM

But when it comes down to it, the only way that such things are going to change is for people to actually get proactive about it. Why aren't there more women or non-white males writing "new atheist" literature, putting out blogs, making youtube series on atheism, etc.? This would be great to see, starting at the grass roots and pushing for significance.

As far as I can tell, the reason Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are the "four horsemen" is because the four of them have thrust themselves into the debate. Isn't it enough that they are leading the debate? They are enabling the legitimisation of such outspokenness. They are providing a voice for which there is none, and this shouldn't be disparaged.

To me, there's so much wasted energy going into complaining about this topic when that same energy could be used to actually try to a grass roots movement going. The people at the top didn't get there by the complaints that they were under-represented, rather by doing something about the lack of representation.

FFS, Kel, have you read the thread? Several of us have been pointing out that there are people from these categories active in any number of aspects of these movements, including the ones you mentioned. Names have even been listed here (and much more extensively on the earlier conference thread which I think someone linked to above). There's cool stuff going on at the grassroots all over the damn place. The point is that they/we continue to be marginalized while the focus remains on what a small group of "intellectuals" opines on a narrow range of subjects. As I noted above, I want to hear more about/from these other people especially because I care about what they're doing and I think they have a lot to offer. But we don't control the priorities of the publishing industry, mass media, conference organizers, other bloggers, etc., and can continue not to be approached or listened to due to active discrimination, simple laziness, a narrow range of priorities, a restricted vision of "the debate," or other reasons.* You've simply ignored numerous comments on this thread.

We can keep doing what we're doing, but calling attention to these issues and discussing how to deal with the problem collectively is part of trying to change things. Part. It would help if the response from others were less "It's your fault if you're marginalized and what are you doing about it?" or "You're wasting your energy" and more "I'm interested in what you think the causes of the situation are and what we can all do to address it." Or even just staying out of the discussions or trying to listen or ask questions without lecturing. Otherwise, you're not fucking helping. Seriously. Going through this every time we want to have a productive discussion about these matters is exhausting, and frankly I think I'm simply going to ignore people who aren't contributing anything useful and talk to those who have something productive to add. I've really had it.

*Note the discussion of the movements in Honduras or secular feminism on my blog. They exist, and they're active and vocal. And they're largely ignored. The reasons the mass media was silent and dishonest about the coup were not due to any failures of pro-democracy activists there, but it's certainly valid for them and their supporters to discuss strategies with regard to the media. Even fucking Human Rights Watch had to be pushed by people "complaining" about this marginalization to report.

#738

Posted by: SC, OM | August 30, 2009 2:05 AM

or secular feminism in Afghanistan
#739

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 30, 2009 2:25 AM

FFS, Kel, have you read the thread?
I have read the thread, yes. I think it's a waste, the same way I think it's a waste to complain so emphatically that the likes of Casey Luskin and Kirk Cameron are taken onto media outlets to discuss evolution. In what reality are they even qualified to talk, let alone be given the chance? Some things are just beyond our control: how the media frames this debate is one of them.
But we don't control the priorities of the publishing industry, mass media, conference organizers, other bloggers, etc., and can continue not to be approached or listened to due to active discrimination, simple laziness, a narrow range of priorities, a restricted vision of "the debate," or other reasons.* You've simply ignored numerous comments on this thread.
I realise we aren't in control of our own destiny on a lot of these things, but that's not what I'm saying. Sam Harris is in the spotlight not because of his gender or skin colour, but because of what he wrote. He thrust himself into the spotlight with The End Of Faith, and Letter To A Christian Nation.
It would help if the response from others were less "It's your fault if you're marginalized and what are you doing about it?"
I really hope you don't think that's what I'm saying, because I'm advocating the opposite.
Otherwise, you're not fucking helping.
That's exactly how I feel about this fucking discussion. It's not fucking helping. What does it achieve SC? It's been made very apparent that it is currently dominated by white men, what does writing more about that achieve? Do you think I don't want more voices out there showing more diversity? I do, that's exactly what I want to achieve. But I don't think this actually helps anything other than fuel victim mentality. And I don't want to see people playing the victim, I want to see more positive action taken.

ffs SC, I'm on your side with this.

#740

Posted by: Mr T | August 30, 2009 2:41 AM

SC, OM:

Perhaps the Four Horsemen could make it a point (perhaps some or all have to an extent) to tell the media they are not representative of atheists as a whole, especially regarding topics with which they're unfamiliar or when it would be more relevant to contact others for their views. So when questioned by a journalist, they could state their views or not, but at the same time direct them to any number of others who might have a better or different take on the subject. This is not to assume that the Horsemen should be the first ones to be contacted by the media, just that they often are the first ones. Although it would be counter to their natural interest in self-promotion, they could do a lot to promote other atheists from various demographics. Of course, this is problematic because the Horsemen shouldn't be in the business of deciding which other atheists have important perspectives, but until the media are forced to recognize all the other voices out there, I don't know what else the Horsemen could do to address the problem.

#741

Posted by: Sven DiMilo | August 30, 2009 2:54 AM

[Hey, want to hear my David Marjanović impression?]

first, one infers that one MK posted a “first!”-post that was not even, in fact, first, and that PZ has flicked it away as a junebug on his cheek. Thanks for running a tight ship in the right ways, Dr. Myers.

Interestingly, Firefox's spellchecker does not recognize the word "electropherogram". I blame the pervasiveness of science illiteracy.

Well, I had to look that one up despite the fact that I am a biologist (albeit a metaphorically dinosaurian organismal one), and I have of course seen them and know what they denote and what the information is used for. Just never heard the jargonous noun before.

I wonder what other mythical beings we should be disappointed over.

Jörmungandr would be kind of cool.

Posted by: Richard Dawkins | August 27, 2009 12:24 PM

Hoo! If it was my blog, I’d frame that one.
‘course, now yer damn book better be funny, Myers.

Or, we could smile at our finite lives and tell James Wood to shove it.

*clenched-tentacle salute*

SHUT UP, JUNIOR

heh. Now Mel Blanc, him I’m disappointed doesn’t exist (any more).

Posted by: Ron Sullivan | August 27, 2009 1:00 PM

*clenched-tentacle salute*

But its the fact that the Ditchkins' of the world are hubristic enough to take on theology like they know what they are talking about, thats bound to alienate close readers.

Speaking as a close reader myself, I am far more put off by weird and missing apostrophes and extraneous commas.

And I'm afraid to say, P Z Myers, you are a cohort to this group of hubristic chumps.

courtier calling the cohort black

BUT IS DAWKINS THAN JESUS?

Indeed, that is the.

Why, Oh New Yorker Editors, did you allow this drivel into print. It does not live up to your usual standards.

I’ll bet John McPhee is pissed.

I don't really want to reply to you as you told me to fuck off, which as you can see I ignored

um…

Cannibalism has as much a relationship to religion as I suppose biology has to atheism; it makes up a small proportion but given the fuss thats made about it you'd think it was the only alternative.

o_O

[aaaa fuck it…this takes forever and I’m only halfway through #139 and this guy Carl is making blood come out of my eye. How does Marjanović do it? I’m skipping ahead to read the other Dawkins comments I noticed and then going to bed.
Going to the Bronx Zoo tomorrow!]


#742

Posted by: SC, OM | August 30, 2009 3:13 AM

I have read the thread, yes. I think it's a waste,

Then you should just ignore it, I think, and work on your own to create change as best you see fit. Perhaps you could do a series of features on your own blog of some voices or activities people don't generally hear about but that you find interesting. Or donate to a few other blogs by women. Or...

the same way I think it's a waste to complain so emphatically that the likes of Casey Luskin and Kirk Cameron are taken onto media outlets to discuss evolution. In what reality are they even qualified to talk, let alone be given the chance?

Maybe they've boldly thrust themselves into "the debate."

Some things are just beyond our control: how the media frames this debate is one of them. I realise we aren't in control of our own destiny on a lot of these things, but that's not what I'm saying.

That's not what I'm saying, either. I'm saying we (in some cases potentially) do have some measure of control, or can find alternative strategies. But we can't do this as individuals just by being active or outspoken or writing (which in any case we're doing already) because these are larger structural problems that require collective solutions. Appreciating the nature of the problems is an important aspect of this. What some of us are trying to talk about are these collective strategies.

Sam Harris is in the spotlight not because of his gender or skin colour, but because of what he wrote. He thrust himself into the spotlight with The End Of Faith, and Letter To A Christian Nation.

You're spectacularly missing the point. I'll make it one more time. He wrote a couple of books related to atheism (let's leave aside any issues related to publishing and promotion since sgbm brought them up and I think everyone's seen fit to ignore them). He may be the proper go-to person on certain issues and in certain contexts. However, there's much more to atheism than the questions he concerns himself with. There are all sorts of exciting things going on, and a diverse group of outspoken, articulate, knowledgeable people to whom we as bloggers, writers, event organizers, organization leaders, etc., can call attention and feature(and even put forward to the media if they come knocking). Again, some of us would like to discuss concrete actions, projects, and strategies. We're continually diverted from this constructive path by people who wouldn't.

I really hope you don't think that's what I'm saying, because I'm advocating the opposite.

No, you're really not. You're suggesting (on the basis, quite frankly, of significantly less knowledge than someone like me has in this area) that the best approach is for marginalized people to be more active and outspoken and they will get attention. You're saying it's that simple, obviously, because that's what's behind all of the attention to these white guys - their thrusting. You're ignoring all of the problems with that argument that have been described above.

That's exactly how I feel about this fucking discussion. It's not fucking helping. What does it achieve SC?

Well, I think some of us have made some arguments about changes in priorities that might be new to some people. The problem or some elements thereof may have been brought to more people's attention. But my point is that any such discussion's productiveness is sharply hindered by the kinds of comments made by idiots like Ranum, Bexley, and Mr T. Then it becomes a matter of defending what should be a basic principle and starting point ad nauseam against people who don't give a shit about changing anything and sometimes actively oppose it. But for their presence here, this could potentially have been a far more constructive discussion. It's like if every time we wanted to talk about improving public schools we had to argue with Walton about whether they should exist, or if every scientific conference on evolution had to start with a lengthy debate with YECs.

But I don't think this actually helps anything other than fuel victim mentality. And I don't want to see people playing the victim, I want to see more positive action taken.

You're making me very angry now. No one here has "played the victim," and you don't get to define for us what is positive action in this context which you only dimly understand. You're simply denying that we live in an unequal, racist, and sexist culture and what this means for people fighting for change. When people who are marginalized within it want to talk about it (including sharing our experiences or angrily complaining about it amongst ourselves - who the hell are you to say that's a waste of our time?) and what we and those who support our goal of reducing and ending it can do concretely, you might want to try a little humility. Perhaps you don't have all of the answers, or any.

ffs SC, I'm on your side with this.

If that's true, then you should really take to heart my suggestion that you're not helping and consider changing your approach.

#743

Posted by: SC, OM | August 30, 2009 3:29 AM

Just a thought: Is there any sort of coalitional atheist/humanist/secularist/skeptical speakers bureau or media-contact registry? If not, perhaps there should be. Could be grouped into areas of experience or expertise and by location...

#744

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 30, 2009 3:36 AM

I disagree with a lot of what you said there SC, and I think you're pushing me into a position I don't support. But this takes the cake:

You're simply denying that we live in an unequal, racist, and sexist culture and what this means for people fighting for change.
Where have I ever expressed anything even remotely along these lines? If you think I'm wrong on strategy, that's fine. But please don't go to the stage of framing my position like I live in a fantasy world. If you've taken that from what I've written, then you've gravely misread what my intention was.

you might want to try a little humility
Could I say the same back to you? Or is it just me who needs to be humble? You're right, I don't have all the answers. I'm not sure I have any positive answer at all. But since when did it become a problem to express my opinion on the matter?
If that's true, then you should really take to heart my suggestion that you're not helping and consider changing your approach.
to what? What approach should I take?
#745

Posted by: John Morales | August 30, 2009 3:36 AM

SC:

However, there's much more to atheism than the questions he [Sam Harris] concerns himself with. There are all sorts of exciting things going on, and a diverse group of outspoken, articulate, knowledgeable people to whom we as bloggers, writers, event organizers, organization leaders, etc., can call attention and feature(and even put forward to the media if they come knocking).

What? When did atheism become a movement, rather than a lack of belief? :)

#746

Posted by: Mr T | August 30, 2009 3:39 AM

SC, OM:

I'm an idiot? Care to address any idiocy in my last post so I can fix my idiocy? Perhaps I didn't address issues with the parties who are actually to blame? I'd place a big chunk of the blame on the media themselves, but that last suggestion was something the Horsemen could do, in case they're the ones who are at fault. How the fuck can I fix my idiocy that hinders the productiveness of these discussions??

#747

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 30, 2009 3:42 AM

What? When did atheism become a movement, rather than a lack of belief?
Can't it be both? :)

There's atheism: the movement - the social push to recognise that one can live quite comfortably without the need for gods and that society (especially government) shouldn't be a slave to superstition. There's also the atheism: the lack of belief - the position that one holds on the existence of supernatural powers tinkering with our world. And hopefully soon there will be atheism: the musical - where in lavish Broadway style we can explore the issues of one woman leaving faith and finding community among those who also have had to deal with the significant social ramifications for taking such a step.

#748

Posted by: John Morales | August 30, 2009 3:54 AM

Kel,

Can't it be both? :)

Perhaps. But why not call such a movement secularism, Humanism, rationalism, or the like?

To refer to is as a movement is to grant validity to the claims that it is a belief system; I don't think that's a desirable thing.

#749

Posted by: SC, OM | August 30, 2009 3:56 AM

Where have I ever expressed anything even remotely along these lines? If you think I'm wrong on strategy, that's fine. But please don't go to the stage of framing my position like I live in a fantasy world. If you've taken that from what I've written, then you've gravely misread what my intention was.

No, I haven't. Read your posts again. I don't give a fuck what your intention was; I care about the words you typed.

Could I say the same back to you? Or is it just me who needs to be humble?

Just you. Movements of marginalized groups have for decades had to face those from the dominant group condescending to them and lecturing them on how best to do things. It's long past time for you to step back, try to understand other people's experiences and anger, ask questions, listen, or just get out of the fucking way.

You're right, I don't have all the answers. I'm not sure I have any positive answer at all. But since when did it become a problem to express my opinion on the matter?

Since you started scolding people most affected by these problems, accusing us of "playing the victim" and instructing us on the proper use of our time. If having to put up with this rattling is the price of your support I'd just as soon live without it.

to what? What approach should I take?

I've decribed it over the past three comments. At the moment, I'm leaning toward "If you find these discussions worthless and unproductive, ignore them. Your concern is noted. We'll try to go on.

Good night.

#750

Posted by: Richard Dawkins | August 30, 2009 4:03 AM

I think part of the problem is quite simply that newspaper, radio and televisiion people are lazy. In Britain, if they need an atheist for an op-ed, an interview, or a sound bite, they head unerringly for one particular individual. They know his phone number, they know he can turn it out, so they just don't BOTHER to think who else they might ask. But nowadays I often turn them down, saying something like this:

"Look, I am not the only atheist around. I just happen to be the one you have in your roledex. There are thousands of us, all just as capable of giving you what you want as I am. Indeed, my guess is that if you take the telephone directory of a university science department and pick a name with a pin, you'll hit an atheist. The more you pick on me, the more people out there will get the idea that I am the only atheist around, and that gives entirely the wrong impression. That is exactly the message we do NOT want to convey."

I am sorry to say I see distinct signs that the British media's constant picking on me as 'the' British atheist is fostering a kind of Dawkins Fatigue among readers and listeners. If I write about traffic congestion or cricket, hedgehog conservation or the weather, somebody will say, "Oh, Dawkins is banging on about God again." Letters to the Editor, often from parsons, display a kind of "Oh no, not Dawkins again" reaction, which means that the atheist voice is given less weight than it deserves.

I think it is really important for other atheists to step up to the plate (is that how you say it?). One of the things my RDFRS Foundation (http://richarddawkinsfoundation.org/) is hoping to do is maintain a database of good spokesmen and spokeswomen, to whom lazy editors and TV producers can be referred.

#751

Posted by: SC, OM | August 30, 2009 4:17 AM

One of the things my RDFRS Foundation (http://richarddawkinsfoundation.org/) is hoping to do is maintain a database of good spokesmen and spokeswomen, to whom lazy editors and TV producers can be referred.

Hey, that's just what I suggested @ #743! I don't know if there's anything anyone here can do to help, but I hope it's already in the works and that efforts are made to make it diverse in terms of people, issues, and geography. Please do let us know when it's up.

#752

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 30, 2009 4:20 AM

No, I haven't. Read your posts again.
I have. Now where did I say anything remotely close to what you are suggesting I did? Can you actually point me at my own words where I expressed anything to do with the current restrictions and systematic biases that exist within our society? Because as far as I can see, I didn't talk about that, only that I encouraged more outspokenness.

The people at the top didn't get there by the complaints that they were under-represented, rather by doing something about the lack of representation.


SC, if you take issue with what I said, then fair enough. I say my fair share of stupid things and expect to be chastised for them. After all, that's how I learn. But it seems grossly unfair to take issue with what I didn't write.

#753

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 30, 2009 4:30 AM

Perhaps. But why not call such a movement secularism, Humanism, rationalism, or the like?

To refer to is as a movement is to grant validity to the claims that it is a belief system; I don't think that's a desirable thing.

Interesting, I didn't consider that. Though to me, I guess it being a social movement around atheism itself is one way to legitimise being one. That it's okay to be an atheist and it doesn't have to just be "theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief."

I'm really not sure what I would want to call myself, atheism just seems easier at the moment, though I do like the sound of naturalist or materialist.

#754

Posted by: Mr T | August 30, 2009 5:05 AM

SC, OM:

Hey, that's just what I suggested @ #743!

Hey, that's just what I suggested @ #740!

Apology accepted?

Nah, it's more fun to pretend I'm still such an idiot I don't even deserve a response.

#755

Posted by: SC, OM | August 30, 2009 5:15 AM

You're simply denying that we live in an unequal, racist, and sexist culture and what this means for people fighting for change.

I have. Now where did I say anything remotely close to what you are suggesting I did? Can you actually point me at my own words where I expressed anything to do with the current restrictions and systematic biases that exist within our society? Because as far as I can see, I didn't talk about that, only that I encouraged more outspokenness.

That's the problem! How do you not see how this last sentence relates to the previous? If you're making suggestions for how to proceed in and against a racist and sexist culture you need to acknowledge it and talk about it, and this needs to be taken into account when you formulate your argument.

But when it comes down to it, the only way that such things are going to change is for people to actually get proactive about it. Why aren't there more women or non-white males writing "new atheist" literature, putting out blogs, making youtube series on atheism, etc.? This would be great to see, starting at the grass roots and pushing for significance.

...To me, there's so much wasted energy going into complaining about this topic when that same energy could be used to actually try to a grass roots movement going.

What do you mean by "more"? We're saying the ones who are are largely (or at least relatively) being ignored. You're refusing to acknowledge their existence, and suggesting that the fact that we don't hear about or see them (or others in numerous other roles) is due to the fact that they're not there or going about their self-promotion wrong. This ignores all of the factors related to marginalization that have been discussed throughout this thread.

The people at the top didn't get there by the complaints that they were under-represented, rather by doing something about the lack of representation.

Again, all of these marginalized people are simply failing to actually do something, spending all of our time complaining. I'll say it again: People are doing things. There's grassroots activism all fucking over. They continue to be marginalized. Some of us are angry about that and want to change it. What don't you get about this? When you pretend as though this weren't the case (arguing that people just need to get busy and do the same things as these four guys) you bracket out racism and sexism and the processes of marginalization rather than addressing them. "If I don't hear about it very much it must not exist" is the effect of the very marginalization we're talking about. You also ignore the points I was making above concerning the fact that "intellectual" debates are one piece of the puzzle, and one that's gotten old. Rather than trying to push people who are already doing a variety of other exciting things into a mold which has shown to work in some way for a handful of white men, we should be expanding our horizons, paying attention to what people actually are doing, and promoting those actions we like. (Why the hell would we want a slew of yet more friggin' "new atheist" literature anyway?)

As far as I can tell, the reason Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are the "four horsemen" is because the four of them have thrust themselves into the debate.

...Sam Harris is in the spotlight not because of his gender or skin colour, but because of what he wrote. He thrust himself into the spotlight with The End Of Faith, and Letter To A Christian Nation.

This is profoundly naive, and after this thread I almost have to say disingenuous. You're ignoring every aspect of white male privilege here (can you honestly believe that everyone is equally in a position to thrust him- or herself into the spotlight?). Think about this for a while - about what is entailed in thrusting oneself into the spotlight. (By the way, as I've pointed out and linked to many, many times here, anarchists have long been among the most articulate and interesting voices of atheism. Yet they're almost entirely ignored - even the relatively famous among them - in historical discussions of atheism. There are reasons for this that aren't related to any meekness on their part.) And reflect, as we've suggested above, on narrow definitions of "merit" when it comes to being a good spokeperson or representative, and how easily this can come to be defined in terms of often-irrelevant characteristics of those in the dominant group.

But I don't want to argue about this any longer. I'm willing to take you at your word that you mean well, even if you don't see how your "suggestions" serve to justify and perpetuate the status quo rather than the opposite.

It's after 5 AM here. I'm going to try again to get to sleep.

#756

Posted by: SC, OM | August 30, 2009 5:22 AM

Hey, that's just what I suggested @ #740!

Apology accepted?

Nah, it's more fun to pretend I'm still such an idiot I don't even deserve a response.

Look, I've read all of your comments on this thread, and you are in fact an idiot who has derailed the discussion with the standard worthless crap. I asked you at least one question (or set of questions) hundreds of posts ago and received no response. (No, I don't care what it is at this point - I've seen enough of your nonsense.

Your suggestion is something that is already being done by one person and not working. It came after 20-something posts that were condescending and described what was being said as "whining," made absurd accusations of bigotry, misrepresented people's positions, and evaded substantive questions. You deserve nothing from me.

Fuck off.

#757

Posted by: Walton | August 30, 2009 5:48 AM

strange gods,

Is it morally necessary that children not starve to death? I can argue that it is, but you haven't yet, unless I missed something new from you recently. You've relied on your moral intuition. And that's why I believe there's some good in your grinch heart.

This is starting to feel like a cheesy Christmas movie... A Squidmas Carol, perhaps?

Yes, it is morally necessary that children not starve to death. You see, the difference between me and an anarchocapitalist is that I don't treat any moral principle as absolute. Coercion is prima facie wrong, but it is not absolutely wrong. I believe that government coercion is justified when it is demonstrably necessary to prevent massive human suffering. Hence, while war is a bad thing, it is legitimate to fight a war to defend oneself or one's allies from invasion, or to prevent genocide. While imprisonment is a bad thing, it is legitimate to imprison violent criminals who pose an immediate and continuing danger to the public. And while taxation is a bad thing, it is legitimate to levy taxes to alleviate the worst poverty and destitution.

But it remains a fact that you advocate coercive taxation based on something you can't justify to your own complete satisfaction. Given that fact, and given that you also can't find anything so wrong with your moral intuition as to justify abandoning it, perhaps you ought to be a bit more forgiving of my own calls for death panels redistribution of wealth.

As outlined above, I do justify coercive taxation in limited amounts, and to limited ends, as part of a coherent moral and political philosophy. However, I disagree with redistribution of wealth for redistribution's sake, for the simple reason that I do not trust government and its employees to decide who deserves what. Governments cannot allocate resources as effectively as a free market can. I argue that government intervention, on a limited scale, is legitimate in order to alleviate the worst human suffering. But I do not think that government is entitled to re-order the whole socio-economic structure in order to meet its conception of "justice".

In other words; we shouldn't let the poorest people starve, but nor should we try and create socio-economic equality. If we want an economically efficient and productive society, then we need to recognise that self-interest and greed are the engines which drive economic progress, and that the supply and demand mechanisms of the market are far more efficient than central planning in ensuring a supply of consumer goods. Yes, we should alleviate the worst effects of the market by giving humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable. But we should also accept inequality as a necessary fact of life, if we desire economic productivity to continue.

#758

Posted by: maureen brian | August 30, 2009 6:17 AM

Yes, but ............. the capacity for collective action plus altruism are among the key drivers of social progress. Should economic or technological progress and social progress get too far out of synch the we'd be heading for trouble with a capital T.

I would also caution Walton - or anyone else - to be wary of the sort of "humanitarian aid" which serves to keep the poorest exactly where they are, at the bottom of the heap with no means of escape. I've been in the poverty mitigation business and I know that some of the money - either from government or the generous (sic) private donor - was in fact paying me to keep the poor at a safe distance.

Examples of both problems in real life are legion. Putting one's head above the parapet with eyes open is all it takes to find them.

And now you must excuse me. I'm off to take my next generation on a tour of my alma mater. When I first went there vast numbers of people were arguing about (a) whether women could handle a university education and (b) whether the UK economy would ever need quite so many graduates. The target then was 8% of school leavers and it was nowhere to being achieved.

#759

Posted by: Knockgoats | August 30, 2009 6:28 AM

Walton,
Why do you continue to ignore the abundant evidence that increased socio-economic equality would reduce human suffering and increase human fulfilment? I really would appreciate a straight answer to this simple question.

#760

Posted by: Walton | August 30, 2009 6:33 AM

When I first went there vast numbers of people were arguing about... whether the UK economy would ever need quite so many graduates. The target then was 8% of school leavers and it was nowhere to being achieved.

Whereas now the rate is closer to 40%, many of whom graduate from former polytechnics with degrees in such useful fields as "media studies", "leisure studies", "leather technology" and the most fantastic joint honours degree I've ever seen: "Theology and Waste Management". As a result, government can no longer afford to subsidise tuition fees to the current extent, student debts are mounting, and we have vast numbers of graduates working in non-graduate jobs. Isn't New Labour fantastic?

Yes, but ............. the capacity for collective action plus altruism are among the key drivers of social progress. Should economic or technological progress and social progress get too far out of synch the we'd be heading for trouble with a capital T.

What do you define as "social progress", exactly? Economic and technological progress are very easy to define and quantify. "Social progress" is much harder to explain.

#761

Posted by: Sven DiMilo | August 30, 2009 6:37 AM

does anyone really want to suggest that there is not one black female evolutionary biologist on the planet who could do "about as well as" Dawkins (i.e. better than him in some ways, worse in others, but within the same fuzzy, smeared-out "ranking") at promoting atheism or evolution on a TV show?

There must be lots of articulate atheist women of African descent, but evolution? First, almost nobody ranks even fuzzily with Dawkins when it comes to explicating evolutionary biology on TV or in print, and second, I can't think of a single female African-American evolutionary biologist (and I know a lot of biologists). Would love to learn of some I don't know.

#762

Posted by: Knockgoats | August 30, 2009 6:47 AM

Now if you are prepared to abandon this language, you'll be reduced to arguing that it is not immoral to raise the top marginal tax rate to 100%, only that it might be inadvisable. - strange gods before me

For the reasons I have expressed above, I do contend that such a tax rate would be immoral. However, I don't need to establish that it is immoral in order to demonstrate that it is a bad idea, since it is entirely self-evident that such a policy would destroy the economy completely. - Walton

No, it is not "entirely self-evident"; it is simply your belief, founded on ideology, not evidence. During the decades after WWII, tax rates of (IIRC) up to 98% were in operation in some capitalist countries, without causing economic collapse or anything like it; and that was at a time when pre-tax incomes were less different than they are now.

#763

Posted by: John Morales | August 30, 2009 6:50 AM

Walton,

"Social progress" is much harder to explain.

But it's doable.

#764

Posted by: Knockgoats | August 30, 2009 7:09 AM

the most fantastic joint honours degree I've ever seen: "Theology and Waste Management". Walton

Well, I can see the sense in that - after all, what has 2,000 years of theology produced other than a lot of wasted time, effort, papyrus, parchment and paper? ;->

What do you define as "social progress", exactly? Economic and technological progress are very easy to define and quantify. "Social progress" is much harder to explain.

Actually, I think you'd find it harder than you imagine to define economic and technological progress if you actually tried. As for social progress, how about: increasing human freedom, opportunities for fulfilment and healthy lifespan - paying particular attention to those who have least of these things now - and reducing suffering.

#765

Posted by: 'Tis Himself, Quel Dommage Author Profile Page | August 30, 2009 7:23 AM

Walton,

Governments cannot allocate resources as effectively as a free market can.

And your evidence for this is what? Your hatred and fear of government? Your innate disdain for the social contract. Your animosity towards cooperative groups that aren't profit driven? Your love of capitalists and corporations? The dictates of your political mentors?

#766

Posted by: Walton | August 30, 2009 7:31 AM

Actually, I think you'd find it harder than you imagine to define economic and technological progress if you actually tried.

Not really. Higher real GDP (adjusted for inflation), more disposable income, lower unemployment, and lower cost of living / more availability of cheap consumer goods, are all quantifiable signs of economic progress. Similarly, technological progress is self-evident; we can today build more efficient, more effective, and cheaper machines than we could in the past. (Look at the computer on which you're typing, and compare its specifications to those of a computer of equivalent price ten years ago.) All these things demonstrably enhance individuals' quality of life.

By contrast, "social progress" is a nebulous concept that means different things to different people. You and I might feel, for instance, that the increasing acceptance of gay rights, and the greater degree of sexual freedom generally, in modern Western society are signs of social progress. Piltdown Man, however, would certainly disagree. What seems like social progress to one person might seem like social regression to another.

Similarly, I might argue that the greater degree of economic freedom and opportunities for entrepreneurship in Britain since the 1980s constitute "social progress". You would doubtless argue the exact opposite: that the higher level of inequality and reduced redistribution of wealth constitute social regression. The point is that "social progress" is a highly subjective notion that depends on the individual's moral values.

#767

Posted by: 'Tis Himself, Quel Dommage Author Profile Page | August 30, 2009 7:43 AM

I suspect that Walton's inability to judge social progress derives from his dislike of society.

I'm going to play trans-Atlantic armchair psychologist for a bit. Walton is an insecure, socially inept introvert.* He's not comfortable with other people. Combined with his political conservatism, libertarianism, the cult of the individual, becomes quite attractive to him. He doesn't like how other people intrude on his personal space and government can be quite intrusive. He does recognize that at least some governmental functions are necessary, but why can't they do unobtrusively? Why can't they just leave him alone?

*He has his good qualities as well. He's intelligent, an excellent writer, and witty, among other things.

#768

Posted by: Walton Author Profile Page | August 30, 2009 7:57 AM

He has his good qualities as well. He's intelligent, an excellent writer, and witty, among other things.

Thank you.

#769

Posted by: John Morales | August 30, 2009 8:01 AM

'Tis, you make him sound like Arnold Rimmer! ;)

#770

Posted by: Knockgoats | August 30, 2009 8:13 AM

Walton,
Economic progress is not as easy to define as you make out. If GDP and the availability of more consumer goods come at the expense of the depletion of irreplaceable resources, is that economic progress? I imagine you would say so, but I would not. You have a better case for technological progress - but it's by no means as obvious as you think that today's desktop machine is better than the one I had 15 years ago, which was faster for most routine tasks, because it wasn't cluttered up with additional functions I either never use, or only need because technological advances have made the machine vulnerable to viruses, trojans, etc.

#771

Posted by: Carlie | August 30, 2009 8:53 AM

I can't think of a single female African-American evolutionary biologist (and I know a lot of biologists).

They probably have a hard time getting any research done because their departments keep pushing them to be the rep. on the university diversity committee and to advise all of the minority students in the school. [/snark, but with a serious point]

#772

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 30, 2009 8:53 AM

What do you mean by "more"? We're saying the ones who are are largely (or at least relatively) being ignored. You're refusing to acknowledge their existence
I see a logical incoherence there. How can I say more while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge their existence?
Some of us are angry about that and want to change it. What don't you get about this?
That there is disparaging of the voices there now. That's what I don't get about this. I get that there is the desire to be more social change
This is profoundly naive, and after this thread I almost have to say disingenuous. You're ignoring every aspect of white male privilege here (can you honestly believe that everyone is equally in a position to thrust him- or herself into the spotlight?).
No, I don't believe that everyone is equally in a position to thrust themselves into the spotlight. Yes, there's inequity and it may be if Sam Harris was black or gay or a woman, he may have had more difficulty. It also happened to come out after 9/11, where the cultural environment was right for such a book. Right person, right place, right message and right time.

I agree with you that there are inequalities. I'm not saying that it would be just as easy for a woman or a non-white male to get into the position as easily as a white male.

I'm willing to take you at your word that you mean well, even if you don't see how your "suggestions" serve to justify and perpetuate the status quo rather than the opposite.
See, this is where I think that I'm being misrepresented. I want to see the status quo challenged, not perpetuated. To me, that's done through action, through being vocal and taking a stand. From my perspective, being vocal and forcing yourself to be counted is the best way to break the status quo.

I go to a sceptic lecture every month and the majority of people there are white and male. Barely any non-white men or women (and the women who are there tend to be older). I would love to see more women at these events, to see more women in the sceptic movement in general.

Do you listen to the SGU by any chance? If so, did you hear the interview a few weeks ago with one of the Skepchicks on this issue? If so, what did you think of what she was saying?

#773

Posted by: Kel, OM | August 30, 2009 9:00 AM

'Tis, you make him sound like Arnold Rimmer! ;)
Now every time walton posts, I'm going to have this going through my head.
#774

Posted by: strange gods before me | August 30, 2009 9:14 AM

This is starting to feel like a cheesy Christmas movie... A Squidmas Carol, perhaps?

I was thinking It's a Wagn'nagl Life. I worry for you, you know. You wouldn't be happy turning into Mr Potter, evicting the Black Goat and her Thousand Young to live in the streets.

Yes, it is morally necessary that children not starve to death.

And whyyyy is that? You don't think you can just bullshit your way past me and my long memory, do you? Walton in Springtime:

The reality is, I don't have a really coherent, well-thought-out justification for drawing the line where I draw it. It just seems morally right that there should be some provision of basic welfare so that the poor and unfortunate don't starve to death. ...

I can't rationally justify it.

But for all the cold, hard rationality in the world, I can't advocate letting poor children starve. However compelling the ideological justification. On a visceral level, I know and you know that giving a child a meal - whether his parents have earned it or not - is the right thing to do.

You feel that it's wrong to let children starve. I agree with you. But let's not kid ourselves. Basic welfare for the poor actually does constitute 're-ordering the whole socio-economic structure in order to meet our conception of "justice".' You can't seriously compare welfare now with the poverty of the 1800s and come to any other conclusion. It was a massive reengineering of society, one that you've become accustomed to, and comparatively happy with, I note, but a massive reengineering nonetheless.

I believe that government coercion is