“The Bonobo and the Atheist”, Frans de Waal on Atheists Talk »« How the Internet Fits In

Getting at the Differences

The dialog has reached the point at which it becomes a dialog. The opening statements and a thread for discussion are up. The relevant links so far:

My response to Jack Smith’s opening statement is also printed below. I’ve deleted his comment numbering so there is no confusion on which numbers a commenter is responding to here. If you wish to comment at the dialog site, please follow the guidelines. Making the moderators do more work just isn’t cool. Thanks.

The subject of this opening strand, first of 5 strands, is: “How we can work together on core issues on which we broadly agree, including promoting reason, critical thinking, science, skepticism, atheism and secularism in the real world”.

I speak as an individual member of “the atheist/skeptic community” and recognize that other members of that community will not agree with me, or not on every point. What I say here is consistent with my understanding of core features of atheism and skepticism.

The primary purpose of this dialogue is to find common cause on which we can ‘work together’ while accepting diverse political and social beliefs. We first need to identify core areas of agreement and of disagreement. I think the following are core to atheism and skepticism and have served the community well for many years; on which of these do we agree, and on which do we disagree?

1. I agree that this is a fair characterization of the purpose of this portion of the dialog. I think it would be useful to define the term “community” wherever it is used, however, as it is often a source of confusion.

We stand for equality for all. We believe that all humans should be treated equally as people, with no inherent superiority of one over the other, as there is no rational basis for such claims of inherent superiority. Addressing areas of inequality such as seen in religions, cultures, and laws is done on the basis of these principles.

2a. I agree with some reservations. The first reservation is that treating people all the same is not the same thing as treating people equally. This becomes obvious when one sees arguments from opponents of marriage equality who claim that everyone is already treated equally under the law because everyone already has an equal opportunity to marry someone of the opposite sex. Prescriptions for equal treatment that don’t include consideration of how different people want to be treated are not merely meaningless but likely to drive away people who could, and other circumstances would, be happy to work with us.

2b. The second reservation is that treating people equally has–and as far as anthropology and primatology are currently telling us, have always had–exceptions carved out for those people who act in ways that damage the community (at whatever level “community” is defined for the purpose). We in industrialized societies tend to agree that this description should include people who are overly physically aggressive and cheaters. There is less agreement on what other violations of the social contract may also fairly invite sanctions.

We seek to establish real truths from untruths, for without this discernment we end up with religions, dogmas, and demagogues poisoning our society. We establish truth through the application of logic, evidence-based reasoning, critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific inquiry. Our competence in this truth-seeking endeavour is the most valuable asset we have.

3a. I agree and disagree. We don’t only seek truth for reasons that are that dramatic or noble. The basic reason we seek truth is that, without it, we’re flailing ineffectually in the dark. Curiosity drives us to seek truth. The desire to predict and control the world around us drives us to seek truth.

3b. Additionally, “dogma” here seems to be used in a limited sense that may cause confusion later if not unpacked now. On top of the common meaning of “a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds“, “dogma” is also that set of common agreements or principles that underlie our work. For example, the Freedom From Religion Foundation treats the desirability of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as dogma. That idea is the foundation of their work, and they don’t devote energy to exploring whether the idea is true. Dogma is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it escapable. Any dogma must be examined on its own to determine whether it is problematic.

Photo of white researcher drawing blood from black subject. Two others look on smiling.3c. I am unwilling to put competence at truth-seeking above other–I’ll call them “virtues” for lack of a better word. It is certainly important, but making it our primary consideration has come to be recognized as a bad idea. Placing the collection of knowledge above all else was the kind of thinking that led to the Tuskegee experiment. Researchers uncovered a great deal of truth about the progression of untreated syphilis, but they did so at the cost of the health and lives of people who did not volunteer to be sacrificed for truth. In response to this and other travesties, we’ve instituted safeguards intended to curb unchecked truth-seeking. Putting truth-seeking above ethics and compassion is deeply troubling.

In our pursuit of truth, we must test our beliefs in the forum of open and free debate. Nothing is left off the table; all claims can — and sometimes must — be fully examined and tested to determine the best evidence, arguments, and explanations. We can do this without rancour or dismissal and it is a key requirement in achieving our objectives: freeing this world of the terrible injustices we see all around us.

4a. I’m not sure who “we” is supposed to represent here. I can’t tell precisely what this is advocating for, so I’ll cover the most likely interpretations. If this is a statement that the scientific process should be as open as possible–given the ethical constraints I’ve already discussed–I generally agree. Where I disagree in that case is that science is supposed to be a cumulative process. Once consensus has been reached on a particular topic through that process, it’s typically time to shelve that topic and move on until we come across information that doesn’t fit the models. Continuing to study geocentric models of planetary and stellar motion at this point would not advance our pursuit of truth. Debate does not go on forever on a topic without the introduction of substantial new information.

4b. If this is intended to suggest that individuals must test all their beliefs through debate and that this process will lead to understanding the truth, I strongly disagree. When people who are taught to debate are taught to be equally comfortable taking either side of an argument, we are looking at a process designed for winning, not truth. If we want to arrive at truth through give-and-take, we need a more collaborative process in which the goal is not to win.

4c. Additionally, we have long since passed the point at which every person could be well educated on every topic for which we have accumulated evidence, if such a time ever existed. I could debate with someone on whether a call made in a hockey game was a good one, but since I don’t know much about the rules of hockey, debate would not be productive. What would be productive is listening to expert consensus (or disagreement) on the topic or pursuing a course of education. When discussion is used as a pedagogical tool, it is guided by someone who is educated on the topic.

4d. It is also frequently reasonable to expect that the uninformed opinion will be dismissed. When the crank sends their “theory of everything” letter to physics departments at universities around the world, we do not expect the physicists there to suspend their research and/or their teaching in order to carefully rebut the letter. We expect them to throw it away or keep it to laugh over. The presence of an idea is not enough to compel debate on that idea.

We recognize that personal feelings have limited utility when determining objective reality. However, this does not ignore the fact that emotion and personal experiences are crucial components of being human and determining values. Further, these are important components in supporting cohesion and unity within our community.

5. I agree.

We believe that ethics is a valid area for discussion and debate While morality is an important part of our lives, by its nature it is highly subjective and dependent on values. We therefore feel, in the interests of mutual cooperation, that it is appropriate to consider the best in others, give the benefit of the doubt, and assume others are acting in good faith.

6a. I agree with reservations. I’m not sure what the last sentence has to do with the first two, so I’ll treat it as unrelated for the purposes of this reply. My reservation on debating ethics is that, as with any other sort of debate or discussion, will generally be most productive if done, or at least led, by people trained to debate ethics. This is a field that has experts. We should make use of them.

6b. I agree that making immediate judgments about those we are dealing with is not helpful. I agree that when one can, one should generally err on the side of charity in judgment. At the same time, however, not everyone is in the same position to risk that kind of error. Sometimes the consequences to trusting and having that trust betrayed are too much. Given this, it also behooves those who desire to be trusted to create an environment in which risks are reduced.

We believe that in order for us to be effective we should strive to avoid:

Imposing political or social beliefs on others. We can of course form our own social and political groups within the movement but they have no inherent right to impose those beliefs on others.

7. I am confused by this statement. I don’t understand how people are able to impose their beliefs on others in this context.

Attributing motives or character traits on others. Ad Hominem fallacies serve no good purpose in reasonable dialogue.

8a. I agree with reservations. The more interactions we have with people, the more information we have about how they behave. Granting some charity and proceeding cautiously in how we interpret this knowledge is one thing. Declining to draw any conclusions from it is quite another and not productive in our search to understand and be effective in the world around us.

8b. Additionally, I have some concerns that ad hominem argumentation not be confused with insults or observations relevant to an argument, but that can be discussed later if necessary.

Dismissing others in a dialogue if they do not follow our own beliefs. Our strength is in our diversity. We should try to work together, irrespective of differences of opinion, as long as equality for all remains a core principle.

9. I generally disagree with this. I do agree that diversity is a strength, but that is not the same thing as claiming that we all must work closely enough together that we are in dialog. To borrow an aphorism, sometimes good fences do make good neighbors. Sometimes we simply accomplish more by limiting the amount of time we spend in conflict with each other.

Commenting on others without accepting a right of reply. The right of reply is fundamental to any open society. If we criticise others then others have the right to respond to that without being personally attacked for doing so.

10. I agree with reservations. This is more generally covered under free speech and, thus, is subject to the same restrictions that other speech is. I’m not sure what “personally attacked” is meant to mean here, but I will note that a stipulated “right of reply” would not be a right to have one’s reply be the last word in a discussion or a right to not be criticized for the form or content of the reply.

Ignoring the feelings of others. However we should not use our feelings to shut down valid and genuine debate and discussion. How many times have we heard theists say we should never attack their beliefs as it hurts their feelings? Allowing this would put us into a position where we are hostages of our own making.

11. I agree that it will not help us to work together to ignore the feelings of those with whom we’re working. I am confused as to what “valid and genuine debate and discussion” is intended to describe. I don’t think this can be discussed until we agree on the circumstances in which debate is useful (see #4 above).

Shutting down all forms of criticism. Criticism has been a mainstay of free debate for hundreds of years. Satire, caricature and critical commentary are a valid human response to any issue and have been for millennia. it’s even on the walls of ancient Pompeii. While everyone has the right to their own protected spaces that does not provide the right to censor others outside those spaces.

12a. As with imposing beliefs, I am confused as how this censorship is supposed to be accomplished. I don’t know of anyone in our overlapping movements with the power and reach to shut down “all forms of criticism”.

12b. I agree that satire, caricature, and critical commentary are common human responses. I am unsure, however, what “valid” is meant to convey in this context. All these things can be illuminating or can serve to obscure the truth. They can be proportional, productive, reasonable–or none of those things. They are all simply means of communication. Talking about them collectively tells us nothing about their content, and this is the important part of any communication.

We see the issues as a clash of ideas between those who wish to impose a particular political and social ideology, and those who wish to maintain the rationalist principles that have served us well for so many years. This kind of imposition will necessarily divide the movement and weaken it. It will set up an ‘us vs. them’ mentality which distracts from our core aims. It will alienate our friends and allies who would otherwise wish to support us, but will be discouraged if they do not hold the same political beliefs. It will impose unelected political leaders and encourage schisms.

13a. I have a number of problems with this point. Above, it was suggested that attributing motives is unhelpful, yet this entire view of the conflict is predicated upon ascribing motives to others. Additionally, even if anyone wished to impose any ideology, it has not been demonstrated that this could be done. I don’t see anything to be gained in opposing a hypothetical that is also, as far as I can tell, impossible.

13b. The extent to which any fundamental disagreement can distract from a movement’s work is the extent to which the parties involved insist that the issue must be continually debated. The secular and skeptical movements already contain several fundamental disagreements that were successfully resolved by schism. Working apart much of the time allows us to work toward common goals even when we have conflicts, as I noted in my opening statement. Beyond that, not insisting that there be constant friction let’s us more easily work in concert when the need for numbers arises.

13c. I am also unclear on how this idea of “unelected political leaders” is supposed to happen. Is this intended to refer to being persuasive? If so, I fail to see the problem, particularly in movements that value skepticism and rationality.

People with similar interests will tend to congregate and should have spaces in which they can communicate and work together cooperatively. We do not seek to control anyone’s space, the policies in others’ spaces, or their expression of their beliefs and values. However, when people in one such space criticize or challenge other people, we feel it’s important for them to accept rebuttal or presentation of counter-evidence in accordance with the core principles outlined above.

14. I disagree. Accepting rebuttal in the same space that a criticism was made is at most a courtesy. It is neither an ethical imperative in our world of easy access to publishing nor a universal practice. As a courtesy, it is expected that it will be taken away when abused. When we criticize creationists, we are not required to host a Gish Gallop in return. Those who write about antisemitism should be under no pressure to publish racist comments. When we criticize a climate change denialist, we are not required to allow them to spread their astroturfed disinformation in our space. No less than the blogs editor for Scientific American routinely deletes comments from denialists of multiple stripes. These are extreme examples, but they do illustrate the general point.

Failure to reach a common ground on these issues puts at risk our efforts in achieving our common goals.

15. I disagree. Again, we do not have to work closely together to work on common goals.

We can work together by following the principles core to atheism/skepticism and remembering we are each and all fallible humans, each with one life to live and with an equal right to self-determination. We owe it to those who are hurting, suffering, and dying in this big wide world of ours.

16a. I agree that we should follow our principles. I agree that we should remember we are each fallible. I agree that we have an equal right to self-determination. I am unsure how having just one life fits into this list or how most of these fit in with working together. I would request further elaboration.

16b. Promoting reason, critical thinking, science, skepticism, atheism, and secularism is worthwhile, necessary work. I would disagree that any individual owes it to anyone to do specifically this work. There is other humanitarian work that is just as necessary and just as worthwhile. One of our challenges going forward is making people feel that ours is the worthwhile, necessary work on which they want to spend their time.

I welcome your comments about this statement and your efforts to help the atheist/skeptic community identify and hopefully expand our “common ground”.

17. I welcome your comments in return.

Comments

  1. says

    All these words…so many of them. Most designed to provide a smoke screen to enable people to continue to behave badly.

    Let’s simplify.

    1. If you disagree with someone’s position on politics, equality, or any other subject, address the argument. Use as much colorful language as you want — without attacking the person making the argument.

    2. The minute you resort to attacking the person instead of the person’s arguments, you’re engaging in anti-intellectual, anti-rational, anti-skeptical behavior, and you deserved to have that bad behavior called to your attention.

    3. Calling such attacks “satire” does not give you a free pass to continue your bad behavior. It only demonstrates you don’t know what “satire” is.

    4. Such behavior also serves to effectively invalidate your arguments — if you have any.

    5. The way to get back on the correct side of intellect, reason, and skepticism is to say “I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

    6. Absent an apology, there is no reason to lend credence to anything else you have to say, or to “work together” on any project of importance.

    So simple even slyme can understand — if they choose to.

  2. doubtthat says

    An additional complaint about this one:

    We see the issues as a clash of ideas between those who wish to impose a particular political and social ideology, and those who wish to maintain the rationalist principles that have served us well for so many years.

    On a neutral reading, I think you’ve dealt with the problems this point presents, but when the vague language is instantiated with the factual history, it’s obvious that this is a ridiculous dichotomy between the “True Rationalists” and dogmatic political groups (meaning feminists).

    I hold certain political beliefs because a rational method of inquiry has lead to those conclusions. I then argue those points exactly as I argue against dowsers and 9-11 conspiracy nuts and homeopaths. What I read in that complaint is a request for a special exception: that scientific and rational reasoning not be applied to the political beliefs of certain members of the atheist/skeptic community.

    Sorry, not gonna do that. Libertarian economic fantasy, for example, can and should be dealt with exactly as we deal with global warming deniers. That’s not an “imposition” of belief (and Stephanie did a great job repeatedly pointing out how empty that complain is).

  3. says

    doubthat: It’s also quite telling that they don’t list any of those “rationalist principles”, isn’t it?

    Do rationalist principles include:
    * Photoshopping someone’s head on a goat? Cuz it’s “satire”…lolz?
    * Calling someone a “cunt” over and over again? And wishing that said person be kicked there?
    * Waging an ongoing war of harassment against someone who had the temerity to not go to someone’s room for “coffee”? And to declare in public that she didn’t think that kind of invitation wasn’t such a great pick-up strategy?
    * Trying to define away a problem by coming up with bizarrely incorrect and illogical definitions of terms like “harassment”?
    * Denying a problem with harassment at your event after having dealt with an instance of harassment IN PERSON?

    And on and on, of course.

    The mind boggles. There is not one — zero, none, not any — instance of use of “rationalist principles” I can point to from the slymy side. It’s all vindictiveness and personal vendettas and schoolyard bullying.

  4. smhll says

    Thank you for saying this (below). It deserves to be said twice.


    4d. It is also frequently reasonable to expect that the uninformed opinion will be dismissed. When the crank sends their “theory of everything” letter to physics departments at universities around the world, we do not expect the physicists there to suspend their research and/or their teaching in order to carefully rebut the letter. We expect them to throw it away or keep it to laugh over. The presence of an idea is not enough to compel debate on that idea.

  5. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Criticism has been a mainstay of free debate for hundreds of years. Satire, caricature and critical commentary are a valid human response to any issue and have been for millennia. it’s even on the walls of ancient Pompeii.

    Is that an argument from tradition in favor of freethought? That’s spectacular.
    Yeah, I know it’s not the point.

  6. says

    It may just be a side effect of philosophical training, but I wonder if “rationalist” is really the label they want. Rationalism says that how we get reliable knowledge is through introspection and deep thought. Plato was a rationalist. Descartes was a rationalist. The stance that has stood in opposition to rationalism is empiricism (which says that our knowledge of the world is gotten through careful observation of that world).

    Then again, given the habit of dismissing other people’s experiences from first principles, maybe they are rationalists.

  7. says

    Yes. In both of the posts I’ve done so far, I’ve originally written something about rationalism versus empiricism. Both times, I’ve deleted it. I can’t tell whether it’s relevant myself, particularly based on the idea that debate is everything. I’ll keep charitably assuming they mean to invoke empiricism unless it looks like a sticking point, though.

  8. says

    It’s possible they just dig 50 cent words and haven’t taken much time to work out how other people generally use them.

    I’ll confess, though, that I may occasionally contribute to the creation of Deep Rifts around accepted usage. (“Very unique!” “GO TO HELL!”) So I’ll keep it here rather than adding one more element to stress out moderators there.

  9. says

    using “rationalism” as a word for “the ideology of being reasonable about stuff instead of irrational” has taken pretty deep hold in the skeptic/atheist community. It really is often used as a synonym for “skepticism” and “commitment to reasonableness”. Probably not a point worth dealing with in this dialogue, since it’s completely besides the point.

  10. LeftSidePositive says

    I’ve got to say, I still think it’s a huge mistake to give this dogwhistling the legitimacy of a polite reply. The “charitable” interpretation of these words necessitates ignoring a lot of evidence for how the harassers and their apologists have used these terms and what they try to sweep into these terms. If anyone has time, I would find it much to go through chapter and verse and show how they have used these terms/turns of phrase, what they tried to defend using them, and ask them directly if they are still defending that behavior now. Or would that be too “uncharitable” for this debate? Is this debate so moderated that the very content of the debate is off the table?

  11. says

    LSP, the politeness bugs you, you can detox by reading mine. I promise I was neither charitable nor polite :-p
    http://wp.me/pTQEs-m6

    anyway, I notice Stephanie managed to make some of the same points as I did even with politeness and charitability and civility and whatnot; whether they’ll be noticed is a separate issue.

  12. LeftSidePositive says

    Jadehawk,

    That was a very good going-over. here’s mine if you haven’t seen it. I think we covered most of the same stuff, but I especially liked your insight that their privilege defensiveness was essentially a refusal to let their own core ideas be questioned.

  13. says

    and on the other hand, here’s something from Stephanie’s opening statement that I think wasn’t true. I wish it were, but I don’t think it really is:

    We recognize the physicist and the sociologist

    I wish that were actually true, but sociologists and the social sciences in general get treated like shit in the atheist/skeptical community. The only time they get any respect is when they come out of the mouth of a conservative sociologist/social scientist who wants to “Disavow this toxic callout culture” and “Promote credentialed expertise” in place of experience with SJ activism

  14. doubtthat says

    @6 docfreeride, and 7 Stephanie Zvan

    I think you should absolutely deal with that distinction. Every time I’ve indulged these folks and acquiesced to a discussion “on the merits,” I end up saying some variation of “what evidence do you have for that claim,” over and over and over.

    At Nugent’s blog I asked a self-identified pitter, “What does the word “empiricism” mean to you and do you think it’s at all relevant to being a skeptic?”

    The reply was, “I’m not quite sure what it means other than “asbolute.””

    I also was treated to this beauty from a different pitter (once again, self-identified): “We don’t need citations and studies to know that different people have different motivations for the same action; it’s common knowledge.”

    They honest to goodness argue against the very basis of what we understand as reasoned inquiry, then whine incessantly about “dogmatic feminists” and the like.

    So much of their group mythology is based on the idea that they are the True Skeptics — rational on all levels, not affected by those petty emotions plaguing “gender feminists” — and they regularly prove that they have absolutely no idea how to properly approach a topic.

    I think docfreeride explained most of their position with that historical reference: they know by the power of reflection, and those nasty facts can only get in the way.

  15. doubtthat says

    I also wanted to point out the inherent malice, whether conscious or not, contained in the concept of (1) demanding a right of reply from one’s opponents and (2) demanding that one’s opponents stop “imposing” their politics.

    This reads very much like, “I get to say what I want, but you don’t get to say what you want.”

  16. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    doubtthat wrote:

    I also wanted to point out the inherent malice, whether conscious or not, contained in the concept of (1) demanding a right of reply from one’s opponents and (2) demanding that one’s opponents stop “imposing” their politics.

    Well, at least they’re being (somewhat) honest about what they really want, since I’ve been saying all along there are two real reasons for their asshole crusade: 1) they believe that their genius is so profound it’s an injustice for bloggers to deny them the right to an audience for that; and 2) we don’t care about feminism so shut up and go back to telling us how much better we are than ther religionists.

    Hiding it behind facile, pseudo-rational blather doesn’t change that.

  17. doubtthat says

    I go back and forth on the stupid-lying spectrum with that one.

    After Nugent’s effort, I’m pretty confident that they just have no idea how incoherent and self-serving their position is. I think they honestly believe that they’re the fair brokers of discussion and cannot, for a sheer lack of cognitive ability, see the contradictions in their position, nor how desperately they’re clinging to some special exception from criticism (while, of course, they claim that it’s the feminists who can’t handle argument…no, it’s just that the battle has been fought and won on intellectual grounds — we’re just tired of listening to a limbless black knight explain how he’d give us what-for if only he had the chance).

    All that high-minded, sanctimonious blather, and right there at the base is the whining about having their politics challenged — you can’t do that, but by GOD, you must listen to my horse-shit.

  18. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    I have a theory that it’s a misunderstanding of what critical thinking actually is.

    The ‘pitters and their ilk have been told that atheism is the result of critical thinking (which is sometimes, but not always, true) and have therefore decided that, because they are atheists, they must also be critical thinkers. Therefore, every opinion they have – feminism is bad, free speech means being able to comment anywhere you want and not be banned/blocked etc. – is justifiable because of it.

    It’s a bizarre concept, I admit – but it seems to fit the circumstances, particularly when it comes to the astonishing amounts of desperate rationalisations we’ve seen presented as justifications for their antics.

  19. says

    “Or, if one thinks enough effort has been spent on rebuttal, simply ignoring them.” -Ron Lindsay

    At some point we all get to determine that enough discussion has been had and that more is not worth it.

    An excerpt from my lengthy response to Jack Smith. I ended up not posting it on the site, but thought I might post this snippet here.

    “Taking rationalism as your side and those imposing social/political ideology on the other side is one perspective and not mine. When minority voices attempt to be heard, traditionalist voices push back with arguments about how the status quo is fine and works for everyone. I see the current situation, in part, as traditionalists v. the voices of inclusion, tolerance, and acceptance.”

  20. says

    They’re doing the exact same thing as accommodationists and religionists. They’re drawing a line around their “political and social ideology”, and declaring that any criticism constitutes imposing one’s own ideology on them.

    Time to cut them loose =/

  21. carlie says

    I’ve got to say, I still think it’s a huge mistake to give this dogwhistling the legitimacy of a polite reply. The “charitable” interpretation of these words necessitates ignoring a lot of evidence for how the harassers and their apologists have used these terms and what they try to sweep into these terms.

    It’s a very good strategy for someone to do that, though. If you attack what they’re really meaning by the dogwhistles, they can shut it down by claiming that they meant only what they said and are totally innocent of any other meaning, and although it’s obvious they’re lying, at that point it’s difficult to do anything else. If you take their words at face value but still tear apart those statements, then there is nothing for them to rebut – you’re honestly taking their statements and showing how those statements are wrong, and they can’t then say that’s not what they meant, because then they’d have to reveal the badness that was what they really meant.

  22. Martha says

    Putting truth-seeking above ethics and compassion is deeply troubling.

    This, this, 10,000 times this! Doing so is every bit as objectionable as it is for religions to put tradition or institution above ethics and compassion. I don’t give a damn what people believe about the supernatural as long as they don’t use it to justify immoral behavior. I want absolutely no part in a movement whose sole purpose is to tell people they’re wrong about god. As far as I can tell from my year reading atheist blogs, belief in a supreme being and compassionate ethics are orthogonal systems. Religion has lumped them together, or perhaps pretended to. For the most part, that’s been an unsuccessful endeavor, but not without having provided some wisdom over the millennia.

    It seems to me that the Deep Rift separates those who wish to organize as a community of nonbelievers, and those who wish to work for a more just and compassionate world without invoking a theistic tradition. In this case, I refer not only to the harassers, who I think are a small minority of those on the other side of the rift, but of all those who wish to keep atheism separate from feminism, anti-racism, gay rights, income inequality, and other social justice concerns. Or to those who wish to restrict a skeptical viewpoint to a traditional subset of debates that does not include an evidence-based examination of social inequalities.

    I am willing to support and work with those on the other side of the rift who do not behave in socially unacceptable ways or tolerate such behavior within their organizations. I appreciate their support of science and of the separation of church and state. But I want no part of their unconcern for the often more pressing issues that affect so many people who happen not to believe in a supreme being– and their theistic families and friends.

  23. Martha says

    Now that I’m not rushing off to a meeting, I’d like to add one more thought: damn, Stephanie, you are really good at this!

    I don’t have much hope for the harassers, but I agree with carlie (#21) that it is useful to lay out these issues for the rest of the community. Those who come away still thinking both sides are equal have made a choice to remain on the other side of the schism, and good riddance to them.

  24. ewanmacdonald says

    I also wanted to point out the inherent malice, whether conscious or not, contained in the concept of (1) demanding a right of reply from one’s opponents and (2) demanding that one’s opponents stop “imposing” their politics.

    This reads very much like, “I get to say what I want, but you don’t get to say what you want.”

    The one good thing to come from this is that the intellectual bankruptcy of the ‘pitter side is now all but undeniable.

    I’m not sure if this was Michael Nugent’s intention but he’s given them enough rope to hang themselves.

    I can’t decide if it’s admirable or foolish that good people are giving this nonsense the time of day. I certainly wouldn’t have the patience for it.

  25. ewanmacdonald says

    And a point to Stephanie: you have called Jack Smith’s opening statement “their opening statement.” Michael Nugent has said that this is a discussion between individuals and not entities; it would be more accurate to call it “his” opening statement rather than “their” for this reason.

  26. says

    “Their” refers to the four or five people who contributed to that opening statement. Jack Smith took point for writing it after Gurdur dropped out, but it was a collaborative effort.

  27. ewanmacdonald says

    My mistake: I was ignorant of all that and I apologize for assuming.

    And I should have made it clear, as well, that you totally nailed it in your response. As much as I think this whole thing will result in no meaningful change, nobody can say you didn’t give it your best shot.

  28. maudell says

    I definitely think Mr. Smith is honestly well meaning and open to dialogue. However, it seems quite important to define most of the key words, as Stephanie pointed out. From having read so much b.s. about what the anti-sexism crowd supposedly really wants (ie the strawfeminist roasting “gender traitors” and demanding authoritarian “gender” radfem leaders to all atheists), I can’t help to see an echo of that behind the part about imposed ideology and dogma. Now, I don’t think Mr. Smith is bringing up the strawfeminist argument per se, but I wonder if “ideology” is code word for “feminism”, as it has often been.
    I could be wrong. It’s hard to disassociate statements from things that have happened over and over around here. Maybe it just means libertarianism or marxism. So far, it seems like we (atheists) are pretty good at separating various ideologies from a common goal. No one (or very few) became Irak war hawks because they liked Hitchens. It’s just not a thing.
    The reason I think feminism can’t be seen as an ideology in the sense I think is meant, is that we are talking about being inclusive (if “ideology” refers to its classical definition of “conceptual framework”, I’m ok with that). If we notice that people of different gender identities and people of different ethnic backgrounds (or other marginalized groups) want to be part of the movement but aren’t, we have to find out why. When those in question explain why, we should listen. Period. If there is such a staunch insistence not to, because history, the ideologues are not the ones seeking inclusion. It is those who deny a reality when presented with so much evidence.
    In the end, a lot of the recent “ceasefire” appeals have reminded me of the meme: “Democrats: 2+2=4; Republicans: 2+2=6; the media: 2+2=5″ (only there for the analogy, I am not a Democrat)
    I hope it leads somewhere.

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