Fact-checkers report for duty!


Jerome Taylor of the Independent seems to be remarkably under-informed on the subject he reports on.

They are often described as “The Unholy Trinity” – a trio of ferociously bright and pugilistic academics who use science to decimate what they believe to be the world’s greatest folly: religion.

But now Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are on the receiving end of stinging criticism from fellow liberal non-believers who say their particular brand of atheism has swung from being a scientifically rigorous attack on all religions to a populist and crude hatred of Islam.

No they’re not. They’re never described as “the Unholy Trinity” – he made that up.

And Hitchens wasn’t an academic.

And Taylor seems not to be aware that Hitchens is no longer among us.

He cites Dawkins’s undeniably bad habit of tweeting about large subjects. But…

“Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today,” the Cambridge evolutionary biologist wrote on 1 March.

Ya…There are only two. Would it have been that much trouble to find out that it is in fact the other one? Not Cambridge but the other one?

The rest of it is just the usual “new atheists” wharble garble, but I thought the mistakes were rather striking.

Comments

  1. says

    Why do the religiously motivated actions of Muslims require that one be well-versed in their holy book in order to condemn those actions? Especially when they involve rioting, bombing, beheading, mutilating and other forms of bad behavior?

    Would someone well-versed in the Koran not condemn those actions?

  2. Gretchen Robinson says

    Then there’s willed ignorance and intellectual laziness.
    It’s easy to put ideas that contradict your thesis out of mind. We
    can also ignore other evidence we simply don’t want to consider.
    We can even, in moments of feeling aggrieved or frustrated (or malice!)
    ignore our basic human commitment to communicate with integrity. We need
    to keep in mind and accord to others a basic respect
    for the human decency of those you are posting to–
    or about.

    Critical thinking skills have to be constantly brought to the fore.
    Atheists need to remember that, too. Or as my spouse always says,
    “think twice, speak once.”

  3. aziraphale says

    Kevin: the Quran contains “Let there be no compulsion in religion” but also “When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks…”. There is much scope for cherry-picking.

  4. Francisco Bacopa says

    Leave terrorism out of it. Pretend it doesn’t exist. Even with that, the general oppression of women, honor killings, enforcement of social norms by rape, extreme punishment of people who may or may not be criminals because there isn’t really such a thing as due process, all the shit in Bangladesh Taslima writes about; All of this thwarts human thriving. I would not call them evil because “evil” is a term that usually means “doing what God doesn’t want”, but these cultures hate themselves and their members, especially women.

    What Islamic countries do to their citizens is worse than almost anything that happened in Apartheid South Africa. It’s time to ban Saudi Arabia from international athletic competitions the way that South Africa was banned.

  5. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    Heh. I googled “unholy trinity” plus Dawkins Hitchens Harris and get about 8000 results – most of which are responding to a book by the unholy Vox Day titled The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, And Hitchens.

    So, yeah, they have at least once been called the “Unholy Trinity” but it’s definitely a failure by Jerome Taylor to casually state that they’re often described as such.

    For crying out loud, kangaroo Dawkins Hitchens Harris gets hundreds of times more results than the “unholy trinity” search does. This suggests that Taylor is not only biased against them but also is innumerate and is gravely lacking in curiosity. A bad combination for a supposedly-independent journalist.

    Funny, there doesn’t seem to be a way to comment on Jerome Taylor’s ridiculous column directly at The Independent.

  6. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    Oops, forgot to preview, and of course that’s the time I screw up the italic tag. Sorry.

    What’s that internet rule about correcting someone else’s spelling/grammar and then making a mistake of your own in the process? Yep, another data point in support …

  7. Stacy says

    It was a really lazy piece of writing. Really a shorter version of the Glenn Greenwald article in The Guardian

    Don’t think it’s fair to compare the two. Glenn Greenwald’s piece was an articulate and (it seems to me) well-supported argument that Harris is Islamophobic–meaning that he has a particular, irrational animus towards Muslims as a group which has caused him to say some deeply stupid things and promote some deeply stupid policies.

    This is just a lazy piece of reporting.

  8. Anonymous Atheist says

    I’d speculate that a likely reason he’d think they’re ‘often’ described as (or even know that they’ve ever been described as) something which they were really only described as by the title of one lousy book, could be that perhaps he read/owns that lousy book himself?

  9. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    Ophelia, thanks for fixing my italic tag. All better now.

  10. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    @Stacy

    Greenwald loves to smear people by association. His headline “Sam Harris, the New Atheists, and anti-Muslim animus” is pretty typical example thereof. Of course he presents a case only for Sam Harris, who like all non-believers stands on his own two feet. In the past he has routinely linked mere criticism of Islam to Islamophobic violence.

  11. says

    Stacy #9:

    Don’t think it’s fair to compare the two. Glenn Greenwald’s piece was an articulate and (it seems to me) well-supported argument that Harris is Islamophobic–meaning that he has a particular, irrational animus towards Muslims as a group which has caused him to say some deeply stupid things and promote some deeply stupid policies.

    And one must love the impetus for said piece:

    Shortly after posting the tweet, I received an angry email from Harris, who claimed that Hussain’s column was “garbage”, and he eventually said the same thing about Lean’s column in Salon. That then led to a somewhat lengthy email exchange with Harris in which I did not attempt to defend every claim in those columns from his attacks because I didn’t make those claims: the authors of those columns can defend themselves perfectly well. If Harris had problems with what those columns claim, he should go take it up with them.

    Attacking someone who basically RTed the articles rather than the authors themselves, and in private nonetheless. Such swipes at low-hanging fruit must surely be the marker of rationality and free inquiry.

    And speaking of markers of rationality and free inquiry…

    Rebekah, the Wily Jew #12:

    Greenwald loves to smear people by association. His headline “Sam Harris, the New Atheists, and anti-Muslim animus” is pretty typical example thereof. Of course he presents a case only for Sam Harris, who like all non-believers stands on his own two feet. In the past he has routinely linked mere criticism of Islam to Islamophobic violence.

    I love how you just assert that Greenwald is wrong without actually rebutting any of the points he makes.

    (And we atheists claim to have no gods or priests or dogma…)

  12. Acolyte of Sagan says

    hotshoe, now with more boltcutters
    April 19, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Oops, forgot to preview, and of course that’s the time I screw up the italic tag. Sorry.

    What’s that internet rule about correcting someone else’s spelling/grammar and then making a mistake of your own in the process

    That’s no new-fangled interweb rule, it’s Sod’s Law in action. Briefly, Sod’s Law states that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong, and always at the most inopportune moment.

  13. moleatthecounter says

    Captain Blackadder: I then leapt on the opportunity to test you. I asked if he’d been to one of the great universities, Oxford, Cambridge, or Hull…

  14. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    @”Setár, genderqueer Elf-Sheriff of Atheism+”

    And speaking of markers of rationality and free inquiry…Rebekah, the Wily Jew #12:

    My, my. Somebody is pissy that I criticsed Greenwald.

    I love how you just assert that Greenwald is wrong without actually rebutting any of the points he makes.

    You need to work on your basic reading comprehension. I asserted that “Greenwald loves to smear people by association” and then immediately provided evidence for that in his headline. I said he made a case for Harris alone, not other New Atheists. Nowhere do I say he was “wrong” on Harris. I could have continued to add examples, like Greenwald constantly using charges of racism to smear Islam’s critics.

    I(And we atheists claim to have no gods or priests or dogma…)

    Interestingly your kneejerk response is exactly like Greenwald and his fawning groupies at CiF, who assumed that any challenge to Greenwald’s points make people ‘Harris supporters’ or obliges us to defend Harris’ comments in some way. You can see Greenwald himself using that tactic in the comments there. The possibility of disagreeing with both Harris and him does not exist for Greenwald, which exemplifies my problem with his worldview. But see how you rushed to his defence…

  15. says

    Rebekah #17:

    My, my. Somebody is pissy that I criticsed Greenwald.

    My, my. Somebody feels the need to implicitly dismiss the legitimacy of my criticisms by claiming they are based in emotional reactions rather than rational analysis. We certainly are starting off well here, at least, those of us who have Condescending Regressive/Libertarian* Silencing Bingo cards in hand.

    I asserted that “Greenwald loves to smear people by association” and then immediately provided evidence for that in his headline.

    Actually, no. What you did was pay lip service to providing evidence by referring back to the article in question. Your claim was that Greenwald “loves” to do that — you require more than just one article to make that assessment. Especially when you’ve already made it clear you don’t like the content of the article you’re citing as “evidence”, which reeks of confirmation bias if not outright cherry-picking. Find more examples or withdraw your claim.

    I said he made a case for Harris alone, not other New Atheists.

    This ignores the second and third updates Greenwald posted, where he answers that very objection. This statement is false. Withdraw it immediately.

    Nowhere do I say he was “wrong” on Harris.

    Hyper-literalism will not help you. Regardless of what specific words were in your post, the implication was that Greenwald’s criticisms are made wrong or otherwise less valuable because of what you said. That’s the entire point of persuasive argument, which you don’t get to run away from just because it doesn’t suit your exercise in intellectual one-upmanship position.

    …using charges of racism to smear…

    And that direct transposition of a Slymepit argument (charges of being *-ist/*-phobic as smears) has given me BINGO!

    Thank you.

    Interestingly your kneejerk response…

    Dismissal of legitimacy through claims of emotional basis again? You mean I get to start another card?

    …exactly like Greenwald and his fawning groupies at CiF, who assumed that any challenge to Greenwald’s points make people ‘Harris supporters’ or obliges us to defend Harris’ comments in some way.

    -marks “hivemind/groupthink”-

    But see how you rushed to his defence…

    A hat-trick on dismissal via claims of emotional basis! I wonder what kind of hat I should get myself.

    Oh, and I get to mark another space on my card because for all of your “criticism” of Greenwald you haven’t once directly quoted him while making claims about his arguments, in fact, you made a blatantly false statement that reads as false to anyone who has read the article.

    I mean. I’d say this means you’re strawmanning, but you aren’t even arguing against a position at all. You’re just telling Greenwald to shut up and then accusing those who point that out of doing that to you, as though some flashy rhetoric and a dismissive tone somehow turns your pile of steaming bullshit into valuable criticisms.

    * – and if I didn’t add this at the bottom, I’d have bet that you’d quote mine that and continue on your little “groupthink” meme rant about how I’m just assuming you’re a libertarian, when what I’m doing is evaluating your tactics and noting that you pull pretty much the same shit libertarians do, right down to insinuating that you’re The More Rational One by constantly saying I’m displaying an emotional reaction rather than rational criticism.

  16. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    Setár, the bulk of your message is just a series of rather bizarre, self-congratulatory rants based on some wholly fabricated premises, namely that I strive to be a being of pure reason and that I come to my criticism of Greenwald from a “Regressive/Libertarian” perspective.

    On the later, I vote from a social democratic perspective, so immediately labeling me a “Regressive/Libertarian” for daring to criticise your ‘progressive’ hero just reflects an infantile, polarised worldview. It is funny you mention “Libertarian” politics though given that Greenwald was a vocal cheerleader for Ron Paul at one time and similarly admires Noam Chomsky, self-professed “anarchist”. Glenn sees as much evil in the “guvamint” as many a paranoid, right-wing crank in the States.

    A further hypocrisy in light of your accusations is that one of the biggest recent memes from Greenwald and his admirers, has been that they reflect “empathy”, whilst their opponents do not. For example, Greenwald approvingly cited a tweet by fellow Guadianista Gary Younge on “empathy” a few days ago at CiF. So in other words you rage about “emotional reactions” (a double irony), whilst Greenwald’s worldview is deeply under-pinned by emotional bases.

    This ignores the second and third updates Greenwald posted, where he answers that very objection. This statement is false. Withdraw it immediately.

    “Withdraw it immediately”. I think your username is going to your head, Sheriff.

    When Greenwald titled his piece with the phrase “New Atheists” he had an obligation to actually address them as a group to some degree, the first time through. For all you puffed-up pronouncements about my alleged lack of evidence, you seem oddly content when Greenwald presents none and yet are absolutely enraged that I accuse him of smearing people accordingly.

    Greenwald claims to be so welcoming to “aggressive critiques of faith and religion” but then axiomatically rejects a completely plausible conclusion, namely that Islam is objectively worse than other religions at present time in terms of human rights. The fact he merely quotes Dawkins to that effect, but fails to examine Dawkins’ argument is an exemplar of how Greenwald operates. And of course Glenn is always ready to skip out:

    Nonetheless, my focus here is on Harris, and I haven’t conducted the type of comprehensive examination of Dawkins’ writing as I have of Harris’, so whether Dawkins belongs in this group to the same extent that Harris does is something that is worthy of further debate. One sentence was edited to reflect the debatability of Dawkins’ inclusion.

    And yet Glenn happily smeared the New Atheists as a whole when launching the article, only provides one piece of unexamined evidence for Dawkins when called out on it, and then admits he has not really studied the issue, forcing him to edit the original post.

    Then in the third update he is forced to further admit that another New Atheist, Hitches, actually criticised Harris along the same lines as Greenwald. Oops. Your hero was having a bad day when it came to bashing the “New Atheists” as “anti-Muslim”. On the later, for all your professed concern about use of “emotional reactions” in arguments, it is interesting Greenwald is allowed to use the more inflammatory “anti-Muslim” label rather than the more defensible (vis-à-vis the New Atheists as a whole) label, anti-Islam. A label I would happily adopt myself.

    And this is hardly a new tactic. In the same article Greenwald is sure to bring up the connection between criticism of Islam and racism, only to duck an actual examination:

    Whether Islamophobia is a form of “racism” is a semantic issue in which I’m not interested for purposes of this discussion.

    And yet Glenn made sure to introduce the connection anyway, whilst breezily skipping away announcing his ‘lack of interest’ in the subject.

  17. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    By the way Sétar, here is another recent example of a smear by Greenwald from his CiF column:

    Greenwald: “Former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman went on CNN to grossly speculate that Muslim groups were behind the attack.”

    It turns out what she, former Chair of the US House Intelligence Committee, said was:

    Harman “…there is a very real possibility that the Boston Marathon bombings could be Al-Qaeda related. The bombs used in the attack are very similar to bombs used by Al-Qaeda in terrorist attacks across the world.”

    Unless Greenwald is meaning to say that Al Qaeda is a legitimate representative of Muslims as a general category, he is basically exposed as a liar, deliberately misrepresenting someone with a very broad accusation in response to a very specific, evidence-based claim. The fact Harman appears to be largely correct must really sting.

    I could go on at length with examples of Greenwald smearing people with overeaching hyperbole and guilt by association, but I have made my point. For someone so outraged by “charges of being *-ist/*-phobic as smears” it is funny that Greenwald has been compelled to spend entire columns refuting frequent accusations of antisemitism against his fanatical ilk, including defending his use of the white-supremacist-derived terms like “Israel-Firster”. There is your Great Man engaged in whatever you mean by “Slymepit argument”.

    As someone once wrote: “(And we atheists claim to have no gods or priests or dogma…)”

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