Transcript of Sobrado Podcast on Atheism+

A few months ago the Tony Sobrado podcast aired an episode in which Sobrado interviewed me skeptically on Atheism+ and I said the following at the time (when I posted about my American Atheists Convention video on the same subject):

I also did a podcast last month on Atheism+ that went up just recently, in which I have a reasonable conversation with someone who disapproves of it, UK political scientist and Huffington Post blogger Tony Sobrado (listen to his Interview with Richard Carrier on Atheism Plus). No hating or flaming, and no straw men or other fallacies. He had concerns based on misunderstandings and missing or incorrect information, asked about them calmly, and gave me the opportunity to answer them. All without any atmosphere of hostility. A model for how to do this. In fact, we covered so much great ground that this is a really good conversation on A+ that could use a written transcript. If anyone has the time and gumption to create one, I will publish it on my blog, with credit.

That podcast was inspired by Sobrado’s Huffington Post article against Atheism+ “What Is Atheism Plus and Do We Need It?” and you can see how we addressed everything in his article on that show. So anyone who may have read that and wondered how we might respond (or was angered by it and wished someone would answer it), this is the podcast for you. But the AACon video is a good introductory piece to start with. The two together tell you pretty much all you need in order to understand what we’re really advocating in the Atheism+ movement and why.

Subsequently, Rachel Hawkes [@RachelHawkes] produced a good transcript of that podcast, with permission, so anyone who prefers reading to listening (and anyone who is hard of hearing) can now follow that podcast from start to finish. See The Tony Sobrado Interview with Richard Carrier on Atheism Plus (6 March 2013). I’d be delighted if anyone maintaining the A+Scribe account [] entered that in the collection there.


    • says

      You will have to contact Tony Sobrado through his website. Possibly something has gone wrong that he would be delighted to fix if he learns of it. (In the meantime, you can always read the transcript.)

  1. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    Jason, I had the same problem. The player starts loading but never plays.

    Great interview Richard (I read the transcript.) Another thing that I think bears mentioning is that Atheism is being significantly injured as a movement by the actions of the MRA/slymers in the court of public perception. Several of the progressive political blogs I read have touched on the topic and I have seen multiple commenters say something akin to “I’m an atheist through and through but have never wanted to participate in the atheist community online or in meetups/cons etc., and this just seals the deal.” There’s often other factors keeping them away (what’s the point of an atheist movement?, Dawkins is an asshole/sexist, atheist commenters are smug and/or libertarian, atheists are just as bad as the faithful, etc.) but these people are otherwise the perfect allies for Atheism (with shared political interests) that are being turned off by the whole mess.

    • says

      That’s interesting. To think atheists are all like [fill in the blank with any item on your list] suggests there is some PR issue in the movement that needs addressing by the major organizations.

      That atheists are “all libertarian” especially…FtB gets attacked a lot for being progressive and not libertarian friendly, and I’ve had commenters say they aren’t a part of the atheist movement because it’s too liberal! So how could the public come to think organized atheism is both too liberal and too libertarian? What are people generating their impressions from?

      The same questions could be asked for each thing you mention. I recently wrote a letter to Historically Speaking (the publication of a professional society I’m in), which they published, dressing down an author who wrote in a previous issue a tirade against “New Atheism” that ignored every new atheist author other than the four horsemen (in fact, only three…it seems critics can always name Dennett but never actually read him), yet that tunnel vision created every false generalization the author made, each one refuted by just reading someone in the movement other than them (e.g. Victor Stenger, Hector Avalos, John Loftus, even myself…not because I’m as well known, but because I exemplify in my writing things the author claimed could not be found in New Atheism, and there are a lot of New Atheist authors).

    • Uncle Ebeneezer says

      Richard, I think you pretty much nailed it. It’s just ignorance. In the minds of many, Atheism is Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens (Dennett is rarely mentioned in criticisms of Atheism, I’m guessing because he is too likable and doesn’t really have any low-hanging fruit for them to criticize.) When they speak about Atheists there is the assumption that we all share Dawkins’ dear Muslima sentiments, and Harris’ views on torture and profiling, and Hitchens’ pomposity and wrong-minded foreign policy views. So there’s an assumption that we all share the worst attributes of these guys, despite that fact that these attributes have been pointed out and criticized most often and strongly right here in Atheist blogs. The people who make these broad-brush generalizations seem to be unaware of the large number of voices out there in the Atheist community (like all the great FtB’ers) and still believe that the Horseman are the face of Atheism and that the Horseman never get any pushback from other Atheists.

      Heck, your interview showed this rather glaringly. I mean how did Sobrado write a column on A+ and not know about the death/rape threats? He sounded surprised at that revelation based on the transcript. This illustrates the problem. Lots of the people I referred to in my first comment (progressive, atheists who don’t participate in Atheism online) all know the story of Elevatorgate, and usually know of the Dear Muslima response and the Slime campaign, but they never acknowledge (or maybe are just ignorant of) the positive response by the people who used those events to spur Atheism+ and make equality a real issue for championing. Again, they point to elevatorgate and the MRA/Slymers as a negative trait of Atheism, and they incorrectly assume that it says something about ALL Atheists while ignoring the pushback that it generated.

      I don’t quite get the Libertarian generalization either. Sure, I see plenty of Libertarian sentiments on Atheist forums, but no more so than I see anywhere else. And when someone says something like “Atheism has alot of Libertarians” I usually counter with “compared to what? Are you honestly saying that you think there are more Libertarians in Atheism than there are in Christianity? I mean there are whole Mega-churches devoted to Libertarian (or more often anti-Liberal) policies and candidates like Ron and Rand Paul who are definitely Christian.”

      Getting back to the original comment I made (why do so many potential allies: people with strong progressive, atheist, feminist beliefs eschew (or even denigrate) Atheist activism or participation in Atheist communities? I think it’s an interesting conundrum (perhaps a topic you might write about 😉 ). I think there’s several factors. The reasons I hear most often are:

      1.) Other Avenues- There’s already an organization that works on issue X, so why not just pursue activism through them (ACLU, Gender Discrimination Opponents, LGBT Rights, Greenpeace, etc.)

      2.) Nerd Alert- I may be an atheist but I have no interest in just sitting around and debating the existence of God and/or pointing and laughing at the religious. It’s immature and rude and not very productive. (the assumption being that this is all that goes on in Atheist forums.)

      3.) Hypocrisy- It drives me nuts when Christianity is paired with political advocacy, therefore Atheists shouldn’t do that either.

      4.) Association- I don’t want to be associated with: Dawkins, Harris, Slymers, MRA’s, etc. (the PR problem you mentioned)

      5.) Accomodationism- I’m an atheist, but I can’t stand when Atheists are always getting in the faces of religious people. It’s fine to not believe, but if we try to convince others then we are evangelizing and are just as bad as Christians, Mormons etc.

      6.) What’s The Big Deal- Sure there is prejudice against Atheists, and constant fights over Creationism, but at the end of the day these issues are trivial compared to all the bigger problems. Atheist issues are First World problems.

      More importantly, as your interview with Tony illustrated, there seems to be a common feeling that Atheism just isn’t a legitimate avenue for policy consideration, discussion and advocacy. Which is strange because when you ask someone “well what about Christians? Are their religious beliefs tied to their politics?” usually the answer is “well of course they are. We might disagree with their politics, but obviously those politics are informed by their faith.” So I’m not sure why the reverse situation (having politics informed by Atheism) seems so counter-intuitive.

      Anyways, I think interviews like yours, and the work that you and many others are doing through FtB and other avenues, is probably the best remedy to making people more aware of what is really going on in Atheism, how diverse the community is (and should be), and why Atheism can have a great deal to say on politics.