Dawkins Takes a Positive Step

“Any person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving away support.” — Richard Dawkins

This is part of a new statement Dawkins issued this weekend, on his own website and elsewhere, denouncing the horrible way many (usually anti-feminist) atheists have been behaving the last few years. Greta Christina for the full scoop.

This is a remarkably positive sign. Dawkins has up to now been insensitive and out-of-touch on the treatment of women inside the atheism movement (the worst example being now a named trope, Dear Muslima). So my opinion marker is being moved a little back to favorable by this.

For those who aren’t sure what this is all about, see coverage by Alex Gabriel, Greta Christina, Stephanie Zvan, and Ophelia Benson.

[I apologize for not being clearer, but in my original posting of this information I expected people to read Christina’s coverage for the full scoop, but some may not have and thus may have missed key facts of the story: this was a joint statement proposed and written by Ophelia Benson in consultation with Richard Dawkins and agreed to and signed by Richard Dawkins.]

Merry Christmas, God Is Still a Delusion

William Lane Craig once again advertised he’s past it last week when he published on the Fox News website A Christmas Gift for Atheists — Five Reasons Why God Exists, demonstrating that he hasn’t upped his game since, well, ever. He is still repeating the same illogical, refuted, lousy arguments. And somehow still thinking atheists are going to fall for it. Other bloggers here have taken it apart in their own way (e.g. PZ and Avicenna). But I’m struck with real sadness that there are still people as smart as Craig who are still convincing themselves with this delusional nonsense. It’s so astonishingly dishonest and irrational. Let me inoculate you.

[Read more…]

Is Attacking Rape Apologetics Rape Apologetics?

It’s strange to see even atheists convert hyperbole into fact in the span of just hours or days. That’s supposed to be what religious people do. When I wrote an article attacking rape apologetics in the discussion of the allegations against Michael Shermer, I was accused of engaging in rape apologetics (examples cataloged here, here, here, and here). But only by making false claims about what I wrote in my article.

This has started now to become lore. In comments on Stephanie Zvan’s recent article on the BlockBot I was weirdly even accused of “victim blaming” in an article against victim blaming that actually defends victims from being unfairly blamed (lest this not be believed, I will document the actual contents of my article below), and a scenario I explicitly described as reprehensible and as victimization and worthy of condemnation, one commenter said I described as “kinda cool” and “what a rapist would like to believe,” which is the exact opposite of the actual facts in the case, yet this version of events is then endorsed by another commenter. Meanwhile, in comments on the same article described as “what a rapist would like to believe,” I had to debate actual rape apologists (or at least folks who didn’t know that’s what they were doing). Which in context is surreal.

It’s unclear how the myth arose that something I condemned I called “kinda cool.” And perhaps the lore varies from person to person. But throughout, from what I’ve read, I have found there are some failures of fact and reasoning to address. [Read more…]

The Moral Truth Debate: Babinski & Shook

I’ve been sent two links of responses to my article last week, “What Exactly Is Objective Moral Truth?” Technically they are responses to Harris. But insofar as I am defending the same core thesis, and the links were sent to me, and both are by authors whose opinions I respect (even if I don’t always agree with them), they warrant a response here. These responses I think should be read by everyone, since they are common mistakes and misunderstandings, and my responses will clarify things you might need clarified…especially in the closing epilogue of this post.

First of the replies is Ed Babinski, who posted his own entry for the Harris contest on Facebook. Second is John Shook, who posted a reply on his blog at CFI.

In both cases, I must first reiterate the whole gist of my article:

One reason Harris is not the best one to use as your straw man in this debate is that doing that is lazy. It allows talking past each other far too easily. To avoid that I created a formal deductive proof of his core thesis (all the way back in 2011…and that was in development well before that, even before I read his book or even knew he was writing it–which means it is only a proof of “his thesis” in retrospect, since I had been developing the same thesis independently since 2004). What I asked people to do is find a logical invalidity or a non-demonstrable premise in my syllogism. Because that will prevent vagueries and misunderstandings and get right to the heart of who is correct. To do that, I told everyone to read my chapter “Moral Facts Naturally Exist” in The End of Christianity (indeed I said in last week’s article, quote, “the syllogisms you have to prove invalid or unsound are on pp. 359-64″). Hereafter I shall refer to that as TEC.

To keep avoiding this is to just lazily act like armchair problem solvers who can’t be bothered to actually look up the best version of the argument they are criticizing. Stop that. No more straw man fallacies. Address the best and most rigorous form of the argument. And do it correctly, i.e., actually identify an actual fallacy in those syllogisms or identify a premise in them that is false (or which you can prove we do not know is true).

Apart from simply not doing that (which is the biggest flaw in these replies, reducing them both to a classic straw man fallacy), here is also what’s wrong with the Babinski and Shook rebuttals… [Read more…]

What Exactly Is Objective Moral Truth?

Sam Harris has a contest on. “Anyone who believes that my case for a scientific understanding of morality is mistaken is invited to prove it in 1,000 words or less.” The best essay (as judged by Harris opponent and atheist philosopher Russell Blackford) will win $2,000 (and be published on Harris’s personal website). “You must refute the central argument of the book—not peripheral issues.” If any such essay actually changes Sam Harris’s mind, they will win not just $2,000 but $20,000 (and Harris will publicly recant his view).

Ophelia Benson has been critical of this contest (see A Losing Lottery Ticket, Sam Has to Presume a Great Big Ought, and a guest post from a commenter Why the Is/Ought Problem Matters). His own contest page (The Moral Landscape Challenge) has an important FAQ (a must read for any contenders). I actually am behind Harris’s program (I think his core thesis is correct, and I think Benson is wrong to say it is not), but I am not very impressed with Harris’s ability to defend or articulate it.

I had even greater problems with Michael Shermer’s attempt to defend the same core thesis Harris does, and I have commented before on how he was simply destroyed by his opponent, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci, even though I think Pigliucci is ultimately wrong and Shermer ultimately right (see Shermer vs. Pigliucci on Moral Science). I expect Harris will get similarly pwned. And that’s sad. Because it hurts their cause. They just aren’t the best defenders of this idea. And they should admit that and stop trying to be lone wolfs and look for and work with expert collaborators. There are several real, even renowned, philosophers who have been defending the same core thesis for years. Harris did not come up with anything fundamentally new here, and they have far more skill and experience dealing with the rigorous philosophical requirements of this debate.

Below I will explain what is wrong with Harris’s contest so far (and why it is not what Benson is concerned about); why what Benson has been saying is incorrect (and misses the point of Harris’ actual core thesis); and how (again) science can actually take over moral philosophy the same way it has done the theory of life (in the science of biology) and the universe (in the sciences of physics, astrophysics, and cosmology) and man and society (in the sciences of anthropology and sociology) and of mind (in psychology, neurophysiology, and cognitive science). [Read more…]

Michael Shermer: Rapist or Sleaze? (Unless Box Checked for Other)

Presumably you’re aware by now that accusations have been made that Michael Shermer did something bad (if not, you can catch up on current events here). There are some things atheists need to consider about this, philosophically and personally.  [Read more…]

Attack of the Lycanthropic Transsexuals!

Every once and awhile I find myself with enough time to clear the baffles, as it were, and address a silly argument that really needs answering but I’ve been too busy with pressing stuff to get to. This is one of those arguments. About six months ago, a Christian blogger on the Triablogue network (a Calvinist creationist inerrantist by the name of Steve) reacted in horror that I would think noted transsexual Lana Wachowski was “super cute” (see Lana Wachowski Is Awesome). In fact, of course, I said she was “funny, smart, eloquent, and super cute,” but when you’re a repressed sex-obsessed Christian the only thing I guess you would notice me saying about her is that she’s physically attractive (even though those other three attributes I also find sexually attractive in women, and supercuteness is a property of personality as well as appearance, but maybe all that’s a little too advanced for a creationist, way beyond first unit in sexuality 101).

Image from comedy comic How to Fight a WerewolfThis, plus another remark by noted atheist Jeff Lowder (a founder of the Internet Infidels and frequent blogger at the Secular Outpost), got Steve’s goat, prompting him to correct this perversion in the atheist community by claiming we were being illogical cowards in accepting transsexuals (and worse even, actually liking them!) in a post Steve titled Species Dysphoria (in mockery of the condition called Gender Dysphoria…which used to be called Gender Identity Disorder, so I don’t know if Steve meant this title as a double insult, since the condition had just been renamed in diagnostic manuals earlier that year, downgrading its status from a mental disorder in need of cure to a natural condition in need of acceptance, in parallel to homosexuality in that same diagnostic manual decades ago: see APA Revises Manual: Being Transgender Is No Longer a Mental Disorder).

Steve’s principal analogy is lycanthropy. No, seriously. But we have to build up to that.

Here’s Steve’s lead-in: [Read more…]

Ten Years to the Robot Apocalypse

Counting down. Soon we shall all be doomed.

Okay, I wrote this on the plane to Alabama about a month ago. It’s been languishing in my queue until now. So step back in time. I’m presently five miles above the earth hurtling through space in a giant metal bullet at hundreds of miles an hour. Earlier I was reading Science News (an old issue from last year; I’m behind) while waiting on the tarmac for takeoff. Got to the article on Eureqa, the “robot scientist” that can discover the laws of nature all on its own, just from looking at and experimenting with data. I was reminded of an earlier article a few years ago on the Lipson-Zykov experiment (mentioned in a sidebar). Then I caught another just recently, about Spaun (yeah, I’ve been reading Science News out of order). Spaun is a neural-net computer program that makes decisions like a person: it thinks, memorizes, solves problems, gambles, etc. All these developments, in the span of just a couple of years. Had some thoughts… [Read more…]

Atheism…Plus What?

Picture of Dr. Carrier at the podium discussing Atheism Plus at the 2013 American Atheists conventionVideo of my talk at the 2013 American Atheists Convention (their 50th anniversary!) is now online. It is getting downvotes from the haters (even at one point more downs than ups). Please go watch that video (Atheism…Plus What?) and see if you can find anything in it that honestly deserves a downvote. Seriously. And if you don’t, please upvote it. Show the haters they don’t own the movement.

Others reading the comments (I can’t stomach such a task myself) tell me that the downvotes appear to be coming from people who didn’t even watch the video (or didn’t watch it all through). It appears, in fact, that these downvotes are there in an attempt to discourage people from watching the video, rather than representing disagreement with its actual content or quality or value. [You can now read a transcript and view the slideshow.]

Note that the Women in Atheism panel at AACon 2013 is also a must-view adjunct to this, since in it the women on the panel brilliantly answer some of the common questions that arose from my talk. Unfortunately that video is not yet online (I’m not sure if they are putting everything up or only select things). I will link it in here as soon as I find out it’s available. But one of the examples of what they addressed is the hyperskeptical claim that all the harassment of atheism women in our movement is done by hundreds of Christians posing as atheists, which actually should outrage you all the more if you really believed that (rather than using it as an excuse to do nothing about it). Greta Christina gave an excellent discourse on why that doubt is irrational (in short: we see the same phenomenon in every other movement, e.g. the gaming and tech industries, so we should not expect to be a miraculous exception), and other members of the panel added to that (such as pointing out that we have plenty of evidence a lot of them are atheists).

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. [A convenient transcript of that interview is now available.]

That podcast was inspired by Sobrado’s Huffington Post article against Atheism+ “What Is Atheism Plus and Do We Need It?” and from listening to the ensuing podcast or reading its transcript 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.


[Update: I have since also published an essay on this subject in Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism 21.1 [2013], pp. 105-13, which is available online as Atheism…Plus What? Then see here for all my blogging on the topic of Atheism Plus, before and since.]

That Christian Nation Nonsense (Gods Bless Our Pagan Nation)

This is a transcript of my speech at this year’s convention for the National Atheist Party (minus spontaneous asides and ad-libs). Though this was an oratorical adaptation and rearrangement of my previous work online (Christianity Was Not Responsible for American Democracy), it is also much improved and contains new material, and I received multiple requests from the audience to make a transcript of it available. This is my cue text, so it is not in every respect word-for-word what I spoke at the convention, but it is very near to it. I began with a quotation… [Read more…]