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So nice, and so wrong

What do you do on airplanes? I usually devour a book or two, usually something popcorny and light, sometimes something I need to get read for work. On my trip home from Washington DC, I lucked out: I was handed a book the day I took off, and it turned out to be a damned good read.

Jason Rosenhouse is my co-blogger at Scienceblogs — he’s a mathematician, but he’s also neck-deep in the evolution/creationism wars. He was in town for the Reason Rally (wait: from the description, he left before my talk. Cancel the review, gotta pan him instead…nah, I guess I’ll forgive him this one time), and he gave me his brand new book, Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line.

Jason regularly goes to creationist conferences. I often drop in on the small local stuff — creationists ranting in midwestern churches — but Jason goes to the big events, the major conferences with swarms of concentrated inanity babbling at large audiences who have made a special trip just to bathe in theistic lies. It’s a different environment; he just shows up, listens and takes notes, politely asks questions to make them struggle a bit, and then leaves…to write up the full story in his blog and now this book.

This isn’t the book where the scientist dismantles in detail every bogus argument the creationists throw at us. Instead, it’s a personal account of the audiences and speakers at this event, and there’s something that comes through loud and clear, that I’ve also experienced: they’re all so damned nice. They haven’t got a leg to stand on with the nonsense they’re talking about, but they try to make up for it with friendliness and manners and all these other psycho-social arts of persuasion. They don’t compensate for being wrong, but you can see how they manage to win over so many people who don’t know better.

It’s a valuable perspective to have. Know your enemy; don’t underestimate them, and don’t demonize them as evil. But be aware of exactly how they manage their image, how they cajole people into believing in ideas that are horribly wrong, and what they are precisely saying. Jason’s book is an essential personal view of our foes.

Also, we noticed that the cover uses a very similar minimalist design and color scheme to my book that will be coming out in the fall. Buy them both as a matched pair!

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. says

    I find it hard to imagine them as nice after all the repeated lies so many Creationists have said to both my real and virtual face as well as the blatant endorsements/excuses for immorality. Of course, that’s because I’m The Other, now, and tribalism tends to encourage double-standards for how you treat the in-group versus the out-group. Of course, we’ve all got some natural tendency towards tribalism to resist, but I rarely see a starker example of duplicity than Creationists.

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I always love it when creationists say “I’ve been polite” like it is an argument, but then really get bent out of shape when we respond that the evidence they present from sources other than the babble is much, much, much more important to convince us than their politeness. You can hear the record scratching as they attempt to find the proper response, and they don’t have one.

  3. jfigdor says

    Really well-said, PZ: “Know your enemy; don’t underestimate them, and don’t demonize them as evil. But be aware of exactly how they manage their image, how they cajole people into believing in ideas that are horribly wrong, and what they are precisely saying.”

    This is why the two ways approach (good cop, bad cop) works best.

  4. alexandra14c says

    Amazon says it’ll be released April 10.

    I pre-ordered the Kindle version. This should be a good read. I love it when someone else does the footwork on studying the crazies for me!

  5. Rieux says

    I initially jumped to the conclusion that the post title was intended as a description of Rosenhouse and/or his book, rather than the subjects of the book. Phew….

  6. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Cue the “See-you have to always be polite and respectful!!!!!” cries any minute now.

  7. autumn says

    I’m reminded of the Mormans I went to high-school with. They were the nicest bunch (one family, eight kids spaced ten months apart,) of girls in the school. Of course, they would eventually invite you to “bible study” with them, but they were really, really polite and kind. They also were nowhere near as virginal as the LDS demands. I wonder if they considered sex a kind of “celestial marriage” that went away after the clothes went back on.

  8. jfigdor says

    @Josh

    “Cue the “See-you have to always be polite and respectful!!!!!” cries any minute now.”

    I should hope not. That wasn’t what PZ was saying. Certain approaches will work with some folks and not with others. This is the advantage of having both diplomats and firebrands, and everything between them.

  9. says

    jfigdor:

    This is why the two ways approach (good cop, bad cop) works best.

    No, that is not always best. This is not a validation of your mush-mouthed, bow & scrape to the nice theists bullshit.

    If you really wanted to demonstrate your particular brand of nice, you’d be sure to go away and not derail yet another thread with your crap.

  10. keithlm says

    Perhaps being so nice is part of their strategy for dealing with evolutionists. It’s hard for anyone who is arguing against these fools to not get impatient when you are having to argue against the same damn thing over and over. Also, some aspects of evolution are difficult to explain to a layperson, and thus someone that understands it might come off as condescending. So if you get fed up in the debate, or appear to be talking down to someone that is just oh so nice, it helps the creationist appear to “win” in the eyes of the ignorant.

  11. gregpeterson says

    When I CAN, I like being polite just because it’s so much nastier. Being calmly, smilingly right is infuriating to the person who’s wrong. It reminds me of an old Richard Pryor SNL bit, in which the angrier the guy in a fight got, the more restrained the woman got.

    “And the madder you get, women get cool when you get mad. [as an angry man] ”
    ‘WELL, GO ON AND GET OUT THEN!’ [as a cool, calm woman] ‘I’m leaving.’ [as the man] ‘I DON’T EVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN!’ [as the woman] ‘Don’t worry, you shan’t.’

    But it depends. Ken Ham is doing his dog and pony show at some local Minneapolis church the end of April, and I can’t wait to go and at the salient moment stand up and yell out, “Were you there?!” the way he teaches children to do in class.

  12. jfigdor says

    @ Caine, Fleur du Mal

    You don’t know me at all. If you read my facebook page, you’d see the endless threads of me debating with the theists from Harvard Divinity School. But you don’t. You just indict me on the fact that I’ve said that interfaith is worthwhile. Way to jump to conclusions. You can think “god is a fairy tale,” and “we should reach out to religious people in a non-confrontational manner sometimes” simultaneously.

  13. Ogvorbis (no relation to the Ogg family) says

    Being nice can be a way of being extremely mean. I remember a kid I knew in Arizona and he was the nicest, most polite kid you ever met. And he would say the most bizarre and insulting things in the nicest way you ever heard. And when anyone told him to (in the elementary school equivalent) go fuck himself, he would immediately start screaming that you, or we, or I, were picking on him for no reason. He was polite, he was nice, and he was so full of shit that no one could stand him for more than 5 minutes. Of course, when you went off on him, those who didn’t know him, and his tactics, assumed that you were the offender, not the little shit himself.

    I wonder if he became a preacher (that really was his dream)?

  14. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    If you really wanted to demonstrate your particular brand of nice, you’d be sure to go away and not derail yet another thread with your crap.

    Even better, everybody killfile the egotistical accommodationist, and let him hang out to dry by being ignored by all. Pure and utter evil on our part…and loud enough he might actual listen…

  15. says

    This reminds me of a course I took on the cultural history of evolution. My professor invited a creationist to speak to the class. As we all introduced ourselves, I was the last to go.

    While all my classmates insisted that we need to respect all viewpoints, I sternly said I had no intention on respecting ideas, though I would respect him as a person. I said I believe ideas matter, and that, like him, I think that some ideas are damn dangerous and should be expelled from society by intellectual force. I asserted that there is a truth, I want to know what that truth is, and I do not wish to be lied to.

    He hesitated, smiled, said he agreed with me on what I said but probably disagreed on what I hadn’t yet said, and proceeded to avoid eye contact the rest of his visit. My cowardly professor wouldn’t let me ask him any questions citing “academic courtesy.” I did, however, correct everyone of the creationists lies the following class period, with printed sources for the class. My professor (I’m thinking an undercover creationist) was upset, but the class was thankful and interested, plus, I was right. Welcome to real academia.

  16. Brownian says

    You don’t know me at all.

    That’s untrue. You’ve written substantive comments on several threads, and many here have read them, getting to know you or some facets of you in the process. It’s disingenuous to keep referring to these offscreen altercations with theists and accommodationists you’re apparently always having, and even more so to insinuate that those represent the real you whereas what you’ve written here does not.

  17. jfigdor says

    Don’t make it about me. Make it about PZ’s point. Which is that you shouldn’t always “demonize them as evil,” where them = creationists.

  18. ramblindude says

    Yes, they are typically very nice people. Being nice, and expressing it often, is generally a prerequisite to Christian society in the bible belt. If you’re full of happiness and niceness then you’re a real Christian with Jesus in your heart, and that, of course, is the goal.

    Very nice people, the lot of them, and it can be very compelling. That’s why it’s so discombobulating to hear the extraordinarily stupid things they say to each other as they constantly remind one another what they believe in and why. And it’s also why I often feel like I’m in an insane asylum when I have to deal with Christians in full bloom. The price for their particular brand of “niceness” is way too high for me.

    On the other hand, it’s also why they are typically surprised and perplexed to discover that I, such a nice (and seemingly intelligent) man am an unbeliever. I am a bit of a stinker that way.

  19. gregpeterson says

    Relentless niceness takes a psychic toll. I can’t give specifics, and I realize this sounds a little like an urban legend, but it is true. I used to work for a company that helped insure pharmacy benefits. Insurance premiums are obviously based on demographics. When we bid on a particular sects’ population, noted for a brand of niceness that cries out for insulin, we had to build highercosts into the premiums to cover the alarmingly high levels of antidepressants these folks used (many of them–well above the norm). I can’t help thinking that if they ever allowed themselves to feel and express ordinary human meanness from time to time, when it was called for, and maybe have mojito or for gawd’s sake a fricking COFFEE (now do you know the group?), they might have avoided actual clinical issues. Man does not live by cheer alone; sometimes, some sumbitch has it coming.

  20. Dick the Damned says

    I’m not too impressed by their perceived niceness.

    They’re present before their god, in his building, so they’re on their best behaviour.

    Also, if they can lie to themselves over their fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality, then their perceived niceness may also be a lie.

  21. ramblindude says

    gregpeterson

    I can well believe what you say. In my own experience, the “nicest” religious people often have not only a large number of physical ailments, but also screwed up children as well. Drug use, teen pregnancy, prison records… All those suppressed “unchristian” emotions tend to get expressed one way or another.

  22. raven says

    Which is that you shouldn’t always “demonize them as evil,” where them = creationists.

    Why not. It’s often true.

    Being “nice” is perfectly compatible with being evil. They are two separate, orthogonal properties.

    I suspect the vast majority of creationists don’t know much or care much. It’s just a tribal marking. The leaders have no such excuse. They know they are lying.

  23. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    jfigdor,

    Make it about PZ’s point. Which is that you shouldn’t always “demonize them as evil,” where them = creationists.

    But what if they are evil? You think Ken Ham is a nice man who only wants what’s best for humanity? Should we be sucking up to him like your buddies at HCH want us to? Or should we be denouncing him for the evil cretin that he is?

  24. unclefrogy says

    until believers find out you do not believe they are friendly and polite that changes though when they identify you as an unbeliever. though they may be polite there is suspicion added and some kind of fear. They in my experience flash hostile not unlike anyone here would when they hear something that they do not think is true. If the majority of them came to their beliefs in childhood in the ways we have read about all too often here than I would say that they are still children in many ways. That is what comes across in the excerpts I read of this book on amazon that they are children who were taught to fear the world and all those who are not like them. They are always quick to complain about being challenged and persecuted for being christians. It is true because what they think about the world and life does not match what can be demonstrated to be true of the world and not what many others understand about life. They are threatened by the world and more so this modern world than the world of the 1800’s.
    When I have the experience of talking with any of them I try to remember that they are in some ways still that child in their understanding but they are old now. I try not to talk down to children, I try to respect them and give them the credit of being able understand this wonder filled world as it is.
    fear is a very hard thing to over come by intellectual argument or aggressive presentation. it is not how to tame a dog, a horse nor a creationist.

    uncle frogy

  25. says

    I’m sure it’s a good book and all, but Jason’s been writing in various venues as if creationists believe as they do because they have convincing–if only to them–arguments for creationism.

    But of course that’s simply not so. They believe the Bible first, then get their “facts” that simply show that what they’ve always known “as true” is in fact the truth. It’s the opposite of the scientific approach, which seeks to learn in as unbiased manner as possible what is the truth from the data.

    It’s not like they’re doing bad science in their ignorance, and believing because they’re incompetent at science. It’s more like they’re doing apologetics, at best bad science based on intense confirmation bias, only in order to show that “they’re right” in any case.

    Jason needs to learn that the mere fact that they first give him their bad “science” means nothing about their own priorities.

    Glen Davidson

  26. Brownian says

    I’m not too impressed by their perceived niceness.

    I wonder if that’s not just because they’re full of shit. Research suggests that excessively polite witnesses are less compelling to juries.

  27. raven says

    Relentless niceness takes a psychic toll. I can’t give specifics, and I realize this sounds a little like an urban legend, but it is true.

    Utah leads the nation in consumption of Prozac and other antidepressants.

    or for gawd’s sake a fricking COFFEE (now do you know the group?),

    Sigh. Nothing like telegraphing the punch line here.

    In college, most of the Mormon kids wouldn’t drink coffee. What they did is take a whole lot of over the counter caffeine tablets of various brands, No Doze and whatever. There is nothing in the Book of Mormon about not taking No Doze caffeine tablets.

  28. Brownian says

    There is nothing in the Book of Mormon about not taking No Doze caffeine tablets.

    Ah, so they’re actually members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Pharisees.

    Nobody knows loopholes like the publicly pious.

  29. sapphire says

    If you think questioning creationism cracks the veneer of niceness try telling them you’re gay and watch the surface peel away.

  30. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    If you think questioning creationism cracks the veneer of niceness try telling them you’re gay and watch the surface peel away.

    Announcing that you’re an atheist works almost as well.

  31. grumpy1942 says

    Ogvorbis (no relation to the Ogg family):

    Do you refer to Grandpa and Grandma Ogg who used to live in Mt. Idy?

  32. mnb0 says

    “don’t demonize them as evil”
    “Perhaps being so nice is part of their strategy…”

    Sure it is. In Europe it doesn’t work very well though, simply because about everybody already has made up their mind (and the vast majority rejects creationism).
    Still it would be nice to have a similar strategy against them. Mine is to hammer on the Ninth Commandment every time they misrepresent the Evolution Theory. That pushes many creationist buttons.

  33. says

    they’re all so damned nice

    This was my experience at a Pentecostal church. They have thrown out every branch of science, they believe all the Christian bullshit, miracles happen all the time, their fairy listens when they pray, everyone brings their bible to church, they can find any bible quote in a few seconds, they’re batshit crazy, and they’re the nicest people I ever met.

  34. Brownian says

    If you think questioning creationism cracks the veneer of niceness try telling them you’re gay and watch the surface peel away.

    Announcing that you’re an atheist works almost as well.

    Or “If God wants you to escape this basement, He’ll let you out Himself.” I agree that that beatific smile is only skin deep.

  35. Brownian says

    Still it would be nice to have a similar strategy against them.

    When dealing with creationists in person, I like to literally pour on the sugar (see comment 41).

    My doctor is convinced my diet is contributing to my cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.

  36. Sastra says

    In most social situations, most people are nice; when the social situation has something to do with niceness (ethics, community, religion, parenting, service,) then they’re even nicer.

    One of the presumed ways to tell if someone has been enlightened or touched by God is to see if they are calm and happy. It’s a sign. Thus you tend to see a lot of happy, relaxed faces in settings where people want to make some sort of point about how enlightened or in tune with God they are. It can reach ridiculous proportions. Born Again Christians and Mormons are bad enough, but for diabetic levels of detached non-judgment and otherworldly imperturbability, try a group of New Agers.

    My bliss is more cosmic than your bliss.

    Being nice is sometimes the sneakiest strategy. It’s especially good to do when inside a group of bliss ninnies. If you’re smiling and nodding and using the lingo and making occasional cooing noises and throwing out compliments, you can sometimes get away with murder — meaning, a lot of skeptical criticism. One, they’re not too sure you said what you said, and two, your own calm friendliness spurs them to try to outmatch you, thus making it harder for them to kick you out.

    jfigdor #11 wrote:

    Certain approaches will work with some folks and not with others. This is the advantage of having both diplomats and firebrands, and everything between them.

    Agree. There are also diplomatic firebrands and firebrand diplomats.

  37. echidna says

    It’s not like they’re doing bad science in their ignorance, and believing because they’re incompetent at science. It’s more like they’re doing apologetics, at best bad science based on intense confirmation bias, only in order to show that “they’re right” in any case.

    I think that’s right. But there is a chink in the armour. Ordinary creationists (i.e. not the con-artists of the world) are lying in order to promote God, and that’s ok to them. But because they see themselves as good people, they also don’t think of themselves as liars, and this cognitive dissonance is very strong and yet is where they are vulnerable.

    I like to attempt to bring it to light, not by countering their beliefs, but by exploring them. For example, I have taken to asking about their beliefs about scientists. Do they believe geologists, astronomers and biologists are lying, or mistaken? Somewhere in following this conversation down an unfamiliar track, they will say something that they know is wrong, written obviously on their faces, such as more and more scientists are becoming Christian as they discover the truth. It doesn’t matter what the statement is, it’s the part of the conversation where they are clearly uncomfortably aware that they are BSing. I then suggest that I don’t believe that they believe that, and further, if they need to lie to promote their beliefs, then they must know, at some level, that their beliefs are wrong. Truth does not require a lie for support.

    All of this said in the most polite tones, but not shirking the word “lie”, so I am not sure where this sits on the “nice” scale. It is a conversation I have had several times, and one which has sent JW’s running from my door. It has also successfully stopped a particularly aggressive Christian relative in his tracks, and led him to leave me and mine alone.

  38. Brownian says

    Certain approaches will work with some folks and not with others. This is the advantage of having both diplomats and firebrands, and everything between them.

    Agree. There are also diplomatic firebrands and firebrand diplomats.

    Rosencrantz? Guildenstern? Izzat you?

  39. slc1 says

    Re raven @ #34

    Utah also leads the nation with the most per capita consumption of internet porn.

  40. Sastra says

    Glen Davidson #31 wrote:

    It’s not like they’re doing bad science in their ignorance, and believing because they’re incompetent at science. It’s more like they’re doing apologetics, at best bad science based on intense confirmation bias, only in order to show that “they’re right” in any case.

    I think they’re doing both. They’re doing apologetics, of course — but they really do think they’re doing good science. The facts are on their side and they’ve nothing to fear. And just as thinking they’re a “good person” is a chink in their armor, as echidna points out in #34, the belief that they are a “reasonable person” and have a “reasonable faith” is an Achilles heel.

    To the average person — and thus the creationist — science is seen as little more than common sense, looking at something and trying to figure it out for yourself. The whole communal aspect with its internal criticism is considered unnecessary. Any and all conclusions then are “science,” and you get to pick and choose whose testimony you want to believe. That’s why niceness matters — if someone is nice, then they’re likely to be more trustworthy than someone who is not nice. You can believe them.

    When I talk to creationists, I always try to establish upfront whether they are someone who would change their mind about evolution given good reasons, or not. That is, I try to establish whether they think they ought to change their mind under those circumstances. If so, then that’s what I pursue. I don’t get into details of evolution. All the important stuff is above the specifics, I think.

  41. Brownian says

    Utah also leads the nation with the most per capita consumption of internet porn.

    Well, sure. Nobody’s drinking coffee in porn. At best the office coffee maker breaks, they have to call the repairman, he shows up and boom-chicka-wow-wow—nobody’s sleeping in the Thursday afternoon staff meeting anyway, coffee be damned.

  42. Porco Dio says

    It’s a valuable perspective to have. Know your enemy; don’t underestimate them, and don’t demonize them as evil. But be aware of exactly how they manage their image, how they cajole people into believing in ideas that are horribly wrong, and what they are precisely saying. Jason’s book is an essential personal view of our foes.

    PZ, you make a good point… What will be interesting to note, however, is if the crowd that comments here will take it to heart…

    Maybe, oh just maybe, they can learn that all the vitriol they spew at their opponents doesn’t win them any converts.

    But I’m guessing many of them are not smart enough to realize this.

  43. seditiosus says

    It’s important not to demonize our opponents. That’s a very good point. Thing is though, when someone lies to me and tries to convert me to their way of thinking with manipulative methods, I’m not convinced that person is nice.

  44. Brownian says

    Maybe, oh just maybe, they can learn that all the vitriol they spew at their opponents doesn’t win them any converts.

    But I’m guessing many of them are not smart enough to realize this.

    Porco has made two claims here:

    a) Vitriol/insults don’t convince anyone; and moreover
    b) Such vitriol/insults simply repulse people and cause them to leave the conversation.

    Porco supports these claims by:
    a) Insulting people here; and
    b) Sticking around despite having vitriol spewed at him.

    Please, Porco, call me stupid again. (I’ll leave it to you to see if you can puzzle out why.)

  45. echidna says

    But I’m guessing many of them are not smart enough to realize this.

    I think we have a D-K candidate here, if Porco really thinks that.

  46. Porco Dio says

    Please, Porco, call me stupid again. (I’ll leave it to you to see if you can puzzle out why.)

    1) I don’t recall calling you stupid.
    2) I don’t run away from an argument because someone said nasty or irrational stuff… You obviously should know that by now.

    Point is that we need to convince 80% of the worlds population that their world-view is looking down a sewer. Being an asshole trying to communicate our point of view will work for some of the 80% but not the majority.

    How about we figure out a strategy for the remainder if we want to get the job done well/fast?

  47. Brownian says

    Point is that we need to convince 80% of the worlds population that their world-view is looking down a sewer. Being an asshole trying to communicate our point of view will work for some of the 80% but not the majority.

    Oh, are we supposed to be on the same team? Because you’re a dishonest, hypocritical, trolling piece of shit. You may be an atheist, but you’re just as irrational and sewer-staring as the best of them.

    How about we figure out a strategy for the remainder if we want to get the job done well/fast?

    I’m much less interested in ridding the world of the religious than I am of mendacious, self-serving, pieces of filth like yourself.

    Got any strategies for how I can best get rid of slimeballs like you?

  48. Cyranothe2nd says

    I’ve gotta disagree with Jason on one important point. I went to a lot of creationist talks and seminars since I grew up fundmaentalist, and the thing that united them all was that people were nice to the faces of the audience members who opposed them. However, the misinformation and fact-twisting that they employ against evolutionary scientists are unethical, and by no means nice. And the “niceness” to the audience members is the kind of false-pity, you’re-going-to-burn-in-hell-you-poor-thing that they extend to all they are trying to convert. It’s not genuine.

    Fundamentalist xians are some of the most heartless, not-nice people I’ve ever met. They have to be, to believe such hateful things.

  49. Porco Dio says

    Oh, are we supposed to be on the same team? Because you’re a dishonest, hypocritical, trolling piece of shit. You may be an atheist, but you’re just as irrational and sewer-staring as the best of them.

    aaaaaawwwwwww pooooor wittwe wabbit…. are we still pissed off that I laugh at cwazymercans? Don’t let your pride fuck with you so much… makes you look like a 5 year old.

    I’m much less interested in ridding the world of the religious than I am of mendacious, self-serving, pieces of filth like yourself.

    Got any strategies for how I can best get rid of slimeballs like you?

    So, your mission in life is to eliminate people who you thought called you stupid? And not so much to get rid of the cults that are ruining your own country?

    Who is the dishonest, hypocritical, piece of shit here I wonder…

  50. Brownian says

    What Porco doesn’t grok is that as much as people don’t like vitriol, they like smarmy fucks who insult them using passive aggressive smears couched in polite, academic puffery even less.
    And I’ll take someone who has the guts to call me a motherfucker straight out over a weasel who lies to me before sidling up to me and claiming we’re on the same side any day.
    Being polite may be an effective strategy. But it’s just lies when a douche like him uses it as a wedging blade.
    Sorry Porco: it’s just who you are.

  51. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    Porco Dio wrote:

    PZ, you make a good point…

    Well, that makes one of you.

    What will be interesting to note, however, is if the crowd that comments here will take it to heart…

    Go fuck yourself. That that to heart, you pathetic, whining pissant.

  52. Sili says

    Mine is to hammer on the Ninth Commandment every time they misrepresent the Evolution Theory. That pushes many creationist buttons.

    Don’t covet your neighbour’s wife?

  53. echidna says

    How about we figure out a strategy for the remainder if we want to get the job done well/fast?

    Who is this “we” that you speak of? We are people of different nationalities and backgrounds, scattered all over the world, with very little in common beyond a lack of belief in deities, and a sense that the people who are deluded by religion have an unhealthy influence on our society.

    What is the “job” that you want done well/fast?

    Not only are we different, but the religious people that we come into contact with are also all different, with different beliefs and different priorities. The strategy that atheists should use is to never, ever lie. Our big advantage is that we don’t need to.

    I have had some marvellous conversations with women in burkas, studying in Australia in a way that would have been forbidden at home, but cut off from normal discourse with other women. because the burka is essentially a signal to society to ignore you. Unless you are surrounded by other women in burkas, who acknowledge you, you are isolated. This sudden isolation can be devastating – can you imagine being given the freedom to study together with the curse of invisibility? And the burka is tied up with your religious morality.

    Other conversations with a nice young man from Oman (young enough to be my son), who struggled (successfully) with the idea that women could talk freely to men, and still be considered moral.

    Then there was the conversation with a Jewish YEC, where she explained some of her beliefs to me. We got to the point where she described her God as a trickster, deliberately fooling scientists, and then she looked so shocked at what she had said, that we changed the subject.

    None of these conversations follow a formula or strategy. The only common thread is that being respectful of people is an entirely different thing to being respectful of their beliefs. The learning that went on in those conversations was not one-sided. And this, perhaps, is the greatest personal advantage that atheists have: we are prepared to learn more than we are prepared to proselytise. Reality is not inherently problematic for us.

  54. Weed Monkey says

    jfigdor:

    Don’t make it about me. Make it about PZ’s point. Which is that you shouldn’t always “demonize them as evil,” where them = creationists.

    You make it about you.

  55. Brownian says

    aaaaaawwwwwww pooooor wittwe wabbit…. are we still pissed off that I laugh at cwazymercans? Don’t let your pride fuck with you so much… makes you look like a 5 year old.

    I’m not American. Are you trying to be wrong on purpose, or are you just, simply, stupid?

    So, your mission in life is to eliminate people who you thought called you stupid?

    Comprehension fail.

    And not so much to get rid of the cults that are ruining your own country?

    Again, I’m not American, and even if cults are ruining my country, dishonest buckets of fuck such as yourself may be as well.

    I think we can both agree that an effective strategy for changing peoples’ minds ethically isn’t to fail on both research and argumentation.

    Who is the dishonest, hypocritical, piece of shit here I wonder…

    Now this is exactly what I’m talking about.

    First of all, I get that you think you’re clever for using parallel construction, but for this sentence to make any sense at all, you’d have to have at least tried to demonstrate that I’ve been hypocritical or dishonest, rather than simply not holding the priorities you think I should hold. You just sound dumb.

    Secondly, you don’t actually wonder. You’re just a spineless weasel; too cowardly to call me a dishonest, hypocritical piece of shit outright, so you leave vague implications.

    Again, it’s simply you, Porco. You’re a repulsive human being. I’m happy to work on reducing the problems associated with religiosity, but you’re so disgustingly manipulative, you might as well be a priest.

    Again, we’re not on the same side. If you’d really like to help me out, launch yourself at a church, head first, until either the church falls or you do.

    Two birds with one stone. You’re all about the efficiency, right?

  56. Porco Dio says

    And I’ll take someone who has the guts to call me a motherfucker straight out over a weasel who lies to me before sidling up to me and claiming we’re on the same side any day.

    aaaawwww we really are still really really pissed, aren’t we…

    It’s just too bad that you are too blind and childish to understand that PZ/JR actually might have a point…

    But that’s fine by me… you will no more be convinced of an argument by someone who calls you a motherfucker than by a lying weasel.

    Do you realise, however, that there might be somewhere in between a motherfucker-caller and lying weasel that could convince you of something?

    Ergo this would be a custom strategy for you. Others would be different. Ergo different strokes for different folks. Ergo PZ/JR might have a point.

  57. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Porco Dio, you’re getting tiresome. Your passive-aggressive schtick isn’t cute, it isn’t clever, and it’s not working. All you’re doing is showing people how much of an asshole you are. Or is that your purpose?

  58. Porco Dio says

    but you’re so disgustingly manipulative

    wuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuahahahahaah this just made me laugh my fucking ass off…

    I’m really think it’s awesome how you proclaim to annihilate all my arguments and in the same breath call me disgustingly manipulative.

    There simply is no need for me to call you a fucking idiot as it is clear for all the world to see that you are one…

  59. Porco Dio says

    passive-aggressive

    this makes me laugh even harder…

    It’s charming how calmly stating/defending my position and remaining calm in the face of frothing numbskulls is “passive-aggressive”

    Nice label…. makes no sense at allllllllllll though

  60. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    Porco Dio wrote:

    Do you realise, however, that there might be somewhere in between a motherfucker-caller and lying weasel that could convince you of something?

    Do you realise that we’ve identified you as a dishonest, mealy-mouthed creep and that, subsequently, no-one here gives a flying fuck what you have to say on any topic whatsoever?

  61. says

    ‘Tis:

    Porco Dio, you’re getting tiresome. Your passive-aggressive schtick isn’t cute, it isn’t clever, and it’s not working.

    PZ did say he should wield his banhammer, this being Thor’s day…

  62. Cyranothe2nd says

    Who is this “we” that you speak of?

    Perhaps he has a turd in his pocket?

  63. Brownian says

    aaaawwww we really are still really really pissed, aren’t we…

    You just go ahead and decide that my motives are whatever you like, despite my having made my impression of you abundantly clear.

    There simply is no need for me to call you a fucking
    idiot as it is clear for all the world to see that you are one…

    Sounds great, pal, really great.

  64. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    I’m really think it’s awesome how you proclaim to annihilate all my arguments and in the same breath call me disgustingly manipulative.

    You’re nowhere near as clever as you think you are.

  65. rpjohnston says

    Know your enemy; don’t underestimate them, and don’t demonize them as evil.

    I’m not sure how I cannot see as evil those who consistently promote ideas with the real, tangible results of persecution and murder of LGBT people, women, minorities; and who contribute to the continued suffering of millions through disastrous economics, etc.

    I can get the difference between a person and ideas: the average joe may indeed not be “evil”, merely a pawn of evil.

    Others clearly are evil; Tony Perkins, Rick Santorum (indeed, virtually any Republican politician and many Democratic politicians), the Phelps (not Nate of course), Kent Hovind etc – hey have been corrected many times but have ignored those corrections.

    These ideas are clearly evil, for they lead to the tangible suffering of real people in real time, and anyone who steadfastly continues to promote this suffering is evil.

  66. Brownian says

    It’s charming how calmly stating/defending my position and remaining calm in the face of frothing numbskulls is “passive-aggressive”

    Just checking here: does anyone else have difficulty understanding that ‘passive aggressive’ applies to comments like “But I’m guessing many of them are not smart enough to realize this” and “who is the dishonest, hypocritical, piece of shit here I wonder”?

  67. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    Porco Dio wrote:

    It’s charming how calmly stating/defending my position and remaining calm in the face of frothing numbskulls is “passive-aggressive”

    Oh, okay; you don’t know what passive-aggressive is. Why didn’t you just ask someone to explain it to you?

  68. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Just checking here: does anyone else have difficulty understanding that ‘passive aggressive’ applies to comments like “But I’m guessing many of them are not smart enough to realize this” and “who is the dishonest, hypocritical, piece of shit here I wonder”?

    Those were exactly the comments I was thinking of when I accused the passive-aggressive asshole of being a passive-aggressive asshole.

  69. Porco Dio says

    Oh, okay; you don’t know what passive-aggressive is. Why didn’t you just ask someone to explain it to you?

    Nah, no thanks… I got an internet connection so I guess I could look it up if I needed too.

    What really is amusing is just getting the label… because we really really need to give people labels now, don’t we… because giving labels can definitely confirm or deny validity of opinions.

  70. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    ‘Tis Himself wrote:

    Those were exactly the comments I was thinking of when I accused the passive-aggressive asshole of being a passive-aggressive asshole.

    Sadly, this particular passive-aggressive asshole is a clueless* passive-aggressive asshole who doesn’t realise that what he’s doing has a name.

    *I’m shocked, I tell you. Shocked.

  71. Porco Dio says

    I’m not sure how I cannot see as evil those who consistently promote ideas with the real, tangible results of persecution and murder of LGBT people, women, minorities; and who contribute to the continued suffering of millions through disastrous economics, etc.

    The problem that really exists is that some people have never ever heard anything else in their lives. They cannot possibly understand that their world-view is, well, fucked.

    Remember ofc that these very same people might consider YOU evil.

    What the majority of them need is the chance to understand that there are more valid (and less evil) facts to be learned and we are better off not to prejudge ignorance as evil.

    A small minority of them are beyond evil and beyond salvation though.

  72. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    Porco Dio wrote:

    Nah, no thanks… I got an internet connection so I guess I could look it up if I needed too.

    So…someone (accurately, in this case) pointed out you were exhibiting a behaviour, but instead of actually checking to see if that was an accurate description of what you were doing, you simply denied it out of hand?

    Paging Dr Dunning! Paging Dr Kruger!

    Oh, that’s a reference to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, by the way; perhaps this time before trying to argue that it’s not an accurate description of your behaviour, you should read the article first.

    What really is amusing is just getting the label… because we really really need to give people labels now, don’t we… because giving labels can definitely confirm or deny validity of opinions.

    It’s not a label; it’s an accurate description of your behaviour, with the implicit message being ‘stop bothering because we can see through it’.

    Are you capable of grasping the difference, or will you just whine some more?

    Oh, and cut out the ‘we’ bullshit. You’re most definitely on your own here, and will remain so until you realise you aren’t smarter than everyone else and start acting accordingly.

  73. Therrin says

    does anyone else have difficulty understanding that ‘passive aggressive’ applies to comments like “But I’m guessing many of them are not smart enough to realize this” and “who is the dishonest, hypocritical, piece of shit here I wonder”?

    Nope.

  74. Louis says

    Oh joy! Oh rapture! I see we are being trolled to the tune of one Grandma Gambit.

    Jfigdor, Porco Dio, sundry people of this general nature (yes, I’m lumping you, sue me), lend me your, erm, well eyes are appropriate here. Ready? Ok, here goes:

    LET A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM.

    Thank you. Did you get that?

    A plurality of tactics in convincing people is not under dispute. A variation of methods of engagement with people is not in dispute. Getting to know your “enemy” is not in dispute. Doing charitable/volunteer work with people who happen to be of Religion X is not in dispute. Community outreach is not in dispute. All of these are good things. I’ll get to what is in dispute in a second.

    Why am I “reminding” you of this? Thank you for asking, I was just asking myself the very same question. What a coincidence.

    I am reminding you because we here at Pharyngula Towers seem to be treated to an undeserved degree of forlorn concern masturbation (for that is what you are doing) about being nasty. Or as I am going to call what you endlessly whinge about: Meen Wurdz™, and you two seem to be some of our recent masturbating funsters.

    When poor creationist Grandma is dying on her Noah’s Ark Diorama decorated creationist hospital bed, no one here is advocating bouncing into the room in a “Ken Ham Blows Goats” T-shirt and shouting “FUCK YOU OLD WOMAN! YOU’RE GOD IS A FICTION, YOU HYPOCRITICAL FUCK NUGGET, MODERN NON-CREATIONIST MEDICINE IS ALL THAT’S BEEN KEEPING YOU ALIVE ALL THESE YEARS!”. Got that? Good!

    When dealing, at the other end of the spectrum, with Ken Ham, or Kent Hovind, or Duane Gish etc a more robust approach is required. Why? Because these people, knowingly or unknowingly, are exploiting people’s socially conditioned politeness and deference to religion to tell untruths. Whether they are lying or bullshitting (in the strictly philosophical, Harry G Frankfurt sense) I leave to others to judge. The result is the same either way. You don’t let a Gish Gallop build, you are “rude” you interrupt, you stop them. Or at least that’s one very valid way to deal with someone exploiting people’s natural reticence when it comes to direct, probably offensive, confrontation. Direct and offensive confrontation you are trying to take off the table to varying degrees. Also, it’s a technique that requires you know your “enemy” very well indeed. It’s impossible to effectively interrupt a Kent Hovind with mere boorishness, it has to be insightful, technically apt interruption to skewer the rhetorical gambits these people use.

    This is, incidentally, the grand irony for me of the “accommodationist” movement. They complain that the Meen Wurdz™ crowd are scaring the women and horses, and preventing lovely cuddly atheists from kissing people. Then they plead to be allowed to be more varied in tactics whilst excluding a right good confrontation oh-so-subtly. In reality, the Meen Wurdz™ crowd are the pluralists, we want all the tactics of the accommodationists AND Meen Wurdz™.

    Which brings me to what is in dispute, which you should have guessed. Meen Wurdz™ stay on the table. We get to use them. Have your fit of vapours all you like, but Meen Wurdz™ are a useful tool. If someone is lying through their teeth or acting utterly foolishly, then sometimes, juuuuuust sometimes, telling them you see through them works. You don’t even have to be nice. Short, sharp shock. Lovely. Nobody denies that working the shaft and tickling their clock weights also works, and that’s what you just don’t get.

    The last thing that you don’t get is that different spaces/environments work in different ways. I could leap into the next biker bar I see and chuck paint over the leather clad larger gentlemen screaming “LEATHER IS MURDER!”. I imagine I would receive a richly deserved toeing of the first water. Pharyngula is that biker bar. The environment here is DELIBERATELY and CONSCIOUSLY more rough and ready than elsewhere. You be amazed how few times I’ve written “fuck” in a scientific paper, or cock similes in technical conversations. This is a space for the more challenging end of the niceness spectrum. Here be Meen Wurdz™. Some will like it, some won’t. There are different spaces, and the existence of this one does not preclude any of the others.

    None one is forced to come to the comments section here, participate here or even read beyond the last word of PZ’s post. No one is even forced to read PZ’s posts, or to agree with them. I often don’t. So think about it. If you so dislike the atmosphere, create your own somewhere else. It’s a big internet. Be a pioneer, channel that brilliance.

    But stop whining. Please. You’re giving me heartburn.

    Louis

  75. Brownian says

    When poor creationist Grandma is dying on her Noah’s Ark Diorama decorated creationist hospital bed, no one here is advocating bouncing into the room in a “Ken Ham Blows Goats” T-shirt and shouting “FUCK YOU OLD WOMAN! YOU’RE GOD IS A FICTION, YOU HYPOCRITICAL FUCK NUGGET, MODERN NON-CREATIONIST MEDICINE IS ALL THAT’S BEEN KEEPING YOU ALIVE ALL THESE YEARS!”. Got that? Good!

    I’ve several relatives whose actions in life will have merited no greater kindness than this at the point of their much-delayed departure.

  76. Louis says

    Fuck, I forgot!

    What is also in dispute is “nice at the expense of truth”. In certain circumstances being truthful is valued less, and thus loses out to, being nice.

    That sucks.

    Big, big, donkey phallus.

    Don’t do it.

    It’s naughty.

    Never compromise the truthfulness for niceness. When you pretend that (for example) “interfaith” “works” (FSM only knows what those words actually mean, they seem inordinately pliable), it does so only at the expense of being truthful. It’s patronising, it’s demeaning to (supposedly) adult theists who can, and should be, able to cope with someone thinking they are wrong about something. No one is saying at kissy kissy interfaith club the nasty atheist has to come in and piss in the soup. All that is being said is that no compromise is made on representing an accurate understanding of various claims.

    Louis

  77. Louis says

    Brownian,

    As do I, but there were other people in the room. Anyway, I was content to jump on their catheter bag…

    Louis

    P.S. NOT SERIOUS! I’m not that bad.

  78. spyro says

    In my normal interactions, I am usually friendly but (unintentionally) obnoxious.

    When I’m pissed off and need to vent, I am usually rude and can be nasty.

    When my sole intent is to piss someone else off, I am almost unfailingly polite and chirpy :) Smiley faces abound.

  79. SallyStrange: bottom-feeding, work-shy peasant says

    The etymology of “nice” is “simple-minded.”

  80. echidna says

    Porco:

    The problem that really exists is that some people have never ever heard anything else in their lives. They cannot possibly understand that their world-view is, well, fucked.

    They cannot possibly understand within the confines of their current understanding of the world. But that can change. In comment@63, I mentioned a conversation with a woman in a burka who was caught by a world-view that was hurting her badly. Being in an Australian university was already changing her views on the role of a burka in society.

    There needs to be a catalyst for change of such magnitude, which Louis describes as a short, sharp shock (with a nod to Pink Floyd). For the woman in the burka, her change of environment was shock enough. For others, it’s coming face to face with the notion that what they believe may indeed not be true, if they had to resort to a non-sanctioned lie to support it. When I see that look of shock on the face of a creationist, as they realise the implications of what they have themselves said, then I think that perhaps, over time, these people can understand “that their world-view is, well, fucked”.

  81. says

    SallyStrange:

    The etymology of “nice” is “simple-minded.”

    One of the obsolete definitions of nice is accurate. In that sense, no creationist/theist is nice.

  82. echidna says

    One of the obsolete definitions of nice is accurate. In that sense, no creationist/theist is nice.

    Perhaps that meaning still lingers on in mathematics/science/engineering, with “that’s a nice solution” where nice means elegant and accurate.

  83. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Louis #86

    Pharyngula is that biker bar. The environment here is DELIBERATELY and CONSCIOUSLY more rough and ready than elsewhere.

    This is what the accommodationists don’t seem to realize. While we can play nice with each other and with visitors, we feel no obligation to do so. There are only two things we require; (1) truth; and (2) no bullying people who can’t (or won’t) fight back.

  84. says

    Good luck with your interfaith outreach, Porco. I just wish I could be there when you have your first disagreement and start calling them “numbskulls” and shit.

  85. Rieux says

    I’m shocked that, in the several hours since the all-but-dare @60, no one has had the inclination (I don’t think “guts” is really accurate in this context; maybe “cheek” would work) to call Brownian a motherfucker.

    Brownian, you motherfucker!

  86. Brownian says

    Brownian, you motherfucker!

    It’s so patently obvious, it’s barely worth saying.

  87. chigau (違う) says

    Sometimes I regret not being present at the Time one of these occurs.
    Other times it’s nice to just read the comments much later.
    .
    .
    .
    Can we introduce Porco Dio to danielhaven?

  88. says

    @ 55,

    Being an asshole trying to communicate our point of view will work for some of the 80% but not the majority.

    To the religious, we are assholes just for existing. The tone and strategy debate is absolutely fucking pointless.

    As to the “niceness” of religious people, I find that one of the creepiest aspects of the whole religion business.

  89. theophontes 777 says

    @ chigau

    Can we introduce Porco Dio to danielhaven?

    That is fully in accordance with the expansionist policies of The Pharyngulite People’s Republic of South The Endless Thread (TZT).

    Medals may be awarded – to be pinned (ouch!) sticky-taped to your snazzy uniform.

  90. theophontes 777 says

    @ Louis 86

    LET A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM.

    (Are you trying to lure the snakes out of their holes?)

  91. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Porco Dio should divert to TZT if it wants more abuse (it being an open thread and all) since trolling here for the gratification others’ derision provides is hardly on topic.