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Mar 25 2013

Frans de Waal disappoints me

It’s just sad. He has a long article in Salon making the same tired complaints every religious dingbat throws around.

Militant atheism has become a religion

Prominent non-believers have become as dogmatic as those they deride — and become rich on the lecture circuit

I know, the title and subtitle were probably written by an editor, but they do actually reflect the content. It’s really nothing but de Waal complaining that atheists are just as dogmatic as religious fundamentalists, and throwing about half-baked theories about why this is so.

Why are the “neo-atheists” of today so obsessed with God’s nonexistence that they go on media rampages, wear T-shirts proclaiming their absence of belief, or call for a militant atheism?

What exactly is a “media rampage”? He doesn’t give any examples, nor can I think of any. Is putting up a billboard a “rampage” now? Perhaps appearing on a talk show and disagreeing with the more numerous and more vocal theists is now rampaging. And what about T-shirts is so shocking? I have T-shirts proclaiming m
affection for squid, Pink Floyd, hot sauce, and various universities. Are they religions now, too?

What does atheism have to offer that’s worth fighting for?

When high-ranking politicians declare that global climate change because the Bible says it can’t happen; when lobbyists are constantly attacking the educational system to eradicate any mention of that faith-defying evolution stuff; when screaming true believers insist that every fertilized egg has a soul and therefore women’s reproductive choices must be blocked…de Waal has to ask?

And then there’s his inane hypothesis.

It [reducing the difference between vocal athiests and quiet ones is an issue of privacy] may one day help to test my thesis that activist atheism reflects trauma. The stricter one’s religious background, the greater the need to go against it and to replace old securities with new ones.

Uh, Dawkins and Hitchens: brought up Anglican. Weak tea right there. Harris: brought up in a secular home with a Jewish mother and Quaker father. I don’t know Dennett’s religious background; there’s no hint of a strict faith upbringing, though. I know I’m not one of the luminaries de Waal is thinking of, but I come from a very liberal Lutheran background…tea not much stronger than good ol’ etiolated Anglicanism.

de Waal: brought up Catholic.

Well, gosh, it sure didn’t take much effort to blow up that dumbass idea.

I will say one thing, though: he doesn’t actual make the claim that atheists are getting rich on the lecture circuit. Maybe the editor who slapped that on there should get fact-checked?

As one of those nasty atheists who does a fair bit of lecture touring, I have to mention that I must be doing it all wrong — all rumors to the contrary, I don’t really make any money doing it, and individual places that give me a bit of an honorarium are actually just subsidizing those places where my expenses put me at a small loss. Some of the big names do better because lecture tours are opportunities to leverage book sales, and having a popular book is a way to justify larger lecture fees…but no, claiming that one gets rich on the lecture circuit is really putting the cart before the horse.

And even those who do well on lecture fees aren’t really getting rich. Frans de Waal should know this, as a popular scientist and author: is he making a fortune on his reputation? Is he doing even a tenth as well as, say, an investment banker? I suspect lecture fees are a comfortable bonus, but not a recipe for great wealth. And shall we accuse him of getting rich off of his apes?

56 comments

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  1. 1
    bittys

    It’s not that Atheism has anything in particular that’s worth fighting for, it’s that religion produces so many things which are worth fighting against

  2. 2
    Trebuchet

    Waal: brought up Catholic.

    Based on the vast majority of Catholics I’ve met, American Catholicism is also very weak tea. I’m not sure where de Waal is from. Otherwise great points all through.

  3. 3
    Jackie

    …and become rich on the lecture circuit.

    HA!

  4. 4
    René

    De Waal comes from a city 30-odd kilometers from where I grew up, catholic. He was born in the same month as yours truly.

    in the southern Netherlands—known as “below the rivers”—Catholicism was important during my youth. It defined us, setting us apart from the above-the-rivers Protestants. Every Sunday morning, we went to church in our best clothes, we received catechism at school, we sang, prayed, and confessed, and a vicar or bishop was present at every official occasion to dispense holy water (which we children happily imitated at home with a toilet brush). We were Catholic through and through.

    This is simply not true. Catholicism was already very, very liberal in those days. In my family I had an uncle-missionary, three aunties who were secluded nuns, but in the Fifties and Sixties nobody made any fuss about my father being very anti-Vatican, or about me, a questioning atheist in the making. I stopped going to church when I was twelve, and only my stepmother (the bitch) objected — but by that time I had stopped listening to her. My schools were catholic: I had quite a reputation as one of the very out atheists, but not even the clerics among my teachers ever objected.

    So, the Brabant catholics were an easy-going bunch.

  5. 5
    iknklast

    Based on the vast majority of Catholics I’ve met, American Catholicism is also very weak tea. I’m not sure where de Waal is from

    American Catholicism, like every other religious tradition, is not monolithic. Where I live, Catholicism is strong, not weak. It is rigid. It insists on the rules of the church. It does, however, constitute only a small portion of American Catholics, since I come from a rural agricultural state in the midwest; still, you can’t make totally blanket statements like that. There are any number of American Catholics who are very rigid and unbending (think Rick Santorum). I wouldn’t want to be their kid, and I grew up in a fundamentalist (Protestant) household. At least my mother believed in birth control (but not for unmarried daughters).

  6. 6
    kantalope

    I’ll disagree with bittys – there is fighting for truth and reality. Jousting against the fibberati would always be worthwhile.

  7. 7
    jamesfish

    Ah, the militant-atheism-as-religion meme; I wan’t expecting the mid 00s revival to begin so soon.

  8. 8
    Argle Bargle

    Another anti-atheist rant by a theist who’s never spoken to an atheist.

  9. 9
    ChasCPeterson

    I have T-shirts proclaiming my affection for squid, Pink Floyd, hot sauce, and various universities. Are they religions now, too?

    Come on with the strawfigures. Let’s have some nuance here for a change.

    which universities?

    which Pink Floyd album?

  10. 10
    blf

    No, no, much more important: Which Hot Sauces?

  11. 11
    David Wilford

    Despite his claim about the roots of reactionary atheism, de Waal’s new book (The Bonobo and the Atheist) looks like a sympathetic read for atheists.

  12. 12
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    2006 called, Mr. de Waal—it wants its tired tropes back.

  13. 13
    Rey Fox

    Why are the “neo-atheists” of today so obsessed with God’s nonexistence that they go on media rampages, wear T-shirts proclaiming their absence of belief, or call for a militant atheism?

    Because it’s FUN!

    I can’t speak for everyone, the fact that open atheism provokes such reactions from stuck-up whineypantses like de Waal must be a motivating factor.

  14. 14
    Rey Fox

    2006 called

    Yeah, nowadays the cool kids are all militant femistormtroopers.

  15. 15
    ChasCPeterson

    de Waal’s new book (The Bonobo and the Atheist) looks like a sympathetic read for atheists.

    What a coincidence!! that his latest *$*BOOK*$* is an atheism *$*BOOK*$*!

    Guy wants to be the Moderate Horseman.

  16. 16
    David Wilford

    Would that we had more “moderate horsemen” doing as much as de Waal to undercut the theistic claims about God being necessary for morality, not to mention politely calling B.S. on evolutionary psychology.

  17. 17
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Yeah, nowadays the cool kids are all militant femistormtroopers.

    Exactly, Rey. Where has he been?

  18. 18
    David Wilford

    I’m a bit surprised that de Waal’s work isn’t evidently better known here, but here’s as good a place to start as any:

    http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674356610

  19. 19
    phrankeaufyl

    I have T-shirts proclaiming my affection for the Beatles, Basset Hounds and hockey. Are they …. Well, come to think of it.

  20. 20
    jamessweet

    Why are the “neo-atheists” of today so obsessed with God’s nonexistence that they go on media rampages, wear T-shirts proclaiming their absence of belief, or call for a militant atheism?

    Although I don’t care for some of the word choices, this is a legitimate question — and last time I checked, there were plenty of us willing to answer it, if de Waal would, um, listen. Hell, Greta Christina has an entire book that is dedicated to answering this question!

  21. 21
    Mobius

    Pink Floyd…

    yes, Yes, YES!

    [sorry. continue.]

  22. 22
    leftwingfox

    Guy wants to be the Moderate Horseman.

    Lots of competition for that.

    Perhaps we need the Four Horsemen of the Drizzly Afternoon?

    The Leisurely Canter of the Dim Brigade?

  23. 23
    Azuma Hazuki

    This tripe again…

    Someone tell de Waal that it’s not trauma from upbringing that does it (not even in my case!) but horror at the consequences of skewed thinking. It’s a kind of penance, partially, something along the lines of “I will atone for my own mental pollution by finding and spreading the truth.”

    Also, he’s another one who doesn’t understand that atheism is a simple lack of belief; most of us are also humanists of some stripe, and that is what drives us morally. Atheism is a negative; it isn’t even a positive declaration that “There is no God!” (this is properly anti-theism), just a simple lack of that belief.

    On its own it cannot impel anyone to do anything; but it will spur people to investigate the sources and applications of moral and scientific thought, since they no longer have a just-so story to fall back on. Hence, why almost all atheists are positive humanists as well.

    Atheism is when your junky old Ford Pinto breaks down; humanism is deciding to walk back home.

  24. 24
    Hekuni Cat, MQG

    Rene – Gendered slurs are not acceptable here, even if the person in question is a disliked stepmother.

  25. 25
    jamessweet

    Someone tell de Waal that it’s not trauma from upbringing that does it (not even in my case!) but horror at the consequences of skewed thinking. It’s a kind of penance, partially, something along the lines of “I will atone for my own mental pollution by finding and spreading the truth.”

    There’s a nugget of truth in the “trauma from upbringing” argument, in that: People who grow up in nice friendly progressive religions tend to have less incentive to ask difficult questions, and tend to have fonder memories of their churches, and so (anecdotally, at least — I am not aware of data to back this up) may be a little more likely to be softer on religion.

    But a) even if the trend is real, i’s far from a universal phenomenon, as PZ’s examples of prominent atheists from liberal upbringings amply demonstrates; and b) even if it were universal, it’s not an argument against atheism per se — at best it would suggest a conflict of interest that recommends we double-check our arguments to make sure they are airtight. (Double-checking now…) Yep, still no god here!

  26. 26
    w00dview

    How about that, I am currently reading the Age of Empathy by de Waal now and it is a really good read. It looks at empathy/altruism in non human species and how it arose in human evolution. Excellent book to counter the Social Darwinism bollocks from the right. Disappointing to hear such an obviously smart guy come out with this clichéd tripe. I expected better.

  27. 27
    PZ Myers

    Which universities? There are so many. I was wearing a Galway hoodie and a UNLV shirt at times this weekend, and today it’s my Miskatonic University Department of Necromancy shirt.

    Which Floyd? Any made before Roger Waters left the group.

    Which hot sauce? I’d have to dig down to find it. I think it was Atomic.

  28. 28
    Martin Wagner

    Well, I was going to buy his book. Just saved myself some money.

  29. 29
    Sastra

    I read the article. As I already knew, de Waal is an atheist with excellent arguments to make against some of the standard reasons to believe in God. However, like PZ, I didn’t know de Waal was an “atheist but-ter,” a Good Atheist who just can’t understand why atheists should care about religion as a whole. Why not just focus on it when it oversteps its bounds and attacks us? Can’t we all just get along? But de Waal is not framing the issue of tolerance and diversity correctly.

    He is treating religion as if it was an aspect of the diverse smorgasbord of human differentiation — instead of treating it as one view contending with others to solve a shared human problem: what is the nature of reality? When you classify religious beliefs under the Smorgasbord heading, it will look as if you are advocating tolerance and harmony. They become matters of identity and preference, neither right now wrong — just different. But if religious beliefs are actually conclusions in the human search for truth, then treating them as if they are identities is not going to promote tolerance and harmony: it is going to be divisive. De Waal doesn’t “get” the so-called militant atheists because he’s not seeing the discussion from the right perspective.

    In my interactions with religious and nonreligious people alike, I now draw a sharp line, based not on what exactly they believe but on their level of dogmatism. I consider dogmatism a far greater threat than religion per se.

    As Richard Dawkins would probably point out here, do not confuse “passion” for “dogmatism.” He knows what would change his mind: do they?

    The part of religion which helps to define it as religion and distinguish it from non-religion is the introduction of “faith” into supernatural empirical claims which would fail to be convincing on their own merits. Suddenly, you’re supposed to treat these special beliefs as if they were moral commitments which you can either “accept” or “deny,” live up to or rebel against. I think de Waal is distracted by how nice many religious people are and he’s not focusing enough on what religious belief has them DO. It promotes dogmatism — dogmatic thinking, dogmatic adherence, and the dogmatic refusal to consider dissent.

    One dogmatic way dogmatists dismiss dissent is by arguing that dissenters need to shut up for the sake of harmony and tolerance. Change the topic: who cares whether God exists or not?

    They do, that’s who. And they think atheists don’t believe in God because we have closed our minds by closing our hearts. De Waal shouldn’t buy into this argument. Of course they want atheists to change the subject! They’re promoting dogmatism as an IDEAL, not a vice. Don’t oblige.

    What does atheism have to offer that’s worth fighting for?

    A non-dogmatic approach to discovering the nature of reality — all the way down.

    I mean really. How DARE religious people claim that understanding, knowing, recognizing , and relating to God is THE most significant act of every individual in the universe and the purpose and reason for existence itself … and then follow that up with a mewling little plea that this is all very personal and private and not the sort of thing that ought to be ‘attacked’ by outsiders? As if religious people are merely expressing an aesthetic preference and atheists are like bullies telling them their sense of taste is terrible. Like Hell. They need to pick a horse and ride it — and not change it the minute criticism rears its head.

    two kinds of atheists. Those in one group are uninterested in exploring their outlook and even less in defending it. These atheists think that both faith and its absence are private matters. They respect everyone’s choice, and feel no need to bother others with theirs. Those in the other group are vehemently opposed to religion and resent its privileges in society. These atheists don’t think that disbelief should be kept locked up in the closet. They speak of “coming out,” a terminology borrowed from the gay movement, as if their nonreligiousness was a forbidden secret that they now want to share with the world. The difference between the two kinds boils down to the privacy of their outlook.

    No, the difference between the two kinds of atheists — what we call accomodationists and gnu atheists — does NOT boil down to the “privacy of their outlook” — but to the depth of their analysis. The first group is happy to put religion-as-identity into the Tolerance Smorgasbord where any insistence that there is right or wrong is judgmental and therefore “rude.” Debate is all about status and a win/lose zero-sum game. If you take their faith away they are diminished from who they were. Diversity should be celebrated and kept — it’s a smorgasbord, not a competition.

    But the second group takes ego and identity OUT of how we draw conclusions and places religion-as-hypothesis into the competitive diversity of a Truth-seeking group. When you do this, you turn debate into a Win-Win situation. How? The person who was wrong has learned something and gotten closer to their goal. Both sides have the same goal: discovery. There are no losers. Not really. Does God exist? Let’s find out together. Show me where I’m wrong and I’ll change my mind and be the better for it.

    Does de Waal not see the nobility, the tolerance — and the amazing benefit of this approach? It allows the common ground to draw and bind humanity together on a question which is supposed to matter. The only legitimate way a religious person can refuse to join this second group is by insisting that they don’t care whether God exists or not because they’re just getting so many good things from believing as if they cared. It’s about them. They love the showmanship of having a religious identity. I’m not sure if this makes them an atheist or not but it sure as heck doesn’t say much for the sincerity of their love for God. And that certainly takes away any need for us to respect their beliefs when they don’t respect them themselves.

    I could quote more from the article and stamp up and down on it — but I probably need to stop. De Waal is not taking religion seriously enough. And he’s not realizing what it will really do to the Diversity Smorgasbord if we include conclusions about fact claims as if they were personal commitments to moral ideals. He doesn’t like dogmatism? Good. Think on this more carefully.

  30. 30
    w00dview

    I was wearing a Galway hoodie

    Wait? NUI Galway? I did my undergraduate there!

  31. 31
    Sastra

    I was raised without religion and more or less came to an open atheism after going through various liberal versions of religion which eventually culminated in self-identification as a Transcendentalist. And yet I feel the need to “bother” people with my “choice” (it’s not a choice dammit — it’s a falsifiable conclusion!) So there’s more data against de Waal’s “thesis.” For crying out loud, you don’t get traumatized from Transcendentalism! Believing that the universe adheres together through the force of Love and is grounded in Beauty doesn’t exactly entail a lot of restrictions.

    About all I can say from my own experience is that I think my background tends to make me a bit less focused on Christian fundamentalism and a bit more pissed-off at New Age spirituality than others.

  32. 32
    rbh3

    David Wilford suggested

    Despite his claim about the roots of reactionary atheism, de Waal’s new book (The Bonobo and the Atheist) looks like a sympathetic read for atheists.

    But there’s this from the Barnes & Noble blurb for the book:

    (P.S. De Waal is no Richard Dawkins. His view of religion is not hostile; indeed, he emphasizes the beneficial humanistic role it can play in a well-functioning society.)

  33. 33
    David Wilford

    For those who are interested, here’s a link to de Waal’s newest book, where you can read the first chapter (Earthly Delights) that deals with religion:

    http://books.wwnorton.com/books/detail-inside.aspx?ID=24800&CTYPE=G

  34. 34
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Exactly! I couldn’t care less about other people’s superstitions except when their tendency to wave their arms intersects with my nose. Suppose they thought spilling salt was a sin and therefore roads & walks couldn’t ever be salted during winter to prevent accidents and falls? People would die and I would be opposed to superstition-based legislation.

    It’s the same with interference with women’s right to abort pregnancies or people’s right to marry consenting adults whom they love.

  35. 35
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    And Sastra’s right, too–claiming that one needs religion or a god to understand the universe is hella dogmatic.

  36. 36
    grumpyoldfart

    The headline and sub-heading have been toned down:

    Has militant atheism become a religion
    Can the gap between the religious and the non-religious be bridged, when the debate itself is so attention-getting?

  37. 37
    bittys

    @6 Kantalope

    I’ll disagree with bittys – there is fighting for truth and reality. Jousting against the fibberati would always be worthwhile.

    Truth and reality don’t need fighting for, because they’re real, and true, no matter what.

    I tend to look at it more from the perspective that we’re fight against the fibberati* trying to get people to run their lives by lies and nonsense.

    * brilliant word by the way

  38. 38
    Zeno

    I can prove that atheism is not the best-paying gig on the lecture circuit. If it were, Ann Coulter would have come out as a nonbeliever.

  39. 39
    nullifidian

    To Sastra @ #29:

    *applause*

  40. 40
    David Marjanović

    It’s not that Atheism has anything in particular that’s worth fighting for, it’s that religion produces so many things which are worth fighting against

    Delurks and wins a thread in the first comment. *standing ovation*

    Atheism is when your junky old Ford Pinto breaks down; humanism is deciding to walk back home.

    :-)

  41. 41
    roro80

    It [reducing the difference between vocal athiests and quiet ones is an issue of privacy] may one day help to test my thesis that activist atheism reflects trauma. The stricter one’s religious background, the greater the need to go against it and to replace old securities with new ones.

    In addition to the fact that this is pretty easily refutable (per PZ’s examples), it’s also pretty messed up. Why shouldn’t those directly traumatized by religion be allowed to fight for non-religion? The argument is similar to accusing black people of being too “biased” to fight for the rights of black people, or women who have been raped as too “emotionally compromised” by her lived experience to make good decisions about rape policy. Are people born and raised as skeptics the only ones allowed to be skeptical without this guy going all arm-chair shrink on them?

  42. 42
    Argle Bargle

    Sastra @29

    I am impressed.

  43. 43
    witlesschum

    The trauma thing is a cliche.

    If you tell people you’re an atheist and you’ve had an exceptionally tough life, they’ll tell you only think that way because all the trauma has hardened your heart. If you tell people you’re an atheist and you’ve had an exceptionally easy life, they’ll say it’s that you’ve never been tested.

  44. 44
    Caveat Imperator

    Even if accommodationists and liberal theists were right in claiming that most religious people were actually well-meaning, ethical people, and most religions taught things that the rest of us would recognize as ethical, there are still two massive hurdles that cannot be ignored:
    1. In a world with competing religious traditions, religion alone gives you no ability to tell the difference between an ethical action and an unethical one.
    2. When religion has updated and modernized itself, it has nearly always done so because of external cultural pressure. If a religion was constantly receiving patches to its morality from its god, someone would have noticed by now.
     
    Because of this, even the better parts of religion are either redundant with secular ethics and culture, or right for the wrong reasons. If religion just reflects morality as understood another way, why not cut out the middleman of supernaturalism? And even the more liberal religions are frequently still very authoritarian, so when they get ethics right, their basis for it is still immature and come with little understanding of what actually makes an action ethical.

  45. 45
    Charles Sullivan

    Dennett was raised a Congregationalist (most likely of the liberal variety). He mentions this is his interview with Bill Moyers (on the Charlie Rose show). Video available on Youtube.

  46. 46
    Eric O

    Frans de Waal occasionally writes smart and interesting articles. This is not one of those cases.

    As for his hypothesis, neither of my parents are religious. What attracted me to movement atheism was a simple love for reality and a disgust with religious morality that people were using to justify bigoted attitudes.

  47. 47
    bachfiend

    I’ve read ‘the Bonobo and the Atheist’ and I thought that it was excellent.

    It’s no bad thing to have a ‘moderate’ atheist getting publicity. Frans de Waal is passionate about science, which I regard as being more important than attempting to ‘de-convert’ believers. Beliefs acquired on non-reason based grounds can’t be defeated by appeals to reason.

  48. 48
    Eirik van der Meer

    Everything becomes religion eventually. Someone will always follow blindly, believing the slogans and catchphrases without really understanding. Just look at some of the more dedicated environmental nut-cases, don’t they preach of armageddon, judgment and suffering just like a lot of preachers?

  49. 49
    kreativekaos

    Militant atheism has become a religion

    Prominent non-believers have become as dogmatic as those they deride —

    Must be pretty much the case. They seem to be rubbing quite a few raw with a single-minded–and yes, dogmatic– drone, enough so that it is being increasingly complained about from various quarters, even in their own camp, both professional and lay. Kind of getting that feeling myself, and it’s tiring.

  50. 50
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Militant atheism has become a religion

    …again?

  51. 51
    mbrysonb

    My main reason for being ‘out’ and assertive as an atheist is because I realized that, if our own voices aren’t heard, anybody can say whatever they please about us. This isn’t dogmatism– I’m didn’t decide to not believe in God regardless of the evidence, I decided to not believe in God because of the evidence. Look at this world and tell me this is what you would expect on the assumption of an omniscient, all-powerful, perfectly benevolent creator-God. (And no fudging around about ‘mysterious ways’ and ‘how benevolence can manifest itself in ways that may appear cruel’ & etc.: God’s existence is a descriptive claim about the world, and if it has no comprehensible links to what sort of world we should expect, it’s an empty hypothesis.) I’m a bit disappointed in Franz– maybe he’s encountered some spittle from over-assertive types, but we’ve seen centuries of way worse that spittle from the other guys…

  52. 52
    ck

    “neo-atheists”? Really? Maybe I’m reading too much into this, and he didn’t mean to indirectly associate us with neo-nazis… But atheist critics have been calling us “New Atheists” for so long, I’m not sure why the “neo-” prefix, usually only used in the popular media when dealing with the aforementioned racist group, was used instead of sticking with what was already fairly common. Sure, it’s all plausibly deniable, since “neo-” simply means “new”, but…

  53. 53
    Ichthyic

    de Waal paraphrases Dennet as asking:

    Clearly, religion is man-made, so the question is what good does it do for us. Are we born to believe and, if so, why?

    This is nothing but ignorance of both the study of religion within the disciplines of sociology and psychology AND ignorance of what Dennet really had to say about religion.

    It, in fact, is the best summary of de Waal’s entire piece, which is little more in its entirety than an argument from ignorance.

    THIS guy is considered one of the most influential people in the world??

    We’re screwed.

  54. 54
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    I like de Waal, so it is kinda nice that Sastra left the door ajar for him in # 29. I am a little aghast at his quoted comments. He is, after all rather “shrill”, in that he has utterly trashed GAWD ™ through the evidence he has presented over the years. One simply cannot take the big sky-daddy seriously after reading de Waal. Perhaps he realises that these truths, that he has exposed, will not cause any emotional harm to goddists at all. They are, after all, well practiced, and trained, in keeping truth out. But what the gnu-atheists are doing … riding roughshod over these (otherwise) sweet people’s emotions. Jeetje, dat doet pas écht pijn!!!

  55. 55
    frits0

    So De Waal has said something that PZ disagrees with. It actually happens to be something I disagree with. Some of the people on here have taken this disagreement for what it is, namely a difference of opinion on a very specific point, that does not in any way take away from his scientofic work. Too many of you seem all to eager to jump to all kinds of conclusions that are utterly laughable , such as the response in 8. that makes it abudantly clear the writer hasn’t even got the foggiest clue who Frans De Waal is. The ironic and very sad thing is that the people who reacted in similar ways as Ulysses in 8. act pretty much exactly like religious followers. The leader PZ says he is dissapointed in someone and his followers gleefully jump down the throat of the one who dissapointed the great PZ, thus partially proving De Waal’s suggestions right. I don’t think PZ Myers is the cause of this, but rather those that blindly follow the people who are somehow considered to be leaders of atheism. I happen to disagree with De Waal. I do not think that militant atheism is a religion. I don’t think that militant atheists are blind dogmatists by essence. Rather I think that the percentage of people who do act like dogmatists within the militant atheist community is growing. The evidence is before people. The majority of the reactions on this forum were thoughtful, adressed De Waal’s arguments with counter arguments and suggested that though they disagree with De Waal on this point, they see his merits on other points. A smaller group (though a much larger group than I like) seem to feel that Myers dissapointment to let go in an orgy of all out attack of De Waal, whilst sometimes patently not having the faintest clue who this person is. An attack I might add, in the form of derision and mockery, dismissive of De Waal and his works for a single point of view that they don’t share. It’s what theists do when they dismiss Dawkin and all his scientific work, because they can’t stomach his atheism. It’s using emotion to make decisions about rationaliy.

    Any organisation has the potential to become a group of rigid dogmatists that behave as religious groups do. So does militant atheism. The fact that De Waal is wrong about militant atheism being akin to a religion may be true right now. But apparently enough people don’t like to think for themselves and rather would regurgitate the arguments of famous atheist without ever actually looking at them critically exist, and that’s a danger we should all be wary of.

  56. 56
    Stacy

    THIS guy is considered one of the most influential people in the world??

    We’re screwed

    No, happily, we’re not. de Waal’s talking out of his ass on this subject. PZ’s right, he should have just asked gnus what they think. Instead he ass-umed he knew what and how they think, and ran with that half-baked hypothesis.

    But when he’s talking about his area of expertise, de Waal is full-baked and sharp, and has a great deal to say which is important. He’s done as much as anyone, I think, to demonstrate the evolutionary roots of empathy, morality, and culture, and more than anyone else in delivering that message to the laypublic. I’m disappointed he gets us wrong, but his life’s work isn’t about religion or atheism. It’s about primate behavior and his work on empathy is heartening. It stands against a paradigm that claims nature is nothing but heartless competition and human beings and other animals are thoroughly brutish. That paradigm would either have us be condemned to inevitable war and cruelty, or clutching at the notion of god-given morality (since it doesn’t acknowledge morality could have arisen naturally.) de Waal is one of the people we have to thank for whupping that paradigm’s ass and spreading the news that empathy is natural, too, and that our animal cousins have more to them than scientists, at least, ever used to acknowledge.

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