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Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?

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A little while ago, I got this email from a reporter.

My editors and I feel that in the wake of Dawkins’ series of tweets last week about what rapes are worse than others it is time to ask the question:

Is Richard Dawkins an asset or a liability to movement atheism?

Would you care to weigh in on this? Would anyone else you know care to? I know this is more than touchy and am open to allowing anonymity – with a discussion first.

You may have seen the final article. You might have noticed that there was nothing from me in it. There’s a reason for that: I thought the whole concept was odious, and did not dignify it with a reply. I also knew what would happen — that the result would be a set of statements in which some decide that he’s a bad witch, some that say he’s a good witch, and some that struggle to straddle the middle ground and express some of the complexity of the question, and on the whole it was going to be a meaningless mess. It’s an attempt to place a person on a simple linear scale, and to make it worse, get diverse people with diverse views to produce a hodge-podge of assessments that would be impossible to reduce. It was an invitation to play Numberwang, and the only way to win is not to play.

It also struck me as a very Abrahamic exercise. Are you on the side of the angels or the devils? When the Lord weighs you on the scale, will you be found wanting? Let’s stand in judgment of your whole life, and decided whether you deserve heaven or hell.

This is not to say you can’t criticize forcefully. Richard Dawkins has demonstrated a lack of empathy for women’s issues; give him hell. But he’s also a brilliant storyteller who has been a driving force for atheism; send him roses. Brian Dunning is a convicted con artist, but he’s also…well, I’m sure his family loves him. PZ Myers was a petty little shit last Tuesday, but on Wednesday he was a sweetheart.

This is the way humans are. It tempts our minds to find cognitive shortcuts and place a simple label on everything — good guy, bad guy, idiot, genius, villain, hero — and try to reduce everyone to a number in a ledger, but people aren’t reducible.

Try it yourself. What number are you? On a linear scale from -10 to +10 (oh, look, I’m providing an opportunity for more nuance than that article, which only asked plus or minus), where are you? Do you think the number changes from day to day, or minute to minute? Would everyone you know agree with your number? Do you think a public poll on what number you deserve would be more useful than assigning it with a random number generator? (I just tried one; it turns out I’m a 5.)

You’d think that people would recognize that trying to rank human beings is rather like trying to rank rape. No good can come of it.

Comments

  1. fmitchell says

    Is it bad that my mind first went to a scene from the Amazing Stories episode “Mummy Daddy”, in which an actor in full mummy makeup encounters a posse of hayseed mummy-hunters?

    LITTLE GIRL: Are you a good mummy or a bad mummy?

    ACTOR: (muffled by makeup) Yws! Yws! W wm a gwwd mwmmw!

    LITTLE GIRL: LET’S NOT TAKE ANY CHANCES!

    (mob surges forward)

    So yes, expect articles asking “Is New Atheism Dead?” and answers in the affirmative.

  2. Ichthyic says

    Try it yourself. What number are you? On a linear scale from -10 to +10 (oh, look, I’m providing an opportunity for more nuance than that article, which only asked plus or minus), where are you?

    uh… scale of what?

    on the average scale of all scales that I can possibly think of…. naw, I can’t possibly even come up with a number.

  3. exi5tentialist says

    I agree that ranking rape is ridiculous, but as an advocate of the Single Transferable Vote system for legislature elections, I reject the idea that it is wrong to rank human beings. Even putting a cross or not next to somebody’s name is to rank them. For example, Richard Dawkins was not directly elected as Vice President of the British Humanist Association by BHA members. I wish they had had an opportunity to rank him, we would have seen how much support he commands over a period of time.

    That they have not had such an opportunity is a main reason I would not join the BHA. Atheists should not settle for ‘fun’ rankings from journalists, we should demand more. Dawkins, PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, Ophelia Benson should not be ranked by commercial attraction alone, as they are at the moment.

    If I did have an opportunity to rank him as an atheist, Dawkins would not make it onto any numbered rank, I think he is worse than useless to the rejection of the concept of the existence of God. He is, however, extremely useful to all forms of anti-religious prejudice. He is great to listen to as a popular geneticist, but one word from him off his specialist subject and he goes right to the bottom of any ranking league I might get involved in.

    There is much anti-democratic thinking in atheist collectives. Also, hell is an Abrahamic concept.

  4. says

    Oh, definitively a good witch. 10+ at least!
    >_>
    <_<

    I totally didn't do any black magic involving webs and reading blasphemous works through said webs or communicating with godless cephalopods through them. Nope, totally a good witch! :P

  5. Ichthyic says

    I agree that ranking rape is ridiculous, but

    pet peeve… this bit of rhetoric must not be used by anyone who wishes to be taken seriously.

    “I agree, but…”

    just… no.

  6. exi5tentialist says

    @ichthyic “I agree with this but I disagree with that” is a pet peeve? An eggshell too far, I think.

    just … no

  7. Ichthyic says

    no, it’s bad rhetoric, meant to lure others into your main point, which is in disagreement.

    it’s a form of bait and switch, and yes, it should be avoided.

    or do you always bait and switch in your rhetoric?

  8. exi5tentialist says

    Well if it’s bad rhetoric I’ll no doubt score low in the comment rankings.

    Oh, there aren’t any comment rankings! We’ll never know!

  9. Louis says

    I am perfect. My mummy said so.

    Not that I have any disagreement with such concepts as: my mother, perfection, infantile binary rankings….

    Louis

  10. Al Dente says

    While I understand the argument that Dawkins, like the rest of us, is a complex, sometimes contradictory person, I think the question “Is Richard Dawkins an asset or a liability to movement atheism?” has legitimacy. Through happenstance, luck, and self-promotion, Dawkins is a leader of movement atheism. He wrote the popular and influential The God Delusion and makes countless public appearances promoting atheism. Furthermore he knows he’s a leader. His threat to David Silverman–“Either Rebecca Watson or me”–meant that Watson did not speak at the Reason Rally.

    When Dawkins speaks and writes about atheism (or biology) then he’s a good witch leader. When Dawkins gets on Twitter and especially when he refuses to acknowledge there are legitimate criticisms of his tweets then he’s a bad witch leader. Ranking rape and pedophilia has nothing to do with atheism but, since Dawkins is seen as an atheist leader by non-atheists, his thoughts on rape and pedophilia are seen as characteristic of atheist thoughts on those subjects. In which case he is a liability to movement atheism.

  11. HappyNat says

    I toook the how good of a person are you quiz and I got “Starsky and Hutch”! See what number you get!

    I’m thinking the algorithm for these online quizzes is a bit off.

  12. anteprepro says

    PZ, this post is an utter cop out. Yes, you can in fact rank people. No, it is not just like choosing random numbers. No, it doesn’t matter if the person is good in other respects beyond the metric. No, it doesn’t matter if they vary from day to day: find the average. The question was whether Dawkins was an asset or liability to the atheist movement. That’s it. It is an easy question. You could have easily said “neither” or “it isn’t clear” . Instead you posted this, which reeks of evasion.

    On another note: In that article, we get a response from Dan Dennett. For some reason I had assumed he would be the reasonable one. He was the quiet one who actually cared about his fellow human beings. Perhaps with his beard and his neuroscience background, I was simply assuming/hoping he was PZ from the future or something. But, anyway, Dennett’s response:

    “I thought Richard’s responses were right on target. If some radical feminists (and others) think that all rape is equally bad, do they think it is not quite as bad as murder? If so, are THEY condoning rape? And if they think rape and murder are always equally bad, they really have lost their bearings and do not deserve our attention. Richard has been immensely important.”

    So yeah. Fuck all of The Four Horsemen.

  13. Bernard Bumner says

    @Al Dent #13,
    I think Dawkins has acted appallingly on these social justice issues, and I don’t count myself as a fan, but you have managed to dismiss him as attaining leadership through luck and a single popular book. On the other hand, your list of misdemeanours is more comprehensive.

    You have to acknowledge that Dawkins has a long history of published elegant essays and books on Atheism, atheism, and evolution (as a sufficient naturalistic explanation). He attained leadership through hard work and effort and by taking on powerful voices of opposition. He was very effective within a more focused and exclusive movement. It would be blinkered to deny all of that.

    So the question of whether the most famous living voice on his subject is an asset to the movement cannot be easily solved. His work is still an entry point for many, many new people who are only really considering atheism, and who aren’t invested in social justice concerns. The question should be whether the movement, such as it is, is really fit for the modern world.

  14. anteprepro says

    pet peeve… this bit of rhetoric must not be used by anyone who wishes to be taken seriously.
    “I agree, but…”
    just… no.

    “I agree with X but not with Y” is bad rhetoric? Oooookay….

  15. Bernard Bumner says

    @Al Dent,
    Sorry, rereading, I realise that sounds as though I’m arguing against something you wrote, where I am in broad agreement. I think my point is that Dawkins and the movement appear to largely in step at the moment, and our concerns are not very visible to the public. In any case, Dawkins problems are shared by general society.

  16. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    This person who wrote this article: did she ask anyone who wasn’t already firmly entrenched in movement atheism what their opinion on Dawkins is? You know, those people she’s supposedly worried are being alienated by Dawkins? Did she ask any of them? Did she consult anyone with knowledge of social justice concepts other than PZ? Normally I’d think PZ was a good person to ask about social justice concerns but, his desire to remain steadfastly on the fence wrt Dawkins completely negated that in this case.

    PZ, you’re not this determined to find the silver lining in anyone else when they do and say odious things. Repeatedly and unapolagetically.

  17. Al Dente says

    Bernard Bumner @17 & 19 (I was tempted to write Bummer but I refrained)

    It’s difficult to boil down years of effort to a sentence or two. My point was to show that Dawkins is a leader of the atheist movement.

    Dawkins does occasionally show signs of having some understanding and appreciation of social issues. The Benson-Dawkins Treaty and his lukewarm reconsideration (I won’t call it an apology) of Dear Muslima are examples. However after making those gestures to the social justice side of the movement, he almost immediately jams his foot back into his mouth. Ranking rape is going to be triggering for rape victims and their supporters and Dawkins, an intelligent, educated man, should have realized that. Or perhaps he did realize it and didn’t care, I’m not going to armchair analyze his motivations. Either way, he has become a liability for one side of the great rift, a side which I am personally on. The Slymepit sees Dawkins as an ally, a weak ally possibly but still on their side. That makes him a liability.

  18. anteprepro says

    Also apparently Dawkins is still digging.
    Trigger Warning.

    It was very unpleasant, but it didn’t ruin my life and I had the temerity to say so in my memoir and elsewhere. I had the effrontery to downplay my experience and imply that it could have been worse…..

    Pandemonium in the Pigeon-lofts. Freethought Feeding Frenzy…..How dare Dawkins BELITTLE the horrors of pedophiliac assault?”…..

    Who exactly is doing the belittling here? Suppose I had said what my critics apparently wanted me to say, namely that my experience in the squash court was among the worst things that ever happened to me? I could imagine the following explosive retort from another pedophile victim: “WHAT? You cannot be SERIOUS. When I was a child, I was painfully raped by my father”…..

    There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison. But maybe you get the point? If we wish to insist (in the face of judicial practice everywhere) that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad, perhaps we need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what.

    So he sort of apologizes for Dear Muslima. Sort of. And his “no rivarly in victimhood” line kinda contradicts everything he is saying. And “all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad” is bordering on strawman. It is more along the lines that you do not know the consequences that any given assault will have on the victim just based on the type of assault. ESPECIALLY not on the basis of “date rape” vs. “stranger rape”. ESPECIALLY not when it comes to victimized children. Dawkins considers to defend himself by saying “well, of course they can’t be perfectly equal”. Even if he were right, that hardly defends his original propositions in the first place. And it hardly justifies using such offensive examples to “prove” some asinine logical point. And it definitely doesn’t justify the doubling down and doubling down and doubling down, with no apology in sight, and simply characterizing the opposition as overly emotional and illogical (“Women, am I right?”).

    This is why Dawkins pretty clearly is a liability to atheism. At least to atheism that cares about women and racial minorities. He was quite the asset once upon a time, but I think it is time that the Atheist Pope turned in his fancy hat and his keys to Twitter, and just shut the fuck up.

  19. anteprepro says

    PZ Myers

    My answer would not be “neither”, but “both”.

    There you go. That sounds about right to me, actually.

  20. Al Dente says

    The evil that men do lives after them;. The good is oft interrèd with their bones. -Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 2

  21. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    What do you argue all the time about deciding who you want to share a movement with? That’s ranking people. This one you want in, the other one – for example a racist ass – you don’t. THe other one is a liability in the sense that supporting their voice in the movement is as good as silencing non-white people who won’t feel welcome in the atheist (skeptic, secular, whichever) movement.

    Good witch, bad witch, if you want.

    Would you have trouble saying that,for example DJ Grothe, has become more of a liability than an asset to the atheist movement?
    Why are rules different for Dawkins?

  22. David Chapman says

    PZ Myers:

    It’s an attempt to place a person on a simple linear scale, and to make it worse, get diverse people with diverse views to produce a hodge-podge of assessments that would be impossible to reduce.

    I’m not getting this. I can’t take it seriously in part because, while it might arguably be foolish to assess someone’s character with a number, the journalist lady didn’t ask for that. She appears to have taken up an issue raised by Greta Christina, who does think that Prof. Dawkins is a liability to atheism, and said so in an email, if the article is accurate. This is a straightforward and important, real world issue, with a definite answer out there in reality. Either he is or he isn’t. Yes it’s a tough bloody matter to assess, but like her you are well placed to do so if anyone is. There’s even a possibilty that if a few prominent people such as you and Greta came to the conclusion that yes, Richard Dawkins, you’re doing more harm than good to atheism, it might finally get through to the guy. So it’s an important matter.
    You say:

    On a linear scale from -10 to +10 (oh, look, I’m providing an opportunity for more nuance than that article, which only asked plus or minus),

    The whole post obfuscates the intention of the original question, which was not about his character or abilities as you are suggesting but about the effect he’s having. But simultaneously as this confusion is being generated, this one to ten scale is turning things on its head. Who in the world could assess Professor Dawkins’ contribution to/detraction from your movement, ( at the present moment ), on a scale of one to ten? A scale of one to ten for that doesn’t introduce nuance, it caricatures the whole concept and makes it seem ridiculous; ergo unreasonable. But a simple assessment of whether Dawkins is doing more harm than good, while a really difficult question, is answerable and therefore not ridiculous at all.

    Brian Dunning is a convicted con artist, but he’s also…

    ….he’s also, and therefore, a liability to the atheist movement. Like quite a few other creeps mentioned on this blog. This is a pretty stark example of how you can indeed assess people by this criterion, and in fact how in some cases it’s impossible not to. It’s obvious that Dunning, taking his career so far, did more harm then good. The assessment of Dawkins situation is more difficult and debatable, but that doesn’t make it a non-issue, and it certainly doesn’t make it a malicious concept.
    As the question isn’t whether Prof. Dawkins is evil, but whether or not he’s damaging your movement, you can’t really claim that it’s a biblical idea. You’re investing all this with dark intimations of witch hunts and of eternal damnation. That’s getting into very dodgy territory: Aha! We know where this is coming from! Religion must be to blame! Judgement is such a religious concept, we need to do away with judgement along with the rest of the vile panoply of dehumanizing vices spawned by religion…..
    This is the kind of mullarkey that the religious get up to when they are attacked:

    You can’t criticize us! We are the moral arbiters! We are the moral law! You can’t judge judgement!

    The concepts are inverted but the principle is the same: making damaging criticism impossible by definition.
    The difference between this case and what the religious do is that you’re obviously doing this because you’re torn up about the whole Dawkins thing on a personal level. For which, respect. Obviously you could not fairly be accused of deploying such tactics to protect atheists as such. And the religious creeps do it deliberately and consciously with malice aforethought of course, which I don’t believe you are. & you’re trying to protect a friend, whereas religious institutions try to destroy the truth. I have no intention of drawing a parallel between you and the Papacy. But ( among other things) it’s exactly because you’re a source of unbiased judgement and criticism of errant atheists that you are an asset to the atheist movement. Please don’t let your friendship with Professor Dawkins erode that.

    PZ Myers @21
    My answer would not be “neither”, but “both”.

    …which of course just evades the question. Not that you’re obliged to answer such questions of course. What I’m concerned about is your claim that such questions are illegitimate.

  23. screechymonkey says

    Other questions PZ will refuse to answer:

    “Was that movie you saw last night worth seeing?” — “Oh, I couldn’t possibly answer such a question. Some of the actors were good, and some were not. Some were good in certain scenes but not in others. The dialogue was engaging, but the plot moved slowly.”

    “Is the Creation Museum a good place to take children?” — “Couldn’t say. On the one hand, it’s a taxpayer-exploiting monument to ego, which lies to children about science and teaches them to despise people who don’t share a very narrow version of one particular religion. But on the other hand, it may get them interested in dinosaurs, and it’s got a boffo gift shop and a dinosaur that’s fun to ride. You can’t ask me to put these things on a scale of -10 to +10.”

    “Are cephalopods better than cats?” — [head explodes]

    In related news, PZ will no longer be banning any commenters, because he finds himself incapable of judging whether or not they are net positive or negative contributors. Sure, that means that people who endlessly regurgitate the same offensive and tired MRA talking points will be allowed to derail threads, but hey, if they use proper grammar and spelling, then who can sort all those conflicting good and bad qualities out?

    Seriously, PZ, all you had to say was “I didn’t answer the reporter’s question because I feel very conflicted about Dawkins, and it’s not like I’m required to weigh in on every atheist issue.” There was no need to make up this strained argument to attempt to undermine the very premise of evaluating your friend’s contributions.

  24. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    What I’m concerned about is your claim that such questions are illegitimate.

    Is the question whether Dawkins (or PZ) is a detriment to the atheist movement have a definite answer, lacking the “smoking gun” that is available in the case of Dunning? The answer I see is it depends on what one looks at, and the criteria used to make that judgment. The problem is getting the same view and same criteria used by all the atheist movement in order for a plus/minus decision to be made by the movement. Since those criteria are likely to change from person to person, the movement won’t come to a definite answer, and the question will be debated ad nauseum due to those different criteria. Which is what we are seeing now.

    If you have criteria everybody should use, put them forward so we can debate them using our personal criteria. You should get the picture.

  25. Bernard Bumner says

    @Al Dente

    Dawkins does occasionally show signs of having some understanding and appreciation of social issues. The Benson-Dawkins Treaty and his lukewarm reconsideration (I won’t call it an apology) of Dear Muslima are examples.

    Yes and no. I think those have less to do with him being sympathetic to (for want of a better description) our side, and more to do with him trying to elevate the tone of the disagreement.

    I think he still views social justice as an overreaching Western movement, primed for outrage, and himself as logically and philosphically superior. I think he just doesn’t want to be seen to be advocating the worst sort of harassing behaviour by people who have claimed his name as one amongst them.

    I think it is useful and good that he has issued the (weak) apology, and particularly on the back of the Joint Statement, but I would be willing to bet that he would still try to argue relative harm about Watson’s experience with EG, and claim that others opportunistically rode the bandwagon to manufacture controversy and score points.

    Either way, he has become a liability for one side of the great rift, a side which I am personally on.

    I agree. But I don’t think this side has very much to do with movement atheism any longer. That movement has failed to engage with social issues beyond the harm of religion, and it doesn’t represent many people who may be atheists, but who go further.

    There are few signs that he is really damaging that movement, beyond ensuring that it retains only a narrow remit.

    (I was tempted to write Bummer but I refrained)

    Good idea – there is absolutely no link between my odd ‘nym and the word bummer, but the that word is also a (rather juvenile) homophobic slur in the UK. (An FYI if you weren’t aware.) My ‘nym is rather unfortunate, but it is mine and has been for about fifteen years.

  26. David Chapman says

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    The problem is getting the same view and same criteria used by all the atheist movement in order for a plus/minus decision to be made by the movement.

    Why is that the problem? There are lots of problems. I don’t see why it’s necessary for the atheist movement to come to a consensus or a majority verdict on this; and it would indeed be quite impossible, because what is the atheist community anyway, how could it possibly be demarcated? ( And this is just an extension of your point about personal criteria. ) For example, I’m not even an atheist myself; I’m an agnostic who shares many of the goals and ideas of the atheist movement. ( Such as a hatred of religion. ) So is my view of Dawkins relevant? I would say yes. But it’s certainly not a view within the atheist movement.
    But you claim that a plus/minus decision has to be made by the movement. Why? What for?

  27. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But you claim that a plus/minus decision has to be made by the movement. Why? What for?

    Oh, you are now claiming the each person can come to plus/minus conclusion on their own, and that is the limit of your claim?
    Then I still don’t get your point that a definite decision can be made on Dawkins as an asset or liability to the movement. To me, that implies the movement is making the decision. Otherwise, you are stating the obvious, that each of us can make that decision and give our opinion on it.

  28. geekysteve says

    The difficulty of any question has absolutely no bearing on whether the question should be asked. Even inconclusive answers can be useful for many, perhaps most questions.

    Every rock star, pro athelete, and public figure must be made to realize that ALL of their actions may have unintended consequences and that they should be no more immune to criticism than anyone else. The headlines are full of examples of unjust acts committed and heinous opinions expressed by superstars with an unearned sense of entitlement.

    In this instance, Dawkins may never change his attitudes or actions, but just maybe, his innate sense of self preservation (and self promotion) will cause him to think more carefully about what he says publicly next time.

    At a minimum, outside observers and potential converts will realize that his actions and opinions are not representative of the entire movement.

  29. larrym says

    @anteprepro #16
    You quote Dan Dennett’s response but don’t actually reply to it, as if what he said was self evidently wrong, and I don’t think it is.

    More generally, I don’t think most people here have much conception of just how much Dawkins has done for the atheist movement, together with, yes, the other four horsemen, and others like them. Just have a look at Dawkins’ converts corner for one example. His God Delusion has been, I suggest, the biggest boon to the atheist movement in decades. And just think of his larger impact on the world’s stage as a whole. For example just look at the number of his TV interviews on youtube on the subject of atheism, and compare to, for example, the number of similar interviews by PZ. And a fair chunk of these are in the USA so just bear in mind that he isn’t even American.

    So, I challenge anyone to name an atheist that has had a bigger and more positive impact on the general public than Dawkins in recent years? Of course I accept that twitter probably isn’t his forte, but again, compare his nearly 1M followers to PZs 153K, or any other atheists for that matter

  30. says

    Al Dente #13

    Ranking rape and pedophilia has nothing to do with atheism but, since Dawkins is seen as an atheist leader by non-atheists, his thoughts on rape and pedophilia are seen as characteristic of atheist thoughts on those subjects. In which case he is a liability to movement atheism.

    This, this and thrice this.

  31. says

    Is Ray Rice an asset or a liability to sportsball? And for making that awful comparison, am I an asset or a liability to comparison-making?

    Then there’s Thunderf00t – he did some really great snarky videos about creationists, but he must be farther down the invisible sliding scale of sexist assholery than Dawkins is, tipping the invisible pointer the other way. I wish I could link to his videos but his jerkiness gets in the way.

    I still follow Dawkins on Twitter for the same reason I’d stand and watch a train wreck in progress. He is also a great author on evolution. There’s no “but” connecting those two statements, or any mathematical operators. So if someone else comes to a different conclusion, the best I can do is hope they give me room to do the same.

  32. says

    PZ:

    Those of you who think the article was perfectly fair: imagine it was you, and a reporter called up a subset of people who had publicly said something about you, and asked them to make an assessment of your value to some cause. Would you honestly find that at all useful?

    I think it would be a perfectly fair question for someone to ask. Were I in Dawkins’ shoes, with the influence & platform he has, and I said shit similar to what he has, it’s a reasonable question to ask if I’m of benefit to the movement or if I’m a detriment.

  33. Pierce R. Butler says

    On a linear scale from -10 to +10 …

    A much better scale than most scales: I give it an 8.2.

  34. geekysteve says

    Who said life was fair?

    If I was a public figure and I wished to be (or remain) a well-regarded public figure, then, hell yes, I would regard ALL criticism as useful. I would examine it for any shred of legitimacy and either learn from it or disregard it, but in either event I would learn something from it.

    Even if I ultimately decided that the deck was stacked against me by a thoroughly biased reporter, I would still profit by examining and questioning my own beliefs and (hopefully) learning how to defend myself against unfair criticism. Or, I might even change my mind if the criticism was warranted.

    The whole point of science is that all beliefs should be questioned at all times. No one gets a free pass.

  35. says

    geekysteve:

    Even if I ultimately decided that the deck was stacked against me by a thoroughly biased reporter, I would still profit by examining and questioning my own beliefs and (hopefully) learning how to defend myself against unfair criticism. Or, I might even change my mind if the criticism was warranted.

    Any way you could hold a class to teach Dawkins this?

  36. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    PZ @ 36

    Those of you who think the article was perfectly fair: imagine it was you, and a reporter called up a subset of people who had publicly said something about you, and asked them to make an assessment of your value to some cause. Would you honestly find that at all useful?

    If the people who compose this cause find my usefulness to be suspect, they have every right to discuss that amongst themselves as they wish and come to some conclusion about to what extent, if at all, they should continue to endorse my work. What they say may turn out to be a jagged pill for me to swallow but what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? It’s my job at that point to consider what they said and adjust my behavior accordingly (or not) as I see fit. I’m frankly amazed that you would even ask this question.

  37. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    I just want to say, PZ, that I totally get that you personally might not be comfortable answering the question owing to a longstanding friendship with him, and I have no issue with that. I just wish you’d leave it at that instead of trying to argue against the legitimacy of the entire process. As others have pointed out, we do this ranking thing allllll the damn time. You only seem to object when the person in question is Richard Dawkins.

  38. Al Dente says

    PZ,

    If you had told the reporter “Dawkins is a friend of mine and I am uncomfortable answering that sort of question” then I’d have no problem with your answer. But two days ago you basically agreed with Rebecca Watson that Brian Dunning is a liability rather than an asset to movement skepticism, so I think it’s not the nature of the question you have a problem with but rather the subject of the question.

  39. exi5tentialist says

    PZ is famesplaining. We mortals do not have journalists calling us up, as famous people, to rank our famous friends, so we mostly think ranking the famous is ok. From the vantage point of fame privilege, it probably looks very different. Things usually do up there.

  40. David Chapman says

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls
    Then I still don’t get your point that a definite decision can be made on Dawkins as an asset or liability to the movement.

    I said something subtly different from that, I think that’s where we got our wires crossed. I said:

    She appears to have taken up an issue raised by Greta Christina, who does think that Prof. Dawkins is a liability to atheism, and said so in an email, if the article is accurate. This is a straightforward and important, real world issue, with a definite answer out there in reality. Either he is or he isn’t.

    That is, I said a definite answer exists, not that it can be definitely established. Suppose I say there is life on other planets, and you say no there isn’t. Now one of us is right and the other is wrong, but we have no means of knowing which is which. Similarly here, either Dawkins is harming the cause of atheism or he isn’t, and the truth actually exists, even if we don’t know what it is. ( But unlike the extraterrestrial life analogy, there is much more raw information to go on with regard to the case of Dawkins. ) I had no intention of implying that the atheist movement, or the media gurus thereof, or anyone else can ever arrive at a decision that could be called definite or definitive, end of story, argument over, this is the Official Verdict. I was saying that the truth is out there and that people like PZ Myers and Greta Christina are well placed to attempt to arrive at it. Whether they get it right is eternally debatable. Greta’s or PZ’s opinion would not be the definitive or definite answer, because nobody’s answer is definite. If you took a poll of everyone who called themselves an atheist it wouldn’t be definite. It is reality that I was saying is definite. So ( I was arguing ) the journalist’s question was a real, reasonable, proper question to ask, because there is a real truth out there in reality to aim at; it is not the underhand sinister inquiry that Prof. Myers would have us ( and himself ) believe.

  41. unclefrogy says

    of all the ideas I heard when I was child and learning about god and what religion was the one that in the end drove me away from the others was the admonition to judge not lest you be judged idea. It was advocated that that was how to be close to god and follow jesus but in practice no one I saw or had anything to do with ever did that everyone was busy judging everyone else on just about everything for for every reason fuck that.
    This ranking people like this is just the same thing using different words. I can and do disagree with other people about all kinds of different things that does not imply that they are less than me or anything of the kind. Ideas can have more or less validity but those holding them are not less than because of the ideas they have.
    I get to support the ideas I understand as more valid and support those who hold those ideas.
    That is the ideal I strive for I will not play the ranking game, I can not even take those surveys with the sliding scale between some value of + or -.
    uncle frogy

  42. David Chapman says

    PZ Myers
    You are now ordered to stop disagreeing with me. You are dividing the movement!

    Those of you who think the article was perfectly fair: imagine it was you, and a reporter called up a subset of people who had publicly said something about you, and asked them to make an assessment of your value to some cause. Would you honestly find that at all useful?

    I never disagree with you, Professor. ( Salaam. ) However, now you’re being patronizing with this ‘imagine if it was you’ angle. For my part I didn’t express an opinion about the article. If you think it’s unfair, as you seem to imply, why don’t you tell us why??
    But you said the email you got, or the concept behind it was odious, to the extent that you wouldn’t reply to it. Not that you ignored them because they weren’t being useful. You went on to castigate such journalistic practises, not as being bloody useless and a waste of cyberspace, but as smacking somewhat of the Last Judgement, the Inquisition, the tragic follies of human nature.
    This is all bollocks. If you see witch-hunting in the published article, then point it out to everyone. As to the lady’s original question, not only do I think it was legitimate, and useful, but I’d like to know your (genuine non-evasive ) answer. Doesn’t look like I’m going to get it though.

  43. says

    Yeah I’m siding with those saying this post is utter crap.

    Sure not everything about it was awful but I am making the clear judgement that it was garbage

  44. says

    Those of you who think the article was perfectly fair: imagine it was you, and a reporter called up a subset of people who had publicly said something about you, and asked them to make an assessment of your value to some cause. Would you honestly find that at all useful?

    Pleasant? No

    Useful? Yes

  45. anteprepro says

    larrym:

    You quote Dan Dennett’s response but don’t actually reply to it, as if what he said was self evidently wrong, and I don’t think it is.

    Because it is unnecessary. It is the same anti-feminist bias and handwaving that doesn’t actually defend Dawkins’ initial stances that have been coming from Dawkins himself, as well as his various sycophants. Read any other thread about this and you will see the refutations. The “what about murder” defense has been the go-to strategy for his apologists since day one.

    More generally, I don’t think most people here have much conception of just how much Dawkins has done for the atheist movement, together with, yes, the other four horsemen, and others like them. Just have a look at Dawkins’ converts corner for one example. His God Delusion has been, I suggest, the biggest boon to the atheist movement in decades.

    Great. He recruited more atheists. Whoop-de-doo. He also doesn’t seem to care if those or other atheists make atheism an intolerable place for women and minority groups. Which is the entire point of criticism.

    So, I challenge anyone to name an atheist that has had a bigger and more positive impact on the general public than Dawkins in recent years?

    Bigger impact =/= More positive impact.

    Those are two different thing. There probably isn’t an atheist who has had a bigger impact. But there are PLENTY of atheists who have had a more positive impact. Those atheists being the ones that actually care about their fellow human beings and aren’t knee-jerk anti-feminists and islamophobes. Pretty much everyone on FTB and Skepchick, for one. Hell, pretty much everyone quoted in that article in the OP that wasn’t Dennett. All of them are more positive figures than Dawkins is now. The fact that Dawkins has had a larger impact shouldn’t be taken as vindication of Dawkins as much as it should be depressing as shit considering the quantity and quality of more ethical voices out there. Hell, I don’t think Dawkins is even the most intelligent atheist out there, but he still gets the lime light because he is a British professor with a background of popular science books, and he is intentionally inflammatory, which makes him a media darling.

    Of course I accept that twitter probably isn’t his forte, but again, compare his nearly 1M followers to PZs 153K, or any other atheists for that matter

    Really? Number of Twitter followers? As if that matters?

  46. anteprepro says

    I’m pretty the logical extension to Argumentum ad Twitterum is that we should all copy, emulate, and/or worship Kim Kardashian. 22 Million Followers means she is 22 times as important and influential as Dawkins. She should be the True Atheist Pope!

  47. larrym says

    anteprepro:

    This is just the sort of response that gives the likes of (most of) FTB and Skepchick such a bad name amongst most other atheists. I’ll repeat that Dawkins had brought more people to atheism than anyone else. How many have abandoned theism because of PZ’s book I wonder, just as a matter of comparison to The God Delusion? And not only the TGD but his other popular science books as well, going back nearly 40 years. As for being “anti-feminist”, well that would depend on the definition. Most people wouldn’t hold to the same view of feminism as that held amongst (again, most of) the FTB/Skepchick crowd. And as for “Islamophobia”, in most cases this is a term used either by a) Muslims who want to shut down any criticism of Islam, or b) people like, again, the FTB/Skepchick crowd and others on the left, who want to fall over themselves to avoid the possibility that anyone might think they’ve offended Muslims.

    I think the likes of PZ and the rest of (most of, that essential caveat, don’t want to tar you all with the same brush) the FTP/Skepchick crowd need to start getting things into perspective. Are we trying to take people away from theism or are we just wanting to argue amongst ourselves? You can either stay in your own little clique and spend all this time arguing with anyone that disagrees with your own definitions of feminism etc, or you can concentrate more on arguing against theists. Good to see PZ doing this sort of thing recently at the WHC – more of this please.

    Similarly with the “Fuck all of The Four Horsemen” comment. This is frankly pathetic. So you’d rather they hadn’t written the books they’d written would you? Where would the so called New Atheism movement be now if those and other similar books hadn’t been written?

    The thing is, already I know what the answers will be. You’ll all be saying that I’m not taking feminist issues seriously, or “islamophobia” seriously, or that you’ve got something against Sam Harris as well as Dawkins.

  48. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Where would the so called New Atheism movement be now if those and other similar books hadn’t been written?

    Should I care? I was an atheist before those books were written, I’m still an atheist now. I haven’t seen a hell of a lot of tangible change between the two eras.

  49. says

    This is just the sort of response that gives the likes of (most of) FTB and Skepchick such a bad name amongst most other atheists.

    The people who complain about FtB and Skepchick the most are the ones I don’t want to associate with anyway. Your complaining here is not a problem for those of us who want nothing to do with you people.

    I’ll repeat that Dawkins had brought more people to atheism than anyone else.

    Wonderful. He’s also helping piss off a lot of people with his comments. That he brought people to atheism doesn’t change the fact that he’s been an utter asshole on several issues over the years. I see you express no concern over the sexism and misogyny that Dawkins has expressed going back to and including Dear Muslima. Hey numbskull, your priorities are showing.

    How many have abandoned theism because of PZ’s book I wonder, just as a matter of comparison to The God Delusion?

    No idea.
    Who cares.
    This isn’t a contest between PZ and your hero as to who has the biggest dick. Why you’re trying to make this into some sort of contest is beyond me, unless you’re trying to paint your hero Dawkins in a good light (and ignoring the many problems he has), while casting a bad light on PZ (because you, like so many others of the Slymepitter ilk, dislike PZ for irrational reasons). Yet in the process you show that you don’t care for the concerns of others in movement atheism that are having problems. Your empathy meter needs to be recalibrated you utter asshole.

    And not only the TGD but his other popular science books as well, going back nearly 40 years.

    That’s nice. Irrelevant, but nice.

    As for being “anti-feminist”, well that would depend on the definition. Most people wouldn’t hold to the same view of feminism as that held amongst (again, most of) the FTB/Skepchick crowd.

    Most people wouldn’t hold to a definition of feminism that advocates for social, political, and economic equality for women. Interesting. I don’t want to go all ‘No True Scotsman’ here, but y’know…

    And as for “Islamophobia”, in most cases this is a term used either by a) Muslims who want to shut down any criticism of Islam, or b) people like, again, the FTB/Skepchick crowd and others on the left, who want to fall over themselves to avoid the possibility that anyone might think they’ve offended Muslims.

    “Others on the left”. So does that put you on the right? Given your grouping of FtB and Skepchick (which again, are not the same, but you know that) with ‘the left’, I’m going to assume you aren’t a liberal or progressive. In fact, given that you want things to not get better in the movement, that you don’t want to see change for the better, it appears you’re ok with the status quo, which is not welcoming to many people. You wouldn’t happen to be a white, male, libertarian or conservative would ya?

    Dear me, you must be one of those conservative atheists that Dave Silverman was talking about. Did he find you at that conservative conference a few months ago?

    Can we get a cleanup on Aisle 3 please? We’ve got a stinker in here.

  50. larrym says

    Well, I wondered whether the level of vitriol on FTB was really as bad as a lot of people said it was, and yes, it was. Within two posts I’d been told to fuck off and called an utter asshole.

    For the record post 53 lumped FTB and Skepchick together, I added “others on the left”, meaning some others not all on the left. In fact I’d categorise myself as left leaning, liberal and progressive, and definitely not conservative, if you’re interested.

    Having experienced this level of argument I’m not hanging around for more. By all means post your good riddance messages, I won’t be spending any more time here so won’t read them.

  51. says

    larrym:

    Well, I wondered whether the level of vitriol on FTB was really as bad as a lot of people said it was, and yes, it was. Within two posts I’d been told to fuck off and called an utter asshole.

    The simple solution to not being called an asshole is to not be an asshole.
    Your dismissal of the concerns of women is infinitely worse than the vitriol I directed you way. I called you naughty names you puritanical fuckwit. I didn’t deny your rights or humanity.
    So please do FUCK the FUCK OFF.

  52. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    I would rather deal with a feminist, anti-racist wishy-washy Christian than a racist sexist atheist any day.

  53. says

    Being an atheist is whatever. Lots of people are atheists.

    Fewer call themselves atheists. Fewer identify as such publicly.

    Why should I care that they identify as atheists? Well, truth matters.

    Also, like a fool, I once naively believed that having more people publicly identify as atheists would help the world become a more just place, as the religious props for various types of bigotries–anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-POC–were removed from public discourse.

    The more people like larrym talk, the more I see how foolish that belief was.

    What’s the point of an atheist movement if not to make the world a better place? If we’re not making the world a better place then why are we gathering and promoting and recruiting? And remember, the world isn’t actually better unless it’s better for EVERYONE.

    It seems pretty obvious by now that Dawkins doesn’t give a fuck about making the world a better place for everyone. As long as he and people like him reap the benefits of less prejudice against atheists, he’s done. As a bonus, he gets to stroke his apparently quite massive ego.

    He’s a detriment to the movement, but only if you count “the movement” as the movement to make the world a better place for ALL PEOPLE, including atheists who aren’t white cishet men. If you count “the movement” as the movement to make atheism seem just as legitimate as the major world religions in the context of the white supremacist heteronormative misogynist status quo, then he’s doing quite well.

  54. Anthony K says

    I would rather deal with a feminist, anti-racist wishy-washy Christian than a racist sexist atheist any day.

    In a New York minute.

  55. says

    SallyStrange:

    Also, like a fool, I once naively believed that having more people publicly identify as atheists would help the world become a more just place, as the religious props for various types of bigotries–anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-POC–were removed from public discourse.
    The more people like larrym talk, the more I see how foolish that belief was.

    I was much the same. I thought religion was one of the greatest (if not *the* greatest) ill in the world and that if it were actively combated and its influence reduced then the world would become infinitely better. While I do still think that it is worthwhile to fight against religion, I no longer believe reducing or eliminating it will fix the ills of the world. I’ve also come to realize there are a host of other problems that people around the world deal with, some of which are only tangentially related to religion (and some not at all). It is just as important to combat those ills as it is to fight against religious privilege and indoctrination.
    This comment by LykeX in the Thunderdome relates to this quite nicely:

    Time to drop a link. This post is an awesome angle on privilege and oppression, using video games as a way to talk about how the voice of the unprivileged is ignored. A taste:

    When we take the time to listen to the stories of different people, as we would if we were walking around a game world trying to figure out what was going on (and instead of listening to who was in power), we immediately get a sense that our world is not just haphazardly and randomly unfair, but is systematically oppressive. Instead of letting the group in charge tell us that it’s fair or as fair as it can be or any unfairness is probably the fault of those suffering, we can go and get the stories from the people themselves and listen to them. The minute we listen to everyone as if they have something vital and important to tell us (and they do) about this world, the truth is laid bare. When we value all the stories around us as equal instead of letting those in power explain away inequality it is almost comical how apparent the injustices are.

    The writer is this guy, who mainly writes about writing, but also touches on feminism and related subjects on that blog. All the cool kids are reading it. You don’t want to be uncool, do you?

  56. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    For the most part, I think “the movement” = white guys patting themselves (and occasionally each other) on the back for how smart they are to have figured out that there is no god.

    Which, y’know, I figured out as an ignorant, bratty pre-teen, so clearly I must be the world’s greatest genius! /sarcasm

  57. A. Noyd says

    larrym (#58)

    I’ll repeat that Dawkins had brought more people to atheism than anyone else.

    So what if that were true? What should it matter to me? What does it do for me or for atheism if more people abandon belief in god? Numbers don’t do us any good if too many of the people are amoral, bigoted, arrogant fuckwits. I’d rather be around pro-social-justice, feminist theists than bigoted, misogynistic atheists.

  58. vaiyt says

    I’ll repeat that Dawkins had brought more people to atheism than anyone else.

    He’s well on his way to bringing more people away from atheism than anyone else, as well. Good job.

  59. vaiyt says

    Are we trying to take people away from theism or are we just wanting to argue amongst ourselves?

    Who’s that “we” you’re talking about, pale-face? You and the other Dawkins sycophants are making it clear that your Atheism does not include people like me, unless we are to shut up and endure the same shit we get from the theists in the name of the cause.

  60. Anthony K says

    Are we trying to take people away from theism

    Why? As the anti-atheism+ are always reminding us, atheism is just the disbelief in gods. Why make more atheists? What would even be the point?

  61. anteprepro says

    larrym

    This is just the sort of response that gives the likes of (most of) FTB and Skepchick such a bad name amongst most other atheists.

    lolwut? Tone trolling my response at 53 when I wasn’t even particularly “Strident”? Weak fucking tea.

    Unless this vague indignant response of yours was a comment on the actual substance of my reply. Which is laughable hypocrisy, especially considering…..

    I’ll repeat that Dawkins had brought more people to atheism than anyone else.

    Yes, repeat yourself all you like. I already explained why I don’t give a fuck.

    . As for being “anti-feminist”, well that would depend on the definition.

    I think the definition of “opposing actual feminists, explicitly only on feminist issues, seemingly whenever he gets a chance” qualifies. I am baffled that you think you could find a way to weasel out of that for him, honestly.

    Most people wouldn’t hold to the same view of feminism as that held amongst (again, most of) the FTB/Skepchick crowd.

    Do you have ANYTHING but argumentum ad populums?

    And as for “Islamophobia”, in most cases this is a term used either by a) Muslims who want to shut down any criticism of Islam, or b) people like, again, the FTB/Skepchick crowd and others on the left, who want to fall over themselves to avoid the possibility that anyone might think they’ve offended Muslims.

    You know you are just drooling at the possibility of accusing us of “political correctness”. Just say it. Just say the magic words. You know you are dying to regurgitate the talking points properly, so just do it.

    I think the likes of PZ and the rest of (most of, that essential caveat, don’t want to tar you all with the same brush)

    You’ve been doing a piss poor job of restraining that reflex. What, you’ve disparaging referred to “the FTB/Skepchick crowd” at least twice before this already.

    Are we trying to take people away from theism or are we just wanting to argue amongst ourselves?

    Are you trying to just take people away from theism, or do you actually care about making the world a better place? Which includes actually caring about how to make life better for women and minority groups?

    You can either stay in your own little clique and spend all this time arguing with anyone that disagrees with your own definitions of feminism etc, or you can concentrate more on arguing against theists.

    You are exactly the problem. You think the only issue is debating against religious people. WHY!? What is the end goal? What is the purpose? Why does focusing on debating religion take precedence over debates regarding rape, treatment of women, combating racism, informing people about the complex nature of gender and transgender people, dealing with massive economic disparities, etc.?

    Why is the goal of atheism just to get more atheists? That’s just masturbation, recruitment, atheism for atheism’s sake. Why should I give a fuck about your fucked up priorities?

    Similarly with the “Fuck all of The Four Horsemen” comment. This is frankly pathetic.

    The only one looking pathetic here is you. Do you have any actual criticism aside from tone trolling and whining about us not sharing your inane priorities?

    So you’d rather they hadn’t written the books they’d written would you? Where would the so called New Atheism movement be now if those and other similar books hadn’t been written?

    There were plenty of atheists before and there would still be atheists without Atheist Firebrands. Religion is dying a slow death in the secular world. I was and would be an atheist regardless of the idiotically named New Atheism. And considering the quality of atheists, I don’t feel particularly indebted to anyone for their recruitment, thanks.

    You’ll all be saying that I’m not taking feminist issues seriously, or “islamophobia” seriously, or that you’ve got something against Sam Harris as well as Dawkins.

    Well you aren’t, and surprise surprise that I would have something against Sam Harris considering I said “Fuck All The Four Horsemen”. Truly you are a disciple of Dawkins, Master of Logick.

    Well, I wondered whether the level of vitriol on FTB was really as bad as a lot of people said it was, and yes, it was. Within two posts I’d been told to fuck off and called an utter asshole……Having experienced this level of argument I’m not hanging around for more. By all means post your good riddance messages, I won’t be spending any more time here so won’t read them.

    And just like his Lord and Master, he can’t handle the slightest amount of scrutiny or Incivility. I’m sure dear Larry has run off to regale others about the Witch Hunt Lynch Mob Hate Hurricane he experienced for Just Logicking to close to those rabid FTBullies.

    Yes, good riddance. Self-important, amoral, know-nothings like yourself are a dime a dozen in the atheist movement now. Because PRAISE DAWKINS.

  62. Anthony K says

    And as for “Islamophobia”, in most cases this is a term used either by a) Muslims who want to shut down any criticism of Islam, or b) people like, again, the FTB/Skepchick crowd and others on the left, who want to fall over themselves to avoid the possibility that anyone might think they’ve offended Muslims.

    Someone obviously isn’t familiar with FTB’s blogs.

  63. Anthony K says

    Well, I wondered whether the level of vitriol on FTB was really as bad as a lot of people said it was, and yes, it was. Within two posts I’d been told to fuck off and called an utter asshole……Having experienced this level of argument I’m not hanging around for more. By all means post your good riddance messages, I won’t be spending any more time here so won’t read them.

    You’re too scared to ‘offend’ Muslims. However, you’ve offended me with your cruel words, so I’m leaving!

  64. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Dammit, I was hoping to only have to post a snarky response, but dammit, larrym!

    Are we trying to take people away from theism or are we just wanting to argue amongst ourselves?

    It says way more about you that you see fighting for equality (gender, economic, racial, etc.) as an either or proposition with arguing against religion. Are you just that bad at multi-tasking?

  65. Anthony K says

    It says way more about you that you see fighting for equality (gender, economic, racial, etc.) as an either or proposition with arguing against religion. Are you just that bad at multi-tasking?

    To be fair, it’s not just larrym. A large component of modern movement atheism believes that injustice and inequality are only worth fighting (and sometimes only exist) if they’re due to religion.