On complaints about Reason Rally speakers

It’s 5:30am, I’m boarding a flight in 10 minutes, and I’m typing this on my phone, so I’ll be brief:

What PZ said?



Hemant nailed it.

I also can’t speak for the Rally as a whole, but I can speak from my personal experience. I’m on the board of the Reason Rally as the representative for the Secular Student Alliance. I’ve put hours and hours of volunteer work into making sure this event will be as fun and successful as possible. Did you read that? As possible.

And right now, it’s impossible to find the “perfect” atheist politician. Some of the celebrities are going to have said stupid or sexist bullshit. But the Reason Rally is about getting secular people who have never heard about the atheist movement to know it exists and to get involved. If we crossed off every name that ever said something wrong, we’d have no draw or media appeal.

So, am I jumping for joy that Penn Jillette, Bill Maher, and Lawrence Krauss are speaking? No. But you know what I’m going to do? Go use the bathroom during their talk.

You know what does make me jump for joy? The Parks Department estimates 30,000 to 50,000 people will attend the Reason Rally. Yes, you read that figure right. That’s tens of thousands of people who have never heard of an atheist movement or organization that will now know we exist. And that’s what this event is about. It’s not a science lecture, and it’s not an attempt to convert people to atheism. It’s making our numbers larger and motivating our existing members so our movement grows stronger. So that in the future we will have skeptical atheist politicians, and will have celebrities that don’t make us occasionally cringe.


  1. Riptide says

    I get a chill when I see people complaining about human beings not being “pure” enough to be a part of “Big Atheism” (which is what we need to establish if we want the City on the Hill to take us seriously). It reminds me of the current kerfluffle over the Republican nomination–there’s No True Conservative, everyone is either too damaged or too lunatic to be taken seriously–and that kind of creeping radicalisation honestly frightens me.

    Atheism is the intersection of a lot of seemingly-disparate lifestyles and backgrounds. Science education and advocacy are major components, but they cannot encapsulate all of us without limiting the scope and breadth of our movement unacceptably. Expecting Atheists to be more than human is a fool’s errand, and can ultimately only harm us. We’ve all done things of which we (and/or other people) are ashamed…but we have to accept that an immediate consequence of “no sin” is “no unforgivable sin”. If our advocates cannot be allowed their faults (vigorously debated and openly discussed), we are little different than the moralisers who consign their enemies to Hell.

  2. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Hemant did NOT nail it. This is a REASON rally, not an atheism rally. Bill Maher, who is an atheist this week, is also a vaxer. That’s anti-reason. So why is Maher showing up?

    I’m not even going to ask why some idiot invited the Phelps clan to the rally. That’s also anti-reason.

  3. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Addendum to the above:

    I won’t be going to the rally because the wife will be recovering from surgery. But more and more I’m not regretting not being able to to go.

  4. says

    One of the things that David Silverman told us is that there are going to be a great number of different organizations and people there, and that there are going to be things that people don’t like, but they can find organizations or speakers that appeal to them and that they feel represent them well. That’s why everyone is there. To get more atheists and freethinkers involved, get them excited about joining a group or speaking out, or just being open about what they think.

    I like that.

  5. Lynn Wilhelm says

    Come on down to Fort Bragg, NC the following week for Rock Beyond Belief if you can’t make DC.
    Dawkins, Mehta, Brayton, McGowan, Margaret Downey and other atheists will be there. The good Phelps will make it too. I don’t know about the bad side of that family, but I was told they fished around for an invitation.

    This event is going to be amazing with activities for kids. Check it out at http://rockbeyondbelief.com/.

    Jen, I wish you were speaking there too. They are a bit short on women speakers… But this event is so exciting to happen here in NC, I’ll overlook that. This time.

  6. says

    Uh, did you read what Hemant or I wrote? The Reason Rally has consistently and explicitly been about atheism. There’s just this thing called marketing, and “Rally to recruit more people to the atheist movement” didn’t quite have the same ring to it.

    Also, the invitation to the Phelps was NOT sent by the Reason Rally, but by an organization that did it without our consent. I think it was a dumb idea too.

  7. says

    And no, Hemant did not hit it perfectly. I’m not demanding purity — I’m saying that the speakers ought to have something to do with secularism, atheism, whatever. Harkin doesn’t. He’s a pseudo-scientist.

    I wouldn’t be at all irritated if, for instance, the Rev. Barry Lynn were a speaker…not an atheist, but he is committed to promoting reason in government. The same cannot be said of Harkin.

  8. Simon says

    I highly doubt that the organizers were inundated with requests from the tens of thousands of attendees (“that’s what this event is about”!) for Tom Harkin to speak.

    Since you’re on the board of the Reason Rally do you know when the park police estimate of 30,000 to 50,000 people was communicated to the organizers? My guess is it’s been known to them at least before last week.

    With the exception of Krauss who was included from the start in the lineup, all the others you mentioned: Maher, Jillette, and Harkin were announced quite late in the game ie just last week, so unless I have the timeline wrong, it is very unlikely that large numbers of people where motivated to attend based on their (video) presence.

    IMO if the above is correct, a better interpretation of the publicly available information is that Harkin, Jillette, and Maher were convinced to do a video blurb by the organizers based on the knowledge that there would be 30,000 to 50,000 in attendance.

    What this also tells me is that we are able to achieve quite impressive attendance figures without video from Harkin, Jillette, or Maher.

  9. says

    What Harkin adds to the Rally is that he’s a sitting senator who’s acknowledging our existence in a positive way. That is an unmistakable coup for the secular movement. If we want him and others to stop funding dumb anti-science, the only way to do it is to engage with him, not snub him.

  10. says

    Harkin’s video is about him supporting our rights to be vocal about our atheism, despite him personally disagreeing with us. That is a MAJOR step coming from a politician, especially since atheists are the least likely group to be elected president. The fact that Harkin is one of TWO politicians we could find that would send ANY message of support to the rally illustrates how rare and important that support is. Most politicians wouldn’t currently dare to say we have the right to speak out and vote as atheists.

  11. carlie says

    I’m the opposite – I can easily see Harkin, because that’s opening a dialogue and finally getting noticed in politics, but Maher I just don’t understand. Sure, he’s a big name, but he’s someone that everyone knows and hates, for the most part. How is that any type of outreach or recognition? “Hey guys, know how you think you hate atheists? Well, here’s a guy you know who’s an atheist! Who… you think is a big jerk and already hate!” Yeah, that’s really going to help our image.

    From the atheist side, I can’t imagine anyone deciding to come just to see a video of Maher; a lot of atheists don’t like him, most skeptics don’t like him, and a majority of the general public thinks he’s a smarmy self-important asshole. So what is he bringing to the Rally that’s positive that wasn’t there without him?

  12. ashleybone says

    I understand the defensiveness that organizers tend to have when people complain about an event. It’s a pretty thankless job, and mostly people only speak up to bitch about a decision they don’t like. I’m currently organizing a rally in DC, so I know exactly what that’s like.

    However, commenting and complaining is how people influence the content of the events they voluntarily choose to spend their time and money to attend. The fact that organizers sweat blood to make these things happen does not make rallies a one-way street.

    I’m coming to Reason Rally. I’m going to have a blast at it. And I absolutely believe that Bill Maher diminishes the rally, and I’m going to say so.

  13. Dianne says

    I understand the argument about not demanding “purity” (whatever that is) in invited speakers, but how far is too far? If Rick Santorum wanted to address the rally, would you want him to (leave aside the tactical question of whether one ought to let him to discredit him to his base for now, just go on the question of whether his being a conservative Catholic is more or less important than having acknowledgement from a potential president)?

    A lot of the complaints are about misogynistic atheists being invited to speak. So, yeah, no one’s perfect and everyone’s probably had a day where they used a gendered insult and all that, but Penn seems to mean it. Would we want William Shockley addressing the rally (if he were alive)? He was a brilliant engineer and while I can’t find anything about his religious beliefs, let’s assume for the hypothetical that he was an atheist, but he also held an (apparently sincere) believe in eugenics and having only the “best” procreate. Would the name recognition be worth the poor biology? If Phyllis Schaefly became an atheist would you want to hear her? Famous politician, broadening our appeal to the right, etc.

    I can see the argument from both perspectives. Of course, it’s nice at least a few politicians are interested in appealing to their growing number of atheist constituents. And excluding people for views not related to their beliefs is an appeal to the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. But do sleazy misogynists need to be presented as part of the leadership, the invited speakers at events like this? I’d prefer not. If Penn, Maher, etc wants to be in the audience, I’ve no objection. But I don’t want to see them be the “face” of atheism. Surely we can do better for celebrities.

  14. Randomfactor says

    What mostly pisses me off about the Reason Rally? No live video feed.

    I coulda got another 50 people to “attend” the Rally who had no hope in hell of being their in person.

    I suspect the decision not to do something that basic (these days) reveals a deep flaw in the organization. I hope I’m wrong. But I attended an atheist barbecue the other day where nobody thought to bring lighter fluid.

    Or babies.

  15. penn says

    I’ve read Hemant’s piece, this piece and PZ’s piece, and I don’t see what part of PZ’s post was bullshit. Every one of PZ’s complaints about Harkin is true. He is an enemy of reason, and it’s great that he’s willing to welcome the Reason Rally to the mall and respect the constitutional rights of atheists, but that seems like a really low threshold.

    PZ didn’t tell people to boycott the Reason Rally. He didn’t cancel his own speech. He didn’t say you all did a terrible job, and weren’t trying to make “sure this event will be as fun and successful as possible”. He just rightfully criticized the decision to welcome a person who has spent his career wasting government money on woo to a rally in support of reason.

    Your piece doesn’t address anything in PZ’s post, and Hemant seems to think that anyone famous willing to show up should be allowed because it’s good publicity, but that’s just absurd. Should Deepak Chopra be allowed? Or Dr. Oz or Oprah? Is there really no line?

  16. says

    You are totally incorrect. We found out about the 30-50k estimate on Friday, and have been working our asses off dealing with all of the changes the Parks Dept has just imposed. The new estimate was due to the recent explosion of media coverage, the presence of big name stars, the good weather prediction, and the fact that March 24 is also the peak of the cherry blossom festival. And we started to recruit all of these speakers back in August. They did NOT ask to be added because of the numbers – they didn’t know at all.

  17. says

    There are going to be DVDs on sale later. That may be why thety aren’t streaming, or maybe the fact of the sheer number of people who would want to watch it. That’s a ridiculous amount of bandwidth and money that would have to be provided.

  18. Simon says

    Ok fair enough, thank you for clarifying. I stand corrected on the timeline then. FWIW I did not claim that any of these speakers came to us to ask to be included, only that the high attendance may have helped us convince them.

    However, everything you are saying: the good weather, the cherry blossoms, the media, the big name speakers, tell me that there is even less benefit to having Harkin speak. Surely you’ll concede that we’d draw just as big a crowd without him? I did a Google News search with ‘Tom Harkin Reason Rally’ and there was a grand total of two news articles. See here

    Again, I am obviously going to the rally and it will be awesome, so not trying to disparage the whole thing and I know everyone is working really hard.

    PS Do you know if Tom Harkin’s role in NCCAM was known when he was invited? I know people are busy and in fairness CSI and JREF is not a part of SCA so I would not be surprised if this just fell through the cracks.

  19. Matt Penfold says

    So am I understanding this correctly ?

    Maher has been invited to speak at a pro-reason rally and considered an ally in the fight for reason despite him not actually being pro-reason himself. He differs from Harkin in that respect, in that no one seem to be claiming Harkin as one of our own.

    And this was the argument put forward by Mehta, who seems intent on demonstrating he does not have much grasp of reason either.

  20. MurOllavan says

    I couldn’t get past the metal detectors to post in PZ’s so I’ll put this here. There is something deeply ironic about a line of atheists dogmatically repeating a mantra of ‘It’s a reason rally, not an atheist rally’ without being reasonable enough to read reasonrally.org/about.

  21. Epizephyrii says

    What it really boils down to is you don’t get people to accept you by turning everyone who doesn’t agree with you completely into an enemy. One of the hardest things in the world for most people to do is to say “I don’t agree with you, but I stand up for your right to believe it”.

    By denying politicians and people that might not agree on everything (and I really have yet to see someone who is “perfect” so get off your high horses) we would be burning bridges that don’t even exist yet.

    I wonder if any of the critics of this move have stopped to consider what it looks like to people outside of the atheist community. Have you? It is a great boon to have a blatently religious figure standing up and supporting our ability to speak. It says to all the people that agree with them that “hey, those atheists might not be so bad afterall, even if I don’t agree with them”. And that’s precisely what we need right now.

  22. Matt Penfold says

    The problem with your argument, which is not without merit, is that Mehta and others (including you) seem intent on trying to pretend some of the differences do not matter.

    No one is going to pretend that Harkin is a natural ally of the pro-reason movement. Not least because of his support for alternative medicine. Yet Maher, who hold views on medicine as equally at odds with reason as Harkin does, is considered a natural ally. There has been no cogent reason offered as to why this should be the case.

  23. ashleybone says

    “and I really have yet to see someone who is “perfect” so get off your high horses”

    That is an argument for inviting anyone and everyone to speak. Invite the Amazing Atheist – he may be an insane misogynist who mocks rape victims, but nobody’s perfect.

    Complaints about speakers are the audience’s way of influencing the lineup. Organizers work their asses off, but they aren’t perfect and criticism of their decisions is completely appropriate. The problem here is not the criticism, it’s reactions like Mehta’s. The title of his post is “Plan Your Own Reason Rally and Then Tell Me How It Goes”. That is a defensive and unproductive reaction if your goal is to have a successful event.

    Most likely the sum total of the complaints over RR speakers is piddling, and they won’t affect the event at all. But say organizers got 10,000 e-mails saying “I’m not going to attend because of Bill Maher”. How do think a response like “go plan your own damn rally, whiner” would go over then?

  24. Dianne says

    What it really boils down to is you don’t get people to accept you by turning everyone who doesn’t agree with you completely into an enemy.

    There’s a difference between not inviting someone to speak at an event as a prominent member of the community and making them an enemy. If, for example, Bill Maher wanted to show up at the rally and participate, I doubt that PZ Myers would demand that he be removed as an impure atheist who has the wrong beliefs. But by asking him to speak at the rally, Rally for Reason is implying that Maher is a thought leader in the atheist community. Which, I hope, he is not. Surely we can find better and more interesting people to represent atheism to the 30-50K people coming to this rally than Maher and Jillette.

  25. penn says

    I completely agree with this. We’re supposed to be a group that welcomes criticism and responds to it rationally with well reasoned arguments. I’m not seeing any well reasoned arguments against PZ’s post. Jen just says they tried hard and nobody is perfect. Which is a strawman that completely ignores PZ’s actually points, and Hemant seems to think any celebrity willing to talk should be welcomed because “If we want to get attention for a rally like this, we need big-name celebrities to attend.” and “This is about drawing attention to our movement. This is about getting media attention.” Neither of them seem to admit that there should be any standards for speakers. I think that is frankly absurd. PZ’s complaints about Harkin are dismissed as “nitpicking”, but they are never actually addressed in either of these posts. Jenny McCarthy can draw a crowd, and she probably considers herself to be a friend of reason. Would she be allowed to speak?

  26. Carlie says

    Just a suggestion for the next one – Julia Sweeny is also a nationally-known comedian, without the baggage. Maybe she was asked and turned it down, but that would definitely enhance a lineup.

  27. Matt Penfold says

    I can see an argument for inviting speakers with whom one does not agree and does not have much in common if the you think they will something interesting to say, and maybe will learn something from their participation. This seems to be the case with Harkin. No one seems to be pretending is a natural ally.

    But Maher is a different matter. The organisers do seem to be treating him like a natural ally, despite his being as anti-reason as Harkin.

  28. Matt Penfold says

    I can see nothing from Mehta that suggests she should not. She is no more anti-reason than either Harkin or Maher.

  29. Zuche says

    No, Mr. Mehta nailed it because it’s not all about you. Would the Rev. Barry Lynn be as acceptable to everyone else as to you?

    Finding fault with people on the guest list isn’t the problem. Neither is it a priority. It does not serve the event’s major goals.

  30. Epizephyrii says

    So you’re saying that the “no true scotsman” fallacy is wrong then? That we can so easily find popular, good speakers that will draw a crowd and everyone can agree on everything they stand for?

    Also, you are still missing the point. Even if they don’t agree with us, them speaking on our behalf still helps us. Those that are already in the atheist camp should hopefully know enough not to suddenly switch over to their ideology because they’re being nice and those that aren’t in the atheist camp might take it as a sign that it’s ok to treat atheists as humans.

    Of course it makes sense to take the audience into consideration and it is good to avoid problems like this as much as possible, but unless you are living in a different world than I am, that’s an extremely difficult feat to accomplish if it’s even possible. Sure I’d love to see an entire rally filled with people who are pro equal rights, pro sane medicine, pro evolution, etc but even within this discussion apparently no one can agree on exactly who that should be.

    For example, PZ himself might embody many of these attributes, but I personally can’t stand his blog because he lashes out so violently at anything he feels is wrong and sometimes isn’t very logical in it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop him from speaking at a rally like this because as much as I might not like him, he is a strong asset to atheism.

  31. Matt Penfold says

    The problem is that Maher is being acclaimed as an ally when he is not.

    He is not pro-reason. He is against reason, as his support of the anti-vax movement demonstrates.

    He is anti-women, as he has repeatedly demonstrated.

    Yet many people seem to be treating his as some kind of ally. Well with an ally like that you do not really need an enemy do you ?

  32. says

    So that’s it. He’s a SENATOR. He’s willing to appear.

    My question is answered. The standards for admission are really, really low.

    The Reason Rally isn’t as much about standing up loud and proud as it is finding a way to fit in with the status quo. How unfortunate.

  33. Dianne says

    I’ve put hours and hours of volunteer work into making sure this event will be as fun and successful as possible. Did you read that? As possible.

    Thank you, your work and others’ work is very much appreciated. The Reason Rally sounds like a fun event, wish I could be there.

    That being said, no event is perfect and certainly no first time event is perfect. I know some of us have the diplomatic skills of an aspie in a bad mood, but is it possible to take the complaints as constructive criticism and feedback on how next year’s RR could be made even better?

    Not that you should take the advice of every last person who complains, but just think about the patterns and consider whether at least some of the more common complaints might have a point?

  34. Utakata says

    Since we’re throwing this term around:


    …so yeah, based on above Jen…what evidence do you have that PZ was bullshitting?

    IMO it was his opinion with some very good points. One that people don’t have to agree with. But I doubt that he posted that to with the intention pull the wool over everyones’ eyes. That’s just not PZ’s style.

    I am also not thrilled with Hemant’s long winded bordering on apologetics you sourced as counter points. Perhaps he should of not said anything…and let the event take place regardless. A simple, “Yeah we got some atheist speaking with issues. Sorry,” and leave it at that. Most of us know that’s true. But that wasn’t PZ’s point, however. The selection of this Tom Harkin to speak is…who seems to advocate more woo than reason along with unsavory issues. PZ and anyone else with any sense of rationalism has a right to call the organizers on that one. Just saying.

  35. says

    Then I would rather leave them out and make our lack of representation in the big white buildings surrounding us to be the major point. Rather than watering down our message with a Catholic kook in our midst.

  36. Josh Benton says

    You realize that it’s you, and not Harkin, who is going to come across as unreasonable to a number of observers, yes? He comes across as being willing to engage with people with whom he fundamentally disagrees, but whose right to discourse he is willing to support. You, on the other hand, are coming across as someone who is more interested in excluding and silencing dissent.

    That goes well beyond working to educate people and try to combat beliefs you see as harmful, and gleefully runs right into the realm of actively harming your message.

  37. Georgia Sam says

    I agree with you & Hemant, Jen. I have some disagreements with each of the speakers mentioned, but then I also have some disagreements with every political candidate I ever voted for. If the organizers of these events were as purist as some want them to be, there would never be any such events.

  38. says


    she probably considers herself to be a friend of reason.

    My chosen arena of combat is with creationists, which makes me particularly sensitive to this: the creationists all claim to be on the side of True Science™, while all the actual scientists doing actual science don’t understand the difference between Observational (good) Science and Historical (bad) Science. I’m quite accustomed to enemies of reason confidently asserting their support for science…while actually doing the antithesis.

    So I’m not persuaded by Some Catholic Guy suddenly announcing he wants to stand up with rational people. I see a cuckoo in our midst.

  39. Matt Penfold says

    Oh for fuck sake, cut out the dishonesty.

    Disagree all you want, but quit claiming PZ is demanding total purity.

    Since you felt the need to lie, I must assume you consider your position to be otherwise unsupportable.

  40. says

    I’m bemused, PZ. You’re saying the standards for admission are low because we’re allowing a sitting senator to speak there? You do know there’s only 100 of those in the whole country, right?

    And who ever said anything about fitting in with the status quo? Does listening to a video address mean we must now support his votes on alt-med nonsense? I’ve searched the thread high and low and haven’t seen anyone saying that. What this is is an opportunity to open a dialogue. Imagine if Harkin’s office gets hundreds of letters after the Reason Rally, all of the form, “Senator, we appreciate your interest in reaching out to us, and we’re willing to support you, but only if you’ll vote with us on X, Y and Z.” This would send a strong message that reaching out to atheists pays political dividends, but that we want something substantive in exchange for our support. Are you really arguing we should turn down this opportunity because he hasn’t voted our way 100% of the time in the past?

  41. Morpheus91 says

    With the argument “where do we draw the line on who to invite” I think one must consider what the potential benefits to inviting a speaker are. Someone suggested that the argument “no one is pure” might apply equally well to inviting the “amazing atheist” to speak, but what benefit would accrue from inviting him? There are benefits to inviting Maher, though it’s obviously in debate whether it would be more beneficial to invite him or not to invite him. Regardless of the answer to that question, it should be clear that the “nobody is pure” argument does not allow for inviting everyone, as some here are trying to portray.

  42. Matt Penfold says

    What benefit would accrue from inviting Maher ? Well if you want your event to be seen as lacking standards I can see the point, but otherwise ?

  43. Morpheus91 says

    He’s a comedian of some standing. His presence will attract and entertain those who might otherwise be close minded to such an event.

  44. Morpheus91 says

    Is your goal to feel like you’ve established a wonderful community of atheists, or to actually benefit a wide variety of people? If it’s the latter, you might consider that “drawing a huge crowd” might be better put as “offering something to people who might not be part of the normal atheist crowd, but could learn something from the event.”

  45. Matt Penfold says

    I think you need to check with the website, since it states the rally is about secularism.

    Secularism and atheism are not the same thing.

  46. Matt Penfold says

    Since Lynn clearly wants to advance secularism in the US, and the rally’s stated aims are the advancement of secularism then I am at a loss as to why he was not asked to speak.

    Of course since some of the organisers are now saying the rally is really about advancing atheism (not the same thing as secularism of course) it seems the whole event is built on a lack of honesty.

  47. Matt Penfold says

    The stated aim of the rally is the advancement of secularism.

    If in reality it is about the advancement of atheism then is has been promoted dishonestly. Dishonestly promoting an event to promote atheism is not a good start if you want people to think of atheists as being trustworthy.

  48. Lewin says

    This is a good example of why I get irritated at how atheists sometimes appropriate the word “reason” and pretend that they’re synonymous. Is this an atheism rally? Then Mahr should certainly be welcome. But then call it an atheism rally because he’s certainly not “reasonable” about many issues. Stop conflating the two words.

  49. jasper says

    Ugh…of the four people I’d actually care to hear from, two have been branded with the Scarlet “M”, one is suddenly a pedophilia apologist, and the other is stone cold dead.

    And the speakers themselves are now suggesting its gonna be a woo-fest. So is each speaker gonna spend hir fifteen minutes denigrating the other scheduled speakers? Sounds like a fun time. Maybe a fist fight?

    It’s a wonder how the “community” keeps this massive lobbying juggernaut together to defend our common interests.

  50. anotheratheist says

    Jen, I’m glad that on this issue you are on the right side of the divide. Bonus points for acknowledging that marketing can be necessary and important.

  51. witless chum says

    Given Maher’s prominence (he had a network TV show back when that meant something) I can pretty readily believe he’d help bring in an audience who might not have experienced or engaged with semi organized atheism before, but might be open to it. People who are already functionally atheists but who haven’t taken that final jump. This seems pretty different from McCarthy’s audience of antivaxxers. Maher is one, but he’s mostly known for attacking religion and conservatives, not for his anti-vax views.

  52. Stray Cat says

    This guy is one of two major politicians willing to say our opinions count, and you want to close him out because he’s not atheist enough? Fuck that, PZ. If the point is to help mainstreamize atheism, than Harkin and us on the same page on the central message of the rally. No need to give him the finger. It’s not like he’s speaking to tell us to shut up and worship Pope Ratzinger.

  53. Morpheus91 says

    You’re playing semantics now. The point of the rally has been made obvious throughout the advertising and the line up. The point is not to portray atheism as one homogeneous army based on any one set of views, but to provide a good experience for non-believers AND introduce a new audience to the “scene.”

  54. Morpheus91 says

    Will he be speaking on vaccines? Because he’s got some pretty good bits on religion, and if that’s what he’s speaking on, you have no cause to impugn his “reason.”

  55. ambassadorfromverdammt says

    I don’t think that is a very good analogy (even if Harkin is cuckoo). A cuckoo doesn’t bring any assets, only liabilities, to the nest. Harkin brings political capital, which the secular/atheist movement in the US is desperately in need of.

    As the movement grows larger and stronger, the need to acquire political capital from outside sources will diminish, as inside sources will be more productive.

    If the rally were here in Canada, we could ignore wackaloon politicians who wanted a bit of our shine, but I don’t think the US is there yet. Politics makes strange bedfellows, and people who think the movement is not political are deluding themselves.

  56. says

    I don’t often agree with you Jen, but in this, both you and Hemant have the right of it. (and in truth, I deliberated about posting this, as I know your opinion of me, one I’ve earned. But, if I can’t tell someone I disagree with when I think they’ve done right, even if I personally dislike them, then I’ve little right to tell them when I think they’ve done wrong. I also apologize for the grief you’ll get because someone “from the slimepit” agrees with you.)

    If the “movement”, (really, a word that should only apply to bowels) is to truly not be just some haven for the six people who meet some unstated list of ideological “standards” and actually be about rationality and reason, then it cannot play the fundie NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER game. That wasn’t even that good of a movie, it’s a horrid philosophy. It’s the philosophy causing us so many problems now.

    Is Harkin a “perfect” person to welcome the group? No. But, despite disagreeing with the organizers, speakers, and attendees of the rally on some fairly fundamental levels, he did something that *very* few people in Washington are willing to do. He set those disagreements aside to do the right thing. He welcomed the rally to the Mall, and even gave them the same status as some major groups that have previously been on the Mall. Read the exerpt from his message again:

    This is Sen. Tom Harkin, and I welcome all of you to Washington. I also welcome you to our National Mall, which has hosted so many historic events, including the 1913 women’s suffrage march and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s great march for jobs and freedom in 1963. On the Mall, we celebrate America’s amazing diversity of ideas, beliefs and, yes, disbeliefs.

    We also celebrate the freedom, tolerance, nondiscrimination and right of dissent that are enshrined in our Constitution — that define us as Americans and as a truly free people…

    That is why, I welcome to the Mall all of my fellow Americans, including those who reject my beliefs — or indeed, those who reject all religious faith.

    He just put the Rally for Reason, and the people behind it, both as organizers and attendees on the same level as two of the biggest civil rights movements in the history of this country, and yet people blithely dismiss him because he’s not ideologically pure enough for them. He did this in spite of disagreeing with the rally.

    In an environment where compromise is seen as surrender, and disagreement as war, Harkin did the right thing, what you would expect *any* senator to do. He remembered that he serves not just Iowa, but the ENTIRE COUNTRY, and that he took an oath based not on the Bible, but the Constitution. He did what ALL of congress should have done.

    And yet, because he has views that some folks disagree with, the folks behind the rally should slap away that hand and spit in his face?

    “reason” has nothing to do with that impulse.

  57. gragra says

    “…more interested in excluding and silencing dissent.”

    Silencing a senator, yeah, that happens.

    Did he vote for DOMA?

  58. Stray Cat says

    If this thing is going to be the grassroots event it should be, then yes this inclusiveness is entirely important. You can’t mainstream something by declaring standards left and right so much that you exclude people who dare to have some mainstream appeal to begin with.

    I’m sour of Maher and Penn too, but this isn’t the Guilt By Association Rally. I’m glad you’re sticking up for what it’s really all about Jen. You’re doing the right thing. Don’t stop.

  59. Chris Lawson says

    I think the problem is that both arguments have merit. Harkin is not a friend of rational thinking, so there is a case to be made that he shouldn’t be invited to the Reason Rally. OTOH, Harkin is one of the very few people of influence in the US who is willing to stand up and say that atheism is not Nazism/Stalinism/Culture-of-Death and atheists should be able to express themselves freely and without harassment, and this makes a case for inviting him to speak.

    I can appreciate PZ’s argument, but in this case (and at this time), I think Jen’s argument is stronger with regard to Harkin, but not with regard to Penn Jillette and Bill Maher. If one was to draw up a matrix of potential invitees and ask rally attendees to tick the ones they approve and cross out the ones they disapprove, then almost every person would return a different matrix.

    As for Lawrence Krauss, I didn’t realise he was in the bad books. Can anyone point me to why?

  60. b. says

    As someone or other once said, organizing atheists is much like herding cats. You’re not going to get a clear consensus from us on much of anything other than our demanding our rights. That said, the only argument I’m hearing from Hemant or you, Jen, is one heard by school teachers and college professors everywhere, “But I (we) worked really, really hard on it!

    I’m sure all of the organizers sweated blood on the Rally; things like that aren’t pulled off without (primarily) volunteers putting in massive amounts of effort and time. I get that, I really do. But…(and you knew one was coming) when people from your community have concerns, express negatives about your event, the answer is not to stick your (general) fingers in your (general) ears, close your eyes and yell, “Well, do it yourself next time if your so darned smart!” Take their concerns into consideration. Ask the community for some input on who they’d like to see on the speakers’ platform (or via video) next time around. Maybe some ideas will float to the top that would be acceptable to both the organizers and those who the organizers are hoping will spend their money and vacation time to attend. Personally, if Bill Maher appeared upon my doorstep and offered to talk to me for 15 minutes for free, I’d close the door–his anti-vax stance and his virulent misogyny would be it for me. Harkin? Sorry, but I find the idea of giving a pulpit (so to speak) to someone who is so anti-science as distasteful, particularly when it comes off as so condescending. Wow! Gee! A senator willing to let us air our grievances and exercise our free speech! How magnanimous of him to uphold his oath of office.

  61. Chris Lawson says

    Yes, but it’s called a Reason Rally, and I wouldn’t invite Maher to speak (and hope that he won’t start talking about vaccinations) for the same reason I wouldn’t invite Fred Hoyle (if he were still alive) and hope he would stick to talking about stellar nucleosynthesis, or Peter Duesberg and hope he would stick to viral oncogenes.

  62. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Yes, I read what both you and Hemant wrote. As Matt says, secularism ≠ atheism. Notice I didn’t mention Maher’s misogyny, which I find even more distasteful than his anti-vax, alt-med woo. That’s because I was specifically talking about Maher’s anti-reason stance on vaccinations.

    One of the few times I was impressed by Bill Frist was when he tried to explain to Maher about vaccinations and antibiotics. Frist is an MD and knows about why the anti-vax nonsense is anti-reason. Frist tried to tell Maher that smallpox was not eradicated by clean living and good diet but by vaccinations. Maher wouldn’t believe him.

  63. Jeanette says

    This is about integrity. I don’t care how famous Bill Maher and Penn Jillette are. I don’t care what their “marketing” value is. If we give people’s idiotic views a free pass because they’re famous, we’re no better than giving people’s views a free pass because they’re religious. Reason isn’t a popularity contest.

  64. Jeanette says

    Oops that wasn’t supposed to be a reply, but I agree with what you said regardless!

  65. Chris Lawson says

    b, when you say “the only argument I’m hearing from Hemant or you, Jen, is one heard by school teachers and college professors everywhere, ‘But I (we) worked really, really hard on it!'”, you are downright wrong. You even spend your second paragraph criticising one of the arguments Jen made that isn’t “we worked really hard”.

    Having read a lot of comments here, I would very much like people to stop repeating the following untruths:
    1. Jen’s only argument is “we worked really hard.”
    2. The Rally organisers only invited Harkin because he is a senator.
    3. PZ Myers’ criticism means he demands a purity test for invitees.

  66. Nathair says

    That’s tens of thousands of people who have never heard of an atheist movement or organization that will now know we exist.

    It is? Don’t get me wrong, the turnout estimates are fabulous, but what’s this about attendees never having heard of an atheist movement or organization before?

  67. says

    “But the Reason Rally is about getting secular people who have never heard about the atheist movement to know it exists and to get involved.”

    Good luck with that. They already know about it.

    Scepticism, agnosticism, atheism, feminism, hedonism, progressivism, ultilitariansm, anti-Catholicism, etc…all these negative ‘movements’ of unbelief have very little in common. After you all acknowledge your particular position of unbelief—what then, do you have in common?


    Remember apathy—by its very nature—does not like to be troubled.

    And unbelief ain’t nothing but apathy.

  68. Matt Penfold says

    I am simply reporting what the website says. It is a matter of record, so hardly semantics given that secularism is not the same thing as atheism and only idiots like you seem to think it is.

  69. b. says

    Chris, you said:

    b, when you say “the only argument I’m hearing from Hemant or you, Jen, is one heard by school teachers and college professors everywhere, ‘But I (we) worked really, really hard on it!’”, you are downright wrong.

    Jen starts out her blog today with, “I’ve put hours and hours of volunteer work into making sure this event will be as fun and successful as possible. Did you read that? As possible.” Hament’s blog post title is, “Plan Your Own Reason Rally and Then Tell Me How It Goes”. An attitude of “We worked really, really hard on this and you’re just a bunch of nasty poopy-heads” is pretty much how it comes across.

    Chris, you also said:

    2. The Rally organisers only invited Harkin because he is a senator.

    Tell me, what exactly did Harkin add to the Rally? Showing the world we have the support of our elected officials? Well, no, since Harkin is a pretty religious guy. That he’s willing to allow us our voice? As I pointed out before, he’s fulfilling his oath of office to do that. That he’s putting his political life on the line? The guy was elected to Congress in 1974. He became a switch-hitter and joined the House in 1984. He’s been a senator for 28 years. He’s on the committees for Agriculture, Nutrition And Forestry (pretty important in Iowa, I’d guess) and on the Appropriations Committee. I’m doubtful that a constituency whose voted him in for 5 terms is going to dump him now for, you know, upholding his oath of office. To quote Jen, “The fact that Harkin is one of TWO politicians we could find that would send ANY message of support to the rally illustrates how rare and important that support is. Most politicians wouldn’t currently dare to say we have the right to speak out and vote as atheists.” (bolding added) That kinda does sound to me that he was invited due to his being a senator.

    Not being a mind-reader, I can’t speak for PZ demanding a “purity test”. I can say that I haven’t seen him ask for one. I, however, on my own hook as it were, would like it if the speakers could at least pass the sniff test.

  70. eigenperson says

    I think it’s fine to have Bill Maher speaking at the event. A large event like this should have a diversity of speakers, and not all of them need to be from the mainstream of the movement. So despite the fact that Bill Maher is, as others have said above, “not a natural ally,” he may still have a place at the rally.

    However, I also think that if our plan to convince people to support science and secularism is to have Bill Maher talk to them, then we might as well curl up and die. There could hardly be a less effective or less authentic spokesperson for reason.

  71. Cory Albrecht (@Bytor) says

    While I want to whole-heartedly affirm the tremendous amount of work you and the other RR board members have done, Jen (and I hope to see you there), I don’t think these types of questions are out of line.

    Yes, I understand your point a out marketing and a catchy name, but calling it the “Reason Rally” seems to imply that Sagan-style, modern Scientific Skepticism is a significant part of what this event is about, and as such it’s reasonable to ask why a passionate supporter of alt-med like Senator Harkin and a vociferous anti-vaxxer like Bill Maher were asked to participate.

    In it’s self-promotion, the RR has consistently uses “secular” to describe itself: “The purpose of this particular rally will be to advance secularism (in the broadest sense of the word) in society”.[1] I shouldn’t have to point out that not everybody came to Atheism via Skepticism and that an Atheist who is a Bigfoot-believer or and Atheist who is a 9/11 Truther can be just as passionate and concerned with separation of church and state (SoCaS) as you and P.Z. Myers and Greta Christina and I are. Maybe even more so! Those beliefs, though you and I may find them silly and not based on evidence and critical thinking, do not invalidate them as Atheists and they are just as affected by anti-atheist discrimination as you are and their voices are just as important as mine is in the community.

    I’m a newcomer to the Atheist community. TAM9 was my second TAM and in the Del Mar just a few hours before watching HP:DH2 with you in the South Point theatre was the first time I had told anybody I was an Atheist after admitting it to myself in April. It was the first place I felt safe to do so and it still took me 2 months after TAM9 to screw up the courage to tell my Mother I was not going to go to church with her any more. She didn’t take it very well then, though to her credit she hasn’t tried to badger me in to coming back to church. I’m still gun-shy about telling others. Instead of calling myself an Atheist on Facebook I changed my philosophy to “Church of the Invisible Pink Unicorn” which to anybody not in the know will just be a silly joke, and I haven’t been brave enough to change my profile picture for ‘A’ Week. Non-theist discrimination and SoCaS are important to me.

    What I have noticed since entering the the Skeptic community about 2 years ago is that there is a HUGE conflation of “Atheism” and “Skepticism” and that annoyed me greatly while I still thought of myself as a Liberal Christian and it still annoys me now that I’ve admitted to myself I’m not. It annoys me because it is so obviously not true – both in the meanings of the two words and in practice as exemplified by wonderful people like Hal Bidlack and Kitty Mervine – and that such smart people like Skeptics should be engaging in such a fallacy.

    Another conflation I have noticed is that of “Secularism” and “Atheism”. My background is Mennonite (both an ethnic group and a Christian denomination, almost analogous to Judaism) and my ancestors came to Canada in the 1830s to escape religious persecution in Europe. Even so here in North America we have also been the victims of persecution because we are pacifists and refuse to take part in military service. I seriously do not believe that that the broader Atheist community understand how important SoCaS is to most Mennonites and other minority religious groups who would be enthusiastic partners in the venture of secularism. They might not do things exactly as Atheists think should be done, like allowing people to opt out of military service for religious reasons, but everything they would fight for to end discrimination and promote secularism in government would benefit Atheists, too.

    While Atheism and Skepticism overlap, and Atheism and Secularism overlap. none of them are the identical and conflating them only leads to community schizophrenia of the kind where you feel the need to write a blog post like this when you should not have to. Had the RR board chosen a different name that didn’t imply Skepticism and had used promotional language more explicitly Atheist rather than Secularist, then you, Hemant and others would be in a much stronger position when you say “It’s just about atheism” to people who complain about Harkin’s alt-med sentiments or Maher’s anti-vax lunacy.

    And again – congratulations on all the hard work you and everybody else have put in to organising this event and I know it will be awesome! and I hope to raise a beer with you sometime this weekend!

    [1] http://reasonrally.org/about/

  72. Matt Penfold says

    If the aim of the rally is to promote secularism one question occurs to me.

    Why promote secularism ?

    To me the answer would because the influence of religion in public life leads to bad policy decisions being made not on the grounds of reason and evidence but on someone’s interpretation of collection of religious writing written 2000 or more years ago.

    To promote secularism to end such an influence is a good thing, but only if end up with better decisions being made. However, religious people do not have an exclusive on making bad decisions for bad reasons. Bad decisions will be made if reason and evidence are abandoned even if there is no religious input. If we listen to those who reject science we will end up making decisions that are as equally as bad as any being made now.

    So in fact we want to do more than just promote secularism. We want to promote secularism along with reason and the use of evidence.

    And that is why Maher is not a suitable person to speak at the rally. He may want a secular America, but he does not want an America where decisions are based on reason and evidence since he rejects reason and evidence.

    It would be a mistake to take onboard allies that support secularism only to have to have battles with them to get decisions taken for proper reasons when that aim has been achieved. It is storing up trouble for the future, and it is short-sighted.

  73. Morpheus91 says

    I think my point has been made when you feel the need to sink to the level of personal insults over your issues with the rally. If you were really concerned with the effectiveness of the lineup, rather than just looking for a reason to stir the pot, you’d be constructing an argument that would actually address the topic at hand.

  74. Morpheus91 says

    If the views presented there are reasonable, I think it qualifies, regardless of what the speakers’ views may be on other issues. No one is entirely “reasonable,” so it’s unrealistic to expect that participants will be evaluated on every aspect of their characters in order to determine if they qualify.

  75. Eric RoM says

    I have to laugh: since PZ has made it a point to be a professional asshole, getting upset about continued assholishness from him is bemusing.

    Reaper, meet the whirlwind.

  76. Dido says

    I have to say, I think that the folks accusing the organizers of responding to criticism with, “boo hoo, we worked hard and now you’re being mean,” are being a bit uncharitable in their reading. How about this interpretation (which might be my misreading): “Where there was disagreement, e.g. whether to include a welcome from Senator Harkin, a judgment call had to be made, and that was up to the organizers to make.” Folks who want to help make those judgment calls should feel invited to step up and be organizers next year.

    Yes, critical feedback can be helpful. But this year’s program is set, right? It’s too late to change it? So why not talk about why, NEXT year, it might be preferable not to include Maher or Jillette. (Strongly preferable, in my view.)

  77. Cory Albrecht (@Bytor) says

    Science has nothing to do with Atheism, Dr. Myers, because not everybody got to atheism via skepticism. An atheist who is a Bigfoot-Believer or a 9/11 Truther can be just as passionate about separation of church and state and secularism as you are and just because they aren’t a Skeptic like you and I does not mean they are any less of a valid Atheist than you or I. Atheism, pure and simple, is about lack of belief regardless of how you got there.

    All you are doing is falling prey to the True Scotsman fallacy with your conflation of “Atheism” and “Skepticism”.

  78. Willa says

    Surprised by the discussion on Tom Harkin. He is a good man and a good Senator for the country and I think he would represent the gathering well.
    Someone’s comment on Harkin being on the committee for Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry as pretty important in Iowa. Actually, it is important all over the US and the world. Harkin speaks out against the food industry as he works on measures to improve child nutrition and reduce obesity rates.

  79. Utakata says

    Actually that is noted in the link I posted. Though I took the standard generalized understanding which is “trying to pull the wool over ones eyes”. But you knew that too, you fuckwitted troll.

  80. rusty says

    “So, am I jumping for joy that Penn Jillette, Bill Maher, and Lawrence Krauss are speaking? No. But you know what I’m going to do? Go use the bathroom during their talk.”
    You just undermined your whole argument.

  81. L says

    Some of the celebrities are going to have said stupid or sexist bullshit.

    That’s just disingenuous. Bill Maher isn’t being condemned for a couple of whoops-a-daisy moments where he let slip a gendered insult. This is a man who has built himself a very successful career by humiliating and degrading women. I can’t speak for the other participants you named, as I don’t know a lot about them. I know about Bill Maher, though, and I think ‘stupid sexist bullshit’ is a pretty mild euphemism for some of the stuff that’s come out of his mouth.

    I completely agree that demanding ‘purity’ is counter-productive. I’d hazard a guess that most people with a strong social conscience allow themselves to enjoy or support problematic stuff sometimes – a lot of my favourite music is peppered with misogyny, my TV preferences are white-washed, and not a single celebrity I admire has a spotless record of intelligent public comments. That’s not a virtue – or a vice, for that matter. I’m entitled to set my own limits for what I’m willing to support. I’m not entitled to insist that my support for something means other people shouldn’t voice their objections.

    If you think Bill Maher brings something of value to the rally, fair enough. By all means speak up about it. But insisting that everyone else should either agree with you or keep quiet crosses a line. There are plenty of people who feel deeply uncomfortable about the atheist movement’s willingness to put up with misogyny. Some of those people see Bill Maher’s inclusion in the rally as one such instance of tolerating misogyny.

    Honestly, I’m impressed with and grateful for the huge amount of effort organisers have put into the rally. But you don’t get immunity from criticism.

  82. Azkyroth says

    Saying someone is “bullshitTING” may have the connotation, but “bullshit,” especially as an exclamation, merely means a claim which is false. I’m perfectly aware of the definition you were using to dishonestly equivocate. That’s why I spoke up, dipshit.

    Calling you on your bullshit (in your sense of the word) doesn’t make me a troll.

  83. Christopher Petroni says

    And unbelief ain’t nothing but apathy.

    This is a rather striking equivocation. Unbelief is a lack of belief, while apathy is a lack of concern. They are not at all the same.

    For example, I lack a belief in the dogmas of the Catholic Church, but I am not at all apathetic with regard to them. In fact, I am quite opposed, and vocally so whenever even slightly socially appropriate.

    And many of these “isms” have everything to do with each other. Agnosticism and atheism go hand and in hand, because one goes to lack of knowledge and the other to lack of belief. For many people, skepticism is what led them to reject theism (of course, nobody’s perfect.) And for me, skepticism and humanism are what led to my stance aagainst the Catholic Church. Most of the “isms” yoou mentioned coould learn something from the others.

  84. julian says

    Maher has been invited to speak at a pro-reason rally and considered an ally in the fight for reason despite him not actually being pro-reason himself.

    Makes my head hurt too.

    I honestly don’t mind Senator Harkin all that much and am at least a bit grateful he’s willing to do this. But Maher? Really?

    And yes (to all you holier-than-thou jerks) this is a purity test. I would like someone speaking at an event to promote reason and secularism to actually be for reason and secularism. That ain’t much to ask for folks.

    That said, since this is just meant to be atheist propaganda, fuck it. I guess it doesn’t matter. He wearin’ an A? He’s good enough!

  85. julian says

    So we really are trying to equate atheism with being a sound rational thinker.

    Ah well, I was just gonna have a Street Fighter X Tekken game night this weekend anyway.

  86. Morpheus91 says

    Not all atheists are rational thinkers, but in the sense of atheism vs. religion, atheism is the rational choice. You’ll also find that many atheists have put at least a minimal amount of thought into their beliefs, compared to your average Christian, given the dominance of Christian culture in America.

  87. Morpheus91 says

    No, she made the point that she can deal with diversity, rather than eliminating everyone that she doesn’t agree with from the lineup. No one said you have to want them to be there to understand why it’s acceptable for them to be there.

  88. KG says

    The event is called the “Reason Rally”, but neither Penn Jillette nor Bill Maher would know reason if it came up and bit them on the bum. (Harkin I don’t know, but given that he’s a Catholic politician who supports homophobic laws, WTF?)

  89. Matt Penfold says

    It is sad that there are people who are so driven by ideology that they want to promote atheism for its own sake, rather than because it bring benefits to society.

    What is the point of getting rid of religion and its associated irrational beliefs if we simply replace it with atheism and a different set of irrational beliefs. The problem with religion is not that it is religion, it is the irrationality that goes with it. Irrationality is the problem, and you do not solve it by inviting those who happen to be atheist but promote irrational views to speak on your behalf. Maher is part of the problem. He is what we should be working to get rid of. Instead, some want to embrace him.

    Well not me. If you want to replace religious irrationality with atheist irrationality go for it. But I will be not be helping.

  90. KG says

    And unbelief ain’t nothing but apathy. – FORMER Fetus

    You evidently haven’t acquired any additional smarts since you were one.

    Scepticism, agnosticism, atheism, feminism, hedonism, progressivism, ultilitariansm, anti-Catholicism, etc…all these negative ‘movements’ of unbelief have very little in common.

    So why are you lumping them together, cupcake? There is, of course, nothing negative in any sense about scepticism, feminism, hedonism, progressivism or utilitarianism.

  91. Matt Penfold says

    Ah, it is called the “Reason Rally” but it is either about the promotion of atheism (according to Hemant Mehta and Jen McCreight) or secularism, according the rally’s website.

    Now I doubt Mehta and McCreight think that secularism and atheism are the same thing since neither is that stupid. Which leaves unattractive choices as the why they are saying one thing and the website another. Incompetence or dishonesty is all that is left. I have asked Mehta why there is the discrepancy. He has not bothered to reply, which again does not look good.

    My view is that calling it a rally for secularism on the website was done for “marketing” reasons. Although quite why they think a rally they say is to promote atheism will be helped by lying about its real purpose escapes me. I thought atheists in the US were already supposed to be considered untrustworthy, so quite how being dishonest is supposed to change people’s minds I do not know.

    Morpheus91 of course is stupid enough to think atheism and secularism are the same thing. According to him it is playing semantics to point out they are not.

  92. Utakata says

    *Checks to to is Azkyroth is one of PZ’s Dungeon convicts on the loose before posting*

    And you want us all to buy your silly notion of the term because it has exclamation mark? Calling me a bunch of names and providing no evidence that I was posting dishonestly other than to elicit emotions is infact trolling, cupcake.

    You’re the one whose more likely being dishonest here, since you really have no idea why I posted what I did, than I simply disagree with Jen’s conclusion. Now I could be wrong in my conclsuion…and need to be told why. But attaching some nefarious motivation on my behalf without a shred of evidence is tantamount to mind reading. But you probably know that already…

    …but since this is not my blog, I doubt Jen wants us taking her space by a derailing flame war over this. And I certainly don’t want to be waisting my time feeding you. So I’ll end it here by politily putting you on /ignore. Feel free to call me whatever your hearts desire…I’m sure it isn’t pleasant. But keep in mind in doing so, you may find yourself moderated. /shrug

  93. Zuche says

    It’s not all about you either. For all you know, Rev. Lynn wasn’t available. It wouldn’t matter if he was and no one thought to ask him to attend.

    Also, no one lied to you. While the goals aren’t equivalent, they are compatible.

  94. Zuche says

    The idea that people, rather than the positions they take, can be either pro-reason or anti-reason is unreasonable.

  95. says

    I assure you, everyone you think we should have had on the line up was asked and couldn’t attend. Julia included. We wanted her to MC, even.

  96. Cory Albrecht (@Bytor) says

    MurOllava: Since the organizers of the event named it the “Reason Rally”, which implies that Sagan-style scientific skepticism is a significant part of the vision behind the event, do you think that makes it understandable that people would criticize speakers with known major pseudo-scientific beliefs? By sending mixed messages like this I think the organizers opened themselves up to such criticism from those more concerned with skepticism. The tone of the criticisms, on the other hand, is something I disagree with.

  97. Cory Albrecht (@Bytor) says

    Matt: Then instead of engaging in pro-atheism activism, perhaps you need to engage in pro-skepticism activism? Because in the comments you’ve made here it seems to me like you’re conflating Atheism and Skepticism. Nothing about what atheism is demands rationality or critical thinking. I came to atheism via skepticism, and perhaps you did too, but that does not invalidate those Atheists who did not. One who is an Atheist and a 9/11 Truther, and Atheist and a Bigfoot Believer or even an Atheist and an alt-med proponent is just as valid an Atheist as you or I and probably just as concerned with separation of church and state, anti-atheist discrimination and other secular goals.

  98. Josh Benton says

    I don’t know if he supported DOMA or not. If he did, then by all means criticize him for doing so; for that matter, I support criticizing him at the Reason Rally, in letters written to his office, directly to his face, or in whatever fashion you choose.

    I never said we should not criticize Harkin for his views. I said that when he offers a message supporting our right to that criticism, and our response is to release the frothy-mouthed cries of, “We do not want his message here, for he is an enemy of reason!”, then he isn’t the one that comes off looking unreasonable in any sense of the word. If we simply shout down our opponents, particularly when those opponents are offering something that can, and by some will, be perceived as an olive branch we come across as dogmatic, and not actually interested in things like free thought; which last time I checked is pretty much the opposite of what various folks claim they’re trying to accomplish.

  99. carlie says

    The thing that bugs me about it is that it seems to have been uniformly presented just as “hey awesome, here are these speakers!” If there was some debate or discussion as to whether they had problems that may or may not outweigh any benefits, that wasn’t even alluded to. I think it might have gone over better to have said “I know this may be a controversial choice, but here’s why X will be speaking at the Reason Rally”. Not in the promo material of course, but maybe in blog announcements about the Rally so that it was pre-empted for the people who are most likely to be following it closely (and therefore be the ones to criticize the choices).

  100. MurOllavan says

    I was talking about the parroting that made me think I was back in church. No, I don’t understand the pseudoscience part, but I do understand criticising them for ethical failures as they represent everyone. The criticisms are valid, regardless of tone.

  101. KG says

    But if they’re that stupid, they’re likely to retard rather than advance atheism, scepticism, secularism and reason.

  102. says

    “Unbelief is a lack of belief” Actually, unbelief is more than that…as I alluded to.

    “For example, I lack a belief in the dogmas of the Catholic Church, but I am not at all apathetic with regard to them. In fact, I am quite opposed, and vocally so whenever even slightly socially appropriate.”

    The Catholic Church is the fulfilment of prophesies dating back to the dawn of mankind. Whether you acknowledge this, or not. God has his own idea about the destiny of humanity. As does Marx, Margaret Sanger, Hugh Heffner, etc. Your opposition was forewarned by Jesus. All who do not support God’s eternal Kingdom—will, fight against it.

    Scepticism is not a valid excuse for disbelief in God.

    Humanism is not much of a guiding light for humanity. We must look beyond ourselves, to find ourselves.

    These “isms” often vie against each other in the public forum. Feminists loathe ‘gentlemen’ who leaf through porn magazines while ‘gentlemen’ mock masculinized women who are most certainly out of touch with their feminine side.

    Dealing with all these ‘camps’…Jen certainly has her work cut out for her. Herding turtles comes to mind.

  103. Chris Lawson says

    Morpheus, I agree that we can’t expect participants to be 100% rational or there would be nobody allowed on stage. But Jillette and Maher are not just examples of mildly amusing eccentric beliefs — these are people who have made appallingly bad statements in public venues (in Maher’s case, on his television show, which is stated as one of the reasons for inviting him to the rally), using their fame to spread misogyny in one case and dangerous anti-vaccination bullshit in the other. It’s not like they read tea leaves as a hobby.

  104. Azkyroth says

    I’m a Pharyngula regular, you dumb shit.

    And you took Jen’s use of a term in one sense, pretended she was using it in another sense, and demanded she support the appropriateness of using it in that other sense that you made up out of whole cloth. There is no way to “honestly” do that.

  105. Utakata says

    Oh dear, I see you’re still at it.

    Anyways…I just wanted to take you off ignore a bit and let you know that I apologise for calling you a “fuckwitted troll” – as it has been pointed out ot me, I should always take the high moral ground on any dispute no matter what or how pissed off I get about it. So I’ll least give you that. But you’re still a troll, none of the less, whether you’re “a Pharyngula regular, you dumb shit,” or not (Note: Al B. Quirky was a Pharyngula regular too for example). And you still haven’t given me any compelling evidence that I was dishonest…since dishonesty is just not my style – no matter how you’re spinning it and how many straws and straw mans you grasp at. So again, I’ll leave you wallow in whatever you want to think. Have a nice life. <3

    *Puts Azkyroth back on /ignore*

  106. herp says

    Wow, these comments have certainly left a sour taste in my mouth. There was some yelling and name calling, but the fact that everyone is ready to fall apart because they can’t decide how they want to view the Rally is just silly. Go for the reasons you want, listen to those you went to listen to, and above all enjoy yourself.

    If you don’t agree with someone’s position, I would imagine a face-to-face conversation would be more civilized and practical than back and forth in the comments of a blog.

  107. Morpheus91 says

    As I’ve stated before, the fact that you feel the need to initiate an exchange of insults speaks volumes about your attitude about the situation. :)

  108. AlanMac says

    Hee hee, this could end up like those Christian cringe-fests on TV where there are several different sects together.They sit a bite their lips at each other’s *heresies* in order to present a united front. Although, I suspect that even a wiff of woo will end the lip biting and engender gales of laughter.

  109. Jerry Schwarz says

    It’s interesting that some people only now seem to be realizing that “Reason Rally” was a deliberate misnaming (I always assumed for PR purposes) of a rally that will be about issues relating to religion. I and some of my friends who are part of the skeptics movement, have long objected to the assumption that Atheism, Frree-thought, or whatever other name groups use to designate an attitude toward religion represents a general admiration of reason. Sure, religion is irrational, but there seem to be a lot of people (Bill Maher probably being the most prominent) who combine a distaste of religion with a willingness to accept other bits of woo.

  110. Cory Albrecht (@Bytor) says

    Jerry: I’ve hardly seen anybody but myself say they think the Reason Rally was misnamed. I have seen a lot of people engaging in the Atheism/Skepticism conflation with their “But this is the *Reason* Rally, why would you include pseudoscience supporters?” comments.

  111. Jerry Schwarz says

    You are right they aren’t explicitly saying that it is misnamed, but are conflating secularism and skepticism. But it was explicitly billed as a rally for secularism, and as far as I can tell none of the speakers are opposed to secularism. The logic is that they are either objecting to the title or the purpose. My objection since I first heard about the Rally months ago was to the title not the purpose and perhaps I was wrong to assume that the comments here reflect the same objection.

  112. julian says

    My view is that calling it a rally for secularism on the website was done for “marketing” reasons.


    As far as content goes it’s ages beyond anything we have elsewhere (at least as far as discussions of science are concerned) so the name isn’t entirely a misnomer.

    It just depresses me to see atheist co-opt topics that don’t need to be about atheism. We’re embracing the coded language the religious use to describe us (secularists really does mean atheists, pro-reason really is just pro-atheist) That’ll never sit well.

    But then again, I’m not responsible for any atheist advocacy groups so maybe that discomfort is something I have the luxury of.

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