Words of wisdom

Fewer open threads and more of this would make it clear why Atrios is popular.

I started this blog and adopted this style in part because I thought it was important to introduce a more combative and caustic discourse on our side. I’d be quite happy and comfortable in a world where politics more closely resembled an academic seminar – that is where I come from, after all – but we don’t live in that world and it’s a tragic mistake to pretend we do.

It’s a tragic mistake to think most creationists will be won over by kind and supportive conversation over a cup of coffee, too, or by any kind of smokescreen argument presented because we think it’s what they want to hear.


  1. Shygetztz says

    I think it is a tragic mistake to think that most creationists (or most wingnuts, in Atrios’ case) will be won over at all. I think it is more important to engage the creationists in a manner that make us appealing to the bystanders and wafflers that far outnumber both ourselves and the hardcore creationists.

  2. Caledonian says

    We should not confuse ‘belief’ as it is used in the statement “I believe that the world is round” with ‘belief’ as in “I don’t believe in corporal punishment”.

    The first is what atheists and philosophers generally mean, while the second is what most believers mean. It’s not about demonstrating that an entity exists or does not exist, which is precisely why the arguments of all atheists have always been ignored. ‘God’ is not a person, ‘God’ is the very concept of authority manifested in particular social institutions.

  3. Lee says

    Shygetztz wrote:

    I think it is more important to engage the creationists in a manner that make us appealing to the bystanders and wafflers that far outnumber both ourselves and the hardcore creationists.

    I agree and I would also agree that the “manner that makes us appealing” or persuasive may vary depending on the issue and the circumstances.

    So, it may be that an aggressive, even offensive tone towards the creationists may work for several reasons – it may reframe the argument to our advantage, it may shock some bystanders and wafflers into thinking that the creationists may not be right if others react so negatively to their views, or it may create room for a more nuanced argument by others by anchoring the discussion away from the creationist starting point.

    But it could also make the anti-creationist argument less appealing to the bystanders and wafflers if they rightly or wrongly perceive the anti-creationists as less appealing than the creationist crowd.

    All a ripe area for study.

  4. says

    While I’m rather insulting on my own site, I must admit it was actually conversation and debate over beers in college that planted the seeds of atheism in my head. It was a “perfect storm” of sorts: my first philosophy class, a new interest in cosmology and biology, and several pitches of beer with my atheist friend Bob. It took four years total to deprogram myself, but it was worth it.

    I was never a YEC or the like; I was Roman Catholic, accepted some sort of theistic evolution, and thought people who spoke in tongues were weirdos (hey, that hasn’t changed!). I’ve noticed a lot of the atheists I meet used to be Catholic; anyone else notice this? Is it because, unlike fundies, the Church has conceded ground to science on much of the study of origins? Do they undermine their own agenda?

    Good for them.

    Anyway, I’m not really out to turn creationists and fundamentalists to atheism. It could happen, but it’s unlikely. I’m more interested in the doubting Thomas, the fence-sitter, the guy or gal realizing god belief is silly and struggling with it. I’m not so much interested in putting people on the slope to atheism as I am in making it slippery for those already looking down it.

  5. Ray says

    Even if a quiet personal conversation over coffee is the most persuasive thing in some situations, that’s not something a blog can be, that’s not what online debate is.

  6. says

    Andy said: I’ve noticed a lot of the atheists I meet used to be Catholic; anyone else notice this? Is it because, unlike fundies, the Church has conceded ground to science on much of the study of origins? Do they undermine their own agenda?

    I was raised Catholic and went to their schools until the ninth grade. When I was in eighth grade, I asked one of the nuns when they were going to rewrite the bible, specifically Genesis, because the whole creating story didn’t agree with what she was teaching in science class. So I guess a Catholic education planted the seeds of my own atheism.

  7. Shygetz says

    Even if a quiet personal conversation over coffee is the most persuasive thing in some situations, that’s not something a blog can be, that’s not what online debate is.

    I think a blog could approach that if people wanted it to be. However, I think the anonymity of blogging lends itself well to firebreathing. I know I have found myself pulled into the trap of saying vicious things that I normally would not say face to face due simply to the fact that I didn’t have to look my target in the eye when I said them. It’s something that I now actively try to self-police, but as a practical matter on a blog with open commenting, you’re probably right.

  8. Steve_C says

    Atheists and Liberals HAVE been playing nice for over 30 years.
    AND look where that’s lead. The right controls the government AND
    even NASA. They use lies and deception. Supression of FACTS and they
    play dirty.

    This isn’t about swaying the moderate by being more likeable. It doesn’t work.
    Science and the arts; research and education; our infrastructure and cities are
    all sliding. And the 50-60% who range from moderate to very liberal are all letting
    it happen by letting the right wing blow hards and fundies dominate their debate
    with their smears and lies.

    So pardon me if I’m not going to just be NICE. I’m taking Daily Show approach
    mock and call them on their BULLSHIT every chance I get.

  9. Greg Peterson says

    Maybe it’s unwarranted, but I make the assumption that people respond in kind to the sort of argument that they find persuasive. Since the creationists have opted for a brand of obnoxious, no-holds-barred, strident, condescending, and overbearing style of “argumentation,” I think it not unreasonable to assume that’s the sort of argument they want and that they’d respond to. At any rate, it would be very difficult to look WORSE than the shrill and lying creationists, so while a sense of humor and civil tongue might be a tactical advantage in some settings (and a basically preferred descent human approach when at all possible), sometimes you have to fight fire with napalm. Another poster was right–we’ve been nice, and it’s gotten us cornered and referred to as wusses. Perhaps it was Alice Cooper who once put it best: No more Mr. Nice Guy.

  10. Alex says

    Right Steve.
    When confronted, niceties are useless. I think the best tactic that works for me is calling out their behavior every step of the way. Just about every claim they make is interlaced with dishonesty. Call it out IMMEDIATELY in no uncertain terms and back it up. Challenge their knoweledge with easily disputable questions and demand valid responses. They’ll never come, and call them on that as well. They have no substance. They are decievers of themselves and others. It is a dangerous road they follow. They need to be stopped cold every time they try and foist their irrational world view into the public square. Unfortunately, resotring to belittling them like you would a hauty child is usually where it ends.

  11. DragonScholar says

    I’m finding the question of how to handle the Creationists an intriguing one. I’m not a scientist, but being pro-science I begun looking into how I can do my part to fight deiberate ignorance. So some thoughts:

    On the IDers/Creationists, pretty much they’re manipulators. We’re not dealing with folks who have any social concience, they’ll turn anything they can into an argument against you. If you’re nice, they walk all over you. If you’re conforntational, you’re an example of how mean Darwinistas are. If you invoke science, they say you’re being too complex. If you look at something simply, they whip out bullshit that sounds scientific.

    First and foremost is their cause. They have no other morals except supporting their idol, ID. IDolatry as it were.

    I think therefore in dealing with them there IS no one tactic that works. Instead we need to identify their games and find out how to best them, turn the games back around. There’s a time to be nice, there’s a time to kick ass. We have to identify these times.

  12. Steve LaBonne says

    Right, neither Atrios nor PZ are talking about being pointlessly abusive; they’re simply talking about calling a spade a bloody shovel. Works for me.

  13. Scott Hatfield says

    I’d just like to say that while I agree that creationist/ID types in the public eye tend to be willing to anything to advance their cause, one must be careful not to make that assumption about the believer in the pew.

    That person may well identify themselves as a ‘creationist’ based upon their prior experiences, which includes a misplaced trust in the public purveyors of the slop. In my experience, the expression ‘a soft answer turns away wrath’ does apply. People in the pews can have their minds changed to some extent; that is, while they are very unlikely to abandon their commitment to theism (not my bag, anyway) they will often reconsider their opposition to evolution, based on these three points:

    1) A better understanding of evolutionary theory, and why it’s the best explanation in science;

    2) A better understanding of the circumstances that produced the books of the Bible, particularly Genesis;

    3) A demonstration of the unethical behavior of people like Kent Hovind, Duane Gish, the DI folk etc.

    Now that can’t all be accomplished over one cup of coffee. But I’ve had success at getting believers to see that a rejection of evolution is not essential to their faith, and that those who urge its uncategorical rejection are acting in (ahem) ‘bad faith’. It can be done. I’ve done it.


  14. Shygetz says

    But Scott, why don’t you just tell your creationist acquantences that religion is silly, that they are stupid for believing it, and point out all the reasons why.

    Surely that will persuade them…

  15. says

    I don’t give a damn what the creationists think, I just want tohem to stop trying to dumb down our schools and universities. The fucktards can keep their mythology out of the science class, thanks very much. And we’ll stop preaching evolution in their churches.

  16. LiberalDirk says

    I think those fighting against pseudoscience should make a distinction between the Snake-oil-salesmen and the marks.

    I think I will go off on a tangent, I hope PZ will not view it too harshly.

    The snake-oil-salesmen do not believe, they simply prattle to get the cash from the marks. The marks believe because they have not been exposed to correct information. The marks valid fascination and intrest in the world around them is abused for ill-intentioned financial reason. Which is why I hate the pseudo’s. Becuase they take something wonderfull and corrupt it to evil.

    The Snake-oil-salesmens should be met with scorn and derision based on who they are and their past actions. Let their words stand for themselves.

    If Mr Hovind makes it to South Africa that is how I would debate him. I would have the lists of his lies and I would call him on them.

    He is a liar, and a debate with a liar goes nowhere, he will simply lie and unless you a encyclopedic knowledge about all science he score a point. It takes far less knowledge to just lie brazenly than it takes to debate in good faith.

    I would also suggest that other anti-pseudo science activists attack the messenger rather than the message. My reasoning is that the audience is more likely to be sympathic to the message rather than the messenger.

    I.E. Attack the message, you attack them (they shut you out), attack the messenger and you still attack the message but not as bluntly so they do not get personally defensive.

    Laying the seeds of doubt rather than trying to plant it fully grown. Few people come to atheism suddenly, (barring personal trauma) most reach it gradually.

    Other avenues would also be appropriate. For example I will keep my eyes out for his advertisements. In the sample copies he claims to be “one of the world’s leading experts on creation, evolution and dinosaurs”. What he may not know is that South Africa has some truth in advertising laws. I will appeal to the Advertising Complaints Authority the moment I see any of his ads in the real world.

    I have even drafted the letter already. This would likely result in him being prohibted from distributing the already produced material.

    I would also try to contact his local enablers and ask them how they would feel about the negative publicity that would generate around their associations with a criminal.

    South Africans as a whole are not very favourably inclinded towards criminals, due to the exceedingly high crime rate in the country. I hope he gets convicted (even if he gets paroled). That would make things nice and easy and would most likely mean South Africa would never become a cash cow for him. We already have enough pseudo scientists running amok.

    Yet another avenue I would work on is to contact the organisation which will be handling his ticket sales his “entertainment” and ask them if they are comfortable consorting with a such a dubious character.

    This is the organisation.

    Alas it seems I cannot have recording equipment, I was hoping to record some of it, but his “entertainment” is going to last 7 hours, and I don’t think I can find a surreptious video recording device that will last that long.

    I wonder if my Roman Catholic philospher friend would be interested in attending.

    I will await news of Mr Hovinds Misfortunes with much malice.

    I hope you all will not think badly about my musings.

  17. says

    It’s a tragic mistake to think most creationists will be won over by kind and supportive conversation over a cup of coffee, too, or by any kind of smokescreen argument presented because we think it’s what they want to hear.

    But we *know* what Creationists want to hear — anything that lets them tie evolution to atheism. Creationist lecturers absolutely *love* to quote Dawkins on religion — and while, true, fairly often they doctor the quotes or take them wildly out of context, in many cases the quotes honestly represent his position, with no trickery required.

    But the real battleground isn’t among the die-hard creationists, who are lost to reason — it is among the average members of the public who aren’t creationists but are wary of evolution because they’ve heard the creationist claim that it’s an atheistic philosophy. Joe Average isn’t going to give up his religion just because a tiny minority of people are claiming that it’s stupid or evil, but he may very well be sucked into the creationist camp if evolutionary biologists don’t counter the creationist assertion that evolution = atheism.

  18. Steve_C says

    NO the scientist should just say. Atheism has nothing to do with Evolution. They are LYING. Evolution is SCIENCE. ID/CREATIONISM is not. Atheist are irrelevant to the theory.

  19. Scott Hatfield says

    Shygetz: Even if I agreed with your sentiments, I don’t need to give the people in the pews that message. They’ve already been polarized by the cottage industry of creationism within the churches to regard evolution precisely as a scheme to make their faith ridiculous.

    Donna: Since the above is true (that church-goers are being indocrinated in creationism at a very young age), then it should be obvious that some sort of truce (no evolution in churches/no creationism in schools, etc.) is not the strategy that’s going to lead to a scientifically literate populace. Bad-mouthing all who believe in a Creator might be gratifying personally for some of you folk, but as a teacher I assure you that it doesn’t persuade. And believe me, persuasion is needed. The percentage of the populace that accedes to a recent 6-day creation and which rejects evolution is growing. There is a crying need for a scientific outreach. No evolution in churches? I think not! After all, if you want to combat sin, you need to go where the sinners are.


  20. Zohn Smith says

    This may be slightly off-topic, but I want to share an epiphany that occured when I was listening to BBC the other day. The discussion was on a 18th century witch-hunt which ended in the conviction of the woman of being a witch…this happened in the state of Connecticut in the US. The poor woman was suspected of being a witch because “she knew too much for her own good…she would herd her animals into the barn before a storm to prevent them from running into the lake…she was obviously in league with the devil because she knew too much…” – and it hit me! The reason that so many conservative christians and all the pastors/priests are so anti-science is because “knowledge = the devil”! After all, wasn’t the first big mistake that caused Adam and Eve to be cast out of Eden that of acquiring “knowledge” from the serpent, aka the devil? After this realization, it becomes so clear why there is so much anti-science in Christianity.

  21. j says

    Yay! I’ve thought about that whole tree of knowledge thing a lot too, Zohn. The concept of original sin never made sense to me, but it was fun for a while to blame all problems (unseriously, of course) on Adam and Eve. Then I realize that had I been in their place, I would have chosen to do the same. Knowledge is the most precious thing I have in my life.

  22. says

    Zohn Smith: It was also echoed much later in the writings of Luther, Kierkegaard, and many others who are (in their own ways) anti-reason.