The New Atheism gets another bashing


Last week, I posted about my deep regrets at ever being involved with New Atheism, and oh boy, have I been getting the hate mail. The most amusing thing was seeing an atheist facebook group filling up with complaints about how awful I am, and simultaneously whining that they never heard of this New Atheism thing, what four horsemen, and hey, wasn’t that just some nasty slur the theists threw at us? Memories are so short, and so easily diverted into safe and easy denial.

But I am not alone in my rejection of the Old Guard. The Guardian is asking “Whatever happened to New Atheism?” as if we didn’t know. I’ll tell you what happened: it foundered on the egos of its leaders, and their desire to steer it onto the shoals of misogyny, racism, and war. Hmm…maybe the “Four Horsemen” were appropriately named after all.

The article tears into the Four Horsemen, but especially into Harris (Hitchens was spared the worst of it by dying, I would guess).

The intellectual path followed by Harris is most balefully illustrative of the poisonous seeds that were always present in New Atheism. At one point here, the men admire themselves for their willingness to consider truths that might be politically dangerous. For instance, Hitchens says, if the notorious hypothesis of the 1994 book by Richard J Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve – that black people are genetically inferior in intelligence to white people – were true, it shouldn’t be ignored. Luckily, Hitchens hastens to add, that example is not viable. Later on, however, Harris brings up the argument again. “If there were reliable differences in intelligence between races or genders,” he begins, before Hitchens cuts him off dismissively. “But I don’t think any of us here do think that that’s the case.”

Hitchens might have been too generous. In 2018, Harris caused a storm by inviting Murray on to his podcast for a weirdly uncritical two-hour conversation. Murray, Harris claimed, had been the victim of a terrible “academic injustice” for the way in which his notions about the inherent cognitive inferiority of some “races” had been rejected by the scientific establishment. (Lest you worry about Murray, be reassured that he is still a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which is funded by the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers.)

This is where the preeningly fearless insistence on entertaining uncomfortable questions can so easily lead. Harris ended up in the company of the “alt-right” and the so-called “intellectual dark web”, populated by people who portray themselves as valiant enough to say what you’re not allowed to say any more, and are constantly invited on rightwing talk shows to say it. For some, New Atheism was never about God at all, but just a topical subgenre of the rightwing backlash against the supposedly suffocating atmosphere of “political correctness”. In its messianic conviction that it alone serves the cause of truth, this too is a faith as noxious as any other.

This was the gigantic strategic error of the New Atheism. The time was right to make a strong appeal to humanist values and grow a movement around basic decency and fairness, and instead, the most influential voices decided to draw on the nascent alt-right and get rich quick off regressive values — they aimed the ship of atheism straight into the Trumpkin swamp, a mob of people who are explicitly anti-anti-religious, and now all they can do to maintain some popularity is to double-down on the ignorance and racism and sexism that that group likes. Reason and rationality have been turned into empty buzzwords. It’s a real shame.

Comments

  1. Ichthyic says

    I keep wondering if that ship was intentionally steered that direction by people turning the rudder from outside the ship.

    nobody ever really bothered to look behind them, did they.

  2. nomdeplume says

    Contrarianism is a horribly addictive poison. More so these days when Right Wing contrarianism is handsomly paid and brings fame and fortune.

  3. doubtthat says

    Always glad to read more Harris bashing…but the article is kind of goofy. Oh shit, did you guys know that there were some scientists who were also religious? Well, then, I guess I believe in the old guy with a big boat full of critters now.
    Criticisms of the 4 horsemen were interesting and worth considering, thought.

  4. geoffarnold says

    How exactly does the author “tear into” Dan Dennett? And what’s your beef with him? The whole “four horsemen” schtick was just a gimmicky idea by some journalist, and I really don’t see what Dan ever did to deserve your opprobrium.

  5. dirtdoc says

    The Four Horseman:

    War – Hitchens
    Racism – Harris
    Misogyny – Peterson
    Status-quo – Dawkins

    Notes: I know Peterson is not strictly a New Atheist, even dances about with faith, but he does that bullshit option where he decides himself free of any of the strictures of religion while recognizing its “grace” or whatever. It’s the kind of basic flaw of new Atheism, that we are bound by all the old prejudices except those inconvenient to old white dudes. Had Peterson been a thing in 2005, he’d have been right there with ’em.

    Dawkins is nominated as the fourth “Status Quo” because of the Muslima thing. I know it could also qualify as misogyny parading as feminism, but the “it could be worse” is, to me, the #1 tool of the status quo.

  6. doubtthat says

    Huh, I forgot that Harris was flirting with Race/IQ shit back then. In his humiliating kerfuffle with Ezra Klein, he acts like he’s only vaguely aware of Murray’s work. There are several points where Klein says, “Hey, look at this horrific garbage nonsense Murray writes,” and Harris waves his hand, “Oh, I don’t know about that. I just want college students to be nice to him.”
    Harris, more than anyone since Cheney and Rumsfeld, constantly forces me to reevaluate my opinion on his Sutupid/Evil distribution…

  7. robro says

    The War description is a little backwards. First, War breaks into its neighbors’ house, enslaves them, appoints vicious dictators to protect its interests, establishes and trains death squads that kill anyone who resists, and then, when people flee the hell created in their homes, War calls them terrorists and builds a wall to keep them out of its home.

  8. specialffrog says

    Another clue should have been when Harris defended Ayaan Hirsi Ali going to work for the AEI because apparently no liberal organizations had offered to hire her.

    At least I think it was Harris. It may have been Hitchens.

  9. monad says

    Was New Atheism specifically about the danger from belief in Allah? Islamophobia may have become Harris’s thing later, but at first I thought the movement was much more a reaction to extreme Christianity, which in the aftermath of 9/11/2001 seemed pretty keen to launch its own crusade killing thousands, to put religious instruction in school, and so on. Am I remembering wrong?

  10. pocketnerd says

    But who could have predicted that buddying up with regressive, anti-equality social movements could have negative consequences?

    (Other than all the people who accurately predicted it, I mean.)

  11. pilgham says

    I thought this quote from Dawkins was just bizarre. “Listening to the lovely bells of Winchester, one of our great mediaeval cathedrals. So much nicer than the aggressive-sounding ‘Allahu Akhbar.’ Or is that just my cultural upbringing?”
    Yes, it’s your cultural upbringing. If you want an extreme example of acquired taste, you can’t find a better example than the ridiculous cacophony you get from English change-ringing. Here is a you tube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kF52bSFnf9U And the call to prayer is the adhan. Calling it the ‘Allu Akhbar’ is like calling the Lord’s Prayer the ‘Our Father In Heaven’. I just find it distressing because he never used to be this sloppy.

  12. raven says

    Notes: I know Peterson is not strictly a New Atheist, even dances about with faith, but he does that bullshit option where he decides himself free of any of the strictures of religion while recognizing its “grace” or whatever.

    Got that wrong.
    Peterson hates atheists as much as he hates anyone.
    Which is saying a lot.

  13. leerudolph says

    pilgham@13:

    Calling it the ‘Allu Akhbar’ is like calling the Lord’s Prayer the ‘Our Father In Heaven’.

    What you’re calling “the Lord’s Prayer” is in fact very often called the “Our Father” by English-speaking Roman Catholics (see, e.g., this first Google hit in my search to confirm what I was pretty sure, from my deep study of mystery stories and other popular literature, was the case). It does, after all, like various other items in their liturgy, bear as its (pretty damned official) Latin name the first few words of its standard chant version, in this case “Pater Noster”==”Our Father”.

    Thus, calling the adhan “the Allahu Akhbar” (or the like) may or may not be wrong in any number of ways, but it isn’t “wrong” in the sense that “it’s like calling the Lord’s Prayer ‘the Our Father'”, because “calling the Lord’s Prayer ‘the Our Father'” isn’t wrong (although it does have an odor of Papistry, which might make some Protestant denominations say that it is wrong). That isn’t, of course, precisely what you claimed, because you added ‘in Heaven’. Still, I think that other evidence for your claim, if you have some, might be stronger…

  14. pilgham says

    @14, Oh well, an oldie but a goodie I suppose. Looking at the link, I see Dawkins tried to cover himself in the next tweet. If anything, it makes it worse.

  15. unclefrogy says

    those guys mentioned would never have adopted anything more humanist then they have so far. humanist thought would include democratic ideals of equality and that might lead to egalitarianism. There would not be the need for great men as thought leaders and authorities when everyone could speak and be heard all equally when people are clearly not equal to the leaders being not men, or brown or from an inferior culture background., went to the right school. Nah they were never going to be humanistic in their thought.
    uncle frogy

  16. harryblack says

    To me it just seemed that people who felt skeptical about all the things culture had been telling them via authority figures, were so genuinely thrilled that people who looked and sounded like authority figures (with all the bonafides that came with it) were snarkily and succinctly expressing what they had long wanted to say, (but lacked the voice and words.) that they just didnt think much beyond that thrill.
    There seems to be a gravitation towards a certain type of educated and accomplished man who tells us the things we want to hear. The most common critique of Peterson is that his voice does not match his status while we take anyone who sounds posh and English far more seriously than perhaps we should.

    We just did not have the tools at that point to as easily look at not just what was said in one particular article or debate, but elsewhere in other media and to develop a fuller and more complete picture of where a speaker/author was coming from and what their own history was. It was easy to allow people to become heroes and Harris has fallen the farthest simply because he is the one who has kept speaking and given us so much on the record on a weekly basis as opposed to Hitchens whose weekly output could not compete simply due to the difference in media at the time.
    If only they hadnt left us the legacy that debate is the only way to be a critical thinker and has some sort of inherent value or way of distilling truth.

  17. hemidactylus says

    Atheism is merely lack of a certain sort of belief (in a deity). People from different walks of life can converge on this point: Karl Marx and Ayn Rand. The New Atheists had divergences. Sam Harris may have been more spiritually attuned to spiritualism than the other 3 given his long academic hiatus in the mists (or midst) of eastern religions. His connection to the Golden Girls is quite interesting.

    I guess that’s the dictionary out. Atheists are difficult to herd cats. People who happen to be atheists can organize along varying principles from pursuing social justice to characterizing pursuers of social justice as regressive or authoritarian. The latter approach results in strong amicable bonds with muppet voiced Jungians with strange lobster fixations who think atheism and morality are mutually exclusive because Dostoevsky. Controversy begets popularity.

    Atheism has gone in very bizarre directions that were unforeseeable in the heady days of the mid-noughties.

  18. hemidactylus says

    And this just in…
    In highly topical Pinker news today I found this detail Pinker kinda flubs in Enlightenment Now:

    “The younger generations, moreover, are more likely to remain irreligious as they age and stare down their mortality. The trends are just as dramatic among the subset of Nones who are not just none-of-the-abovers but confessed nonbelievers. The percentage of Americans who say they are atheist or agnostic, or that religion is unimportant to them (probably no more than a percentage point or two in the 1950s), rose to 10.3 percent in 2007 and 15.8 percent in 2014.”

    He cites this article: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/upshot/the-rise-of-young-americans-who-dont-believe-in-god.html

    That drills into this Pew data: http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

    Nothing in particular 15.8% matching Pinker above

    With this relevant subset analyzed:
    http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-family/nothing-in-particular/#beliefs-and-practices

    That quite awkwardly has these nuances:
    Believe in God; absolutely certain in 2014: 36%
    Believe in God; fairly certain in 2014: 26%

    Why did Pinker add “nothing in particulars” with atheists and agnostics given this privative grouping includes strong believers in God? Granted if you dig deeper still the above believe in God number are a drop from 2007 and “do not believe in God” increases. IMO Pinker should have stuck to the numbers for atheists and agnostics. “Nothing in particulars” are a subset of the even less useful “nones”.

  19. Kagehi says

    Seriously hate how sites “close” comments sometimes. Almost all the first few batches of posts claim that these 4 are neoliberal (more or less libertarian), or liberals, and no one did, or now can, call them on this mischaracterization and point out where they now have their talks, which “party” they almost always support, or the fundamental contradictions. One even goes so far as to blame the “right to teach lies from the Bible to children”, as a liberal cause, that liberalism mandates, never mind that its always far right conservatives that push this BS, and liberals who are the ones defending the right to not have these things forced on children in schools.

    And, because comments are closed… there will be no rebuttal, and these mischaracterizations get to stand unchallenged. Arggh!! Its almost like they close comments as soon as they see the posting trend has capped out at, “Most people are telling the lies we want people to take away from this, so we need to end it, before someone points out that they are lies.”

  20. hemidactylus says

    And I found this amusing as Pinker misattributes coining “faitheism” to his “bulldog”. Pinker says:

    “But many intellectuals have reacted with fury to the “New Atheism” popularized in a quartet of bestsellers published between 2004 and 2007 by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens.51 Their reaction has been called “I’m-an-atheist-but,” “belief-in-belief,” “accommodationism,” and (in Coyne’s coinage) “faitheism.”

    That is refuted by Coyne himself:

    “Now I didn’t coyne the term “faitheism”, as I recall: it was the winner in a contest I devised to invent a word that referred to atheists who are soft on religion; and I can’t remember who won.”

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/steve-pinker-reviews-faith-versus-fact/

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/07/17/we-have-a-winner/

    “And that winner is . . . . .
    ** FAITHEISTS,** contributed by Divalent.”

    https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/Citations:faitheist
    Goes back to 1999 on usenet.

  21. sparks says

    What nonsense is this? OK, so you don’t like the ‘New’ Atheism. Because there’s all this dirt on the peeps who appeared to represent it to Joe Q. Idiot Plumber. Nothing is perfect in that these things will always be infested with Humans and we’re not perfect. But to suggest that Dennet, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens are the problem here is bullshit. By the way, none of them ever labelled themselves as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Hitch, in fact, can be read and seen as saying if the group is called anything at all other than Atheist or Antitheist, it should jokingly be called the Four Horsemen of the Counter Apocalypse, which would tend to make the ‘war, pestilence, bullshit and fuckwaddery’ thingy a non starter.

    Thanks to one and all for sitting through that. Now then: If rational beings do not stand up and say no to the religulous fools, antivaxxers, and all the other dregs of human stupidity, who the fuck will? I don’t give a fuck what they call themselves or how human and fallible they are. We can’t let this wave of Dumbth roll over us without putting up some kind of resistance.

    Want to find someone to crucify here? Why not go back to Sagan who said in word and print: “I keep an open mind. Just not so open that my brain falls out”.

    Words to live by.

  22. mnb0 says

    @21: “Atheism has gone in very bizarre directions that were unforeseeable in the heady days of the mid-noughties.”
    Nonsense. I saw it from the beginning.
    War criminal Martin Borman was an atheist. The four H’s obviously weren’t that bad, but the islamophobia of three of them was clear from the beginning. And when you begin to dehumanize one particular group of people more will follow. That you and PZ were blind and naive doesn’t mean every atheist was.
    Just accept that atheists are human too and hence no more rational (yup, I’m looking at you too, Spark) than other humans and bizarre directions is exactly what could be expected – what I did expect.
    If bootlickers of the our heroes of New Atheism are the ones who must call out religion I’m going to side with the religionists, while being a 7 on the scale of Dawkins. Call me a faitheist, if you like; from such folks (and that includes JAC) I accept it as a compliment.
    Because religious folks like archbishop Oscar Romero have more moral decency in their little finger than the four H’s and their entire fandom combined.

  23. doubtthat says

    @mnb0

    Nonsense. I saw it from the beginning.

    It’s going to depend heavily on people’s experiences. I didn’t see it coming.

    Mid 90’s to early 00’s I was in high school and college in a deep red state. I was surrounded by incredibly bigoted and ignorant bible thumpers. My exposure to atheist was through a combination of philosophy and social activism. The only atheists I knew were also deeply devoted to humanism. It seemed like a logical conclusion: toss out the silly beliefs and the ignorant social, economic, political shit goes with it.

    Hitchens turn to aggressive, violent anti-Islam stuff was the first thing that gave me pause. Elevatorgate hit and that was pretty much the end of my sweet little fantasy. I haven’t been surprised by the bellicose, racist, misoginystic, glibertarian branch of atheism, but I sincerely was surprised when it started turning that way.

    Maybe you were exposed to these assholes earlier, but I still don’t really know any of these people in real life.

  24. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ mnbo

    Oh FUCK YOU, you accommodationist, supernaturaistl-loving, pile of shit.

    I didn’t get into open,, in-your-face, put-up-or-shut-up, atheism because of Islam, brown-colored people, or 9/11. I was far more concerned about what Dubbya and his Creationist, Bible-fucking friends in the U.S.were doing than Bin Ladin or any other goat-fuckers in the Middle East. Now, thanks to assholes like you, I get to watch as so-called ”progressive” evangelicals get to challenge Trump while atheists get pissed upon because of the likes of Dawkins, Harris, and ThunderF00L.

    Humanity will not deserve to exist until both capitalism and theism are gone, especially if that death is slow and painful for their adherents.

  25. KG says

    Akira MacKenzie@29,31,

    I appreciate that your torture-murder fantasies are the outcome of difficult and depressing personal circumstances, but that does not make them any less vile or disturbing. If I were PZ, I’d seriously consider passing your IP and any other known details to the authorities.

  26. KG says

    BTW, PZ, I’m still waiting for the evidence that GMOs are “good for everyone” rather than “good for the profits of a handful of mega-corporations, and a somewhat larger number of large-scale farmers”. I don’t deny that they may have the potential to be good for everyone, but as it is, they are mainly an additional weapon in the hands of the rich. A little thinking about agricultural systems would be useful. The small farmers who grow most of the world’s food need secure land tenure, better storage and transport facilities, fair access to water, and cheap credit far, far more than they need GMOs.

  27. deepak shetty says

    @mnbo

    Nonsense. I saw it from the beginning.

    Care to show proof ? The initial arguments (between accomodationists/faitheists/atheists) were all based around (as far as I remember)
    a. The lack of importance given to religion as a topic. (or the refusal to see what it means and why it is important to the religious)
    b. The tone around it all. (Calling religious people delusional and so on)
    c. The refusal to engage with some philosophical arguments, in some cases deriding all fields except science as important (specially philosophy).
    The arguments werent about how racist or sexist or Islamophobic the movement was. So if you want to claim you saw it from the beginning , youll have to show some proof.

    The Islamophobia , if it existed was hidden because , atleast initially Christianity wasnt spared either. And till Elevatorgate hit , it wasnt at all evident that a good number of Atheists were anti-feminism.

  28. Akira MacKenzie says

    I apologize to everyone here, including mnbo and Rob, for my asinine, hateful remarks.

  29. wanderingelf says

    I am glad PZ has rejected the dark side and denouncing new atheism, so I do not wish to sound overly critical, but I feel compelled to point out that signs of the darkness within were there from the start, for those with eyes to see them. As an Agnostic, it always struck me as ironic how some atheists can demonstrate all the smug self-righteousness, all the missionary zeal, and all the contemptuous intolerance of other belief systems that characterize religious fundamentalists, yet remain oblivious to the similarity (and have apoplectic fits of hostile indignation if anyone dares point it out). New atheism always seemed to consist mainly of just such evangelical atheists. As a movement, it was inherently negative; it never seemed to be for anything so much as it was against religion. Membership was based primarily on being willing to heap scorn on anyone who believed in god(s) rather than on demonstrating compassion or empathy. Even when new atheism claimed to be for things like science and reason, it seemed to be at least partly because these were seen as useful for belittling theists. While the exact nature and extent of their Islamophobia and/or misogyny may not have always been apparent, the four “horsemen” were always arrogant, bigoted assholes who failed the Rand-Rogers test*, and that was apparent.

    *The Rand-Rogers test hinges on whether someone believes the world needs more people like Ayn Rand, or more people like Fred Rogers. The latter was a kind, caring man who devoted much of his life to helping others. He was also a devout Christian. The former was a selfish psychobitch who never helped anyone but herself, and who claimed that being totally self-serving was not only OK, but actually made one morally superior to those who claim we should care about the welfare of others. She was also a strident atheist. Anyone who is less than 100% convinced that Fred Rogers is preferable to Ayn Rand, or who so much as pauses to think about it, fails the test. Alternatively, you can just ask yourself who the test subject is more like. Again, anyone more like Ayn Rand than Fred Rogers fails.

  30. Jackson says

    KG @33
    “BTW, PZ, I’m still waiting for the evidence that GMOs are “good for everyone” rather than “good for the profits of a handful of mega-corporations, and a somewhat larger number of large-scale farmers”. I don’t deny that they may have the potential to be good for everyone, but as it is, they are mainly an additional weapon in the hands of the rich.”

    Bt brinjal
    Bt cowpea
    Biofortified rice
    Virus resistant papaya

    Just some of the crops developed with transgenes by the public sector or non-profits that have been approved for commercial use. More on the way in cassava and banana.

    “The small farmers who grow most of the world’s food need secure land tenure, better storage and transport facilities, fair access to water, and cheap credit far, far more than they need GMOs.”

    All of those are good things that would help small landholder farmers. GMOs do exactly zero to prevent any of that. Maybe the billion dollar budgets of the organic industry and “environmental” groups would be better spent working on those issues instead of demonizing GMOs.

  31. Rob Grigjanis says

    Jackson @39: Do you think “approved for commercial use” is synonymous with “good for everyone”?

    One major criticism of the basis on which the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) cleared Bt brinjal, has been the alleged unreliability of the safety data. Safety data submitted by the company, with a vested interest in a favourable outcome, are deemed to be suspect in this argument. And in this context, the real issue that arises is a question we are depressingly familiar with: do we have strong implementation of these regulatory processes and protocols? The answer to that is likely to tend to be more and more in the negative with the greater the involvement of powerful interests, such as deep-pocketed MNCs. Again, who owns GM technology appears to be far more crucial an issue than its “GM”-ness.
    The entire data presented before the GEAC comes from field trials conducted by Monsanto-Mahyco.

    (my bolding)

  32. Jackson says

    Rob Grigjanis @40

    “Jackson @39: Do you think “approved for commercial use” is synonymous with “good for everyone”?”

    No, but I think the Bt trait is safe, and has been shown to be safe over and over. I think that even if you cite non-biologists writing an opinion paper in a non-biology journal who approvingly cite Seralini. Might as well link to Druker or Jeffery Smith or Vani Hari.

    These conversations, depressingly, always go the same way. I get that you don’t like Monsanto, but that doesn’t mean that GMOs are going to poison you.

  33. Rob Grigjanis says

    Jackson @41:

    I think that even if you cite non-biologists writing an opinion paper in a non-biology journal who approvingly cite Seralini.

    You have a funny notion of “approvingly”:

    The issue was examined by a panel of other experts (Doull et al 2007). They rejected the Seralini study, pointing out, among other things, that if toxic effects were Bt related, they should have shown a dose- response relationship – higher doses of Bt consumption should also have shown more damage. No such dose response relationship was seen making it unlikely that Seralini et al had uncovered any significant problem.

    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    These conversations, depressingly, always go the same way.

    No kidding.

    I get that you don’t like Monsanto, but that doesn’t mean that GMOs are going to poison you.

    The problem is why I don’t like trust Monsanto. I get that you might not like Purdue Pharma, but that doesn’t mean you’ll die from an opioid overdose. Er, problem solved?

  34. Jackson says

    “The problem is why I don’t like trust Monsanto. I get that you might not like Purdue Pharma, but that doesn’t mean you’ll die from an opioid overdose. Er, problem solved?”

    Maybe. There is really good evidence that an opioid overdose will kill you. Lets see your equally good evidence that GMOs will kill you?

  35. Rob Grigjanis says

    Jackson @43: The point is not about comparing opioids to GMO foods. The point is the unethical behaviour of corporations pushing their products. Your position seems to be “Bt brinjal and other products look OK, so we shouldn’t worry about whatever else Monsanto et al might do”. Note that the authors of the article I linked to agree that GMO is an important technology, and that Bt brinjal looks OK (with caveats about its usefulness in India).

    You seem to be going out of your way to avoid the issues brought up, and you’ve already misrepresented the article I linked. Yes, it is depressing.

    BTW, are you sure Satyajit Rath wouldn’t be considered a biologist? I bow to the judgment of biologists.

  36. Jackson says

    “The point is not about comparing opioids to GMO foods. The point is the unethical behaviour of corporations pushing their products.”

    This argument is BS. As you pointed out, pharma companies have also acted unethically. This is no reason to say that vaccines are bad and probably unsafe. Monsanto has acted unethically, but that’s no reason to say GMOs are bad and probably unsafe.

    “Your position seems to be “Bt brinjal and other products look OK, so we shouldn’t worry about whatever else Monsanto et al might do”.”

    Then i have expressed myself poorly. My point was all the evidence says the Bt trait is safe, therefore Bt crops are safe. I pointed out GMO crops that are good for poor farmers in poor countries, and GMO crops not developed by large for profit companies.

    You’ll have to be specific about “whatever else Monsanto is doing” if you want my concern level. But that has no bearing on if GMOs are good or not.

    “You seem to be going out of your way to avoid the issues brought up”

    I just re-read your comments so far. I see a whole lot of snark, but no actual issues brought up yet.

  37. Rob Grigjanis says

    Jackson @45:

    I just re-read your comments so far. I see a whole lot of snark, but no actual issues brought up yet.

    Holy crap. The fucking passage I quoted in #40. To which your response was a dishonest dismissal of the article (“approvingly cite”, “non-biologists”, blahblah), without even addressing the (non-biological) problems raised.

    Anyway, I’m done with your deliberate obtuseness.

  38. Jackson says

    I don’t think your passage addressed non-biological issues. It was spreading FUD about the safety of Bt. You think its not safe. You are on the wrong side of scientific consensus.

    Or was it the bolded part complaining about business interests? Because my first post was exactly about how non-profits and public sector institutions are developing and releasing GMOs that help small landholder farmers.

  39. John Morales says

    [utterly out-of-topic]

    Wow this recent disputation is so very boring; even worse, it has zip to do with New Atheism and its bashing, the ostensible topic at hand

    Jackson: Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis genes) GMO is but the tiniest sliver of the tech’s potential, and your focus on its “safety” (AKA lack of demonstrated harm) is orthogonal to Rob’s contentions about how it has been monetised.

    (Meanwhile, if I want to buy tasty, ripe tomatoes at a shop, I’m still shit outta luck. Or stonefruit, for that matter)

  40. Jackson says

    “Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis genes) GMO is but the tiniest sliver of the tech’s potential”

    I agree. But it was what Rob’s quoted bit had a problem with.

    “your focus on its “safety” (AKA lack of demonstrated harm) is orthogonal to Rob’s contentions about how it has been monetised.”

    His quoted bit was not about how it was monetized. It was about how it went through the approval process, and how companies are not supposed to pay for their own safety testing, because that invalidates the results. And because the Indian seed company and Indian universities licensed technology from Monsanto, that means Bt brinjal is unfit for farmers, or something.

    (Meanwhile, if I want to buy tasty, ripe tomatoes at a shop, I’m still shit outta luck. Or stonefruit, for that matter)

    I suppose that means we should stop all non-GMO conventional breeding, because as you know there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes :)

  41. John Morales says

    Jackson, still way out of topic, and I’m hardly gonna whiteknight Rob (even if you are mistaken about his contentions). But, for the sake of it…

    I suppose that means we should stop all non-GMO conventional breeding, because as you know there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes :)

    Well, I once had hopes for the ol’ Flavr Savr (AKA CGN-89564-2), but alas, it never quite worked out, was not profitable, and the company was eventually bought out by Monsanto and the project scrapped.

    Anyway, as an advocate, you should well know that “conventional breeding” is just a very, very slow undirected version of GMOing stuff; less slow is deliberately increasing mutation rates and then breeding, and best of all is directly manipulating genetics.

    (And like I said, bland and crunchy stonefruit is pathetic; worst of all, those unfortunates who have grown up with it imagine that’s what the fruit is supposed to be like — not bland, not crunchy, but sweet, flavourful and juicy. Thing is, if you pick them ripe, you can’t mass distribute and retail them without taking extreme pains to preserve their ripe perfection)

  42. Jackson says

    “even if you are mistaken about his contentions”

    Maybe I am mistaken about it, and his complaints are about how GMOs are monetized.

    GMOs are monetized by a company first by doing the interesting science of trait development, then the boring science of regulatory approval and patenting, then using that trait in their own seed varieties and licensing it out to other companies to use in their seed varieties.

    So GMOs are monetized exactly the same way as every other breeding method, but this makes GMOs bad.

    “Anyway, as an advocate, you should well know that “conventional breeding” is just a very, very slow undirected version of GMOing stuff”

    I’m throwing everything that is “non-GMO” into the “conventional breeding” category. So chemical mutagenesis, radiation mutagenesis, wide crosses, protoplast fusion, hybridization, grafting, embryo rescue, etc.

  43. KG says

    Jackson,

    You might notice that neither I nor anyone else has claimed that GMO products are going to poison anyone. You have provided zero evidence that GMOs are “good for everyone”. And “biofortified rice” (a) Is not yet being grown for food anywhere as far as I can discover, (b) is not the public, non-profit crop often claimed (any farmer earning more than $10,000/year from it will be paying licnece fees to biotech companies) (c) still has question marks over how much provitamin A it will actually deliver to those eating it under the growing and storage conditions which will acually prevail and (d) is addressing a problem that already has known solutions (fortifying foods with vitamin A, and encouraging the growing and eating of crops such as carrots).

    So GMOs are monetized exactly the same way as every other breeding method, but this makes GMOs bad. – Jackson@51

    Said no-one at all in this discussion, except you. If you could take the trouble to actually pay attention to what has been said, rather than what you expect to be said, it might help. The fundamental problem is the increasing dominance of food production by a handful of mega-corporations. GMOs, as currently prodcued and marketed, are principally an additional means of cementing this dominance.

  44. KG says

    Incidentally, the attempted parallel with vaccines is a very poor one. Vaccines are not, contrary to anti-vax propaganda, a big source of profit for pharmaceutical megacorps. Indeed, it is increasingly difficult to get these companies to research and produce them – they would much rather focus on minimum patentable changes to drugs that need to be taken every day. GMOs, on the other hand, are a huge source of profit to agribusiness, and central to their ever-increrasing dominance of global food and agricultural markets.

  45. John Morales says

    Jackson, what the hey, this is a strange attractor, and things are quiet.

    So GMOs are monetized exactly the same way as every other breeding method […]

    No, it’s not a breeding method; if it were, purchasers could then breed the offspring, as is traditional. It’s a technology, but it ain’t the technology which is at fault, it is the choices made and uses to which it was put by the corporate concerns who commercialised it. BTW, the existence of esurient business practices by Monsanto is not a matter of controversy, but I look forward to seeing you try to demonstrate how their method of monetisation of Bt was just like any other breeders’.

    […] , but this makes GMOs bad.

    How many more times must I intimate that I (and I think most readers also) distinguish between GMO the technology and GMO purposed products produced by private corporations with a bunch of rapacious conditions on the purchase of their product and a bunch of patents granted essentially by primogeniture rather than by originality. Not Anti-GMO, but against its current capitalist instantiation. OK?

    (And by that I mean that, if it doesn’t make a lot of money and yield good share dividends whilst profiting handsomely, it ain’t gonna be researched or implemented — that would be stupid. You do know it’s arguable that corporations are essentially AI psychopaths, right?)

    The tech is here, and it’s here to stay. Someone somewhere will do something really nice with it, maybe. Or maybe the converse, who knows? ;)

    Anyway. Relax.
    This is not a place for people who unironically refer to “Frankenfood” or worry about man-pigs.

    (But it is a bit anti-establishment, I admit)

  46. KG says

    Wow this recent disputation is so very boring; even worse, it has zip to do with New Atheism and its bashing, the ostensible topic at hand – John Morales@50

    Did you glance at the cartoon that forms a prominent part of the OP, John? Second panel, second paragraph. The claim is made quite explicitly that GMOs “are good for everyone”. A fine example of the naive belief (perhaps more likely to be found among “New Atheists” than among people in general) that you can judge the benefits of a technology without considering the power relationships surrounding its production and use.

  47. John Morales says

    KG, no, I had not perused the graphic that closely. So I get you.

    Anyway, it’s not as if I didn’t indulge… :)

  48. axxyaan says

    What I find odd is that you now write that the time was right to make a strong appeal to humanist values and grow a movement around basic decency and fairness, yet I am rather confident that suggestions that you were a humanist and/or that atheist should aspire to become humanists were firmly rejected by you. As far as I recall criticizing religion was more important than adopting humanist values, even for you and the fact that a number of humanists preferred to work together with some religious folks in order to pursue these humanist values was enough for you to distance yourself from humanism.

  49. KG says

    What I find odd is that you now write that the time was right to make a strong appeal to humanist values and grow a movement around basic decency and fairness, yet I am rather confident that suggestions that you were a humanist and/or that atheist should aspire to become humanists were firmly rejected by you. – axxyaan@58

    So, shouldn’t you be welcoming PZ’s change of heart? It’s not as if he hasn’t been explicit about regretting his involvement in “New Atheism” (see the first line of the OP).

  50. axxyaan says

    I don’t see PZ acknowledging a change of hearts. As I read it, he seems to take no responsibility for new atheism’s lack of strong appeal to humanist values. He reports it as if he was a member who suddenly found his club had gone in a direction he didn’t approve of as if he wasn’t one of those who had problems with humanism at the start of new atheism.

  51. says

    Eh, what? I’m sitting here with awards from the American Humanists and the European humanist association — I’ve been quite clear from the beginning that humanist values ought to be an essential component of atheism (and took a lot of flak for it, too — atheism is just not believing in god, you know).

    I do take responsibility for riding the atheist train and only saying that we were going the wrong way, rather than grabbing the brakes and being more insistent, but then, I never had the clout that the big names had.

  52. khms says

    #58 @axxyaan

    What I find odd is that you now write that the time was right to make a strong appeal to humanist values and grow a movement around basic decency and fairness, yet I am rather confident that suggestions that you were a humanist and/or that atheist should aspire to become humanists were firmly rejected by you.

    Your confidence is misplaced. PZ was always pro-humanism – but he didn’t think atheists (with those leanings) should organize under that banner, instead of under the “atheist” banner.

    As far as I recall criticizing religion was more important than adopting humanist values, even for you and the fact that a number of humanists preferred to work together with some religious folks in order to pursue these humanist values was enough for you to distance yourself from humanism.

    You recall wrongly. PZ didn’t like (as far as I can recall) people saying that there’s no conflict between religion and science, or that the masses need religion, or that religion should not be attacked, or stuff like that. Plus I remember (might have PZ, might have been commenters) a strong thread of moaning that sceptic and even humanist groups have tended to put religion into a rubric explicitely safe from scepticism.

    Another thing – I remember when PZ wrote about the “deep rifts” in the movement that people complained about, and instead approved of them. I seem to recall those rifts were about social justice values, which PZ had, and the other side didn’t. See also, A+.

Leave a Reply