New Atheism is dead…does that make this abuse of a corpse?


The current crop of New Atheists take a brutal beating. Phil Torres takes the approach of looking at the atheists who get all the attention today, and asking whether they were actually good moral people who represented the ideals of atheism well.

The answer is “No.”

So if you want to read about how the atheists who rode the glory train of the atheist resurgence 10 or 15 years ago to fame and fortune now are doing, check it out and be depressed. The faces of the New Atheism are Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, David Silverman, and Steven Pinker, and if just that list is harrowing enough, wait until you read the dissections. To make it even worse, they’re all converging on the Intellectual Dark Web, which ought to be renamed the New Fascism.

What’s sad is that the New Atheist movement could have made a difference — a positive difference — in the world. Instead, it gradually merged with factions of the alt-right to become what former New York Times contributing editor Bari Weiss calls the “Intellectual Dark Web” (IDW), a motley crew of pseudo-intellectuals whose luminaries include Jordan Peterson, Eric and Bret Weinstein, Douglas Murray, Dave Rubin and Ben Shapiro, in addition to those mentioned above.

Flash this image to see how fast a ‘free speech warrior’ will block you.


At the heart of this merger was the creation of a new religious movement of sorts centered around the felt loss of power among white men due to the empowerment of other people. When it was once acceptable, according to cultural norms, for men to sexually harass women with impunity, or make harmful racist and sexist comments without worrying about losing a speaking opportunity, being held accountable can feel like an injustice, even though the exact opposite is the case. Pinker, Shermer and some of the others like to preach about “moral progress,” but in fighting social justice under the misleading banner of “free speech,” they not only embolden fascists but impede further moral progress for the marginalized.

When I think back to that period when we were all giddy with the possibilities of a strong atheist movement, there are many other names that come to mind of eloquent, activist atheists who got left behind by that glory train — people who I thought were fantastic representatives of a progressive atheism. Think about Greta Christina, Mandisa Thomas, Jey McCreight, Lauren Lane, Rebecca Watson, Monette Richards, Sikivu Hutchinson, Annie Laurie Gaylor, and a few hundred others who should now be the names and faces we see on CNN whenever they go looking for a representative atheist perspective. They’re still around, but not getting the attention they deserve. Instead, Richard Dawkins is still the figurehead of atheism, with those other guys getting an occasional nod. I wonder why? Are the people on my list missing something? Or is it just their estrogen vibe?

Think back just a decade, and what happened to atheism? A massive anti-feminist backlash that hounded so many good people out of the movement and left the assholes in charge. We still feel the repercussions.

At least some studies have shown that, to quote Phil Zuckerman, secular people are “markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian” than religious people. It’s a real shame that New Atheism, now swallowed up by the IDW and the far right, turned out to be just as prejudiced, racist, dogmatic, ethnocentric, closed-minded and authoritarian as many of the religious groups they initially deplored.

Oh, what could have been…

Comments

  1. says

    I’m not. Or more correctly: not more than usual. This is par course for the world we have always lived in. Those who crave fame and attention the most are usually the least deserving.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    PZ
    -Is there anything we ordinary internet peons can do to help the good atheists raise their public profile? I suspect journalists just call up the old names from laziness, they need to know about the others.
    .
    anbheal@1
    This is off-topic, but it may cheer you up just a little bit.
    Trump is furious over the immense legal fees be has to pay for the two dozen lawsuits he is the subject of. I love the idea of him being separated from his ill-gotten money.
    -And some coral reef organisms have turned out to tolerate warming better than expected, which means the Great Barrier Reef may be in not quite the danger we feared.
    And if all else fails, there are cute films of fox puppies at Save a fox.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    And the rank-and- file of the Trump-supporting, right-wing scum these jerks aligned with are the same redneck clods they sneered at for being Creationists and theists.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    Think back just a decade, and what happened to atheism?

    If an idea gains some traction, it becomes more less than an idea: it becomes a route to power and fame. Isn’t this what has happened to every idea ever? The scum rises to the top. Atheism is no more immune to this than religion. Or Marxism.

  5. PaulBC says

    Oops. I jumped the gun by referring to this article in the elevatorgate thread. Without reposting my comment in all it’s verbosity, I really wonder (as suggested in the Salon article) how much New Atheism was fueled by post-9/11 Islamophobia and how much that explains about its rise and fall (granting PZ’s point that it alienated its best people).

    I know it predated 9/11, but something put it in the limelight. There was Kitzmiller as well, but the people involved in that were primarily defending science and only incidentally attacking religion. New Atheism seemed very different to me, and uninteresting (whether my reasons of arriving at that view were right or wrong).

    It seems inherently anti-pluralist, and I do not see how humanity can exist in peace except by embracing pluralism.

  6. John Morales says

    PaulBC:

    It seems inherently anti-pluralist, and I do not see how humanity can exist in peace except by embracing pluralism.

    So we should embrace blasphemy laws? Honour killings? The subordination of women?

    That’s really the sort of world you want?

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @9: Because acknowledgement of diversity means acceptance of everything? Try harder, mate.

  8. says

    We failed to understand the tendency of class. Bigotry often serves the interests of powerful, wealthy, and influential people as it divides the exploited against each other. Any movement primarily led by a bunch of rich white guys is pretty much always destined to turn towards fascism.

  9. PaulBC says

    JM@9 “So we should embrace blasphemy laws? Honour killings? The subordination of women?”

    That’s not a requirement of pluralism. There is a baseline of human rights within pluralistic society.

    But does New Atheism provide new insights and effective methods for eliminating the human rights abuses of religions? What are these? What have they accomplished so far?

    My impression is that their main goal is superiority through being “right about stuff” and the impact on actual human beings is primarily used to quash discussion when other methods fail.

  10. John Morales says

    Rob @10, so you concede that at least some stuff should be excluded from embrace.

    So, you advocate for limited pluralism, right?

    Given the things I enumerated are all advocated by particular religious movements, you too think some religious movements should be excluded due to particular perniciousness.

    (What’s your threshold?)

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @13: You’ve said you’re 60 odd years old, right? You come across like a smug teenager. Pluralism does not mean ‘unconditional acceptance’, so ‘limited pluralism’ is a nonsensical term. When you can converse like a thinking adult, I’ll be happy to respond.

  12. John Morales says

    PaulBC:

    But does New Atheism provide new insights and effective methods for eliminating the human rights abuses of religions? What are these? What have they accomplished so far?

    A normalisation of atheism as a respectable, valid outlook.

    (But hey, it’s dead now — at least according to PZ)

    Rob:

    You’ve said you’re 60 odd years old, right? You come across like a smug teenager.

    Young at heart, that’s me.

    Pluralism does not mean ‘unconditional acceptance’, so ‘limited pluralism’ is a nonsensical term.

    What made you imagine I thought pluralism meant ‘unconditional acceptance’?

    But fine; since a plurality with certain categories excluded is perforce of lower cardinality than one with those categories not excluded, for you I rewrite the concept as a lower-cardinality plurality.

    (So… What’s your threshold for exclusion?)

    When you can converse like a thinking adult, I’ll be happy to respond.

    Hardly needful, given you’ve already responded. :)

  13. PaulBC says

    JM@15

    A normalisation of atheism as a respectable, valid outlook.

    And this has led to what percent reduction in female genital mutilation?

  14. John Morales says

    PaulBC, I have no idea. But any reduction is better than none, right?

  15. PaulBC says

    Isn’t this also Mister Gotcha’s schtick? “You say you are pluralist and yet you refuse to accept anti-pluralist Nazis in your movement. Gotcha!”

    Pluralism (or tolerance, though I don’t like this label as much) means accepting a wide enough diversity of viewpoints that members of a society can coexist peacefully together and thrive. It does not mean accepting all possible viewpoints including the very ones that undermine your program or violate a baseline of human rights that most pluralists agree on. I think that is an achievable goal and it’s the kind of world I would like to live in.

    A world in which intellectual bullies go around purging the world of their brand of “impure thought” sounds first of all like a colossal bore, but also a pipe dream. The Soviet Union couldn’t even achieve complete atheism though they had the full power of the state at their disposal. As far as I know, they reduced the degree of religious belief, but so did Western Europe and not through coercion.

  16. jaylemieux says

    I’m not sure if you’re asking rhetorically or if you really don’t know, but what the people on your list are missing is the backing of a handful of white male geriatric millionaires who prop up the old guard at any cost to the future of the movement.

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    Torres makes only one passing reference to “seemingly anti-trans comments” (by Dawkins on Twitter), lets Hitchens off the hook entirely, skips the Atheist Alliance International fiasco, says nothing about the Secular Coalition’s Edwina Rogers faceplant, ignores the Carrier and Timonen scandals, and apparently never heard of ThunderFool or the rest of the pack of atheist YouTubeBoobs.

    Fully cataloguing the movement’s failures (so far) will apparently take a thick book.

  18. Tethys says

    I always found it telling that those atheists styled themselves after the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse.

    If your stated goal is to decrease religious superstitious beliefs and make atheism socially acceptable, it is asinine and arrogant to name yourself after the delirious ravings in the most delusional book of Christian scripture.

  19. Pierce R. Butler says

    Tethys @ # 20: … those atheists styled themselves after the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse.

    For the sake of fairness, we should mention that they apparently originally got that label from Wired magazine – but didn’t do nearly enough to shun it.

  20. Tethys says

    @Pierce Butler 21

    Yes, that’s fair, but they embraced the label. I think everyone agrees that War, Famine, Plague, and Death are unpleasant events we would like to avoid. I can’t see how invoking the apocalyptic delusions of John of Patmos would lead to a decrease in Christian religious beliefs.

  21. PaulBC says

    Tethys@22 Could it just be that they value publicity more than philosophical consistency?

    “Publicity whore of Babylon” might be a better fit.

  22. kingoftown says

    @PaulBC
    Christians and Muslims believe in one true god and their religions require proselytising. Surely this is anathema to your dream pluralist society?
    When the two largest religions in the world require believers to try and convert non-believers then your version of pluralism is impossible. I believe that christians and muslims should be free to try and convert others (as long as they aren’t harassing them) but also that I’m free to argue against or even mock their beliefs. I don’t think I’ll purge the world of my version of “impure thoughts” but hey, at least they won’t either.

  23. consciousness razor says

    PaulBC, #8:

    It seems inherently anti-pluralist, and I do not see how humanity can exist in peace except by embracing pluralism.

    The fact is, if anything was being excluded (politically/socially/etc.) or disallowed from peaceful coexistence, it was atheism. Religions have for a very long time been doing much of the anti-pluralist heavy lifting. That’s where we have to start.

    And what have been some of the results, for better or worse?
    — Some religious people (perhaps even whole institutions or denominations) are somewhat less anti-pluralist than they used to be.
    — Yet religions have also remained very dominant in our society. They best they can come up with is pretending to be oppressed (a very old trick which works like a charm), in order to gain more sympathetic members, more money, more favorable legislation, etc. … or in short, even more dominance in our society.

    Not exactly great evidence that it inheres in NA, is it?

    I guess while we’re just making shit up, you could imagine other mystery forces were at work too, which somehow counteracted whatever NA may have done (if anything). That’s a possibility. Or I’m sure you can figure out some kind of bullshit to say that could help you not change your mind. I probably shouldn’t bother to guess what it might be.

  24. PaulBC says

    kingtoftown@24

    Christians and Muslims believe in one true god and their religions require proselytising. Surely this is anathema to your dream pluralist society?

    It doesn’t appear to be an impediment to the Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Sikhs coexisting peacefully within a radius of a few miles of where I sit typing right now, so why should I entertain your theoretical claim of its impossibility?

    For that matter, Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door attempting to proselytize. We have a brief and friendly chat. Then I they give me a pamphlet and go. I walk past churches with messages on signs that are clearly intended to convince me of their viewpoint. Well so are billboards for casinos or ads for kickboxing. I mean everyone is selling something. I don’t have to buy.

  25. consciousness razor says

    And what have been some of the results, for better or worse?

    To be clear, I mean since the notional emergence of NA, over the last two decades or so.

  26. kingoftown says

    @27 Paul BC
    So what are atheists/new atheists doing differently? All they do is argue that other people’s beliefs are false and in a less obtrusive way than Jehovah’s Witnesses

  27. consciousness razor says

    It doesn’t appear to be an impediment to the Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Sikhs coexisting peacefully within a radius of a few miles of where I sit typing right now, so why should I entertain your theoretical claim of its impossibility?

    Remarkably, you don’t even stop to consider whether atheists are (or were) part of this polite little club (in your Bay Area neighborhood), whether that’s changed at all in the last couple of decades (there or in other places), and what if anything might have changed it.

  28. PaulBC says

    CR@26

    The fact is, if anything was being excluded (politically/socially/etc.) or disallowed from peaceful coexistence, it was atheism. Religions have for a very long time been doing much of the anti-pluralist heavy lifting. That’s where we have to start.

    I agree with that.

    And what have been some of the results, for better or worse?

    Results of what? It’s not as if atheists invented the idea of tolerance. In an American context, the earliest establishment of a pluralistic commonwealth was by William Penn, himself a Quaker (sadly, the intolerant Plymouth colonists are the ones mythologized as seekers of religious liberty). Benjamin Franklin bragged that the Mufti of Constantinople would have be welcome to proselytize in Philadelphia. Franklin was a deist, suggesting convincingly that the less religious someone is, the more they welcome pluralism. But my point is that the history of religious pluralism is very old (and much older than William Penn).

    It’s not even moving in one direction. Robert Ingersoll was celebrated as an orator in the 19th century even though his “agnosticism” (which seems a polite way to say atheism) caused a scandal. But he drew crowds and was part of accepted discourse. Attacks against him came mostly in the form of nasty editorials, not threats to his person. I suspect that pressure to be religious is materially worse in some places in the US now than even 120 years ago, though in other places there’s no expectation at all.

    Ingersoll was a Republican too, back when it really was the “Party of Lincoln.”

    Ingersoll’s speeches are relevant today, and they’re also compassionate. His main goal was for people to have happy lives. If that is the goal of Dawkins and similar New Atheists, I have trouble seeing it. (Actually PZ strikes me a lot more as an atheist in the mold of Ingersoll, but I don’t want to presume.)

  29. John Morales says

    Paul,

    For that matter, Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door attempting to proselytize.

    A cult which indoctrinates its children. Sometimes it traumatises them, as attested by numerous ex-Witnesses.

    (But sure, that doesn’t affect you or yours)

  30. consciousness razor says

    Results of what?

    I thought it was pretty obvious, but I did already clarify that for you in #28.

    It’s not as if atheists invented the idea of tolerance.

    I don’t think that. But it is as if they invented the idea of tolerance of atheists. That’s ancient history, of course, but we’ve continued to fight for that in more recent times.

    Here’s another thing I think: it’s not good/reasonable to characterize a struggle to gain acceptance/tolerance for atheists as being on an “anti-pluralist” campaign of intolerance toward the religious.

    Also, telling somebody that they’re wrong about some shit they believe is not that either.

  31. PaulBC says

    kingoftown@29

    So what are atheists/new atheists doing differently? All they do is argue that other people’s beliefs are false and in a less obtrusive way than Jehovah’s Witnesses

    I never said Dawkins doesn’t have the right to make his pitch. Just that I’m not buying. The atheism part is fine, but insofar as he wishes to stamp out religion, which he seems to, first, I doubt it’ll work, and and second, I think his aim is homogeneity of belief rather than something that actually matters like human rights.

    consciousness razor@30 Oooh. I am so busted. Yes, we have atheists aplenty. Four right here under one roof and many others in walking distance. I would have added “those who practice no religion at all” to the list, but I lack Obama’s rhetorical talent. I’ll try to remember next time.

  32. PaulBC says

    John Morales@32 And thanks to your efforts against JWs, what percentage of children suffer less abuse from their doctrine?

  33. John Morales says

    Paul, you really think they’re harmless, don’t you?

    John Morales@32 [1] And thanks to your efforts against JWs, [2] what percentage of children suffer less abuse from their doctrine?

    No effort “against”, just reporting the truth. It is not flattering, but that’s not my doing.
    Zero. They help none, but harm many. Feel free to investigate for yourself.

    (Nevermind the circumscription and dominance over adherents’ lives, and the strong impetus to not defect. As I noted, it’s a cult)

  34. PaulBC says

    CR@30

    whether that’s changed at all in the last couple of decades (there or in other places), and what if anything might have changed it.

    William Shockley, Nobel laureate and inventor of the transistor, has a strong claim as founder of the semiconductor industry and hence Silicon Valley. He was an atheist. Unfortunately, he had a reputation in his prime as a complete asshole, causing the “traitorous eight” to leave and form Fairchild semiconductor. Worse, in his dotage he was best known as a “scientific racist.” OK, but I suspect we’ve had a lot of atheists here for all those decades. They just don’t wear it on their sleeve. And up in San Francisco, I don’t think the Beats were ever known for their religious faith. Hippies, well, I guess they believed all kinds of things. But I think it has been pluralistic for a long time.

  35. PaulBC says

    JM@37 I think you missed my point, though you still probably won’t agree. I just mean, what do you do that improves the situation? I agree that I do nothing that makes life better for children in JW families. Do you actually do anything that does?

    My impression from a previous discussion was that you found it more amusing than I do to argue with them, but I don’t see how either of our approaches makes a material difference.

  36. consciousness razor says

    PaulBC, #34:
    Well, I guess it’s sort of comforting in a way to be reminded of how nice it is that not all of us have to live in your fucking household. Sure, it’s not everything we could ever hope for, but it’s something. I’ll take it.

  37. PaulBC says

    CR@40 Consider it mutual. Bay Area real estate is too pricy for me to be running a sanctuary for “nones”. You’re going to have to fend for yourself I’m afraid.

  38. John Morales says

    Paul:

    I just mean, what do you do that improves the situation?

    For one, I don’t advocate accommodationism with the religious, or ignore the pernicious aspects of overt religiosity. But I’m not an activist, so that’s a by-product of my attitude, not its purpose.

    My impression from a previous discussion was that you found it more amusing than I do to argue with them, but I don’t see how either of our approaches makes a material difference.

    Oh yes, I’ve spent hours upon hours chatting just outside my front door. I am no less polite to them than I am to you. But I’ve never imagined I’m dissuading them from their goddishness and expression thereof, or that I’m making a material difference.
    I just like to argue.

    The point being, again, that you think they’re harmless eccentrics.
    That their children don’t get birthdays or celebrate Christmas, that they’re segregated from society at large as much as possible, that onerous religious obligations are imposed on them and severely enforced, that certain types of medical care are proscribed, that’s all fine by you. For pluralism!

    (To be fair, they don’t enforce their beliefs on others, and they supposedly stay out of politics. So there’s that.)

  39. consciousness razor says

    You’re going to have to fend for yourself I’m afraid.

    Probably one of the best verses in “Fuck you, I’ve got mine.” A very memorable folk tune written by a total hack.

    For now, I’m just going to watch from here, while the point continues to sail over your head.

  40. PaulBC says

    JM@42

    The point being, again, that you think they’re harmless eccentrics.

    To be clear, I don’t even have that well-formed an opinion, only that when they come to the door I treat them with as much courtesy as anyone else trying to sell me something or get a donation. I brought them up as the most direct case of proselytizing I’m subjected to. It’s very infrequent, and at least that element of their behavior is no less offensive than the people who want me to pay them to repaint the number on my curb, which I don’t.

    There’s a limit to what the law can do about how parents raise their children. If their behavior is outside the jurisdiction of child protective services, then it’s outside mine. That doesn’t make me feel good or morally off the hook. It is only a statement of the possible.

  41. John Morales says

    Paul,

    There’s a limit to what the law can do about how parents raise their children. If their behavior is outside the jurisdiction of child protective services, then it’s outside mine. That doesn’t make me feel good or morally off the hook. It is only a statement of the possible.

    Sure.
    But, to be clear, you’d rather that practicioners of that particular belief system were around than that they were not. And you feel privileged to indeed have them around.
    Right?

    (I’m the opposite)

  42. PaulBC says

    JM@42 Actually a quick google just jogged a memory for me. When my daughter needed a blood transfusion, the hospital was very careful about getting parental consent, and this comes from religious refusal (by JWs, not sure about others). Of course we gave consent, and I think the hospital has options in case of emergencies.

    FWIW, I do not think that withholding the best medical care from a minor is being a “harmless eccentric.”

    Actually, skipping holidays seems pretty insignificant by comparison, and we don’t do a great job around here, but it’s mostly out of laziness. Also, wouldn’t it at least be reasonable for an atheist to skip Christmas to make the point that they don’t want their kids involved in a religious holiday? Optionally, you could secularize it. No need to be dogmatic, but I think you’d at least have the option of dropping Christmas from the calendar without being called a bad parent.

    Back to blood products, that’s a serious issue. Should it affect my interactions with JWs at the door. I suppose I could be forthright in my disagreement. Obviously they don’t bring up that topic. But I’m still limited in what I can accomplish. I don’t think a hospital can allow a child to die who needs a transfusion, though the standard of care will inevitably be worse, and more children will die even under the best thought out approach.

  43. consciousness razor says

    There’s a limit to what the law can do about how parents raise their children. If their behavior is outside the jurisdiction of child protective services, then it’s outside mine. That doesn’t make me feel good or morally off the hook. It is only a statement of the possible.

    Oh, is it only that? Then I guess that settles it….

    But wait. Do you know who makes the laws which can do things? Legislatures. Do you know who hires the members of those legislatures to make whatever laws they’re told to make? We do.

    So what can’t the law do precisely? Why couldn’t that be changed? What the hell do you think your “statement of the possible” is even about? Are you saying anything with this which has any definite meaning, or is it basically just noise?

  44. Silentbob says

    Are the people on my list missing something? Or is it just their estrogen vibe?

    To quote Cap in The Avengers, I understood that reference.

  45. Silentbob says

    @ 25 PaulBC

    I got a chuckle out of the second quote at your link.

    Man on train : Don’t take that tone with me, young man. I fought the war for your sort.
    Ringo : I bet you’re sorry you won.

  46. Silentbob says

    @ 36 The Vicar

    Well they’re 50% dead – and 25% by murder, so your comment is kinda macabre.

    At least the Beatles were more willing to take the piss out of themselves than the “four horsemen”.

  47. John Morales says

    Paul, interesting indirect response.

    Actually, skipping holidays seems pretty insignificant by comparison, and […] I think you’d at least have the option of dropping Christmas from the calendar without being called a bad parent.

    Now I know you haven’t read any accounts from children raised that way.

    (Hint: their age cohort get to have parties and do other stuff they themselves are not allowed to do. In fact, they have to repudiate any friend who invites them to such blasphemous activities. This may make them feel special (they are), but rarely brings joy)

    I don’t think a hospital can allow a child to die who needs a transfusion

    <clickety-click>

    Jehovah’s Witness Kid Dies After Refusing Medical Treatment

    Huh.

  48. Akira MacKenzie says

    And while the the most open atheists are embracing fascism, I see a growing number of self-proclaimed online “Marxists” defend “progressive” versions of the Abrahamic religion that ignore or deny millennia of racism, heterosexist, monarchism, etc.; Dharmic nonsense, paganism/Wicca; astrology; spiritualism; and other addicts of the “opiate of the masses.”

    I refuse to live in a world were either capitalism OR magical thinking/theism/religion/superstition is allowed to exist! If we can’t achieve an atheist, materialist, and socialist world, then our deprived excuse for a species deserves to go extinct!

  49. Akira MacKenzie says

    Forgive the spelling/grammar errors. I’m both angry AND drunk.

  50. PaulBC says

    JM@52 Well, I never asked my kids to repudiate their friends, but it’s a simple fact that they missed out on many things other kids they know consider normal. Disneyland? Forget it. We don’t do that. It’s not about money, but I grew up in an anti-Disney family and the long lines would be a total killer. (And I too missed out on things that were normal for my friends.) The most entertainment we had for a long time was watching library DVDs, though I started to take them to first run MCU movies eventually. (We’re not strapped for cash by the way.)

    It’s kind of a running joke that my idea of a family day trip is a 5 hour car ride to walk along a beach for a half hour and drive back. I try to come up with something fun, but… well… that is fun for me. I don’t think my kids have been traumatized since they know it’s about me not them. We did have a few trips to Tahoe for ski lessons. I felt good about that. Unfortunately, some medical problems interrupted this and we never got back to it.

    Jehovah’s Witness Kid Dies After Refusing Medical Treatment

    Yes, and as I said even if they don’t die as a direct result, I’m sure they’re subject to a reduced to standard of care. Maybe I will rehearse some talking points about that for the next JWs who come to the door. But I think there are practices intended to work in emergencies. I had just started to read about it. Maybe I should read more.

  51. says

    PZ@6:

    then where’s MY power and fame?

    I think that was probably said in jest, but be careful what you wish for. :-)

  52. PaulBC says

    JM@57 No. I get it. What is the actionable takeaway here? I still don’t hate the JWs in my community, and I still think the refusal of medical care is a much bigger issue than canceling parties.

    It would have been an interesting question for the nurses who asked about the blood transfusion, though they probably wouldn’t want an answer: “Don’t you really hate the people who refuse this? I sure do.” In fact, I’d probably hate my job if I had to experience that. (The reason for blood transfusions was to restore red count after chemotherapy, so these were the same nurses who basically hooked up my daughter to bags of poison. That part must kind of suck too but at least you know you’re saving her life.)

    As for alienating their kids from larger society, I mean in a limited sense I always felt like I was growing up in a family that looked down on the joiners. It’s not the same as a religious injunction, but some (including some of my siblings) might find that traumatic. It was less JW than Mosquito Coast-lite. My own kids may hate me when they grow up. I mean, parenting is an inherently coercive occupation. I have pulled back a lot as my kids have grown and I’m very excited to be sending my oldest off to college. Nobody learns how to do it, and very few are really good at it.

  53. pacal says

    Regarding Pinker. I find it very hard to take seriously anything he says or does anymore. His book The Blank Slate was full of straw men and non-sequiturs and from that book it was very obvious that Pinker really wants to believe in genetic determinism for human abilities and success and thus support the status quo has natural. His other books like Enlightenment Now are filled with a Panglossian naivety that is off putting. Further it is so clear that he wants people in the west to shut up and stop complaining about stuff because things have never been better?!

    Hilariously Pinker thinks, (Still?), that Christina Hoff Sommers, funded by a right wing think tank, is a Feminist.

    It is also clear that Pinker’s bent for genetic determinism has lead him to take seriously the search for differences between human “races” in Intelligence etc. And when referring to this stuff he talks, at least some of the time, about the courage and bravery of the people doing the research. Whatever. Recently Pinker has started going videos with Thomas Sowell, well known hack and Conservative known for distortion and his contempt bordering on hatred of poor people. Thomas Sowell is a well known defender of the Status quo and has been so for quite a long time. Pinker is now one also.

  54. PaulBC says

    One important claim that CR makes above is that New Atheists have increased the acceptance of atheism. He wasn’t specific about scope (or I missed it) so let’s limit it to American culture.

    The thing is, even the US is not homogeneous. My people come from the New York metropolitan area, which I believe was a safe space for atheists through most of the 20th century. They were themselves Catholic, but my father could have moved to Greenwich Village right after WWII, established himself as an atheist and lived there quite happily. There was probably a little more pressure when they moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia, but I’m not sure there was all that much pressure. Most people were Catholic, mainline protestant, or Jewish but I don’t think anyone would have asked or cared if you were an atheist. I may be underestimating neighborhood gossip, but it did not stop some families from being on the reclusive side to the extent that nobody could tell you what religion they practice or whether they practice any religion at all.

    Note: It’s still very difficult to be elected to political office in the US as an atheist, and that must change. This is a far cry from atheists being persecuted in all spheres of life. In my experience, going back to my childhood in the 70s, you could be an atheist and live a fulfilling, prosperous life.

    Honestly, I only hear about what goes on the boonies. I never lived there. And if that sounds elitist, the point is that I am forever annoyed at the conflation of American culture with its most parochial elements. We have great cities, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and even Los Angeles :) that are as distinctly American as our “amber waves of grain.”

    But that said, if New Atheists really did make it easier to declare yourself an atheist in the cornfields of Iowa, then more power to them. That’s a great benefit. Count me skeptical. Americans United for Separation of Church and State was actually started by Protestans (I believe) with the specific goal of keeping Catholic schools from getting public funding (and good thing they did). But they have always advocated in a way that advances acceptance of atheists. Madalyn Murray O’Hair was the big atheist advocate in my youth, and she was murdered as a direct consequence of her activism. I admit that growing up Catholic, I was presented with O’Hair as a bête noire, but as an adult I respect her tremendously. She’s a martyr.

    I am skeptical of the whole idea that Dawkins, Harris, Pinker, et al. really advanced the cause of atheists. There are more “nones” now in the US than ever, but can they take any credit?

  55. consciousness razor says

    Honestly, I only hear about what goes on the boonies. I never lived there. And if that sounds elitist, the point is that I am forever annoyed at the conflation of American culture with its most parochial elements. We have great cities, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and even Los Angeles :) that are as distinctly American as our “amber waves of grain.”

    You can get off the cross now. You’re the one who acted like the tiny well-insulated bubble that you live in was supposed to give you any relevant information about everywhere and everyone else. (Speaking of incredibly “parochial” … there it is.) This tends to come across as if the rest of us are non-persons with non-issues, given that none of it affects you.

    And by the way, we see those big cities in movies and TV shows. They’re written about constantly in fiction, the news, all kinds of magazines, or whatever it might be. That’s where a huge amount of our media (and the people delivering it) has come from for the last century. Maybe the problem isn’t really that we’re not listening enough to you, because it’s more often the other way around.

    But that said, if New Atheists really did make it easier to declare yourself an atheist in the cornfields of Iowa, then more power to them. That’s a great benefit. Count me skeptical.

    In my experience, most people in Iowa (admittedly, only a slight majority) don’t generally stand in cornfields declaring things about their worldviews, at least not for very long and probably not more than a few times per week. The others, well, that’s a different story. But I do understand … it’s a very common misconception.

    Anyway, it’s definitely true that small support/social groups popped up all over the place, including in many rural areas (like where I live for instance). That stuff can help people feel a lot more comfortable opening up about these issues. PZ once had a whole series of posts written by people from all over, who’d talk about their own experiences, what others had said/done to help them cope with trauma and bigotry, and so on.

    If you weren’t paying much attention for any of the past decade or two, that’s okay. Why would you need to? However, being skeptical about it is strange. This isn’t bigfoot. And maybe it’s the sort of thing you should’ve known something about, before you decided that your opinions on the subject were worth writing down.

  56. PaulBC says

    CR@63

    Anyway, it’s definitely true that small support/social groups popped up all over the place, including in many rural areas (like where I live for instance). That stuff can help people feel a lot more comfortable opening up about these issues. PZ once had a whole series of posts written by people from all over, who’d talk about their own experiences, what others had said/done to help them cope with trauma and bigotry, and so on.

    To get back to PZ’s original point, I think it was that the best people involved in those groups were driven out by the assholes at the top. That’s a terrible shame (and I admit I have to take PZ and Torres at their word).

    But I am also cynical and wonder how much of the peak popularity of the most famous New Atheists, (not local support groups, which I’m all for), was driven by Islamophobia rather than a push for acceptance of atheists throughout the US.

    I also believe that pluralism is the only solution that works. Even if I see it only in metropolitan bubbles, it seems to work there. If you wanted to refute that, you might pick something like former Yugoslavia as a counterexample. But there’s a difference between organic multiculturalism and multiculturalism by degree. Pluralism has worked at least adequately in some places for centuries.

  57. says

    PZ:

    When I think back to that period when we were all giddy with the possibilities of a strong atheist movement, there are many other names that come to mind of eloquent, activist atheists who got left behind by that glory train — people who I thought were fantastic representatives of a progressive atheism. Think about Greta Christina, Mandisa Thomas, Jey McCreight, Lauren Lane, Rebecca Watson, Monette Richards, Sikivu Hutchinson, Annie Laurie Gaylor, and a few hundred others who should now be the names and faces we see on CNN whenever they go looking for a representative atheist perspective. They’re still around, but not getting the attention they deserve. Instead, Richard Dawkins is still the figurehead of atheism, with those other guys getting an occasional nod. I wonder why? Are the people on my list missing something? Or is it just their estrogen vibe?

    I know you’ve posted about Watson recently, but it’d be great to hear more about what these people are working on or writing about (even those with whom I’ve had serious disagreements)!

    To make it even worse, they’re all converging on the Intellectual Dark Web, which ought to be renamed the New Fascism.

    The most recent episode of Decoding the Gurus, “Bret Weinstein & Jordan Peterson: Two gargantuan intellects stare into the abyss” (which is far, far, far too generous with its subjects), contains a segment covering Weinstein’s “lineage selection” claims. It’s not only the worst sort of Evo Psych claptrap, it’s indistinguishable from Nazi race thought – substitute “race” for “lineage” and you’ve arrived at Nazi racial pseudoscience. As a bonus, you get to hear Peterson’s crankery about how the patriarchal Christian hierarchy provides the ideal toward which evolution tends.

    (Bret Weinstein’s wife Heather Heying somehow manages to be worse than he is on at least one issue: “Heather Heying Goes Full TERF,” part 1 and part 2.)

  58. says

    (Sorry – the second and third links in #65 are to the I Don’t Speak German podcast.)

    It’s endlessly frustrating to me that some of the proper issues addressed by the atheist movement have become conflated with the bigoted tendencies of some of its more well-known proponents, to the point that the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. It feels like some of the faith-friendly humanists and others have been all too happy to construct a revisionist history in which their criticisms of the new atheists were always about the bigotry when in fact they were primarily demanding that outspoken atheists stop openly criticizing religion. Now they’re crowing about how they’d rather ally with a humanistic religious person than a bigoted atheist, and suggesting that atheists’ criticism of religion was just another form of bigotry when, for many of the atheists they criticized, that wasn’t the case.

    I’ve always been clear that I see challenging faith (and authority derived from it) to be necessitated by humanist values. Religion remains a powerful epistemic, political, and social force, one of the most powerful of the forces arrayed against science and freethought. The worst authoritarian parties and governments – the Republicans in the US, Modi, Putin, Orbán, Netanyahu, Bolsonaro, MBS,… – are religious or tightly joined to rightwing religious movements and organizations. Atheists, secularists, and even religious critics are persecuted around the world. Religiously-based laws are passed every day. Amy Coney Barrett is on the Supreme Court. Trump was and is backed by Christian-nationalist white Evangelicals, and QAnon and other terroristic movements are interwoven with evangelicalism. In the previous “administration,” the VP, Secretary of State, and Attorney General were overt Christian-supremacist zealots. Christian nationalist think tanks are funded by rightwing billionaires. In the US, we’re far from any ideal of a pluralistic secular society.

    Contesting the idea that faith and a faith-based epistemology are worthy of respect and acceptance has to be a part of humanistic and social-justice activism. This doesn’t mean, as some people stubbornly and obtusely insist, harassing religious people in social settings or treating them as inferior people. It means retaining a focus on faith itself as a social problem even if some faith-based beliefs happen to be humanistic. It means continuing to question not just the most apparent authoritarian and oppressive actions of religious institutions but the authoritarianism at the heart of faith itself.

    One contemporary matter I’m not sure anyone has been discussing: the practice of the US government involving religious leaders in vaccination campaigns. Sure, it’s good for people who are hesitant to hear facts and arguments from people they trust. But do we really want the government de facto endorsing religious authority? Does it make sense for scientific advocacy to be presented in religious terms? Does it violate the separation of church and state? Does it create relationships which religious organizations will want to use in the future for special treatment or access? Doesn’t it have something of a paternalistic ring to it, especially when the assumption is that the “Black Churches” will be exceptionally effective? If they’re working with community leaders of all sorts I suppose that would be better, but all of the rhetoric I’ve heard focuses on local religious leaders specifically.

  59. PaulBC says

    SC@66 I agree with what you wrote, so I hope I can ask a question without it turning into a big argument.

    Contesting the idea that faith and a faith-based epistemology are worthy of respect and acceptance has to be a part of humanistic and social-justice activism.

    Is the problem faith-based epistemology (and the authority derived from it) or is it simply bad epistemology (and the authority derived from it)?

    Most human beings rely on received knowledge most of the time. If I’m a plumber or software developer (which I actually am), I may follow “best practices.” Why are they the best? That’s what was taught to me. Full stop. Or maybe I “know” they’re the best because of some vague justifications (common sense) that turn out to be flawed on deeper analysis. Maybe I care enough about whether or not they really work to investigate more deeply (which I hope I do) but there’s a limit to what I can really know and justify.

    Is there a material difference between thinking my unjustified belief is of human origin, unknown origin, or divine origin? (Real question) You could argue that the third case is impossible, and that makes it worse, but what are the consequences?

    This doesn’t mean, as some people stubbornly and obtusely insist, harassing religious people in social settings or treating them as inferior people.

    Well, good. I don’t think it does either. But I observe that at least a few people appear to be in it because they enjoy considering themselves superior to others who are “wrong about stuff” without even taking into the account of the social cost of disengaging with religion–and not necessarily Christianity or any Abrahamic religion, which is too often the unstated assumption.

    The most pernicious effect of American religiosity in my view is the the near impossibility of being elected to political office as an open atheist. That’s something that needs to change, and a strong atheist movement could help to change it. But the postering of someone like Dawkins strikes me as irrelevant to this goal. When his focus was evolution, he provided valuable insight. When he’s attacking Muslims and justifying in terms of women’s rights, he’s mostly revealing his bigotry.

    Clearly, authority should not be derived from religious faith. I think organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State do a better job of advocacy as a coalition of believers and non-believers. But I don’t really know what is politically effective.

    I can state with confidence that what does not work is the focus on religion as bad epistemology to the exclusion of what most people really use it for. Few people care all that about whether their beliefs are justified. However, they do care about how they fit within their family and community. Again for emphasis, not just in the US, and not just in terms of Christianity.

    The ability to renounce your culture is at once a luxury of affluent society, and at the same time a step that many people do not want to take. They may value their traditions and the putative origins even at the cost of being “wrong about stuff.” I am not making a paternalistic statement about “peasant culture” either. I’m sure many of the snotty kids I went to Catholic prep school with have absolutely no interest in dropping out of a culture that serves them well. (I’m about Brett Kavanaugh’s age, though I didn’t go to as fancy a school, but it’s pretty clear he has no interest in dropping out.)

    To be clear, I like the idea of atheist blogs springing up, of young people in very religious communities being exposed to alternatives, and even finding others in their own community. In fact, I think the atheist message has been presented better before, and more cheerfully, such as by Robert Ingersoll, Carl Sagan, or Isaac Asimov. I don’t see what someone like Dawkins or Harris brings to the table that helps.

  60. PaulBC says

    SC@67

    Before extensive commenting, perhaps.

    Or maybe not. It is quite easy to scroll past my comments.

  61. consciousness razor says

    PaulBC:

    I can state with confidence that what does not work is the focus on religion as bad epistemology to the exclusion of what most people really use it for. Few people care all that about whether their beliefs are justified. However, they do care about how they fit within their family and community. Again for emphasis, not just in the US, and not just in terms of Christianity.

    What do you even mean by saying that “does not work”? Both are big problems that any kind of approach needs to address. I don’t know where you get the idea that there’s any focus “to the exclusion of” those things, but the point is that we should have one which undermines or dismantles those things.

    I’m referring to, first, the fact that they’re not concerned about a lack of justification for their beliefs (by which I mean statements about the world that are taken to be true). The second is the fact that they are conflating such beliefs with their personal or social identities, their relationships, and so forth.

    To tell us that it won’t “work” to do whatever is you thought we wanted to do because of those very things — again, these are exactly the types of epistemic problems that need to be addressed, according to me and those who have similar goals as me — suggests that you have some other set of goals in mind. In other words, it supposedly won’t “work” (and you think this means for me, in order to do what I wanted to do) because you think it does not advance your goals (which are not mine) that may simply take such things for granted, leaving them untouched and unanalyzed and safe.

    That’s what garden-variety accommodationists are thinking when they bring up stuff like this. But it could just be that you’re not even thinking about what the goals are, and you’re just putting forward something that you happen to know about people, which seems like it’s going to get in the way somehow. (But get in the way of what? That’s not so clear.)

    I don’t see what someone like Dawkins or Harris brings to the table that helps.

    SC wasn’t claiming that Dawkins or Harris bring anything helpful to the table. You may be waiting a long time to get an answer to that, if you honestly expect to get one.

    Or maybe not. It is quite easy to scroll past my comments.

    It takes even less effort for you to not type them.

    But failing that, you can likewise scroll past comments which criticize yours.

    If what you really want is for others to not criticize you, so you can continue to merrily spew whatever garbage you like without meeting any resistance, then you should just tell us that. It would be more honest.

    Or maybe get a blog of your own and moderate it however you like. Or, I don’t know, keep a private journal or something. Get a dog and tell it your zany theories about the bad atheists who you don’t like. It probably wouldn’t complain too much. The point is, you do have other options.

  62. PaulBC says

    CR@70

    It takes even less effort for you to not type them.

    Is this really complicated? It’s not effort. It’s something I do compulsively. If PZ wants to throttle me for verbosity, that’s up to him. Other people can choose to read, respond, or ignore as they see fit.

  63. PaulBC says

    CR@70

    If what you really want is for others to not criticize you

    That is not what I want. It’s preferable to get a reply than be ignored. Otherwise, yeah, I could be keeping a private journal.

  64. says

    PaulBC:

    Is the problem faith-based epistemology (and the authority derived from it) or is it simply bad epistemology (and the authority derived from it)?

    Faith is a form of bad epistemology, but it’s the most fundamental and worst, because it makes of bad epistemology a virtue, a normative ideal.

    Most human beings rely on received knowledge most of the time….

    There’s received knowledge and there’s received knowledge. Some knowledge is presumably checkable and testable, even if we can’t individually confirm every bit of it. Science is institutionally structured to check and test knowledge with reality. Other institutions, like journalism and law, have similar cultures and practices of questioning, critical thinking, and empirical research. (Obviously there are many problems with these institutions as they exist, but not only are these not the result of their epistemic approach, many of them are a consequence of drifting from these epistemic standards.) The normative core is that beliefs and actions should have an evidentiary basis.

    Contrast this with faith. Yes, there are some religious institutions that encourage critical thinking and empirical research. But only to the point where it hits up against the central tenets of their belief system. At least some beliefs – often bedrock ones – are to be accepted on faith. The practices and institutions of questioning, critical thinking, and empirical research are not the basis of these organizations. Quite the contrary. (And let’s be clear, to the extent that these are tolerated, it’s been the result of social movements within and outside religious organizations, often after centuries of violently quashing dissenters and critics. You were raised Catholic – I have to assume you’re aware of at least some of this history.) Beliefs aren’t expected to be derived from empirical research, or susceptible to it; they’re derived from divine or supernatural sources. Leaders aren’t expected to provide an evidentiary basis for their claims or admonishments; they’re esoteric knowledge or transmitted via sacred texts. As I said above, accepting the claims of the religion or its representatives on faith is a cultural virtue – it’s how people are supposed to approach this knowledge. That’s authoritarian. It’s bad epistemology both in the sense of its being a terrible approach to obtaining real knowledge and in the sense that it’s unethical. I argued this endlessly across several blogs and over several years:

    *Believing is not a neutral act*: not ethically, not psychologically, and not socially or politically. My position…is that *all faith*, all believing which isn’t empirically supported/supportable or defended/defensible, all manner of arriving at beliefs that isn’t reason/evidence-based, *is inherently harmful*. (Perhaps it would help to lose the distinction between beliefs and practices and approach faith as a defining religious *practice*….)

    (Side note: I’m reading Evan Thompson’s Why I Am Not a Buddhist, which challenges the “Buddhist exceptionalist” idea that Buddhism is somehow different from other religions and epistemically compatible with science. Frankly, having read a book by the Dalai Lama, I don’t understand how this notion has persisted for so long….)

    Now, you could try to argue that many religious people in their everyday life adhere to the more scientific epistemic principles rather than faith most of the time. To this I would say, first, that it evades the question while also conceding the fact – faith is not a good way to approach belief. Second, while it may be true for some people, faith practices bleed out into other areas of life all the time. You might not have noticed in your coastal urban Eden, but we’re in the midst of an epistemic crisis right now in the US, and one in which organized religion is playing an outsized role. Conspiracy theories about politics and public health; laws and movements seeking to ban the teaching of real history; active measures and online disinformation; attacks on scientists, journalists, and medical professionals;…”We’re screwed if we can’t agree on basic facts” is a common refrain, but the tools and habits needed are the opposite of those promoted by religion. Moreover, faith itself continues to be celebrated: Mitt Romney voted to convict Trump because he’s a “person of deep faith,” the commentators stupidly argued. It’s 2021! “Person of deep faith” shouldn’t be a compliment! We won’t be able to address these problems if we can’t push back on faith and religion.

    If I’m a plumber or software developer (which I actually am), I may follow “best practices.” Why are they the best? That’s what was taught to me. Full stop. Or maybe I “know” they’re the best because of some vague justifications (common sense) that turn out to be flawed on deeper analysis. Maybe I care enough about whether or not they really work to investigate more deeply (which I hope I do) but there’s a limit to what I can really know and justify.

    This is odd to me because I’ve never been good at following any procedure whose rationale I don’t understand. But our personality quirks aside, I would say that while this is a fairly lackadaisical approach in practice, you’re still not viewing the best practices in a faithy way. You’re expecting that they have an empirical basis and that you could investigate it more deeply if you had the time and wherewithal. Interestingly, I imagine that if you were developing software for a religious organization they wouldn’t expect you to use faith-based best practices, because that would be pretty stupid. But you should totally look into them and their development! Maybe you could improve on them, or gain some new insights into your work!

    More to follow…

  65. says

    PaulBC (# 32)
    I would like to comment on your opinion (with regard to Robert Ingersoll) that agnosticism is a polite way to say atheism. My view is that atheists exclude the existence of gods or divine beings, period. Agnostics do not reject the presence of – highly unlikely – supreme or divine beings, because we humans DO NOT KNOW, and will not know, whether or not they exist. It is beyond our possibility to know how, or why, the universe was created.
    In this connection, I love to cite Richerd Feynman:
    ““I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. … I don’t feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.”.
    .+

  66. PaulBC says

    SC@73

    Faith is a form of bad epistemology, but it’s the most fundamental and worst, because it makes of bad epistemology a virtue, a normative ideal.

    FWIW, I like this answer.

  67. PaulBC says

    Federico Bär@74

    I would like to comment on your opinion (with regard to Robert Ingersoll) that agnosticism is a polite way to say atheism.

    I agree that there is a real distinction, but in Ingersoll’s historical context, I think he could get away with being the “Great Agnostic” and keep his public platform. It may not have been possible for him to be the “Great Atheist.” When I read his speeches, I don’t see him express a great deal of personal doubt or curiosity about the existence of God.

  68. says

    PaulBC:

    Or maybe not. It is quite easy to scroll past my comments.

    It isn’t, though. They’re frequent and often long, and you’re sometimes just tossing out random half-baked observations on subjects that affect the lives of people who aren’t you a lot more than they do you. Or they’re about something you don’t know a lot about (anarchism, say) but others do, but they’re annoyed because they don’t have the time or energy to engage in a long exchange with someone who’s compulsively commenting at some length. I’m not saying this is the case with all of your comments. But posting frequent comments on contentious issues and expecting everyone to just ignore them seems a little thoughtless.

  69. PaulBC says

    SC@77

    It isn’t, though.

    It is only “not easy” to scroll past in the sense that it is “not easy” for me to stop writing them. The act of scrolling is as simple as “oh, that guy again.” The act of my not typing is as simple as showing a little self-control, which I do from time to time, or just being busy on something else, which I should be more often.

    For whatever reason, you (and notably CR and often John Morales) subject yourself to reading and actually critiquing my comments. In fact, I learn more by spitballing on topics I’m barely aware of and hearing back than I’m likely to by just making sure I’m really prepared first. Sorry, I know that’s selfish, but you also don’t have to play along.

  70. PaulBC says

    @78 continued. Actually, kill files were one of the great features of Usenet that’s been sadly lost. On a blog like this, you still don’t have to engage but unfortunately you need to spend a few seconds going by and have some awareness of what you’re skipping. On the other hand, I am not sure a few seconds of inconvenience obligates me, effectively, to shut up about things I don’t know.

    I sometimes read nonsense about things I know well (let’s say theory of algorithms or computability, or misconceptions about places I’ve lived). I may reply or ignore, but I don’t think worse of anyone merely for putting their misconceptions in writing, provided it’s not hateful.

    But these are not “contentious”. Maybe that’s it. I may or may not stop writing long comments. I have little sympathy, though, for the view that this is an affront of any kind.

  71. says

    Ah, I see consciousness razor has responded to much of this, so I don’t have to write as much.

    But I observe that at least a few people appear to be in it because they enjoy considering themselves superior to others who are “wrong about stuff”

    Yes, some people are assholes. This is not news.

    without even taking into the account of the social cost of disengaging with religion–and not necessarily Christianity or any Abrahamic religion, which is too often the unstated assumption.

    PZ listed a number of people who’ve previously blogged on this network or whose work has been discussed here for a long time who were never anything like Dawkins and gang other than being outspoken atheists. These questions have been discussed among atheists for ages. Sikivu Hutchinson’s Moral Combat came out years ago, as did Greta Christina’s Coming Out Atheist and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? Ignoring all of our voices and privileging those of the bigots amounts to a smear of vocal atheists.

    The most pernicious effect of American religiosity in my view is the the near impossibility of being elected to political office as an open atheist.

    It speaks to your privilege that you see this as the most pernicious effect of American religiosity.

    That’s something that needs to change, and a strong atheist movement could help to change it. But the postering of someone like Dawkins strikes me as irrelevant to this goal. When his focus was evolution, he provided valuable insight. When he’s attacking Muslims and justifying in terms of women’s rights, he’s mostly revealing his bigotry.

    Who are you even talking to here? No one is defending Dawkins’ bigotry. Enough of this.

    I can state with confidence that what does not work is the focus on religion as bad epistemology to the exclusion of what most people really use it for. Few people care all that about whether their beliefs are justified. However, they do care about how they fit within their family and community. Again for emphasis, not just in the US, and not just in terms of Christianity.

    As cr has noted, that “few people care all that about whether their beliefs are justified” and that their communities are formed around unjustified beliefs (and, more importantly, unjustified believing) are major problems. That’s a central part of my argument!

    But in any case the argument that religion isn’t about belief so we should shut up about belief doesn’t hold water. Religious people in the US are relentlessly trying to impose their beliefs on others, and a great many people – including many people here – have had very bad experiences within religious communities. And if religious people weren’t attached to faith there would be no problem with people challenging it. It’s precisely because they’re so attached to it that people get up in arms (sometimes literally) when others simply call it into question and why they draw a line around it as something terrible to criticize. Look what happened to Thomas Paine. Look what you’re doing right now.

  72. PaulBC says

    SC@81

    Ah, well, there you go.

    Indeed, but it’s not something I’ve been shy about conceding.

  73. PaulBC says

    SC@80

    As cr has noted, that “few people care all that about whether their beliefs are justified” and that their communities are formed around unjustified beliefs (and, more importantly, unjustified believing) are major problems. That’s a central part of my argument!

    Without delving too deeply (I agree with most of what you wrote) this may be the root of the difference. I often flatter myself that I know what I’m doing, but mostly I’m just following a tropism like any other living creature. It works well enough on average. I’m also skeptical that we can really do much better.

    I enjoy having justified beliefs, but they come at an expenditure of effort that necessarily limits their scope.

  74. consciousness razor says

    PaulBC:

    On the other hand, I am not sure a few seconds of inconvenience obligates me, effectively, to shut up about things I don’t know.

    I’m sure some told themselves it only meant “a few seconds of inconvenience” for Rosa Parks to go to the back of the bus. Nonetheless, we do actually have obligations to each other to shut that shit down.

    Maybe you can guess the word being defined here, via google: “obstinate or unreasonable attachment to a belief, opinion, or faction; in particular, prejudice against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group.” Apparently, the original usage had to do specifically with religionists who were like this toward those who didn’t belong to their particular cult, but it’s used more broadly now.

    Anyway, back to the point above, it ought to suffice that you don’t what the fuck you’re talking about, even without the associated “inconvenience.” But, well, you know … you’ve got your obstinance, and you like it that way. I guess that’s supposed to be worth something.

  75. PaulBC says

    cr@84

    I’m sure some told themselves it only meant “a few seconds of inconvenience” for Rosa Parks to go to the back of the bus.

    Are you sure you’re comfortable comparing yourself to Rosa Parks in this context? Never mind. That’s none of my business.

    Again, kill files would be ideal and it’s a shame there is no equivalent form of filtering here.

    Nonetheless, we do actually have obligations to each other to shut that shit down.

    You and SC are the main commenters who go to some effort to shut me down, which is your prerogative. If I’m offending a lot of other people, I’m unaware of it. John Morales seems more amused than offended. Most people ignore me. Occasionally some others engage.

    But yeah, I’m human. Keep going at it, and I may eventually shut up, or may shut up for other reasons.

  76. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @84:

    back to the point above, it ought to suffice that you don’t [know] what the fuck you’re talking about, even without the associated “inconvenience.” But, well, you know … you’ve got your obstinance, and you like it that way. I guess that’s supposed to be worth something.

    Like you talking about physics?

  77. says

    So I was just finishing a new book, Tobey Pearl’s Terror to the Wicked: America’s First Trial by Jury That Ended a War and Helped to Form a Nation. These lines seem apt:

    Three years after the start of the English civil war, this short-lived period of enlightenment peaked when a Plymouth Colony leader called for toleration of all faiths, “Turk, Jew, Papist, Arian.” While many “applauded it as their Diana,” this tolerance was not attained. As tribes across New England knew too well, equality remained a paradigm rather than a reality. When settlers limited the beneficiaries of these tantalizing new freedoms, they chipped away at their fragile democratic institutions and their foundational ideas.

    PaulBC @ #83, this can be thought of at the individual level, and some of my favorite links here over the years have related to Allen Wood’s 2008 article “The duty to believe according to the evidence” and the subject (ahem) of epistemic injustice.

    But I think faith is best understood not as a private individual preference or wont but as a social problem, which needs to be addressed at a social and political level. We can promote skills and institutions of critical thinking at this level. “OK, who would oppose that?” you might ask. From 2012 – “GOP Opposes Critical Thinking: Party platform paints original ideas as a liberal conspiracy”:

    It’s official: The Republican Party of Texas opposes critical thinking. That’s right, drones, and it’s part of their official platform.

    One of our eagle-eyed readers emailed us to point out this unbelievable passage in the RPT 2012 platform, as adopted at their recent statewide conference.

    “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

    Sadly, this is just one of 30 pages of head-in-the-sand, pretend-the-Enlightenment-never-happened thinking from the state’s dominating party. Other gems include:

    – Abstinence-only sex ed (yeah, because that’s worked so well so far.)
    – Trying juveniles as adults
    – Faith-based drug rehab should be emphasized (Scientology front operation NarcAnon should be rubbing its hands at that one)
    – Oppose the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Yeah! Who’s the UN to tell us we should ban child slavery?)
    – Flat rate income tax (go Team 1%!)
    – Repealing the minimum wage (suck it, wage slaves!)
    – Opposing homosexuality in the military (don’t ask, don’t tell, and don’t do that!)

    – Oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, because firms should be able to fire people for what they consider “sinful and sexually immoral behavior.” Like, say, growing a beard?

    – And no-questions-asked support for Israel because, and this is another direct quote, “Our policy is based on God’s biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel and we further invite other nations and organizations to enjoy the benefits of that promise.”…

    Positive epistemic practices and institutions can be cultivated at this level. Discrimination against secularists and atheists can be protested at this level. Faith-based practices, institutions, and laws can be contested at this level. Faith’s protected social and political status can be challenged at this level.

    I’m also skeptical that we can really do much better.

    Of course we can do better. Other countries exist with less religiosity and people there are…doing better. A cultural foundation of our country (which would make a good motto) is that we can fucking do better. Even if you’re pessimistic on this score, the damage being done, the trauma being caused, by faith in the present, both in the US and around the world, obliges us to stand against it.

  78. John Morales says

    Back to the OP topic, to sum up, what is labelled New Atheism (the movement) is, if not dead, moribund. No biggie, its moment has passed.

    But “new atheism” (the idea and the attitude that confronting religion is both doable and salutary) and “new atheists”, those who embody it, remains.
    And nobody needs a movement or “leaders” to espouse new atheism.

    In short, the movement is not the idea. The idea is not dead.

    (No need for a couplet)

  79. says

    PaulBC:

    You and SC are the main commenters who go to some effort to shut me down, which is your prerogative.

    Spare me this nonsense. Suggesting that you’re being somewhat douchey and might want to think about it isn’t trying to shut you down.

    This will be my last response to you on this thread.

  80. naturalistguy says

    @ 89

    May I suggest naturalism as a better alternative to atheism? It posits a genuine alternative to the supernatural, after all.

  81. PaulBC says

    SC@88 You are taking “I’m also skeptical that we can really do much better.” out of context, though I admit the context didn’t support what I meant unless I had merely asserted that I’m skeptical that I can do much better, which I assert here and now.

    I wasn’t addressing faith specifically, but bad epistemology. I think the inevitable human condition is to be saddled with many unjustified beliefs. This is unsurprising since the very idea of justifying belief is much newer than the wetware we apply to carry it out. Observing takes effort. Thinking takes effort. Refuting your own cherished assumptions is downright painful. And with the best intentions and greatest diligence, you may still fail. ​Do I also have a “duty” to eat a high fiber diet and get 20 minutes of sustained exercise a day? It’d be great if I did, sure.

    However, I appreciate your point @73 that religion elevates bad epistemology to a virtue. That’s a keeper. (I once tried to promote the notion of laminary prose, not quite lapidary or suitable for chiseling in stone, but at least suitable to laminate and put in your wallet. Your statement qualifies.)

    If have a duty to believe according to evidence, then I am going to shirk it at least to some extent. It’s an unrealistic burden. At least it’s unrealistic for me.

    Aside: I brought up Dawkins because PZ did and so did the Salon article. I did not mean to suggest that he’s the face of atheism, new or otherwise. He’s relevant to the specific point about Islamophobia, and Torres’s suggestion that contributed at least somewhat to the popularity of New Atheism among some people. I realize it has a longer history and a wider following.

  82. PaulBC says

    SC@90

    Suggesting that you’re being somewhat douchey and might want to think about it isn’t trying to shut you down.

    “Shut down” was cr’s phrase, not mine. I would have simply thought we were having a conversation (the last refuge of trolls, I know).

    But I’ll think about being douchey and perhaps trying not to. Obviously, I rub some people the wrong way, and it might surprise you to know that I am often in doubt over whether it’s my problem or theirs.

  83. PaulBC says

    JM@89 I probably missed something obvious, but under what circumstances would a couplet be needed? Don’t let the lack of necessity stop you from offering one.

  84. John Morales says

    @89, naturalistguy, you may (and feel free to do so), but if so perhaps address what you think is the salient difference between atheism and naturalism that prompts you to do so.

  85. consciousness razor says

    Rob:

    Like you talking about physics?

    No, actually. It’s not like that.

    Although I don’t even talk about physics often,* even if I am mistaken about a few things, that certainly has no negative impact on marginalized groups of people. If there were any chance of that, then I would try to figure out what’s supposed to be wrong with those idea from others who may be much better informed than I am. I’ve learned that it can be really great to just shut up and listen, when it comes to a wide variety of issues, because no matter how good my intentions may be, I’m often not informed enough to contribute anything that might be productive/helpful/etc. (at least not compared to, for example, a person with disabilities, when the discussion has to do with things which affect them).

    *I think what’s going on is that you’ve just been holding onto some cranky old grudge with me for a few years, which rises to the surface from time to time, because I brought up the measurement problem once and you didn’t like what you were hearing. When scientists and philosophers of science say the same things, I just don’t know if you have the same attitudes about it.

  86. consciousness razor says

    Also, Rob, I don’t do the passive-aggressive shtick of acting like I think people should just not read my comments. I write things here for others to read. (Duh.)

    If they have criticisms or any other sort of remarks, I listen. I might have a response to it or I might not. They may make a good point which I hadn’t considered, in which case I’m happy to openly admit it and change my mind. Telling them not to bother, because I’m not actually here for any of that, is just not one of the cards in my deck which I could play. Maybe that’s just a personality thing, or I really don’t know what it is.

    But basically, what I don’t do is think of this as a platform for me to address an audience in a one-way lecture/sermon type of format, with occasional reminders that they’re allowed to tune out if they so choose. That’s just not how any of this works. And I know that. And in fact I like it that way.

  87. PaulBC says

    cr@98 My hunch is that you’d put up with my verbosity and ignorance if my content didn’t offend you.

    But point taken about the one-way communication. I’ll try to tamp it down.

  88. consciousness razor says

    PaulBC:
    For the record, I never said anything about your verbosity.

    Sometimes I’m not very succinct either, or perhaps not as much as I could be. On the other hand, nobody’s paying me to write English prose, so I don’t always puts lots of work into crafting the message more precisely. Besides, more often than not, the type of subject matter I’m actually interested tends to demand more than a few pithy one-liners.

    In any case, if I didn’t feel like reading some text, I probably wouldn’t be spending the time at a blog that’s full of text which has to be read. I could be doing other things, after all.

    When I’ve come across somebody who’s struggling to get a particular idea across in so many words, my reaction probably won’t be to regard it with hostility. If I do happen to know of a better way to put something that I think they’re trying to say, I would just offer that instead.

  89. consciousness razor says

    Also, case in point: I notice I was a bit sloppy with editing my previous comment. In my defense, my vision isn’t so great and seems to be getting worse, so it can be hard to spot certain types of mistakes.

    I suppose I could hire an editor, but I don’t think I can afford it.

  90. tinkerer says

    PaulBC, seeing as we’re discussing your contributions, here’s my two penne’th.

    You do have a habit of turning every thread into the PaulBC Show with fairly uninformed content which I’m finding increasingly irritating. I’m not saying your posts are completely worthless and I wouldn’t want to block you, but the constant stream-of-consciousness dilutes whatever interesting points you might make. I also find it a bit arrogant of you to say that you recognise that it’s a compulsion but you can’t be bothered to put any effort into moderating it and we should just put up with it. Yes, I scroll past a lot of it, but in most threads that’s a lot of scrolling!

    Why not just think a little more before you hit post and edit it down a bit (or a lot!)? I know it’s PZ’s blog and it’s his decision about who posts here, but it’s also a shared space, not just a therapy session for your benefit so you can indulge your compulsion.

  91. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @97: Get the fuck over yourself. I don’t have a grudge, but if you write bullshit about a subject I know quite well, I’m calling you out. And your usual response has been to get prickly and aggressive, with vague crap like “maybe my sources are better than yours” without actually saying what those sources are. Or linking to a paper or article that you think supports you, but that you obviously don’t understand.

    On the other side, you’ve also written things which have got pushback from others, and I have backed you up. Maybe you don’t notice those.

  92. naturalistguy says

    @95

    Not that there’s a great difference between atheism and philosophical naturalism, as both reject supernatural claims. It’s simply that naturalism describes the universe we all are a part of and explains it on a material basis. As Carl Sagan once put it, the cosmos is all that is or ever will be.

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