Atheists are funnier

Over the past few days I’ve noticed a difference between the posts on “atheist” blogs and those on “accommodationist” blogs:  the people who comment on atheist blogs seem funnier.   While both sides defend their turf with ardor, I find myself chuckling more at the atheist posts: they seem to use humor and sarcasm more often, while the faitheists/Muzzle-ems/godlycoddlers/credophiles (contest winner determined in a few days) seem dour and unfunny.  Granted, this could simply reflect my biases, but it’s interesting that at least one other person, who has posted over at Butterflies and Wheels (comment by “G”), has noticed this too.  He/she has a fairly perspicacious analysis of it:

. . . A sense of humor is at least partly about having perspective: Much humor relies on a very particular kind of social intelligence, an ability to see things from multiple points of view simultaneously. Rhetorically effective humor — especially satire — is very dependent on this component of humor. One must genuinely understand another perspective to effectively satirize it — and to be a truly brilliant satirist, one must be able to see how that perspective appears to yet a third perspective, a sort of conglomerate or average person’s view that allows one to craft satire that has broad appeal. To satirize a person or group or institution, one must be able to portray it such that its character rings true but that also reveals its absurdity in a way that almost anyone can see.

To my mind, what the accommodationists have in common is a poorly-developed faculty for seeing things from the perspectives of others. They profess to have empathy with believers who feel their world-view threatened by science, but most of what they say about believers seems to belittle or infantalize believers rather than respecting or understanding their perspective. Worse yet, they take the responses of believers purely at face value with no allowance for the perspective that the believers occupy: Believers are offended, so those pesky militant atheists must in fact be terribly rude and offensive. . .

engrish-funny-titan-uranus

133 Comments

  1. Posted July 14, 2009 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Smut! That’s not funny!

    The commenter isn’t actually anonymous, he just goes by his nickname – he’s George Felis. He just collected his PhD in philosophy.

    There is a lot of unintentional humor on the ‘accommodationist’ blogs – but intentional, not so much.

  2. Posted July 14, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    For the benefit of people who don’t recognize meta-jokes (you know who you are) that was a joke! Of course Titan Uranus is funny. Sheesh.

  3. Posted July 14, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Jeezis – speaking of jokes – check out the Mooney/Kirshenbaum piece in Newsweek –

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/206609

    Francis Collins blah blah Jerry Coyne blah blah PZ Myers blah blah New Atheists blah blah.

    Pondscum.

    • santitafarella
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

      Ophelia:

      I read the article you linked to and didn’t think that it was funny. In fact, I noticed that it had this as part of its (as you termed it) “blah blah”:

      “The New Atheist science blogger PZ Myers, for instance, has publicly desecrated a consecrated communion wafer, presumably taken from a Catholic mass, and put a picture of it, pierced by a rusty nail and thrown in the trash, on the Internet.”

      I don’t think what PZ Myers did is something to be shrugged off as “blah blah” or laughed at. In fact, I thought it was an ugly gesture of grossly illiberal iconoclasm and bigotry. If a neo-Nazi, under pretense of being a Jew, obtained something from a synagogue service, brought it home, and desecrated it on the Internet, we’d all have no problem discerning the grossly uncivil and illiberal nature of the act. And I certainly wouldn’t regard an account of such a gesture in a national magazine as just more “blah blah.”

      Or does PZ Myers, because he is an atheist, get a pass on illiberal and boorish gestures?

      “PZ Myers blah blah” huh?

      Oh, and accuse me of lacking a sense of humor, but I certainly didn’t think what PZ Myers did was funny.

      Did you?

      —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

        Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

        Move along, nothing to see here beyond nonsense.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

        Obviously you never actually saw what PZ did, or you would have noticed he “desecrated” a book by Dawkins and an english translation of the Qu’ran at the same time.

        so now how do you read the message?

        is he an anti-catholic? anti Dawkins? anti-Muslim?

        are you just anti-honest?

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

        Ichthyic:

        Yes. I saw the video. Adding the Quran (another ugly gesture) and Dawkins book was his disengenuous afterthought (after getting feedback that he was being anti-Catholic). When Myers’s atrocious and bigoted behavior was ongoing I blogged on it here:

        http://santitafarella.wordpress.com/?s=pz+myers+catholic

        I am proud to say that when a lot of other people were looking the other way in the atheist and agnostic community, I did not. I was not silent.

        How about you? Why are you trying to make excuses for so grossly illiberal a gesture? Even if you like somebody in other respects, when they engage in evil you should not support it.

        I hope Ophelia gives an honest and forthright response too.

        —Santi

      • Ichthyic
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        “after getting feedback that he was being anti-Catholic”

        that sound you heard was the point going right over your tiny head.

        which was, of course, that holding object as “sacred” to begin with is irrational.

        If catholics really believed in transubstantiation, then PZ killed Jesus.

        it’s fucking moronic, but if you want to hold it to be your position, it would certainly fit.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

        Ichthyic:

        So to be clear. If PZ Myers made a similar gesture within a synagogue, obtaining something from inside it, then desecrating it on the Internet, you’d be okay with that, yes?

        —Santi

      • articulett
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

        I was baptized Catholic against my will in infancy, and I thought the whole crackergate episode was hilarious. I hope he desecrates Mormon underwear next!

        I find irreverence healing, frankly. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpuYoK6wv_Y

      • Posted July 15, 2009 at 2:07 am | Permalink

        Santi, thank you for missing the sarcasm and proving that “G” and Jerry Coyne are right.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 6:30 am | Permalink

        Can we desecrate Santi’s verbiage next?

        It gets produced by the ton and is completely valueless and no one will miss it.

      • Posted July 15, 2009 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        Santi –

        You’ve left out all the background of the cracker affair (just as M and K did in Newsweek). This makes your huff entirely worthless.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        Ophelia:

        By your response you make the evaluation of the Myers incident pivot on context. That would mean that there must be (logically) contexts in which you believe that Myers’s behavior would have been wrong. Could you offer a context in which you believe that what Myers did would have been wrong? If, for example, he hadn’t read something about religionists in the newspaper that day that pissed him off, but just woke up and decided, on a lark, to enter a religious group’s meeting place, obtain something from them under false pretenses, and desecrate it on the Internet, would you be okay with that, or not? If context is pivotal here, what context would have made it wrong for you? In other words, is what Myers did an extreme gesture justifiable only in some contexts, but not others? And would you apply the same principle to a synagogue? Are there contexts in which atheists could be justified in entering a synagogue under false pretenses, obtain something from the rabbi, and destroy it on the Internet?

        Second, in this particular context do you believe that Myers gesture was wholly correct or only partially correct? Would you have done anything differently, in the context? In other words, was Myers wholly justified in doing what he did, or only partially justified?

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        Santi – of course things must be taken in context.

        If I said Mike killed Joe, would you immediately put in in jail for life?

        Whats that? It depends on the context?

        Joe had just killed three of Mike’s children and threatened one more?

        or

        Mike is a police officer and Joe was trying to run him over?

        or

        Mike and Joe are soldiers in opposing armies?

        Santi, you say the stupidest things.

        Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

        Move along, nothing to see here beyond nonsense.

      • Rebecca C.
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        “So to be clear. If PZ Myers made a similar gesture within a synagogue, obtaining something from inside it, then desecrating it on the Internet, you’d be okay with that, yes?”

        Yep.

      • Tyro
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        I think it’s disingenuous or dishonest to keep acting as if PZ went into church with the intent of disrupting service or smuggling anything out. He didn’t, neither did the student he was defending.

        So maybe drop this BS about people entering mosques and synagogues to steal stuff, that simply isn’t what happened and PZ has said several times that he does not support anyone who would do that.

        Picket out in front of the church if you like, blaspheme their gods, desecrate their symbols, but don’t disrupt their private rituals – I think that’s been his message.

        These ridiculous attacks you keep making are broken from the start.

  4. foolfodder
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    “Atheists are funnier” – do you have any anecdotes to support that? Or at least some evidence?

    Damn, that was a lame attempt at humour. Does that mean I’m not really an atheist?

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 4:02 am | Permalink

      Maybe you’re not the right *type* of atheist? Do you shut up as told or are you called “uncivil” for saying things like “science is not compatible with religion on anything but a superficial level”.

  5. newenglandbob
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    People, remember to use Sigmund’s militant ‘New Accomodationists’ when referencing the pond scum and the unfunny cohorts.

  6. Posted July 14, 2009 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Then again, people with troubled backgrounds are frequently more funny as well. Listen to any stand-up comic.

    So if atheists are funnier, is that necessarily a good thing?

    Glen Davidson

    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  7. Posted July 14, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Jeezis – speaking of jokes – check out the Mooney/Kirshenbaum piece in Newsweek

    From there:

    The stunning irony in the longstanding tension between science and religion in America is that many scientists who merely claim to be defending rationality from religious fundamentalism may actually be turning Americans off to science, doing more harm to their cause than good.

    Hm, yeah, that would be ironic. Any reason to think it’s true?

    Truth is, I suspect that the back and forth (yes, thanks to the accommodationists as well) is making science more interesting to people. Instead of tandem repeats or some such thing, scientists are saying that science matters to their worldview. Results may vary, including reactions against science, but on the whole I’ll bet that science comes out better from the exchange.

    Theists as a group, even, are not unlikely to know less about science from making science appear more central and consequential. They may end up disagreeing with Coyne, Myers, and Dawkins on what science means to religion, but they’re more likely to find the subject interesting.

    Of course there appears to be no data supporting my argument as well, but I think it rests well with our general knowledge about how people react to publicity that touches on their lives. They have no data for their claims, either, but I don’t think that their claims comport with what we know about publicizing a subject like science.

    Glen Davidson

    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  8. Posted July 14, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    not unlikely to know less

    Oops, that should have been:

    not likely to know less

    Glen Davidson

    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  9. Faust
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Granted, this could simply reflect my biases

    You think?

    but it’s interesting that at least one other person, who has posted over at Butterflies and Wheels (comment by “G”), has noticed this too.

    At least one other person noticed it? That’s some exhaustive evidence gathering. Truly M&K have no lock on the assertion-without-evidence-market.

  10. Matt Penfold
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    You mean Kwak and McCarthy who dominate the comments over at The Intersection are not setting out to funny ?

  11. Posted July 14, 2009 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    This is not different or better than the amateur psychonalyzing that claims right wingers have a better sense of humour than lefties (for pretty much the same reasons as mentioned above). i.e a load of bullshit.

    But if both propositions are true the Hitchens would be the funniest atheist out there.

    The only way to settle this is for all atheists to have a joke contest with the winner pitted against best the accomodationists have to offer.

    • Hugo
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      I heard the complete opposite, in fact, here’s a blog post suggesting liberals are funnier than conservatives:

      http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2009/04/why-liberals-are-funny-unamerican-and.html

      Anyway, in my experience, being sensitive and understanding is harder than being irreverent and playing only to your own in-crowd (fellow atheists). Attempting to explain that there are more important things to argue about (assuming that’s your view, as what might be termed “accommodationism”) than some basic element, is a decidedly unfunny thing to do. Mocking “them dumb pondscum” is much easier, you’ve a set and well-defined audience that will laugh at your humour. Also, when you’ve an easier task in front of you, you’ve got more flexibility and “spare cycles” in your head with which to play humour.

      There’s some talk about multi-worldview-awareness above. I agree, if you can pull off humour that is funny to *all* sides, that’s seriously good.

      Take a clearer and less controversial example: the golden rule’s never been funny. Mocking the golden rule might be. (Oh, I’d love to be proved wrong! Who can make the golden rule funny, while at the same time fighting for it, against a whole army of anti-golden-rule people?)

  12. santitafarella
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Prof. Coyne:

    As one of those wishy-washy empatheist/agnostics who is oh so serious, it’s hard to evaluate your claim (since you provide no examples). My favorite comedian/actor/director is an atheist who is very good at pointing up the ironic position of his own atheism/agnosticism in the world: Woody Allen.

    Allen has always been a source of comfort and ironic humor for me in my own Camus-existentialist agnosticism. I love the way that he plays up our absurdist position in relation to an apparently indifferent, blind and mechanistic universe. And yet I’ve talked to atheists elsewhere who absolutely hate Allen and his films, and wouldn’t be caught dead sitting through one.

    They don’t think he’s funny. Not one bit.

    I think a key element to humor and irony is where it is directed. I have yet (perhaps someone could direct me to examples) to see much atheist humor directed upon itself (either in self-criticism or ironically). It’s very easy to lampoon religion. But lampooning oneself is to take an ironic position in relation to things that you, yourself, take seriously. And I just don’t know of much of that kind of humor circulating on atheist sites.

    How come? Am I not looking, or is it not there? I see Jesus and Mo cartoons, which I think are great, but where is the atheist cartoonist doing Richard and Sam?

    An analogy: American conservatives think that Rush Limbaugh is hilarious, but Limbaugh never (or almost never) directs his humor upon himself or his movement. Most people (me included) think that Limbaugh is just an asshole because he cannot laugh at his own movement, or rarely takes an ironic position with regards to his own beliefs.

    In some ways I see myself as an ironic agnostic arguing at my own blog and on threads like this one with too frequently Puritanical and dour atheists who bring zero irony to their own positions.

    Off the top of my head, for example, I’ll make up a joke right now, and see if anyone here thinks it’s funny. Here goes:

    A Christian says to an atheist: “If you don’t believe in God, what is it, exactly, that you do believe?”

    The atheist says, “I think that we live in a closed and determinate universe consisting of atoms and the void. All causes are material causes.”

    The Christian says: “And what do you do for a living?”

    The atheist says: “I teach rhetoric at UCLA.”

    Is that funny, or not? In case you got lost on the punchline, to be a rhetorician would suggest that you believe that mental properties can affect the world, and that free will actually exists. It’s not all just determinate atoms and the void.

    My punchline, by the way, would work with any non-determinist discipline that presumes that free will is not simply an illusion (as most hard naturalists/atheists would, no doubt, ultimately affirm). You could, for example, have said: “I teach law at UCLA.”

    Now somebody could say—“Oh, you’ve distorted the atheist position on free will—in fact, it’s a straw man because atheism needn’t lead to a rejection of free will—you obviously haven’t read Daniel Dennett’s defense of free will—and so the joke fails.”

    But this is true of any joke. A joke isn’t just, as you suggest, a way of taking the ironic position and sizing things up from a privledged vantage (though it is partly that). Rather, a joke can also be an oversimplifier which, though funny on one level, may be a form of dismissal, a way of arresting additional thought about a matter. Jesus and Mo on negative theology (a recent post of yours) is an example. Funny at one level, but if treated as a contemptuous dismissal of further inquiry into negative theology, ultimately a form of cliche arresting thought.

    Does anybody around here, for example, think its funny—or just mean—if I call the Richard Dawkins/Sam Harris atheist who reads Dawkins’s and Harris’s books and spouts their answers like a Catholic repeating the catechism, a clicheatheist or catechatheist?

    Is that funny? Or just mean and stupid?

    Likewise, if you start regularly calling people like me a “godlycoddler” or some such word, you might think it’s hilarious, and that you’ve summed me up as a person. But I just find it stupid.

    Does that mean I don’t have a sense of humor, or are you just being mean and dismissive of people who might disagree with you, and, like Rush Limbaugh, calling it funny?

    —Santi

    • Tyro
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      I wonder how much of that is because many US atheists spend much of their time correcting damaging misimpressions, biases and prejudices. They are, after all, one of the least trusted minorities in the US, well behind gays and Muslims so jokes which portray them as irrational or smug elitists are likely to fall flat.

      I think what you’re getting at are jokes which puncture the inflated egos of leaders and there certainly are some. Who can forget the funny rap spoof: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFXIALf9zDA (ironically created by someone for Expelled but widely adopted by atheists).

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        That YouTube was very funny.

        —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it really means you don’t have a sense of humor. The most incompetent in a given area are most likely to over estimate their competence. That means, that the people with the worst sense of humor are the most likely to think they have a great sense of humor (the masses would beg to differ.)

      It’s true!

      If you had a sense of humor you could enjoy the irony of the Dunning Kruger effect that people such as yourself exhibit. But since you don’t, it’s left for the rest of us to enjoy.

      In the same way, K&M are overly confident regarding their capacity to aid peoples’ scientific understanding. Oddly enough, humor (particularly satire) tends to be a great teacher. Sadly, they and their supporters seem to lack it. Those they criticize have it, however. Methinks they may be a bit jealous.

      If I believed in an “intelligent designer”, I’d think he sent people like you to us for our amusement.

      The problem with the “faith in faith” crowd is that they tend not to be interested in scientific studies like the Dunning-Kruger effect. They tend not to be interested in anything that conflicts with the carefully crafted delusions they have of themselves.

      • articulett
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

        As Darwin said: “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”

        More on the Dunning Kruger effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger_effect

      • Hugo
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        That means, that the people with the worst sense of humor are the most likely to think they have a great sense of humor (the masses would beg to differ.)

        It’s true!

        Was that intended as irony? (I mean, with this blog post claiming that the group it represents has a great sense of humour…)

        Just wondering! ;)

    • Carl Troein
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      Is that funny? Or just mean and stupid?
      Might be all three. In either case, it doesn’t appear very constructive. And anyway, I think accommodationist is a great word to describe the position. As far as I can see you can’t really argue that the term doesn’t describe your views, but on the other hand there is something vaguely insulting about it.

      Or it could just be that I know that I won’t come up with anything clever enough to win me the book.

      Completely unrelated question: doe anyone know why there isn’t a preview button?

      Another thing: Jerry’s speaking here in Edinburgh at the book festival next month. I just wish I had a babysitter so I could drag my wife along – it’d surely do her good. I might end up having to go alone. (All assuming that there are still tickets available.)

      • Hugo
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

        Sometimes it seems if you take an ordinary word and add “ist” at the end to create a new “-ist word”, it becomes insulting/stereotyping/pigeon-holing. This doesn’t hold for older “-ist” words that have existed for some time, being well-known concepts.

        So… bonus points for people that can come up with good and/or funny -ists, so we can test this theory of mine? I clearly suck. I either come up with ludicrous examples, or ones that are “official”, well known concepts.

      • Grant N
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        You are asking for the services of an istitist are you?

      • Hugo
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        /me is clueless clearly. What would an istitist be?

        Brought about another thought, the difference between labeling others and self-labeling:

        “You are an accommodationist!”
        vs
        “I’m an accommodationist, do you need my services?”

        Perceived name-calling. Consider internal vs external use of “nigger!” for example? Ponder ponder.

      • Grant N
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        istitist – lexicographer who creates words ending in ‘ist’.

        If you are responsible in a ‘fender-bender’, are you a dentist?

        If someone speaks with ‘thee’ instead of ‘you’, (i.e. “Take thee hence…”), should they be called a theeist? And should those who don’t then be classified as atheeists? I’d wager there exists more of the latter.

        Should guys named Arthur, but prefer the name Art, be called artists?
        (Brought to mind the no-arms, no-legs guy hanging in my hallway)

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        Hugo – don’t be such a wordist :)

      • Grant N
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        Hugo,
        Du ist eine überlegenist (ponderist)…

      • Hugo
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        My ponderism is indeed quite a liability, well identified!

        [grammar nazi]that should be Du bist…[/grammar nazi] :-P

      • Grant N
        Posted July 16, 2009 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        Liability my @$$.
        Stand-on-your-own-two-feet-without-falling-over-ability I say. Something to be encouraged.

        grammar nazi – good one

        I haven’t spoken German for over 40 years when I was 5, so I was essentially ‘winging’ it.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

      Santi’s joke is pathetic and is based on an incorrect premise, as usual, which he then uses for a bizarre conclusion. He does not understand the word rhetoric. It does not have that meaning. Look it up in the dictionary. It has nothing to do with mind over matter, which is Santi’s false assumption again.

      Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

      Move along, nothing to see here beyond nonsense.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

        NE Bob:

        Rhetoricians, lawyers, politicians, teachers etc. are in the business of trying to win over or change minds to achieve real world effects. They don’t tend to presume determinism or that mental properties, like free will, are ultimately illusory (that is, not really impacting upon the world). By contrast, many strict naturalists believe that everything that goes on in the universe is fully and causally explained by physics, chemistry, and biology. Free will and expressions of desire, being mental properties, are, in strict naturalism, ultimately illusory.

        Here’s how John Searle puts it:

        “If you think you ate because you were consciously hungry, or got married because you were consciously in love . . . or spoke up at a meeting because you consciously disagreed . . .
        you are mistaken in every case. In each case the effect was a physical event and therefore must have an entirely physical explanation.”

        An atheist proponent of strict naturalism is the philosopher Jaegwon Kim. Richard Rorty, also an atheist, was willing to accept a strict determinist and materialist scheme for all event in the universe—the atoms and the void—but he simply didn’t attempt to reconcile it with free will and menal properties. He thought the problem completely insoluable.

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 6:24 am | Permalink

        Win over and change minds – yes. But they do it with communication.

        Communication happens with matter. The air molecules vibrate, the ink molecules adhere to paper. The electrons run around the internet.

        This is NOT mind over matter. Your posturing shows you to be foolish.

        Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

        Move along, nothing to see here beyond nonsense.

      • Posted October 13, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        You two seem to love arguing over an argument over an argument over an argument (aka the speck of dust).

        What were you even talking about (aka the plank of wood)?

        If my opinion counts for anything, I think these arguments are VERY funny!

    • ennui
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

      As an atheist reductionist materialist, it is necessary that I find you unfunny. Your only hope is a stochastic frenzy of Brownian motion, brought on by quantum fluctuations in Higgs bosons. Then I may grin a bit, but it still won’t get you free will.

    • dreikin
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      “My punchline, by the way, would work with any non-determinist discipline that presumes that free will is not simply an illusion (as most hard naturalists/atheists would, no doubt, ultimately affirm). You could, for example, have said: “I teach law at UCLA.””

      It seems to me that free will, as many people understand, falls into the “not even wrong” category. Originally, I assume, it was meant in the sense that some god was not coming up to you and saying “Hey, do this, whether you like it or not, or I shall strike you dead on the spot” – that is, you were not one of god’s serfs.

      Nowadays, people seem to think it means both
      1) determinism is not true, AND
      2) they are free to determine their own self aor destiny.

      The first one isn’t even a universal view in history – many peoples viewed the universe as deterministic to some degree. The Fates are a popular representation, but outside of Roman and Greek-influenced culture, you can also find such groups as the Norse (although these may perhaps be more properly classified fatalistic).

      More substantially though, if determinism is not true, then people are random. There isn’t a middle ground, just different degrees of randomness. But any randomness at all is even more abhorrent to that popular conception of free will. If your actions and thoughts are influenced by randomness, then the concept of any consistent self loses meaning – with determinism, there are causes for such variances, such as disease or stroke, but with randomness it becomes a game of chance as to whether your self now will bear any resemblance to your self tomorrow.

      As to your question of why people act as if determinism doesn’t exist, even if they believe it does? That makes a faulty assumption on your part. There is no reason to believe studying/teaching rhetoric, law, or some other such discipline is incompatible with determinism. It’s what they want to do, and it does have tangible effects, even if it’s all predictable with enough information.

      • Posted July 15, 2009 at 7:25 am | Permalink

        Santi – here’s one hint – a more developed sense of humor might prevent you from posting at such tedious length.

  13. Tyro
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    I was thinking of other possible explanations and remembered all of those awful Hovind videos and they also tried to use humour. I didn’t find it funny since it was very anti-intellectual but he was definitely trying, something I don’t see much of from the middle-of-the-roadies.

    Perhaps you first need to believe in something or have a clear point to make before you can crack jokes. Mooney would never dare tell anything funny for fear of offending someone or worse, taking a stand.

  14. santitafarella
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and here’s an example of evangelicals punning themselves:

    http://larknews.com/current-issue/

    It’s an Onion-like Christian newspaper, written by Evangelical Christians, and called “Lark News.”

    I know of no equivelent atheist site that directs irony at its own movement.

    —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      Maybe it’s because you aren’t looking.

      Humans tend to “notice the hits” that confirm their own biases.

      Learn science and you to can get a clue.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

        Articulett:

        The link was funny, but it really wasn’t making fun of atheists qua atheists, was it? It was, ultimately, mocking theist behavior and theistic rationale, not atheist behavior and atheist rationale. That’s an old joke, by the way. The Onion once did a “news” story on a Darwin image stain found under a freeway that atheists flocked to see.

        —Santi

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

      larknews is pathetic, not funny.

      • Hugo
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 8:20 am | Permalink

        Of course, since non-accommodationist atheists (I’d go with “fundie atheists” based on the definition of fundie I use in a religious context, but that’d probably be complained about) are the only rational people in the world, they’re in the position of making absolute and objective judgements about what’s funnier than what.

        Since humour is such an objective and rational thing… hmmm…

      • Posted October 13, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        Three cheers for objectivity.

  15. Posted July 14, 2009 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen Kent Hovind in person, in an audience full of creationists, where he really let his hair down. You know those cornpone jokes of his, and how bad they are? You should have heard his jokes about Jews.

    And the audience laughed and laughed.

  16. Kitty'sBitch
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I don’t get it.

  17. Kitty'sBitch
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Rectum? Damn near killed’em!

  18. santitafarella
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Here’s another example of potentially self-referential atheist sources of humor: Stoicism and Epicurianism.

    Like other atheists and agnostics, I admire the largely naturalist and skeptical Roman Stoic and Epicurian philosophers. Indeed, both Chris Hitchens and John Updike have suggested that, when it comes to facing disappointment and death, atheism can really do no better than to look back to the old Stoic and Epicurian tradition for ways to cope, and Bertrand Russell called death (in Stoic terms) “the great renunciation.”

    But at my blog last week I posted this as a kind of ironic retort to my own Stoic and Epicurian agnostic philosophizing. I thought it was funny and self-puncturing:

    http://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2009/07/09/quiet-diginity-and-grace-a-model-for-living-with-the-absurdity-of-our-existential-condition-and-our-flungness-into-the-world/

    —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      Does anyone else share the opinion you have of yourself?

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

        No one here. That’s for sure.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

        Articulett and NE Bob:

        Hey, they laughed at Noah too!

        —Santi

    • Ichthyic
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

      …and they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, both Chris Hitchens and John Updike have suggested that, when it comes to facing disappointment and death, atheism can really do no better than to look back to the old Stoic and Epicurian tradition for ways to cope

      you say that as if it were suggested to be a BAD thing.

      instead, they meant it as a GOOD thing.

      that instead of relying on fanciful lies, we can take comfort in reality itself.

      for you, i relate an atheist’s creed:

      I believe in a purely material universe that conforms to naturalistic laws and principles.

      I believe that the life we have is the only one we will have, that the mind and consciousness are inseparable from the brain, that we cease to exist in any conscious form when we die, and that it is therefore incumbent on us to enable each person to live their one life to the fullest.

      I believe in the power of science and reason and rationality to further deepen our understanding of everything around us and to eventually overcome superstition and erase the petty divisions sown by religion, race, ethnicity, and nationality.

      I am in awe of the beauty, vastness, and complexity of nature and the universe, and the fact that all arose purely by the working of natural laws.

      I believe in the power of ideals such as peace and justice and shared humanity to inspire us to create a free and just world.

      I believe in kindness, love, and the human spirit and their ability to overcome challenges and adversity and to create a better world.

      I believe in the necessity for credible and objective evidence to sustain any belief and thus deny, because of the absence of such evidence, the existence of each and every aspect of the supernatural.

      I refuse to bow, prostrate myself, or otherwise cower before the deities of any religion.

      I am neither tempted by the fiction of heaven or any other form of eternal life nor fearful of the fiction of hell.

      I choose to live the dignified and exhilarating life of a free-thinker, able to go wherever knowledge and curiosity takes me, without fear of contradicting any dogma.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

        Ichthyic:

        With regard to Hitchens and Updike on Stoicism you said: “They meant it as a GOOD thing.”

        Actually, Hitchens meant it as a good thing. Updike meant it as a critique. Stoicism and atheism is a concern of Updike in his last volume of short stories before his death.

        —Santi

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 12:01 am | Permalink

        Ichthyic:

        I share many basics of the creed you posted, but not without irony. Certainly PZ Myers’s host incident is not in accord with the spirit of the creed, but you defend his actions.

        And frankly, the creed is an intellectually incoherent mixture of atheist metaphysics and Christian ethics. Nietzsche would have laughed at such a confused, unjustifiable, hodgepodge. Nietzsche would say you don’t know shit about the death of God if you think it means, ethically, Christian business as usual. “Kindness, love, and the human spirit”? Really? That spirit reference is metaphorical, right? And I see little kindness going on around atheist threads, and no love (at least none coming my way). A lot of contempt, impatience, ad hominem insult substituting for thought, and violating the space of others (as in the PZ Myers incident) though.

        —Santi

      • Ichthyic
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 12:41 am | Permalink

        the hell you say.

        I choose to live the dignified and exhilarating life of a free-thinker, able to go wherever knowledge and curiosity takes me, without fear of contradicting any dogma.

        read that last line again.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 12:42 am | Permalink

        Actually, Hitchens meant it as a good thing. Updike meant it as a critique.

        you haven’t the slightest clue what you’re talking about.

        you should just STFU now.

      • Bruce Gorton
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 1:51 am | Permalink

        Santi

        Actually it is. Mooney, being an unethical hack didn’t mention the background to the cracker story, because that would make Myers look admirable rather than like he just up and decided to offend the religious one day.

        The story starts with a college kid whose friends weren’t Catholic and didn’t know what the Euchrist was, so the kid goes to church and gets one to show them – a bit of a social blunder but hardly serious, it is after all, a cracker.

        So the kid gets accused of kidnapping “the body of Christ”, threatened with death, the church tries to get him expelled etc… You know, Christian SOP when someone does something they don’t like.

        This offends Myers, so he in a fit of pique threatens to descrate a cracker. So he gets death threats too, and a letter campaign to have him lose his job.

        So he goes ahead and does it – because Myers isn’t someone who you can scare silent.

        All in all, the Catholics were more miffed at myers violating a cracker than at Catholic priests violating little children. Evidently spare the rod wasn’t so much a metaphor as a euphemism.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 6:26 am | Permalink

      Noah????

      The fictitious Noah?

      Are you out of your mind?

      Oh, yes, you are Santi – the one who has verbal diarrhea but says nothing of value – ever. I forgot.

      • Posted July 15, 2009 at 7:41 am | Permalink

        It’s not “Chris” Hitchens by the way – it’s Christopher. Beware of the assumed nickname – James Reston wasn’t Jim, Calvin Trillin isn’t Cal, Christopher Hitchens isn’t Chris.

  19. Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    We write funnier books, too!

  20. reggie
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A Rabbi, an atheist, and an accomodationist walk into a bar…

  21. dreikin
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Woah – I just realized something:
    The accommodationists are the philosophical equivalent of “Nice Guys”.

    • Martin
      Posted July 16, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      Spot on!

  22. Posted July 14, 2009 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    I have to say that the Newsweek piece takes a particularly nasty swipe at Jerry by leaving out the context of his remark about the religiosity of Francis Collins (Jerry said that if he got the job as NIH director Collins should resign as director of Biologos, a sectarian religious foundation dedicated to training atheists everywhere how to write a good Poe (OK, Jerry never actually said the Poe bit)).
    To leave out the context of Jerrys Collins piece in this way shows us how low they are prepared to sink to generate publicity for their book. If Mooney and Kirshenbaum (Moocathy and Kwokenbaum) want to descend to this level of sophistry then that is their prerogative but lets not pretend they are being civil, polite or even truthful any more.

    • Posted July 15, 2009 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Quite. I was already not pretending that, but I spelled it out yesterday in response to the Newsweek piece – the Newsweek abomination. They’re worms.

  23. articulett
    Posted July 15, 2009 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    Abbie made me laugh on her ERV blog when she referred to M&K’s accommodationism as “affirmative action for theotards”.

  24. MadScientist
    Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    I’m pretty sure I’m not in a gay crowd so I’m not worried about following the instructions on the ship. Of course if I were on board and surrounded by all those lonely sailors I might follow that advice.

  25. Posted July 15, 2009 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    I’ve never understood why coddling religious beliefs is supposedly “respecting” the believers. Isn’t it rather treating them like mentally deficient people?

    Good satire, or just a good laugh, is often a good way of pointing out the obvious — someone needs to cough “bullshit” when bullshit is being served.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      I can’t remember whose blog I was reading, but one religious person did object on those grounds – that he’s being treated like he’s some sort of idiot if people just nod and say “yes, yes, whatever you say – we’re so respectful of your beliefs.”

      Perhaps we should run a pointless poll to see how many religious people out there (as opposed to religious institutions) want to tell science how things should be done? We have to leave out religious institutions as a whole because they’re always anti-science despite their claims; Ratzinger handing Obama a list of the catlick church’s bigoted opinion on topics such as stem cell research and women’s reproductive rights shows the Vatican’s anti-science attitude.

  26. Hugo
    Posted July 15, 2009 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    The other day, as I was enjoying a good bout of Landover Baptist trolling, which is absolutely excellent at trolling *both sides* (suckers!), I wondered – would it be possible, in any way, shape or form, to have a similar site from an atheist perspective?

    First thought: no, it wouldn’t be. It is Poe’s law that makes Landover Baptist possible and successful.

    Second thought: but how could we mis-stereotype atheism in a way that would leave atheists horrified (as Christians are horrified by Landover Baptist), and Christians thinking “yea see, them atheists are a bunch of nuts!”

    Third thought: this may indeed be possible to pull off, but it would be very hard, and you’d have to dig up the worst fundie-Christian stereotypes-of-atheists you could possibly get. However, the bad rap atheists have in the states at the moment would make this of dubious value. Maybe wait until they’re a sizeable and accepted chunk of the population? Hmm, that doesn’t work either.

    Final thought: meh. Was a fun thought experiment while it lasted.

    • santitafarella
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Hugo:

      I’m sorry to be so humorless, but I think that what you would be doing (to create such a site) is corrupting public discourse. It’s a postmodern gesture in irony, to be sure. But if you truly tried to keep up a ruse of that sort that genuinely confused people, I think you would be doing what Fox News does: pretending to have a dialogue with people when you’re really not listening to them at all. I think that’s evil, frankly. Not funny. It’s not the kind of thing that liberals should want to see more of in a democracy, in any case. There’s already enough dishonesty in public discourse. I think your troll gestures are also ignorant and immature behaviors. In some ways, PZ Myers is a symptom of your attitude—entering physical religious places under false pretenses, gaining their trust, and then bafooning on them in public. It’s illiberal, in my view, and contributes to the demonization and dehumanization of opponents—and also makes for the spread of general cynicism.

      But maybe you’re a nihilist who reads Nietzsche and just doesn’t give a shit. If that’s the case, I have to give you credit for being philosophically consistent.

      —Santi

      • Posted July 15, 2009 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        Santi –

        You left out PZ’s reasons for dissing the cracker. That’s illiberal, in my view, and contributes to the demonization and dehumanization of opponents.

        But maybe you’re a zealot who gives too much of the wrong kind of a shit. If that’s the case – try to do better.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        Ophelia:

        To be fair to me, I posted a link earlier in this thread to my fuller contextual explanations for why I think what PZ Myers did was illiberal. Here it is again, since you appear to have missed it:

        http://santitafarella.wordpress.com/?s=pz+myers+catholic

        Also, I responded to your assertion that background (or context) is crucial to the matter of judging Myers’s behavior in this instance, but you perhaps didn’t see that either. It’s toward the top of this thread.

        And for the record, I don’t demonize Myers, nor do I dehumanize him. I say that in this specific incident he bahaved illiberally. Anyone who searched my blog would see that I have defended Myers on some issues (as in his dispute with Plantinga) and opposed him in others (as in the cracker incident).

        —Santi

      • Hugo
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        Santi…

        I think your troll gestures are also ignorant and immature behaviors. [...] your attitude – entering physical religious places under false pretenses, gaining their trust, and then bafooning on them in public

        Which troll gestures are you referring to here? Are you talking about *my* attitude? When/where do I “bafoon” people? What makes you think I’m not an accommodationist? Where do you get…

        … /me rereads my comment:

        “as I was enjoying a good bout of Landover Baptist trolling”

        Aha, that sounds like I was doing the trolling, eh. Am I right? If so, oops, and I forgive you for developing an incorrect view of me. I think that also answers the other question that came up just now: what you think about Landover Baptist. I take it you don’t like them. (Understatement? ;) ) They do make me cringe sometimes.

        Recap: I was reading a thread on the forum which was cringe-inducing to start with, but I still ended up enjoying the interactions. This might be a worthy case study to talk about though: I specifically wondered how much of that site pollutes public discourse and seeped into… “new atheist” culture in terms of shaping perceptions of fundies. That’s the bad part. But there’s not much I can do about it, so I recognise the good part too: using humour to point at harmful possibilities within Christianity. In fact, I originally discovered Landover Baptist via some “moderate” Christians that are really enjoying it. I’ve a particular favourite Christian-preacher/pastor-blogger that I fear linking from here, as there’s too many negative people around. :-P How many people really take Landover Baptist seriously? I kinda assumed most people know it’s a spoof site, ala The Onion, other than the poor guys who get trolled on the forum – I’m kinda hoping they either figure it out eventually, or remain an insignificant minority…

        Do you consider it bad of me to somehow enjoy reading an occasional exchange, considering I would never take part in it myself?

        Further I wonder: was Nietzsche that bad a guy? Was he actually a nihilist, or did he just discover nihilism in his philosophical explorations? (Are we incorrectly demonising the poor guy?) I don’t know the answers to these questions by the way. I still want to read some of his stuff some time.

      • Hugo
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        Just took another look at the front page. How can anyone mistake that for anything but satire, I wonder? So it’s just the poor guys who come across the forum but never looks at the site itself that are mislead…

      • Posted July 15, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        Santi –

        That won’t do. If you’re going to call PZ names over the cracker affair, you need to tell the whole story. It’s immoral to do otherwise. Just gesturing at some earlier mention isn’t good enough – you called him names in that comment so you needed to tell the whole story there. It’s a dirty business giving an incomplete account. You might as well complain about Martin Luther King causing a traffic jam on the road to Selma.

  27. santitafarella
    Posted July 15, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Here’s my favorite agnostic joke.

    I don’t remember Woody Allen’s exact words, but in one of his films he’s having an existential crisis and he asks his elderly father whether or not he believes in the existence of God.

    His father replies: “Existence of God? I don’t know how my toaster works!”

    —Santi

  28. santitafarella
    Posted July 15, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Hugo:

    You asked: “Do you consider it bad of me to somehow enjoy reading an occasional exchange, considering I would never take part in it myself? Further I wonder: was Nietzsche that bad a guy?”

    Now that you’ve clarified what you meant—you were a spectator not a troller—then no, it’s not bad. As for Nietzsche, I like Nietzsche enormously—and no I don’t think he was a bad guy—and I think he is a very important person to read and think about. I admire Nietzsche’s no-bullshit honesty about what the death of God means. It’s refreshing to read any atheist who looks at the full implications of his own position without blinking, and with intellectual vulnerability, and doesn’t just mock the views of others.

    —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      I like the atheists who mock silly views! They’re my favorite! Heck, theists find them hysterical too, so long as they are mocking different religions than their own. (My brother loves it when I goof on Mormons… but not so much when I goof on the Catholics.)

      I find it kind of healing to exorcise my old demons by mocking my former beliefs. It’s a sign of being grown up–learning to laugh at the ways you have fooled yourself. It’s like waking up from one of those silly dreams where you find yourself naked in public…

      Here’s my favorite Jesus joke:

      Why do girls love Jesus?

      Because he’s hung like this! (spread hands apart to indicate giant genitalia and/or crucifixion.)

      Believe me, that’s a hysterical joke to a former believer–not so much to one who thinks they better respect Jesus because–you know– he died for our sins and all.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Nietzsche was wrong about nihilism and his rejection of democracy and then he had a mental breakdown.

      But of course, this is irrelevant to the discussion “Atheists are funnier”.

      This is another tactic of Santi – run the discussion of the cliff of inanity.

      Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

      Move along, nothing to see here beyond nonsense.

    • Hugo
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Santi, amen to that. (I like them too.) And I’d like to read some Nietzsche some time, what do you recommend?

      Sorry newenglandbob that Santi and I are running our discussion in some inane direction, I hope our exchange doesn’t upset your sensibilities too much. ;-)

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        Hugo:

        “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” dude. It’s awesome.

        “The Birth of Tragedy” is another bomb of Nietzsche’s that I especially like.

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        But don’t bother to read them, Hugo, since according to Nietzsche, life has no meaning and no purpose so therefore we should all just kill ourselves now to end the struggle.

      • Hugo
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        @newenglandbob: I hope you’re joking there? I really and truly hope your views on Nietzsche are humour. Satire, somehow?

        Nietzsche was wrong about nihilism

        What do you mean? In what way was he wrong about nihilism? What do you think he said about it?

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.

        I do not subscribe to this.

      • Hugo
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        Say what?

        Two things, the first:

        You say life is *with intrinsic/inherent* meaning? What meaning do you think that is? Theistic exitentialism believes it has inherent meaning. Absurdism says it may have meaning, but we can never know it.

        I’m an existentialist myself (I believe we *create* meaning), and I sorta bridge the gap between theistic and atheistic existentialism with my approach. And sometimes I play some absurdism.

        Secondly: it still appears you’re suggesting Nietzsche was an advocate of Nihilism? Yikes! That kind of clueless apathy and misrepresentation is the exact kind of thing that is being fought against by the “supposed accommodationism” I support.

        Consider for example, from “Nihilism” on wikipedia, about Nietzsche: “However, he never advocated nihilism as a practical mode of living and was typically quite critical of what he described as the more dangerous nihilism, the rejection of the material world in favor of a nonexistent “heaven”.”

        Does that go against your presuppositions?

  29. Peter Beattie
    Posted July 15, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Can I still enter the competition? *g*

  30. santitafarella
    Posted July 15, 2009 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Ophelia:

    You said: “If you’re going to call PZ names over the cracker affair, you need to tell the whole story. It’s immoral to do otherwise.”

    I agree with you. And I thought that I had by providing a link to my fuller (and contextual) thoughts on the matter. But since you feel that is not enough, I don’t mind stating briefly what I regard as the salient contextual markers regarding the PZ Myers incident:

    Context Point #1: Myers was offering a mocking response to a Fox News story about a student at the University of Central Florida who left a mass without consuming the communion wafer.

    Context Point #2: Some Catholics were apparently up in arms about the Florida student, and the student seems to have even received anonymous death threats from at least one lay Catholic—not a member of the clergy—for desecrating the host. In other words, the threats came from a person (or persons) not in the employ of the Catholic Church. The people harrassing the student were renegades. They were not acting with the approval of any church.

    Context Point #3: Naturally, a student receiving death threats can arouse people who believe in liberty to respond in solidarity with the student. But Myers’s response seemed to me, to put it in polite Freudian terms, overdetermined. Myers was obviously not just annoyed, but completely juvenile, bigoted, and illiberal in his choice of a response. And I believe that he behaved, in this incident, in a way that is deeply corrosive to the functioning of a civil liberal society. People have the right to congregate without the expectation of disruption or deceit being inserted into their meetings by hostile outsiders. And they have the right to control the objects of value or sacredness to their group. These are fundamental freedoms, and basic decency dictates that we should respect the boundaries around them.

    Context Point #4: In this instance, Myers went “illiberal nuclear” in response to a matter best handled by police in Florida. (Phone harrassment and death threats, obviously, are against the law.)

    Context Point #5: Myers picked the wrong target. If any large institution was responsible for the incident, it was the media conglomerate—Fox News—for driving the story and arousing unstable right-wing TV viewers about it.

    But regardless of the initial provocation, which was Fox News, not the institutional Catholic Church, one evil or illiberal action does not warrant or justify illiberal actions in response. There was high ground to follow here, and Myers failed to take it.

    In other words, the sailient contextual markers for this event (insofar as I understand them) do not justify Myers actions. He even directed his rage at the wrong “Iago trigger”—which was Fox News.

    Now I think that if you are going to be fair to me, you should at least tell me, very specifically, what salient contexual point I am missing, or why these salient contextual points are sufficient, of themselves, to justify Myers’s response.

    You have yet to tell me, for instance, whether Myers—in your view—was fully justified by the context—or only partially justified. And you have yet to tell me what context Myers’s actions would not be justified in.

    —Santi

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      “Freudian terms” – These are no longer used because they have been discredited for the most part.

      “juvenile, bigoted, and illiberal” – Santi’s favorite labels, used like a Victorian prude.

      “deeply corrosive to the functioning of a civil liberal society” – More wackaloon prudery.

      “illiberal nuclear” – more nonsense verbiage.

      Context point 5 contradicts context point 2.

      “(insofar as I understand them)” – Santi – you do not understand them as you have been told by several people here.

    • Posted July 15, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      Briefly? You call that briefly? What would at length look like?

  31. santitafarella
    Posted July 15, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Tyro:

    You said:

    “I think it’s disingenuous or dishonest to keep acting as if PZ went into church with the intent of disrupting service or smuggling anything out.”

    But here is PZ Myers’s original email that started the whole incident:

    “Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There’s no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I’m sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I’ll send you my home address.”

    If you will notice, Myers uses the word “smuggle” in his very request to his readers. That’s the very word you said should not be associated with the incident.

    Oh, and Myers thought the idea would be funny. Atheist humor.

    Now Tyro, was what he requested in the letter wrong, or not?

    —Santi

    • Tyro
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      “Smuggle” is, yes, a hyperbole, a joke. He was using it to send up the idea that it was a grave theft. One hint that it was an exaggeration was when he started the paragraph by saying that the local churches prepared “stakes” and that the crackers would have “armed guards”. Or do you seriously imagine that this was also on the level?

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Tyro:

        The incident went down exactly as he requested. He asked his readers to “do what it takes” to “score” a consecrated wafer. He asked them, if need be, to “smuggle” a consecrated wafer from a church, and one of his faithful followers did exactly this for him.

        He clearly states that it must be done by deceit, for he recognizes that Catholics do not knowingly share consecrated wafers with non-believers. Period.

        I’m at a loss as to (a) how anybody who professes liberal values could condone deceit of this nature; or (b) how anyone could make excuses for it after the fact.

        Tyro, you’d make a great liberal theologian, reading as allegory, symbol, and irony what so plainly went out from the author as a literal request. Myers put out a literal (not a figurative) request for a consecrated communion wafer, and he realized that it would have to be obtained by (a) someone entering a Catholic church under false pretenses; and (b) exercising deceit in the reception of a wafer.

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        Smuggle:

        1. to import or export secretly contrary to the law and especially without paying duties imposed by law

        2. to import or export something in violation of the customs laws

        Since there are no laws about taking crackers out of a church or to pay duties to obtain them, everyone with a brain knows that Myers was using humor.

      • Tyro
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

        Smuggling is a subset of theft, and since the crackers are freely given, they can’t be stolen or smuggled, unless you imagine a secret invasion force which broke into the church after hours to steal consecrated crackers. Sitting quietly through a service and declining to eat the cracker can all be done without disrupting anyone’s service, breaking in, trespassing or otherwise harming anyone and by all accounts, this is exactly what did happen. It’s not, as you suggest, like someone dashed in and grabbed some sacred artifact while mooning the attendees.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      Santi has no sense of humor, Tyro, as we can all see from his posts. His mental capacity to understand is also in question from those same posts.

      • Hugo
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        Remember the Black Swan though, you’re using inductive reasoning. You cannot rationally/scientifically make such a statement. From a rational perspective, at most you can say “based on his posts, it would appear he doesn’t have a sense of humour”. You have to wonder if there’s a selection bias present, specifically as a result of the nature of the blog (that nature selecting those posts). Or your confirmation bias…

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Hugo, I did base it on his posts, although I did not use the word “appear”.

        Am I biased? Yes, you can be sure that I am. After seeing a hundred nonsense, irrational, verbiage-by-the-metric-ton posts that have no value to them, I have turned from an open minded person towards him to a bias that everything he says is garbage. So far I have been correct but I am still open to the chance that he will have one normal post. The odds against that happening are astronomical, but not infinite.

      • Hugo
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        @newenglandbob: Cool.

        @Santi: do you have some goal in mind that drives this aspect of your blog? I hope to read it in the future, but I’m just wondering about the framing, which I couldn’t deduce from a quick look. Is this aspect focused around the criticism of what you perceive to be the bad elements of the “new atheists” (sorry about the label guys – is anyone bothered by that label?) Or is it focused more around freethought and critical thinking, promoting that amongst the religious as well?

        In the latter case, I understand people (e.g. you, me) getting drawn into debates such as the one you’re having here, finding yourself supposedly “defending religion” when that isn’t your intention, and it’s really more just about developing and maintaining good communication channels (a parallel for some of liberalism’s ideals?)

        Are you fighting a battle of SIWOTI here? http://xkcd.com/386/ Do you see a chance of victory in this battle, or do you think this battle is maybe just distracting you from the rest of the war? (Are there other battles you might rather be spending your time on?)

        [Note: these questions are the ones I ask myself when I get drawn into certain kinds of silly debates, me asking you also helps me reflect on my strategies with regards to these, I mean all these questions sincerely.]

  32. santitafarella
    Posted July 15, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Hugo:

    You ask a very good question. I have no agenda at my blog, but I definitely do have obsessions that track in and track out. For example, last summer I got absorbed for a while blogging about the Epic of Gilgamesh (of all things)—and lately I’ve been screwed up over aspects of the New Atheism, and thinking about it. During the election I was obsessed with Sarah Palin and Barack Obama. In the Fall I was also writing long blog posts on Charles Darwin. I might keep a couple of obsession going at a time, and when I tire of a subject, I just switch to something else. Sometimes I write poems and post them.

    I just see blogging as a form of human mental liberation—an expression of intellectual freedom—and a liberation of the song-voice. It’s nice if people come and look, and I often get interesting posting responses and dialogue with people at my own blog. My own blog has turned into a real mini-salon, with a lot of frequent visitors who actually talk articulately in the threads. See here for an example:

    http://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2009/07/11/i-am-an-empatheist/#comment-5324

    As for how I get worked up to enter threads at other sites, I’ll tell you directly: I love Socratic dialogue. I like to press up against people’s opinions and test them, and I like to have people press up against mine and press at them. I think through things via threads. I have zero interest in converting anybody. I just like to think, and see how other people think. Example: Today I learned an enormous amount about how committed atheists defend what PZ Myers did. A lot of the responses were surprising to me, I might even say shocking. I genuinely thought, for example, that Ophelia would have a more nuanced view. If she does, she has yet to express it. I certainly don’t expect converts, nor is that the benefit to me. And I don’t see myself as advancing a cause. I don’t see blogging or thread contributions in Manichean terms.

    As you might have noticed, I get a ton of ad hominem shit thrown my way (as a substitute for thought by the shit throwers). That’s okay. Enough passes the ad hominem filter to make it valuable to me to talk to people through the static. It would be nice, though, if people learned how to talk with one another as mature adults, and try to dialogue respectfully, and genuinely consider where the other person is coming from. Even people who are mostly throwing ad hominem at me I try not to ignore completely. If they actually make a point of substance, I usually respond.

    Thread discussion are Hegelian—thesis, antithesis, synthesis. I rarely leave a thread saying, I learned nothing from that. I usually learn something really surprising, and sometimes have an epiphany or change my mind about something.

    —Santi

    • Hugo
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Santi! Most interesting. (In particular, to compare where our approaches are similar, and where quite different.)

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Hugo:

        One more quick thought about thread interaction. I think that family dynamics are in play within threads. What I mean is that the way that people respond to you is probably the way they learned to argue when growing up in their families. Example: you get people who are rational, calm and respectful, but you also get people who show enormous impatience with you if you don’t see things their way really fast, or they insult, or they emotionally blackmale, or berate your intelligence, or do they do something manipulative, or say something because they think they’ll get a rise from you. And when I see this, I feel like they are telling me all about their family dynamics, and how they won arguments and things within their families. You have to work through the static to get at the gold of their thought.

        —Santi

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      …but I definitely do have obsessions

      yes Santi – to the annoyance of most people here.

      …and lately I’ve been screwed up over aspects of the New Atheism

      That is an understatement!

      I love Socratic dialogue

      No, that’s not what that is – it is actually impaired thought processes; devoid or reason and logic on your part.

      I think through things via threads

      Most people think before they type, but Santi does not operate that way.

      As you might have noticed, I get a ton of ad hominem shit thrown my way (as a substitute for thought by the shit throwers)

      Once again Santi gets that backwards. He spews shit by the thousands of words and almost everyone here tells him how screwed up and trolling he is.

      Thread discussion are Hegelian—thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

      …and then there is Santi’s method. Start with false premises, then spew verbiage as diarrhea of useless nonsense and finally discharge conclusions that have nothing to do with all of the above. Top that off by saying “How do you see that?”

  33. Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    (Skipping past most comments.)

    I’ve also noticed a nasty lack of humor in woos. My brother often mentioned the idea that humor is based on the ability to detect logical fallacies. I think there’s plenty to that idea. Additionally, I very much believe that parody, satire, and such absolutely require a grain of truth. Since woos don’t even understand what they’re arguing against, all their attempts to ridicule us come across as both flat and vindictive, rather than funny.

    • Thomas
      Posted July 18, 2009 at 4:04 am | Permalink

      The way I see it humor is based on a “sense of the ridiculous”(think I borrowed that from Asimov). And because the religious have accepted the ridiculous to be true, they can no longer separate it from that which is believable and therfore their ability to use humor is impaired.

  34. Posted August 1, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry, but this is one of the most delusional defenses of confrontational atheism I’ve ever read.

    Really, it’s for lack of empathy that Mooney & Co are concerned with the way religion-bashing is experienced by the religious? And it’s because of their empathy that religion-bashers are such hilarious bashers? And you (Dr. Coyne and G) think you’ve thought this through fairly?

    Now that’s hilarious. Really–lol funny.

    Religion bashing has an advantage in the humor department. Of course you can be much funnier when you’re violating social conventions. The crackergate thing is very, very funny. As an atheist, it offends me not. Ophelia is often very, very funny at B&W. Chris Mooney’s infamous chapter 8 is not very, very funny.

    But funny doesn’t mean right. I think the new term “faithiest” really has its more natural application to the atheists who view Mooney, Bagginni, and the like as apostates just because they dare to ask about the impact of confrontational atheism. The clobbering they get is less about anything they say than about the tribe’s sense of being betrayed by an insider.

    Frankly, to watch atheists run after other atheists as if they were infidels makes me laugh. You (who do that) don’t know you’re being funny, but you are. Just not the way you mean to be.

  35. Posted August 1, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    You obviously never listened to the complaints about Mooney, Jean.

    First, I don’t think anyone here claims that the funny makes it right, so big straw man. It’s just an aspect that some of us think reveals something of the character of unlaughing woos.

    Second, Crackergate was about standing up to domestic religious terrorism. A guy got death threats, so we did what we could to stand up to them, to show them they can’t scare us into submission. It was retaliation.

    Third, Mooney tries to blame us as the root of all evil, even though fundamentalism spread long before we got assertive. He offers no solutions except to tell us to shut up.

    Forth, it was these “confrontational atheists” who converted me. We’ve also got some reason to believe it might we working: The number of people without religious affiliation is rising in the US, last time I checked.

    Fifth, the crazies are going to be crazy and violent anyway. Shutting up isn’t going to raise awareness of them or galvanize opposition.

    If you want us to reconsider our strategy, try citing someone useful. Mooney doesn’t fit that description. All he does is confrontational framing, screaming at us in angrish, rather than offer meaningful suggestions.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 1, 2009 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Well said, Bronze Dog.

  36. Posted August 2, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Jean…

    “I think the new term “faithiest” really has its more natural application to the atheists who view Mooney, Baggini, and the like as apostates just because they dare to ask about the impact of confrontational atheism.”

    That’s inaccurate. It’s not “just because they dare to ask about the impact of confrontational atheism.” It’s (whatever “it” is) because they do a bad or hasty job of it. Baggini is in there I assume because of that article he wrote for a Norwegian (or was it Swedish?) paper a few months ago. Well, that article was fairly aggressive in its rhetoric, and it had some flaws. I apologized to Julian for disagreeing with much of it (he’s my boss!) but he said disagreement wasn’t a problem.

    Mooney’s stuff is badly flawed.

    “Apostasy” is tendentious and inaccurate.

    Other than that, well done.

    • Posted August 2, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Oh no wait, I take it back, there’s another inaccuracy. It’s not “just because they dare to ask about the impact of confrontational atheism” because (taking “they” now to mean Mooney and Kirshenbaum) don’t just “ask about the impact,” they make very large assertions about what they take to be the impact.

  37. Posted August 2, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    It’s so typical – friend-of-faith atheists wonder why explicit atheists get so fed up with friend-of-faith atheists, and express their puzzlement by offering up a whole mound of strawmen. That’s why we get so fed up! It’s the strawmen! It’s the inaccuracy about both parties – painting Mooney as more reasonable than he is and his critics as more unreasonable then they are.

    Now time for another wondering stare at all this irritability.

    • Posted August 2, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      I just don’t think “faithiest” is good word craft. With the charge being made so often that atheists are fundamentalists, a “faithiest” is going to sound like someone with a closed, faith-like allegiance to atheism, not as “friend-of-faith-atheist.”

      I worry that there’s a bit of that going around–closed, faith-like allegiance. Otherwise, I just can’t see how M&K’s assertions (whether right or wrong) could have provoked so much ire. Obviously we disagree…and have had our say at our respective blogs. So I will go back to my Sunday.

      • Posted August 2, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Yes, we’ve had our say, but I’m claiming that you misrepresent what people say, and I don’t think I do that. In fact you do exactly what M&K do – you present yourself as Nicer Than Thou by chiding people for being too noisy or overt or angry, yet you misrepresent the people you chide. That’s not Nicer.

      • Posted August 2, 2009 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        “I worry that there’s a bit of that going around–closed, faith-like allegiance. Otherwise, I just can’t see how M&K’s assertions (whether right or wrong) could have provoked so much ire.”

        Have you been paying attention? Have you been paying it long enough? If not, perhaps that would explain it. If yes, I can’t see how you can’t see.

        It’s not allegiance, and it’s not closed and faith-like. The ire started back at the end of May when Mooney did a blog post basically saying that Barbara Forrest said Jerry Coyne shouldn’t have written his review of books by Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson for The New Republic because it was bad strategy (many people suspect Mooney was putting words in Forrest’s mouth). Several people, including Coyne, asked Mooney if he really meant to say that – that we can’t even write reviews now because we have to appease the theists? He never replied.

        Can you see why this would be irritating?

        In case you can’t, I’ll expand a little. I write the occasional review myself. I don’t want the Mooneys of the world telling me how to write them so as not to annoy theists.

        Now do you get it? It’s not allegiance, it’s not faith, it’s not closed – it’s wanting to remain free to write about the truth as we see it.

    • articulett
      Posted August 2, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Yes. I suspect that it’s a sort of cognitive dissonance. There really is no valid reason to treat religious faith differently than other faith based superstitions and pseudoscience. Yet, it makes people uncomfortable because they’ve learned to protect religious faith from such scrutiny. Instead of realizing this bias in themselves, they imagine the critics of faith as saying something different than what they are actually saying and make excuses or minimize the harms that come from faith based thinking.

      They force atheists into the shrill stereotype via provocation and self-fulfilling prophesy so that they don’t have to examine how their own faith-in-faith biases causes what amounts to atheist bigotry.

      They make the truth tellers into bad guys so they can feel like peacemakers as they spread bigotry.

      Like religion, they invent a problem (“shrill” atheists that supposedly hurt “the cause”), and offer themselves as the solution.

      • Posted August 2, 2009 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        Yes – one little ray of sunshine on Jean’s blog said ‘the gang at B&W’ felt to him like a lynch mob. Charming.

  38. Posted August 2, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen it a million times with both Mooney-style concern trolls and fundies: They come in insulting and telling obvious untruths they’re just parroting from somewhere, and when we express even the mildest sorts of insults, suddenly we’re the provocative ones.

    One fundie example I remember: Came in telling us that we deserved to die and go to Hell, and was surprised at how “hostile” we were in response.

  39. Posted August 2, 2009 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Jean is no fundie but she sure is giving a good impression of a concern troll.

    • Posted August 2, 2009 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      I take that back. I think Jean is too concerned! But not that she’s a troll.


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