Should religion get a pass?

I’m beginning to see posts on various skeptical/rationalist/atheist websites arguing—or implying—that religion should be immune from the kind of critical scrutiny we give to other superstitions. The latest, “A rational approach to irrationality” by Quinn O’Neill, appeared two days ago at 3 Quarks Daily.  Apart from her making the usual “we’re-alienating-our-allies-with-our-stridency” argument (it references Phil Plait’s DBAD talk), she takes an unusual tack:  telling skeptics to lay off religion because our goal of maximizing rationality is misguided.  We should instead be trying to maximize well being, and that may involve accepting our fellows’ delusions. (Sam Harris take note!)

It might seem, given these benefits, that improving rationality would improve well-being.  But irrationality has its perks.  Delusions can provide comfort.  They can give us confidence, hope, or a sense of purpose.  Superstitions can improve athletic performance, and psychics and astrologers can help people deal with the discomfort of not knowing what the future holds.  The most rational objective, then, is not necessarily to have everyone be completely rational but rational to the extent that optimizes well-being.

If we are to be rational and scientific, we ought to appreciate the value of diversity and the role of evolution in shaping our minds.  We are predisposed to delusional thinking because our brains have evolved this way; it was evolutionarily advantageous.  It is human nature to be somewhat delusional.  To expect people to be perfectly rational is to ask us to defy our own nature.  It isn’t reasonable.

This sounds suspiciously like the let’s-not-take-grandma’s-comfort-from-her argument, gilded a bit with the naturalistic fallacy.  We may also have evolved to be sexist and xenophobic, but that doesn’t mean that we should give up trying to extirpate racism and sexism from our world. After all, by asking people to stop disliking foreigners, or those of different races, we may be asking them to defy their own nature.

Further, most of us, I think, aren’t interested in rooting out irrationality for its own sake.  Few of us want to tell grandma, on her deathbed, that she’s not going to sing in the choir invisible—she’s worm food.  We want to eliminate irrationality in proportion to its malign effects.  Astrology?  Yawn.  UFO abduction? Another yawn.  Yetis?  zzzzzz . . . .Homeopathy?  Here irrationality has some bad effects, and is worth fighting.  Ditto with HIV denial, global-warming denial, and opposition to vaccination.

And religion?  It’s harmful more often than we may think.  Take a faith that is common and often seen as benign:  Catholicism.  One in five Americans is a Catholic; we have nearly 70 million of them in the U.S.  Surely that faith does no harm!  But the Catholic church promulgates doctrines that foster the subjugation of women, the opposition to condom use to eliminate AIDS or control overpopulation, and the sexual exploitation of children. (Many Catholics, of course, oppose these things, but you can’t deny that Catholic dogma itself has malign effects.)  And how many children does the Church warp, often for life, with its threats of eternal damnation for masturbating or cursing?

And of course religion in general has multiple bad effects.  It promotes hatred, wars, oppression of women, and persecution of gays. It instills people with deep sexual guilt and psychological torment about hell and heaven.  It instills a morality that opposes rational goals like saving the environment, advancing medical research (e.g., the new stem-cell prohibitions), and eliminating AIDS.  It makes people mutilate the genitals of their daughters, fly airplanes into buildings, burn “witches,” and throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls.  And of course, it has the pernicious (but less severe) effect of fighting things like the teaching of evolution.

If all religious people were like Quakers, who don’t engage in invidious social action, warp their children, or try to impose a God-given morality on their rest of us, I doubt that many of us would be so vociferous in opposing faith.  But of course for O’Neill, who doesn’t mention the bad effects of religion, all faiths are like the Quakers.  And, she insists, we must respect them:

Personal and vitriolic attacks on religious individuals are also inconsistent with religious freedom.  If we value religious freedom, respect for people’s right to hold irrational beliefs is in order (so long as the beliefs don’t infringe on the rights of others).  Respecting freedom of religion means accepting the fact that not everyone will freely choose our worldview.  If we encourage people to think for themselves, we must accept that others will come to different conclusions.

And besides, irrationality promotes art, music, and literature!

But just as we need scientists and other professionals who have a proclivity for reason and empiricism, we need artists and people who feel their way through the world.  Such people may be better able to create great works of art that move us on a non-rational level.  We are emotional animals; people who understand this aspect of our nature well have much to contribute.

Now we get to the DBAD argument:

However, the response of self-proclaimed rational people to irrationality can also be harmful.  Anyone who’s been around the blogosphere knows that skeptics and atheists can be nasty.  The frustration and anger that underlies the vitriol is understandable, but the nastiness is probably counterproductive.  As Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, points out in a recent talk, few skeptics have arrived at their convictions as a result of verbal abuse.

There is little evidence to suggest that verbal abuse is an effective persuasion tactic when it comes to irrational thinking.  It might lead some to reject their irrational views, but it’s more likely to cause people to cling to their views more tightly.  It can also reinforce the view that atheists are morally bankrupt jerks.  Verbal abuse, being damaging to self-esteem and having little empirical support, is a hypocritical choice of persuasion tactic for people who claim to base their views on evidence.

Note that O’Neill, like Plait, doesn’t give a shred of evidence for the ubiquity of “verbal abuse.”  (In the comments on her piece, one person mentions the harsh tone of some Pharyngula commenters.)  And she simply takes for granted that our “attacks” are counterproductive.  There’s no evidence for that, either.  Do let us remember, as Richard Dawkins pointed out on this site, that much of our criticism is an attempt not to influence the objects of our opprobrium, but third parties who are listening in and may be more open minded.

Likewise, O’Neill suggests that, in fighting creationism in the public schools, we should not do it by attacking religion. (But really, who does that?).  Rather, we should try to encourage religious instruction at home:

Yet, direct attacks on religion are threatening to religious people and may lead to more aggressive efforts to influence the curriculum.  Perhaps a more effective approach than attacking religion directly would be to encourage parents to share their religion with their children at home or at their respective places of worship.  After all, religious leaders would be best able to provide this type of instruction.

But she directly contradicts herself by arguing that parents shouldn‘t “share their religion with their children at home,” because it brainwashes the kids:

Religious freedom means that individuals have the right to embrace religious beliefs of their own choosing.  It doesn’t mean that parents have the right to systematically indoctrinate their children into their own religion.  On the contrary, it means that their children also have the right to choose their own religious views when they reach the age of reason.  Systematic religious indoctrination that restricts exposure to alternative worldviews limits this freedom.

In the end, O’Neill calls for moderation:

No one is completely rational or completely irrational, but there are people who tend to extremes.  The battle over religion and rationality is one that is fought most viciously by people who are strongly polarized on their respective sides.  The battle, however, is more likely to be won by moderates.

Our potential to improve human well-being ultimately lies not in our ability to maximize rationality, but in our ability to understand human nature and value people with different worldviews.  Success will be most likely if atheists and religious moderates unite for a common goal; not the eradication of religion, but a securely secular society that optimizes well-being and respects our most cherished freedoms.

P.Z. Myers has characterized this as the CTA (“crazy town approach”): “squatting in between those on the side of reason and evidence and those worshipping superstition and myth is not a better place. It just means you’re halfway to crazy town.”  Of course we should try to understand those with different world views.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t criticize them.  That’s what freedom of speech is all about: free discussion will lead us more surely to the truth.  And even if we can’t change the minds of the faithful, we might influence those observers who are on the fence—especially the next generation.

Although O’Neill begins by discussing forms of “comforting” irrationality like going to psychics or astrologers, it’s clear that her real interest is in protecting faith.  Like Plait, she seems to feel that we should go easier on religion than on other forms of superstition. But why? It can’t be that religion is less harmful than equally false beliefs in astrology, UFO abduction, or faked moon landings.  Anyone with two neurons to rub together knows that religious superstition does far more harm than these.  No, it can’t be that religion is the most benign of superstitions. In the end, the arguments to go easy on religion all boil down to this claim: it’s the most common form of superstition.  It’s useless to attack it because it’s ubiquitous and entrenched, and we’ll only alienate people if we try. This is the only explanation for why those who can work up such a sweat about creationism in the public schools are so quick to defend faith in general.

But I need hardly point out one lesson of history:  the ubiquity of bad beliefs does not make them immune to change.

144 Comments

  1. MosesZD
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Personal and vitriolic attacks on religious individuals are also inconsistent with religious freedom.

    She has that wrong. That is, in fact, a natural and logical characteristic of religious freedom. The right to, even obnoxiously, disagree without fear of a punitive state sanction.

    • Andy
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Good call. Religious freedom is a well-defined constitutional and legal category—essentially, it is the right to worship freely, without interference from the government. Many more things are encompassed in this right, but that’s the fundamental principle. What is NOT encompassed in that right is the “right” to be insulated from criticism, even vitriolic and personal criticism (unless said criticism meets the standard for libel or slander). Clearly she has NO CLUE what religious freedom actually means.

      • Dyz
        Posted August 27, 2010 at 5:51 am | Permalink

        IMO religious freedom is already protected by freedom of expression. The only reason for seperate laws is to elevate religion from ‘just an opinion’ to ‘somekind of sacred truth’. Religious expression is expression of an opinion, protected by the freedom of speech.

        • Posted August 27, 2010 at 9:56 am | Permalink

          You are entirely mistaken.

          You need to read what John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, James Madison, and others wrote about freedom of religion. Or read the Constitution of the United States, or the Constitution of Virginia, or the Constitution of New York, for a few examples.

          Nearly every country in Europe had a “state” religion that was abusive and coercive. There were ecclesiastical laws that were often brutally enforced by some church. People were required to give a certain amount of their income to the “established” churches, no matter what they believed. Churches ran schools in which they not only educated their students, they indoctrinated them in their religious beliefs. Believers in various sects fought bitter wars over what one was supposed to believe.

          The founding fathers thought that, by not endorsing any church at all, there would be hundreds of sects and each sect would be small enough that it would be unlikely to take on the others for power and influence over government. They did not imagine that one species of religion, Reformation Protestantism, could become dominate enough to begin eroding the freedoms guaranteed by their Constitution.

          There were many long and heated arguments over this at the Constitutional conventions, not only of the U.S. but of several states. Jefferson wrote a lengthy piece on the subject that became part of the Constitution of Virginia, and James Madison did the same for the Constitution of New York.

          In America, largely as a result of the terrors of the French revolution, we had what was called the “Great Revival” (beginning of 19th C)in which old-line Protestants, primarily in the South, declared that the French revolution happened because God had been left out of government. They immediately tried to redress this by insinuating religious doctrine into government documents and laws. That they were successful is shown by the success of the religious right even today, who can influence law about marriage rights, abortion, stem-cell research, teaching of science, “In God we Trust” on our money, the pledge of allegiance itself, and especially the insertion (by Eisenhower) of “Under God”. to name a few instances.

          Not only are we very fortunate that we are not governed under the laws of Islam (for an extreme example) — we are very fortunate that our founding fathers fought so hard to try to keep religion completely out of governance.

          They could not have expected that their hard won nation, built on rational philosophy, with no supernatural references except to some great force they usually called simply “Providence”, could have succumbed so much to organized religion and what they called “superstition”.

          • Dyz
            Posted August 27, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            You are entirely mistaken. You confuse freedom to practice religion with the principle of secularism. My comment was about the freedom to practice/express religion, not about the US constitution (I do not live in the US) preventing establishment of religion.

            • Dyz
              Posted August 27, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

              Besides, how can a state both enforce a religion AND allow freedom of (possibly conflicting) expression?

    • Posted August 26, 2010 at 2:03 am | Permalink

      Exactly right. Toleration is a commitment to refrain from coercion; it is not an agreement to “agree to disagree”, to not argue.

  2. Sigmund
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    It’s not an ‘extremist’ version of religion that resulted in the recent ban on stem cell funding – it’s pretty much the official position of the largest individual Christian denomination in the US, the roman catholic church.
    In case Phil Plait is reading I would like to add a few activities to those that can be considered as ‘acting the dick’.
    For instance, making claims without any evidence and then refusing to provide evidence when challenged – that to me is a real dick move.
    How about constantly misrepresenting the arguments of others and using a strawman version of their case in order to disparage them? Another dick action.
    How about completely making an idiot of yourself by getting fooled by a sockpuppet wielding malcontent and then acting like you are a victim – What a dick!

  3. Posted August 25, 2010 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Why do the apologists irrational always claim a monopoly over

    • Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      Again, I can think clearly now the brain is gone.

  4. TrineBM
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    But just as we need scientists and other professionals who have a proclivity for reason and empiricism, we need artists and people who feel their way through the world. Such people may be better able to create great works of art that move us on a non-rational level. We are emotional animals; people who understand this aspect of our nature well have much to contribute

    This provokes me no end. I’m a musicologist, I know lots and lots and lots of musicians and artists who are all atheists, rational human beings and WONDERFUL artists. What IS IT with this idea that you can’t be creative without loving woo!!! AARRGHHH (deep breath, calms down momentarily)
    Of course there are heaps of examples of truly moving religious art from all history. But I sincerely believe that it is great art, not because it was written/painted for the church – or other religions – but because it was made by great artists.
    (Down from soapbox, back to regular scheduled programming)

    • nichole
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      Amen, brutha.

    • Darrell E
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      What IS IT with this idea that you can’t be creative without loving woo!!!

      This is a self proclaimed skeptic that apparently accepts many of the bullshit claims that theists have devised over the years in defense of religion. Without supporting evidence, and evidence to the contrary. Go Figure.

      I understand your contempt completely. Watching people who claim to be skeptics mouthing the same trite fallacious claims that theists have been using for years, decades and sometimes centuries alternately pisses me off, makes me really sad or cracks me up.

      • Marella
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

        Or bores me, I’m getting really really BORED with the same old shit endlessly spouted by people who ought to know better.

    • Margaret
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      What IS IT with this idea that you can’t be creative without loving woo!!!

      O’Neill and the other accommodationists are as condescending to artists as they are to religious people, and the added bonus for considering creativity to be woo is that they have an excuse for not being creative themselves, since they are so “rational.”

      You don’t have to be Michelangelo to appreciate both reason and creativity: No scientist or engineer can be good at her job without a certain amount of creativity and imagination. No artist or musician can excel at her job without the technical and analytic skills to express their art or music via paint or piano or other medium. Plus all of us are people and are not defined just by their job.

    • Posted August 25, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      Oh, totally! Totally!

      It’s one of the worst ways of discrediting the artist. Art and music are human pursuits, not divine gifts.

    • Andy
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Just as the apologists love to point out that “many great scientists were also religious,” maybe we should start pointing out the countless artistic geniuses—I mean true geniuses—who were unabashed atheists.

      OK, this is literally right off the top of my head:

      Arthur Miller, Percy Shelley, Richard Strauss, Seamus Heaney, Nadine Gordimer, Twain, Hemingway, Diego Rivera, Henri Bresson, Rothko, John Lennon, Ingmar Bergman, Camus, Iris Murdoch, Katherine Hepburn, George Orwell, George Eliot, Kurt Vonnegut, Harold Pinter, Picasso (for most of his life)…

      The atheism of these artists didn’t seem to be prohibitive. They still made great, emotionally charged art. So what gives?

    • Anton Mates
      Posted August 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      But just as we need scientists and other professionals who have a proclivity for reason and empiricism, we need artists and people who feel their way through the world. Such people may be better able to create great works of art that move us on a non-rational level.

      Leonardo da Vinci wants a word with you.

  5. Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    When I meet either in person or on the net religious believers who are like the Quakers in the sense that their beliefs are there to sustain themselves, I feel glad that they have such a hook. I don’t begrudge them their happiness.

    Roy Orbinson was such a Christian–he was brought up in the Church of Christ in Texas and stopped going to church when he started to perform as it was just too much a strain psychologically (as he was not suppose to sing or dance) and no way was he going to give up performing (Unlike what Cat Stevens did).

    Eventually he resumed the focus on Jesus Christ as the message of love, went back reading the bible, and kept his mouth shut. He never spoke about his faith, it was truly private. To imply that activist atheists don’t get this, is just plain dense.

    Orbinson was an inspirational person, truly kind and gentle, and because of his upbringing with his selective focus on the few good things about Christianity along with his sweet nature, it worked well for him. As his wife said, who shared the same approach to Christianity, he never preached to anyone ever.

    He would be around 75 now, and there is less of a chance that someone would be as indoctrinated as he was because our societies are becoming more secular. So how would someone like Orbinson find a nice irrational belief system to comfort him nowadays? Maybe like what George Harrison, with his cherry picking of Hinduism.

    Activist atheists have a much better psychological handle on weeding the chaff from the wheat than the silly accommodationists do who have drunk deeply from the well of lukewarmness and mediocrity and announced, hey, this is the best tasting thing around! As if a hot or cold beverage doesn’t come in handy also. Well being is important not only for the individual but for society also. As religious beliefs have a way more negative effect on global societies, it behooves us to focus on that aspects and not focus on already good people like Orbinson and Harrison who can well take care of themselves in the comfort department.

  6. nichole
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    I love Phil, but telling someone not to be a dick is a totally dick thing to do. Not to mention smug, pretentious, and all around rude

    /rant

    • Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Well it’s not so bad if someone is actually being a dick. If X is meanly shouting abuse in the face of Y, it’s not so bad to tell X not to be a dick. It’s the lecturing a whole set of people on not being some nebulous example-free kind of dick that is so crappy.

      • nichole
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        Right. That’s what I meant.

        Thanks!

        • MadScientist
          Posted August 25, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

          I was offended because assholes like me received no mention – the dicks got all the attention!

  7. littlejohn
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    “Natural healing” may do more damage (to a family) than moderate religion; Jihadism and crusades do more. I suppose astrology falls somewhere around Episcopalianism.
    But it’s all equally mistaken, and it can all lead to very bad decisions. Fight it all.

  8. Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Moderates! The battle will be won by moderates! Today’s uppity skeptic asks for too much, too soon. Let the believers set the pace for change, what a great idea!

    Leave it to the pope to decide when Africans can use condoms without hellfire, and let’s let baptists decide when it is no longer okay to sever relations with their gay children.

    Religion deserves respect the same way a bus barreling down the sidewalk deserves respect.

    Plait’s “Don’t be a Dick” argument makes me glad he’s the former president of the JREF. Just imagine how he’d feel about a skeptic going out of his way to expose a religious fraud on TV! Popular late night TV! That’s so dickish!

  9. Darrell E
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Quinn O’Neill said:

    Religious freedom means that individuals have the right to embrace religious beliefs of their own choosing. It doesn’t mean that parents have the right to systematically indoctrinate their children into their own religion.

    There she goes, getting all nasty with the verbal abuse again.

    When will these people ever learn?

    • Tulse
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Yep, she’s just one step away from Dawkins’ “religion is child abuse”, which caused no end of kerfluffle. I am quite certain that the truly religious would see her statement as a “personal and vitriolic attack”, as a “direct attack on religion” that is “threatening to religious people” — in other words, as phenomenally dickish.

      • latsot
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        Let’s be clear. Richard said that *religious indoctrination* by parents is child abuse. Hard to disagree.

  10. Douglas
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    The “comfort” that religion and other forms of woo provide is the “igorance is bliss” type. Giving someone a pass on because they are happy with their version of woo is promoting ignorance. The promtion of knowledge over ignorance IMO is the only path to real proogress. Thanks for your time reading my post.

    • Badger3k
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      It’s also the condescending “They can’t face reality, so leave them to their illusions” kind of thinking. What a Dick way of thinking!

      • truthspeaker
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        Agreed.

        Say, heroin provides comfort too.

        • Ken Pidcock
          Posted August 25, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

          As an atheist comment thread grows longer, the probability of an invocation of heroin approaches one. ;)

          • Shatterface
            Posted August 26, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

            The more I hear from accommodationists the more tempting the needle gets.

  11. S.K.Graham
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    “Likewise, O’Neill suggests that,… we should try to encourage religious instruction at home:”

    “… encourage parents to share their religion with their children at home or at their respective places of worship. ”

    “But she directly contradicts herself…”

    “Religious freedom… [does not] mean that parents have the right to systematically indoctrinate their children… Systematic religious indoctrination that restricts exposure to alternative worldviews limits this freedom.”

    I mainly agree with your post Jerry, but one thing that does not help the cause of rationality is misrepresenting the opposing view. She does not contradict herself above. Parents can and should be free to teach their religious ideas to their children, at home. BUT they should not be free to restrict their children from learning contradictory secular views or beliefs of other religions. Parents should not, for example, be permitted to threaten their children in order to coerce them to conform to religious norms or to force them to profess specific beliefs. Weather teaching about hell and damnation constitutes a “threat” of this nature would be a tricky legal question.

    Home-school children should be required to attend certain minimum public/secular lessons, in which they should learn about their legal rights, the limits of their parents’ authority, basics of law & government (and other “civics” topics) and also some minimum amount of science, history, and a survey of world religions and cultures.

    In this way, each child is given a minimum fighting chance to learn to think for themselves before becoming an adult, without giving government excessive authority to tear families apart or prevent parents from raising their children according to the conscience.

    • Darrell E
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      I think you are wrong. Do you claim to know Quinn’s intended meaning better than Jerry? That may even be so but, if that is so then both you and Quinn are either being disingenuous or a bit naive.

      For what other reason do you think so many theists would like to see religion in our public schools? It is precisely because they want to “protect” their children from cetain secular influences. They want their children to learn the ways of their religion and prevent them from learning anything that may cause their children to doubt their religious teachings or corrupt their instilled beliefs.

      That is a pretty good working definition of “systematic indoctrination”. I don’t understand how you can rationalize your way to Jerry misrepresenting Quinn on this. Maybe you do know what Quinn really means, but if Jerry did misrepresnt Quinn it ain’t his fault, because in that case Quinn just did a piss poor job of explaining herself.

      • S.K.Graham
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        Quinn’s intended meaning is perfectly clear in the quotes Jerry used. (1) religious instruction should be kept in the home and churches (and kept out of public schools); (2) this does not mean that parents have the right to *coerce* their children to believe certain things, nor do parents have the right to *isolate* from the beliefs and ideas of the rest of society.

        The fact that *some* parents would abuse their rights in item (1) in order to violate the prohibition in item (2) does not make (1) and (2) contradictory unless you equate all religious instruction with coercion, which is patently absurd.

        • Darrell E
          Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink

          Like I said, you’re being disingenuous or naive. Your reasoning seems to depend on some type of Platonic ideal world.

          1) In the real world, encouraging theists to keep their religion at home and in the church is futile. We have evidence of this. People have been telling them this for decades or more in this country. Has not worked worth a shit. This in itself is contrary, as in contrary to reality.

          2) In this context, Quinn suggesting a course of action in the real world, your number 2 is not relevant at all. The over all context is “what can or should be done to limit religion’s negative influences in our society.” Saying that parents don’t have the right is pointless since in the real world there is clear evidence that many of the theists that are ardent enough to need to be told to keep their religion out of the public schools do indeed indoctrinate their children, by any reasonable definition of that word.

          Your second paragraph made me change my mind. You are probably not naïve about this, which leaves disingenuous, or maybe you are so determined to be accommodating you can’t see how you are off the mark here. Again, in this context, Quinn suggesting a course of action in the real world, the fact that ”some parents would abuse their rights” is precisely the point. More to the point some parents do abuse their rights. Not just a few, but enough to be a serious problem in our society. Perhaps in a Platonic ideal caricature of reality in which everyone always behaved morally there would be no contradiction. In the real world there is clear evidence that there is.

          We might find it necessary to tell theists to keep their religion out of our public schools, but anyone who thinks religious indoctrination is a bad thing should not then encourage those same problem theists to share their religion with their children. Not that they need any encouragement.

          • S.K.Graham
            Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

            Jerry was slamming her for a supposed contradiction. I was merely correcting him as there was no contradiction in Quinn’s words. I did not say I agreed with Quinn as to “encouraging” parents to teach religion at home. But, for my part, I do take that to mean encouraging them to keep it out of the schools, which I think we can all agree on.

            In your (1) where is your evidence? It seems to me that overall schools have become more secular, mainly as the result of court decisions. Regardless I was not defending her position or wording, I was pointing out the absence of contradiction.

            As to (2) an opinion about “rights” (or lack thereof) is an opinion about public policy or law should be. I should think you would be in agreement — parents’ right to coercively indoctrinate their children and isolate them from other points of view should have some legal limits.

            Now Quinn does say something like “instead of [harsh?] criticism, encourage…” I disagree with that. By all means we should continue to criticize, and harshly where appropriate.

            • Darrell E
              Posted August 25, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

              As best I can tell you are intentionally misrepresenting what I have said so that you can say what you want to say.

              In that case I’ll stop now since all I got left is ridicule.

            • S.K.Graham
              Posted August 26, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

              Darryl,

              I certainly am not trying to misrepresent you, but I can be as susceptible to miscommunication as the next person. Going back to the beginning however, my original comment somewhat conflated my own views with my representation of Quinn’s views, leading to subsequent confusion as to what was being critiqued and why. In any event she did not contradict herself — which is not the same as saying I agree with her.

        • MosesZD
          Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink

          Do you think some Evangelical or hard-shell Baptist will teach their children positive things about Mormonism? Do you honestly believe they’re going to expose their children to the Mormon Satan?

          Evangelicals think Mormons are cultists and NOT Christians. The think Catholicism is the Church of the Whore of Babylon. They think moderate and liberal Christians are going to hell.

          They’re NOT going to teach their children these things because they won’t want them contaminated.

          I don’t see any religious followers, except for some of the Unitarians and related (about 3/10ths of 1% of all nominal Christians) are going to follow this pie-in-the-sky interpretation you’re assigning. (The Unitarians do this every other year in their Youth Religious Education program, I know this from experience as I sent my daughter to it…)

          And we can run this exercise for most major denominations. Very few parents, in my experience, ever expose their children to the “contamination” of the possibility that other faiths might be “true.”

          • S.K.Graham
            Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

            “I don’t see any…”

            Then you are blind… or not looking. Perhaps you are so angry at the religious in general that you completely shut them out and demonize them.

            In practically the same breath as you tell me about all the moderate & liberal christians who the fundagelicals think are not real christians, you then tell me there are no open minded christians except the libertarians. You have no idea what you are talking about. You will find a great many of the liberal/moderate christians willing to have their children learn about other faiths. They are not trying to block the teaching of evolution, and so forth. Most of them probably agree that school has no business doing prayers or any other promotion of religion. You seem to have closed yourself off into a black&white world of atheists+agnostics(+unitarians?) on one side, and “them”, the evil religious, on the other side.

            Even if your final point is true that all religious parents will isolate their children from “contamination”… why do you think I say they do not have the *right* to do this. It is an opinion on public policy. When did I say, they don’t have the right, but just sit back and do nothing? Saying they do not have the right, means there should be *law* in place such that egregious cases at the very least can be prosecuted. Got it? And yes, by all means keep criticizing. Sheesh.

            You seem so ready to fly off the handle with outraged counter-attack, you don’t bother to read my point. All I did was point out that Jerry was mistaken in saying Quinn contradicted herself.

    • Tulse
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      Parents should not, for example, be permitted to threaten their children in order to coerce them to conform to religious norms or to force them to profess specific beliefs. Weather teaching about hell and damnation constitutes a “threat” of this nature would be a tricky legal question.

      Gee, ya think?

      Religion is all about coercion and threat. And, from the perspective of the religious, teaching about secular values and other religions is profoundly dangerous to the eternal wellbeing of their children — if you really respect religious freedom, are you going to demand that parents endanger their kids’ very souls?

      Your approach is precisely what one would expect from an accommodationist who doesn’t really take the content of religious belief seriously. You’re treating doctrine as if it were merely opinion or preference, as if parents were demanding that their kids never eat brussels sprouts or only listen to country music. That’s the patronizing, “everyone has funny opinions” approach that completely misunderstands the force of belief for believers. For such people it would be like saying “Parents shouldn’t be able to threaten their children in order to keep them from playing in the street and taking heroin.”

      This is what frustrates me so much about most accommodationists — they really don’t believe that other people have genuine religious beliefs.

      • S.K.Graham
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        Weather teaching about hell and damnation constitutes a “threat” of this nature would be a tricky legal question.

        Gee, ya think?

        I specifically made the point you emphasize *because* it is clear that even what parents merely teach act as a coercive threat. BUT it is a tricky question as to how much power you want to give to the state. Do we really want the government to have the power to prevent parents from simply telling their children what they believe to be true? I have some sympathy for categorizing the worst of hellfire & damnation as “threatening speech” that is not protected free speech. BUT, then again, the parents are not threatening what they would do, they are *warning* their children about what they believe is a very real danger from another source. Is it a “threat” every time someone, out of honest belief, warns you of a danger that does not in fact exist?

        Religion is all about coercion and threat.

        That is just absurd. *Some* religion is like that.

        If you believe all religion is like that, then, because coercion and threats are violations of human rights more fundamental than freedom of religion, you must oppose first amendment freedom of religion and support government imposed secularism, much like the Soviet Union and Chairman Mau’s China.

        Your sampling of religions is limited and biased. I happened to grow up in a religion considerably less threatening than the peer pressure at high school. I’m an atheist now. And yes I am aware of the wacko hellfire/damnation varieties of religion and I do equate the worst of that with “abuse”.

        This is what frustrates me so much about most accommodationists

        This particular point is about a public policy, not about whether we atheists, while exercising our own free speech, should (or should not) criticize or ridicule religions. OF COURSE we should criticize religion, and the law should ensure that parents cannot excessively isolate their children from such criticism.

        — they really don’t believe that other people have genuine religious beliefs.

        Evidently they understand that there is a much wider range of religious beliefs and the degree to which the beliefs are adhered to than you (for one) realize.

        • Tulse
          Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink
          Religion is all about coercion and threat.

          That is just absurd. *Some* religion is like that.

          Name one religion that does not suggest certain behaviours will be supernaturally rewarded and/or other behaviours will be supernaturally punished, or that believers should or should not behave in a certain way (with such strictures enforced by the rest of the religious community).

          If you believe all religion is like that, then, because coercion and threats are violations of human rights more fundamental than freedom of religion

          Coercion and threats are not necessarily violations more fundamental — it depends on proportion. A religion that says you won’t go to heaven unless you tithe is less of a problem than one that says all gays should be killed.

          • S.K.Graham
            Posted August 25, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

            Look if the “coercion” is so mild that you do not consider it a violation of rights, then why call it “coercion”. Call it pressure or persuasion. Your initial “All religion…” had clear implication that is was all of the “really bad” kind of coercion/threat. If there are milder forms such that it is “OK” (from a human rights perspective) for religions to do that, you clearly were avoiding acknowledging such in the first place.

            If you don’t disagree with any of the following, we don’t really have much disagreement. These are my own positions, not my attempt to represent Quinn’s except to say she didn’t contradict herself:

            (1) Religion should not be considered immune from criticism.
            (2) Quinn did not contradict herself.
            (3) Religious instruction should be kept out of schools. If it must go on, keep it in the home/church. This does not mean as atheists we should encourage it, per se.
            (4) Parents’ rights’ to isolate and/or coercively indoctrinate their children should have legal limits which hopefully can be enforced.
            (5) BUT parents should also not be excessively restricted in their right to act on their conscience as regards the rearing of their children.

            I will add the following which you might disagree with:

            (6) As atheist we should recognize the broad range of religious views and varying degrees of openmindedness among the religious. For the sake of our own goals and ideals we should carefully consider who we want to make enemies by means of caustic ridicule and who we want to keep as friends by toning it down to friendly humor and calm debate. Of the former, I’d say only those who would call us “enemy” regardless of how mild our criticism was.

    • Jolo
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      So you want to force children to go to a secular school part time?

      Good luck on that…

      My old boss homeschooled his kids because he was a YEC and “Christian schools don’t teach enough religion”. Can you imagine him allowing his children to go to a secular school?

      • S.K.Graham
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

        Yes. I did not say it would be an easy sort of law to pass.

        But it might be a good compromise between the state completely usurping parental rights and protecting children from abusive religious indoctrination.

        I think every child has a right to *know* about the basic rules and rights they have in our society and every child has a right and perhaps an obligation to learn some minimum basic objective facts about the world, whether or not those facts contradict the religion they are being taught by their parents.

        I would oppose obligatory full-time public/secular education, but yes a certain minimum obligatory public education might not be a bad idea.

  12. Doc Bill
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Let’s get right down to it. Claiming “victory” in the recent ruling blocking federal funds in embryonic stem cell research:

    “Embryonic stem cell research is irresponsible and scientifically unworthy,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council,adding that the NIH guidelines “implemented a plan that forced taxpayers to foot the bill for research that is human embryo destructive.”

    How nice and polite should we be to good old Tony? Excuse me, Tony, but I believe you misunderstand. Or, let’s agree to disagree and discuss this rationally. Tony, you’re fibbing again, you naughty little boy!

    I don’t think Tony and the rest of the tigers are going to change their point of view. I don’t think they care one whit if this research will lead to a cure for spinal injuries, or diabetes or Alzheimer’s. They only care about their religious belief and once this issue is “sewn up” they’ll move on to the next, and the next and the next.

    However, pointing out that their superstition leads to death and suffering would be rude, wouldn’t it?

    • Tulse
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council

      PZ has a handy tip: Whenever a religious group as the word “family” in its name, you can get a more accurate description by substituting “patriarchy”, as in “Tony Perkins, president of the Patriarchy Research Council”.

    • nichole
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Disgusting that the only people who have grounds to sue are adult stem cell researchers, and that they have the balls to do so…Fucking traitors. Doctors James Sherely of Watertown, Massachusetts, and Theresa Diesher of Seattle – SHAME ON YOU!! You have to compete for funding just like EVERYBODY ELSE.

  13. Adey
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Quinn O’Neill says,
    “Religious freedom means that individuals have the right to embrace religious beliefs of their own choosing.”

    This does not mean they have the right to force others to believe as they do. If they keep their particular brand of woo to themselves and keep it out of our schools and politics these arguments would not be occuring. It is not we atheists who are the problem, it is all the right-wing religiots of whatever creed who would force their views on us.

    Rant over.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      She gets it absolutely wrong. Religious freedom means you can practice your religion. It doesn’t mean you will be immune from criticism. She has no clue what she is talking about.

  14. Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    This may be taking a somewhat moderate stance, but I think there is a difference between “being a dick” and criticizing irrationality.

    The “don’t be a dick” argument is one that has merit, imo, but it doesn’t mean that you should stop doing what you’re doing. It simply means to take a deeper look at how you’re doing it.

    Religion definitely should not get a free pass, for all of the reasons listed above. But the question is, how do we go about “maximizing rationality” without completely alienating people?

    • Sigmund
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      On the surface of it, the ‘don’t be a dick’ point is both obvious and trivial. If its the case of pointing out that one shouldn’t use insult and personal ridicule as a primary tactic of approach towards opponents then isn’t that obvious to everyone. I think there are some rare antisocial types hanging out on the atheist forums that have these tendencies (insult first, think later) but its a tiny minority and not a tactic that is advocated by the most well known atheists.
      Perhaps we can add to Phils suggestions by pointing out that its also a bad idea to go to your bank manager to ask for a mortgage and to greet him by kicking him swiftly in the testicles.
      It’s also a good idea to avoid vomiting on the lap of your prospective Mother-in-Law on your first meeting.
      How about soaking your contact lenses in chilli sauce before you put them on? Terrible idea.

      • latsot
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        > Perhaps we can add to Phils
        > suggestions by pointing out
        > that its also a bad idea to go
        > to your bank manager to ask for
        > a mortgage and to greet him by
        > kicking him swiftly in the
        > testicles.

        This is a nice counter, which I might steal and use as if I made it up myself. It emphasises the fact that that Phil stretches the idea to bizarre lengths. Not being a dick is generally good advice, but torturing the general desire for good behaviour into a set of rules for how to be a skeptic as dictated by Phil is pretty repugnant.

      • Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        Come to think of it, calling my potential employers “baby rapers” during my last interview probably wasn’t such a good idea. In my defence, I thought they were looking for dicks to staff their key positions.

      • Rob
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        No, it’s not trivial.

        In many’s views, an atheist *existing* is being a dick.

    • latsot
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      I’d argue that skeptics should make the best use of the skills they have and perhaps moderate their goals accordingly. It would hardly hurt if we all developed new skills, but I’m not sure how it helps for us all to aspire to lofty goals that we can’t necessarily achieve.

      Let’s all make the best of the skills we have in the way we see fit. I don’t see why we need to coordinate our activities or toe a party line unless we want to and we shouldn’t roll our eyes at people who want to do things differently.

      I don’t really care whether some people are alienated. Do you? I mean, does it actually matter?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      I take the tack that the “being a dick” argument is a phallacy of slippery-slope, in the context of “criticizing the subject, not criticizing the person”. Especially pernicious since religion is defended by special pleading in the first place.

      Going to extremes brings out the problem, that there are no hard and fast rules of “dickhood”. People may feel victimized without real basis. In fact, Plait has elevated that to both sides, as he tries to substantiate his feelings and his argument by “cold reading” – if anyone feels characterized or discuss in those terms, clearly they were the wrongdoers in his eyes! [Well, he is a dick.]

      • latsot
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        nod.

      • Tulse
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        I take the tack that the “being a dick” argument is a phallacy

        I agree it is a very fellatious argument.

        • Darrell E
          Posted August 25, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

          chuckle

  15. Dave
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    “It makes people mutilate the genitals of their daughters…”

    … and sons? Why is circumcision not seen in the same negative light as female genital mutilation.

    • latsot
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      > … and sons? Why is circumcision
      > not seen in the same negative
      > light as female genital mutilation.

      Um… because there is NO COMPARISON. Male circumcision is silly, unnecessary and occasionally deleterious but it doesn’t do *anything like* the harm that female circumcision does. If you have the stomach for it, do a google image search and you’ll change your tune in a heartbeat.

      • Dave
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        No tune to change. I wasn’t disagreeing with the egregious nature of FGM but asking for some consideration for those of us with dodgy circumcisions.

      • Tacroy
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        Because there’s always confusion about this: female genital mutilation* is about equivalent to cutting off the glans on a male, though the analogy isn’t quite correct as the urethra doesn’t run through the clitoris. However, in terms of nerve damage and ability to enjoy intercourse they’re mostly equal.

        Female circumcision, in order to be even roughly equivalent to its male counterpart, would have to involve removing the clitoral hood which (IIRC) is almost never the case.

        *it’s nothing at all like circumcision, so you really shouldn’t call it that – it’s like saying “disabled civilian units” instead of “dead people”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      It is still amputation of functional tissue for non-medical reason. If done on sons, without them being able to make the decision as being of age of majority.

      There are enough reasons to see it in the same negative light, it can only be so bad before it becomes illegitimate.

      • latsot
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        Oh boo fucking hoo. Yes, I advocate that idiots keep their pinking shears away from cocks. They (cocks, not pinking shears) are perfectly functional and as pretty as they’re going to get without modification.

        It’s an outrage that parents see fit to cut bits off them without permission, especially because that act is intended to filter you into a particular religion and the lack of it filters you out of it. All very pointless, divisive, silly, very slightly dangerous and come the revolution, defunct. No argument about that.

        But seriously, get over yourself. Does it prevent or at least severely limit the enjoyment of sex for the rest of your life? No. Does it carry a significant risk of infection, bleeding and other medical complications? Not really. Is it done for the express reason of subjugating your sex and forcing it to be subservient to the other? No.

        I think we can all be against modifying the genitals of any children with sharp objects and – traditionally – teeth, but let’s prioritise. Men don’t get to complain about their foreskins being whipped off while women are getting their clits smashed between two housebricks.

    • nichole
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      It is, the difference is the extent of the damage. Why can’t anyone every mention FGM without some guy chiming in about his poor wounded pee-pee?

      • latsot
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        Im guessing idiocy. Tacroy, for instance, seems quite good at it.

  16. Kevin
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    “…so long as the beliefs don’t infringe on the rights of others…”

    Well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

    Religious beliefs inherently, deliberately, and specifically infringe on the rights of others. Don’t use condoms. Condemn and ostracize gay people (or worse). Make females a subjugated class (really, ALL religions do this, except maybe the Wiccans). Put illogical barricades in the way of curing dread diseases (geez, even Francis Collins gets THIS).

    The minute religions give up on their insistence that they can tell me that I can’t have a mimosa at a Sunday morning brunch, and each and every other proscription inherent in their dogmas, then I’ll start respecting religion.

    Until then, it’s just cover for nasty, mean-spirited people trying to tell others what to do.

    • Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Until then, it’s just cover for nasty, mean-spirited people trying to tell others what to do.

      Worse, it’s not merely telling others what (not) to do; it’s deciding that you think you’d like to (not) do this-and-so, but you know you’re too weak-willed to actually follow through with it. So you make it a universal rule forcing everybody else to (not) do it as well, in the hopes that that’ll be enough to make you (not) do it.

      And then, of course, you go ahead and do it (or not) anyway, even after you’ve convinced everybody else that your batshit-insane rule is a good idea.

      Why else do you think that it’s always the secret drunks who are the most vociferous proponents of prohibition, the johns who work so hard to put prostitutes behind bars, the closeted homosexuals who are the most outwardly homophobic, the cokeheads who so loudly bemoan the crack epidemic…?

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Kevin
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Agreed and agreed.

        (Gad, I must be slipping. I actually agreed with someone today. But of course, that’s only because he agreed with me.)

    • truthspeaker
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, but just because 98.7% of denominations propagate those beliefs doesn’t mean you have to tar the other 1.3% with the same broad brush!
      ;)

  17. Darrell E
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    I think you are wrong. Do you claim to know Quinn’s intended meaning better than Jerry? That may even be so but, if that is so then both you and Quinn are either being disingenuous or a bit naive.

    For what other reason do you think so many theists would like to see religion in our public schools? It is precisely because they want to “protect” their children from cetain secular influences. They want their children to learn the ways of their religion and prevent them from learning anything that may cause their children to doubt their religious teachings or corrupt their instilled beliefs.

    That is a pretty good working definition of “systematic indoctrination”. I don’t understand how you can rationalize your way to Jerry misrepresenting Quinn on this. Maybe you do know what Quinn really means, but if Jerry did misrepresnt Quinn it ain’t his fault, because in that case Quinn just did a piss poor job of explaining herself.

    • Darrell E
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      Ah crap. Please ignore this post, it was misplaced. I have put a copy of it in its correct place, as a response to comment #11.

  18. latsot
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Jerry said:
    > Like Plait, she seems to feel that we
    > should go easier on religion than on
    > other forms of superstition.

    Does Phil say this? I disagree with his argument on dickishness but I’m not sure I’ve heard him say that religion should have an easier time. I got the impression from the DBAD talk that he kinda-sorta meant this, but has he actually said it?

    It doesn’t excuse his talk either way, of course. The fact that people have inevitably started using the talk as a primary source of evidence for skeptic dickishness is something that Phil should apologise for. I’m guessing that everyone here saw it coming…. didn’t Phil? Why not?

    I feel sure that we’re going to hear for *decades* how skeptics and atheists are bad people and their rudeness hurts their cause because Phil Plait, one time president of the JREF (although you wouldn’t know it, what did he actually *do* as president?) said so.

    I’m going to go right ahead and claim without evidence that Phil has harmed the cause of skepticism by putting this nonsense into the hands of fools who will inevitably misuse it.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      I don’t think Phil has ever actually said this.

    • Tulse
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure I’ve heard him say that religion should have an easier time

      Compare his concern with civility in religious matters to his responses about the “moon landing hoax”, e.g.,:

      Bad TV: he calls claims “utter bilge”, “complete and utter nonsense”, “disingenuous”, “disgusting” and “particularly loathsome”.

      An account of a speech Phil gave: “I have only one remark for the Bad Astronomer: sometimes he goes too hard for it. All Moon-hoaxers’ claims I have seen so far are already ridiculous enough. Is it really necessary to build jokes around stuff that is already laughable on its own?”

      • latsot
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        I’m not sure what I’m comparing it with. Im not surprised that Phil is sensitive to moon-landing issues and why shouldn’t he be? There’s not a movie with a computer in it that doesn’t age me by a decade due to rage. We all have our hobby horses.

        But we haven’t yet established that he gives religion an easier time of it, have we?

        • Tulse
          Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink

          So you think that dickishness doesn’t include calling beliefs and claims “utter bilge”, “complete and utter nonsense”, “disingenuous”, “disgusting” and “particularly loathsome”? Really?

          • latsot
            Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink

            Well I didn’t say that, did I?

            My main point, which you have frothingly ignored, was that I’m not convinced that Phil has advocated an easier ride to religion than to any other nonsense. Don’t put words in my mouth, you dick.

            • Tulse
              Posted August 25, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

              My main point, which you have frothingly ignored, was that I’m not convinced that Phil has advocated an easier ride to religion than to any other nonsense.

              Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you — it seems clear to me that Phil is being hypocritical in saying dickish things about moon hoaxers, using language that he presumably wouldn’t use with the religious. In that sense he is clearly (to me) taking the implicit position that religion should be given “an easier ride” than moon hoaxing. Do you not agree?

            • latsot
              Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

              > Perhaps I’ve
              > misunderstood you —
              > it seems clear to
              > me that Phil is
              > being hypocritical
              > in saying dickish
              > things about moon
              > hoaxers, using
              > language that he
              > presumably wouldn’t
              > use with the
              > religious. In that
              > sense he is clearly
              > (to me) taking the
              > implicit position
              > that religion
              > should be given “an
              > easier ride” than
              > moon hoaxing. Do
              > you not agree?

              “presumably”.

              You can pretend what people have said or you can quote what they’ve actually said. Way to take the bewilderingly former approach.

            • MosesZD
              Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

              You’re a fool. Many of us read, or used to read, Bad Astronomy. He routinely has bashed certain groups. Multiple people have attested to it.

              You don’t believe us, look for yourself you dick-move apologist troll.

            • Tulse
              Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

              You can pretend what people have said or you can quote what they’ve actually said. Way to take the bewilderingly former approach.

              I certainly am bewildered, because I clearly don’t know what Plait means by dickishness if terms like “utter bilge”, “complete and utter nonsense”, “disingenuous”, “disgusting” and “particularly loathsome” don’t count.

    • MosesZD
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      latsot
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:19 am

      Jerry said:
      > Like Plait, she seems to feel that we should go easier on religion than on other forms of superstition.

      Does Phil say this? I disagree with his argument on dickishness but I’m not sure I’ve heard him say that religion should have an easier time. I got the impression from the DBAD talk that he kinda-sorta meant this, but has he actually said it?

      Said it? No. Acted it? Yes. Anti-vaxxers and the “moon landing was a lie” idiots can set him off into full dick mode.

      Which is one of a number of reasons why I find his DBAD view laughable. Based on his willingness to be a dick to certain fringe groups, I think it is fair to say he really means:

      “keep your mouth shut in the presence of the religious and maybe they’ll learn better.”

      I think that fits well because, as most of us have experienced, vast swaths of the religious take ANY contradiction of their personal interpretation of their religion as a ‘dick move.’ Therefore, the only way to not make a move that would not be a dick move is to “shut up.”

      Case in point, Richard Dawkins. If there is a less dickish (i.e. boorish or badly behaved) non-apologist/non-DBAD person in this issue, I don’t know who it could be. And yet people routinely castigate him for his beliefs and delivery of them.

      • latsot
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        Well, I agree, which is one of the reasons I find your apparent categorisation of me as a fool and a dick a bit stupid. Fortunately, I couldn’t give the slightest fuck what you think of me or my approach to skeptical or atheistic behaviour. I’ll go right ahead and do what I was already doing regardless of what people like Phil or anyone else think I ought to do. If that’s OK with you, of course.

  19. Neil
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Like most atheists, I approach people who benignly practice their beliefs the same way I would approach someone who benignly practices his belief that he has elves in his garden. Bemused tolerance. I know I’m not going to change them, I’m not going to try.

    That is entirely different than giving credence to their beliefs, or tolerating the indoctrination of such beliefs in children, or the promotion of such beliefs in matters of public policy. Unfortunately, the latter is the truck and trade of most organized religions.

    • Kevin
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      I may roll my eyes (especially at the more woo-based stuff like astrology)…but I agree with your approach.

      And I’m one of the nastier people in the blogosphere. A true Gnu Atheist with sharp hooves and curly pointed horns who charges head-down at the slightest provocation.

      • Marella
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

        You go Tru Gnu!!

  20. NewEnglandBob
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    It’s useless to attack it because it’s ubiquitous and entrenched, and we’ll only alienate people if we try.

    I guess that is why slavery is still around. I guess that is why women still can not vote. Quinn O’Neill is one very stupid person.

    …and Plait should know better.

    • Darrell E
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      She does come off as pretty naive. Most all her arguments are cliche. Many are even religious cliches. Maybe she is just young?

    • Tulse
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Quinn O’Neill is one very stupid person

      So strident! You’ve made me clutch my pearls!

      • latsot
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        My pearls hurt :(

  21. Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    But irrationality has its perks. Delusions can provide comfort.

    Wow. Could she possibly get any more condescendingly smugly dickishly insultingly “smarter-than-thou” to the religious?

    No, seriously. As the BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy on USENET’s alt.atheism, I don’t think I’ve ever insulted even a single individual as brutally as Ms. O’Neill insults all religious people. Even the vitriol aimed at blacks in America during the Emancipation and Civil Rights eras doesn’t come close; racists at least had the courtesy to claim that the objects of their derision were forever fixed in their inferiority. Ms. O’Neill has the gall to claim that they could easily ascend to her level of enlightenment…but she’d be so much happier if we treat believers as drain-bammaged children in order to keep them artificially dumb and easy to manipulate.

    This woman is powerfully evil, and extremely dangerously so. She is not at all our ally; she is a cancer on the face of humanity. She is not our friend; nor is she anybody else’s, regardless of any protestations she might make to the contrary.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Tulse
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Could she possibly get any more condescendingly smugly dickishly insultingly “smarter-than-thou” to the religious?

      This. For all their claims of civility, it is the accommodationists who are far more insulting to the religious with their attitude that they are not capable of engaging in serious rational debate, that they need a security blanket (unlike us sophisticated elites), that the actual content of their beliefs is not worth challenging. This is no more than Marx’s “opiate of the masses” stated in a more palatable form.

      • Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        It occurs to me that one of the fundamental differences between “accommodationists” and “confrontationists” is the relative values put on style and substance.

        I’m a professional classical musician (amongst other things). I’d rather have a smelly slob come up to me after a concert and tell me that that was some of the goddamned best shit he’s heard all fucking year than read a review the next day damning the concert with faint praise. That the accommodationists would choose otherwise does not endear them to me.

        But Ms. O’Neill has taken it a step or three further. She forges sugar-candy knives and dreams of slowly twisting them but shallowly in her victims, leaving them to die agonizing deaths from infections. But those knives sure were deliciously sweet, weren’t they? And so needle-sharp you don’t even feel them going in.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink

          Like it or not, this is an extremely common tack used to apologists.
          No, of course I, an enlightened person, will not go on a looting spree, whether there is a god or not. But oh those benighted masses, don’t say a word about their delusions, because if they catch on, they will…
          They don’t even realize how offensive they are even as they accuse us of being loud mouthed and shrill.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

            On the contrary, they think they’re being nice.

          • MadScientist
            Posted August 25, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

            Being offensive? But they’re trying to *save* you! Go on, you know you want to believe in ceilingcat – you’ll be all hollow without him!

      • Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        Yeah, this seems more of “let those poor stupid folks have their religion, poor dears. They just can’t deal with reality like us smart people.”

        Arguing with religious people and against their beliefs treats them as equals, instead of treating them as mentally deficient.

        I also don’t get why religion is supposedly out of bounds for a skeptic. It’s the most common and arguably the most dangerous kind of woo around.

  22. Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Extremism in the name of reason is not nuts.

    Excellent review of a very foolish book. O’Neill should go read some John Locke or somebody and take a cold shower.

  23. sasqwatch
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    “It’s useless to attack it because it’s ubiquitous and entrenched, and we’ll only alienate people if we try.”

    I was wondering when I heard this argument before, when I remembered that this was suggested by our State Health Dept. in the mid 1990s regarding our local Chlamydia control effort.

  24. Eric MacDonald
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Why are people trying to damp down the criticism of religion? What purpose does it serve? Do they not realise how offensive it is to those who find religion offensive? To be told — I mean, just imagine this, if you will — that I may not criticise religion, because it is offensive to the religious, and, being offended, they’re not likely to change their minds: this is offensive to me. I find it deeply offensive. I am not convinced at all that these so-called moderates are right, nor am I convinced that they are being moderate at all. In fact, they are being immoderate, strident, shrill and abusive to those of us who think that a bit of anti-religious polemic is just what the doctor ordered at this point in history. And I find it really offensive to be told otherwise time after time. And it certainly isn’t going to get me to change my mind about my right, and, in fact, my duty, to criticise religion in season and out of season. Who the hell do these people think they are, anyway?

    Religion is simply stupid, and lots of people who are smart have religious beliefs. That’s a real conundrum. How is it possible to understand this allegiance to stupid beliefs by smart people? Well, there are lots of theories around, and some of them (like Pascal Boyer’s) seem pretty competent to answer the question, at least to a large degree. And yet scientists, like Francis Collins, despite the fact that he must be familiar with the contemporary scientific study of religion, ignores all this, and adheres to the idea that a man was crucified some 2000 years ago, rose from the dead, and gives him and his fellow believers new life. And he believes this despite the fact that this foolish belief leads people to say all sorts of stupid things about their fellow human beings, and even, as Collins knows, to question the validity of the findings of the science of which he is an expert. Well, no wonder. If he can’t pay attention to scientific findings when it affects his grasp on faith, why should he expect others to pay attention when they feel that science undermines their faith?

    It simply beggars imagination that this question — Shall we have a dispute about religion? — should be asked in all seriousness, and answered by so many people in the negative, often by the very people whose business it is to ask questions about the nature of things. What’s wrong with this picture? Have these people never heard of criticism or polemic or investigation before? Of course they have. So what’s their problem? Religion is, at this particular juncture in history, particularly dangerous. It has caused, and is threatening cause enormous social harm. And here are people whose job it is to ask and answer questions and to seek the truth, and what do they do? They tell us to shut up and let the religious alone to do their damage without interference. It is simply beyond reason to imagine why people should think this is even a remotely reasonable or sensible position to adopt, and yet it is being repeated again and again. Total madness, and it’s all a result of religion and its lies.

    • oldfuzz
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      As a religious person who participates in a UU community whose basis is love and service to others and the community, a group including theists and non-theists, gays and straights, I don’t mind being stupid.

      Ignorance is problematic and the rationally religious who try to prove their religious views contrary to scientific finds are perpetuating ignorance.

      Stupid, however, is the condition of facing that which is beyond knowing. Love may be the most stupid condition of all.

  25. Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It’s not clear whether or not the world would be a better place if religion were to disappear. But, I think it’s pretty clear the world would be a better place if there were less religious influence and religious deference than there is now, and certainly less political influence of religion.

    O’Neill’s concerns might be quite valid in some distant future when religion is completely absent from the public square and the remaining religions are virtually all like the Unitarians or the Quakers. Then we can talk about whether those delusions are useful or even beneficial.

    I’ll make O’Neill a deal — she gets to mention this subject again once 98% of Americans support same-sex marriage. Until then, her point is meaningless hair-splitting.

  26. Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    What I think Quinn O’Neill and others really fail to understand is that strong and even strident opposition to religion IS the moderate position.

    I’m often reminded these days of a comic I once saw (Google has failed me for a link). It depicted a person who required the killing on 12 kittens for his superstition. A rational person steps in an flatly tells him that he can’t kill them. An accommodating fellow then suggests a compromise: He can kill 6 of the kittens! Isn’t that fair?

    • Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      Perhaps this is the comic you were thinking of?

      http://www.idrewthis.org/d/20070815.html

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        He, the centrist also said that the compromise would make “everybody” happy. He was a dick.

        • Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink

          No; Phil Plait would be giving the “centrist” a free pass and calling the cat the dick.

          Of course, all this discussion does is ignore the fact that the elephant wants to blend every kitten it can get its trunk on. One might say that it’s his villainy that’s the real…um…elephant…in the room.

          And that’s the real harm done by the accommodationists. By focussing all attention on the cat’s choice of words, the Overton window gets moved so far in favor of kitten blending that merely speaking ill of reductions in the numbers of kittens being blended becomes worse than actually blending kittens.

          Fuck that shit. Blending kittens is evil, and if insisting that nobody should even be allowed to take a scalpel to a single kitten’s smallest toe makes me a dick, then I’ll take great pride in being the biggest dick I can be.

          Cheers,

          b&

      • Tulse
        Posted August 25, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        And there’s also this xkcd classic.

        • MosesZD
          Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

          lol. Good link.

  27. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    The patronizing of religious people here is odious. This example tells us very clearly what we shouldn’t do.

    The most rational objective, then, is not necessarily to have everyone be completely rational but rational to the extent that optimizes well-being.

    Unfortunately what optimizes well-being for the individual doesn’t optimize well-being all. The philosophers that promote utilitarianism is clear on that.

    Conversely there are many religious practices that are selfish and harmful to others. Psychics and astrologers are good examples, as they scam people out of many while threatening to compound problems. In many cases scam artists are persecuted by law.

    In the end, the arguments to go easy on religion all boil down to this claim: it’s the most common form of superstition. It’s useless to attack it because it’s ubiquitous and entrenched, and we’ll only alienate people if we try. This is the only explanation for why those who can work up such a sweat about creationism in the public schools are so quick to defend faith in general.

    Usually when people boils down arguments they end up being a strawman, as opposed to, say, Dawkins when he surgically removes the dead flesh of theology to get to the guts of religious factual claims.

    This analysis would need some more surgery to avoid being a strawman, since all what would be needed to be an accommodationist would be a belief that short term tactics are more important than long term strategy. Such people may well hope that religion will eventually shrink.

    However, certainly this can be what motivates many or most accommodationists. And it is so wrong!

    What if the first greek democracies (limited though they were) had yielded to such belief in the face of millennium of strongman rule, or what if the first free societies (limited though they were) had yielded to such belief in the face of millennium of slavery? And, as noted already, what would such an accommodationist have to say to today’s same-sex marriage seeking gay couples?

    Bad argument, indeed.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Many splling rrors. Worst: “they scam people out of many” – out of money.

    • Tulse
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      There is also optimizing for short-term good versus long-term good. Religious belief may make some individuals feel good, but it is at the expense of denigrating reason in the long term, with all the attendant negative impacts for society.

  28. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    More tidbits I found:

    If we encourage people to think for themselves, we must accept that others will come to different conclusions.

    Acceptance of a freedom does not mean acceptance of conclusions or holding them reasonable.

    There is little evidence to suggest that verbal abuse is an effective persuasion tactic when it comes to irrational thinking.

    Ah, now there is a demand of evidence! That shoe goes on the other foot.

    The battle over religion and rationality is one that is fought most viciously by people who are strongly polarized on their respective sides. The battle, however, is more likely to be won by moderates.

    All the more reason for extremists to push their effort in moving the Overton window – the majority isn’t easily moved. The day Dawkins is taken for a moderate is perhaps the day people will stop pushing?

  29. Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    O’Neill quotes (approvingly) a particularly fatuous claim by Michael Shermer:

    “As long as religion does not threaten science and freedom, we should be respectful and tolerant because our freedom to disbelieve is inextricably bound to the freedom of others to believe.”

    That “because” is ridiculous, because the freedom of others to believe does not depend on the respect of other people for the beliefs in question. That’s a very popular meme these days but it’s just nonsense – and if taken seriously it’s a major threat to free speech and free inquiry.

    • Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Indeed.

      As I like to put it, the Klan is free to march around in cut-up bedsheets chanting their love of hatred.

      And the rest of us have two imperative moral obligations when they do: first and foremost to protect their right to do so, and — almost-but-not-quite-as-important — to laugh at them for dressing up in bad ghost costumes and sneer at them for being idiotic anti-social fucktards.

      The Church isn’t quite as dickishly odious as the Klan…but, by sheer weight of numbers, they do “just happen” to be far more devastating to society. You do the math.

      In both cases, of course, the right to preach violence and harm must not not be confused with the right to practice violence and harm. The Klan is not free to hang dark-skinned people, and the Church should not be (but sadly is) free to fan the flames of the AIDS epidemic or shield from prosecution a small army of serial child rapists.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Darrell E
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Yes, you’ve got that right!

      That claim is just dead wrong right from the get go. When has religion ever not been a threat to science and freedom?

      Even if he is referring to specific cases instead of the general case the claim is still silly. Specific cases are not relevant at all when the general case is indeed that religion threatens science and freedom.

  30. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Gnu Atheist sez:

    “Gnu Accommodationism have faith in faith, but believe believers are delusional.

    Gnu OS casts: “ERROR: ILLFORMED RULE/STRATEGY: OBJECT IS DELUSIONAL.”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Corrected:

      Gnu Atheist sez:

      “Gnu Accommodationism have faith in faith, but believe believers are delusional.

      Gnu OS throws: “ERROR: ILLFORMED RULE/STRATEGY: OBJECT IS DELUSIONAL.”

  31. poke
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Somebody really needs to analyse this idea of a “comforting false belief.” I don’t think it makes any sense. To start with, it’s only an outsider, a non-believer, who can judge beliefs entirely by their consequences (positive or negative), since the believer himself holds a belief because he takes it to be true (he believe it). Taking something to be true is different than taking it to be useful or uplifting or comforting. We often say of fiction that it’s comforting or uplifting, for example. But we believe something because we hold it to be true.

    Presumably somebody who holds that there are “comforting false beliefs” either thinks that either: (a) people are making an unconscious decision to adopt certain false beliefs for their utility rather than their truth (otherwise why would they only adopt comforting false beliefs rather than any old false belief?); or (b) some false beliefs have come to appear true, via some sort of historical process, because of their utility. The former, I think, doesn’t get off the ground. I’m not even sure how you’d judge the utility of a false belief since the concepts of belief and truth are so deeply connected. The second approach is perhaps more reasonable: society has developed conditions under which we are able to see certain comforting false beliefs as true. The harmful false beliefs have been filtered out.

    But is there really any evidence for this? If religion, for example, now consists of only comforting false beliefs this has been a recent development (if it’s true at all) and, once again, the ability of an outsider to judge what are and are not comforting false beliefs does not imply a similar ability within the belief holders or within their community (via this historical process). Simply because I, as a middle-class atheist academic, can say that some forms of religious belief are harmless does not imply that the religious believers themselves hold those beliefs because they’re harmless. Rather, they hold them because they take them to be true, just as those people who hold their harmful false beliefs do. So my ability to make this judgement is of no consequence here.

    I think there’s a deep problem here. I think those who claim there are comforting false beliefs are confusing their own ability to differentiate harmless/comforting from harmful false beliefs with an ability within the believers themselves. I think it’s likely that there can be no such thing as a comforting false belief from the perspective of the believer and that it’s unlikely that there’s a social/historical mechanism at work elevating the believability of comforting false beliefs over harmful (or opportunistic or whatever) false beliefs. So, in that sense, you can never have a good or useful delusion. It just doesn’t make sense.

  32. Billare
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    A request, Professor Coyne: Could you please blog about the new Nowak & Wilson Nature paper claiming kin selection is an “empty theory”? You posted some talks a few months ago in which Mark Pagel and Samir Okasha stressed that kin selection was essential to understanding that group selection is a mere “generalization” of ordinary, individual selection, so this claim is coming as quite a surprise to me and you might be able to clarify the issues.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      Oh, man, you’ve made me wish I was at work, where I could read the piece, and that’s a very uncool thing to do. But I second your request.

  33. Wayne Robinson
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Agree with what you say, but did you mean; “But of course for O’Neill, who doesn’t mention the bad effects of religion, all faiths are like the Quakers”.

    Didn’t you mean; “… all faiths are NOT like the Quakers …”?

    • Posted August 25, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      No…His point is that we (people who aren’t always demanding respect for religious beliefs) know that not all religions are like the Quakers, but O’Neill doesn’t, or pretends not to.

  34. MadScientist
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I long for a world where we simply let the fuzzy-minded make shit up and actually believe it. I think it would be a fantastic world – overpopulated due to fear of divine retribution for using a condom, people flying into buildings everyday rather than the usual boring flying into airports – ah yes, it will be a marvelous world indeed.

  35. Patrick Q
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    I find criticizing irrational religious beliefs to be comforting and life enhancing. It is really disrespectful of O’Neill to criticize my behavior.

    O’Neill argues that speaking out against religion is irrational, but then goes on to say that we should respect each others irrationalities. This seems not to be an argument against criticizing religion at all.

    • Darrell E
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      Good point. Yet another contradiction.

    • articulett
      Posted August 25, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      Yes, to paraphrase Dawkins, it is one of my great pleasures to see a woo or a tone troll being cleverly eviscerated on a skeptics forum.

      Mocking religion is a way that many of us former believers let go of the indoctrination that once squelched our thinking. I often wonder how many people believe because they are afraid “bad things will happen” if they don’t. The more outspoken atheists gives such people courage to question their faith, while those playing kissy-face with religion give the impression that religious woo is different or better than other woo- something worth respecting. I think it just makes believers feel more entitled as they imagine themselves more humble than those who goof on them.

      Besides, who doesn’t enjoy watching a blowhard fall on his (her) face? What bigger blowhard can there be than someone who imagines they have the real super secret divine insight on the universe (unlike all those other believers of other myths). Plus, a dick telling others not to be dicks is great fodder for skewering from skeptics. If believers were smart, they could use the butthurt folk as examples of how NOT to be. My suggestion is that they avoid skeptics and skeptic sites if questioning their faith hurts their feelings– or if they want to give their opinion but not be subject to our opinions in return. Skeptics should not have to worry about the magical or pseudoscience proclivities of other skeptics on a skeptical forum! Are religious woo worrying about skeptics of their woo on their forums?

      And if atheist facebook friends are a problem, unfriend them. This is especially important if a woo values their faith over truth or is afraid that losing faith means losing their chance at salvation. It’s also important if the faith can’t stand up to scrutiny. Atheists are constantly having religious babble inflicted upon them and you don’t see them claiming persecution or asking for special treatment. All I’m asking is that religious folks be as private with their religious beliefs as they want all those other wacky religions to be.

      Until there is evidence of this growing group of vitriolic atheists who, unprovoked, shout epithets at people, I’m going to assume that referring to such is akin to claiming there’s a growing band of gay people out there trying to push their gay agenda on the rest of America– that is, it’s an alarmist lie propagated by religion.

      And until the “cause” we’re supposed to be interested in is defined and the evidence is provided that certain behaviors hurt “the cause” or evidence is provided that “accommodationism” helps “the cause”, I’m going to assume that those claiming such are confirming their biases in the same way I did when I was a believer in belief.

  36. Jonathan Masters
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    An excellent article Jerry – I really enjoyed the rational argument. Please keep doing your stuff – I learn so much from you and Richard and PZ etc.

  37. articulett
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m so tired of the accommodationists bending over backwards to ignore the real dangers of faith (e.g. parents using prayer instead of medicine, holy wars, etc.) while imagining great harm coming from the WORDS of those who speak out against it.

    If this writer’s “goals” were to achieve greater well being, I think she failed. But if her goal was to make herself feel superior, I suspect she achieved it as she knocked down straw men.

  38. Michael Kingsford Gray
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Nixon was a Quaker and, at the same time, responsible for chronic genocide in Vietnam.

    • Posted August 26, 2010 at 4:19 am | Permalink

      Yep, belonging to a “peaceful” religion is no guarantee or even predictor of peaceful actions.

      I mean, the Japanese were Buddhist when they started WW2. Secular Japan has been infinitely more peaceful.

  39. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 26, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Accommodationist strategies goes against US poll results:

    Those are the some of the findings from a series of nationally representative surveys of approximately 500 Americans, conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) at three times over the past year. The surveys, funded by ISR and by the Carnegie Foundation, were conducted as part of the monthly U-M/Thomson Reuters Surveys of Consumers in June and December 2009, and in March 2010. A fourth survey will be conducted in September. [...]

    Only about a third of Americans agreed that freedom is being left along to do what they want. But over 90 percent of Americans agreed that freedom meant being able to express unpopular ideas without fearing for their safety. “There was no difference between liberals and conservatives. The vast majority on both sides agreed,” Baker said.

    [My bold]

    This question is, much simplified, a matter of defining freedom of religion as [part of] actual “freedom” in the public view.

    • Posted August 26, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the link. The pdf is more interesting than the press release. One of my “favorite” questions (March 2010 results):

      [Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree, or neither agree nor disagree, with the following statement]: American children should be raised to believe in God.

      Strongly Agree: 23.6%
      Agree: 33.5%
      Neither: 23.1%
      Disagree: 16.2%
      Strongly Disagree: 3.6%

      That’s right, by a 57-20 margin, Americans believe all children should be raised to believe in God.

      To quote Professor Farnsworth, “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore”

  40. Deepak Shetty
    Posted August 26, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    “Astrology? Yawn. ”
    not in India atleast. Lots of harmful effects especially related to arranged marriages. And also helps immensely in proving “a fool and his money…”

  41. Posted August 27, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    IMHO, faith or belief in an after-life is the single-most cause of suffering and stupidity inflicted upon the human race, by the human race, and for several reasons:

    * It negates the immediacy and value of human life right here and right now.

    * It corrupts the collective unconscious of the species in such a way as to affect behavior. Believing in life-after-death and making the assumption people don’t really die, subconsciously legitimizes capital punishment and the death penalty, abortion, territorial wars, religious wars, turf wars, gang wars, terrorist attacks, ethnic cleansing, murder, suicide cults, political assassination, et al, since people aren’t really dying after all—they’re just continuing on in another stage of existence.

    * It allows people to postpone action in this life (whether humane or humanitarian) in favor of the life yet to come, allowing for political and religious boundaries, derision and division, separatism and succession. Hence there remains global hunger, border skirmishes, illiteracy, disease, poverty and pestilence, all because the problems of this world are deemed ultimately not as important when measured against the life yet to come. With the idea of an after-life always simmering in the back of people’s mind, they don’t try as hard to really instigate change in this world, strive for peace, alleviate suffering, fight for global changes. After all, eternal life starts at death so why should folks get all worked up over sixty or seventy years?

    * It offers people hope for a solution to their problems at some future time and enables them to not make a conscious effort to begin making the necessary changes or do the necessary work to make things better right here and now. It allows them to postpone taking responsibility for their own lives or education (since god will enlighten them and fix everything once they get to heaven) and permits them to sit on their hands in ignorance and inertia while life passes them by. Why make a serious search for truth if truth will be revealed on the other side?

    * It legitimizes the use of persecution and torture in the name of saving souls for the after-life.

    * It allows religious leaders to control their people by offering hope in the next life, promising rewards, threatening punishment, even sentencing eternal damnation (through papal bulls, excommunication) all by invoking interpreted church doctrine.

    * It assumes a mind-body (or soul-body) dichotomy, a disembodied spirit that is mystically and temporarily ‘housed’ in human flesh while blissfully ignoring the inescapable synthesis of each person’s material surroundings, environment, cultural prejudices, parental influences and biases, birth order, sex, physical appearance, shape, size, color, health, biochemistry, electrochemical reactions, stored memory, bones, flesh, blood, eyes, ears, mouth, and steady oxygen supply to shape personality. Everything we think we are we owe solely to the state of our flesh and empirical surroundings, a process impossible to remove from the intrinsic network of matter. With all the above in absence, what would remain exactly to “stand” in judgment before the throne of god, and what mechanisms (or lack thereof) would drive interaction with the divine inquisitor?

    * It rewards laziness, complacency, ignorance, superstition, irrationality, religious fervor, and blind faith with promises of an other-worldly victory and assurances of everlasting retribution. No need to accomplish anything of importance here and now—end world hunger, wage global peace, unify polarized religious belief system, teach critical thinking and practical reasoning—since our ‘true’ lives will start up only after we’re dead!

  42. Chris Wesling
    Posted August 27, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have any problem with people wanting religion for themselves. If it gives them comfort, God bless them.

    But I have a big problem when people attempt to impose their religious beliefs on others with regard to things like abortion, stem cell research, and science education. You think abortion is immoral? Fine, don’t get one. You think evolution is false? Fine, don’t evolve. But don’t try to make your beliefs part of public policy.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted August 27, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      Well, I *do* have a problem with people wanting religion for themselves.
      As with any sort of infantile magical thinking, it is absolutely inevitable that the intellectual laziness, and the immorality inherent in all religious dogmas, spills over into other aspects of behaviour, thereby secondarily affecting others.

  43. Posted August 27, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know where this started but I find it absolutely preposterous that those who pull the freedom of religion card are the same people who think the back of the cards says:

    This card also imbues the holder with the inability to be criticized.

    There’s freedom of religion & there’s freedom of speech. Free speech means I can say what I wish to whomever – as long as it doesn’t endanger people. e.g. yelling “Fire!” in a movie theatre.

  44. Posted August 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, amen and indeed!
    It is essential to mock religions as they mock reason and – humanity!


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