Another one bites the dust

Oh dear, oh dear. Many of our erstwhile allies are defecting to the ranks of accommodationists where, embraced by the warm hugs of the faithful, they give raspberries to the Gnu Atheists.  The most disappointing of these is Caspar Melville, editor of the very good British magazine New Humanist.  I read it all the time.  Two days ago, confessing himself “bored” by the GA, he wrote an article for the Guardian, “Beyond New Atheism,” that explains his defection.

I would have thought that Melville, in his wisdom, could at least present some good arguments for his change of position.  But no, he recycles the same tired and fallacious tropes we’ve heard for a while:

1.  The Gnu Atheists ignore theology:

Perhaps the classic New Atheist quote is Dawkins’s response to those who accuse him of dismissing theology from a position of ignorance: “Look,” he told Laurie Taylor, “somebody who thinks the way I do doesn’t think theology is a subject at all. So to me it is like someone saying they don’t believe in fairies and then being asked how they know if they haven’t studied fairy-ology.”

For someone to say this, and not qualify it, is completely bizarre, because it’s not accurate.  Melville has certainly read The God Delusion and knows that, despite this quote, the book does address—and refute—all of the most important theological arguments for the existence of God.  Yes, of course others like Karen Armstrong, Terry Eagleton and John Haught have suggested new and different views of God, but is it Dawkins’s business to address every argument ever made for God? Had he done that, the book would have been five times as long and less influential.  More important, the “new” arguments for God are supported by exactly as much evidence as the old ones: none.  It’s curious that people like Melville who make the Courtier’s Reply almost never suggest which important arguments for God are being neglected by the Gnus. Perhaps Melville can direct us to some of the other good evidence for God, Jesus, and Mohamed that Dawkins and Company have overlooked?

In the end, even the most sophisticated theology comes down to word-parsing, adducing no convincing evidence for God. Nor do the sophisticated theologians explain how they know their interpretation is correct, while all the different and conflicting things said by other theologians, and those of other faiths, are wrong.

When judging theology, I adhere to Hitchens’s Dictum:  “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.”  Without proof, we needn’t take it seriously.  And besides, the Gnu Atheists have certainly not ignored theology.  All of them—Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, and even small fry like me—dismiss religious arguments after due consideration.

As for the rest of theology—whether Jebus turns into a cracker, whether Mary was transported bodily to heaven (and whether Mohamed got a ride up there on his horse)—well, what’s the point of discussing these if there’s no evidence for God in the first place?  It’s like debating whether the Flying Spaghetti Monster is made of vermicelli, bucatini, or capellini.

2.  The “religion” discussed by Gnu Atheists is crude and simplistic.

If, as Norman also argues, New Atheism can be over-generalising and crude in its response to religion, this is because it is a response to crude and nonspecific articulations of religiosity – what could be less specific than bombing a skyscraper, or cruder than Biblical creationism? . .

But in another interview, this time with a fierce critic of New Atheism, Terry Eagleton says: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.” Put this way, Eagleton seems right. I agree with him, too.

The picture of religion that emerges from New Atheism is a caricature and both misrepresents and underestimates its real character. “Religion,” Richard Norman writes “is a human creation … a mirror which humanity holds up to itself and in which it sees itself reflected. Human beings attribute to their gods all their own human qualities – cruelty revenge and hatred, but also love and compassion and mercy. That’s why you can find a justification for anything, good or bad, in religion.”

Here Melville makes the familiar argument that beliefs in personal gods, Heaven, Hell, the Resurrection, and so on are “caricatures”.  Presumably real religion is that represented by Eagleton, Armstrong, and their like: faith involving an apophatic deity or a god who doesn’t really do anything in the world, much less sending us to Heaven or Hell.

Let me enlighten Mr. Melville, at least about my country.  According to a 2004 Gallup poll, 81% of Americans believe in Heaven, 70% in Hell, 78% in angels, and 70% in the devil.  A Pew survey in 2008 showed that 60% of Americans believe in a personal god (with 71% “absolutely certain” of his existence) and 63% see their preferred religious texts as “the word of God.”

Want more?  74% of Americans believe in life after death, as do 61% of American Hindus.  62% of American Buddhists believe in Nirvana.

Now you could claim that all these people really believe in a metaphorical Hell, a metaphorical life after death (whatever that is), a metaphorical devil, and so on—but you know that’s not true. And I doubt that all those Muslims really believe in a metaphorical Paradise.  I keep quoting these statistics, and accommodationists, whose ranks now include Melville, keep ignoring them.  They pretend that everyone‘s faith is just like that of Terry Eagleton or Karen Armstrong.  Pardon my French, but that’s a crock!  I can’t take anyone seriously who asserts that Gnu Atheists address a form of faith that nobody holds.

Why Melville’s apostasy?  Well, besides the fact that he’s bored—an admission that’s insulting to all of those who’ve worked so hard fighting for reason and against faith—he thinks that allying himself with the faithful will help us have newer and subtler debates on God.  I have no idea what he’s talking about.

So the purpose of this evening’s event [a New Humanist discussion at the Royal Society of the Arts] is to see if we can find a mode of inquiry into religion, faith, belief and non-belief, more consistent with William than with Jesse James.

It might be that we will map out a new, specific, patient and subtle future for the God debate.

Good luck with that.  Melville has faith that an alliance with the faithful will, by circumventing the “strident” new atheists, create productive “alliances with moderate religionists on specific topics – faith schools, fundamentalism, terrorism.”  I see this as wishful thinking, for I doubt that an alliance between atheists and moderate religionists can do much about terrorism or fundamentalism.  And do they really think that an alliance between atheists, Anglicans, Catholics, and liberal Jews will rid Old Blighty of faith schools? Don’t make me laugh.

h/t:  Butterflies and Wheels

116 Comments

  1. Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I have a brilliant suggestion. I know that Caspar reads criticisms and pays attention, so here’s the cunning plan:

    AVOID NAME-CALLING AND RANTING

    just this once. Make it good, and it will have an effect. Seriously. I know this.

    • Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      In that vein, I’ll repeat just what I’ve said at other blogs: I am once again highly confused. He says all these things that totally make sense, and then comes to a conclusion that doesn’t make any sense.

      If his point was that Gnu Atheism wasn’t good for everything (which we all agree with) and that he was interested in doing some other things, okay. But quoting Eagleton’s courtier’s reply like it was non-stupid? In the very paragraph following what I read as an acknowledgment that the C’s reply was, in fact, stupid? I’m just confused.

      • Posted September 23, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        Yes, why he thought there was any merit to that idiotic “quip” of Eagleton’s is beyond me.

        • NMcC
          Posted September 24, 2010 at 1:57 am | Permalink

          Idiotic indeed. A friend of mine wrote a review of TGD just after it appeared and before Myers wrote his ‘Courtier’s’ piece and began the review with this:

          Terry Eagleton, who still claims to be some sort of Marxist, now Professor of English Literature at Manchester University, has done a hatchet job in the current issue of the London Review of Books on Richard Dawkins’s latest book The God Delusion. But he only exposes himself as a victim of that delusion.

          Eagleton begins his review with “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is The Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology”, thus revealing that he equates the study of myths and superstitions with the science of biology and, since he is not a theologian, disqualifying himself from comment.

          The rest of the first paragraph might make you feel that Dawkins had inherited from Bertrand Russell a debt of malice due to Professor Eagleton. With Jesuitical vitriol he goes for Dawkins’ philosophical jugular with accusations of “vulgar caricatures” of religious faith from those whose detestation of religion is surpassed by ignorance of it. Yes, indeed, it appears that atheists are ill-informed and grossly acerbic.

          Actually, Dawkins deals with this type of overbearingly indulgent unbeliever early in his work, only Eagleton, unlike a critic of naked belief, writes like an eager Christian demanding respect not for their right to hold religious opinions but for the opinions themselves.

          • Dominic
            Posted September 24, 2010 at 3:16 am | Permalink

            Once an altar boy always an altar boy… Eagleton is a dinosaur – a Marxist of Roman Catholic heritage. What background could be more dictatorial & anti-individual? Eagleton hates Martin Amis, Amis is mates with Hitchens etc – all very personal & not a thing to do with rationalism. Or so it seems to me.

            • NMcC
              Posted September 24, 2010 at 3:31 am | Permalink

              Well, I wouldn’t necessarily hold it against Eagleton that he detests Smartin Anis and his windbag boyfriend Hypocritchens…er…sorry, I’d forgotten, it’s illegal to criticise The Secular Saint on here.

              At least I didn’t mention the war. I did once eleswhere, but I think I got away with it.

    • Scote
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      “Ophelia Benson
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      I have a brilliant suggestion. I know that Caspar reads criticisms and pays attention, so here’s the cunning plan:

      AVOID NAME-CALLING AND RANTING

      just this once. Make it good, and it will have an effect. Seriously. I know this.”

      Sounds like you are channeling Chris Mooney. Like somebody else is posting under your name. That if the Gnu Atheists would just be good rather than shrill then the nice man will take them seriously. For the sake of consistency, can you give a general principle of why such an approach is reasonable in one instance with someone you disagree with but not in another?

      • Posted September 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        Oh for heaven’s sake. Did you notice the “just this once” bit? Did you notice the “I know this”? Did you notice that I wasn’t making a general statement? I really meant just this once.

        I had reasons. Is that not obvious?

        • Scote
          Posted September 23, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

          “I had reasons. Is that not obvious?”

          Yes, that was obvious. Chris Mooney had reasons, too. And in *both* cases, a person called for civility from Gnu Atheists so that a person could be persuaded. If this principle is necessary and justified in responding to somebody you think mostly agrees with us how can you claim that it is not applicable to people who disagree with us more?

          I’m not bringing this up just to be contentious–though I am often contentious–but because I really do want to know what your general principles on this are. Why is this good for the goose and not the gander?

          One of the hardest things in skepticism is being **consistent**, and holding all people to the same standards. You hold some people to the standard that asking Gnu Atheists to tone it down is utterly unreasonable, but then do it yourself. Why are you and this circumstance the exception to your own rule? Why is this not special pleading on your part?

          • Posted September 23, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

            Because Caspar Melville had emailed me and we had swapped a couple of emails immediately before Jerry posted this. He’s persuadable; he listens; he saw a lot of name-calling at RDF. Given that, I thought that it would be useful to skip the name-calling and ranting just this once, and see what happened.

            It’s situational, for fuck’s sake – I’ve never said or thought that atheists should name-call and rant on all occasions no matter what. I’ve said that criticism of religion should not be taboo – I haven’t said that name-calling and ranting are always desirable.

            Believe it or not, a comment that is just name-calling and ranting comes across as stupid…and such comments do exist. On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog.

            • Scote
              Posted September 23, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

              “he’s persuadable; he listens; he saw a lot of name-calling at RDF. Given that, I thought that it would be useful to skip the name-calling and ranting just this once, and see what happened.”

              If he is so persuadable and reasonable then one would hope that some “shrill” responses wouldn’t send him into paroxysms reactionary contrarianism.

              If we can’t expect a “persuadable” person to be able to deal with some blunt responses then we are totally lost.

              I really don’t see why certain people need kid gloves. If our putative allies can’t handle blunt criticism and must be coddled then, well then I don’t know what to think. But I will say that such a position certainly weakens the consistency upon which criticism of Chris Mooney’s GAs need to tone it down arguments are founded on–arguments by Mooney I still reject. And to be consistent, I have to question your position on kid gloves on Gnu Atheists in discussing Caspar Melville.

            • Posted September 24, 2010 at 7:36 am | Permalink

              Chris Mooney didn’t say we should not indulge in namecalling and ranting. He said we should not write thoughtful, civil, but critical reviews of books by people like Ken Miller and Karl Giberson.

              That’s a rather large difference from anything that Ophelia said above.

              I suppose there’s a place for namecalling and ranting and there’s certainly a place for satire. But these are not always the most persuasive forms of speech. Any good advocate knows that you have to show some discernment about what might or might not be persuasive in a particular situation. That’s not accommodationism (which has a totally different meaning); it’s simply the art of advocacy.

            • Posted September 24, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink

              What Russell said. It’s not kid gloves, it’s not special treatment, it’s not Chris Mooney – it’s just argument as opposed to name-calling.

  2. Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    It’s like they’ve got a pair of those portable goalposts and they’re moving it hither and yon all over the field, mocking us because we can’t kick a field goal.
    Meanwhile, touchdown after touchdown goes unacknowledged.

  3. Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Here’s one of my objections to that article:

    We can collaborate with “moderate religionists on specific topics – faith schools, fundamentalism, terrorism” anyway, and those are not the only topics. We can collaborate with moderate religionists on some things but not others. We canNOT collaborate with moderate religionists (probably) on the topic of “faith” is a useful or valid epistemology.

  4. Insightful Ape
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    On the Richad Dawkins website the first comment on this was from Dawkins himself.
    Dawkins was rather pleased. He mentioned that the comments on the Guardian site were mostly critical of the article. While some are joining the ranks of accomodationists, it seems that the whole “atheists are shrill” argument is losing its edge.

  5. Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    It is a shame. That said, one of the best things going at our end across the pond, is that the UK’s getting a lot more secular:
    http://furtherthoughtsfortheday.blogspot.com/2010/09/dear-pope.html

    Accomodationism won’t get rid of Faith Schools, but I’m hoping our eroding faith will!

  6. Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    The difference between Dawkins dismissing faery-ology and Eagleton dismissing ornithology is that we have overwhelming evidence for the existence and nature of birds, and none whatsoever for faeries.

    (Actually, we do have lots of evidence for the nature of faeries; mythology is a very well-studied and evidenced field.)

    If but one single religionist or accomodationist would care to present any bit of positive evidence for any deity, we could then start to consider whether or not the study of deities (i.e., theology) might be of merit. Instead, the closest we come is and always has been “I don’t understand; therefore this proves (or at least hints at) the existence of one of my favorite deities.”

    (Similarly, we have overwhelming evidence that gods, like faeries, are entirely mythological. Any accomodationists there: can you point to anything that might distinguish folk myths from religious myths aside from the number and fervency of those who believe in the reality of the myths?)

    Cheers,

    b&

  7. TrineBM
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    WEIT wrote

    And do they really think that an alliance between atheists, Anglicans, Catholics, and liberal Jews will rid Old Blighty of faith schools? Don’t make me laugh.

    QFT

    Methinks the gnu atheists deliver a better punch, and more precise at that. I also think that gnu atheists will lead the debate to more fruitfull albeit more controversial ends.

    • Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      And let’s not forget the power of the Overton Window!

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        Every time I read that, I both appreciate it and, yet, cringe a little, because Glenn Beck uses the same argument to explain why behaving like an over-the-top fascist is just going to make America more conservative.

        • Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          Just because a phenomenon exists and people cynically exploit it in a harmful manner doesn’t mean that one should shut one’s eyes to the phenomenon.

          Beck’s attempt to drive the discussion with over-the-top extremism in his position is harmful to society as well as to what he suggests are his true goals.

          By pointing and laughing at all the wannabe-zombie Christians who worship a talking plant that gives magic wand lessons, I’m in no way distorting my own views or aims. I really do think it’s hilarious that people take seriously a book that opens with a story about a magic garden with talking animals and an angry giant, and I wish everybody else would realize the absurdity in the situation. It also happens that such mockery is so far beyond the pale of modern discourse that it makes me a strident god-hating Gnu “Athiest”…and does a fair bit to nudge that Window at the same time.

          The sad thing is…I think Beck really does want to make America a fascist corpratocracy. And he and his cohorts are having an alarming amount of success of late.

          To put the Overton Window into perspective: by modern standards, Nixon was significantly to the left of where Obama is today. The Democrats are a hard-right conservative party by global standards, and Republican platform items are only found in the wacko Neo-Nazi fringes elsewhere.

          Cheers,

          b&

  8. NewEnglandBob
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    “The Gnu atheists ignore theology.”

    And rightly so. Built as a house of cards, composed of smoke, spun out of whole cloth and spewed over a sea of gullible, uneducated, uninterested people, ignoring it is the nicest action to take.

  9. Kevin
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I’m bored with defending science against astrology.

    I think I’ll look for ways science can come together and reach consensus. After all, science and astrology are merely different ways of looking at things.

    After I’m done there, I’ll move on to alchemy. I think there may be plenty of ways science and alchemy can come together to reach conclusions for the common welfare. Who wouldn’t want a little more gold in their pockets?

    If Melville is tired of our stale refutations of theology and religion, perhaps he should look at whether what we’re being served up to refute might not be equally as tired and stale.

    Even Karen Armstrong’s “theology” is nothing new. It’s Anselm all over again. God is the goddiest think you can possibly grok, even moreso, therefore it must be god. The only difference between Anselm and Armstrong is Anselm stopped at the limits of human imagination and Armstrong moves the goal posts past it.

    Really? She needed a BOOK to come up with that? And this requires that I think of a different way to call BS on circular arguments that present no evidence? Am I now not permitted to point out that there’s a difference between what you can imagine (or imagine not being able to imagine) and what is *real* in the sense of being *real*? Because it’s “tiresome”?

    Simply amazing.

    Let’s be clear once again. Theists offer nothing new. They can’t. Because if it was new, it wouldn’t be consistent with the theology of the past 2000 years. And therefore, would represent heresy to a substantial proportion of believers.

    Religion in the abstract can be defended only as a place where people go once a week to sing songs and have pot luck suppers, and as an inefficient aggregater of volunteerism.

    But religion demands that we accept it on the level of “truths”. It wants to be more than mere community. It wants to tell us, in grand and glorious detail, who to love, who to hate, how to marry, what to eat and drink, what hats to wear, and on and on. It wants us to accept myths as either metaphorical truths (absurdly poor ones) or as literal historical events.

    Without any shred of evidence that any of that is “true” in the sense of being “true”.

    I’m not bored with having to defend myself against lies that someone else has branded “truth”. I’m angry. What am I to do about that, Mr. Melville?

  10. Britt
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Imagine a volcanic island where hundreds of years ago, an eruption almost wiped out the island’s population. Since that time, the people living on the island have been sacrificing a young person once a year to keep the volcano from erupting. The young person is selected from a larger group of young people, all whom have volunteered for the role and have consented to the sacrifice.

    The person chosen for the sacrifice is held in high esteem and guaranteed a reward in the afterlife. The ceremony for the sacrifice is elaborate and brings the population together, all who are sure this is what is keeping the volcano from erupting again.

    An Accomodationist and a Gnu Atheist visit the island. The Accomodationist tells the people that killing someone is wrong and explains why it is wrong. So the people on the island cut off a limb of the person instead and use that as a sacrifice to the volcano. Again, the Accomodationist says this is wrong, so the people of the island have the person urinate into the volcano. The Accomodationist accepts this and leaves.

    The Gnu Atheist, however, right away explains to the people of the island what causes volcanoes to erupt. The GA shows them how they can best use their time and energy to prepare for an eventual eruption so that the loss of life will be minimized.

    That is the difference between an accomodationist and a gnu atheist.

    • Chris Slaby
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Very nice analogy!

    • Sigmund
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Most of the accomodationists that I’m familiar with would push the Gnu atheist in!

    • gillt
      Posted September 24, 2010 at 2:46 am | Permalink

      Interesting analogy. Partly so because it’s saying, if I’m reading it correctly, that accommodationists are not too concerned with actually educating the masses–be it about volcanology or evolution or global warming–so much as they simply want the people to behave a certain way.

      That’s actually how some accommodationists communicate science to their audience…through assertions and appeals to authority.

  11. Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    There’s a principle at stake here, is there not?

    Faith is a vice, not a virtue.

    Jerry, you quoted Hitchens to excellent effect on this point from his recent debate with Berlinksi.

    “[All religions] make the same mistake. They all take the only real faculty we have that distinguishes us from other primates, and from other animals—the faculty of reason, and the willingness to take any risk that reason demands of us—and they replace that with the idea that faith is a virtue. If I could change just one thing, it would be to dissociate the idea of faith from virtue—now and for good—and to expose it for what it is: a servile weakness, a refuge in cowardice, and a willingness to follow, with credulity, people who are in the highest degree unscrupulous.”

    Respect for my fellow man prevents me from repecting his faith.

  12. Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    It’s like debating whether the Flying Spaghetti Monster is made of vermicelli, bucatini, or capellini.

    Um, Jerry… clear He is made of Spaghetti. Can’t you read?

    It’s not like those other false gods like the Invisible Pink Unicorn, where even though her name says she is pink she can’t actually be pink, or like the Trinity where even though he’s his own dad he’s also some kind of ghost or something. No no, the FSM is exactly what His Noodliness claims to be: A flying monster made of spaghetti.

    Seriously. To ignore that is showing really disrespect to Pastafarians.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Well, they call him that, but they could be misidentifying his attributes. Maybe we should just go apophatic and not impute pasta to him at all.

      • Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        Apparently, “semolina” is another word for “coarsely ground durum wheat.” This clearly demonstrates that FSM “straw man” arguments represent crude and nonspecific articulations of the nature of pasta.

    • Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Boy, I sure hope you like fields of short grass and tall manure, because She’s sure gonna see to it that you spend a looooooong time in one, if you know what I mean.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        As they say, “There is one who has all power, that one is Barilla, may you drain well and serve as desired.”

    • JBlilie
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Yesterday, P.Z. noted “Sound Like A Pirate Day”! As a deeply religious and serious and pasteologically-sophisticated believer, I was deeply, deeply, offended by that mockery of my faith! How dare he mock the importance of Pirates for one’s salvation?!

      I’m going out, right now, and smash a few windows, torch a few cars and start a riot, to assuage my wounded sensitivities! And it’s ALL P.Z.’s fault!!!! I cannot be blamed for this riot, it was forced into it by his violent disrespect!!!

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Meat balls.

      No seriously, it’s like debating whether the Flying Spaghetti Monster is made of swine, cattle or mixed meat.

  13. Greg Peterson
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I have sometimes cringed at the lack of sophistication some Gnus demonstrate on religious matters–the one that comes to mind is when Dawkins, in addressing theodicy, used the Noahic Flood and destruction of Sodom as examples when a Christian biblicist would have used the crushing of 18 men when the Tower of Siloam fell. Sure, sure…I know. Lacy bit of Courtier’s fringe on the petticoat of biblical theology. I get that. BUT.

    Some of us became Gnus BECAUSE of theology, BECAUSE of the Bible, and I say again, as I’ve said here and elsewhere before–it is a shame and a mistake not to use our expertise. We know where the skeletons are buried and the goats buggered. We can anticipate what the faithful will say and we can shut them up before they speak, often enough. I do not presume to go against creationists unless armed by PZ, Jerry, Richard, Sean, Neil, and a few others. I would expect that scientists going against biblicists would do the analogous and turn to Dan Baker, Robert Price, John Loftus, Hector Avalos, Bart Ehrman, and others like us.

    What I’m trying to say is that there IS something here to discredit, and it HAS BEEN DISCREDITED, so mere hand-wavery is neither necessary nor as effective as response would be. Why not take advantage?

    And finally, if there really is some sort of double-secret theology out there that might convine people like us that there could be a god, and if there is, it would be worth getting to know, FREAKING BRING IT! Don’t be coy. Get it out there. I think I’ve seen everything that the entire spectrum of theologians has had to say on the matter, and at no point did anything approach an argument that convinced that a god was likely, or had any utility to humans, or was even so much as a desireable figment of our imaginations. A little thought and all the arguments–including the existential arguments–vanish like a thin vapor.

    Every theological problem–every one–is better answered by the simple statement “there is no god” than by any of the Byzantine work-arounds cobbled together from the bricks of fallen air-castles. The hiddenness of god, the problem of evil, the role of randomness in “creation,” the all-too-human sections of the Bible…every such issue can be responded to with atheism better than it can theology. I challenge any theologian to prove me wrong.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      We can anticipate what the faithful will say and we can shut them up before they speak, often enough.

      Dawkins may have made a boo-boo. But the above isn’t the same as having a failed theology that drives people out of religion. Here the second part of your argument takes precedence, namely that atheism is fact driven.

      I think a broad approach is the best. It reaches more people and moves the Overton window. And as Dawkins said, mostly you speak to the third, rational undecided person, not the religious.

      So there really is no conflict between the approaches, with the exception of the free speech/freedom of religion conflict fabricated by the accommodationists. As I described it above, the use of fact arguments is found subtle in an area that thrives on its fuzzification.

      And personally I would see the use of theology as a failure since it is all false (factually empty, while pretending not to be) anyway. If it makes you happy, go for it. But you can’t expect others to agree, nor can you portray other modes of analysis or discussion on religion as lacking in sophistication. They lack theological sophistication – and that is the point.

      • Greg Peterson
        Posted September 24, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        Torbjorn, we probably just have different goals and experiences. I come out of a fundamentalist background (I have a biblical studies degree and worked for Billy Graham), and I have been using what I know about evangelicl theology and the Bible to help rescue other Christian fundamentalists out of the trap they’re in. I consider that to be my primary “ministry” as a former evangelical atheist. I really and truly wish to move people actively from faith to reason, because I know for a fact that many of these believers are in prisons they can’t see. I’m sure that both my experience and my success has colored my perception, but it leads me to the conclusion that you might be correct in general about an approach, you are mistaken when it comes to group I wish to reach…for their own good, and the improvement of American culture.

  14. Screechy Monkey
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    When faitheists go on about the “unsophisticated” Gnu Atheists, it reminds me of a headline (or was it a T-shirt?) I saw on The Onion once: “I appreciate the Muppets on a much deeper level than you.”

    People like Melville want to look down on other atheists who are only atheists because of trivial things like a lack of evidence, instead of a careful and thorough study of theology. They also want to be patted on the head by believers for how informed and sophisticated they are. Of course, what they’re really being patted on the head for is their timidity, and their willingness to take all that drivel seriously.

    • Kevin
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      And, of course, this also dismisses a whole class of people who do fine without god in their lives, either as a source of “truth” or as a thorn in their metaphorical sides.

      My brother raised two very bright children without religion. They’re now apatheists. They have no connection whatsoever with the myths, don’t care about them, don’t care to hear them, have no worries one way or another about them.

      Would the gnu apologist tell my brother that he has to go back and indoctrinate his children in a religion so they can then reject it?

      Laughable.

    • JBlilie
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      “I appreciate the Muppets on a much deeper level than you.”

      Superb!

    • Posted September 23, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      “I appreciate the Muppets on a much deeper level than you.”

      Ha! That’s perfect for all the bozos I read during the pope protest saying self-involved “I’m so sensitive to nuance” things about how the protest was too much like a party and people were having too much fun and too many people were joining in and other such “this is too popular” nonsense.

  15. Anonym
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    “… Here Melville makes the familiar argument that belief sin personal gods,…” —

    ‘beliefs in’ — corrected.

  16. Chris
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    “Royal Society of the Arst”

    While clearly this should be “Royal Society of the Arts,” I think, for the occasion of their meeting, you should make it “Royal Society of the Arse.”

    Someone needs to form that society….

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      With Prince Charles as patron…

  17. Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    One of the strongest pulls that religion has is the tug on our sense of community. Humans are social animals, including GNU atheists defectors. I suspect that certain GNU atheists when they start out have no idea that lurking under that thin veneer of GNU atheism is a profoundly social being who just wants to get along with other people. After a sufficient time of wrangling and getting dirty, they have enough and just want to make friends, no matter what it takes. Then they blame boredom.

    On the other hand, I suspect GNU atheists who remain so are people who can still be social beings by enjoying life with others in a discerning sense, but at the same time be immune to the conforming pull of a wider social togetherness.

    I know I am teetering on the edge of of the No True Scotsman fallacy, but wtf.

    Caspar Milquetoast however at least said that GNU atheists have paved the way to a meaningful dialogue while the other accommodationists have blasted us from the very beginning, attributing no good aspect to our perspective at all. He is wrong though because the true blue accommodationists have no imperative to reduce the total amount of religiousity and are just interested in playing games and pretending there is no problem with religion, itself, that is faith. There can’t be any productive dialogue until faith itself is brutally dissected under the microscope of intellectual honesty.

    Though this very social kind of atheist is not a theist, they share something very strongly with theists.

    • Kevin
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Join a bowling team. A community chorus or orchestra.

      Join the Kiwanis or the Rotary Club. A hiking club.

      Heck, join the Y (I’m a member), but ignore the chapel and the prayer request basket.

      Get involved in politics. Plenty of envelopes need stuffing.

      Volunteer at the nonsectarian food bank. Volunteer for the Red Cross (a non-religious institution in spite of its name). Become a guardian ad litem. If you’re older, SCORE. If younger, the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps (although they will take just about anyone).

      I do not like pot luck suppers and the same 14 hymns that much to join a “community” such as a religion. Such places are literally meaningless, and I prefer to spend my time in pursuits that have meaning.

  18. Tulse
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps Melville can direct us to some of the other good evidence for God, Jesus, and Mohamed

    And how that evidence differs from that for Asatru, Baal, Catequil, Damona, Enki…

    • Kevin
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      …Ea, Horus, Zeus, Quetzlcoatl, Xenu…

      • Tacroy
        Posted September 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        Someone should write a song along those lines, I’m imagining something like Tom Lehrer’s Elements song.

        It could be in two parts – “Christians don’t believe in …”, followed by “Atheists don’t believe in … and Yahweh”, like that old picture.

  19. Anonym
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I recall reading in some now long forgotten work of fiction the description of some character as “… so completely indifferent to the mere concept of ‘God’ as not even to take the name in vain.” I immediately felt a juvenile envy of the mentality of that character.

  20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    It might be that we will map out a new, specific, patient and subtle future for the God debate.

    Here is a thought: Gnu Atheists introduced “a new, specific, patient and subtle future for the God debate” pushing the specific and subtle use of facts to push likelihoods or predict that the universe is self-contained.

    It is the Old Accommodationists that rejected this, on the “patient and subtle” ground that Gnu Atheists making factual criticism are “dicks” or “boring”. (Take your pick.) Thus transforming into New Accommodationists.

    Melville is busting his play while moving the goalposts.

    As for Melville being bored, specifically Monthy Python suggested the resolution long since: Philosophers’ World Cup. Here he can place christians against muslims, hinduists against buddhists, and rastafarians against pastafarians, all the while getting enjoyment out of the debate.

    [Again I'm duly disrespectful of philosophy, but in a good cause. Just to take the sting out of that confession, I'm going to paraphrase Ben Goren's excellent argument:

    "If but one single philosopher would care to present any bit of positive evidence for any philosophy, we could then start to consider whether or not the study of philosophy might be of merit."

    So there. :-D]

  21. Margaret
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    They pretend that everyone‘s faith is just like that of Terry Eagleton or Karen Armstrong.

    Not everyone, just everyone that counts. These folks are elitists who consider the actual majority of believers to be too stupid to be educated and not worth bothering with.

    • ritebrother
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. The accomodation is always unilateral.

      • Tulse
        Posted September 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        And patronizing.

        • Michael Kingsford Gray
          Posted September 23, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

          And nauseating.

  22. Bob Carlson
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps Melville can direct us to some of the other good evidence for God, Jesus, and Mohamed that Dawkins and Company have overlooked?

    On page 97 of the GD, Dawkins concluded that Jesus probably existed, rejecting a conclusion to the contrary in a book by G. A. Wells. He gives no evidence whatever in support of his conclusion and therefore is guilty of the same sort of thing as are people who argue for the existence of god without being able to provide evidence.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      In my soft cover ed (Black Swan -07) it’s on pp 117-123 (“The argument from scripture”). The context is that after going through scripture, Dawkins remarks:

      “… Much of what they wrote was in no sense an honest attempt at history but was simply rehashed from the Old Testament, because the gospel-makers were devoutly convinced that the life of Jesus must fulfil [sic] Old Testament prophecies. It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all, as has been done by, among others, Professor G. A. Wells of the University of London in a number of books, including Did Jesus Exist?.

      Although Jesus probably existed, reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as a reliable record of what happened in history, and I shall not consider the Bible further as evidence for any kind of deity. … [My bold.]”

      I think it is clear from the context that Dawkins doesn’t present his conclusion but the consensus among historians. (Before describing the consensus of biblical scholars.)

      If the context immediately rejects a quote-mine, why quote-mine at all? I’ve never understood the idea of fabricating evidence, as it is so easily found out.

      • Bob Carlson
        Posted September 23, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        To me he seems to be accepting the consensus of historians even though historians don’t offer any evidence.

        • Posted September 23, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

          I agree completely.

          When citing evidence for an historical Jesus, the same set of “sources” keep getting trotted out. Josepuhs inevitably tops the list, as does Suetoneus, Pliny, and the rest. The New Testament, too, of course.

          Never mind that it’s well known that the Testamonium is a blatant fabrication or that the others are only reporting on the existence and beliefs of Christians. And certainly never mind that even the most apologetic of apologists don’t attempt to date any of these sources to anything earlier than mid-century.

          All the proof one needs to know that the entire thing is a fabrication is the perfect omission of Jesus and the Gospel events from every single contemporary source.

          The Dead Sea Scrolls, actually penned during the time this was all supposed to have gone down, are painfully silent on the matter.

          Philo, King Herod Agrippa’s brother-in-law, wrote nary a word about Jesus amongst his voluminous output.

          Nor did Pliny the Elder…and, well, I could continue on for pages listing everybody who lived during the time on or near the Mediterranean who had an opportunity to notice something but didn’t.

          One might be tempted then to claim that Jesus was some nobody cult leader about whom the rest was built, but that not only contradicts the sources we do have — the Gospels, the Apocrypha, and the rest — but it breaks the pattern followed by every other religion of the time.

          And those sources! The official version reads like a zombie horror slasher flick — and none of the four scripts can agree on even the simplest of details. One of the popular heresies opens with Jesus beaming down from the sky like a scene out of Star Trek. To the Ophites, Jesus was some sort of a snake god. This is most emphatically not indicative of an historical basis for the stories.

          I know everybody — including, sadly, Professor Dawkins — wants to believe that there’s some sort of “there” there, but the fact of the matter is that Christianity is exactly what it appears to be: a syncretic Pagan religion, made up like all the others of the time. Its only significance is that, through an accident of power politics, the mightiest empire in all of pre-modern human history made belief in its literal truth a requirement upon pain of death.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Tacroy
            Posted September 23, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

            To be fair – and although I agree that it’s very likely that Jesus might not have even existed – if you were to look at texts contemporaneous with (e.g,) Vincent van Gogh, you would find almost no mention of him; although he is famous now, he was basically unknown for much of his lifetime. Thus, it’s not entirely unrealistic for Jesus to have been relatively unknown during his lifetime, and thus not be mentioned much in contemporaneous texts.

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted September 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

              Oh, I don’t think that’s true at all about Van Gogh. First, there are all those letters to and from his brother Theo—and many others. And there are surely documents about his hospitalization and the like. I’d check one of the many biographies of the man, which surely would have been hard to write without “contemporaneous texts.” And we have his “contemporaneous” paintings, of course.

              We don’t have anything like this for Jebus.

            • Posted September 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

              Well, we do have mounds of contemporary evidence for lots of Jesus’s contemporaries. Never mind all those books Caesar himself authored; for a bit more than a typical mortgage payment, you can buy for your very own collection a coin with his likeness on it minted while he was alive.

              And that’s the other key piece of the puzzle. When confronted with the deafening contemporary silence, apologists try to pawn Jesus off as some nobody whom nobody but his closest circle of friends would have noticed. But that flatly contradicts every single piece of evidence we do have about Jesus. No matter the author, there was one thing everybody agreed upon: Jesus was a Very Important Person. He was the living incarnation of the very god who created the heavens and the earth; or he was the biggest preacher of his day, even bigger than John the Baptist; or he was personally butting heads with most important civil and religious authorities of his day; or he was an undead zombie with a gaping hole in his side wandering the streets of Jerusalem for a month and a half still doing the same preaching schtick that got him dead in the first place.

              The “Jesus was a nobody” theory doesn’t fit with the evidence any better than the “Jesus was a zombie” theory that Christians hold dear.

              The only theory I’ve come across that does fit the evidence is the “Jesus was a syncretic Pagan death-rebirth-salvation god in the same mold as Osiris / Dionysus with lots of other Greek myths (like Perseus) thrown in for good measure.” And, you know what? Justin Martyr (the earliest known Christian apologist) wrote exactly that — in excruciating detail, no less. And Lucian of Samosata explained exactly how it went down in his account of the passing of Peregrinus.

              What more could one want, really?

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Kingasaurus
              Posted September 23, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

              One thing Hitchens likes to talk about in favor of a historical Jesus, is the idea that he was from Nazareth – which is a problem for his followers as the Messiah should be born in Bethlehem. So the NT writers have to invent an elaborate story about a census that fictionally requires large population movements (which never happened) so that someone who is from Nazareth and needs to fulfill prophecy is actually born in Bethlehem. If you’re inventing Jesus out of wholecloth, why not just make him come from Bethlehem in the first place and save yourself the trouble?

            • Posted September 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

              Kingasaurus, such inconsistencies are a hallmark of epic fiction. I think the popular term these days is, “retcon.”

              Using your logic, the Force must be real, or else why would Lucas have gone to such lengths to explain it with midichlorians?

              And how could it be that, in one story, Paul Bunyan is “only” big enough to use trees as toothpicks, and in another one he’s so huge that he carved the mile-deep-and-wide Grand Canyon by carelessly dragging his axe behind him?

              It’s the same way that, according to Matthew, Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus…but, according to Luke, Jesus was (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Kingasaurus
              Posted September 23, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, maybe. I don’t care much either way, but I suppose what I could say in response is that Jesus’ town of origin is something that might be expected to be well-known among people who knew him (and tough to sweep under the rug while embellishing the story later). Who his paternal grandfather was (for example) wouldn’t be common knowledge and easy enough to just fake-it-up as you go after the fact. Who could really fact-check it anyway? But if the real guy was always known as Joshua-bar-Joseph from Nazareth, then the chroniclers are stuck with that town – can’t weasel around it – and if they want to insist he was still the Jewish Messiah, they have to come up with a reason that he was “really” from Bethlehem instead.

              The bottom line is whether he was a complete fiction or based on a real guy, the Gospel Jesus would be so different and exaggerated from the guy he was based on, that it’s practically a distinction without a difference.

            • Michael Kingsford Gray
              Posted September 23, 2010 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

              Kingasaurus quoth:
              “…is the idea that he was from Nazareth”
              The fact that Nazareth did not exist at the time poses a tiny problem for that theory.

            • Badger3k
              Posted September 23, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

              There is a new (relatively) book that says Nazareth existed and supposedly gives the evidence. Haven’t read it, but it’s on Amazon. Can’t recall the book off-hand. Anyway, there is always the “misinterpreting the Nazorean as ‘from Nazareth’ instead of ‘of the Nazorean sect’” hypothesis, or even that the current stories are the result of merging two (or more) separate mythologies. I think there is a hypothesis about Yeshua being an amalgam of the savior/messiah myths of both Israel and Judah, necessitating different birth places/geneologies/etc. Not sure of the evidences for all of that.

      • MadScientist
        Posted September 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

        I disagree that it is easy to discover fabrications – even researchers in science get away with it. Now imagine you’re in a third world country and you struggle to feed your family. You’ve seen this thing called television and it has marvelous shows on with people who speak strange languages and wear strange clothes. They seem to be enjoying life and they possess all sorts of strange objects you’ve never seen before. You go to the temple on whatever day your deity requires you to go. The preacher is a guy whom you know has a special connection with god – unlike you who are just another ordinary guy. The preacher tells you of great evils perpetrated by the TV people on friends from a distant village. The TV people and their families come in, use those people as slaves, rob them – just look at the TV. You can immediately see how they live a luxurious and carefree life, a life supported by their enslavement and abuse of people just like you. Now those sorts of lies are told by preachers throughout the world every single day. Sit in a church and listen to what the preachers have to say; I think it’s pretty rare that the preachers don’t make up lies (hell, look at pope Ratzinger and his “atheists should apologize post facto for the rise of the Nazis” speech). At the very least they’ll make up some sob story about a poor disadvantaged orphan girl and how Jesus changed her life, or of how a kind hearted person from that same religious congregation cared for her while the rest of the world walked past and never even noticed her. Well, at least in the latter type of lie you can argue it’s just like Aesop’s fables – however, many people take these stories as literal truth and in many cases the preacher intends for the story to be taken as literal truth.

        Just listen to the applause which Ratzinger received for his anti-godless rant – the people believe him and cheer him on. Do you hear and hecklers shouting “I think you’re full of shit, Ratzinger – the godless people of today cannot possibly be responsible for an inhuman beast from three generations ago”. Do you still think it’s so easy to discover the deceit? The hardest part is getting anyone to even question the lies, much less look for evidence. Going back to the poor third world nations – does the farmer who works 16 hours a day to barely make ends meet have time to take off and travel to a village a month’s trek away to talk to people about the abuse they suffer at the hands of the TV people? Try to imagine the world before the internet – how do you go about gathering evidence for anything? It’s a huge and difficult job. Even with the internet it is difficult to separate the bullshit from sensible claims unless you happen to be an expert on a particular subject.

    • Gingerbaker
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Your right, Bob Carlson. Jesus probably didn’t exist. I’m sure that is what you are trying to say.

  23. JBlilie
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I just today listened to a disgusting radio show on my local NPR affiliate about how religion should inform people’s care for the environment.

    One wonderful incident of word-mincing: A Mennonite minister called in and said, more or less: Well, you have to respect people’s perspective* who have a literalist view of Christianity.

    But then it got interesting. He said [and I did not record it, so this is a slight paraphrase -- but the significant bits are exact]:

    I preach a literalist view of the Bible. We take the word of God literally. Not every word literally, that would be juvenile faith. But we take the meaning of the Bible, Jesus’s message, literally.”

    What utter blatheration and nonsense! My jaw “literally” dropped open (as I laughed out loud). And no one ever calls bullshit on these spinners of bullshit!

    (* Of course, the respect thing! We can’t ask hard questions, ask for evidence, ask why all these theologians disagree with eachother, etc.)

    • Posted September 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      Well we call bullshit! But certainly no NPR person ever does.

      • JBlilie
        Posted September 24, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        Yes, excactly.

        • JBlilie
          Posted September 24, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink

          Or even “exactly”

    • Badger3k
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

      They reinterpret words and make up their own meanings for anything they want, why not change “literally” into something that’s completely opposite? Par for the course with a lot of that lot.

      • JBlilie
        Posted September 24, 2010 at 9:04 am | Permalink

        I’ve (foolishly) participated in a few “debates” online with Xians. I preface the whole thing with some ground rules, which include: Word meanings are those commonly held and found in dictionaries. Often they call foul on this rule. “How are we to know what the words mean to God?” “Since [this invented thing that I call my] God is infinite, he can be infinitely offended.” etc.

  24. JBlilie
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    On the same NPR program, a woman wrote in and said, “Conservative Christians have no issues with ‘hard” sciences like physics and chemistry; but they don’t believe in mushy science like evolution.”

    She really said “mushy science” in referring to “evolution”. Not bright enough to say “biology” or “evolutionary biology.” What a moron.

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      But … it *is* a mushy science – it studies all these squishy things! Unlike paleontology which studies hard things – including hardened ex-squishy things.

      • Badger3k
        Posted September 23, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

        I’ve heard that many fundies do prefer hard things, like rent boys…

  25. Ken Pidcock
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    to see if we can find a mode of inquiry into religion, faith, belief and non-belief more consistent with William than with Jesse James.

    You can certainly find a mode of inquiry in which the absence of God is never spoken of with any clarity, which is what I suspect you are going to find.

    Every naturalist should consider, carefully, wthe question, Is theism at all useful? Too many, I think, just assume that it is, for some people, and that, therefore, there’s no real cause for opposing it so long as it isn’t tied to violence. (“Well, I’m an atheist, not an anti-theist.”) I think they should consider the mendacity required to maintain the fiction, and what damage that is doing to our culture.

    • JBlilie
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      That’s the old “belief in belief” nonsense: “Those little people” need to have belief to comfort them.”

      Rather patronizing I think.

      • MadScientist
        Posted September 23, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        Who cares – so long as it keeps people coming through the doors and dropping money into the baskets.

  26. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Gnu Atheist sez:

    “Accommodationists put themselves before my horns as I hit my stride, and then complain that I bore them.

    Accommodationists use subtle logic.”

  27. Jonn Mero
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    From Neville’s drivel:
    “It might be that we will map out a new, specific, patient and subtle future for the God debate.*

    Like using microscopes when counting the number of angels that can balance on a pin-head (or indeed, on believers’ heads, – much of the same that, really)?

  28. madamX
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like another case of diarrhea in the pool of knowledge. His assplosion has done curious children a great disservice.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    On Melville’s “caricature” “picture of religion that emerges from New Atheism” that “both misrepresents and underestimates its real character”:

    Who’s Your Daddy?

    Tip: It isn’t Ratzinger, contrary to all reports of RCC pedophiles and their protector.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      Oops! That was EnglishAtheist link. Too many browser windows. [*blushes*]

      Well, note it down as support for a good read then.

  30. HP
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    (NB: I am not a philosopher, so here goes nothin’.)

    Melville’s error here — and it’s the same error that most accomodationists make — is in thinking that religion qua religion can be said to exist independently of the belief-motivated acts of religious people.

    Religion is what religious people do. That’s it.

    That’s the only practical definition of religion that is true in every case. The idea that there is some sort of idealized, capital-R “Religion” out there somewhere is pure Platonism. It’s the allegory of the cave again.

    In a sense that shouldn’t be surprising, since Christianity is basically Neoplatonism with a thin veneer of mystery cults and Semitic prophecy, but it means that any Platonic argument for religion is an argument made from within the same intellectual framework as Christian theology.

    If Melville is attempting to communicate with Gnu Atheists and other materialists, then he needs to argue from outside a Platonic framework. On the other hand, if the audience for his remarks is liberal Christian theologians, then, mission accomplished.

  31. Posted September 23, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    The goalposts have well and truly shifted to where they should have been a thousand years ago: the theists and their accommodationist friends are forced to defend the idea that there is even anything to religion that deserves discussion. The fact that they are forced to even have this conversation at all shows how weakened their position has become, and how far rationalism has come.

    The problem for them is that there is no “there” there, and once they get done riding on the coattails of the Gnu Atheists to push themselves into the conversation, they have nothing to add beyond “they are so SHRILL!!” Once you say to them that it is time to present the evidence and logical thinking that the Gnu Atheists have somehow avoided addressing, they have nothing new or interesting to say.

    Note to Olde Theists: slight rewordings of the same 5-6 arguments (plus or minus Pascal’s Wager) do not merit a new discussion, and mocking or ignoring them does not constitute philosophical or theological ignorance or cowardice. Crap is Crap, and it seems to me that all theists have been doing on the intellectual front for the last dozen or two centuries is trying to dress it up to look like not-Crap. They can bake it into a cake with lots of frosting, put it on a silver platter with a fancy bow on, or dilute it to homeopathic levels… in the end, it is still poo.

    • ritebrother
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      It’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma (AKA a poo pake).

    • sasqwatch
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      …b-b-but, it’s extremely dilute poo. On a platter. With frosting. Surely that must count for SOMETHING?!

  32. MrsCobb
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    The article states, without evidence, that it is “surely false” for New Atheists to claim that “moderate religious believers are worse than fundamentalists because they prepare the ground for extremism.” I have often heard this sort of a claim asserted by anti-religious folk, but again never with any evidence. So, I’m wondering if there is empirical support, as opposed to mere surmise, for the proposition that religious moderates enable religious extremists in some measurable way. My subjective perception is that extremists dislike moderates most of all, and this was as true in Reformation England as Maoist China.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      This would be correct, if the claim (“moderate religious believers are worse than fundamentalists because they prepare the ground for extremism”) were actually being made. What is being claimed is that moderate religion doesn’t actually moderate anything. Religious extremists may dislike moderates most of all, but they also don’t listen to them.

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      I have never heard anyone say the “moderates” are worse than the “extremists”. The point has always been that a typical reaction is “oh, but those are extremists, the majority of us are peaceful loving moderates”. While that may make sense to people who never think about things, the truth is that what the moderates practice encourages the extremists. There are these strange beliefs and claims made with no evidence – but people are encouraged to “just have faith” and not to question the motives of god. In many religions, people are encouraged to “question belief”, but that questioning must always lead back to god. Any genuine questioning which leads away from god is discouraged. People are told fantastic stories about how god speaks to some lucky people. If someone starts with some crazy talk many people think it normal and say nothing rather than saying “that’s not right” – after all, who are they to say that god isn’t talking to that raving lunatic? In short, religion puts people in an environment where things are taken with little to no thought. All you need are those few rotten apples to inspire many otherwise normal people to become murderous fanatics. The environment provided by religion is a breeding ground for evil.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

      If the moderates did not exist, the residue would certainly be judged to be mentally ill, and locked up out of harm’s way.

  33. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    “The Atheist Your Atheist Could Sound Like”

    - Hello, accommodationists. Look at your atheist, now back to me. Now back at your atheist, now back to me!

    - Sadly, he isn’t me. But if he stopped using accommodationist scented NOMA arguments and switched to New Atheism he could sound like he’s me.

    - Look down, back up. Where are you? You’re on a boat with the atheist your atheist could sound like.

    - What’s in your hand? Back at me. I am. It’s a Babel Fish with 2 ear plugs to that thing you love.

    - Look again. The ear plugs are now knowledge. Anything is possible when your atheist sounds like New Atheism and not an accommodationist.

    - I’m a gnu.

    • ennui
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      I’m on a horse.

      i srsly lol’d

  34. Posted September 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    In terms of Theology, I just don’t see how it’s relevant. If someone’s central thesis against astrology is that there’s no known causal relation between the stars and planets and the lives of people on earth, constellations are an artefact of the vantage point, and empirically time and time again there’s been shown no statistical significance; would a valid dismissal of that criticism be “Oh yeah? But you don’t know how to make a star chart.”

    The funny thing is that when these arguments aren’t meant to be against any one religion or any one conception of God, there’s the desire to take it as that. Most feedback seems to be “that doesn’t apply to my God”, the Ultimate 747 for example is dismissed by saying “God is simple” or “That only applies to material things”. Privileging theology is privileging one particular belief over all others, I don’t see believers studying Islamic Theology as essential to being a Christian. Or Hinduism, or Aboriginal Dreamtime, or Scientology, or Mormonism.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      Theology is the expert study of nothing.

  35. MadScientist
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m still waiting for evidence that (a) accommodationism wins people over rather than petting their over-inflated ego and boosting their delusion that they’re somehow better than the godless people, and (b) that the Gnu Atheists are somehow doing anything wrong.

    As for the lame arguments:
    (1) Theology is not ignored, but it is puerile playground bullshit spouted by adults as opposed to the nonsense spouted by 5-year-olds in the sandbox. Even if theology were ignored, that would not be a bad thing in and of itself. Theology has no more “Truth” to it than the bible – why should we be impressed by another mountain of shit?

    (2) All religion is crude and simplistic, so much so that every second people make up yet more excuses for religion and develop fantastic delusions about why it is so wonderful.

  36. MosesZD
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Accomidationism to skepticism as homeopathy is to medicine. Both are worthless, but you “feel good.”

    • MosesZD
      Posted September 23, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      should have said “is to…” Writing posts in the middle of a raid is hard. :)

  37. Posted September 23, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne, you make one factual error that you should clean up: I copied the Pew survey table here

    92 percent of Americans believe in a deity, but only 60 percent believe in a personal god. 25 percent believe in an impersonal force, and 7 percent have some other conception.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 24, 2010 at 5:30 am | Permalink

      Yes, you’re right. I’ve made the correction above. Thanks!

  38. Dominic
    Posted September 24, 2010 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    Gnu Atheists – & Old(er) ones like myself (I have never held a religious belief despite or because of a C of E upbringing) are not a religion with a leader. We are not a ‘group’. This wobbling wally Melville should know that. We probably cover every shade of opinion with regard to every imaginable topic but are agreed that there are no gods & that religion should be left where it belongs, in the past. Richard Dawkins appears to me to be a very moral person – recall ‘atheists for Jesus’. I think most of you would say we have to give our own lives purpose ourselves & not rely on some outside agency. For my own part I am something of a moral nihilist which puts me at the extremes I understand, & the type the god fearing REALLY hate.

  39. basnight
    Posted September 24, 2010 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    So presumably in the “Beyond New Atheism” debate hosted by Caspar Melville, some very sophisticated scholars worked out some very specific, very intelligent, and very sophisticated form of atheism? Has anyone listened to that debate? What did they say? If they have formulated a much better form of atheism than, say, Dawkin’s kind of atheism, sure, why not?! I’m all for it. But somehow I have a feeling that it would be completely irrelevant.

    • basnight
      Posted September 24, 2010 at 5:03 am | Permalink

      I just realized that the debate is online and started to listen to it, but it was really terrible. What is hell is that lady babbling about? If that is sophistication, I’m proud to be a barbarian.

  40. justsearching
    Posted September 24, 2010 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    “‘Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.’ Put this way, Eagleton seems right. I agree with him, too.”

    Quite honestly, I’ve always cringed when Dawkins pontificates about what the “theologian” thinks about things. I enjoy reading Dawkins, but it is quite clear that he has never taken theology seriously for a day in his life. Thus, for those of us who have lived some of our lives taking theology quite seriously, he appears to be speaking out of ignorance.

    • Tulse
      Posted September 24, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      Quite honestly, I’ve always cringed when Dawkins pontificates about what the “theologian” thinks about things. I enjoy reading Dawkins, but it is quite clear that he has never taken theology seriously for a day in his life. Thus, for those of us who have lived some of our lives taking theology quite seriously, he appears to be speaking out of ignorance.

      Replace “theology” with “homeopathy” in the above paragraph — do you think Dawkins needs to know the exquisite detail of homeopathic theory in order to critique the whole endeavour?

      • justsearching
        Posted September 24, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        I was trying to convey a reaction I felt when reading Dawkins, and others who have been deeply enmeshed in the Christian faith might feel the same way. I’m not suggesting that Dawkins should take up the study of theology, however, in my opinion, he should omit phrases like “the theologians say” because theologians are a diverse bunch and it’s hard to know who he’s talking about when he mentions this monolithic bunch of theologians. In Dawkings writings and speeches this ambiguous group of theologians is usually presented as having liberal views on scripture, but sometime a more conservative view is put forward. Someone who has studied theology will wonder what group of theologians Dawkins is talking about.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted September 24, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Why should he take theology seriously ?

      It cannot even show there is something worthy of study. You cannot study the nature of god until there is a god in the first place. Theology have not managed to do that.

      • Dominic
        Posted September 27, 2010 at 6:46 am | Permalink

        You can study literature, philosphy & mythology. Theology is a sort of subset of all of these I would suggest. That does not make it true. Theology ought to be ‘theologies’ if there are different religions – only it is really only Christianity that we mean when talking of theology is it not?

  41. JBlilie
    Posted September 24, 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    The basic arguments for gods:

    1. I just feel it
    2. It provides me comfort/world-view/social support/social cohesion
    3. My holy book tells me it
    4. My authority (priest, pope, guru, whatever) tells me it
    5. Many people have believed the same and sacrificed for it
    6. God had to have created/designed the universe and life (I can’t understand any other explanation)
    7. You can’t disprove it
    8. Necessity (there has to be: A “greatest” thing; a “first cause”)

    Add flowery words as desired and rehash.

    for some reason, believers don’t see how unconvincing these are to a skeptic.

  42. Kirth Gersen
    Posted September 24, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    I call this the “Dawkins Defense” — that theology isn’t any more worthy of study than astrology, so there’s no need to have studied it to refute religion. The thing is, it works only when we stay on that level. Jerry (insightfully) points this out in his post: “As for the rest of theology… well, what’s the point of discussing these if there’s no evidence for God in the first place?” The intelligent atheist keeps this in mind, because the minute we start trying to actually debate points of theology (“Well, Leviticus says not to eat shellfish…” is a favorite), the Dawkins Defense no longer applies — it then becomes a horrid charicature of the creationist who wants to debate fine points of evolution, then claims there’s no need to understand how it works.

    If I recall correctly, Dawkins himself makes this mistake at least once in TGD, but I haven’t seen or heard him do it since then, and it’s a mistake we need repeat.


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