CfI declares war on atheists

UPDATE: Josh Slocum has unearthed this quote from Dr. Shook, which may be relevant to our discussion:

Belief in a god fails any minimal standard of ordinary rationality. Like the kind of rationality we expect from eighth-graders. Only common sense sanity, of the sort we normally expect from adults and even teenagers, is sufficient to show why God-belief is irrational.

At one time, it seems, Shook didn’t think that deep knowledge of sophisticated theology was absolutely essential in debating religion.

_______________________

Over at the Center for Inquiry, it looks like open season on atheists.  First Mooney, then De Dora, then Ronald Lindsay (the president) and now John Shook, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, and Director of Education at the CfI—all have gone out of their way to criticize their atheist supporters for stridency, hostility, and ignorance.  I’m not sure what’s going on over there—is this a covert policy or just coincidental buffoonery?—but the anti-atheist chorus has just swelled by one voice.

Shook has written an amazingly hostile and supercilious piece at HuffPo: “For atheists and believers, ignorance is no excuse.”  If you’re a CfI supporter, go read it, if only to see where your money’s going.

Shook’s thesis is that believers and atheists alike—but mostly atheists— are profoundly ignorant of theology, making them unqualified for a chair at the debate table.

Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, and not much more about religion, and they seem proud of their ignorance.

This reputation is a little unfair, yet when they profess how they can’t comprehend God, atheists really mean it. To listen to the loudest atheists, you can hear the bewilderment. And they just can’t believe how a thing like religion could appeal to any intelligent person. . .

Astonished that intellectual defenses of religion are still maintained, many prominent atheists disparage theology. They either dismiss the subject as irrelevant, or, if they do bother to acknowledge it, slim refutations of outdated arguments for a medieval God seem enough. Atheists cheer on such bold leadership, but what is really being learned? Challenging religion’s immunity from criticism is one thing; perpetuating contempt for religion’s intellectual side is another. Too many followers only mimic the contempt, forgetting that you won’t effectively criticize what you would not understand. The “know-nothing” wing of the so-called New Atheism really lives up to that label. Nonbelievers reveling in their ignorance are an embarrassing betrayal of the freethought legacy.

Umm. . . I’m not so sure.  True, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens write a bit more strongly than, say, Bertrand Russell, but their arguments are not that different.

In fact, Russell, whom accommodationists see as a “good” 20th century atheist, attacks the same theological arguments considered by the Four Horsemen. Have a look at his Why I am not a Christian. Or read Hitchens’s collection, A Portable Atheist.  If you do, you’ll quickly discover that New Atheism is simply a modern-day continuation of a freethought legacy going back to Spinoza.  What’s “new” is only this: our arguments are given much more popular attention than before—in books, in newspapers, and on video. Atheism has become, if not popular, at least respectable.

Now Shook also takes out after ignorant religionists, but still manages to pin their ignorance on atheists.  The faithful are simply following our example!

But don’t worry, defenders of religion say, there’s no need to learn deep theology or debate God, thanks to dogmatic atheism’s bad example. Just stick with faith; after all, who can argue with faith? Believers reveling in their ignorance are an embarrassing betrayal of their religion’s theological legacy.

And he continues the now-familiar plaint that atheists haven’t kept pace with sophisticated theology:

Christian theology has come a long way since St. Thomas Aquinas. Under stress from modern science and Enlightenment philosophy, it has explored cosmological, ethical, emotional, and existential dimensions of religious life. Many kinds of theology have emerged, replacing a handful of traditional arguments for God with robust methods of defending religious viewpoints. There are philosophical atheists who have quietly and successfully kept pace. The discipline of atheology is quite capable of matching these theologies with its skeptical replies, so atheists need not be intimidated. Taking theology seriously enough to competently debate God should not be beneath atheism.

I’m not a theologian, but I try to keep up with modern theology—not the angels-on-pins stuff, but the new arguments for the existence of God. Besides Aquinas and Augustine the Hippo, I’ve read, among many others, Martin Marty, John Haught, Reinhold Neibuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Terry Eagleton, Karen Armstrong, and even the odious David Berlinski.  And regarding the arguments for God, well, I haven’t found anything in 20th century theology except obfuscation: arguments so opaque and muddled that they’re not only undeserving of refutation, but  hardly capable of it.

And I’m not the only one.  Presumably people who have been on the inside—smart people like Dan Barker and Eric MacDonald—are up on modern theology, and they find nothing in it.  Neither do most philosophers, who, I think, probably agree with Anthony Grayling but aren’t so vociferous.

It all comes down to the evidence for God and for divine beings.  If there isn’t any, then we needn’t take theological arguments seriously—except, perhaps, as an exegesis of the fictional, like those who endlessly debated The Lord of the Rings.  And modern theologians simply haven’t coughed up any new evidence for gods. Apophatic theology, for instance, is simply a sophisticated ploy to avoid having to adduce evidence. I beg the deeply educated Dr. Shook to steer me to some new proofs of God, since he neither produces nor alludes to any.

Why is Shook so exercised about this?  Could it be because he’s flogging his new book?

I expand on these observations from the front lines of the God debates in my new book, The God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists, Believers, and Everyone in Between. . . Everyone needs a better education on the current state of the God debates. If atheists are going to produce a rational worldview capable of replacing religion, they must take religion and theology more seriously. If believers are going to defend a sensible faith capable of advancing civilization, they must become fluent in their reasoned theologies.

Well, Dr. Shook, show me some new evidence for God, for the divinity of Jesus and Mohamed, for the existence of the Hindu pantheon and the afterlife, for the intercession of a celestial being in the world, and I’ll start paying attention to the finer points of theology.

626 Comments

  1. Juha Savolainen
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Anyway, this should be a very simple problem to solve. All they have to do is to provide for the obdurate atheists a List of Five Absolutely Best Theological Works. I am completely confident that there is enough energy and curiosity within the Nasty Atheists Camp to study these Fabulous Five in great detail and then pass the judgment.
    So, I have a proposal: let us ask them to propose the short list of cracking theological works…One obvious advantage in that proposal is that if those works will then be found seriously deficient, it will be impossible to say that there are so many so much better works left – without undermining the credibility of our presumably enlightened theologians…:)

    • Dave
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      Actually, there are such lists around, e.g., Amazon’s top 10 theology books (first one is by John Calvin and if that’s not enough to scare the you-know-what out of you then …!). Better question would be who’s qualified to create the list? Or, does each religion get to propose their favorite? Interesting idea though.

      • Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        I only trust traditional Sunni Muslim scholars to illuminate these matters.

      • Juha Savolainen
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        Dave, why not send the query to the theology departments of leading U.S. & UK universities and then count the votes? If these persons cannot give a credible list, then nobody can give such a list…:)

      • littlejohn
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 6:24 am | Permalink

        Just give them a test on biblical knowledge. I’ve never met an American atheist who wasn’t quite familiar with the Bible.
        There’s even a debating tips website (you’ll have to google it yourself, I’m hung over) suggesting theists not lean too heavily on the bible, as atheists tend to know it better. I’ve read the thing several times, and I’ve never believed in god for one second of my 56 years. I just have way too much free time.

    • sailor
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      I listened to an hour of university lecture on Christian Theology once. That was way more than enough.
      It seems to go like this: 1. Create an enormous and complicated castle in the air. 2. Move right in and live in it.

      • Juha Savolainen
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:55 am | Permalink

        Well, I also have listened to radio programs where persons representing “systematic theology” etc. have tried to tell what they are doing. And what they say can sometimes be very surprising to their audiences, both religious or irreligious.

        I think part of the problem lies in the fact that what goes under “theology” in many university departments has nothing to do with trying the study God or gods.

        Twenty-five years ago I listened to a lengthy radio interview where a leading professor of “systematic theology” was asked about a basic article of faith of the (Finnish) Lutheran Church, namely, the dogma that the Bible is both “revelation of God” and “testimony of faith”. The reporter noted that the professor had all the time viewed the Bible in the latter sense and was curious to know what he made of the former. His response was quite shocking to the pious listening the interview:”Of course I speak, as a scholar, of the Bible as an expression of what people have believed. That is the only thing you can study. I do not even understand what it might mean that the Bible is revelation of God’s intentions and will.” Now, that is what I call a really nice way to put the point!

        The professor in question was not and is not a unique case. Many “theologians” do not try, do not pretend that they are studying God and gods, they quite openly say that they study religious faith and beliefs. Not least because they have adopted “methodological naturalism”, which rules out revelation as a valid source of knowledge.

        That is one of the reasons why even gnu atheists should read and discuss some “theologians” as these “theologians” have simply put much time and effort to their study. There is no doubt that gnu scholars, scientists and philosophers would rediscover some of the ideas of these “theologians” as the latter are now using same sort of methods the gnus would use, too.

        On the other hand, there are many theologians who have not given up the hope to tie somehow their understanding of religious faith and belief to their own faith and also those who are doing theology with the firm determination to expand and explore what “God (or gods) Really Said”.

        But the confusion does not stop there. There are also scientists and scholars and philosophers who are religious and are eager to defend their faith and beliefs. Add their contribution to the confusion within “theologians” concerning the proper aims and methods of theology, and you will have the mess we can witness. Beyond them we then have the religious seminars etc. where vocal apologists and advocates of this or that fundamentalism prepare their missions.

        If there is a point that I would share, as an “Old Atheist” with the “New Atheists” (whatever that distinction might mean), it is maybe a hope that those theologists who have adopted methodological naturalism would be encouraged to explain to their colleagues and their lay audiences the reasons for their choice, i.e. why is it that only faith and beliefs can be studied but not God or gods. You see, these professors and academicians often try to explain that to their students who have decided to study theology because of their ardent faith. And the hopeful students are shocked to learn that their faith will have no place in theology! I know this because I have talked with such students.

        If I want to know what people believed in the Bronze Age, I certainly will first try to learn what the people who study these beliefs professionally say about the topic. It does not matter what is the department of those scholars: all I need to know is whether they follow methodological naturalism or not in their scholarly activities.
        And when I want to know what exactly Aquinas or Luther said, I consult the specialists plus the originals, if needed.

        So, there is a sense in which I must say that some “theology” has been and is useful, for the very simple reason that many/some “theologians” have entirely given up the ambition to “read the mind of God” and are entirely focussed in learning the mind of the those who believe and have faith. I think all atheists would do wisely if they very politely teased these theologians to come out to the public and say loud and clear what they are really doing: as “theologians” they have lost the faith and that is that. Conversely, there is much to learn from these people, despite their unwillingness to say that what is interesting in their approach is precisely its redefinition of what “theology” is supposed to study.

        What about then those more-or-less sophisticated defenses and apologies of faith? Well, you can always learn something from a mathematician, physicist, astronomer, biologist, archaeologist who has a faith, if he or she is professionally competent. But that is not to say that atheists should pass their views with polite silence!

        I have witnessed, sometimes from a greater distance, sometimes from nearby the never-ending quarrels among atheists, rationalists, humanists, skeptics etc. Somehow the very self-identification seems to prevent the participants to view this infighting naturalistically and adopt a very moralistic tone of voice, backed by epistemic policies atheists, rationalists etc. are supposed to be fighting against. No doubt this is partly because atheists etc. tend to be minorities and they have to decide whether to seek compromises with the powers that be or challenge them. But there seems to be no end to this infighting.

        Hence I decided many years ago to participate only in debates where there is some realistic hope of learning something from the debate, beyond the rather cold comforts of now “knowing” that you former pals are either “ignorant fanatics” or “appeasers of religion” or whatever. Well, that may or may not be true, but not terribly useful for the original aims of the “movement”, methinks. So, I always want to turn all these heated debates into studies of the particular details. One of such cases in fact brought me to this blog. I had read Jerry Coyne’s article for the “New Republic” and thought they were absolutely brilliant. Alas, I discovered that not everybody was happy about them. Which raised the obvious question: how, precisely, should they be rewritten? I really want to know because that would be an important learning experience for me. But I have not received the answer. Does that suggest some general moral for the bigger debate? For me, it may or may not, because I want to talk about the particular cases and am willing to make some general observations only when compelled by the crushing evidence of such cases: call me an “inductivist” here.

        I know that my attitude is a lousy way to attract friends where you need to know first your enemies. But this perversity has its advantages, too. At least I can watch this without feeling a little…umm…:

        P.S. What do I think about the passages in Shook’s piece that Jerry quoted in his post? There are no names, no quotes from the alleged culprits. But there is flaming rhetoric. Just the sort of piece that is likely to lead the discussion awry. A flaming war will be a flaming war. My question to Shook would be simply: what atheists and what articles did you have in mind?
        Where is their “know nothingness” manifested? If you can show that your critique is justified, you should now respond with a long article where you show in detail why and how the critique was justified.
        If not, it is time for self-criticism…Just my two cents.

        • Tim Harris
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 6:35 am | Permalink

          I like very much what you say, Mr Savolainen.A great problem, surely, is that this debate is getting framed solely in terms of strident New Atheists versus stuffy (or, if you’re Eagleton, Ward, McGrath or Shook, wonderfully subtle) theologians, when anthropology and the cognitive study of religion has wholly undercut these terms. Scholars like Pascal Boyer, Ilkka Pyysainen, Scott Atran, David Lewis-Williams and Todd Tremlin (the author of the very good ‘Minds & Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion’) have put the whole issue of religion on a radically new footing, and they are also able to account for why it is that ordinary adherents to religion are unlikely to be swayed by merely intellectual arguments (ordinary adherents have little interest in intellectual arguments in favour of their religion, either, since their adherence has next to nothing to do with abstract intellectuality in the first place). This sort of thing does need to be taken into account, which is why the exasperation over what seems to be the intellectual perversity of adherents to religion, though understandable, is, I feel, a bit of a trap. People like Boyer, Pyysiainen and Tremlin are studying religion in a genuinely scientific way and seeking to account for the phenomenon, and this approach may well prove in the end a better solvent of religion than simple opposition, however justified. At the least, this body of work needs to be brought into the debate as publicly as possible so that the debate is not being defined in narrow and unfruitful terms.

          • Juha Savolainen
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 7:25 am | Permalink

            Tim, thanks for your supportive and insightful comments!

            Just take Ilkka Pyysiäinen: he has a PhD in theology! Yet I have not seen any signs whatsoever in his scholarly and public activities that he would interested in spreading the faith…:)

            If I were to interview him now, I would want to ask him what he has been studying, by what methods and what are his conclusions. And then I would ask him why is it that many/some scholars having their degrees and university posts in theology are simply studying belief by the very same methods scientists use, and why they have apparently completely given up the idea of “reading the mind of God” and why is it that now we seem to have theologians that are indistinguishable from purely secular, nay, atheist scholars…:)
            It is important to note that while this situation, i.e. having irreligious theologians studying faith and beliefs by ways consistent with methodological naturalism
            is not without problems, the problems are very different from us having biologists who want to introduce some “theistic evolution” to the theory of evolution by natural selection. The latter is much more worrying from my point of view.

        • Tuco
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          A very articulate and interesting post; nicely done.
          Even so (and not to diminish your points in any way), I would offer a couple of thoughts:

          First, a scholar engaging in the methodological study of what people believe is quite different from someone engaging in religious apologetics (which I’m reluctant to even call a “scholar”). I was unaware of this distinction between the two (or even more, presumably) types of theologians, so I readily admit ignorance on this specific point. Even so, I think the assumption that “theologian” refers to the second type rather than the first is perfectly reasonable, and my guess would be that’s how most people would understand the definition and role of a theologian. Your surprise at the remarks of the theologian in the radio interview is emblematic of this. I don’t know that it’s my place to define what constitutes a theologian (in the same way I don’t think it’s a theologian’s or a believer’s place to define what constitutes an atheist), but it seems to me that a scholar who studies “what people believe” would be better described as a sociologist. Your point that the distinction should be made clearer by those identifying themselves as theologians is well-taken, and brings to mind Bart Ehrman, who is very up-front about his background and current view of Christianity.
          In any event, I, for one, certainly didn’t come away from Shook’s piece with even an inkling that his use of theology was intended to read as referring to a sociological or methodological analysis. In fact, quite the opposite, even armed with an understanding of this distinction ex post facto. Regardless of the educational value of reading the “Gnu Theologists” (which is a valid point), I don’t see any evidence that Shook’s exhortation referred to theologians of this stripe (to be clear, I’m not arguing that you are arguing that he did).

          Second, while I appreciate your inclination to participate only in debates in which there is an opportunity to learn something, unfortunately we can’t always choose the terms of battle, so to speak. Debate often requires refuting unsubstantiated claims and baseless or outright false assertions; it would be nice to abstain from arguments from which we don’t stand to learn (although in a sense all debates offer this opportunity in one way or another), but if that means acquiescing to someone else’s agenda or ideology, then I, for one, am not willing to stand idle. Shook’s piece is a good example: I’m not about to let him paint all atheists as “know-nothings” or demand that we countenance baseless religious claims simply because fundamentally untenable arguments are somehow more “robust.” No level of sophistication will make a claim wholly unsupported by evidence more plausible.

          Finally, your postscript articulates a couple of the main objections to Shook’s post with great economy. The two questions you pose seem to be on everyone’s minds. I wonder if we’ll ever get any answers.

          • Juha Savolainen
            Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:57 am | Permalink

            Tuco, thanks for your very useful comments. I try to expand them briefly here.

            First, as you quite correctly said, I did not claim that Shook, when talking about theologists, had in mind persons like Ilkka Pyysiäinen. Here is an example of a very typical contribution by Pyysiäinen:

            http://www.helsinki.fi/collegium/events/_backup/Whodunit_ilkka.pdf

            In some ways, it cannot become any more Gnu Atheistic when a theologist suggests that the stories of Christ’s resurrection were just urban legends, comparable to the lost corpse of a granny, or indeed, a rat in the pizza! Even PZ Myers would need to set in motion his most wicked associations to compete with the latter comparison!

            Rather, my complaint was that Shook named no names, either of his heroes or villains, despite his rather obvious intent to set up a morality play where some good guys and gals make battle with some bad guys and gals. And I wanted to emphasize that this was singularly unhelpful because nowadays a “theologist” can mean just about anything, all the way from ardent religious fundamentalists to, well, “Gnu Theologists”. So, actually a “theologist” is closer to a free variable than a fixed parameter. But in general, the only way to define that range of values is to specify in greater detail which theologists we are talking about. As far as academia are concerned, what counts are the university curricula, the academic tradition the persons in question belong and their individual preferences.
            So, for example, Pyysiäinen is clearly a cognitive psychologist (anthropologist) with a strong evolutionary bent.

            Hence the question of how atheists should view the theologists, quite independently of Shook’s piece, is very tricky and cannot be decided in a purely abstract manner.

            Second, of course I accept that many challenges and assertions need to be responded. My point was simply that the best way to respond pieces that seem to have no other purpose than incite yet another round of flame fighting, is to abstain from flaming and (a) firmly point to the problematic nature of the piece and (b) ask the author what precisely he or she had in mind.

            That was the motivation behind my original suggestion: to ask the leading university theologists, whether fundamentalists or Gnu Theologists, a short list of the very best works modern theology has provided. As I said, reading that short list would certainly not be beyond the capacity or opportunity of many Gnu Atheist activists. This would effectively remove the complaint from the debate: the critics of Gnu Atheism would need to find some other ways to criticize them.

            Needless to say, when people think that a particular piece is very offensive, they seldom want to view that offensive thing as a reason for doing some constructive. That is entirely understandable. But then there is the other side of the matter. If the piece was meant – or maybe just turned out – as an incendiary bait, is it wise to lose your cool? I do not think so: there are more efficient ways to dismiss such provocations, as I have suggested.

        • MyForumDepot
          Posted October 16, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

          This was the best comment I have read on the entire subject of atheism. Thank you and compliments on your erudition.

        • CandyLiz
          Posted October 26, 2010 at 8:28 am | Permalink

          Oh yes, yes, yes! Brilliantly put!

  2. Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    And they just can’t believe how a thing like religion could appeal to any intelligent person.
    Um… I totally see why religion (or certain aspects of certain religions) would be appealing. I find portions of religion appealing. But that doesnt make it real.

    Regarding the ‘modern, new, and oh-so-refined’ theology– normally I write that off as elitist assholes living on the coasts who have no idea what the Average Joe/Jane theists I live with believe, and have no idea how to interact with these people in real life.

    But Shook lived in Oklahoma for several years. Either he is currently lying to/deluding himself, or he never interacted with the ‘locals’ while he was here.

    • andy o
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      As a wise person once said: “it’s not about fun, it’s about the truth”.

      • NMcC
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        “But Shook lived in Oklahoma for several years. Either he is currently lying to/deluding himself…”

        But is this not the guy that took the atheist side in 2 debates with William Lane Craig? I’m almost certain it is, there can’t be that many people called John Shook.

        If so, I seem to recall him being quite dismissive of religious crap himself.

        • Melody Hensley
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

          You are thinking of the right John Shook.

          • NMcC
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

            In that case, he should be well aware of who the REAL shrill and strident no-nothings are. For all their faults (and I disagree a lot with Dawkins and Hitchens, in particular), it’s certainly not the ‘new’ atheists who display these characteristics. Richard Dawkins, to pick the most prominent example (and the one who suffers the unfair accusations the most), is, invariably, knowledge and politeness personified.

            Shook should be ashamed of himself for writing such appeasing drivel.

            • NMcC
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

              Obviously ‘know-nothings’ should be in the above, not ‘no’. Sorry, carelessness.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 2:12 am | Permalink

          And now he is dismissive of atheism.

          Typically that goes with agnostics & accommodationists claiming that atheism is a religious claim. (All the while ignoring that dismissing likelihoods et cetera out of hand is the religious claim.)

          No telling what Shook believes from the bits I have read. But the above scenario tend to go with that “theology is vital to analyzing religion” crap.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 2:17 am | Permalink

            Better make that ““theology is vital to analyzing existential claims” crap”. While theology isn’t science of religion, it is (or should be) part of the study subject.

    • KP
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Not just Oklahoma (I lived there for three years) but the Pacific Northwest pretty much anywhere outside the major metropolitan areas.

  3. Cliff Melick
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    “If you’re a CfI supporter, go read it, if only to see where your money’s going.”

    Not any more, it isn’t.

    • Jolo5309
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      I have continuously been on the fence with the CfI, they seem to be mushy and not really sure what their point is anymore.

      • Melody Hensley
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        CFI is a think tank that allows for many of the leading academics focusing on non-theism and humanism to express their opinions. Whether it is an article by Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins in Free Inquiry or a podcast by Chris Mooney. We aren’t mushy, we just aren’t dogmatic.

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

          This is an absolutely bogus defense of the indefensible. No one has accused Shook of being “dogmatic.” He’s accused of defending the unsupportable.

          As Dawkins, who I suppose you would call “dogmatic” one said to Lauie 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 fairyology.”

          I think Shook may be smokin’ crack or chasin’ the dragon. He’s written utter nonesense. Maybe some wires in his brain probably lost continuity. Maybe he was reading the Bible for some kind of insight about something or another. Things like that are guaranteed to unwire your grey matter el prontito.
          ~Rev. El Mundo

          • Melody Hensley
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

            He’s not defending the unsupportable. He’s trying to teach atheists how to win a debate. You might not like his approach, but that’s what he’s doing.

            • Insightful Ape
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

              No, he is concern trolling.
              Have you watched the debating skills of Christopher Hitchens?

            • Tacroy
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

              Pray tell, how is he trying to teach atheists to win a debate? As far as I can tell, what he’s saying is that it’s our fault the other side’s position sucks, and if we’d just pay attention they have good arguments hidden somewhere.

              He also makes the mistake of referencing the so oft-mentioned but rarely cited “robust modern theology”, which I’ve never seen hide nor hair of (unless you count that abomination they call apophatic theology, which is about as robust as fog).

              As far as I can tell, the theists haven’t been able to move beyond Epicurus’ poignant questions. The debate has been won since the time of the ancient Greeks. Why do we need someone to tell us now that it’s our fault our opponent’s side is poorly supported?

            • Melody Hensley
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

              “Have you watched the debating skills of Christopher Hitchens?”

              Yes, I just hosted an event with Hitchens before his diagnosis and had the honor of spending a bit of time with him. I have watched numerous debates with Hitchens and have enjoyed them thoroughly.

              I disagree that John Shook is a concern troll, but agree that Hitchens and Shook have different approaches to debating theists. However, John Shook has been very successful debating theists.

            • Insightful Ape
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

              If you have seen Hitchens in action, you know better than everyone that Shook is concern trolling.
              As much as I like Hector Avalos, for example, it would be quite ridiculous to claim he is better at debating than Hitchenes, just because he is a professor of biblical studies.

            • Posted September 25, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

              That’s crap and you know it. Just because you know someone personally doesn’t mean that you have offer excuses for thier insanity. What would you say if you were friends or workmate of Mel Gibson?

              “[we atheists] must take religion and theology more seriously?” Are you kidding me? Yea, we’ve got to take it more seriously all right. Unless he means that we laugh heartier every time we encounter the buffoons who still have their brains stuck squarely up their arses, I don’t know what the hell he’s yappin’ about. We understand alot about ignorance fear and what it means to be brainwashed for most of our youth and adult life by the jackasses we encounter on every freakin’ corner of the paths we walk. We certainly don’t need another jackass barkin’ the same crap to us from the halls of science, reason and clear thought.

              And that’s just one of the buffoonish pieces or tripe he offered. The entire article is filled w/ nonesense.

              This man needs to get to detox soon. His brain is in meltdown mode. Pretty soon he’ll be askin’ us to take Santa Claus and the Easter bunny a little more seriously if we want to understand anything about the people we refer to delusion fatheists.

              His entire position is moronic. Why can’t you see that?
              ~Rev. El

              “atheist wars”

            • Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

              He’s not defending the unsupportable. He’s trying to teach atheists how to win a debate.

              I’m stunned. Who the hell is this guy to “teach” people far more influential than he how to “win a debate”? It’s become clear over the past several months that the CfI has become arrogant and silly, and it’s your own fault.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 2:27 am | Permalink

              “He’s trying to teach atheists how to win a debate.”

              So he is a Mooney (and Kurtz?) framing drone. That arrogance and tendency to “lie for truth” benefits no one, since the difference in tactics spawns from differences in strategy. (Short term vs long term.) You can as well ask the Army to teach the Navy navigation.

              And it is counterproductive, as in the accommodationist short term perspective they drive away atheists from the very consilience they have made their air castle out of.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 2:30 am | Permalink

              “He’s trying to teach atheists how to win a debate.”

              Also, now you are defending the unsupportable. Why not make a neutral assessment? (Say, “he’s trying to explain his idea of winning a debate.”)

              You being partial to Shook’s claims explains a lot. But it makes it impossible to listen – it is unsupportable.

          • Tuco
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

            Or maybe some believer with deep pockets just wrote out a check with a bunch of zeros to the CfI…

        • MosesZD
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          Not mushy? You’re dicks. You’re playing pure tribalism by pillorying one group so you can suck up to the majority.

          “Look at us, we’re the nice atheists… Now don’t beat us…”

          I would suggest you read Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and what he had to say about the white liberals who constantly sabotaged his cause with their accomidationism…

          • Melody Hensley
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

            CFI is not an accommodationist organization. We give a platform to New Atheists ( I would count myself in that group if I had to, although I don’t think there is anything new about it) on a regular basis. We also allow others to express a wide spectrum of opinions. I guess I have to say that until I’m blue in the face. If that makes us “dicks,” dicks we are.

            • Screechy Monkey
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

              “We also allow others to express a wide spectrum of opinions. I guess I have to say that until I’m blue in the face. ”

              Or you could just accept that people can have a wide spectrum of opinions on CfI and its agenda and tactics as well.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 2:36 am | Permalink

              Yeah, I agree with SM. The fact that there is a debate can’t be an argument to stop the debate.

              … oh, except that for accommodationists that is their point. Their whole point if we add “to stop the rude debate.”

        • Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

          I’m inclined to stick up for them.

          I’ve always found CFI to have a ballistic approach. Part of what I like about it is that the individuals involved don’t have to tow a party line.

          So yeah – I can take or leave different posts. The latest one from John? I’m leaving it. But others from John have been good, and there’s plenty on there that’s worthwhile.

          If the misses are enough to put someone off, then fair enough.

          Personally, I value the hits enough to stick around.

          “On Balance,” indeed. ^_^

    • steve oberski
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      You betcha.

      My renewal is coming up in November I’m not inclined to renew based on the CFI shenanigans over the last year.

  4. Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    CFI is just an extension of theology run by philosophy/theology types. So, when people begin to either dismiss religion or study it in a scientific manner, they lose their jobs. These divinity schoolers are quite adept at taking over organizations, and they’ve also overrun the Social “Science” Research Council’s religion project.

    • Jacobus van Beverningk
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Woa! No, seriously: WOW!

      “So, when people begin to either dismiss religion or study it in a scientific manner, they lose their jobs. These divinity schoolers ..”

      You must have the wrong CFI in mind!

      I can show you some interesting articles on religion by their founder Paul Kurtz, and he is STILL on their payroll!

      Go ahead, read this, and then call them divinity ‘schoolers’ again:

      http://www.centerforinquiry.net/about

      • Simon
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        Actually Paul Kurtz resigned from CFI back in May. To my knowledge, he never took a salary from CFI, so I doubt he’s “on the payroll” at this time.

        • Jacobus van Beverningk
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

          My mistake: I meant to write ‘personnel roll':

          http://www.centerforinquiry.net/about/personnel

          And indeed, he’s listed as “Founder and Chair Emeritus for CFI,” etc

          • Melody Hensley
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

            You are correct that they have the wrong CFI. That was an outrageous and false claim made by the previous poster.

      • Jacobus van Beverningk
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        And just in case you didn’t read it all the way to the end:


        Fostering a secular society requires attention to many specific goals, but three goals in particular represent the focus of our activities:

        – an end to the influence that religion and pseudoscience have on public policy
        – an end to the privileged position that religion and pseudoscience continue to enjoy in many societies
        – an end to the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever, whether the nonbeliever describes her/himself as an atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker or skeptic.

        You still hold that “CFI is just an extension of theology run by philosophy/theology types” ??
        Preposterous!

        • Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

          - an end to the privileged position that religion and pseudoscience continue to enjoy in many societies

          Yeah, this piece really contributes to that goal.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        I’m not sure why you mention Paul Kurtz as an example.

        First, Kurtz isn’t on their payroll, he has retired from all CfI posts:

        On 18 May 2010 the Boards of Directors of the Council for Secular Humanism, its supporting organization, the Center for Inquiry, and another supported organization, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, issued a statement announcing that it accepted Dr. Kurtz’s resignation as chairman emeritus, as a member of each board, and as editor in chief of FREE INQUIRY. [Wikipedia]

        Second, Kurtz isn’t an atheist as in “simply an atheist”, but a philosopher with an interest in religion:

        In the podcast Paul explains why he refuses to be defined as simply an atheist and why he is against Blasphemy Day.

        It seems to me Darren Sherkat makes a likely prediction of CfI when combined with precisely Kurtz behavior.

        I haven’t listened to the podcast but it bears heavily on this topic:

        A few days ago on NPR I heard about a growing schism in the atheist movement. I was surprised it made the news at all. But that evening I also heard the Center for Inquiry podcast pitting Paul Kurtz, its founder, against the present leadership and the direction CFI is currently taking. Here is a part of that podcast and the issues at stake.

        The entire podcast is 26 minutes and is the tip of what might become a defining moment in both the Atheist and Secular Humanist movement. A divide might become inevitable.

        It seems to me Kurtz could be the main architect behind the New Accommodationist divisiveness.

        If you listen to the podcast I’m curious of your opinion of it. (I may listen later, since it is deemed pivotal.)

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, blockquote fail. The “A few days … might become inevitable.” was a quote.

        • Jacobus van Beverningk
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

          “I’m not sure why you mention Paul Kurtz as an example”

          Obviously because he’s the founder of that organization. I would have thought that stands for something.

          As for the payroll, indeed, I was not aware that he retired very recently from the many positions he has held for decennia. I’m fairly sure he wasn’t “fired” from his own organization for “scientifically studying religion” or “dismissing” it, for that matter.

          As for him not being an atheist, that’s all about that boring outdrawn discussion about the subtle difference between atheism and agnosticism. Even though people get horribly worked up over it, to me it’s just details. The point is: he doesn’t believe in (a) god, and is very clear about it. The rest is semantics.

          More importantly, over the decennia he’s been active, every time religion tried to meddle in things they had no business in, it was Paul Kurtz who was usually the first to heavily attack such transgressions.

          To call him and the organization he founded ‘divinity schoolers’ is just plain wrong.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 2:48 am | Permalink

            “Obviously because he’s the founder of that organization.”

            That wasn’t the problem, see my previous comment.

            “I would have thought that stands for something.”

            But seeing that Kurtz is ousted, it doesn’t.

            “the subtle difference between atheism and agnosticism.”

            Let me be very clear for the benefit of the discussion: there is no “subtle difference”.

            Agnostics claims that we can’t tell existence of gods or other supernatural phenomena connected to them. Atheists claims at least that there are likelihoods.

            Modulo the very rare religious atheists (rejecting gods no matter what), atheism is a natural empirical claim on the observed evidence. Similarly, agnosticism is a religious claim shoring up a belief, supported by religious special pleading. Typically as Kurtz they reject the possibility of paranormal phenomena and accept the possibility of supernatural phenomena.

            So if Kurtz is an agnostic, he is very much a “divinity scholar”, dismissing empiricism for religious belief.

            • Jacobus van Beverningk
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 7:22 am | Permalink

              “agnosticism is a religious claim”

              [.. and agnostics are "divinity scholars", dismissing empiricism]

              Yes, then the difference between atheism and agnosticism becomes a bit less subtle, but only because you redefine agnosticism WAY beyond its actual meaning.
              Seeing Kurtz described as a divinity scholar who dismisses empiricism for religious belief, makes me realize you don’t even have a CLUE as to who the guy is, and further discussion is pointless.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        Oops, missed the update, Simon got the payroll issue before me.

        Also, I meant to mention that the CfI podcast “Point of Inquiry” has gotten a lot of flack since they have shilled for creationists, especially Discovery Institute members. IIRC people have resigned from participating there for the same reason as Templeton: they equivocate on science and religion.

        • Melody Hensley
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

          You are specifically talking about Mooney. I disagree with him adamantly and have told him so. I’m just more tolerant of a wide spectrum of views within the movement.

          I have discussed this with Mooney and he disagrees that he is shilling for creationists.

          • tomh
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

            Melody Hensley wrote:
            I have discussed this with Mooney and he disagrees that he is shilling for creationists.

            Did you think he would admit that he is shilling for creationists? In the eyes of many, that’s exactly what he is doing.

            • Melody Hensley
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

              No, I don’t think he would admit it, because I believe he thinks he is not. I’ve hung out with Mooney on a personal level over beers and really gave it to him. He took it really well. That’s one thing I can say about the guy. He keeps his cool and he can take criticism.

            • Insightful Ape
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

              Well, this what I believe.
              Bringing in Mooney to replace DJ Grothe hasn’t endeared CFI with people who would be most likely to support it.

          • MosesZD
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

            When he takes up their cause in the issue of civility, which is, simply put, a way a large, abusive group controls others… I don’t think I’m going to buy off on his BS.

            The Republicans did this for years. Always whining about “civility” to control the debate. And, while whining about civility, were the biggest offenders. They’d find some nobody to make an example of, while in the mean-time Newt Gingrich, Jerry Falwell, et. al. were routinely savaging people without censure.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:05 am | Permalink

            “You are specifically talking about Mooney.”

            I don’t think so. AFAIU letting creationists into the podcast started under Adam Isaak, as well as the criticism of said practice.

            “he disagrees that he is shilling for creationists.”

            That is not what the evidence says, see above. The whole point is that letting creationists in makes it a credible alternative to evolution and other sciences that ID/YEC want to replace with religion. Scientists typically want none of that, and it is tragic that CfI supports the practice.

            But the whole point goes back to that CfI is, here and there at least, practicing as “divinity scholars” and supporting “the privileged position that religion and pseudoscience continue to enjoy in many societies”. Instead of representing secularism as it is widely understood and practiced.

            [I see a theme here, both religion and secularism is mis-portrayed. This ought to make it easier for Mooney framing afterwards as well. Ouch!]

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:09 am | Permalink

              Sorry about my first “whole point” subverting the second. I guess I’m point-ing too much there.

        • Simon
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

          What was “shilling for creationists”…DJ Grothe interviewing Michael Behe a few years ago on Point of Inquiry?

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:10 am | Permalink

            Yes.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      CFI, nee CODESH, & Paul Kurtz were there when nobody else was. Pre-internet, Kurtz’s lifework–including CODESH & PSICOP–were the main lifelines we freethinkers & atheists in the US had to find community. I remember being disappointed, upon first joining the earlier two groups, to find a bunch of philosophers & psychologists at the helm, rather than the scientists I’d expected. But then I had to concede that the subject matter was really more philosophy than science, anyway…Kurtz always has embraced science as THE paradigm upon which to build one’s conclusions about life & ethics…

      I, too, am disappointed that the “atheist wars” have permeated CFI (and am becoming increasingly annoyed at just how much attention the atheist infighting in general eats up–makes me think its a religious plot to keep us distracted, just like the GOP uses “culture war” to distract the electorate). But I could never in good conscience summarily dismiss the organization & its founder, being too aware of the vast debt we owe them for having labored for the cause for so long…That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let them know what we think about their present trends, of course.

      Which I find confusing, as my sense was that Kurtz was more or less asked to butt out due to his objections to the increasingly in-you-face tactics recent CFI leadership endorsed, e.g., supporting Blasphemy Day, etc. (Which I thought were great, I hasten to add.) Perhaps the Kurtz faction is gaining ground again…

      At any rate, the unsurprising observation you all will eventually make over time is simply that, like all other human philosophical areas–politics, religion, etc.–atheism has been torn by fractious schools of thought, power-grasping leaders, and in-fighting throughout its history.

      All the more reason some of us have campaigned strongly to separate the concept of atheism (no implied philosophy beyond dismissal of the supernatural) from humanism and any other strains of philosophy that arise to fill the void. The latter are most important, of course, but bound to be contentious. The “simple” matter of atheism should be addressed by itself.

      Kurtz has always been forthright about his aim to codify a secular humanism, based on science and rational inquiry. It remains to be seen if his “eupraxophy” will gain traction. But don’t dismiss the man until you read him. (Warning, though–like me, he is wordy.)

      • Diane G.
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        “think its a religious plot”–>”think it’s a religiou plot”

        “in-you-face”–>”in-your-face”

        Cussword.

      • Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        As a long-time CFI member myself. I pretty much agree with what you’ve offered. There’s sertainly no reason at all to “abandon ship.”

        The “atheist wars” to which to refer is contrived. It is not real in any sense and I think all sensible thinking people should be more careful about spreading this meme.

        There’s no evidence whatsoever for the existence of gods, ghouls, fairies, angels, or demons. There is only the natural world and the scientific method to make sense of it.

        Accepting that fact on an existential level immediately places one in a certain “camp.” Shook’s HuffPo bullshit should at least get him kick out of any leadership position in that “camp.” This man either needs to be rehabilited or asked to join the Baptist camp down the street. Maybe he just needs a few weeks in detox (see Melony reply above). All I can say with any certain, however, is that his words were nothing more than pure tomfoolery, the kind of tomfoolery, BTW, I would expect to hear loudly at Baptist camp.
        ~Rev. El Mundo

      • Jacobus van Beverningk
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        I SO totally agree with all of this!

        Especially, the “and [I] am becoming increasingly annoyed at just how much attention the atheist infighting in general eats up–”

        We have bigger fish to fry, than to quarrel about the proper meaning of the word ‘atheist’ and whether or not we can be a dick or not.

        Quite frankly, I find this whole ‘militant versus accommodationist non-believers’ war insane, ludicrous, infantile, counterproductive and distracting.
        It’s like the navy is fighting the army over who is more effective, while ignoring the enemy.

        • Diane G.
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          Quite frankly, I find this whole ‘militant versus accommodationist non-believers’ war insane, ludicrous, infantile, counterproductive and distracting.
          It’s like the navy is fighting the army over who is more effective, while ignoring the enemy.

          Perfect, concise, 2-sentence summation of the situation! I would sure like to see one of the main internet, book-writing, and/or media-prominent atheist spokespersons embrace and start talking up this position. It is most discouraging to watch the internal struggles consume us and provide such welcome fodder to the “other side.” Me, tho I definitely skew gnu, I’m for ‘big tent’ atheism.

          • Josh Slocum
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

            I really resent what appears to be the false equivalency between the “two sides.” Diane, those of us who are pissed didn’t pick this fight. We didn’t libel anyone else – the damage was done to us. Do you expect us to just take it? We, the “gnus,” are not equally to blame for this, and it’s not OK to gloss over that.

            And I’m not for any “big tent atheism” that includes prominent organizational executives lying about us and contributing to the atmosphere of irrational hatred we experience in the US.

            You want an end to the distraction? So do I. But how about laying the blame where it belongs.

            • tomh
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

              Josh Slocum wrote:
              I really resent what appears to be the false equivalency between the “two sides.” Diane,…

              Exactly right. John Shook pops up with an outlandish article, under the byline of CFI, calling atheists know-nothings, without bothering to say who he’s talking about or what they’re saying that shows they know nothing. Does he mean Dawkins, Hitchens, Joe Blow at the corner tavern? Who knows? This is not criticism, or arguing in good faith. It’s merely asserting an opinion without evidence, examples, or any basis for such a conclusion. When called on it, all we get are whiners from CFI, claiming that’s not CFI’s opinion, and they’ll talk to Shook privately and find out what he really meant, because it was probably just a poor choice of words. What nonsense.

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

              I really need to express myself more clearly…by “the other side” in my comment, I was referring to religionists, whom I have no doubt are cackling with pleasure at our squabbles (and no doubt pulling for the accomodationists, whose approach I’m sure they far prefer).

              Nor have I meant to imply “equivalence” between the gnus & “olds,” nor do I even think there’s a sharp line between two camps. I think it might be more of a frequency distribution, with some of us in the tails, and some of us in the middle, probably leaning more to one side than the other.

              Where I see the gnu response going too far is in the extreme emotions expressed here–whereas I think the less defensive the reaction, the more seriously it might be taken. Yes, the canards about the gnus need to be dimissed outright, but I think it’d be better to be more cooly dismissive, and then move on, as if the accomo’s point was hardly worth wasting much time on.

              As far as ‘big tent,’ I mean that in the purely political sense of numbers leading to clout. I thought one of the most promising developments of recent years was the creation of the SCA in which a bunch of independent atheist orgs joined to lobby for the cause. (And as I remember, CFI was a conspicuous hold-out for quite a while–sigh.)

              What I decry are some of the absolutist declarations here about CFI, the haste to disregard its long history in the movement on the basis of current dissonance. Yes, we should tell them how we feel about it, but some of the acid denigration here has gone way too far, IMO.

              People forget or just didn’t live thru the Civil Rights era, when in fact not everybody was behind MLK; when some felt he was recommending too much accomodation, when some felt more militancy was required. Forty years from now I wonder what CFI’s legacy will be? I suspect it will at least be about much more of their history than just the past few years. (And no, I’m not meaning to call them our MLK! I just don’t think a couple of missteps means we should throw them under the bus, nor that they have shown a conclusive pattern of doing the same to us.)

            • JBlilie
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

              Josh, are you related to the Joshua Slocum? (Saling Alone Around the World)

          • Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

            Well… Yes and no.

            I always liked PZ’s point about how much he hates the term ‘herding cats’. He pointed out that organizing atheists should be more like herding lions. We scratch.

            I don’t think that we need to worry so much about all the infighting myself. Sure, it sucks up a bit of time and energy – but the people here who keep coming back into the fray… Are you sure they’re not enjoying themselves? Just a little bit? Maybe?

            Look, leave it to the religious and the Newagers to worry about infighting – their views and opinions can’t stand up to rigorous and effective criticism.

            However, we shouldn’t let ourselves fall into that mode of thinking. Effective and rigorous criticism should be our bread and butter. God (turn of phrases, turn of phrase) knows that the woo crowd aren’t going to give us the level of critique we need. If they were good critical thinkers, they wouldn’t be our opponents in the first place.

            So I disagree strongly. We need to be subject to blistering critique as much as the next loosely-affiliated group of persons. There’s no group of people I trust more to do that than my fellow atheists, humanists, skeptics and freethinkers.

            Personally, I’d be much more concerned if we never squabbled. That would reveal either a lack of passion for the subject, or (worse) that we were marching in lock-step to some kind of central party line and not voicing our disagreements out of some kind of will to conformity.

            Bring it on, I say! Where else are we going to find worthy sparring partners?

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

              but the people here who keep coming back into the fray… Are you sure they’re not enjoying themselves? Just a little bit?

              Oh, I think many are enjoying themselves quite a bit! And I’m enjoying some of them as well. :D

              I think Shook, from the excerpts here discussed, well deserved a blistering critique. I am totally sick of the strawman style of opinion writing that seems ubiquitous in journalism & the media today. I think the aspersions against CFI have gone too far in some comments. Disparaging an organization with such a long track record on the basis of their bumps during leadership transition bespeaks more the impulsiveness of youth than reasoned evaluation. It’s possible to be strongly critical without throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

              I am reminded of “Mistakes were Made; but Not by Me,” a book that sticks with one despite one’s normal aversion to pop psych. Explicitly, of the authors’ metaphor of 2 people starting off very close to each other on the top of a pyramid, and, by virtue of becoming increasingly adamant about their own POV, traveling farther and farther down their respective sides of the pyramid, till they end up much farther apart from each other than they really were to start with, and how much that defeats any possibility of ever changing things for the better.

            • Josh Slocum
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, I’m enjoying myself a fair bit, admittedly. But I am genuinely pissed off, and I think with cause. This really does feel like the last straw.

              I get what Diane is saying about evaluating the overall impact of CFI, and not allowing missteps to completely color our evaluation of it. She’s right about that.

              On the other hand, I’m just not going to put up with “allied” organizations taking a metaphorical dump on outspoken atheists any longer. I’ve had it. Completely fed up. I’m going to give them holy hell every time until they stop it.

              Legitimate criticism is fine. Throwing atheists to the wolves in the contemporary American conversational climate is not.

            • Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

              @Josh Slocum

              On the other hand, I’m just not going to put up with “allied” organizations taking a metaphorical dump on outspoken atheists any longer.

              Good! I hope I didn’t sound like I was coming over as opposed to that point of view. I’m not happy about Shook’s latest article either.

              All I was trying to point out is that I absolutely freaking love the cantankerousness, passion, bile, and outright mauling that’s going on in this thread. No-one’s really pulling any punches. And as far as I can tell, no-one’s concern-trolling about tone. Sure, hyperbole abounds, but so far everything I’ve seen here has had the intention of being content-based, although I may have missed something.

              It’s a very good thing to see. Gladdens my heart, it does. Nice and healthy reactions all ’round.

              But between you and me? I’m not ready to start baying for John Shook’s blood just yet. Yes, I don’t like the various problems with his latest article – others have dealt with them enough, and I see no reason to repeat them here.

              But on balance, I think his articles are usually pretty good. I find comments such as “Religious believers try to rationalize God, but it never works,” and “Belief in a god fails any minimal standard of ordinary rationality” to be much more indicative of his articles than the excerpts so blisteringly torn to pieces in the threads here.

              So by all means – a blistering tearing-to-pieces of this particular article is justified. Have at it!

              At the same time, a little bit of context doesn’t hurt either.

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

              …the contemporary American conversational climate…

              And boy is that ever a huge part of the problem! Would that we could do something about that! (Now I’m getting het up…)

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:27 am | Permalink

        To reciprocate: I have no idea CfI or Kurtz existed until a year ago. I don’t know either history.

        History is all well and good (and I will want to know more), but we live in the now. This is what I’m reacting to and acting on in the context, this is basically all what I need to react on as persons and organizations aren’t exactly high in predictiveness anyway.

        I don’t think the “war” metaphor is valid, but I believe the discussion is beneficial. A dead subject has no internal debate (cf religion).

        As for science and atheism I will state outright that I think garbing it out in untestable (in principle) philosophy such as Kurtz is harmful. Stumbling recklessly after donning a loose ill-fit vestment is not a good thing, nor mistaking the religious type (at best) garment for the actual person inside.

  5. Insightful Ape
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I am not quite sure why he us making the subject all so much more complicated than it needs to be.
    There is something or someone, at times depicted as a bearded man in the sky (at
    the Sistine chapel, no less). Yet that happens to be just a grotesque caricature; “he” is shapeless, invisible, everywhere and nowhere at once; the “everywhere” includes inside your head, where he is constantly reading and recording your thoughts; and the “you” includes every human being whereever they live, past, present and future.
    How dare I challenge this being without learning every single word written about “him” over the last 400 years.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      It’s “Him”. How dare you NOT capitalize “Him”. That’s exactly the kind of shit that pisses Him off.

      • Insightful Ape
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        I know. The next tsunami in Asia or earthquake is Haiti (whichever comes
        first) is gonna be my fault.
        See, even though we haven’t studied theology extensively, we can pretty much characterize his (ahem-“His”) psychology.

        • Tulse
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

          even though we haven’t studied theology extensively, we can pretty much characterize his (ahem-”His”) psychology

          An Immanent Ground of Being has a psychology? Somebody tell Karen Armstrong!

        • MadScientist
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

          The earthquake is only your fault if you’ve been flaunting and jiggling your boobs.

  6. Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I suppose the only way to make theology *really* sophisticated is by discussing it while wearing cufflinks. Otherwise, we’re dealing with an exponentially confusing version of Durkheim’s “collective effervescence” disguised as metaphysical possibility.

    Hyperbolized, creative metaphor is no elixir. As far as I’m concerned, the “sophistication” gambit is nothing more than variations on a theme.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Well said.

    • MosesZD
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      +1

  7. Rhis
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    That whole article was incoherent. He’s not just criticizing atheists for lack of understanding of theology. He’s saying that atheist lack of understanding of theology is causing theists to hold bad theological positions.

    Should we be debating gods other than the ones that theists believe? Should we attack arguments other than the ones they support?

  8. Hitch
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I have a very real issue with this kind of argument and it certainly goes back until at least Eagleton.

    It’s the “you are intellectually shallow argument and here is why” attack.

    Now here is my bother with it. These attacks do not meet the symmetry test.

    Symmetry test simply says replace the roles and see what happens to the honesty of the argument.

    Just take Schook’s article and replace atheist with theist.

    What would be a book comparable to say Dawkins on the religious side? Dawkins is accused (falsely) of writing populist and for appeal. Let me be so unfair and pick Richard Warren as the symmetric (a comparison unfair to Dawkins, so we err in the right direction).

    Now how many HuffPo or other articles have we seen criticizing Rich Warren for his strident position with respect to atheism? What about Joe Ratzi? Critiques of stridency?

    But the real critique of know-nothingness. This is a funny concept. It was pushed by a small group on the blogosphere, around YouAreNotHelping (rings a bell?) and a guy called Gurdur as an attempt to brand new atheism as shallow. On the more well-written end we have Eagleton but also others, for example D.S. Wilson.

    How does their attack in each particular instance pass the sniff-test? Well not really. Reading Eagleton one finds virtually no engagement with the ideas of atheistic writing, whether it is those who he “critiques” but in reality rather shallowly mocks such as “Ditchkins” or anybody else. In reality his book is a veiled fascination with Kirkegaard’s notion of Tragic (plus a not very interesting defense of some catholic notions of the numinous).

    So him not actually engaging with atheism seriously, is not know-nothingness? Well, of course, he has a large crowd who only needs evidence that those oh so strident people are mocked!

    And we do not demand even of theologians to engage with the body of sizeable volume of skeptic and non-believing writing, or even writing of other faiths. They somehow, even though established academics are allowed to write from within their tradition and perspective and are not attacked for not giving even a justification why they don’t.

    Incidentally Dawkins for example has given arguments why one does not have to consider theology when god is a delusion. But why bother contending with his actual explanation when one can fight a more convenient stawman of “stridency” and “ignorance”.

    Even supposedly sophisticated arguments by supposedly serious people are flawed. Take D. S. Sloan. He quoted Hitchens out of context to make him appear as if he had genocidal fantasies against all muslims, when in context he was talking about a militant response to violent extremists. So is that the standard of intellectual depth now?

    Well yes, because people do not check, if they agree. Gnu atheists are, in their mind, obviously “strident” “know-nothings”.

    Forget Dennett, and the uncomfortable difficulty there, or Pascal Boyer. Forget that Hitchens, obviously a polemicist, talks more intelligently about C.S. Lewis ideas than many a full-time christian apologist. Forget that lots of what the New Atheists write is about social ramifications and not abstract theology, or as D.S. Sloan may wish, academic anthropology.

    Basically these critics are intellectually as much “know-nothings” about the other side than the crowd they critique. In fact I think they are often clearly worse. Yet we do not get HuffPo articles that start with the line: “Believers are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of secular philosophical thought, and not much more about science, and they seem proud of their ignorance.”

    It doesn’t take a degree in sociology to understand why this is.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Yes, great point. And since atheists are a public minority, the ability to demonize and marginalize is often welcomed by a threatened majority who seek reassurance.

      I’ve also noticed a tendency for self-contempt among some non-belivers akin to internalized racism (i.e., agreeing with one’s own oppression while perpetuating stereotypes associated with the traditionally pejorative word “atheist”). I suppose, borrowing from your comment, one could see this as a symmetry of fear … fear of social isolation.

    • Badger3k
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      Considering his argument is pretty much a straw man, I’d say his ignorance precludes him from the argument.

      • Badger3k
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        SPeaking of Shook, if that wasn’t clear

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

          Shook is a damn smart fellow. I don’t think his article in HuffPo does his book justice, having received an advanced copy.

          • Jolo5309
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

            Then why did he write an article that essentially says “Theological arguments are weak because atheists are ignorant. Now buy my book!”?

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:32 am | Permalink

            If smart := intelligence, that only means a person has more resources to delude himself and/or the environment. Not a good general argument.

            And again with the defense? Thanks for testing my previous prediction of partiality!

    • Tyro
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Great point – why are atheists derided for not taking religious arguments seriously when TGD devotes several chapters to their arguments and demolishes them nicely. On the other hand, theists don’t engage atheistic arguments without wheelbarrow loads of fallacies and no one calls them on this nor derides them for their failure to engage.

      Fear not, this is how all status quos get changed. (It’s still infuriating though.)

      • Jolo5309
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        On the other hand, theists don’t engage atheistic arguments without wheelbarrow loads of fallacies and no one calls them on this nor derides them for their failure to engage.

        Because you are supposed to respect the other side, so what if they are lying for Jesus. Have you learned nothing?

  9. Caryn
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Yeah, this popped up on their Facebook feed about ten days ago. Nathan Bupp posted on the resulting thread that (paraphrased) he wasn’t surprised by the response, because *every time* someone tried to hold a mirror up to the Gnu Atheists, they attacked you — it had happened to him, to Mooney, etc.

    He’s since deleted that post, but you can see the subsequent responses: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/posted.php?id=5945034772&share_id=160161333995914&comments=1#s160161333995914

    • Screechy Monkey
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      It’s so unfair — every time I criticize someone, they think it’s ok to criticize my criticism! So uncivil….

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:34 am | Permalink

        Good one, reductio ad accommodationism.

  10. Mal
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    From the CFI website:

    “Fostering a secular society requires attention to many specific goals, but three goals in particular represent the focus of our activities:

    1.an end to the influence that religion and pseudoscience have on public policy

    2.an end to the privileged position that religion and pseudoscience continue to enjoy in many societies

    3.an end to the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever, whether the nonbeliever describes her/himself as an atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker or skeptic.”

    That’s part of their mission statement. I can’t see how this article in the Huffington Post meets any of these objectives.

    • Dr. J
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      Thanks, I was about to post nearly the same exact thing. It particularly seems to go against their second and third points.

      It’s a little unusual – I wonder where the CFI is going with this and why.

      • Jacobus van Beverningk
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        “I wonder where the CFI is going with this and why.”

        I don’t think it’s the CFI that’s going anywhere with it, but it’s John Shook. As to the ‘why': I think Jerry already answered that one. One word: ‘book’.

        • Badger3k
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

          Agreed. I refuse to give HuffPo any traffic, so I can’t read what he wrote, but since this does seem to be a “buy my book” article, how much does he push CFI? Is it in a position of prominence? If so, then he implies that CFI endorses his viewpoint, which is pretty shady, but expected.

          What we need is an agreement – once theologists show evidence for the deity, or at the very least show that they actually understand scientific discoveries and theories, then we might pay a little bit more attention to them. So far, most articles I’ve seen are usually lacking both.

        • Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink

          As to the ‘why’: I think Jerry already answered that one. One word: ‘book’.

          That doesn’t really answer the question. Of course he wants to push his book. But assuming the article reflects the book as a whole, why is a prominent CfI member writing a book like this in the first place?

          • Badger3k
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

            It’s profitable – not sure how much CFI is paying him, but if I read correctly that he is a philosopher, then, well, that says it all. Not a whole lot of jobs for those with that degree that doesn’t involve fried foods.

            • Badger3k
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

              Doesn’t = Don’t. D’oh!

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

          _Of course_ CfI is going somewhere with this, and they have been known to do so for a long time now (due to their podcast “Point of Inquiry” shilling for creationists). And it seems former CfI head Kurtz (and perhaps Mooney et al behind him) are pivotal architects of their divisiveness. See my comment under #4 for details.

          • Melody Hensley
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

            These opinions are those of a few people working for the organization that you disagree with and are focusing on. If you want to read articles by people that you are more likely to agree with try Ron Lindsay, CEO and President of CFI, Tom Flynn, Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, or the many guest columnists in Free Inquiry like Richard, Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, or Daniel Dennett.

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

              Precisely.

          • Simon
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

            Wait hold on-“shilling for creationists”…you mean interviewing and DJ Grothe confronting Michael Behe a few years ago on Point of Inquiry? Are you serious?

            • MosesZD
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

              A few years ago Obama was a liberal. Now he’s gone further into lawlessness than even Bush dared…

              It’s a sad day when it’s made ILLEGAL for a defendant to get an attorney to represent him. A person who is, by law and Constitutional protection, presumed innocent until proven guilty. It’s a sad day when the President orders, clearly in violation of the Constitution, the murder of a US citizen. And has, in fact, already made one failed assassination attempt in South Yemen with a remote drone.

              It is especially sad that there’s not even a remote justification in that “they’re probably right.” After for all “trust me” we heard regarding the hundreds and hundreds of “hard-core, worst-of-the-worst terrorists” we’ve had in dentition, the reality that the absolute overwhelming majority were innocent.

              So let’s not rest on the preconceptions of yesterday for our reality of today. For if our liberal, formerly against these things, President can condone war crimes and crimes against humanity, why should we assume that others cannot change as well.

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

              @ Moses ZD on Obama: one only wishes that were not so true!

      • Bruce Gorton
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 1:32 am | Permalink

        Why do very reputable “liberal” newspapers not fact check their conservative columnists?

        It is all about the appearance of being reasonable, and damning the reason.

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Well, the previous CFI statement on the “ground zero mosque” was enough for me to decide not to pay for any more of their publications or make any more donations. Sure $50 a year isn’t much – but maybe more folks out there only contribute that little and hopefully they also decide to stop supporting the CFI. What a sad state of affairs; there are some very good people at CFI, but until they purge their senior ranks of fools they get nothing more from me.

  11. Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Christian theology has come a long way since St. Thomas Aquinas.

    Then why is he still quoted so often?

    Many kinds of theology have emerged, replacing a handful of traditional arguments for God with robust methods of defending religious viewpoints.

    Citation needed. Some examples wouldn’t hurt his argument.

    There are philosophical atheists who have quietly and successfully kept pace.

    I’d like some examples of these too.

    How much you want to bet that most of them regularly get accused of being unsophisticated as well, and get told they’re not attacking real religion too?

    This is where the bewilderment comes from: virtually nobody on the religious side is willing to pin down what exactly they believe. It seems that they always want to be able to say “Oh, no, I don’t believe that“. Rather than berate atheists for not understanding “modern theology”, we should be berating “modern theology” for intentionally making it impossible to understand.

    • Jolo5309
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      Rather than berate atheists for not understanding “modern theology”, we should be berating “modern theology” for intentionally making it impossible to understand.

      Maybe if atheists were a little smarter then it would not be so impossible to understand…

      Of course the real issue is that atheists don’t believe in any god while theists do. No matter which theology book, including the one that Shook is shilling, that basic issue remains.

    • Badger3k
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      I agree with Jerry (and probably most to everyone here) – “Many kinds of theology have emerged, replacing a handful of traditional arguments for God with robust methods of defending religious viewpoints.” – unless these robust methods include evidence for their deity, why should we waste time and effort on them?

      • Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        I’d even settle for less. Some of these “robust methods” all but do away with their deity, so I wouldn’t expect them to show evidence for a deity. However, they do need to be able to show:

        1) What specific benefits do you offer over a secular/skeptic/scientific outlook? (Other than the freedom to make stuff up)

        2) Without a deity, why would you continue calling yourself a religion? (Other than trying to leech off the automatic undeserved respect that most of religion appears to get in our society)

        I’m not aware of any “modern theology” that meets these demands, but I’m no expert, so I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. So far, though, a lot of these efforts appear to be people trying very hard to find ways in which they can be atheists, while still staying safely within the folds of religion.

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      “robust methods of defending religious viewpoints”

      I guess that means the proposed anti-blasphemy laws in many nations and the various bits being pushed as UN Resolutions to outlaw criticism of religions. In the past those robust methods included torture and murder (well, this is still a contemporary reality for apostates of islam) and ostracization is still a common tool even in the USA. Oh yeah, I’m all for promoting these robust methods of defending religious viewpoints.

  12. Tulse
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Atheists…know nothing of God

    I find the way this sentence is stated to be rather revealing. It doesn’t say “know nothing about the concept of God”, but instead implies that the God discussed is real. The terminology also identifies a particular deity, the Christian “God”, and not Allah, or Yahweh, and certainly not the multiple lower-case gods of various important pantheons.

    Really what is being defended here is a very narrow, provincial view of deities. I suppose that is the goal, acting as apologist for Christian theology, but such is certainly not the whole of theology, and arguing for the specific when allegedly defending the general makes one look like just a shill for Christianity. It also makes me wonder just how much Shook knows of Islamic theology, or Zoroastrian theology, or Hindu theology — surely one has to be intimately familiar with them to reject their relevance and significance, no?

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      If anything I find the trinitarian “version” less defensible than Yahweh and Allah.
      How can someone be his own father and his own son? How can you complain “why, father, have you abandoned me” if
      the person you’re complaining to is really
      YOU?
      If you want to defent theology you better
      do your homework first.

      • Badger3k
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        “How can someone be his own father and his own son?”

        You’ve never been to the Deep South, have you?

        Seriously, don’t forget the Holy Ghost, which was probably originally just another way of saying something like “breath of God” (ie, YHVH himself). I always find the Christian denial of their polytheism amusing as well.

        • Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

          Never mind Satan, who appears to be at least as powerful as God (considering God never was able to get rid of him). But this is probably another example of me being crude about the finer points of theology.

        • Friend of Icelos
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          “You’ve never been to the Deep South, have you?”

          Wow, that’s not just Deep, that’s Abysmal. :)

      • MadScientist
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        Well as any kid knows, you can be your own grandpa. With only those facts, you might conclude that you can also be your own father – but as every kid knows, the circumstances that allow you to be your own grandpa exclude the possibility of being your own father.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Tulse wins the thread, here.

      Shook is quite unmistrakably a True Believer™, of the “I’m so sophisticated even Coltrane’s Lady is trailer trash” variety.

      That such a “sophisticate” would write such blather is hardly surprising.

      If anybody reads his book, I’d be curious to know if he even pretends to present a logically-consistent definition of his god-thingy. We all know he won’t and will jump instantly to high-falutin’ hand-waving Anselm-type “Oooh God, you’re so Gody!” mush. But still.

      And evidence? Forget it. It’ll just be more “I’m too stupid to understand this or too dull to imagine how it might have happened, therefore Jesus.”

      <sigh>

      You know, it’s unfortunate. Theology really does have a place in respectable academia: as a wholly-contained subsidiary of mythology. There’s an awful lot of real meat on those bones, from anthropology to (non-curative) psychology to literary analysis and more. But making the mistrake of thinking that it’s real is as foolish and counter-productive as searching for the real Excalibur, Grendel’s fossil, or the DNA of midichlorians.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        But that can be done in the context of Religion Studies (which I think is a worthwhile discipline), or in the context of all the other disciplines you mention.

        I think the term “theology” in its wider sense should be dropped in favor of Religion Studies. What you see happen is that the respectability of this wider sense of theology is used to promote the respectability of theology in its narrow sense: the study of the nature of the deity, as well as apologetics.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          This is what happened in Sweden, due to the prompting of philosopher Hedenius.

          “Amongst other things, he proposed that the study of religions and their development should be separated from theology and become a non-religious academic discipline. [Wikipedia.]”

          So it came to pass, when the philosopher’s commandment and his decree was heard, and when many academics were gathered together unto Kungliga Slottet the palace, to the custody of Högskoleverket, that the Study of Religion was brought also unto the philosopher’s house, to the custody of Högskoleverket, keeper of the academics.

    • Melody Hensley
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      John Shook doesn’t believe in god(s) anymore than he believes in monsters under his bed.

      • Josh Slocum
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        Well, he’s entitled not to believe in those things, since he has a PhD.

        • Wowbagger
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

          Exactly. Apparently, you have to earn the right to call yourself an atheist by wading through countless books, essays and articles that support religion, and then do the same with just as many that point out that there is no support for religion.

          Simply declaring you haven’t seen any evidence, or heard any compelling, fallacy-free argument, for believing isn’t enough anymore.

      • Tulse
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        But he nonetheless believes we should respect the former belief more than the latter, and that the former is somehow more intellectually defensible than the latter.

      • Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        Melody Hensley wrote:

        John Shook doesn’t believe in god(s) anymore than he believes in monsters under his bed.

        Then why on Earth is he quacking like he does?

        Anybody who’s ever bothered to look under the bed knows there aren’t any monsters there — and, obviously, we therefore consider “sophisticated” discussions of how many tentacles the monsters have to be childish nonsense at best. The only ones who think that there’s even the potential for such a discussion to vaguely resemble sophistication are those who are too afraid to look under the bed (or who were under the influence when they did look).

        As has been pointed out elsewhere in this thread, Epicurus did in every god worshiped up till then and ever since over two and a half millennia ago.

        And as for the so-called sophisticates, like Anselm? Anybody who’s ever spent any time at all with set theory should be able figure out that “the power of all powers,” “the knowledge of all knowledge,” and “the creator of all that exists” are phrases as meaningless as “the set of all sets,” and for the exact same reasons. For that matter, any child who’s ever played the “name the biggest number” game and made it as far as “infinity plus infinity an infinite number of times” can tell you they’re all meaningless.

        And let’s not forget that even a cursory examination of the historical record emphatically demonstrates that all of today’s popular religious figures are pure mythical fabrications.

        So what is it that Shook thinks a theologian might have to say that isn’t as banal as a couple of ten-year-olds debating what kind of a condom Superman uses when he and Lois get it on?

        Oh, wait — that’s right. He, like every other believer, somehow never manages to actually present a cogent argument, and instead simply insists that we must shut up and smile approvingly at the beautiful way that the gold of the King Monster’s crown sets off his purple tentacles.

        Give me a break.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Diane G.
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

          He, like every other believer…

          What about “Shook is an atheist” is so hard to understand? I think you mean “along with believers.” (Yes, I think it does matter.)

          • Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

            No, I meant what I wrote.

            Shook is going to great lengths to assure us that there are very sound arguments for the existence of at least one member of the Biblical pantheon, and he’s using the exact same language and arguments as theologians.

            There’s a word for somebody who scolds atheists for not believing in gods, and that word most emphatically is not “atheist.”

            Cheers,

            b&

      • Scote
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        “Melody Hensley
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        John Shook doesn’t believe in god(s) anymore than he believes in monsters under his bed.

        That’s only because he doesn’t understand modern monster apologetics… :-p

  13. Jonn Mero
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    *Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, and not much more about religion, and they seem proud of their ignorance.*

    So when you admit to knowing nothing about something about which there is nothing to know, you’re ignorant?

    That in spite of the fact that you know quite a lot about things about which there is much knowledge, but about which those who claim to know something about that which there is nothing to know, actually know nothing?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      It is, in philosophical terms, a category error to confuse the state of the empty set (empty) with its class (set). Gods are supernatural proposals, but that doesn’t mean they exist.

      Here it is precisely the question debated. So who is the ignorant here? Maybe if you redefine ignorant := atheist. :-D (But then you have other problems, such as that everyone else is knowledgeable isn’t a supportable prediction. :-o)

  14. Paula Kirby
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    A couple of years ago I wrote a lengthy commentary on 4 of the books that had been written by Christian apologists in response to The God Delusion. Their authors were 2 theologians (John Cornwell and Alister McGrath), one ordained minister (David Robertson), and one evangelist (Andrew Wilson).

    Their best argument for the existence of God seemed to be that they didn’t like Richard Dawkins.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Ha!

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      OMFSM!

      [Now my stomach hurts, so I can't pay proper obeisance by ingesting its appendages right now. You may have damned me to the eternal cooking pot of the heavenly kitchen.]

      • Pali
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:22 am | Permalink

        You must sacrifice a package of Ramen on the next full moon – only then shall you be saved from the Noodly Wrath.

      • Pali
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:23 am | Permalink

        P.S. While dressed as a pirate. Forgot to mention that – very important.

  15. Tyro
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    We’re told that atheists know nothing about God and we’re beaten over the head about this.

    Karen Armstrong writes a book proclaiming that no one knows anything about God and she receives heaps of praise.

    So atheists talk about the personal gods which we can know about and we quote pastors, apologists and the bible and we’re told we’re unsophisticated and know nothing about real spirituality.

    I don’t see how atheists can please the buffoons unless we sit back down and shut up.

    • Badger3k
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Bingo! You won the Mooney Prize! Er, money prize…don’t know why I misspelled that…

    • Chayanov
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      I guess we have to be more like the theologians: after declaring we can know nothing about god, we need to describe what god is like and what god wants us to do .

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Nailed it.

  16. Filippo
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    “Neither do most philosophers, who, I think, probably agree with Anthony Grayling but aren’t so vociferous . . . .”

    My dictionary says that “strident” is a synonym of “vociferous.” Professor Grayling seems rather mellifluous to my ears.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Does he ever. What a sweet guy he is and not only is he smart (like Hensley insists Shook is), he makes uncommon sense therefore his books are a much better bang for buck.

      Though I have been an atheist for many decades I have never heard of Kurtz or CFI so I can’t split from that division, I just won’t join them because they push the ‘common sense’ of meaningless inclusion when what is needed is unrelenting identification of the lack of evidence behind god belief.

  17. Doc Bill
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Sit back and shut up is exactly what I was told in church as a kid. It describes the religious perspective perfectly.

    Woo-meisters simply love the sound of their woo-voices.

    I would like any theologian to explain why Jesus would be “serious” theology and the Flying Spaghetti Monster not. One could argue that the FSM was invented by Bobby Henderson and be correct.

    So, step back a bit. How about Mormonism? Serious theology? The Book of Mormon was written by Joseph Smith as a hoax, as a ruse to swindle investors. That, too is correct.

    How about way back to the Egyptians. Is Ra serious theology or primitive superstition?

    I guess I’m stuck at the point where I could say that I take theology seriously, but it’s theologians I don’t take seriously. I think it must hurt their widdle feewings.

  18. Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    A person should be an expert on something before they can disagree with it. For instance, if someone says the Nazis were wrong, they should know when the Nazi party was formed and must have read “Mein Kampf” and be able to read German and know how to make Zyklon B. Otherwise, how can we take them seriously?

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Yes.

      Unfortunately, one sometimes sees scientists taking the same tack. (Though of course, they often have more reason to make such a claim.) Still it sometimes seems that some of very people who bemoan general scientific illiteracy will also fall back on the “you must be able to derive the equations yourself to understand ________” argument, which doesn’t really help…

      • Francis Boyle
        Posted September 27, 2010 at 12:39 am | Permalink

        I’m with the those scientists on this. Moral attitudes, existence claims and descriptive claims all need to be assessed differently. Only the latter really requires any deep understanding of the subject. The former only require external evidenc.

        • Diane G.
          Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:04 am | Permalink

          Well, of course the scientists need to understand…but I think it’s possible to convey a decent understanding of much science to the “general public” without insisting they take calc & organic first.

          Just as it’s possible to get a pretty good idea of the arguments for religion without slogging through theological pontifications.

          (And of course I took Notorious P.A.T.’s post to be tongue-in-cheek. The Zyklon B was a nice touch.)

          • Francis Boyle
            Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:49 am | Permalink

            Well, there’s understanding and understanding. From my time studying physics I’m painfully aware that there’s much that can only really be understood if you know the maths, maths not exactly being my forte. What you’re calling understanding, I’d call knowledge. Now I suspect we’d agree that, whatever we call it, it’s pretty important that the general public have it in order to make informed political decisions. But likewise it’s important that we all know the facts of what the Nazis did. Still, there are times when knowledge isn’t enough and we must defer to the experts, and of course, to do that, we need to know who the experts are, which we can’t do that if we lack sufficient knowledge.

            I suspect my original comment was misleading in that it looked like I missed Notorious P.A.T.’s irony. It was, I think, meant more as a clarification than a disagreement. I agree with your second sentence. Unless you’re prepared to dismiss science entirely (which you are not entitled to do since, unlike theology, it works) challenging scientific claims requires real understanding of the actual science. It’s just that I don’t see the contradiction in the attitude you go on to describe.

          • Dan L.
            Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink

            Diane, yes, it’s usually possible to give people a pretty good idea of what the arguments are about, but that is often not enough in science. You can see this very clearly from those like Deepak Chopra who pervert the pedagogical simplifications of QM in order to peddle bullshit.

            The “decent understanding” you’re talking about is good to the extent that those who are supposed to understand are scientifically literate enough to know that such pedagogical modes of scientific explanation are not normative with respect to the actual implications of the (usually mathematical) theory itself.

            Unfortunately for those who’ve decided NOT to take calc and orgo, those subjects really are prerequisites for any true understanding of the implications of many modern scientific theories. The level at which most people apprehend these theories is essentially a caricature, or at best an informative cartoon.

            This is important because science is fundamentally unlike other forms of human endeavor in important ways. Compare with art criticism. Knowing very little about art, I can’t say very much about the quality of technique used in a particular piece; I can mostly only say whether I like the piece or don’t, and I’m perfectly qualified to make such judgments. In the case of a scientific theory, however, it doesn’t matter whether I like it. All that matters is whether it fits the evidence — and I won’t be able to make a good assessment of that without a proper understanding of the theory, maths and all.

            The question at this point is not whether there are such things as experts to whom we must defer on certain questions. That is obvious. The question is whether there is really any such thing as “theological expertise.”

    • CandyLiz
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      I agree with your premise that one must truly understand the subject in order to have a respected opinion within the argument – just don’t do the Nazi comparison (it’s almost always a mistake). I can certainly say the Nazis were wrong and base it entirely on the evidence of the death-camps while not having read “Mein Kampf” nor having any knowledge of the gas used, etc..

      • articulett
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

        I suspect notorious P.A.T. was being ironic. Clearly we don’t need to know the details of palmistry, to understand that palmistry is woo. The same goes for goes mythical stories of magical beings. No matter how sophisticated the argument, there would need to be evidence of divine truths before anyone needs to take seriously the word of those who claim to have accessed such.

  19. Rob
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    My comment there, dunno if it’ll show up.

    Talk about pot and kettle.

    Religion: All hail the emperor
    Theology: Is the emperor wearing a suit or a tuxedo? How many ruffles on the cummerbund? Silk or linen kerchief?
    Atheism: Just show us the emperor, then we can talk about his clothes, m’kay?

    You are making the categorical error that atheists need to know theology. They don’t. Evidence must come first.

  20. Badger3k
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure if it’s the same book-blurb-length piece as HuffPo, but there is one up at CFI. (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/attacking_fundamentalism_is_not_the_only_atheist_agenda/)

    I commented there with this (the one reference to Crazy is a reply to a poster there):

    Does your book address actual arguments, or only the strawman that you give here? Does it show the actual evidence for any gods existence, without which makes theological claims a mite suspect if they lack a secular (or even, dare I say it) scientific basis or rationale? However, I might be generous and think you meant to say that when you said “atheists say religion has no intellectual value”. Religion has emotional appeal, serves to moderate (and make extreme) social behavior, and cause untold psychological damage to millions (and often physical damage as well) – it can be a mixed bag.

    Can you at least preface these book-promotion blurbs here on the blog with something like “Coffee!” so we know which ones to read and which ones to ignore?

    Clean Hippie – religion gives us “spirituality” – a rather nebulous and often vacuous term often used to describe various things that we already have words for, such as “emotions”. It also gives illusory comfort, such as “Grandpa’s not really dead, he’s watching from heaven, where he can see everything you do in the bathroom or under the covers, you little pervert!” (why do they never take the idea to it’s logical conclusion?).

    I’m never sure why atheism is supposed to provide a sense of community for anyone? If you want community, join a bowling league, a book club, a cooking club, or just hang out with friends and family. Currently, religion serves as this all-purpose hub – take that away and people won’t be left floundering – at least not those who will take initiative and start something themselves. Funny thing – CFI itself hosts get-togethers for people, which is what happens when people see a need and take action to fill it. A philosophical position didn’t need to provide that – it can’t – only people can provide that.

    • Badger3k
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      A good analogy, I think – once the doctor cures your cancer, do you ask the doctor “Well, doc, now what do I do instead of going to the therapy sessions? You have to give me something to do!”

      • F. Bacon
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

        There is practical use in nonreligious people getting together…to help one another decide what kind of lifestyle to lead absent that offered by religion. Religion serves such a purpose in the material world, even if its theolgy is entirely empty of meaning.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Curiously, following the link you gave, I noticed that he gives a link to a previous entry where he advices atheists to get some knowledge on theology as well as atheist rebuttals by reading Dawkins and Dennett.

      Now I’m just confused.

      • Friend of Icelos
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        From that link:

        These arguments get complicated but they can be refuted, so learn some theology, and some corresponding atheology, for effective rational argument why one should be skeptical about God. Books by Dawkins and Dennett, for example, offer some atheology — reasons why arguments for God are failures.

        I also notice he doesn’t mention anyone specific in this recent article. He may not be criticizing atheists like Dawkins or Harris at all, which raises the question of who he is criticizing.

        • Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know either. It can’t be the “New” atheists, can it? After all, I think it’s safe to assume that they are the people most likely to be familiar with Dawkins’ and Dennett’s work.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      “…such as “Grandpa’s not really dead, he’s watching from heaven, where he can see everything you do in the bathroom or under the covers, you little pervert!” (why do they never take the idea to it’s logical conclusion?).”

      I certainly did, when first hearing this as a young child, and immediately thought the whole concept hideously creepy. But being too young to question authority, was left with the cognitive dissonance till I developed a brain of my own.

  21. Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    What infuriates me about this kind of BS is… I actually know a pretty good amount of theology! Maybe not every single little detail, but I’ve taken multiple courses on theology and religious studies. Plus, most of us (in the “West”) were RAISED as Christians. We don’t know the religion we were indoctrinated in for ~20 years? That’s pretty fucking arrogant of you.

    • Melody Hensley
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      I think Shook was speaking about a specific arm of the movement, actually I think he says this in his article. I wish he had been more clear, because like you, I know many atheists that know more about religious texts than those who supposedly follow them.

      • Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        Those former Christians, now atheists, agree with this ‘specific’ arm.

      • Insightful Ape
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        Then please don’t be upset at us when we blame him for his mischaracterization of us.

      • Jolo5309
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

        I can see why Chris Mooney fits in so well, all this vagueness regarding these ignorant atheists is kind of annoying.

  22. basnight
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    “If atheists are going to produce a rational worldview capable of replacing religion, they must take religion and theology more seriously.”

    That is really bizarre. “going to”? I thought we already have produced a rational worldview capable of replacing religion: “there is no god”. What more is there to it?

    • Hempenstein
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. I don’t know which word galls me more in that sentence, ‘rational’ or ‘worldview’. The latter is a fashionable buzzword, and I instinctively hate fashionable buzzwords. But then having stopped on that I focused on rational. Seriously? Religion? Rational? It’s so rational that great numbers of sects want to have their own schools, for starts. And just why would that be?

      The arrogance of this guy strikes me like Thomas Dubay. Anyone tripped across him? Author of among other things, “The Evidential Power of Beauty”. I made a deal with a former classmate (who must have been dropped on her head at some point after I saw her last) to read that if she’d read WEIT. It’s on Google books. I got as far as pg 31, where he kindly proves he’s a thimblewitted creationist.

      • Diane G.
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

        great numbers of sects want to have their own schools, for starts…

        Do we not have to worry about that ourselves?

        • Hempenstein
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

          I guess if we’re in TX or the like we might. My public schooling (Northern VA & once past the second grade ~1956 where we started the day with “Devotions”) was completely antisectic. I don’t recall anyone gasping at the mention of evolution, either. Perhaps that was a gilded age.

          • Diane G.
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

            Ah, so you, too, were sitting there innocently in grade school when Sputnik went up and New Math dropped in our laps, eh? Those were the days…

            “Antisectic”–very nice.

            Alas, I was being too cryptic to be understood–I was referring to the possibility of atheist sects balkanizing the movement as a whole…

            [ducks]

            • Hempenstein
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink

              Antisectic – thanx – I was kinda happy with that too.

              And indeed, such were those days. Shook seems not to appreciate that there was once a time when the levels of noise on all of this were not so great. But as dying concepts lash out at rational assessment, there are bound to be responses, and that is all that what he moans about is. Most recent case in point: Ratzinger’s comments on landing in Scotland.

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

              About the threat of “aggressive atheism,” I take it you mean.

              Indeed, those on the rope tend to get defensive. Would seem to me that indulging their fears by bothering to listen to sophistic theologies would be exactly the wrong tack to take.

            • Dan L.
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

              Can you actually point to any nascent sects?

              The closest thing I can see to an “atheist sect” is that there is this contingent of atheists who are writing books, op eds, and blog posts berating other atheists for being too assertive or militant or ignorant of theology or whatever. And they all seem to be selling books. Their system of belief DOES seem to be faith-based, because when they’re questioned about it they just repeat meaningless buzz words and phrases as if they were rebuttals — “Strident!” “Philosophically naive!” and the like.

              Is that what you mean?

  23. Chayanov
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I don’t collect stamps, yet I’m constantly being told I must study all of the minutiae of philately, or else I’m an ignorant fool.

  24. Neil
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I have one answer for Shook, which CFI uses as a mantra in its endless appeals for money–“extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Physicists are not going to waste their time studying the latest plan for a mobile perpetuum, and atheists need not waste their time studying the latest muddled proof of god.

  25. Melody Hensley
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Unbelievable! First people are screaming that there are atheist militants at CFI, now others are claiming we are accommodationists attacking atheists. Guess what? We hire people with different point of views. We don’t do group think.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Groupthink is one thing, and coherence is another.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      For the slightly more detailed version – CFI hires, or hired, quite a few people who have displayed a lot of hostility to explicit atheism in the last couple of years or so. That seems to go beyond mere different points of view and non-groupthink into real tension with many of CFI’s stated goals.

      • Melody Hensley
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        That is simply not true. Anyone who has been fired has been due to cause or the loss of a large donation recently. Anyone who says otherwise is uninformed. They have no inside knowledge and base these claims on gossip and nothing more.

        • Badger3k
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

          Ophelia brings up “hires, or hired” and you respond with “anyone who has been fired…”

          You do see the difference in the two words, correct?

          • Melody Hensley
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I see that now.

            The only new hire under Lindsay was Mooney. Shook and DeDora were under Kurtz.

            Mooney was hired for his expertise in the public understanding of science and does not do podcasts on atheism vs theism. Those are handled by Robert Price.

            The so called “accommodationists” are still a small minority in the organization. I would not put Shook in that category.

            • Josh Slocum
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

              “Mooney was hired for his expertise in the public understanding of science”

              Blink. Blink.

            • Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

              Nice apology.

              Meanwhile, you misread what I said, a second time – I didn’t say the hires were under Lindsay, I said they were CFI’s.

              Whatever Mooney was hired to do or not do, the fact remains that he is (to put it tactfully) a less than completely scrupulous journalist. That’s the issue, far more than his accommodationism. He maligns people, and then blows smoke when he gets called on it. Since the people he maligns are what he once called “the new atheist noise machine,” his job at CFI seems to a lot of people like a strange (and unpleasant) match.

            • Bruce Gorton
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 1:46 am | Permalink

              Mooney’s ethics were demonstrated quite aptly by the Tom Johnson affair – they are much like God in their non-existance.

            • Aj
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 7:58 am | Permalink

              “Mooney was hired for his expertise in the public understanding of science”

              Yes, he does have nice hair, doesn’t he.

            • Notagod
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink

              “Mooney was hired for his expertise in the public understanding of science”

              In the United States?

              The only correct answer would be they don’t understand anything about science. Could you explain why you need an “expert” to inform on the public understanding of science?

              Evolution: They don’t know.

              Biology: They don’t know.

              Geology: They don’t know.

              Chemistry: They don’t know.

              Most of them don’t even know the difference between astronomy and astrology.

              Math: They don’t know.

              Pick whatever scientific field you like the answer is they don’t know.

            • articulett
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

              What exactly is Mooney’s “expertise in the public understanding of science”? Isn’t this self proclaimed “expertise” on his part? Didn’t he assert this supposed “expertise” in a book where he blamed atheists for “unscientific America” while ignoring the role faith plays in the problem? (It’s hard to educate people who feel saved for believing an magical story and damned for questioning it.) Isn’t this the same guy whose only evidence for his claims that atheists were harming “the cause” turned out to come from sock puppets?

              Mooney’s “expertise” seems to align a little too closely with what Templeton wants his “expertise” to be

              And you wonder why we might question CFI’s hiring of this supposed expert and the other spokesmen who mirror him in integrity?

              These sorts of people undermine the supposed goals of CFI. Why would I want to support an organization that makes “bad guys” out of some of the best freethinkers while claiming that people like Mooney were hired because they have “expertise in the public understanding of science”?

              As far as I can tell, his only expertise is building up straw men and knocking them down. And CFI’s expertise seems to involve skills in talking out of both sides of their mouth.

            • Posted September 26, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

              And since you mention it, it’s worth also pointing out that Mooney was not hired for his “expertise in the public understanding of science” as an entirely independent journalist with no ties to CFI. He worked for CFI as a young student; his connections to CFI go way back. That’s not automatically suspect of course, but it is part of the picture here.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Except that the first group is clearly wrong, as no atheist at CfI has engaged in armed combat yet. On the other hand, it is still quite possible that the second group is right. Just because some people are wrong about the CfI, doesn’t mean everyone must be wrong.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Mal especially (#10) but also others comments on that; it isn’t about group think but about promoting stigma and strawmen instead of point of views. This (“strident and ignorant atheism”) is btw a major point of view that is promoted well enough outside secular organizations.

      But the way it is promoted, alongside creationism (Point of Inquiry), does lend itself to the interpretation of “group think”. Which is why some of us have a different point of view.

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

      Somewhere in this mess of links you posted anoher link claiming that CFI “just isn’t dogmatic.” What’s that supposed to mean, that anyone who takes a firm atheistic view or disgrees that theology is worth studying in ‘depth’ (sic) is dogmatic?

      Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the type specimen for the subspecies known as an “atheist but-head.”

      • Melody Hensley
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        No, it means that we allow opinions to be expressed by more outspoken atheists (like me) and others who I disagree with that take a more conciliatory approach.

        • Jeff Wells
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

          This article by Shook was hardly conciliatory! It was a hit piece on atheists, transparently calculated to sell more books to the woo-fers at H.Post.

          I am disgusted at both his and your disingenuousness.

          • Melody Hensley
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

            I am not disingenuous.

            I said that I take issue with some of Shook’s comments. Knowing him, I don’t think it’s a hit piece on atheism. He is a philosopher who debates on behalf of atheism. I think he chose the wrong approach to writing this article. I’ll only know his true thoughts on the matter, when I discuss it with him.

            • Josh Slocum
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

              Melody, the trouble is the rest of us don’t know him, and can only take his writing at face value. And he did insult and misrepresent outspoken atheists in that article. We’re not unreasonable to be upset about that. Why won’t you acknowledge that?

            • Insightful Ape
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

              When you discuss it with him, you may want to bring this to his attention:
              Many prominent atheists and agnostics, such as Dan Barker, Robert Price, Hector Avalos and John Loftus (to name a few) are current or past theologicians, preachers, or historians of religion. The blanket claim that atheists are ignorant of theology is simply false.
              I cannot believe for my life that a man of Shook’s intellec doesn’t know this. Am I not right in questioning his motives?

            • Melody Hensley
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

              “We’re not unreasonable to be upset about that. Why won’t you acknowledge that?”

              Yes, I can acknowledge that. I, however, can only give you my take. Then it is up to Shook to respond.

              What I take issue with is those who conflate our employee’s opinions with the official opinions of CFI. (This has been debated thoroughly and I have no desire to go over this ground again.) I also take issue with those who are so intolerant that there are a wide spectrum of beliefs in the non-theist community and want to crucify those who they don’t agree with.

            • Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

              @Melody Hensley: why do you characterize our position as if we are “so intolerant” that we “want to crucify anyone [we] don’t agree with”? We just want people to stop throwing vocal atheists under the bus. Is that really so terrible that you feel you need to use such strong language against us? Is that the sort of inclusiveness and tolerance you’d like us to adopt?

            • Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

              Want to crucify?! Good god, have you been taking framing lessons from Chris Mooney?

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

          The CFI has done a lot of good work over the years. No questioning that.
          But that makes understanding the direction it is moving in now even more incomprehensible.
          And no, if we criticize someone who is calling us collectively ignorant, that is not the same as “want to crucify those who they don’t agree with”.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      I am an “Advisory Fellow” of CFI Canada. I write lots of things on my blog about atheism and religion and I give lots of talks on these subjects. I think of myself as one of the so-called New Atheists.

      Here’s what I don’t do. I don’t identify myself as an associate of CFI Canada when I’m expressing my personal opinion. I certainly wouldn’t sign my articles as John Shook did: “Director of Education and Senior Research Fellow, Center for Inquiry.”

      It sounds like he’s speaking for CFI when he does that.

      Melody, you are executive director for the Center for Inquiry in Washington DC, USA. Are you prepared to criticize Shook for misrepresenting the position of CFI?

      • Melody Hensley
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        I think that people need to understand that CFI allows our employees to present differing opinions and that I can also publicly challenge those opinions.

        • Matt Penfold
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          Melody,

          That did not address the point raised by Larry.

          Now are you going to do so, or are you going to carrying on ignoring (and misrepresenting) the criticisms levelled at Shook and the CFI ? Only as things are the moment you are coming across as a PR shrill for the CFI.

          • Melody Hensley
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

            I do believe I addressed Larry’s point. If he was going a blog on something completely unrelated to the mission of CFI, it is appropriate to leave out your affiliation. However, one must understand (or choose not to) that CFI encourages differing opinions on the many subjects of interest to our organization.

            • MosesZD
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

              Still a weasel.

            • Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

              You’re dodging the question. Shook was writing on a topic related to CFI’s mission, namely atheism. And he did primarily use his affiliation with CFI, instead of, say, his university affiliation. Was that appropriate or not?

              I also note that there is no disclaimer on HuffPo about Shook not representing the views of CFI.

            • Deepak Shetty
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

              If you had addressed Larry’s point , you should have said No.
              Most professional organisations will let their employees put their professional titles on posts/articles.
              All they would ask that anything (remotely) controversial would need the individual to identify that he is acting in his personal capacity. That isn’t too difficult is it?

        • MosesZD
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

          Weasel. If I post something under my real name as a specifically-identified employee of an organization I am presumptively speaking for that organization.

          If I just post something under my pseudo-anonymous handle. I’m just a citizen.

          The fact is, your boy stepped in a pile of shit. Not only was his argument asinine. But he did it under your flag.

          Now put-up or shut-up. Throw him under the bus by telling us he specifically doesn’t speak for CFI or stop pretending.

          You don’t get it both ways. No matter how much you think you should.

          • Deepak Shetty
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

            “If I post something under my real name as a specifically-identified employee of an organization I am presumptively speaking for that organization.”

            Not true. Happens all the time in the technology world. Employee of Microsoft (who proudly displays his M$ managerial post) critiques an Open Standard in his area of work. It doesn’t mean he represents the official M$ position. The only difference is that in most cases(usually mandated by policy) they have explicit disclaimers stating this is their position not M$’s

    • MosesZD
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      Things chance. Barak Obama once believed in the rule of law. Now he denies people their Constitutional Rights and has attempted to assassinate a US citizen who is in hiding in Yemen without due process of law and CLEARLY against the Constitution.

      So, I don’t know what game you’re playing, but whatever it is… You’re not doing it all that well. This gambit is way to shallow to be convincing.

  26. Tuco
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    A lot of great comments here.

    @ERV: Agreed. My wife is Catholic (although she is a South American Catholic, which to me is in many ways a very different animal than the American version, and she is also a working scientist), but I am an atheist (and not a “New” atheist, but just a plain old regular atheist. heh heh). I’ve attended Mass with her on many occasions, and there is something very satisfying about the ritualism, which is a very human response, I think, and a significant part of why so many people remain Catholic even in the face of the Church’s crimes, which are legion. Even though I can understand the appeal, the frequency and regularity of the Church’s vile actions and pronouncements makes it more and more difficult to participate in the ritual of Mass, even as a kind of anthropological exercise. The psychological stranglehold the Church has on its members is profound: To wit, virtually any online news story about the endemic sexual abuse of children by priests and the disgraceful response by the Church leadership will include comments from readers defending or even absolving the Pope. As a parent, how anyone could put the defense of a man who aided and abetted child abuse is mystifying, to say the least. (But I’m getting off track here)

    @Badger3k correctly points out that the whole argument is a straw man, but, as @InsightfulApe and others allude, another feature of Shook’s piece that we’ve all seen repeatedly: His condemnation of atheists for their (our) lack of “fluency” and his appeal to the “new” flavors of theology atheists have purportedly overlooked or ignored is nothing more than a kind of argument-to-authority-by-proxy in which the authority is expanded from a single text (the Bible) to include many texts (and, by extension, many “ideas”), and not just many texts, but many “new” texts which the New Atheists, in their “know-nothingness” have shamefully ignored. Presumably, then, Shook has read every published word in support of atheism or in criticism of religion (Every published word), otherwise his credibility is diminished even further – if that is even possible.

    Of course, as Badger also points out, Shook’s piece (which I haven’t read either, and won’t – the excerpts posted here are more than sufficient evidence that it is crap) is nothing more than a shill for his book. It smacks of those late-night infomercials: “Have you ever wondered how you can improve your health/get money from the government/lose weight yada, yada, yada? Well, my new book shows you exactly how you can do that. It’s the book that the (government /pharmatceutical industry/IRS) doesn’t want you to read!”

    Finally, Shook’s argument that “[i]f atheists are going to produce a rational worldview capable of replacing religion, they must take religion and theology more seriously,” is completely absurd, and is just another attempt to redefine rationality to include irrationality with an extra little dig meant to cast reasoned evaluation of unsupported claims as the villain. If we are to accept his proposition, then the converse is equally true: If believers want to produce a rational worldview capable of discrediting atheism, then they must take atheism and reason more seriously. This would include, among other things, refraining from haughty, condescending remarks, name-calling (“the ‘know-nothing’ wing of the so-called New Atheism), and a priori rejections of atheism based on the “objective” truth of religious beliefs – not to mention that, by definition, producing a “rational worldview” requires rejecting the irrational and unsupported claims upon which religions are fundamentally predicated. Yeah, that will probably happen.

    If being the hero means abandoning the scientific training and education I worked so hard to acheive – not to mention my fundamental right to evaluate claims on their merits and formulate my ideas and understanding myself without submitting to the imposition of someone else’s beliefs- only to swallow manifestly preposterous assertations hook, line, and sinker, then I’m happy to play the villain.

    Now, if only I could find a poor, helpless, stridently dogmatic religious believer to tie to the train tracks. But where would I find one of those…?

  27. Metatwaddle
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    “But don’t worry, defenders of religion say, there’s no need to learn deep theology or debate God, thanks to dogmatic atheism’s bad example. Just stick with faith; after all, who can argue with faith? Believers reveling in their ignorance are an embarrassing betrayal of their religion’s theological legacy.”

    I cannot believe this paragraph actually got published. As if religious ignorance were invented in 2005 as a reaction to Richard Dawkins!

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      And this is from a supposedly smart man (Shook)!

      CFI, in its zealous pursuit of fairness and inclusion, have lost its marbles.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      “Metatwaddle”

      I wish I could think up usernames like that!

  28. Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    If the day ever comes when the religious peoples of the world all agree on the central tenets, then we can take them on.
    Seriously, we should wait for a winner to emerge from their side of the bracket before we get serious about their arguments. Any decent coach will tell you there isn’t time to study film on every possible opponent.

    • Rob
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      How many religions have come and gone over the millenia?

      There’s sure not going to be a winner in my lifetime. I wonder if there will be before the human race is gone.

  29. Melody Hensley
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    “Over at the Center for Inquiry, it looks like open season on atheists. First Mooney, then De Dora, then Ronald Lindsay (the president)…”

    When has Lindsay ever attacked atheism? This is the guy everyone claims is a militant atheist running the organization. You don’t know Lindsay well at all, nor have you read his views on atheism. I’m almost doubled over in laughter… really.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Here is Russel Blackford on Ron Lindsay, Kurtz and CFI. That adds pieces to the puzzle, perhaps Kurtz didn’t get his wishes as it seemed to me at first.

      And yes, Lindsay (and CFI) gets Blackford’s recent approval.

      • Melody Hensley
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        Ron Lindsay is one of the good guys, believe me on that one. But of course you won’t. You are a good skeptic and will find out for yourself. :)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Also read the comments, seems there has been a CFI schism, and that would explain a lot of previous behavior.

      We will have to see how it turns out. The post points to a behavior that isn’t promising. And then there is Mooney. Egad!

  30. Perplexed in Peoria
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Coyne writes:

    Well, Dr. Shook, show me some new evidence for God, for the divinity of Jesus and Mohamed, for the existence of the Hindu pantheon and the afterlife, for the intercession of a celestial being in the world, and I’ll start paying attention to the finer points of theology.

    Somehow, I think that attention to the “finer points” would be overly ambitious for someone who hasn’t even bothered to find out whether the Prophet is considered divine in Islam.

    Or for someone who already knows, but believes that rhetorical convenience trumps respect for the truth in this area.

    • Rob
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      It’s moot. Prove he had a line to god, whether or not he’s divine.

      He’s talking to voices in his head. He’s psychotic, not a prophet.

      • Badger3k
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Hell, prove that there is a god in the first place, then we can discuss the evidence for the direct line biz.

        Ignorance is a “sin” only if what we are discussing needs knowledge. Unfortunately for believers, the main thrust of the argument is that pesky evidence for god business. The rest is icing – might be tasty but completely unnecessary.

        • Tacroy
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

          Actually I think we should probably start with proving the existence of a soul – after all, the entire spiritual endeavor is for naught if there are no spirits.

          • Badger3k
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

            But haven’t you read Mooney – he redefines spirituality to exclude spirits, so you can have your spirituality and eat it too!

          • Jim Menegay
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

            Great! Demand proof that God/Allah exists, or that souls exist, or that Mohammed has a line to God. Muslims actually believe that shit.

            But don’t demand that a Muslim prove that Mohammed is God, (or, if you are an Arab atheist, don’t demand that a Jew prove that Moses is God). Don’t do that because if you do it makes most atheists look ignorant, especially when other atheists try to defend your ignorance.

    • H.H.
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Somehow, I think that attention to the “finer points” of The Lord of the Rings would be overly ambitious for someone who hasn’t even bothered to find out whether Sauramon is a willing minion of Sauron or simply enthralled by the power of the palantír.

      Or for someone who already knows, but believes that rhetorical convenience trumps respect for the truth in this area.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Don’t forget the spelling (“Mohamed” [sic]) when discussing ignorance.

      Some islamic beliefs is professing clear divinity: “Sufis believe that Muhammad is alive with the power of invisibility; his spirit pervades the world and can be reached by true seekers. [Wikipedia.]” Divinity := godlike (not worship).

      • echidna
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

        As for spelling, don’t forget we are talking about transliteration from Arabic. While Mohammed is the most common, it by no means the only acceptable spelling Here are some variants:
        Mohammed
        Muhammad
        Mohammad
        Muhammed
        Mohamed
        Mohamad
        Mahammed
        Mohammod
        Mahamed
        Muhammod
        Muhamad
        Mohmmed
        Mohamud
        Mohammud.
        I think Mahmoud is one as well.

    • Dan L.
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Or for someone who already knows, but believes that rhetorical convenience trumps respect for the truth in this area.

      Uh…you mean every religious apologist I’ve ever talked to? I’ve never been able to get two paragraphs into a metaphysical discussion with a theist without it becoming a purely semantic discussion — and inevitably, it’s my semantics that are all wrong (never mind that I always qualify any word I’m using in a non-standard way and frequently point to the exact dictionary definition I intend to use).

      Then again, if the best you guys can do is willfully misunderstand what we mean when we describe Mohammed as “divine,” I suppose you kind of HAVE to rely on rhetoric rather than, say, logical argument.

  31. TrineBM
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    At the Gods and Politics conference in Copenhagen this summer the Danish atheist Mikael Rothstein ph.d., lektor and more from Institute of cross cultural studies and religion at the university of Copenhagen made a very good point in his lecture:
    Among a lot of other things he emphasised that atheists should never, ever let priests/believers lure them into a theological discussion. That atheists should develop a kind of radar (my words, not his) that immediately spots a theological argument. What we need to discuss is not theology. What we need to discuss is religion in our society. And that can NEVER be a theological discussion.
    I like that kind of thinking. I really do not feel any need to discuss theology – I feel an urgent need to discuss religion and society.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Even if theology was relevant to the area of religion in society, it is supremely boring. The equivalent secular context would be discussing Einstein’s vs Poincare’s texts and treatments on General Relativity instead of the, you know, subject at hand (supernaturalism).

  32. Ronald Lindsay
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    @Jerry Coyne: I am extremely disappointed that you would make such an unsupported and rash accusation against CFI. If you can point out one instance where either I or someone speaking for CFI in an official capacity has gone out of his/her way to criticize CFI’s “atheist supporters for stridency, hostility, and ignorance,” please do so. If you cannot, please withdraw the statement.

    I have not even read John Shook’s post—although eventually I hope to get around to it. We have religious skeptics with diverse views working for CFI, with these views mirroring the diversity within the community of religious skeptics. Several of these individuals write blog posts, articles and so forth that are not screened by CFI management prior to publication for the very good reason that they represent the personal views of the author, not CFI as an institution. CFI encourages the expression of differing opinions, believing that doing so best serves the interests of the nonreligious. The day that CFI imposes a party line on its entire staff is the day that CFI would become intellectually dead.

    Go ahead and criticize John Shook’s piece on the merits if you’re so inclined, but don’t use your disagreement with Shook as a basis for smearing CFI.

    • Badger3k
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      The people at CFI have done a great job of smearing themselves that no one needs to add to it. The shenanigans that Jerry refers to is one strong reason why I have not donated or joined as I wanted to a short time ago. Until CFI starts promoting skepticism, rationality, and critical thinking over issues of tone and blind sucking up to the faithful. Look at CFI supporters over at Reasonable Doubts and their dismay over “Ground Zero Mosque” fiasco.

      • Melody Hensley
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        I take it you don’t subscribe to Free Inquiry or read our official position papers.

        • Badger3k
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

          Subscribe – no. I won’t. I might pick it up at the Barnes & Noble, but I don’t see a subscription in the near future. Your position papers are well and good, but if you actively support people who are in opposition to them (which is the implication I get, that they differ), then why should I trust you? You haven’t given me any reason to.

          Free Inquiry is good, even if I think some of the articles in the past stretch into “credulous” territory (I’d have to dig out the issues to see which ones I thought lacked credibility and evidence).

          There’s a word for an organization that says one thing and does another…what could it be?

          If I supported CFI, I’d be supporting a kind of cafeteria skepticism, where you pick and choose, and where some kinds of skeptics are not welcome. Sorry. I can’t do that and respect myself. So, no subscription for me. I still love 2/3 of Point of Inquiry, and support Joe Nickell and others, but as a whole….no.

          Also, changing CSICOP to a CBS tv show was a really, really lame idea. Sorry, I’ve had that one in a long time, and just had to bring it up.

          • Insightful Ape
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

            I did have a subscription some years ago. But I didn’t renew when it expired.

      • Jackson
        Posted October 2, 2010 at 5:23 am | Permalink

        Free Inquiry was one of the very few publications which published the Danish Cartoons.

        As you know from occasionally reading the magazine, CFI supports rational thought and an atheistic view.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      Ron – I think there’s a real problem here, for CFI at least. It just doesn’t work to have a group blog under the CFI logo and then try to insist that particular posts there are totally independent of CFI. It really doesn’t. People just are going to see posts on the CFI blog as representing CFI – and that’s not obviously crazy.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      To elaborate a bit – this

      “If you can point out one instance where either I or someone speaking for CFI in an official capacity has gone out of his/her way to criticize CFI’s “atheist supporters for stridency, hostility, and ignorance,” please do so. If you cannot, please withdraw the statement.”

      sets too high a standard. There are, for instance, people who are already well known to criticize CFI’s “atheist supporters for stridency, hostility, and ignorance,” and are then hired by CFI. It’s not just a matter of people speaking for CFI in an official capacity, it’s a matter of CFI going out of its way to hire people. That looks like an endorsement, even an eager embrace, just as speaking in an official capacity does.

      • Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        Especially since we apparently can’t tell when anyone at CFI is speaking in their official capacity.

        • Simon
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

          Press releases perhaps?

          • Josh Slocum
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

            Oh come on.

            • Simon
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

              Ok, position papers also qualify as a source I suppose.

              At the end of the day, CFI exists primarily to advance it’s mission, which can be found in the mission statement posted above. It would be disingenuous to have a think-tank and not have differing viewpoints being presented and use them as a way of fostering debate. I’m not referring to “settled science” type of issues like evolution or something of course.

              Look at any other think-tank and advocacy organization that has any standing and you’ll see that they go out of their way to actively foster those types of conversations. We should be subjecting our own views to critical scrutiny.

        • Ronald Lindsay
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

          Actually, Deen, it’s pretty simple. Any official statement will expressly indicate it is being issued on behalf of CFI. This is true of our press releases as well as our position papers and legal briefs. And, of course, our mission statement is an authorized description of the work and objectives of the organization.

          Blog posts do not represent official positions, as explained by this unambiguous statement on our website: “As indicated, we want our bloggers to be opinionated and candid. To ensure frank and open discussion, the content of the blogs will not be discussed with the management of CFI and its affiliates prior to posting. Accordingly, the viewpoints expressed on Free Thinking are the viewpoints of the individual blogger only and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of, nor should they be attributed to, CFI or its affiliates, or any of their directors or officers. CFI and its affiliates disclaim any responsibilities for statements set forth in the blog.”

          • Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

            I know about the disclaimer. To me, though, it doesn’t look all that different from the small print saying “for entertainment purposes only” on horoscopes and ads for psychic hotlines. To be frank, the fact that you even introduce it as “some unavoidable legalese” only reinforces the impression that it’s only there to cover your behinds in case someone complains.

            So, yes, legally you may have “disclaimed any responsibilities” for the content of your blog site. But you can’t expect your readers to forget that it is a CFI website, with material written by CFI members.

            And you can’t expect what happens on that site to not reflect on the CFI as a whole. In fact, you seem to want their “frank and open discussion” to positively reflect on the CFI, and would probably happily take credit when people love your blogs. So you’re just going to have to accept it when people don’t like what’s going on on your blogs as well, and let it change their opinion on the CFI, “unavoidable legalese” or not.

            • Badger3k
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

              It’s the Woo-sellers disclaimer. As a teacher at a public school, if I put anything up on my personal page of my schools website, it is saying (right or wrong) that the school supports this. That’s a fact of life. Deny it all you want, but when you put something under a company banner, you are saying “this is ours, we own it”.

          • Tyro
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

            As indicated, we want our bloggers to be opinionated and candid

            That’s a noble goal for a society but it’s complete nonsense for an advocacy organization.

            I can just imagine a gay-rights organization hosting a blog which supports “curing” gays. The correct response when someone crosses the line is actively working to frustrate the goals of their parent organization is dismissal and disavowal. This “free speech” argument is negligent and incompetent.

            You aren’t hosting a public forum, you aren’t a civil rights organization, you are organized around free thought – that’s your founding mission, that’s why people belong, that’s why people donate, that’s how CFI builds up media contacts – and when Shook or DeDora work to frustrate that, you need to regain control.

          • MosesZD
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

            Actions under the color of your flag are YOUR actions. Even if you pretend they are not.

          • Bruce Gorton
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

            I work for a newspaper, and my blog (Though highly critical) is my opinion alone – but it is also under my paper’s title and has to be written accordingly.

            If it was to go over the edge into bringing the paper into disrepute I would quite justly face disciplinary action.

      • Simon
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        Well by the same token couldn’t you also say CFI went “out of their way” (whatever that means), to have Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and PZ Myers at their conference in Los Angeles in a few days. How does this fit in to your narrative?

        • Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          Their focus is to have no focus.

          • Melody Hensley
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

            The focus is free inquiry.

            • Tyro
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

              Their stated focus is:

              Fostering a secular society requires attention to many specific goals, but three goals in particular represent the focus of our activities:

              1. an end to the influence that religion and pseudoscience have on public policy
              2. an end to the privileged position that religion and pseudoscience continue to enjoy in many societies
              3. an end to the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever, whether the nonbeliever describes her/himself as an atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker or skeptic.

              But if we look at what they do, I think Michelle has it right.

              If they want to survive as an advocacy organization, they need to be very clear (internally and externally) what they stand for and why. That may mean disciplining people like Shook who appear to be working to undermine their efforts, even if he’s doing it on his own time.

    • Josh Slocum
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      Ron, you (and Melody) need to face the fact that you’ve got real problems at CFI (and coming here to reflexively defend CFI while admitting you haven’t read the post in question is symptomatic of them).

      CFI has made extraordinarily questionable hiring decisionsb recently. You’ve got people on your payroll (Chris Mooney, Michael De Dora) who are flagrantly dishonest, and willfully misrepresent their opponents in service of their agenda against outspoken atheists. Your employee, John Shook, full-on insults atheists at Huffington Post, actively contributing to the feeding frenzy that’s going on against outspoken atheists.

      Ron, we are your natural constituents and supporters and we don’t need our friends to shit on us the way the religious do. I can’t believe this even has to be pointed out. What the hell are you guys doing flipping off the people who like and support you? Seriously? This is not about disliking being criticized, it’s about being dishonestly targeted by the organizations that claim to defend our legitimacy!

      You’re losing support from a lot of people who used to like CFI. CFI does great work, but it’s not going to get a dime from me if it continues making stupid decisions like hiring Chris Mooney and employing people who fling crap at atheists in public forums like HuffPo. I don’t need CFI employees strawmanning me, Ron, I’ve already got the theists doing it.

      For the record, this isn’t a personal beef – I thought you were clearly in the right during that dustup with Paul Kurtz. Trouble is, Ron, Kurtz-type behavior is being carried out by other CFI employees, and folks like me are fed right up.

      Stop going apoplectic at your critics and take a good look at why CFI is getting criticized.

      • Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        Seconded.

      • AdamK
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        Josh – Well put. You express exactly why I am no longer a contributor to CfI.

      • Scote
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

        I have to agree, and reiterate what others have said. It is assumed that an the editorial content on the website of an advocacy organization represents the opinion of that organization. I want CfI to live up to its stated primary goals.

        1. an end to the influence that religion and pseudoscience have on public policy
        2. an end to the privileged position that religion and pseudoscience continue to enjoy in many societies
        3. an end to the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever, whether the nonbeliever describes her/himself as an atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker or skeptic.

        …and not to level **false** attacks on non-believers in on-line media, signing their articles with their official CfI title, rather than with a disclaimer.

        I don’t expect to stop subscribing to CfI publications or suspend my support for CfI over just this, but it certainly does make me consider it. It seems clear that some at CfI are looking to water down CfI’s positions to try to broaden the CfI donor base. I think that is the wrong way to go. CfI should, instead, play to its core constituency rather than alienating it.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, I’m learning we outspoken atheists are expendable “resources,” fit to be thrown under the bus if the commentator of the moment wants to score some cred with people who dislike us already. Nice.

          • Francis Boyle
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

            Like wise Scote. As a complete outsider it looks to me like CfI has some sort of deep seated identity conflict. Inquiry may be so much more noble than common advocacy, but when the two conflict pleading inquiry is just a cop out. If you go that route you may as well start hosting debates on which superhero would win in a fight or at what age a girl should start wearing the veil.

      • Deepak Shetty
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        “we are your natural constituents and supporters and we don’t need our friends to shit on us the way the religious do.”
        Speak for yourself. We shouldnt have problems with valid /invalid criticism even from friends provided the intent is good (Shook’s isnt )- I believe we dont pick our fights carefully – that’s my criticism of New Atheists :) – we don’t have to respond to every single criticism of New Atheism especially when its the same old stuff regurgitated.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

          I am speaking for myself. And I object to organizations that, as a specific component of their mission, claim want to “end the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever, whether the nonbeliever describes her/himself as an atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker or skeptic” while inaccurately trashing atheists in highly visible fora such as HuffPo.

          Criticism of one’s own tribe is essential, obviously. But doing it cheaply and inaccurately, especially when atheists are already a despised minority who it’s considered acceptable and All-American to lie about and shit on is another story.

          What’s your problem with that?

    • Tyro
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      If a high-ranking member of any advocacy organization like CFI publishes editorials and now a book which directly conflicts with the stated goals of that organization, then you better believe that you have an obligation to act. By sitting quietly, it is justifiably seen as support.

      I really don’t care if Shook was speaking for CFI when he wrote that, but he’s representing you now. So what are you going to do about it? At a bare minimum, I think you should make an explicit disavowal of his views.

      Considering how you’ve let these things slide before and they keep happening, I think it’s very fair to say that you have some serious problems articulating an internal vision or hiring people who share your goals. If your own VPs, Directors and research fellows are so misinformed or show such hostility towards the people CFI is supposed to advocate for, then your organization is rotting from the inside.

      And please, don’t try that “differing opinion” schtick. Opinions are all fine and dandy but it is not appropriate for representatives to disagree on the central goals and missions, especially for advocacy organizations.

      I have not even read John Shook’s post

      The what the hell good are you if you leap into damage control and start attacking critics BEFORE you see if their critics have any merit?

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      I have not even read John Shook’s post—although eventually I hope to get around to it

      The article was written by Shook as part of his role at the CFI. If you have not read it you would seem not to be doing your job.

      Go ahead and criticize John Shook’s piece on the merits if you’re so inclined, but don’t use your disagreement with Shook as a basis for smearing CFI.

      Shook wrote the article as part of his role within the CFI. Hence the mention of that role.

      Please, if you do not want the CFI smeared by people writing stupid articles then stop people who work for the CFI writing them and using their position at the CFI to lend credibility.

    • Tuco
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      @Ronald Lindsay: If Shook was in fact writing as an individual and wanted this piece to be seen as divorced somehow from his position at CfI, not including his affiliation with CfI and his job title and including a disclaimer that he is not necessarily reflecting CfI’s position would have lent that notion some credence. As it is, by stating his affiliation the obvious inference is that he is publishing in an official capacity.
      Your argument that CfI should not impose some institutional mandate upon its staff has merit, I think, but I also think that has no bearing on criticism of his piece on its own merits. The connection – or lack of one – to a given institution doesn’t inoculate an idea, article, blog post, etc., from criticism. And since drawing the conclusion that since the CfI name and his title are included he is writing in an official capacity is reasonable, it is fair to evaluate the text in view of CfI’s stated mission. To me, the two are in conflict. I posted a comment to this effect on HuffPo, and I would also ask Melody Hensley the same question – recognizing, of course, that she would have to respond by proxy, that I posed there (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/totallyunspooled?action=comments): How does Shook (or how do you) reconcile this piece with CfI’s stated mission?

      • Simon
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        Well prior to Jerry Coyne penning a blog post called “CFI declares war on atheists”, the commenters on HuffPo seem to have been discussing the article on its merits exclusively without mentioning CFI at all. Check the first few comments in chronological order and see for yourself. I looked at the last 6 pages (ie first comments chronologically) and did not see a CFI reference.

        However after Coyne wrote his blog post, it’s a different story. So it’s entirely possible that the article on HuffPo was “pharyngulated” by Coyne.

        As for John omitting his CFI affiliation I agree with another commenter that it provides disclosure and context.

    • Jolo5309
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      I have not even read John Shook’s post—although eventually I hope to get around to it.

      This made me laugh out loud, a comment from the CEO complaining about a complaint about an article that discusses debaters being ignorant about the discussion.

      Did that make sense?

      Short version, Ron Lindsay is ignorant of the article that Dr Coyne does not like.

      • Tyro
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        If he couldn’t be bothered to read the linked article, it makes you wonder if he’s read Jerry Coyne’s concerns either.

  33. Simon
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Full disclosure: I volunteer and donate to CFI DC and am an acquaintance of John’s.

    Myself I think people can study theology or not. Personally I don’t because it’s uninteresting to me. But then again I don’t feel like engaging in theological debates either. However when there was a local atheist group in the area that offered ‘secular bible study’, my understanding was that it had a high number of attendees and interest. Far be it from me to discourage or disparage that.

    All that said, I can’t help note but the irony of the below statement:

    Why is Shook so exercised about this? Could it be because he’s flogging his new book?

    Is this very blog not devoted to ‘flogging’ a book? Hasn’t just about every prominent atheist at this point written at least one? Are we really going to start using that as an argument to call people’s motives into question? Please feel free to correct me if I have misinterpreted this statement.

    • Badger3k
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Right – I noticed that Jerry ended this post with the usual “I’ve written a book about that…” and linked to it.

      Wait, you mean he didn’t? You mean the two aren’t equivalent? No, can’t be! If you can’t tell the difference between the post selling the book, and the website which has a link (I’m sure, haven’t checked but it would make sense) to buy the book…well, I don’t know what to say. Wait..I do…

      Epic Fail.

      • Simon
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        So where do you propose we find an equivalency? So I suppose when Richard Dawkins talks about evolution at Howard University in a few days it should be dismissed or be somehow suspicious on the grounds that he’s “flogging” The Greatest Show on Earth in paperback at the subsequent book signing? When Christopher Hitchens was on TV when The Missionary Position came should we have taken his opinions of Mother Teresa any less seriously because he was “flogging” a book about her?

        • articulett
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

          Neither Richard Dawkins nor Christopher Hitchens are using straw men views of their supposed allies to make themselves look like moderate diplomats. Those mentioned by Jerry ARE doing so. Did you miss that point?

          Dawkins and Hitchens are not dishonest nor do they engage in atheist bashing; they do not treat some superstition as off-limits for skewering in order to gain favor with believers in the supernatural. In fact, I’d say the discourse of Hitchens and Dawkins follows the stated aims of the CFI better than those CFI member who criticize them.

          Why are voices showing the disingenuousness of these “accommodationists” not heard while CFI courts those adept at giving the courtier’s reply? Isn’t CFI interested in varied points of view. Where is the representative of CFI who has a point of view akin to Jerry’s?

          I no longer support the CFI because it seems as if they are in the business of promulgating the myth that the more outspoken honest atheists are “militant”, “strident”, “unsophisticated” and a whole bunch of other bad things. Such talk feeds into biases that theists are all too willing to confirm. There is never any evidence to support these negative assertions, and it seems to be done for selfish reasons on the part of the accommodationists (Templeton money, for example.) I prefer to hear the voices of those Shook, Mooney, et. al. are so keen on putting themselves above.

          • Simon
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

            Respectfully, you do not know what you are talking about. Dawkins and Hitchens are regular contributors to Free Inquiry. Dennett and Harris write for us too albeit less frequently. Dawkins, Harris, and PZ Myers are headlining the Council for Secular Humanism Conference: http://secularhumanism.org/laconference/

            In DC we had Christopher Hitchens speak for 900 people last June. We’re having Sam Harris in a few weeks. CFI On Campus is co-sponsoring a Richard Dawkins event at Howard University in a few days.

            The list goes on. Your narrative is simply not supported by the facts.

            • deen
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 4:41 am | Permalink

              How does any of this change the fact that CFI has people who throw atheists under the bus? “We do good stuff too” doesn’t solve the problem currently under discussion.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure how WEIT blog behavior relates to the observation that Shook is perhaps more motivated by flogging than by the subject as such at this time. Anyway, the claim is a tu quoque fallacy.

    • Dan L.
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      Simon, you’ve spent a lot of time trying to rehabilitate Shook here.

      Can you see any intent behind this article besides trying to convince people to stop expressing their opinions?

      Yeah, I guess you could say, “Well, he’s just trying to say you should educate yourselves about blah blah…” OK, but there are more books out there than anyone can read in a life time. I have years of reading ahead of me without buying any new books. And now I’m not supposed to express opinions on the existence of God if I haven’t read a whole library’s worth of something I would likely find both boring and useless?

      It’s not just theological discussions that such a viewpoint seems aimed at suppressing. Many of us aren’t interested at all in theology, but are quite interested in metaphysics and ontology — subjects in which the existence of God invariably come up. Shook seems to be saying that to justify my place in any conversation about materialist metaphysics or ontology that I first must spend a few years studying religious metaphysics. And its bullshit, because as everyone has been pointing out, I can just throw out religious metaphysics on the basis of its presuppositions.

      Tell you what, what do you think Shook’s intention with that article was? Was it consistent with his thesis? I don’t see how that can be so unless he really just does want atheists to sit down and shut up.

  34. Tacroy
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, and not much more about religion, and they seem proud of their ignorance.

    This reputation is a little unfair, yet when they profess how they can’t comprehend God, atheists really mean it. To listen to the loudest atheists, you can hear the bewilderment. And they just can’t believe how a thing like religion could appeal to any intelligent person. . .

    Seriously, what the fuck? Do they think that atheists spring fully formed from the forehead of Dawkins?

    A very, very large percentage of atheists were at least raised as believers – after all, if the number of atheists is growing faster than the population, that must be the case.

    My wife, for instance, went to private Catholic schools throughout her K-12 education, and she’s an atheist now. Would he argue that she (or others like her, of which I’m sure there are many) aren’t very familiar with the reasons for the faithful’s belief in God?

    • Badger3k
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      I missed that “atheists are getting a reputation…” – getting? Seriously, that’s been a complaint as old as time. We obviously don’t understand, or have not read, or what have you.

      I’m with you – I went from Sunday school and Pre-K through high school in Roman Catholic private schools, and I’ve read a lot now. When I hear of a new book put out by a theologian or apologist, however, I don’t ask “is there some new novel argument put forth” (although I might be curious), I ask “Does it present any evidence that the argument has any merit” and “Does it have evidence for the existence of the god believed in by that writer – if the writer even defines what particular formulation of god they believe in?”

      • Tulse
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

        I went from Sunday school and Pre-K through high school in Roman Catholic private schools

        Ditto, plus several contemplative visits to a Trappist monastery and a stay in my youth at a Catholic seminary. It would be rather hard to say my theological education is any worse than 99.9% of Catholics out there.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      To this extent, CFI is doing us a service, because by reading Shook’s own description of what his book is about, we all know we won’t want to buy it.

  35. Jason A.
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Whenever I read something along the lines of ‘But you’re ignoring the intelligent / sophisticated / rational believers in god!’, I read it as ‘But you’re ignoring the intelligent / sophisticated / rational believers in leprechauns!’. Isn’t someone who spends their time inventing excuses to continue their belief in a mythological entity by definition not rational?

  36. TikiHead
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    The best reply to that snotty trope that you just can’t be a good atheist unless you know theology is still P.Z. Myers’ ‘The Courtier’s Reply.’

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php

    • TikiHead
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      You could also just ask anyone who uses this on you just how expert are they on, say, the Greek Pantheon, and if they answer not very, you may ask them why do they reject Zeus etc. out of hand? Hmmmm?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      Let us promote that to the recurring category fallacy (as shown by Myers) it is.

  37. Jeff Wells
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Melody #25, does CFI have a point of view or not? Are you so desperate for members that you are willing to whore yourselves out by hiring shills such as Shook to appeal to your philosophical arch enemies? I used to think CFI was at least a voice for rationalism despite its frequently softball approach to religion, but I do no longer. Huffington Post is an entirely appropriate place for this lightweight (and libelous, by the way) piece of fluff to appear.

    • Melody Hensley
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      I believe in what I’m saying. Shook’s is not an official position of CFI. I think our academics should speak freely without CFI’s permission. I also think the HuffPo article did not do justice to his Shook’s book. I do take issue with some of his statements. I will speak to him privately about them.

      If you think CFI has taken a softball approach to religion, you don’t know CFI very well. You must be focusing on the people that you disagree with that are I’m quite sure are outnumbered by people within our organization who probably think more along the lines that you do.

      • Josh Slocum
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        No, Melody, it’s not that Shook’s article didn’t “do justice to his book.” It’s that his article was outrageously insulting (and inaccurate) to outspoken atheists. We’re already having to defend our right to speak constantly from attacks by the religious, and now a CFI employee piles on, too.

        Do you think you could manage to work up a little empathy about that?

        • Melody Hensley
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I can. You are talking to an outspoken atheist. And I do have questions for Shook. I cringed a few times while reading the article. Knowing him, I don’t think this was his intention. As I have said numerous times here, I would like to question him personally about his choice of words. Even if it was not his intention to offend, perception is everything.

          I do know that the intention of the book is to give atheists the tools to debate theists.

          • Diane G.
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

            Unfortunately, the all-too-human predilection to grant more leeway to those we know (& presumably like and/or respect) colors most if not all of the “rational” discussions/debates in the atheist blogosphere. It is certainly easy to run afoul of the groupthink on any given site, merely by being unaware of who (and how) the regulars are. That this occurs at CFI shouldn’t surprise us. And we should be glad, I think, that we can count on our friendly acquaintances to have our backside, even if it muddies the absolutist waters…

          • AdamK
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

            “Choice of words”? How about his choice of sentences? Whole ideas? How could he have reworded his insults so as to make them more acceptible?

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

              Really, it sounds as if she’s saying he can’t write clearly. Wonder how that’s gonna go over?

      • tomh
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        Melody Hensley wrote:
        I do take issue with some of his statements. I will speak to him privately about them.

        Why privately? And if it’s a private conversation, why mention it here publicly? This was a public column in a widely read forum that has provoked many public comments, including some by you. Surely you’re brave enough to take issue with his statements publicly.

        As for your contention that everyone at CFI is speaking for themselves unless some official stamp is affixed to their work, that is certainly not how it will be seen by the general public, which this article is aimed at. At the very top of the page, under his name, it states, Director of Education and Senior Research Fellow, Center for Inquiry. Nowhere in the text does he state anything like, these are my views not the views of CFI. Do you really think an average reader will not connect the insulting of atheists that Shook engages in with the CFI? Not likely.

        • Melody Hensley
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

          I will speak to him privately, because he is a friend and I want to know his take. He’ll have enough on his plate discussing the matter publicly.

          • tomh
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

            Unbelievable. So why tell us? You think people care what two friends do in private? And since you didn’t respond to the second point, I take it that you agree that the general public, who probably have never heard of CFI, will undoubtedly associate the views expressed in the article with the CFI. The way the author line is laid out, there is no question about it.

      • Tyro
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        I think our academics should speak freely without CFI’s permission.

        Of course they should. But equally CFI should exert more care when hiring these people, should do a lot more to make sure they understand, accept and can support CFI’s goals and when they speak in public that they do not undermine CFI’s mission.

        If CFI can’t convince them that they’re wrong then CFI is incompetent and should be discarded. If CFI can’t hire people that support their mission, then CFI is also incompetent and should be discarded.

        Speak freely by all means, but if they can’t respect CFI’s central mission and goals they they should be diavowed, brought into line or fired. Let them speak freely, just not working for CFI.

        • Diane G.
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

          Seems to me Free Inquiry has always carried the traditional “opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the organization itself” proviso. That should be sufficient to cover, well, general freedom of inquiry, as Melody has stated more than once.

          • Tyro
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

            They aren’t a University or a newspaper, they’re an advocacy group and as such, their hiring and their public communication needs to be focused around their central goals. At the very least, their senior execs should not be actively undermining their goals.

            A good analogy just mentioned was if an ACLU exec publicly argued that protesters should remain silent and by speaking out they actively hurt their cause and by the way he thinks this “constitution” thing is overrated anyway. That is protected speech and the ACLU would defend someone’s right to say it, but they should NEVER tolerate a senior exec expressing those views as they are contrary to their work.

            So too with CFI – host debates with d’Souza, interview Creationists, dialogue with anti-athiests but don’t hire them! If CFI makes this mistake then at the very least come out and say that CFI firmly disagrees with this message. So far, even this milquetoast response has been too much for Lindsay or anyone else at CFI.

            So what makes you think that a minor disclaimer is at all adequate?

          • tomh
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

            Diane G. wrote:
            Seems to me Free Inquiry has always carried the traditional “opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the organization itself” proviso. That should be sufficient to cover, well, general freedom of inquiry, as Melody has stated more than once.

            It certainly doesn’t cover the article under discussion on Huffington Post, since there is no disclaimer or even a hint that Shook’s views are not those of the organization that he flaunts as his authority for speaking to the subject. When your only identification is as an official of an organization, then naturally people are going to think you are speaking for that organization.

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

              That is true.

            • Tulse
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

              Exactly. And how many more people are going to read his article at the HuffPo that will read anything at the CfI website?

  38. Krzysztof
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Theology is an attempt to justify belief in that which cannot be proven and for which there is no evidence.

  39. Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Jerry asks: “Why is Shook so exercised about this? Could it be because he’s flogging his new book?”

    I don’t think so.

    If one defines supernatural as that which is uncaused, then not only is god supernatural, so is an uncaused immaterial mind and so is uncaused free will.

    Just because someone doesn’t beleive in god, doesn’t mean they don’t believe in uncaused free will, for instance.

    An atheist who holds tight to his self-righteousness earned through the virtuous exercise of his uncaused free will, can be just as threatened by an attack on the supernatural as a theist.

    I think that’s what they’re so exercised about over at cfi.

    • Rob
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      If one defines supernatural as that which is uncaused

      So quantum mechanics is supernatural? Good to know.

      • Posted September 26, 2010 at 6:23 am | Permalink

        I confess incompetence in quantum theory. My dim understanding is that QT describes the occurence of events of indeterminate cause, but not events that are known to be truly uncaused.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      I don’t get your apologism, Shook’s case seems simple enough. In any case, since Coyne reject the existence of free will in any form I think you have to restate your argument.

      • Posted September 26, 2010 at 6:27 am | Permalink

        I’m only addressing Jerry’s allegation the Shook had a base motive for this piece.

        I’m suggesting that atheists who beleive in uncaused free will may have common uncause (so to speak) with supernaturalists.

        • Dan L.
          Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

          Can you even give a non-question-begging account of what sort of thing, pattern, or series of events might constitute “uncaused free will”?

          • Chris
            Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

            Question: does “uncaused free will” actually exist?

            • Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

              Oh damn no.

              Not the free will thing again. Urgh.

              It never goes anywhere. Any discussion of free will is always smoke and mirrors for something else. Usually it comes down to people either arguing for or against determinism or the existence of souls. All the fluff around free will is so much hot air.

              Put it this way: Is there a meaningful and relevant definition someone can give for “free will” that can differentiate it from “will” (or “unfree will” if you like) that doesn’t push either concept into a caricatured extreme that utterly misrepresents mainstream usage of the terms?

              I don’t think it can be done without revealing an unsupported foundational assumption rooted in some form of ideological bias, probably regarding either determinism or the supernatural.

              I’m open to correction, though. But until correction is supplied, the only reasonable stance towards free will is one of ignosticism.

              While you clever buggers think that over, I’m going to go have a pint.

              ^_^

  40. Krzysztof
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    As I see it, the crux of the matter “should atheists debate theologians” (or should atheists play the theologians’ game) is that it’s basically the same question as whether an evolutionist should debate a young-earth creationist. Even recognizing that theology is worth studying just to be able to refute it gives it just a bit of credibility. It’s inevitably going to become the guys in white hats (the theologians) against the bad guys (us). As you point out so well in your response, no discussion between the two factions will ever get anywhere because the two sides disagree on the central question of god’s existence. (I understand, however, that some theologians are pretty much atheists anyway–a position I would not be comfortable with.) What is the point of unraveling subtle and obscure arguments for the existence of a nebulous supreme being if there’s no evidence for its existence? Then there’s the idea that we must act “as if” there’s a god. . . but that’s another story.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Good point on credibility! I wish I had come that far already some years back.

      Especially galling to scientists and science supporters is a) we discuss things on their merit (as others pointed out) b) we can obviously and productively discuss the empirical side (The universe is self-contained, which ties into current cosmology, et cetera) c) it is only the empirical side that matters when the chips falls down anyway. In the end, testing of theory (or even likelihood on facts as per Dawkins) have the property that “absence of evidence is evidence of absence”.

      The relation between theology and science is as between unfulfilled erotic fantasies and sex.

  41. KP
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    This looked promising as a swipe at the Karen Armstrong types who espouse an elusive theology:

    “Mystery now seems like a theologian’s safest refuge, only perpetuating the blind faith that infuriates atheists. It’s just too easy to proclaim a mysterious God, deride atheism’s inability to prove that such an unknowable God cannot exist, and conclude that the faithful are above criticism. Lately too much theology involves notions of God abstract enough to avoid all refutation, yet so vague that a distracted churchgoer isn’t sure what God is being talked about.”

    But I agree the rest of it was all about bashing atheists which HuffPo seems awfully fond of.

  42. Marco
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    I think the CFI should change their name to “Center For (Not Too Much) Inquiry (Please)”.

    As for the Huffington Post, they should just put their head in the toilet and flush.

    • Chayanov
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      Criticism-free Inquiry?

  43. Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    There are philosophical atheists who have quietly and successfully kept pace.

    What he really means is that atheists ought to be more philosophical. And he apparently defines that as keeping pace “quietly”. It’s nothing but intellectual dishonest word dancing to tell atheists to shut up.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      Hensley insists that Shook’s book contains tools for atheists debating theists successfully. I suspect ‘these philosophical atheists who have quietly and successfully kept pace’ are the wielders of these said tools. If so, how disappointing as these fabled tools are already rusty and dull.

      • Tulse
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

        I’d be extremely curious as to just which “philosophical atheists” Shook means. This is what I find profoundly frustrating about articles of this ilk (of which Mooney is the master) — much like apophatic theology, they never make any clear declarative statement or provide any concrete evidence, but just offer vague allusions of the “some people say” type. Give us frickin’ names!

  44. justsearching
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Shook states that “strident atheism is mostly uninterested and unprepared for this broad theological landscape.” In one sense, I agree that some atheist writers seem to be not at all interested in investigating the different nuances of Christian theology. But I do agree with others who argue that there is no compelling reason to understand these particular nuances. Different theologies “establish” all sorts of things about God, but if one can’t bring a compelling reason to the table to demonstrate God’s existence, then the rest of the talking about God is fantasy mixed with theory.

    • Tulse
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      some atheist writers seem to be not at all interested in investigating the different nuances of Christian theology

      Is Shook interested in the nuances of Zoroastrian theology? Or Hindu theology? Or Norse theology? Or Shinto theology? How can he call atheists know-nothings if his knowledge doesn’t extend to these areas? Why is Christian theology the default, and the only one that is relevant?

      • justsearching
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 5:34 am | Permalink

        The relevance of Christian theology has nothing do with whether it is better or worse or more accurate (not that this could be established) than other theologies. It’s simply more relevant because Christian theology, in way or another, affects more of the Western world than the other theologies you mentioned.

        • Tulse
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          The issue Shook addresses isn’t how the theology impacts the Western world, but whether the arguments mark sense of the concept of god. Given that, shouldn’t one look at all conceptions of god, and not just that of one sect?

          • justsearching
            Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:23 am | Permalink

            It seems to me that his article is primarily about the discussion/war of ideas going on between secularists and theists in the modern Western world. For this reason, he probably wouldn’t think it would be that fruitful to study Shinto, Norse, or Zoroastrian theology. I don’t think he’s suggesting that there is some “best” conception of God out there that we ought to be seeking.

            • Thornavis.
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink

              The modern western world contains a lot of Muslims, how good is his understanding of different schools of Muslim theology ? You seem to be suggesting that we can best debate theology with theists by skirting round the whole god issue, I shouldn’t imagine they share that view.

            • Adam Leon
              Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

              “. . . his article is primarily about the discussion/war of ideas going on between secularists and theists in the modern Western world.”

              I know a few polytheists in America who would take offense to your statement.

              And more to the point, Shook does NOT need to have an extensive knowledge about Norse mythology, in order justify his disbelief in it; likewise, Atheists do no need to know every theological postulate, especially if those postulates are all based on a claim unsupported by evidence.

  45. Eric MacDonald
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Someone writes a piece of HuffPo puffery like that and complains of know-nothing atheism and know-nothing religion. The whole thing is a litany of know-nothing, for Pete’s sake! Name me one piece of knowledge — I repeat, knowledge — provided by Shook’s HuffPo puffery.

    But let’s take him apart, limb by limb. First of all, this know-nothing reputation, he says, “is a little unfair, yet when they profess how they can’t comprehend God, atheists really mean it.” Well, what does that mean, ‘to comprehend God’? If we could understand what people were referring to when they speak of a god, then perhaps there would be an odds on changce that there was such a thing. But no one that I know of will tell you what their god is or is like. Is god transcendent? supernatural? all-powerful? a being? not a being? the ground of being? (what would that mean?) causally engaged with the world? Does god create human beings, or at least human souls? What is a soul? Has anyone seen one lately? What would it mean to associate a human soul with a human body? How are they related? Does god answer prayer? What prayers has god answered? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Is this miracle? Or is it some sort of eschatological event, and no one knows what it really means to speak of the risen Jesus? What are the signs that show that the Bible or the Qu’ran are divinely revealed, and why should we accept the one over the other? And I have more questions if Shook wants to hear them.

    Here’s Shook’s next step: “Astonished that intellectual defenses of religion are still maintained, many prominent atheists disparage theology.” Who’s astonished? I’m not. Religion’s been at this game a long time. They’ve got a lot to lose. Of course they’re going to defend. Not astonished at all. But name one defence that is successful? Alister McGrath, for instance, perhaps one of the mose eminent of those writing in response to atheism today, is hopelessly lost in dogma, hopelessly. His The Twilight of Atheism is quite frankly embarrassingly juvenile, inaccurate, sometimes contradictory, and often simply a scholarly nightmare. David Hart is good at vitriol and assertion, but does less well at argument. Eric Reitan’s ‘Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers’ (the subtitle, trying to fill very big shoes) is simply not up to the argument, but he’s pretty good a vituperation. Karen Armstrong and Keith Ward are lightweight fare. Sure, there are religion’s defenders. As I say, they’ve got a lot to lose, but so far, I don’t see the knockout blow. In fact, I find it really hard to find a convincing defence of religion. Perhaps, you know, there isn’t one?

    Sometimes I think that atheists think that theology is only proofs for the existence of god. Of course, if they can’t make good on that, and give us good reasons to believe that there is a god (whatever they take that phoneme to mean), then other parts of theology, if interesting at all, are interesting for other reasons, perhaps because they are psychologically sensitive, or culturally rich in some special way. Sometimes, I think, theology has more to contribute than just theology, viz., knowledge of god, but some clear evidence that there is a god would be good to start with. Just plugging the holes with god may do it for those who already believe and want to go on believing, but it doesn’t do much for those who don’t.

    Shook suggests that theology has become lazy, retreating into mystery, but then, of course, it always did in the end. Karem Armstrong is actually good on this, and shows how throughout the believing ages theologians have, in effect, disppeared into mystery, like Aquinas who thought that all his work was as straw compared to his religious experience at the end of life. Only that isn’t an argument, and it doesn’t prove anything.

    Now Shook might like to think that he’s going to provide a Cook’s Tour of belief and unbelief, but if this HuffPo puffery is anything to go by, it’s not even economy class. How about steerage? And if CFI thinks that hiring someone like Shook is going to shake us out of the trees and all come running to CFI, then they had better think again, because this kind of shit is starting to turn people off big time. This is really small beer folks, and doesn’t deserve to be published even in HuffPo, but anything to discomfit atheists, I guess, especially when it comes from their side of the house. Makes us look like real jackasses. But, for my money, Shook is the jackass, and it’s too bad CFI thinks that he and De Dora and Mooney are appropriate representatives for an organisation that is devoted to enquiry (or inquiry). They’re not winning a lot of friends lately, and if their budget was hurting before, it looks as though it might be necessary to tighten the belt a little more. Because no one’s going to pay to have his ideas traduced and dragged through the mud by a two bit fella with a Ph.D who hasn’t anything to say.

  46. madamX
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Of course we know nothing of god, we haven’t found a shred of evidence to lead us down the path of knowing! I demand that the Center for Tomfoolery present a single piece of evidence that there is something to be known or immediately retract its mission statement.

    “To oppose and supplant the mythological narratives of the past, and the dogmas of the present, the world needs an institution devoted to promoting science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. The Center for Inquiry is that institution.
    At the Center for Inquiry, we believe that evidence-based reasoning, in which humans work together to address common concerns, is critical for modern world civilization. Moreover, unlike many other institutions, we maintain that scientific methods and reasoning should be utilized in examining the claims of both pseudoscience and religion. We reject mysticism and blind faith. No topic should be placed off limits to scrutiny—certainly not fringe science and religion, which have an enormous influence on beliefs and conduct.”

  47. MB
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    With few exceptions like mystics, and Karen Armstrong, people who hold religious beliefs usually think that there is empirical content behind the beliefs. For example, a sophisicated Xtian like Francis Collins believes in evolution, but he simultaneously believes in the ressurection as a historical fact. No matter how subtle or crazy the belief, somewhere the holder connects it to the empirical world else it doesn’t make any sense. Another thing I noticed is that beliefs are virtually indistinguishable from the content of belief. Attacking a believers beliefs is equivalent to attacking their God. That is why Catholics and Protestants could kill eachother in the past about transubstatiation vs consubstantiation, the differences in belief however subtle are treated as equivalent to worshiping a different God. Except in certain liberal circles, theology has always about defining differences and rooting out heretics – whether they be believers with variant views or athiests, it doesn’t matter – theology is essentially defining God as apposed to other gods.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Challenging religion’s immunity from criticism is one thing; perpetuating contempt for religion’s intellectual side is another.

      Shook is making the usual religious equivocation between criticism and contempt. Pointing out that it something isn’t fruitful and can be dismissed isn’t “contempt” but taking it seriously.

      Dismissing a group of people and their views because they make criticism, or worse making the Mooney baseless claim that they better be silent no matter what, is displaying contempt.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        Oops, browser fail again, this was supposed to be a standalone comment. My apologies to MB!

      • Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

        Pointing out that it something isn’t fruitful and can be dismissed isn’t “contempt” but taking it seriously.

        And is, therefore, a sign of respect. The reverse is of course true as well: arguing that a belief needs respect while refusing to spell out why and in fact rejecting it yourself demonstrates contempt for those who hold it.

        • Tulse
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

          Exactly.

  48. Anonym
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    It comes down rather simply to how often, or for how long, must one sniff at a pile of smoking-fresh faeces to deem it neither palatable nor salubrious.

    • madamX
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but there are those unfortunate organisms whose senses fail them when it comes to eating shit. Do we not have a moral obligation to at least not tie a bow around it?

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      It comes down rather simply to how often, or for how long, must one sniff at a pile of smoking-fresh faeces to deem it neither palatable nor salubrious.

      Filed for future use. Hope you don’t mind.

  49. Matrix7
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed reading this post.

    John Shook’s article presumes an awful lot. As an atheist I don’t believe “God” exists. To me, science and reason provide a far more elegant and consistent model of the Universe we observe than “god did it”.

    To me, the core premise from which Shook argues, i.e. that god exists, is wholly untrue. It therefore follows that everything Shook argues from this flawed core premise, which is pretty much the whole of his article, is just so much hot air.

    So where he says:

    “Strident atheism is mostly uninterested and unprepared for this broad theological landscape…”

    I say “well, so what?” Theology isn’t something I’m prepared to waste any time on, any more than I’m prepared to consider whether there’s really a lion that talks in the back of my wardrobe.

  50. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Gnu Atheist sez:

    “Accommodationists claim that thanks to gnu atheists, apologists dismiss the defense of theology. Our cunning plan is news to us, but if it works: why complain?”

  51. Andy
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Theists would LOVE for us to argue theology with them. Of course they would. Theology does not assess reality on reality’s terms. “Militant” atheists—those pesky buggers—insist upon assessing reality on reality’s terms.

    Arguing about theology is, in effect, like being in a “no holds barred” fight. Anything goes—anything is deemed rational or possible so long as it is internally consistent. Atheists, by eschewing and (rightfully) dismissing theology as beside the point are in essence saying, “Wait a minute! This fight has to have rules. Arguments must be rational, evidence-based, and reality based; that which can be asserted without proof should be dismissed without proof; no punches below the belt, et cetera.”

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      CFI also has eliminated the necessity of rules. They may puff themselves up as advocates for non-believers, but they have more in common with the sloppy-thinking theists than with the intellectually honest GNU atheists.

  52. Screechy Monkey
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Since it is apparently impossible to have an informed opinion about out what CfI stands for unless you work there and have private, personal conversations with Shook, Lindsay, Mooney, and everyone else who works or writes for it, I trust CfI won’t be asking the rest of us ignorant folks for any contributions in the future.

    • Melody Hensley
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      You can read our “About page.” That pretty much sums it up.

      • Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        More like that pretty much gums it up into a sticky mass I will not be putting my donating or reading foot in.

      • Screechy Monkey
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Ah, so I can judge your organization by how it describes itself when it’s seeking my money, but not by what it and its representatives actually say and do? Gee, thanks.

        I found another organization that has a mission statement on its “About” page that I agree with. It says that its “mission is to make a positive vision of the future practical. The [organization] discovers and promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty.”

        What do you think, Melody? Shall we both cut checks to the Discovery Institute? Surely we both favor representative government, the free market and individual liberty?

        Or maybe it’s worth taking a look at what the organization actually does?

      • Ken Browning
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

        When I left Christian ministry many years ago, CFI was a ‘godless send’ and great support. For the last year or so I can’t even bring myself to click on the sight let alone read a position paper or contribute.

    • Jolo5309
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      Cheeses swept, this feels like Mooney’s discovery of the liar for jebus in his Exhibit A blog post! Once he discovered the person was lying he had to keep all information regarding it secret.

      Melody feels this should be private too, I can see why CfI keeps her and Mooney around, they are very similar (and secretive).

      • Posted September 25, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        Ooh, can we expect a new Tom Johnson and a new “You’re Not Helping”? I can’t wait!

        • Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

          Ugh, please don’t even sarcastically joke about that.

  53. Tim
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    As I said at HuffPo, I have watched religious people (almost all men and almost all Christians or Jews) take on the “new, shallow” atheists in countless debates of the past many years and frankly, I see little evidence of the deep “cosmological, ethical, emotional, and existential” progress believers have made since St. Thomas Aquinas.

    For example, surely (for Catholics at least) Notre Dame University must be leader in theological study. And yet, who did their students choose to debate Hitchens? That renowned lightweight, Dinesh D’Souza! If modern theology has progressed so far, they’re doing a brilliant job of hiding it.

    • Andy
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      D’Souza is an absolute sophist—which is exactly the kind of person you’d want when none of your arguments work. Same way you want your attorney to be an asshole, especially if your case is weak.

      • Hitch
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        To call D’Souza a sophist is too much praise for him.

        If I had something to say that is positive, I’d say he is a good debater and knows oratory. As for the rest… all one has to do is actually check sources.

  54. Josh Slocum
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    To Melody and Ron Lindsay –

    Listen, I get how the past year must feel for you all. A lot of terrible stuff went on, you were engaged in a fight with your founder (which he provoked) that endangered your funding, and you really have been “getting it from all sides.” In your position, I’d be tearing my hair out, and I’d be really resentful that so much good work was getting obscured by politics.

    But if you can put that aside for the sake of contemplation, please understand that there is some legitimacy to the anger at things what Shook wrote (or by your hiring of Chris Mooney, etc.). It’s just no good to circle the wagons for the sake of it.

    I don’t know how typical I am, but I’ve gone from being a fan of CFI, to lukewarm and troubled, all the way to feeling almost actively hostile to the organization. You just can’t expect people who keep getting told, in various ways, to fuck off and shut up by organizations that claim to be on their side to continue to support you.

    By analogy, it feels the way it would if one were a member of the ACLU, and every few months read a post by an ACLU exec. about why protestors and pamphleteers really ought to act more nicely if they don’t want their reputation as troublemakers. Your jaw would drop on the floor, and you’d say “Um. . .wait. . is this really the American Civil Liberties Union?”

    That’s what Shook’s crap feels like to formerly CFI-positive people like me.

    • Hitch
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      I would second that the CFI has lost status for me. It does not currently have my trust to advocate for skepticism, free inquiry, and critical thinking, let alone be an advocacy group that works to reduce the stigma we suffer.

      Certainly our stigma is not helped by reinforcing it.

      This is not a small matter. Overcoming misrepresentations leveled against the atheist/agnostic community has long been one of the key contributions of CFI, so it is indeed painful so observe that on more than one occasion it really does feel that an advocacy group that used to be spearheading this, now supports people who torpedo it.

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

      This is fair, though. Unfortunately, the CFI and its people have been sending out a lot of mixed signals of late, perhaps reflecting the wide range of views within the organisation. Melody is right that the views of individuals such as Shook don’t represent the organisation, but that’s not how it appears to the uninformed, which will be most HuffPo readers.

      If I see someone signing themselves as a university professor at such and such an institution, I immediate assume that they have academic freedom, are trying to look learned by mentioning the affiliation, but do not represent the organisation. An advocacy group is usually different. Generally speaking, if you see something signed by someone over their position in, say, a trade union or an employer organisation such as a chamber of commerce and industry, you (rightly) assume that they are putting the official view of the organisation, not their personal view. Indeed, they should resign if they insist on going public with a personal view at odds with the official view of the organisation.

      So when Shook says certain things as “Poobah, Center for Inquiry” it does actually look to ordinary educated people as if the CFI official position is as per whatever he said.

      Melody is correct to tell us that that is not, as it happens, how the CFI works. It actually allows something like academic freedom to its staff. Frankly, I think some very unfair things are being said to her, but I also think that the CFI has some problems that will be difficult to sort out. As Ophelia said somewhere on the thread, the diversity of views among CFI officials/staff is so great as to create an impression of incoherence. And that isn’t helped when the CFI makes an appointment of someone like Mooney who is openly opposed to arguing actively against religion.

      Shook’s book may be okay. I do think there’s a place for a book that dismantles some of the more esoteric theological claims, not just the popular evangelical Christianity that is the target of so many existing atheistic books. But adopting as a marketing tactic the idea that atheists are seen with a certain amount of justication as “know-nothings” (a very offensive claim given the historical meaning of that expression) is hardly going to win friends for Shook from his natural allies. Nor, as long as he signs off on articles as a CFI Poobah does it win friends for the CFI.

      I don’t see how the CFI can address all this easily. If people have, in the past, had the right to express all sorts of personal opinions, then sign off with their CFI title, that’s a difficult right to take away from them. But somehow the CFI needs to act more cohesively. Otherwise, all its good work in, for example, defending the separation of church and state in the American courts will be overlooked and a lot of people who would be natural allies will, quite understandably, take the attitude that Josh Slocum have Hitch have just expressed.

      • Tulse
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

        If people have, in the past, had the right to express all sorts of personal opinions, then sign off with their CFI title, that’s a difficult right to take away from them.

        Not at all — why should someone use their CfI title for a personal opinion piece? As you say, it is extremely rare for advocacy organization to allow that, and the notion that this is somehow a “right” is odd. (I’m also not sure why someone would want to represent their personal views under the banner of the CfI, except as a way to artificially puff up the credibility of a piece. If this is a “right”, it is only the right to be implicitly intellectually dishonest, a right which CfI should definitely not support.)

        • Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:40 am | Permalink

          It may well be a right – it may be written into their employment contracts, for example. Even short of that, representations may have been made to them that they would be employed on that basis – and they then acted on the faith of those representations. I can well imagine that it might be a term of their employment, perhaps going as high as a legal right. I don’t see what is so odd about that as a legal proposition.

          Whether people in policy management positions in advocacy organisations should have such a right is another thing. By and large, they don’t … and I don’t think they should. If Shook had signed himself just as a Fellow, it might be different – think tanks do indeed have diverse people as Fellows and give them freedom to express varied views. But he also signed himself with what looks awfully like a policy management title. Reasonable people seeing someone doing that would usually infer that an organisational view is being put. I think that’s what’s really caused the problem here. If we were seeing diverse views from a diverse group of Fellows (as at IEET to mention another group that I’m involved with, or as at a typical think tank), and he’d simply signed off as a Fellow, the problem would be considerably less. I don’t think the same problem arises with the CFI’s own blog, because I think it’s pretty clear over there that it actually is a bunch of people with diverse views, sometimes disagreeing with each other.

          • Simon
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:54 am | Permalink

            To me it’s not altogether clear someone is speaking for CFI unless they put that in the content of their article-but then again, I’m probably not the average reader. Tom Flynn has written articles for the On Faith column at WaPo and signed as Executive Director of CSH if I recall. In the business world I’ve see plenty of articles even by CEO’s where they are speaking for themselves and they use their professional titles. But I can see where you’re coming from and my guess is CFI mgmt will take a look at this. Keep in mind that CFI staff guest-blogging is a relatively new phenomenon so this is not a question they’ve had to deal with until recently.

            Russell, I fear that the sensibility of what you are saying is lost on most commentators here.
            Even after it has been explained on multiple occasions that Shook’s piece is his personal opinion and does not speak for the entire organization there is still an element of suspicion and hostility. I do not think that John’s article warrants this hostility and sure enough multiple commentators have confirmed that Mooney hosting POI seems to have set off this animosity.

            • tomh
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

              Simon wrote:
              Even after it has been explained on multiple occasions that Shook’s piece is his personal opinion and does not speak for the entire organization there is still an element of suspicion and hostility.

              And after you have convinced everyone here of that, are you going to go on and explain it to the rest of the readers of Huffington Post. You know, the 99.9% who don’t read this blog. The ones who assume, because of the imnpressive CFI title, that he is speaking for the organization.

              I do not think that John’s article warrants this hostility

              You mean, being called know-nothing atheists should just be laughed off.

            • Tuco
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

              To me it’s not altogether clear someone is speaking for CFI unless they put that in the content of their article…

              Respectfully, I’m not sure I understand why you say this; as many of us have noted here, Shook’s affiliation with CfI and his job title are appended to his byline, so the logical inference is that Shook is writing in an “official” capacity. Also, where has it “been explained on multiple occasions that Shook’s piece is his personal opinion and does not speak for the entire organization…?” Certainly not on this thread, and certainly not on the HuffPo page. To reiterate, if his HuffPo piece was in fact intended to be read as his personal opinion, his CfI affiliation should have been omitted. Of course, including his CfI affiliation and job title does serve a couple of purposes, including providing full disclosure of his CfI affiliation and demonstrating his “credentials” (at least for the benefit of those for whom that is important for whatever reason), so to some extent I can understand the motivation for including that information. However, if he intended the piece to be a reflection of his personal views divorced from his CfI affiliation or official CfI institutional policy or opinion, a simple disclaimer to that effect would have obviated much of this kind of criticism.

              Either way, I don’t think it’s fair to categorize criticism of his piece as “hostile.” The post can still be evaluated (and criticized) solely on its merits regardless of any CfI connection. Shook makes a number of unsupported claims, which are not immune to criticism simply because it is an opinion piece. To wit:

              Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, and not much more about religion, and they seem proud of their ignorance.

              From whom exactly are atheists getting a reputation as “know-nothings?” And on what basis does Shook claim that atheists know nothing of God or religion and “seem proud of their ignorance?” Granted, his next paragraph argues (passingly) that this reputation is “a little unfair,” but Shook then proceeds to detail the ignorance he had just conceded (albeit weakly) was unfair.

              These are just a couple of examples of the unsupported claims in Shook’s piece; there are plenty of others. His overall thesis also warrants criticism: He impugns “strident” atheism for being dismissive of recent theology and unprepared to discuss it intelligently. Religious claims are entirely without any supporting evidence whatsoever, and unsubstantiated assertions are not made valid by more sophisticated circular reasoning.

              In any event, wothers here have already addressed these – and many other – problems with Shook’s piece, but the point is that if Shook is going to make unsubstantiated claims, fail to provide evidence or citations for his assertions, and make dubious accusations of ignorance, he (and others) should expect objections and criticism. Disagreement, especially with poorly-reasoned arguments, is not equivalent to hostility. Even so, clearly many perceive (and not without cause) Shook’s piece itself as hostile, so even if the response is hostile, it certainly isn’t unwarranted.

            • Screechy Monkey
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

              “Even after it has been explained on multiple occasions that Shook’s piece is his personal opinion and does not speak for the entire organization there is still an element of suspicion and hostility.”

              Sorry, Simon, some of us persist in having our own view no matter how many times you “explain” the “right” view to us.

              Whether an agent’s speech can be attributed to his organization is not a simple question, and the organization’s denial is not dispositive. Believe me, lots of corporations would love to be able to say “oh, we’re not responsible for what employee X agreed to. Our policy is that nobody is allowed to speak for the company unless the Board issues a resolution written in blood and notarized.” It doesn’t work that way.

              If a non-trivial number of people reading articles like Shook’s are left with the impression that his views reflect the CFI’s, then that’s a problem for the CFI whether it wishes to acknowledge it or not. And it’s not a problem that the CFI is going to solve by you and Melody and Ronald lecturing us on the official policies of CFI.

    • tomh
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      If anyone doubts that Shook is perceived as speaking for CFI, just skim through a few of the comments on the piece. Just on the first page you find things like,

      “CFI has lost just about any credibility at this point. I’m not sure what’s going on over there, but the inmates seem to now be running the asylum.”

      “CFI has done so much for the cause, but this is just awful.”

      There are plenty more. The most positive comment about CFI that I saw was,

      “Shook and the CFI will eventually get over their ill-thought concern-trolling.”

      • Simon
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        Were these comments before or after Coyne wrote the current “CFI declares war on atheists” blog post? Please keep in mind that the original article was written on Sep 15 and most of the first page comments more recent from today/yesterday it seems. I didn’t look for every one you quote, but indicatively the “just awful” comment you wrote was written 16 hours ago ie after Coyne’s article.

        As it happens, I clicked to the first 6 pages of comments that occurred in the first few hours after the article was posted and did not see a single CFI reference. Just about every comment seemed to be on the merits of the article.

        It’s hard to say for certain, but based on both of the above facts is to me a strong indication that the article was basically “pharyngulated” by Jerry.

        Anyhow, I find it amusing that people are so upset about strawman arguments by John (and elsewhere) but on the other hand Jerry Coyne makes a completely unsubstantiated accusation against Ron Lindsay and nobody bats an eyelid. I’m curious to see how Jerry will respond when he gets around to it.

        • tomh
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

          Well, I’m not going to search 1500+ comments to try and prove a point that should be obvious to any objective observer. Here’s the beginning of one comment, though, from 9/15:

          Until this moment I had a high regard for the Center for Inquiry. Dr. Shook trashed that today, by wearing their mantle as he delivered a cheap shot to atheists and pandered to the religious. Apparently he’s trying to sell his book.
          9/15, 1:55 PM

          And a reply:

          Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, and especially for: “Until this moment I had a high regard for the Center for Inquiry. Dr. Shook trashed that today,…”.
          Marked as favorite.
          9/15, 4:22 PM

          Anyhow, I find it amusing that you so easily dismiss the idea that a reader might associate the views that Shook puts forth in his column with the CFI, simply because he identifies himself as an official with CFI, with no disclaimer of any sort.

          • Simon
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

            Not easily dismissing it at all. Just examining the evidence. After going through 6 pages of comments I did not find something to support the hypothesis. Don’t get me wrong, what you say is a reasonable hypothesis, which is why it ought not be dismissed out of hand.

            I work in marketing for a living so studying internet audience perception is something I do on a daily basis.

            • Chris
              Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

              If this is the case, then you MUST be aware of a combination of the lowest common denominator of reader and branding.

              A – if an article, or the source thereof, is open to interpretation you must be prepared for the least positive reading of it.

              B – A title appended to an article (without a personal disclaimer) will be read, BY DEFAULT, as reflecting the views of the titled organisation.

              C – Anything that any member of your organisation publishes affects your brand. If you want control of your brand you have to control what your representatives publish. WRT #B, if your brand name is even mentioned it will be associated to the statement by most readers.

              You have, quite obviously, lost control of your brand.

              The problem is not the people here, but the folks at HuffPo. That is where your brand is being associated with those statements.

              You might well work in marketing. So do I (well, that and branding too). The fact that this discussion is happening at all pretty much proves that the wrong message was put out and the CfI brand is suffering because of it.

              Now, the divergence of opinions may be a good thing for you, I agree, but this piece was on the fucking HuffPo where such niceties are not observed. 4 words: Dinesh De Fucking Souza.

  55. Neil
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    CFI has never been a leader in the atheist movement. I remember, and I wish I still had the reference, years ago at a (then) CSICOP conference, Paul Kurtz admonished Richard Dawkins when he first brought up the fact that religion should be subject to the same scrutiny that CSICOP was applying to less important superstitions like astrology and quack medicine.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      I’ve also remembered that incident with amusement. There was never any doubt in those days that Kurtz was in charge and ran things as he saw fit. And he felt there was value in keeping his anti-pseudoscience arm distinct from his anti-religion realm, despite the fact that I’m sure he, along with the rest of us, would see the latter as merely a special subset of the former…I believe he felt that attacking (other) pseudoscience in itself was important enough to not immediately turn off the possibly convinceable theists…

      We must also remember that he was one of the first to give Dawkins prominence and a platform in the US.

  56. Insightful Ape
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    The way it looks to me the situation at CFI can be best described as total chaos.
    When members (in their official capacity) undercut the organization, nothing happens. If anything such things are swept under the rug as “encouraging diversity”.
    That is truly regretable. Such a great organization in shambles.

  57. Josh in California
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Why would someone from the CFI want to be published in the crock of shit that is the Huffington Post?

    Seriously. The three stories that I see listed above Shook’s blatherings are, “Young Christians Seek Intentional Community Among Poor” (amazingly, a real article from the Oregonian), “Does the Quran Really Sanction Violence Against ‘Unbelievers’?” (of course not, says the sheikh who penned it), and “Do Our Pets Go to Heaven? Metaphysics of Animal Souls and The Afterlife” (ugh).

    I’m glad to see Shook getting torn up in the comments, but I have a feeling that the average HuffPo reader is much more credulous, which is likely why Shook chose such a disreputable venue for his piece.

  58. Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Of course being ignorant on the matter would be really bad. But where I think people trip themselves up is in what is relevant to be ignorant of. The criticism about not being well-versed in theology is like saying that while it’s all well and good to show that astrology both fails conceptually and empirically that one really shouldn’t say anything until they know how to make a birth chart – or at the very least be able to tell a Libra from a Cancer.

    This kind of reasoning doesn’t hold water, it’s amazing that intelligent people will put out such tripe in the effort to clamber for the Overton Window.

  59. Ronald Lindsay
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    First, I do not have to read what John Shook has written to know that what Coyne has said about me is inaccurate. Neither Coyne nor anyone else has provided evidence to support Coyne’s claim that I have gone out of my way to criticize CFI’s “atheist supporters for stridency, hostility, and ignorance.” It seems to me that’s a serious enough charge to warrant support or, failing that, retraction. I’m still waiting.

    Second, with respect to whether John Shook’s blog post represents CFI’s official position, again, I knew it did not without reading it because John would have needed authorization from the management committee (which does not include John) to speak on behalf of CFI.

    Third, I have now read John’s post. I disagree with portions of what he said or at least the way he phrased some of his comments. However, one of his general points seems to be that it is a good thing to be aware of the claims and arguments, such as they are, made by religion’s advocates. This strikes me as uncontroversially true.

    Fourth, as to whether a disclaimer should have been attached to John Shook’s post on Huffpo, I suppose that’s debatable. I have read dozens of op-eds by individuals working for nonprofits who list their position for identification purposes and there usually is no confusion about the fact that they are speaking only for themselves—unless the piece expressly states otherwise. But I’ll review this issue.

    Fifth, as to hires I have made, John was hired by Paul Kurtz in 2006. I do not say that to distance myself but only to state a fact. Re Chris Mooney (who seems to attract a fair amount of attention) I contracted with 3 individuals to host POI: Bob Price, Karen Stollznow, and Chris Mooney. They are contractors, not employees, with specifically described and limited duties. For various reasons, including requests from our supporters, we wanted POI to spend some time focusing on issues of science and public policy. For several reasons, Chris seemed like a good choice to be a host for that set of topics. I stand by that decision. We have received some negative comments about his show, but they are overshadowed by positive comments. The POI audience is up. Chris does not speak for CFI, nor does CFI speak for him. He is an independent journalist, just as Bob and Karen are freelancers.

    Several individuals have indicated that they will not support CFI because of John’s remarks. People are free to make decisions as they see fit, but I can say with confidence that no other organization is doing more to combat the influence of religion and to support religious skeptics than CFI and its affiliates. From educational programs, to community-level activities, to publishing first-rate, informative journals, to national campaigns, to legal advocacy, we are doing our best to bring about a truly secular society. One of the last things I did before the weekend was to consult with our in-house counsel about working on behalf of a child who was harassed and injured by bullies because he refused to engage in prayer at a “Pee-Wee” event. That’s the type of front-line service we provide on a regular basis. If your annoyance over John Shook’s arguably infelicitous observations bothers you so much that you don’t want to support that work, then so be it. But I respectfully ask you to reconsider.

    • Josh Slocum
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      There is nothing respectful, Ron, about dismissing legitimate concerns and weaseling out of organizational responsibility.

      They’re not “employees,” but contractors. They don’t speak for CFI, though they are paid by you and attach its name to some of their public work.

      That’s pathetic, Ron. But no, we’re all unreasonable. No need for introspection, no need to listen to critics (who used to support CFI). Only need to say they’re all acting outrageously.

      We deserve better than that, and so does CFI.

      • Ronald Lindsay
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

        I am afraid I cannot understand what you are saying. I have not dismissed concerns nor have I accused all those commenting on this post of being unreasonable or of acting outrageously. Please do not attribute to me positions I have not taken or statements I have not made.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

          You understand it perfectly, and stop pretending otherwise. You’re weaseling out of responsibility for what CFI staffers say by parsing labels (“He’s not an employee, he’s a contractor”).

          • Jeff Chamberlain
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

            What Josh said.

      • Insightful Ape
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

        One more thing: if the positive feedback that you got about Mr Mooney overshadowed the negative, it means it probably didn’t come from many here. We are obviously all too intolerant to appreciate the difference between a personal opinion and policy position.
        There is no point in wasting your time here.

        • Diane G.
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

          One more thing: if the positive feedback that you got about Mr Mooney overshadowed the negative, it means it probably didn’t come from many here.

          Not only that, it may not even have come from ‘many.’ :-)

          (*cough*sockpuppets*cough*)

          • Tulse
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

            Now, now, Diane, you’re not helping.

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

              lol! (I shout unforced laughter at you.)

      • Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        Hmm, I hadn’t read Ron’s comment when I made own my longish comment above.

        Josh, I think you’re being a bit unfair here, and I do actually think it’s relevant that Mooney doesn’t sign off things as “Poobah CFI” … and that he comes across as independent when he does the interviews. It’s not so much that he’s hired as an independent contractor rather than an employee, which I didn’t know, as that media interviewers are not usually taken to represent their organisations’ views. They are hired to be interesting, not to advocate the organisation’s policies. Of course they may be bound by certain policies such as a policy on not using hate speech, but they usually have a lot of freedom to pursue whatever they find interesting. In short, I don’t think an ordinary educated person should take Mooney as representing the CFI, whether or not he is delivering good value.

        But it does look different when someone in what looks like a policy management role signs off a publication with a reference to that role. When I was in policy management positions, I never did that if I was writing something in my personal capacity expressing my personal views. I can add that when I was managing an employer organisation at one stage of my career I would have been very upset if someone in the organisation had used their organisational title to sign off something they published expressing personal views. In doing so, they would create the impression that these were the organisation’s views. This is damn close to a sacking offence.

        Again, I realise that the CFI gives what amounts to academic freedom to its employees, but the public doesn’t know that. Even if Jerry knew that before Melody made the point, which I assume he didn’t, he’d be right about how it would appear to most educated people who know how advocacy organisations work. To most educated people reading HuffPo it would look as if Shook is representing the CFI’s official position.

        As I said above, I think this is difficult for the CFI. Once people have an employment right such as academic freedom, it is very difficult to take it away from them. Too, CFI has enough problems at the moment with memembers of the old school undermining the new management (which I totally support in so far as I can actually do anything). But it does look to me as if this is yet another problem that Ron has to take on board. Better him than me.

        Some degree of coherence in the message is critical for any advocacy organisation’s communications strategy. Shook may not understand that reality, but I’m sure Ron does.

        • Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

          I.e., I support the new management, not the attempts to undermine it.

          • Jeff Chamberlain
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

            Mr. Blackford, you are being way too charitable.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

          Well, I could have been a little clearer, Russell. I’m not objecting only to Ron’s description of Mooney, but to his whole dance distancing CFI from anything its employees/contractors/whoevers say. It’s simply not reasonable to be shocked, shocked! when people naturally associate an employee/contractor/whoever’s views with that of his employer. Especially when that person is acting as the official host of the organization’s official podcast. Or when that person publishes an article in the mainstream media prominently identifying himself by his position at the organization.

          I too work for an advocacy group, and when commenting/writing in public about the issues my organization tackles (especially if I do so by putting my job title under my name), it’s perfectly reasonable to assume I’m speaking for the organization.

          • Ken Browning
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

            Will someone supporting CFI please comment on the ACLU comparison?

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      OK, nothing to say about the rest of the comment. But the claim that “no other organization is doing more to combat the influence of religion and to support religious skeptics than CFI” is just not true, after a member claims atheists are ignorant and that happens to be part of the “diversity” you encourage and it is not your official position, hence that is just fine.
      It is silly.

    • Posted September 26, 2010 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      Third, I have now read John’s post. I disagree with portions of what he said or at least the way he phrased some of his comments.

      You may want to be a bit more explicit as to what portions those are.

      However, one of his general points seems to be that it is a good thing to be aware of the claims and arguments, such as they are, made by religion’s advocates. This strikes me as uncontroversially true.

      Sure, and nobody here has argued otherwise. However, did Shook really need to smear atheists as being ignorant to make that point? Or blame atheists for the ignorance of the religious?

      Don’t you understand by now that we don’t want to hear why none of this is really the CFI’s responsibility? All we want is some unambiguous statements about whether the CFI (or its leadership) endorses such comments or not. In absence of clear statements to the contrary, you shouldn’t be too surprised if the default assumption is that the CFI endorses them.

    • Nate Phelps
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      Two thoughts about your comments Ron, First, it seems a bit condescending / patronizing to suggest John’s point that we should be educated about the theist’s position has merit. It feels too much like a “silk purse out of a sow’s ear” proposition and presupposes that the typical atheist hasn’t figured that out yet.

      Second, whether you intend to, this parsing of official positions and titles smells too much like dodging the knotty issue of perceived responsibility. It seems clear to me that many readers ARE holding CFI accountable for John’s position regardless of whether we can split that legal hair.

      As an Executive Director for CFI, I think the tone and tact you’ve taken is ill timed and ill conceived. Certainly, at the end of the day, CFI’s mandate and overwhelming performance is laudable in our struggle to remove the negative effects of religion from societies. But diminishing valid arguments, intentionally or not, by digging your legal heels in is not going to solve this problem.

  60. Scote
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    Ronald Lindsay
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
    However, one of his general points seems to be that it is a good thing to be aware of the claims and arguments, such as they are, made by religion’s advocates. This strikes me as uncontroversially true.

    Right, which is why you initially responded in this thread **without reading the post in question…

    And, actually, no it isn’t necessary to know the obfuscating philosophies rationalizing the existence of unproven, unprovable entities. As someone pointed out earlier, John Shook says that atheists need to know all the latest modern theologies in order to dismiss theism, but he only refers to **Christian** theology, not the various theologies of all the religions, past and present, which atheists reject. And, of course, John Shook ignores that many atheists are, in fact, very well versed in theology.

    As I believe Christopher Hitchens has noted, what is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

    Fourth, as to whether a disclaimer should have been attached to John Shook’s post on Huffpo, I suppose that’s debatable.

    No, it really isn’t debatable. This thread alone is sufficient evidence that people do believe that articles signed with people’s official CfI titles are representative of CfI’s official position.

    • Tulse
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

      As I believe Christopher Hitchens has noted, what is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

      And as some other well-known advocacy organization says: “At the Center for Inquiry, we believe that evidence-based reasoning, in which humans work together to address common concerns, is critical for modern world civilization”

    • Chris
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      “No, it really isn’t debatable. This thread alone is sufficient evidence that people do believe that articles signed with people’s official CfI titles are representative of CfI’s official position.”

      Absolutely true. Branding 101. The old adage that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is, in this context, bollocks.

      Add this to the woo-fest of Huffo and basically you’re screwed.

      The CfI shouldn’t be posting here, but trying to convince all of the HuffPo readers (commenters and otherwise) of the situation.

      Failus epicus.

  61. mordacious1
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Coyne asked: “…is this a covert policy or just coincidental buffoonery?”.

    Representatives of Cfi insist it’s not a covert policy. Coincidental buffoonery it is then.

    • Screechy Monkey
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      Ah yes, but did those representatives of CFI have the approval of CFI’s managing board to speak on its behalf on this blog? It might still be policy after all!

  62. Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Third, I have now read John’s post. I disagree with portions of what he said or at least the way he phrased some of his comments.

    So have you expressed your substantive disagreements publicly at HuffPo? Why don’t you express them explicitly here? Why do you and Hensley seem overwhelmingly interested in organizational spin control rather than in hashing out these issues with those who are broadly on your side? And where is Shook to argue the points? Is he engaging at all?

    I read with great disappointment a long thread on your forum a few months ago in which people were chastised for asking critical questions of Mooney (whom Hensley absurdly suggests can “take criticism”) and threats of closing the thread were made. This was not conducive to free inquiry in the least. You mentioned above that people should read your position statements. Well, I read your official press release on the “Ground Zero Mosque” and didn’t like it one bit. Was there a process of open debate and discussion preceding that fiasco?

    Fourth, as to whether a disclaimer should have been attached to John Shook’s post on Huffpo, I suppose that’s debatable. I have read dozens of op-eds by individuals working for nonprofits who list their position for identification purposes and there usually is no confusion about the fact that they are speaking only for themselves—unless the piece expressly states otherwise.

    Oh, baloney.

  63. articulett
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Did Shook actually imply the “atheism is another faith” canard? Is his disbelief in Scientology another faith? How about his disbelief in tarot card readings? Does he have sophisticated understandings of these? Is he careful to walk on eggshells when expressing his skepticism in case believers of these things might be around? Does he vilify outspoken critics of these things?

  64. Simon
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Based on a reading through the comments of this post it seems that Chris Mooney is being mentioned quite a bit (at least more than one would expect on a post about John Shook). I have to wonder if that’s where a lot of the anti-CFI sentiment being expressed on this blog is originating (at least to a large extent).

    • Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

      Wonder no more. The comments here are about the Shook article. This is representative of what many see as unpalatable or worrying activities at the CfI over the past several months. Mooney is part of that story.

      Do you have anything of substance to say? There are several arguments about the Shook piece above.

      • Simon
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

        I already addressed the Shook article further up. I also already addressed the “worrying and unpalatable activities” multiple times.

        In my estimation many people have a pre-defined view of CFI and are using this Shook article as a way of expressing it. Many people also have a principled disagreement with Shook, however I think something deeper is at play.

        To re-iterate, I don’t believe that the concern about “worrying activities at CFI” is accurate, and frankly I think it ignores basic on-the-ground realities. CFI DC is breaking records in terms of fund-raising, numbers of members, event attendance, and prestige of speakers.

        Furthermore, I’m not convinced that “cohesiveness” is necessarily a primary objective that we should be striving for (at least the way it seems to be discussed here). Again, I am attracted to the fact that CFI invites and fosters debate even at it’s own conferences. A perfect example is in LA where there will be a panel that puts Myers against Mooney and I think there is a value to those discussions being had outside of blogs.

        And now that we mention it, let’s look at TAM: when Phil Plait had his now infamous “don’t be a dick” speech a few months back, I did not see any anti-JREF blog posts. When Randi wrote his original ant-AGW blog post a few months ago I did not see people on other blogs bringing JREF into the discussion. In both of those cases there was of course disagreement with the views of the respective people however.

        So that’s why I’m curious about what’s at play here.

        • Tulse
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

          CFI DC is breaking records in terms of fund-raising, numbers of members, event attendance, and prestige of speakers.

          So? I’m sure the NRA is as well. I thought the issue was the content of what CfI said, and not its organizational health.

        • Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

          I already addressed the Shook article further up. I also already addressed the “worrying and unpalatable activities” multiple times.

          Huh. I read your comments.

          In my estimation many people have a pre-defined view of CFI and are using this Shook article as a way of expressing it.

          Surely you can see the difference between a growing disenchantment with the organization of which this is one element and using the post as a pretext for expressing an opinion that has nothing to do with it.

          Many people also have a principled disagreement with Shook, however I think something deeper is at play.

          These aren’t mutually exclusive. I think his article is rubbish, and something deeper is at play.

          To re-iterate, I don’t believe that the concern about “worrying activities at CFI” is accurate,

          And you’re wrong. But you haven’t addressed what I’ve said, so…

          and frankly I think it ignores basic on-the-ground realities. CFI DC is breaking records in terms of fund-raising, numbers of members, event attendance, and prestige of speakers.

          Then ignore us. And democratic debate. What do you care?

          Furthermore, I’m not convinced that “cohesiveness” is necessarily a primary objective that we should be striving for (at least the way it seems to be discussed here).

          I think you’re confused about what people are saying here.

          Again, I am attracted to the fact that CFI invites and fosters debate even at it’s own conferences. A perfect example is in LA where there will be a panel that puts Myers against Mooney and I think there is a value to those discussions being had outside of blogs.

          And on blogs. And in many other contexts. Your point seems to be that if it occurs at conferences it needn’t anywhere else.

          And now that we mention it, let’s look at TAM: when Phil Plait had his now infamous “don’t be a dick” speech a few months back, I did not see any anti-JREF blog posts. When Randi wrote his original ant-AGW blog post a few months ago I did not see people on other blogs bringing JREF into the discussion.

          I don’t think this is true, but if so I’ll bring JREF into it right now.

          • Simon
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:04 am | Permalink

            It’s not “only” conferences.

            Have you not heard of Free Inquiry and Skeptical Enquirer? These are journals that have been published by CFI for 30 years and are highly respected and have a combined subscription that dwarfs other secular organization’s journals’ circulation.

            There is POI podcast-again, for many years one of the top secular/skeptic podcasts.

            And as others have mentioned, position papers, legal action, lobbying, community events, etc etc.

            As far as blogs, the CFI blog began like 1.5 years ago so we are not quite competing with Pharyngula just yet.

            As far as “democratic debate” can you give me an example of where you think this applies to our current discussion?

            • articulett
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

              It’s Skeptical Inquirer; I used to subscribe.

              I feel like some of CFI’s most outspoken members are spreading prejudice against atheists, and I no longer involve myself with your organization. (Okay… sometimes I listen to the podcasts hosted by Price; and I am interested in the coming PZ Mooney debate.)

              Lately, it seems that CFI, like the people it’s been hiring, are involved in spreading the myth that there is this evil, militant, ignorant cadre of atheists out there who are being “dicks” and harming “the cause”. The critics rarely give names or details nor do they support these claims with evidence. Everyone is allowed to think they know who these evil folks are and biases are confirmed accordingly.

              I think this is vile. Moreover, on the rare occasions when names are given (PZ, Dawkins, Hitchens, Coyne), I find that the those named have done far more to further rational thinking than the the self-appointed experts in “public understanding of science” (or the self appointed experts at “winning debates”) who claim these outspoken atheists are hurting some cause.

              There is enough prejudice against atheists out there. I am disgusted that CFI seems to be involved in furthering some of this prejudice. It’s ironic given that one of CFI’s state goals is “to end to the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever, whether the nonbeliever describes her/himself as an atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker or skeptic.”

              CFI is allowing its members to undermine this goal in their name.

        • Scote
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink

          “And now that we mention it, let’s look at TAM: when Phil Plait had his now infamous “don’t be a dick” speech a few months back, I did not see any anti-JREF blog posts. “

          Well, a couple of reasons. One, out of habit I still associate Plait more with Bad Astronomy than with JREF. But, more to the point, Plait’s stupid, evidence-free claims were made at what is essentially an “internal” (to skepticism) venue. John Shook wrote a piece for what might arguably be called the mainstream media, and signed it with his official CfI title.

          But your argument is a tu quoque. Even so, I think many of us here will agree that Plait’s evidence-free exorioration was contrary to the JREF mission.

          • Simon
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink

            This is debatable. JREF makes their conference videos publicly available, it’s not like this was a private closed-door meeting. Randi’s anti-AGW piece was on the JREF blog (though he did back-pedal a bit the next day). Again, my question is why the much bigger *public* outrage at CFI?

            IMO any person who is not already negatively pre-disposed who is even slightly familiar with our events and publications would have a difficult time saying with a straight face that “we are throwing atheists under the bus”.

            A year ago when Paul Kurtz went on the CFI blog to accuse “militant atheists of taking over CFI” (again, without naming names), oddly enough we seemed to have gotten more flak for being *too* anti-religious.

            To the broader question of whether these discussions should be had in public, I think they absolutely do as long as they are in good faith and sincere. If they happen too much in private then people feel shut out and there is less scrutiny which hurts in the long run.

            • Scote
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

              “This is debatable. JREF makes their conference videos publicly available, it’s not like this was a private closed-door meeting.

              I’m not saying that Plait’s ill-informed, evidence-free rant was inside a secret meeting that is kept hidden from the general but that it isn’t in the same category as an editorial published to the general public under the title of a senior CfI employee. And you are still making a tu quoque. And I’m also willing to hold Plait accountable. So what do you have left? Nothing.

              John Shook’s inconsistent and counterfactual argument from assertion was published as an editorial to the general public under his official title. It was, and is, a reasonable inference that his piece represents the voice of CfI.

              There is a clear and proven problem of the public perceiving public articles published under CfI employee’s official titles as representing the views of CfI, as is typically the case when senior employees of an advocacy organization publish editorials in media aimed at the general public. What steps are you going to take to mediate this issue? So far nobody at CfI as been willing to do anything but dissemble. I’m not impressed.

            • articulett
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

              What’s there to discuss if no one is named and no details are given? It’s all a straw man and everyone can feel superior to those “militant atheists” that are supposedly hurting some cause.

              BTW, I blamed JREF and TAM on this very forum for Phil’s speech (though Phil is no longer the president of JREF– CFI’s former spokesperson, D.J. Grothe is.) I think it’s a shame that they need to water down the skepticism in order to make skepticism more palatable to the religious woo. I doubt Phil would do that for those who believed the moon landing was a hoax.

              Why are JREF and CFI bending over backwards to make sure we don’t hurt the feelings of some woo but not others? Why do these organizations allow the bad-mouthing of those who criticize religion, but not those who criticize other (less harmful) woo in a more “strident” manner?

              I don’t like that JREF treats religious superstitions differently than they treat other superstitions, and I think of those who do so as being smarmy and dishonest. Many there seem to be infected with the meme that faith is something to be “protected”. They walk on eggshells around the faithful– even at a skeptics convention! And they bad-mouth other skeptics. But there is no valid reason to treat religious woo differently than other woo, so instead the faitheists bad mouth everyone who dares to treat all superstitions the same. They call these honest people, “dicks”, “ignorant”, “militant”, “shrill”, etc. and claim they are harming some cause.

              Who are the ignorant atheists that Shook thinks are hurting “the cause”? Where the hell is the evidence? How can we examine or discuss his alarmist claims? The atheists I know understand theology (many kinds) much better than theists who– if they have expertise– tend to only have it in one brand of theological superstition.

              Again, where are those who use their CFI affiliation while tearing apart Shook in the same manner that Shook has upbraided these “ignorant atheists” that seem to exist more in his imagination than in reality?

            • Tulse
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

              Randi’s anti-AGW piece was on the JREF blog (though he did back-pedal a bit the next day). Again, my question is why the much bigger *public* outrage at CFI?

              So your defense against the

              substance

              of the arguments here is that CfI is being picked on? That JREF did it first? This is a response I’d expect from a five-year-old.

            • Tulse
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

              (sorry for the formatting — “substance” should have been in italics, not quoted)

    • tomh
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      Simon wrote:
      … it seems that Chris Mooney is being mentioned quite a bit (at least more than one would expect on a post about John Shook). I have to wonder if that’s where a lot of the anti-CFI sentiment being expressed on this blog is originating (at least to a large extent).

      Mooney, Shook, there’s plenty of reason for anti-CFI sentiment, but it has certainly been exacerbated by the sorry showing of the two CFI apologists who showed up here.

      • Simon
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

        My guess is you had little to no problem with Shook until you read his blog post. Apart from Mooney, what else do you have against CFI?

        I’m curious and appreciate your sincerity.

        • Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

          I mentioned two episodes in my post above, for Pete’s sake. One concerned Mooney, but was about the actions of the moderators on the CfI forum. The other had nothing to do with Mooney.

          Look, the organization is trying to be an advocacy group and a center for open debate. It’s failing at both. Let’s take this case. I asked above where the debate concerning Shook’s article was. Hensley and Lindsay have said (without much commitment or conviction) that they have disagreements with Shook. But they haven’t expressed them clearly and publicly or encouraged him publicly to engage with anyone’s criticisms. I haven’t seen any real debate from them. I’ve seen Shook taking pot shots at Gnus and running away shouting over his shoulder, “Read my book!” Then I’ve seen CfI representatives in damage-control mode. It’s ridiculous. CfI needs to openly debate tactics/strategy and positions or lay down their own and if people don’t like them they can not support the organization.

          • Simon
            Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

            SC: Thanks for clarifying. If you don’t mind me asking, have you attended a CFI event in person?

            Anyhow, re: John, he’s a big boy and he can respond for himself when he sees fit. It’s not my place to tell him what to do.

            Re: spin control, I’m perfectly happy to “apologize”,”defend”, or whatever you want to call it when I read things that are patently false. Coyne made the decision to title his post “CfI declares war on atheists” and I have a sincere disagreement with this. Melody and I work hard to advance the mission of CFI so if you have a problem with me being supportive, then so be it.

        • Hitch
          Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

          Mooney’s book “Unscientific American” basically calls Dawkins a nasty bully. If you agree with that characterization, go buy the book. If you disagree, check it out in the library and verify.

          Basically Mooney roughly made the argument that PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins hurt science outreach. I think a better person could actually make that argument and further the debate, but his book is at beat a shallow attack on the matter.

          Mooney has also had his way on the blogosphere in that direction, in particular there has been a rather unsavory episode of someone acting using sock puppets to call people liars and stuff and Mooney having elevated a made up story by the person as evidence how supposedly Dawkins et al cultivate a cultural of nasty intolerance. Well it wasn’t true.

          See the problem is that some sectors are very involved in trying to load the recent more visible atheism with negative categories. “New atheism” is “aggressive” “angry” “intolerant” “fundamentalist” “do-nothings” “know-nothings” and all that.

          Now if people actually feed these stereotypes from within that makes it that much harder to counter them.

          That is what the upset is about. Basically at least two people affiliated with CFI feed those kinds of strawmen/stereotypes. And it’s a problem.

    • Posted September 26, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

      Really? You’re going to now divert to another red-herring, rather than address the complaints expressed?

      There is no need to wonder about the motives behind the critiques of Shook, if you (or someone authorized to do so officially for CFI) would deal with the criticisms leveled against Mr. Shook’s piece, publicly, on HuffPo.

      The three representatives of CFI I’ve read here (and I may be erroneously including you, Simon) appear to be in a severe case of defensive denial, and you need to take a few deep breaths and address the legitimate criticisms leveled here and elsewhere. The article by Shook is a swipe at atheism that fosters a pejorative view. It is written in “what appears” to be an official capacity for CFI, whose stated goals the article contradicts.
      Face it. Deal with it.

  65. Posted September 25, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Oh – by the way, the contributors at Free Inquiry are 11 men and one woman.

    Interesting.

  66. Hitch
    Posted September 25, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    A few random thoughts:

    1) Shook has the bad luck of hitting the tail end of a particularly unpleasant week of strawman arguments against atheists. Starting with the whole New Humanist non-debate. I do think that sensibilities are amplified, but frankly even if that was not the context, the HuffPo article is basically regurgitating an old strawman and is rejectable and only forgettable insofar as if it doesn’t do lasting damage.

    2) When does who act in the name of CFI: To me that’s almost a non-argument. Yes there is banners and job titles. But for me the much more relevant question is: If I donate to CFI, does it go to support the right people? If say Shook does great things during his official work cycle and then in his evening does writing that undermines the cause, there is a concern for supporters of CFI. After all we end up helping pay the bill of someone who apparently is quite happy to shoot us in the proverbial foot. That CFI is the middle-man there is just unfortunate.

    3) Ultimately the book will tell more. Sadly with the tone that the HuffPo article sets my expectations are not hopeful, but I am happy to reserve judgment.

    4) I’m all for diversity. But I’m not for people using the “new atheism” strawman as punching bag for shallow populist jabs. It’s hard enough to overcome stigma and stereotypes. We really really do not need people who are supposed to make it better for us to make it go out of their way to make it worse.

    • Tulse
      Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

      I’m all for diversity

      Since when do advocacy groups promote “diversity”? Their role is to advocate. Should the American Lung Association promote “diversity” on the question of whether smoking causes lung cancer and emphysema? Should the National Organization for Women employ staff who write articles suggesting that babes should stay at home barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen? Should the NAACP have writers who ask if blacks really are as smart as whites?

      Perhaps the problem is that CfI really doesn’t have a clear vision of its mission, if it sees “diversity” as a main feature of the organization.

      • Hitch
        Posted September 25, 2010 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

        The way I look at it is that there is lots of diversity that is actually compatible with the mission.

        I would agree that it gets murky if diversity became the argument why the mission appears to be undermined.

  67. Bruce Gorton
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    I think one of the big problems with Shook’s argument is that the nature of the atheist argument is oppositional.

    We aren’t proposing, we are opposing. That puts us in the natural position of reacting to religious arguments.

    So if the arguments theists come up with are “Just stick with faith; after all, who can argue with faith?” then quite frankly why should we be making up sophisticated positions for them?

    If the religious don’t have the brains to put forward their best arguments, why should we go looking for them?

  68. Posted September 26, 2010 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    “Nonbelievers reveling in their ignorance are an embarrassing betrayal of the freethought legacy.” He’s right.

    • Notagod
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Come on! Most christians including the ones that are causing the problems with policy in the United States aren’t interested and wouldn’t understand. A high percentage of atheists know about christianity and their god-ideas but the common christian response is equivalent to; So, that doesn’t prove there isn’t a christian god and how do you know It didn’t do that for some unrevealed reason.

      Although I admire atheists that take the time to explain in detail the problems with christianity, those explanations have no impact on the typical christian. Yet we must engage or the christians get the impression that no one disagrees with them and they insist on more and more irrational policy. (imagine all caps to follow) I don’t care what christians believe but, I don’t want their irrational beliefs to set governmental policy nor do I want those beliefs to interfere with my life.

  69. Papalinton
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    As David Eller reminds us:
    Faith is not different from belief,
    nor is it the basis of belief.
    It is the same thing as belief:
    accepting the false or unfounded as true.

  70. Sarah H
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Please allow me to clarify Shook’s position, as I know it was misinterpreted by MANY. He did not say you need to understand theology to produce a rational worldview. The second part of the quote is crucial for his meaning – If atheists are going to produce a rational worldview CAPABLE OF REPLACING RELIGION (all caps. for emphasis) they must take religion and theology more seriously.” If we want a more secular society, we have to be more effective in our discussions with the religious. Calling them “irrational” and “stupid” isn’t going to do it. Like in any argument, personal attacks alienate your opponent. So, not knowing theology does NOT mean an atheist isn’t rationally justified in his worldview – he is. He just has no business engaging a religionist in a debate – he won’t win, not without knowing their arguments. (He’s not denying MANY atheists know more about the bible, for example, than a Christian. It’s one thing to know the religious text BUT it is quite another to know the theology – the rational (I use this word loosely) justification for ones religion.)

    It is fine with Shook IF an atheist’s personal objective is to not change a believer’s mind. Shook has no problem with atheists who aren’t genuinely interested in debating believers. The criticism is directed at a subset of new atheists, who are loud and vituperative and want to debate a theist unprepared – not knowing their side. Again, you don’t change anybody’s mind by calling them stupid – you have to speak DIRECTLY to their worldview. I (not speaking for Shook) will happily concede that theology is a load of cleverly-designed bullshit, but I appreciate Shook’s point that proper debate with the religionist demands that we know the contemporary theology. His point really was more basic and more “common sense” than many took it.

    “You may need to understand religon and theology for some types of discussions with people of faith” – exactly. “FOR DISCUSSIONS with people of faith.” In order to have a productive, effective discussion with a believer, the non-believer really ought to know the contemporary arguments for religious belief (this amounts to more than having studied the religious text, but this of course is very valuable). Come to the table prepared, like in ANY good debate. The rules of debating equally apply to the non-believer. I think the reason it seemed he was coming down harder on atheists (again he was only speaking of a particular subset of “new atheists”) is because as an atheist, he is concerned with the question “What should atheists be doing to effectively foster a more secular society?” So his focus naturally will be on the question “What should an atheist be doing differently?”.

    We see how well a strategy offering them our logical arguments, and when they don’t budge, fuming how “irrational” they are is working out. This is because we aren’t speaking directly to THEIR “logical” arguments, i.e., their theologies. They’ve formulated responses to our main objections LONG ago. So we keep making the same ones and the religionist can just sit back and snicker that “we don’t know what we are talking about.” I’m not suggesting their responses are of any logical merit. I WILL say they are cleverly designed responses. I’m saying you have to play the game to win. Right now, many (not all) atheists aren’t playing THEIR game (as it is currently designed) – we are playing an out-dated version, and that won’t get us too far at all in a debate.

    • Drosera
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      I wonder how many religionists know anything about modern theology. If you debate a believer, in my experience, the level of sophistication on the other side rarely exceeds that of an argument from incredulity (‘I can’t believe that my consiousness arose purely through evolution, therefore god.’) Besides, which theology are you talking about? There are almost as many theologies as there are believers. For some strange reason they can’t seem to get there stories straight.

    • Notagod
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      WE DON’T WANT TO PLAY THEIR GAME. It is stupid and irrational and dangerous.

      From what I have seen the gnu atheists understand very well and much better than Shook. Also be more specific; what is it you are complaining about?

    • Notagod
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      There are perfectly good societies that function without christian domination, we already have acceptable models.

    • Posted September 26, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Sarah, there’s a fundamental problem with your proposal that we use “sophisticated” theology to disabuse people of the notion that religions are true.

      Let me put it bluntly, and use Christianity as the most obvious example.

      No matter the variety of Christian, all agree that the Bible is somehow a profoundly important book. It might be the actual writings of one or more of the gods that created the universe as we know it; or it might “merely” be a collection of historically-, morally-, and culturally-important literature; either way, it is Very Important™.

      And not only is that notion fundamental to all theology as it’s actually practiced, it’d laughably idiotic if it weren’t so poisonous.

      The Bible, after all, opens with a story about a magic garden with talking animals and an angry giant.

      It features not only more talking animals, but a talking plant — one on fire, no less. And that fuming fern instructs the reluctant hero in the proper way to wield his magic wand.

      And it ends with an utterly bizarre zombie story, complete with the reanimation of putrid corpses, graveyards spewing forth a massive zombie invasion, and the king zombie ordering his thralls to fondle his intestines through the gaping wound in his side. We’re also supposed to believe that these somehow-unnoticed events in a remote corner of the ancient Roman empire are but minor foreshadowings of the imminent zombie apocalypse, when everybody who ever lived will rise forth from the grave.

      In the midst of all this insane fantasy, we get the alleged protagonists committing horrific acts of genocide, mass child rape, and much more — all held up as the utmost examples of righteousness.

      And that is the level at which we must engage the believers. Theology isn’t merely based on the premise that there are gods mucking things up, but that this particularly nasty example of fantasy snuff porn is somehow good. By engaging with theologists at their level, you tacitly agree with them that the Bible somehow actually is a Good Book, and thereby instantly ruin your chances to ever get them to realize the truth.

      In other words, you and Shook are under the mistraken impression that pig-wrestling is somehow productive. The rest of us think a bucket of ice water to the face is not only far more productive, but much more respectful and morally justifiable.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Shook has no problem with atheists who aren’t genuinely interested in debating believers. The criticism is directed at a subset of new atheists, who are loud and vituperative and want to debate a theist unprepared – not knowing their side.

      Really. How do you know that? It certainly doesn’t jibe well with the opening paragraph.

    • Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      The criticism is directed at a subset of new atheists, who are loud and vituperative and want to debate a theist unprepared – not knowing their side.

      How large do you think that group is? Shook seems to suggest that this is such a large group that it is giving atheists a bad reputation. But is this really true? I doubt it.

      • Posted September 26, 2010 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

        …and please, name names. Cite instances when vituperation in service of theological ignorance undermined a “New Atheist’s” position. Your adding more “Shookian” argument, and it’s not helping.

    • Tulse
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      If we want a more secular society, we have to be more effective in our discussions with the religious. Calling them “irrational” and “stupid” isn’t going to do it.

      Evidence? This is the same plaint that Mooney continually mouths, and the only evidence he musters for it is essentially citing the folk bromide that “you catch more flies wi honey than vinegar”, which is not only no evidence, but ignores that bullshit works even better than honey. There is plenty of real world evidence that suggests vigorous opposition is effective at shifting societal opinion (just look at the rise of talk radio, and the success of Limbaugh, Beck, et al.).

      And, if you were as familiar with the atheist texts as Shook demands we be of theological ones, you’d know that Dawkins has addressed this issue directly, saying that his goal is not to change the mind of the entrenched believer, but to sway the views of the onlookers who may still be reachable.

      In order to have a productive, effective discussion with a believer, the non-believer really ought to know the contemporary arguments for religious belief

      That is complete bollocks — do you really think the vast majority of believers are as well-versed in theology as Shook demands atheists must be? Do you really think that the average Christian-on-the-street would say “Well gosh, your refutations of Origen and Anselm certainly are air-tight, and you’re right that Armstrong’s apophatic approach offers no personal god or indeed anything recognizable to the Christian tradition! I guess I’ll have to just give up religion!”

      Seriously?

      • MosesZD
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        Perfect.

    • Josh Slocum
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Calling them “irrational” and “stupid” isn’t going to do it. Like in any argument, personal attacks alienate your opponent

      For the love of Pete Sarah, why can’t you understand it works both ways? Why can’t you understand why the lot of us feel insulted when Shook calls us “ignorant” and “know-nothings”?

      Hypocrite. And ranty, too – it is possible to make a rousing argument without SCREAMING IN ALL CAPS.

      • Posted September 26, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        LOL; that’s it in a nutshell for me. They do what they decry. The CFI really are becoming a pitiful mouthpiece for these fifth columnists.

    • articulett
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Do you think Shook’s rhetoric is “going to produce a rational worldview CAPABLE OF REPLACING RELIGION”??? (extra question marks for emphasis)

      BTW, this atheist isn’t really concerned with helping people “replace” their myths.

      Because Shook didn’t give examples, we have no way of assessing whether we agree with his contention that there are atheists who are “doing it wrong” nor can we determine if his method is one we’d want to emulate. Has he converted more people to rational thought than the “theologically ignorant atheists” he has in mind? I suspect I would find those he criticizes to be better role models than Shook imagines himself to be. Of course, we’ll never get to know– because, like Phil, Shook built himself up by using unnamed straw men that represent the evil cabal of militant “new atheists” who are supposedly “hurting the cause”. These atheists are supposedly “trivially easy” to find, but nobody (but sock puppets) are going to name them– that way every blowhard can imagine he knows who they are and then he can imagine himself superior to these folks just as Shook has done.

      Because there is no rational defense of faith, some folks resort to knocking down straw men in order to protect the meme infection they don’t seem to realize they have. Shook, like all faitheists, is defending “belief in belief” by maligning those who dismiss it for the canard that it is.

      CFI defender posting here, seem to be doing the same.

      • Tulse
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        Has he converted more people to rational thought than the “theologically ignorant atheists” he has in mind? I suspect I would find those he criticizes to be better role models than Shook imagines himself to be.

        Seriously. We wouldn’t even be having this discussion if it weren’t for the massive popularity of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, Myers, Coyne et al. The Gnu Atheists are the ones who have brought the whole damn issue into current public consciousness to begin with — where the hell was secular activism prior to them? How many people in the general population had any notion of atheism prior to them? How many best sellers were there on atheism prior to the GAs? How many atheists appeared on talk shows?

        The accommodationist stance often comes off as nothing but jealous sour grapes, as if they’re pissed off that somebody else has actually been effective in bringing atheism to public attention.

        If nobody comes to you own sedate party, you can either complain about the noise from the raucous rave next door, or simply get off your butt and join the dancing there. It seems accommodationists would rather bang on the walls than actually party with someone else.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          Precisely. The deferential, tone-sensitive, flaccid accommodationism that was the only response to American religiosity before this wave of books came along didn’t move us forward one bloody inch.

    • MosesZD
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      In order to have a productive, effective discussion with a believer, the non-believer really ought to know the contemporary arguments for religious belief (this amounts to more than having studied the religious text, but this of course is very valuable).

      No, you’re automatically giving him the high-ground by granting tacit acknowledgment that his faith/book/arguments may be true. This is fail-sauce because, as we know, when somebody is being attacked on familiar grounds your arguments reinforce their beliefs.

      This a natural, well-documented psychological reaction. This isn’t your made-up “I wish the world were this way” crap.

      So, I go to capture the high ground. Not only will I not consider their Courtiers Reply arguments, I attack the foundations of their faith.

      I point out that the Bible is clearly false based upon modern Archeology. I point out the origins of Judaism and how the Bible still has bits of it’s polytheistic roots to be seen if you know what you’re looking for. I point out God had a wife. I point out that Judaism is a merger of two different faiths circa 600BCE.

      I go for the throat. And now the “believer” is on the defensive. They’re having to deal with my arguments, and when they fail to, I laugh him/her off and tell them if they want to have an “informed” discussion, perhaps they should get informed instead of brining up arguments from the 1800’s, restated or not…

      Do I change their minds? Hell no. Nothing will dent that stainless steel head.

      But others, who have intellectual curiosity, may just start to look at the evolution and construction of modern Judaism and it’s daughter faiths from its polytheistic roots. And see that there is nothing there. That generation after generation has been telling fairy tales and changing them over time and that Christianity is just one fairy tale among thousands.

      But regardless of whether my style works, we know yours does not. If it did, things would be a LOT different today than they are. We’d be a LOT MORE like Europe and a hell of a lot LESS RELIGIOUS than we are…

      So, peddle your fail somewhere else. And stop trying to demonize us. At least we have a clue.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      » Sarah H:
      If we want a more secular society, we have to be more effective in our discussions with the religious. Calling them “irrational” and “stupid” isn’t going to do it. Like in any argument, personal attacks alienate your opponent.

      Well, Sarah, I suppose you will then also condemn this know-nothing revelling in his ignorance—I’m sorry, was that alienating?—who said, “You don’t have to be crazy to be religious (though it helps)”.

      And since you—just like everybody else who has made this lazy accusation—haven’t provided even one example of a non-random atheist routinely calling god-believers “stupid”: where is your evidence for this assertion? Aren’t you the least bit ashamed to expect this crowd here just to take your word for it? It certainly seems that you’re not especially interested in the truth of your assertion. Which would be the one thing Shook managed to get right: “an embarrassing betrayal of the freethought legacy.” (And, by the way, the technical definition of ‘stupid’.)

      As to the “alienating your opponent” bit, you are also ironically betraying your ignorance of the relevant discussion. Just the other day, Richard Dawkins spelt it out: the majority of public discussion is not primarily aimed at an opponent, but third-party onlookers. Maybe somebody who feels shaken by mere words will be offended—well, let them. Experience indicates that they will be offended by any criticism at all. But this obviously needs to be weighed against the “clearer perception and livelier impression of truth” (Mill, On Liberty) on the part of the wider audience, produced by a forthright and unequivocal declaration of the emperor’s nakedness. One is led to wonder why none of the accommodationists ever even acknowledges this point.

    • CandyLiz
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      Sarah, did you give up?
      You and I have been having basically the same discussion in different threads within this blog (though I think you took a much more scholarly approach than I did).
      It has been somewhat dramatic – and I am a little disappointed at how discussion seemed to unravel. I am also puzzled by the resolute adherence to the method of inveighing against the religious when I think a more diplomatic approach will be more effective (you can’t have a conversation if they run away from you!).
      Some of the same material has been heaped at your feet by the same individuals who dropped their load at mine.
      Chin up :D
      p.s. I was pestered to deliver some evidence as well – I did & it’s pretty harrowing.

  71. Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    First of all, I find atheists to be pretty well educated on the arguments, certainly better than most of the fundies I talk to. And we atheists are certainly better educated, overall, on multiple religions than believers are in religions other than their own. More importantly, it’s all nonsense, so why bother? I suppose there are some interesting psychological and sociological patterns in belief in general, but with respect to the truth of any theistic religions, the jury is in, so why waste time become a theological scholar. I might as well learn about unicorns and fairies and martians and 9-11 truth…

  72. Josh Slocum
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Melody, Ron, Simon, Sarah –

    Well, Shook (and some of the other not-spokespeople/only-contractors/not-employees of CFI) have managed to piss off and alienate Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Experience now, too. You know, the guy CFI Tampa invited to address them October 16.

    Is Matt, like us, totally unreasonable and too thick to see that Dr.-PhD-John-Shook-Not-Speaking-Officially-for-CFI not only did not insult atheists, but didn’t do so on behalf of CFI? If so, I’m sure he’d be just as happy for you to enlighten him as we have been! Why don’t you mosey on over and let him know:

    http://atheistexperience.blogspot.com/2010/09/no-longer-friend-of-center.html

    • Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      From that post –

      “I’m disturbed by a number of individuals in leadership positions in various skeptic and secular organizations that have explicitly or implicitly tried to ostracize outspoken atheists from their organizations.”

      From their organizations and, I would add, from The Community of Good People in general.

      Ostracism is exactly what this stuff is all about. That’s why we get so riled, Ron et al. – we wonder what CFI, of all organizations, is doing ostracizing atheists. Ostracizing atheists is already totally mainstream and majoritarian; why does CFI need to get into the act?

  73. articulett
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Can you imagine if Shook said these things about ignorant black people or ignorant Jews or ignorant women?

    Are atheists the last group it’s okay to malign?

    Is CFI proud to be affiliated with such prejudicing, unevidenced, hyperbole? Will it be hiring more people to engage in this sort of rhetoric?

    How does this fit in with CFI’s claimed goal to “put an end to the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever, whether the nonbeliever describes her/himself as an atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker or skeptic.”

    How much longer will CFI be allowing it’s members to undermine their stated goals?

    • Scote
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      “Can you imagine if Shook said these things about ignorant black people or ignorant Jews or ignorant women?

      Or that Martin Luther King failed to learn modern, sophisticated rationales favoring racism before opposing racism… :-p

      • articulett
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        Yes, and if only those ignorant gays would tone it down and learn the sophisticated theological reasons for homophobia –then they might win debates with their oppressors…

        To paraphrase Shook further: “Gays are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of heterosexuality, and not much more about the nuclear family, and they seem proud of their ignorance.”

        I could do this further, but it turns my stomach. Clearly, even atheists are free to say hateful things about other atheists– things that they would not feel comfortable saying about any other group. I want no part of such people nor any group that supports this type of bigotry from it’s members.

        What a powerful meme religion is when it has other atheists maligning their own in order to defend the faith. Prejudice is ugly, even when it’s done to “win debates” or whatever it is Shook imagines he’s doing.

  74. Posted September 26, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Religion is respectable in its ATTEMPT to pursue certain moral principles, but it is dead wrong on the existence of god and god’s creation.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Not respectable but tolerable I would say, in as much as they take their idiosyncratic morals, as much as allowed by freedom of religion vs secular justice, and propose them for others.

      After all they propose moral absolutes, excerpted from a text filled with moral atrocities no less. But free speech allows for needed tolerance.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        405 comments and so little time. Well, there’s always tomorrow…

    • Tulse
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      Religion is respectable in its ATTEMPT to pursue certain moral principles

      Those principles being “kill apostates, and gays, and women who express any sexuality, and don’t teach evolution”?

    • Notagod
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      The evidence suggests that morality and ethics are better without christians.

    • Posted September 26, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      Which moral principles are we talking about? Specifically religious morality is usually pretty miserable stuff.

  75. Josh Slocum
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Well, this is fascinating. John Shook appears unable to decide whether he wants to libel us for our aggressive ignorance, or whether he agrees with common-sense atheism. I’ll cross-post here my response to his Sept. 21 blog post at CFI – “God Fails a Simple Rationality Test.”

    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/god_fails_a_simple_rationality_test/

    John Shook writes: “Belief in a god fails any minimal standard of ordinary rationality. Like the kind of rationality we expect from eighth-graders.”

    Well, yes. But then, John, how do you square that with:

    1. “Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. “

    2. “The “know-nothing” wing of the so-called New Atheism really lives up to that label. “

    3. “Nonbelievers reveling in their ignorance are an embarrassing betrayal of the freethought legacy. “

    These are all your own nasty slurs at the Huffington Post. Why did you malign us outspoken atheists so viciously there if you believe what you’ve written in this blog post?

    • deen
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      So it gets even more curious. Like I said somewhere way above, elsewhere he recommended Dawkins and Dennett as decent sources of “atheology”. If they are not part of the “so-called New Atheism”, I don’t know who is.

      Maybe he doesn’t in fact believe what he wrote at HuffPo, and was catering to his audience there after all? Of course, if that’s true, he’d still need to explain why throwing atheists under the bus is an acceptable way for an atheist to win over your audience…

      • Posted September 26, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        ** Warning: Speculation Ahead **

        Utility, perhaps?

        Not that I think that’s a good reason, of course. But in the interest of understanding where he’s coming from, perhaps it’s a ‘if it works, do it’ kind of thing.

        Moving to the left of the mainline atheist critics could open him up to a new audience that would otherwise close themselves off to him.

        Again – I don’t think that’s a good enough reason. But it might explain it.

        • Diane G.
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

          IMO, Occam’s razor lies with Jerry’s original suggestion–book-flogging. It’s not nothing to have written a book; one doesn’t do so without wishing that it make at least a bit of a splash.

          And ever wonder at all the egos involved here? How seductive it must be to want to become one of the Names in the discussion? Bah.

          • Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

            I’ve felt it a few times myself, actually. Fortunately, I don’t have the resources or ability to write or publish a book – yet.

            That hasn’t stopped me from wondering from time to time though. I mean – PZ had heart problems recently, Dennett was in hospital, and Hitchens has cancer. These burning lights are going to fade someday. Someone needs to step up. So sure, there’s some egocentric interest in there too. But if someone puts there hand up and wants to take a swing at culture on behalf of humanism and free-thought, then there’s an element of noble vocational work in there too, side-by-side with the ego thing.

            I’ve actually been wondering if I should take out the time to up-skill myself (writing/public speaking/etc) so I can hope to make a dent of my own someday. Every little bit helps, after all.

            I’m actually thinking about becoming more active with my local Humanist group. I just need to wait for work to get a teensy bit less busy first. >.<

    • tomh
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      That is interesting. In the HuffPo article, one needs a sophisticated understanding of the finer points of theology in order to refute God. A week later on the CFI blog all one needs is the common sense of an eighth grader. Usually it’s the faithful who are so adept at holding opposite points of view at the same time. It’s kind of hard to believe that the two articles were written by the same person.

  76. MadScientist
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    “This reputation [atheists are proud of their ignorance of god] is a little unfair, yet when they profess how they can’t comprehend God, atheists really mean it.”

    And I suppose the god-naggers *do* comprehend this god thing? That would be why the muslims, christians, and jews love to kill eachother for their god – presumably the same stinking god at that. This would also be why the catlick church will not reconcile with any of the protestant churches. Oh, what a fantastic understanding the faithful have of god!

  77. T. Mackiewicz
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    From reading Mr. Shooks’ overblown waste of aggression, I’m left only asking what motive drove him to this. He sure can’t really have said that atheists are well known for being know-nothings. What planet is he on? Atheists are the only ones truly thinking things all the way through. He sure can’t really have said something disparaging about the new proud and loud atheists. Atheism, while not a dogma, movement, or lifestyle, is still welcoming to any and all levels on intellect, volume level, and age. Atheism must come down to the common man if it is to have any significant impact. The last thing we atheists need is a grumpy ass old man giving us rules. If we wanted this, we would be worshipping a god.

  78. Posted September 26, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Just a general comment for everyone: Whenever I come across a ‘you need to learn more theology’ complaint, I think of these posts by Greta Christina.

    The big guns: Greta answers some theologians

    Hypocrisy and the “Modern Theology” argument

    The first one is particularly good.

    • jpsullivan
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 3:55 am | Permalink

      Daniel: Thanks for putting me onto that blog post from Greta Christina. It was wonderful.

  79. Hitch
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to add a thought on the “we need to understand religion to replace it” hypothesis.

    Who says? What is the evidence?

    In fact these kind of arguments seriously rub me the wrong way in may ways.

    We have already and for quite some time replaced religious practices with secular ones. We have shown how to do this.

    You want to write moral codes and law? Deliberation of people has replaced divine mandate.

    You want to be cured from a horrible illness? We have replaced medicine with supersitious wonders.

    You have trouble in your life, with grief, or with a relationship? We have replaced psychotherapy, counceling and in severe cases psychiatry with seeing a priest or in worse cases an exorcism.

    Sweden is a dominantly secular society where church serves a social function. Again nothing needs to be invented or understood. We can see first hand that it works, and in fact we can even study it (See Phil Zuckerman’s work).

    So why exactly do we have to understand religion to do it better or to “replace” it?

    Evidently we have been doing it and it’s been done.

    • Bruce Gorton
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:43 am | Permalink

      You want to be cured from a horrible illness? We have replaced medicine with supersitious wonders.

      Ummmm

      You have trouble in your life, with grief, or with a relationship? We have replaced psychotherapy, counceling and in severe cases psychiatry with seeing a priest or in worse cases an exorcism.

      Errrr

      :p

  80. jpsullivan
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    What got into the water over at CFI? Last year Blasphemy Day, this year, Respect the Religious Day. Today Lindsay, on his “No Faith Value” blog (http://bit.ly/ag8OV2) announces that Blasphemy Day is now “Blasphemy Rights Day.” See, there is no reason to actually blaspheme which after all upsets people, we’ll just to stick up for our right to do it in case one day we get a little crazy. So if not blaspheme, what should a self-respecting skeptic of religion do on the former Blaspemy Day? Have a bake sale and read the Bible, of course! Why read the Bible on this day of all days? Because we atheists might learn something and because “reading a sacred text shows respect for believers.” He goes onto say “The religious want us to consider their claims to know The Truth; they want us to take them seriously. Let’s do that. We owe them that much, as fellow members of our community.”

    • mordacious1
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      jpsullivan

      It’s obvious to me that Cfi is trying to make new friends while distancing themselves from their old ones. They were criticized last year for Blasphemy Day and you know “mud sticks”. Hopefully they will realize that mud sticks when you’re groveling on your knees too.

      • Josh Slocum
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

        Hopefully they will realize that mud sticks when you’re groveling on your knees too.

        This.

        CFI is not a friend to atheists. They’re acting more and more like Uncle Toms (and when it comes to gay people who sell out their own, we call them Uncle Marys).

        • Diane G.
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

          Well, now I’ve actually learned something new in this thread. :D

    • Tulse
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      See, there is no reason to actually blaspheme which after all upsets people, we’ll just to stick up for our right to do it in case one day we get a little crazy.

      I think I’ve heard this debate before:

      JUDITH
      Why do you want to be Loretta, Stan?

      STAN
      I want to have babies.

      REG
      You want to have babies?!?!?!

      STAN
      It’s every man’s right to have babies if he wants them.

      REG
      But you can’t have babies.

      STAN
      Don’t you oppress me.

      REG
      I’m not oppressing you, Stan — you haven’t got a womb. Where’s the fetus going to gestate? You going to keep it in a box?

      (STAN starts crying.)

      JUDITH
      Here! I’ve got an idea. Suppose you agree that he can’t actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody’s fault, not even the Romans’, but that he can have the *right* to have babies.

      FRANCIS
      Good idea, Judith. We shall fight the oppressors for your right to have babies, brother. Sister, sorry.

      REG
      What’s the point?

      FRANCIS
      What?

      REG
      What’s the point of fighting for his right to have babies, when he can’t have babies?

      FRANCIS
      It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression.

      REG
      It’s symbolic of his struggle against reality.

  81. CandyLiz
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I read a different article…
    I thought Mr. Shook just meant that there are SOME very vocal atheists who prefer to stick their fingers in their ears and shout, “show me the deity!” – and often in a very rude, caustic manner – rather than have a discussion from a point of knowledge of the opposing view. AND we can do this in a civil manner (thank you, Mr. Dawkins).

    • Josh Slocum
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      If that’s what he meant, then that’s what he should have written. But that’s not what he wrote.

      • CandyLiz
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        Being the good little skeptic that I am I think it’s possible that his inflammatory writing here may be hoping for a flurry of discussion that could generate book sales (someone else suspects as much above).
        I still think he was simply faulting both sides (that is SOME PEOPLE on both sides) with poor discussion/ debate skills.
        He has done almost the same thing he complains about by saying things that will inflame some of the atheist community.
        We all need to step back and keep civil discourse a positive and exciting experience if we hope for influence upon/from either side.
        In other words, comparing someone’s belief system to the Tooth Fairy” or saying “you’ll burn in hell for eternity” are not conducive to examining the topic.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

          You do whatever you like. I’m going to complain about being slandered by someone who ought to know better. Stop with the false equivalence.

        • articulett
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

          Calling someone’s belief in some magical being akin to belief in the tooth fairy makes it incumbent upon the believer to show why it is not– or risk having their beliefs treated the way they, themselves, would treat tooth fairy belief. You are free to give religious brands of superstition special consideration that you would not give other magical thinking–however, I will not.

          I think more honest skeptics understand that catering to faith only encourages the faithful to think faith is something worthy of catering too.

          • Steve
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

            “I think more honest skeptics understand that catering to faith only encourages the faithful to think faith is something worthy of catering too.”

            articulett I couldn’t agree with you more.

          • CandyLiz
            Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:46 am | Permalink

            By NOT using demeaning descriptors I don’t think I am “catering to faith”.
            In order to have a meaningful discussion you must show some respect and, at times, restraint.
            I have loved ones who hold views different from mine and if I take our relationship out of the picture I COULD speak my mind truthfully in a way that would come off as extremely offensive to them because it targets the very core of their belief system – esp. the folks who use religion as a support in tragic situations. It would end the discussion and I would have had my say and spoken what I believe is the truth. Hooray.

            There are ways to have the discussion w/out hurting feelings.
            Jus sayin…

            • articulett
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:08 am | Permalink

              I don’t go running around telling the kiddies there is no Santa, and I don’t go around telling people their imaginary friend doesn’t exist either.

              I don’t think faith in some brands of invisible beings warrants more respect than others, however. Thankfully, people who believe in Santa and the tooth fairy tend not to ask that I show deference and respect for their beliefs. They also don’t run a smear campaign against those who don’t share their beliefs.

              Generally, I think theists deserve the same level of deference/respect they show to believer is other religions (like Scientology) that conflict with their own. And for the same reasons. If this troubles them, then perhaps it’s time to examine why they think their brand of magical thinking deserves more respect than they give to other brands of magical thinking.

              I do not have respect for faith in general nor the people who enable or ennoble faith.

              To me, this is the same as going along with the notion that the proverbial emperor might truly be wearing magical robes that only the chosen can see. It turns magical thinking into a virtue and vilifies those who speak the truth more candidly. (Read up on the “courtier’s reply”.

              Do your postings here demonstrate the restraint and respect you show to theists? Or is that just reserved for those with have a particular brand of magical thinking? Or maybe you show all people about the same level of respect and about the same level of deference for any of their magical beliefs/ superstitions they share with (inflict upon) you.

            • Notagod
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

              How can you ignore the fact that christians don’t respect atheists. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered any that do. If they did they would be against laws that discriminate against atheists. They would understand that praying for an atheist that they care about is disrespectful.

              Atheists have spent too much time respecting christians without expecting respect in return.

            • Thornavis.
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink

              I’m afraid it’s not possible to oppose theist beliefs without causing hurt, as has been pointed out before belief in god is so bound up with adherence to a faith that believers are inevitably hurt by any critical assault on the concept of a deity.
              Your approach seems to be that of the noble lie and treats adults like children which is hardly a polite thing to do.

        • Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:28 am | Permalink

          “comparing someone’s belief system to the Tooth Fairy” or saying “you’ll burn in hell for eternity” are not conducive to examining the topic”

          The thing is that they have this thing called “reverence/sanctity/holiness” which makes them think that to compare their God/dess/es to the Tooth Fairy is a deliberate insult, whereas we just treat it as yet another simple logical tactic, an argument by analogy. We regard the fact that children believe in the Tooth Fairy while adults believe in God as of no consequence to that argument, while they think we insult them (deeply) by comparing their belief to children’s. To a lesser extent, they feel the same about Zeus, Thor etc. Then when we use Allah, they say “He is really the same” (even though he commands very differnt things from God or YHWH, and they from each other).

          How “reverence/sanctity/holiness” differs from fear I leave as an exercise for the reader.

          • CandyLiz
            Posted September 27, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

            My statements re. how I engage in a discussion or debate with a theist are based upon the fact that they have always been one-on-one or at the very most a group of 5 or less and us. family or very close friends. On the occasion that it has been an acquaintance I have been constrained by the fact that I am a public person in a small town in America’s heartland (aka – “The Bible Belt”). Being in this position I have learned to respect that these individuals (while they are IMO emotionally stunted with a need to believe in a higher power – if not cowardly and lacking in the guts to own up to their own short-comings in this world we live in (tough enough for you?)) have whatever reasons for yielding to some imaginary notions to address the disappointment and pain of their lives. Who am I to (as another put it) “shoot a hole in their lifeboat?”
            The fact that there are obnoxious, hate-spewing theists (I don’t care WHAT the flavor is – jew, christian, muslim, etc..) does not give me license to become just as venom-filled – that would only further their existing opinion that we atheists are “shrill, mocking, elitist… blah, blah, blah”.
            I prefer to take the high road in the discussion – but if I need to I will march in the streets and shout-down idiots publicly if my rights are any further abrogated.

            • articulett
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

              Well, we may have different definitions of what the “high road” is… you’re the one who claimed: “Mr. Shook just meant that there are SOME very vocal atheists who prefer to stick their fingers in their ears and shout, “show me the deity!” – and often in a very rude, caustic manner – rather than have a discussion…” Like Shook, you provided no evidence that such people exist… you just think they are obviously out there.

              You hand waved a reference to youtube, but I never saw anyone on youtube doing what you describe, and I subscribe to the most prominent atheist channels out there. Also, I don’t think you interpretation of what Shook meant is more valid than any others.

              Or maybe we treat people similarly… it’s just that you imagine that you are taking the “high road” because you imagine that others are screaming “show me the deity!” in a rude and caustic manner at people minding their own business– when no is actually doing that.

              In any case, I don’t think treating religion better than you treat other superstitions is the “high road”. To me, it’s akin to going along with the notion that the emperor might actually be wearing magical clothing that the chosen have caught a glimpse of. It makes those who don’t see the clothing wonder if something is wrong with them, and it makes the delusional feel chosen for having caught a glimpse of what they imagine to be “magical clothing”. Moreover, it encourages the vilification of those who point out that there is no such thing as magical clothing.

              This isn’t the “high road” in my book– but I can see why some choose this easier path. There are many times I avoid saying anything, because I just don’t feel like dealing with the fall out from the ever-present defenders of the faith. I don’t consider this silence on my part, “the high road”, however. It’s just easier to go along then bear the reaction of someone who understands that you don’t believe in their invisible friend for the same reason they don’t believe in the mythical gods of yore.

      • Screechy Monkey
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

        Yes, and if that’s what he meant, he should also have given an example of these uncivil atheists. Perhaps it happened at a “conservation event”?

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

          I think you mean CONSERVATION EVENT.

        • CandyLiz
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

          Huh?

          • Screechy Monkey
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

            It’s a bit of an in-joke here. Search for “Tom Johnson sockpuppet” for the full story. The Cliff’s Notes version is:

            Someone going by the name “Tom Johnson” posted a comment at Chris Mooney’s blog claiming to have witnessed some cartoonishly rude behavior by atheists at a conservation event run by his school. Mooney used his intrepid journalism skillz to determine that this story was sufficiently reliable to merit its own post as “Exhibit A” on the supposed incivility of atheists. “Tom Johnson” was later revealed to have been a fraud and a sockpuppet, who retracted his story.

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

              Inside jokes aside I will speak to my knowledge of aggressive, rude atheists…
              (you really haven’t come across them?)
              I admit to gleefully becoming a “troll” myself when confronted by a particularly horrid bigot or “born again” type who seems impervious to logic and knowledge – esp. when they fire off the ad hominems at someone I hold in esteem (like Mr. Dawkins).

            • Screechy Monkey
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

              No Candy, I really have not come across any “aggressive, rude atheists,” except occasionally in the comments section of a blog or on a message board. Which is the same kind of places where I encounter rude and aggressive liberals, conservatives, libertarians, Star Trek fans, music fans…. you get my point.

              Mainly, though, the reason I say that examples are needed is because I’ve been through these “tone and civility” discussions a zillion times, and they never go anywhere without specifics. When someone makes the claim that “rude atheists hurt the cause,” I want to know what they consider “rude.” Some of the Tone Police seem to think that a simple “No thanks, I’m not interested in going to church with you. I’m an atheist” is unspeakably rude. On the other hand, if your point is “atheists shouldn’t show up at religious funerals and yell ‘there is no afterlife, he’s worm food now!'” well, then I guess I agree, but I’d like some evidence that this is a common enough phenomenon to be worth discussing.

            • Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

              @Screechy Monkey

              I’ll back up your insistence on specifics there.

              Citing myself as an example (and I do love talking about myself), I tend to prefer PZ’s style of doing things. Nice and overt and confrontational, that’s the ticket.

              That said, I had a shuttle bus pick me up from the airport a few weeks ago. When I got in the driver was listening to a Christian radio station. We got into a chat while we were waiting on other passengers. Turns out he had a pretty serious history of abuse, and was going through a pretty rough time with his current partner. His religion was his life-boat in all of this. Normally when someone raises the topic of religion, I at least indicate that I’m an atheist, just to increase visibility. But I didn’t with him – I maintained a silence. No need to go drilling a hole in someone’s life-boat when they already have that much on their plate.

              Similarly with religious individuals I’ve known who have been sick and dying, I’m not going to go making an issue over religion in their last moments if that religion is brining them some kind of comfort. Unless they ask me of course, which is different – but it’s also not happened yet.

              And I like to think that I tend to be about as far towards the ‘rude and obnoxious’ end of the atheism spectrum as it’s possible to be without actually growing a beard and dissecting zebrafish embryos for a living.

              Now, given that members of the religious community will frequently be the first in line to raise the subject of religion inappropriately, or to hit up a sick, dying and terrified person for a deathbed conversion, I think we rude and arrogant atheists are doing pretty fucking well, personally.

              So yes – examples, please?

              It reminds me of when people accuse atheists of being intolerant of other people’s views. Well – we’re not the ones who try and pass blasphemy laws to restrict points of view that we don’t like from being put forward.

    • articulett
      Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

      And who are these atheists who do these things? Since, Shook didn’t point them out, maybe you (candy) will link us to them ‘so we can examine for ourselves whether they hurt “the cause” and decide for ourselves whether Shooks denigration of them is useful for anything other than encouraging prejudice against atheists (and selling books).

      • articulett
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

        If you guys never point out who this cadre of unseemly atheists are, then am I right to conclude that they exist mainly in your mind– as a result of rhetoric like those displayed by CFI representatives like Shook and Mooney?

        And if you believe in this imaginary cabal of evil atheists as a result of this rhetoric… how many other people are using this rhetoric to confirm their own biases on the topic?

        We all know about the myth of the dickish militant atheists, we just don’t see evidence that they exist, much less that they hurt the cause.

        Instead, we just see people like you who believe that such atheists exist, they just never provide evidence of them doing the things they claim they are doing.

        • Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

          Has anyone called us ‘shrill’ yet?

          That one’s always on a diagonal on my accommodationist-atheist-drinking-bingo game board.

      • CandyLiz
        Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

        ScreechyMonkey hit the nail on the head as to where to find them (Try YouTube – and I already admitted to the occasional Bridge Dweller behavior on my part).
        I do see the point made by many that Shook has painted a large group through his vagueness and lack of examples.
        AND, yes, sometimes people misread and miscommunicate in a way that comes off as rude when not intended.
        And, YES – it’s infuriating to deal with some of the same ridiculous arguments (often circular – and always devoid of evidence) and why should we bother to learn about something we don’t believe in anyway…
        I just think of Mr. Dawkins and Wendy Wright (wrong!)and I am reminded that I don’t have to lose my cool because of someone else’s stupidity.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

          I just think of Mr. Dawkins and Wendy Wright (wrong!)and I am reminded that I don’t have to lose my cool because of someone else’s stupidity.

          Are you fucking kidding me? You actually watched that exchange, and you think Richard Dawkins was the one who came out looking uncontrolled? Are you mad?

          • Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

            Actually, I took the opposite reading of what Candy wrote – that Wendy Wright was the ‘someone else’s stupidty’ and Dawkins was the ‘don’t have to lose my cool’.

            Haven’t seen the exchange myself yet, so I don’t know which is right. But I did get the opposite connotation.

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

              Thank you D

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

              BTW Dawkins + Wright exchange is excruciating! I feel as if I deserve some sort of medal for actually watching the whole thing! I just kept hoping for some kind of denouement – in the end I guess it was just the amazing Mr. D was the whole story.

          • CandyLiz
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

            No. You misread or I miscommunicated somehow (see, it happens :P).

            • Josh Slocum
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

              Ack, mea culpa, I retract sheepishly! Sorry Candy.

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

              You were clear as a bell, Candy. Nor did I miss your previously expressed admiration for the Dawk.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

          Don’t answer. You are mad if you think it’s reasonable to expect any rational person to remain preternaturally calm in the face of the kind of idiocy Wendy Wright through in Dawkins’ face. And by the way, he actually did remain remarkably calm – again, did you even watch the same video I did?

          • Josh Slocum
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

            Please scratch that comment. I jumped to conclusions, and didn’t read carefully. Bad me.

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

              Can I just say that this is the first time I’ve jumped into this pool and I find it thoroughly refreshing – even in the face of misunderstanding.

            • Posted September 27, 2010 at 12:47 am | Permalink

              And for the record, it’s an easy mistake to make if you’re in an antagonistic mood (nothing wrong with that) and you parse the sentence in the wrong order. I’ve done it myself a few times. Embarrassing as fuck when it’s me, of course – but seeing someone else do it, I can see it’s nothing to be worried about if you retract quickly.

          • articulett
            Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

            I think she (Candy) might actually have meant that she admired the way Dawkins was calm and dignified while dealing with that moron.

            It’s hard to tell, because no matter how nice Dawkins is, someone is ready to call him strident, shrill, militant, etc. It’s easier to vilify the messenger than to a message you’d rather not hear.

            But I don’t think Candy was putting Dawkins’ reaction down.

            • articulett
              Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

              Damn, I’m late to the party. Sorry. My scripting is going hay wire. I figured a bunch of people were pretty much saying what I was saying as I was shouting in frustration at my computer.

      • CandyLiz
        Posted September 27, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        Okay – I could go find another blog to make my point but… it took me all of 10 mins and looking at 2 YouTube videos to find the following exchange:
        #1Atheist: i HATE IGNORANT NIGGAS..THIS GIRL IS CLEARLY A RETARD AND I HAVE WONDERED WHERE IS THE DEBATE. GOD HAS DONE NOTHING TO EXPLAIN ANYTHING YET THESE SILLY CLOWNING MONKEYS WILL DECLARE GOD GOD GOD….MAN I HATE IGNORANT NIGGAS

        #2Deist:Your just  jealous!

        #1Atheist: Jealous? The theory of evolution pre-dates Darwin! Moreover unlike religion science isnt an argument from authority but rather from evidence. Moreover the Nigga has never read the origin of the species which is obvious. I am ashamed rather than jealous. But I know blacks love their Jesus and Niggas well they love ignorant rants even more. Where is the evidence for GOD. No one ever brings that, just argument. And she asks for the evidence, I say Smithsonian. She should be sterilized…idiot!

        #1Atheist: You are clearly stupid like that silly nigga in the video. I think they should make stupid and nigga into two seperate human categories because people might confuse her and other blacks for being related which we all inevitably are. Christianity is accepted by culture, ignorance, need for importance and pure shysterism. It took secular society to give us the modern world yet you idiots still cling to these silly myths and hold them as truths that others should be judged by. BULLSHIT

        #2Deist: God still Loves you.

        #1Atheist: thats great to know. I don’t know how you know that..well actually you pulled it out your own head but thanks though. Ignorance is still the basis of your claims as nice as they sound. The nigga in the video may be a nice person but she certainly is ignorant and its fun to see other ignorant niggas supported and applauding her ignorance and stupidity. But thats what democracy and freedom is for; to allow even the most ignorant a chance to show the world. peace

        #1Atheist:
        @#2Deist Are you a complete and utter moron? The only people who would link Charles Darwin with the BIG BANG which deals with Physics -Cosmology to be specific- are Theists who want to make a link between the origin of human beings and that of the universe in a failed and failing effort to discredit some scientific theories.
        I changed the names but here’s the link:

        http://www.youtube.com/comment_servlet?all_comments=1&v=jTlEMsEKExs

        • CandyLiz
          Posted September 27, 2010 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

          And I probably just got myself into trouble by posting that terrible display of intolerance.

          Sorry, folks.
          :(

          • articulett
            Posted September 27, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

            You are defending Shook’s commentary because you believe he was talking about youtube COMMENTERS– that his advice and scolding was directed towards ignorant theistic and atheistic COMMENTERS on youtube?! This is the best example you can come up with to illustrate the “problem” Shook sees (imagines)!?

            Somehow, I don’t think that’s who he was directing his commentary at. Moreover, I think many religious people will conclude that he is directing it at people like Dawkins or Dr. Coyne or even you or me. See, that’s the problem with his lack of clarity… anyone can do what you have done and conclude that he was talking about the people that rub THEM the wrong way or threaten their pet delusions. You get to feel superior without having to really know whether the commentary was directed at someone like you or someone like the youtube commenter you linked to. Those who could most benefit from the “advice” are probably the least likely to conclude that the “advice” was directed towards them. And a nasty prejudice is furthered in the process. (But I guess it’s all worth it to Shook if it sells his book, eh?)

            Face it, if these commenters on youtube are the worst of evil cabal of militant atheists, then we are a very tame lot indeed. These worst atheists don’t even reach the level of ignorance and “shrillness” of the moderate theist commentators on youtube from my reading. In fact, it doesn’t seem that Shook has anything really worth complaining about at all from my perspective if this is the best example (of the worst atheist) that’s been provided. These are not atheist spokespeople or leading atheists, you know. I doubt they are causing any harm to the cause of rational thinking or the stated goals of the CFI. And I doubt they’ll be reading Shook’s piece either.

            You seem to be unaware and unapologetic for coming here and furthering a prejudice that probably exists because of commentary like the commentary you came here to defend– it has no basis in reality (except for the reality of youtube commentary, I guess). You see a cadre of “evil atheists” because you believe they exist and you ignore the more “militant” theists because you have learned to defend faith. Consequently, you hear all criticism of faith as more vitriolic then it would be if directed at any other woo. And you downplay the criticism of atheists so that no matter how awful it is, it doesn’t strike you as inappropriate– the way it would be if directed at any other minority group.

            Face it, there is not a cabal of atheists going up to people minding their own business and crying “show me your deity” as you implied. You exaggerated to support what you have come to believe and became defensive when the closest you could come to illustrating that caricature was youtube commentary. You, apparently thought that this cabal of evil atheists was everywhere and easily recognizable to anyone though that is clearly not the case. People have very different opinions as to who the “bad guys” are or who is “hurting the cause”. This is why evidence for assertions matters.

            If people didn’t mention the magical beliefs they were sensitive about, they would never have to hear what this atheist thinks of their magical beliefs. If they are insecure in their beliefs, they ought to avoid skeptic sites or atheist videos on youtube. I tend to respect peoples’ feelings about as much as they respect mine. I don’t think theists should be asking for privileges and respect that they would not extend to people of conflicting faiths.

            You didn’t like it when people here scolded you over your accommodationist leanings, but you had no problem coming here and justifying the scolding of a group of unnamed atheists that you assumed Shook must be talking about.

            And it’s banal to say the equivalent of “you can catch more flies with honey…” We know. You can also catch more “flies” with bullshit. And you can get lost of humans to believe crazy shit by telling them that faith is a virtue and that they will live happily ever after for believing the right thing and suffer forever for doubting it. But most of us are not in the business of “catching flies” –nor are we in the business of manipulating others with appeals to faith.

            Your advice comes off as sounding like, “hey you guys should all be nicer like I am– because it works way better at achieving your goals!” No thanks. I choose my own role models. And I may well prefer the “know-nothing” atheists that Shook was alluding to. We’ll never know unless he tells us who they are. I don’t think a person needs to be studied in “divinity” to come to the conclusion that there are no divine truths and that it’s manipulative (and dangerous) to encourage people to believe that there are or that it’s a virtue to believe in such things.

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

              Let’s not focus solely on folks on YouTube. And leaving it at that is cherry-picking to further your desire to create some drama – do I really need to go get more evidence? What qualifies as an appropriate venue in your mind? Funny how I give a pretty raw example of a vile exchange from an atheist (when you pressed me to give an example) and the reaction is similar to the denial of facts we face when trying to reason with a creationist – it’s not good enough or it’s the wrong kind of example. Furthermore, I began this thread with the suggestion that i thought Shook meant SOME (ignorant on religion)atheists and what came to mind for me was the kind of exchanges that happen on YouTube – I could also say that I have personally witnessed some pretty harsh statements on the part of young atheists who are quite passionate and care not one twiddle who they may offend when they speak their mind but that is heresay and I was being pressed for evidence.
              Now, most atheists I know do not throw a verbal barrage at people they disagree with but many people in this discussion seem to hold the attitude that this kind of rude behavior on the part of atheists is unheard of – it’s not and you would be suspect to suggest otherwise. You asked for an example and I gave you one.
              At this point I don’t care who Shook meant – my statements throughout have been based in my own experiences and that’s what i will stand up for. What I have gathered from other threads within this blog is that Shook’s statements feel like a betrayal to many and offer fodder for the religious-minded to use against us. Well, okay. Now back to your diatribe…
              Just because I have said that I think diplomacy is a better method to use when discussing religion with a “believer” than an obnoxious calling-out is no reason to accuse me of “see[ing] a cadre of “evil atheists”” – that’s your conjure. And at what point did I EVER ignore militant theists let alone defend a faith? Are you really so stuck in your need to fight the great atheist battle that you have lost sight of the fact that I have only stated that I think you can have a discussion with a “believer” without being a royal jerk? You’ve turned this discussion into an act of “fragging” because you don’t like something I’ve said and you’ve attributed certain intentions to me with no reason. I have been quite respectful in my content and my tone and apologized for the awful YouTube stuff but you have not shown the same courtesy. That makes it quite obvious to me that you probably are unable to have a civil discussion with someone with an opposing view. Hide in your safe skeptic’s blogs, please. I would like to be able to have those open discussions with people on the other side of the “faith” table and people who are unable to be respectful only muddy the waters further.
              Whether or not I was scolded over my accommodationist leanings means nothing to me. What you or someone else here might call accommodationist I see as an attempt to dialog with other people. To not even make the attempt is no better than the religious zealots you claim have no respect for what you have to say.
              But you are not one who studies what people actually have to say or you would not have gotten what I have said repeatedly so wrong.
              I have NEVER encouraged anyone to believe in religious tripe – I have only tried to have a discussion with the people who are surrounding us in the hopes that they will see us as reasonable and not the dangerous minions of Satan or whatever scary being you want to throw in there.

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink

              One more thing…
              sneer all you want at YouTube or any other social domain on the internet or other form of communication – they are unfortunately, reaching millions and ultimately billions of people. To ignore what this means for a culture, a particular group, or even the individual could have consequences each may not enjoy, or, it could be very enlightening and positive in nature.

            • candyliz2003
              Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

              (Damn! Why do you have to hunt for a place to reply? This is a response to your post from 9/28 @ 8:34pm)

              What? Time to re-hash? We have to go back because you’ve forgotten what has transpired in the posts that led up to my statement? You’ve sent me chasing around enough.
              Why don’t YOU go back and respond to my last post to your tirade last night. Isn’t it convenient that this post is directly above my reply to you that you seem to be avoiding.

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:03 am | Permalink

              @ Articulett post 9/28 10:12
              Nice. So you are going to continue with the behavior that represents what kind of atheist?
              You won’t address my response to the “dressing down” you gave that had no merit and now you need to call for help in some childish game of “shunning”?
              Yeah, this is just the sort of person I want to be associated with.
              Epic fail in my book – and committed in public too.
              BTW – some of us have “Netbooks” which have a smaller keyboard and the lower-case “i” is a common typo. And typos are worthy of derision?
              Wow.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 27, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

          You really think Shook was referring to Youtube commenters, universally recognized as beneath the contempt of, well, just about everyone? I think that’s highly unlikely.

          • CandyLiz
            Posted September 27, 2010 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

            Look, you asked for evidence and I gave it. I suppose I will have to go and dig something up somewhere more to your liking before my evidence is good enough for you? (sound familiar?)
            We all know of people (maybe not as outlandish as that) who are less than civil in their arguments. Extremes exist in all groups but they are, unfortunately, the members who make the biggest splash and get the most attention.
            Throughout this thread I have been trying to suggest that a more studied approach would deliver a more positive result. That’s all.

            • Screechy Monkey
              Posted September 28, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

              Candy, the key point there is “[e]xtremes exist in all groups.”

              I have no doubt that I could slog through YouTube comments and find some obnoxious and uncivil statements by opera afficionados, baseball fans, or any other group you could name.

              If you or Shook are going to claim that uncivility is a particular problem with atheists, then yes, you need to do better than this.

              If your point is that atheists need to be 100% jerk-free unlike every other group of people on the planet, then I say: fuck that.

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 28, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

              @ Screechymonkey post 09/28 10:07

              Of course it would be ridiculous to expect atheists to be 100% jerk free – and I have only been saying that there are SOME atheists out there that qualify as jerks – big, HUGE jerks. Why is it that by making a statement like that I am confronted with disbelief and challenged as if I am making some kind of claim on a par with a creationist’s arguments?
              You have suggested that I would think incivility is a particular problem with atheists when all I have said is that there are jerks out there (yes, just as there are in any group). Sorry, but I will not fall in line and say that atheists are all wonderful, civil, intelligent beings who only want to help the delusional.
              Neither have I said that atheists need to be 100% jerk free or to only be kind, studious, and not rock the boat – on the contrary – I think that Mr. Dawkins protest of the Pope and the Catholic church recently was priceless (I sent links to several people).

              I was quite interested in participating in some intelligent discussion when i wandered into this blog but i find that there are some issues here that have left me surprised and more than a little disappointed.

            • articulett
              Posted September 28, 2010 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

              Psst… Screechy Monkey,I suspect everyone else understood what you said. I’ve come to the conclusion that candyliz is having a different conversation here than everyone else…

              Maybe if we ignore her, she’ll wander onto another blog and inflict her version of an “intelligent discussion” on them. (Maybe she can wander over and demonstrate her fabulously respectful conversation skills with theists by telling them about all about the theists who are big jerks– with youtube commentary as proof!)

              I know faitheists are fun when they tantrum– but her last post referred to herself with a lowercase “i” more than once… I’m starting to think she’s a kid. If she’s lucky she may grow up enough to be embarrassed about her “conversational skills” demonstrated here one day.

            • Screechy Monkey
              Posted September 29, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

              Candy, the problem is that your “point” as you’ve rephrased it is so banal as to be meaningless. Some people are jerks. Atheists are people. Therefore, some atheists are jerks. Whoop-de-freaking-do.

              If I wrote an article saying that “some mechanical engineers are child molesters,” I think most people would wonder why the hell I was singling out mechanical engineers — did I have some reason for thinking that there are a disproportionate number of child molesters among them? Was there some reason why mechanical engineers should try harder to avoid molesting children than anyone else?

              And if I defended that article by saying, “well, gosh, it’s a true statement — here’s an article from the Smallville Times reporting on the conviction of mechanical engineer Joe McCreepy — why is everyone picking on me?” I think I’d get the same reaction that you’re getting here.

              Pardon the rest of us for assuming that you had an actual substantive contribution to make, instead of wasting our time with banalities.

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 29, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

              @ Screechymonkey Post 9/29 11:53 am
              Ah, yes.
              Well. Between yourself and Articulett you have managed to prove my point quite nicely, thank you.
              You have both avoided the actual meat of the discussion and taken turns at parsing-out bits of my argument and twisting it at every turn – even though I correct you.
              There have been accusations made without warrant or reason which I have rebutted and yet [you] have nothing to say in return to that – just this weak word-play and 8th grade logic game. Talk about banal!
              Maybe my point about there being SOME atheists who are rude and caustic in a discussion with a theist is not fresh or has been over-worked, nonetheless it WAS pertinent to the discussion re. Shook’s piece. Sorry you find that “banal”.
              You may be well-steeped in the atheist realm of discussion and academia – I don’t know. Me, I have only recently found the blog-osphere and came here in hopes of learning.
              You can keep trying to knock me down by shifting the discussion, ignoring any evidence I produce when it was asked for, playing little “shunning” games or submitting your trite little diatribes but I will stand by what I have said and I will take apart your insinuations without taking on your rancor and bad manners.

            • Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

              Hey CandyLiz

              In all fairness, Articulett and ScreechyMonkey have you bang to rights.

              Firstly, YouTube commenters are a bad example. There’s the occasional gem in there *ahem – indicates self* but for the most part its the most efficient generator of rubbish and abuse yet invented by humanity.

              Additionally, there may even be some really, really, really *huge* jerks within the atheistic community. Again, so what? The theistic community includes some pretty big jerks too! Jerry Falwell and Glenn Beck are two easy examples.

              Can you think of anyone in the atheistic community that has the same vocal reach as either Jerry Falwell or Glenn Beck, and is also as big of an asshole?

              Remember: Shook’s original article referred explicitly to *prominent* atheists.

              Yes, there must be real juvenile assholes in the atheistic movement simply as a matter of statistics. However – you’ve failed (and John Shook has failed) to demonstrate that its a significant force within the atheistic community that we need to be more concerned about than other similar loosely-knit communities.

              Can you give us someone *prominent*?

              The best example I can come up with myself is Hitchens, and even then he’s not so much a jerk as he is honest, witty, and perceptive – that combination always makes people with something to hide very uncomfortable, particularly when they’re hiding it from themselves.

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 29, 2010 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

              @ Daniel S. Post 09/29 6:09 pm
              D –
              Sorry – I won’t concede. That would be the easy way out AND dishonest. My point all along has been very simple: “there are SOME very vocal atheists who prefer to stick their fingers in their ears and shout, “show me the deity!” – and often in a very rude, caustic manner – rather than have a discussion from a point of knowledge of the opposing view. AND we can do this in a civil manner (thank you, Mr. Dawkins).”
              Maybe you are confusing “vocal” with “prominent” which was NOT my usage at ANY point in this thread. It may very well be what some people took from that sentence (I have been misunderstood and maligned for another statement I made so why not again(!!!)).
              I was pushed into delivering some “evidence” of rude atheists and found it on YouTube. That was unsatisfactory so I offered to find some further evidence from a more palatable venue but was not taken up on that offer – maybe because they were too busy disparaging me and what they perceived as my intent – which they were quick to attach their own imagined faith-based agenda to.
              No, I will not accept that I have said anything objectionable or untrue.
              Maybe these folks were just too quick in their reading of what I had to say and made some mistakes (repeatedly) – that is their fault and I won’t step down from that. You guys have asked me for evidence of obnoxious atheists and I provided it and now I am asking you for proof of some faux pas on my part.

            • Posted September 29, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

              @CandyLiz

              Aha!

              Actually – no, I apologize. If that’s the case then I was reading you wrong.

              If all you’re claiming is that there are a few loud, obnoxious guys in the back – well, that should be trivially true of any large enough group of people.

              It’s hardly a controversial claim.

              I was of course reading you in light of making some assessment of equivalence with Shook’s use of the term ‘prominent’ – and if that’s not what you intended, then I was reading you wrong.

              In my defense – I thought there was some controversy there, so I took the controversial reading.

              That there’s a few obnoxious trolls on the internet that also happen to be atheists should surprise and shame no-one. It’s the internet, after all.

              What was all the fuss about, then?

          • Posted September 28, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

            Heeeeey… I comment on YouTube… Sometimes…

            ;_;

          • CandyLiz
            Posted September 29, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

            Daniel, I wish I knew for certain what all the fuss was about – I am assuming that some may have been just too quick in their reading. I really did try to correct the misunderstandings several times. I suspect some of the blood-lust that may have risen due to a reaction to Mr. Shook’s writing seeped into the perception some had of what I said which was “close but no place in horseshoes.”
            I am still willing to listen to any plaint that can show how I said anything that brought all this crashing down on me – I really don’t think I possess any special properties that make me impervious to failure (I have a lifetime of examples at the ready). I really was just looking for a place that was open to discussion… I have said it before and I will say it again: I live in the Bible Belt and have been stifled for many years (still am to some degree) – I JUST WANT TO BE ABLE TO SPEAK MY MIND.

            Thank you D for listening.

            • Screechy Monkey
              Posted September 30, 2010 at 1:01 am | Permalink

              Get down off the cross, Candy. Nobody’s oppressing you. There’s no “bloodlust.” You’ve been challenged about some things you said. Welcome to the internet.

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 30, 2010 at 2:10 am | Permalink

              Get off my lawn.
              You guys were jerks.

    • steve oberski
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 6:48 am | Permalink

      Whether your fingers are stuck in your ears or your head is stuck up your ass, “show me the deity!” is a perfectly valid question and must be answered before the nuances of thoughtful theology can be discussed.

      With respect to Richard Dawkins (and Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris etc), I have never seen them show disrespect to religious people but have never seen them show respect for religious ideology. There is a difference.

      • Tulse
        Posted September 27, 2010 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        “show me the deity!” is a perfectly valid question

        Absolutely. If people are going to insist on making laws and organizing society according to the whims of an alleged deity, you’re damn right that the first thing to be demanded, rudely or no, is “Show me your god”.

        It is reflective of the ridiculous sensitivity of and deference to religion that the basic issue of their gods’ existence, the foundation of their beliefs and justification for all their influence in society, is seen as out-of-bounds for discussion.

        • CandyLiz
          Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

          Okay, okay…
          now that I have had a little sleep I will try to make myself a little clearer.
          When I say that “one must have respect” I mean, quite simply, that you CAN have a thoughtful discussion without using language that turns your adversary completely off – Richard Dawkins facing off with Wendy Wright (she is sooo wrong!) is a perfect example.
          Why is it that by having the discussion without rancor one is considered to have their “head up their ass” or guilty of committing the “noble lie”?
          YES, OF COURSE (!!!) they should produce their deity. But to stick your fingers in your ears is to suggest that you are unwilling to listen or engage in a REAL discussion. You will NEVER get anywhere and will only confirm the theist’s accusations that WE are know-it-all, angry, heathens.
          Why am I defending civil discourse as opposed to what might be thought of as “boorish accusation”?

          There now, have a cookie and a glass of chocolate milk with your favorite fundie before you burn their religious text on the friendship hearth – at least you both get a treat out of the exchange before you go your separate ways in total disgust and enmity never to speak to each other again, because that is the winning way to conduct an examination of opposing ideas. (total sneer and incongruity there friends – in other words, I am being sarcastic)

          • Tulse
            Posted September 27, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

            you CAN have a thoughtful discussion without using language that turns your adversary completely off – Richard Dawkins facing off with Wendy Wright (she is sooo wrong!) is a perfect example.

            That’s a terrible example precisely because most of the faithful would say that Dawkins is rude, shrill, and intolerant. Where do you think the trope of the New Atheists as nasty irrational haters came from, if not from people reacting to Dawkins?

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

              But there are those amongst the religious who are capable of listening to Richard without taking what he says as an attack.
              My intent is not to speak to MOST of the faithful. I can only have this kind of dialog on a limited basis and maybe that is the only way we will ever get anywhere – one conversation at a time.

              Besides, I have been able to have these discussions without too much trouble – but it is because I choose my words carefully.

            • Tulse
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

              OK, so then I’m confused as to whom Shook are you are referring. Who precisely is it you mean when you say “there are SOME very vocal atheists who prefer to stick their fingers in their ears and shout, “show me the deity!” – and often in a very rude, caustic manner”?

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

              (I can’t figure out how to respond to a post that does not have a “reply” button so we have to go HERE to do that,sorry!)

              Earlier in the thread I spoke of YouTube as a location where you can find the “shrill, fingers-in-their-ears atheists”.
              Another person here also mentioned “blogs”.

            • articulett
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

              No matter how genteel Richard Dawkins may be, the Wendy Wrights of the world will call him “arrogant”, “shrill”, “strident”, “militant”, a “dick”… and now a “know nothing”. It’s much easier for such people to find fault with Dawkins and ignore his message than to consider that they may well have been believing a myth.

              A theists gets very defensive when they realize that the atheist thinks the the theists beliefs are as delusional as the theist thinks all OTHER supernatural beliefs (and gods) are.

          • steve oberski
            Posted September 27, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

            People deserve respect, ideas and institutions don’t.

            To the extent that people hide behind an idea, they will be hurt if you criticize that idea.

            That’s not your problem, it’s their problem.

            Thinking that you can solve this problem by showing deference to their ideas is at best condescending, as if these people are too fragile to be treated like mature adults and at worst dishonest as you are sacrificing the sacred principle of truth in the name of expediency.

            • CandyLiz
              Posted September 27, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

              Why do so many here think that if you are not pushing atheism at deists/ theists with all your might and “civil discourse be damned!” then you must not be speaking truth to your own beliefs (atheism/agnosticism)?
              I would really like to believe that you are capable of having a discussion on the subject without ad hominems or a need to mock someone you are speaking with. Just because I am respectful to a person I am having a discussion with does NOT mean I defer or submit to their beliefs in any way other than by actively listening and then commenting in a dignified manner that is not insulting or denigrating of their beliefs when I am in their presence. We both know that we may have rude things we could say but that will not help carry a conversation. Maybe you consider that disingenuous I would say it is closer to diplomacy.
              I wish I had the knowledge and talent of Mr. Dawkins to have a discussion with a creationist/ theist calmly as he did with Wright and then turn around and, just as he did recently, call out the Pope and the Catholic church so forthrightly, in public.
              I just believe we should be respectful of a person we are having a discussion with (as he was with Wright).
              The church deserves NO such respect.

            • articulett
              Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

              Why do so many here think that if you are not pushing atheism at deists/ theists with all your might and “civil discourse be damned!” then you must not be speaking truth to your own beliefs (atheism/agnosticism)?

              Who thinks this? Who does this?

              This is a straw man. No one said this. You do not know what other people think or do. I doubt anyone thinks this nor does what you claim atheists do. Like Shook, you put a group of unnamed atheists down to build yourself up–and you have no problem with it. You don’t apologize and examine whether you might have a bias you had been unaware of– instead you just generate more straw men when people attempt to make you aware of it.

              You might want to examine how you come across to atheists while you’re patting yourself on the back for how you interact with theists. I’m sure you don’t go to their forums and tell them all what they think and do. But you apparently have no problem being rude to atheists here– telling us what we think and how we must be behaving when we talk to theists. You advise us to be civil to theists while being generally uncivil to atheists.

              I really don’t think you should be giving communication advice to atheists given your poor showing here. Maybe you ought to try modeling the dignified conversation skills you keep telling us you have with theists here, instead. Why don’t you model “being respectful in person” here? -Or do you imagine that telling others what they think is respectful? I don’t think I’m ever as rude to theists as you have been here, but opinions may vary. (You recognize the difference between an opinion and fact, right?)

              Myself, I generally avoid the topic of religion with theists because I want to encourage people to keep their supernatural beliefs private. I want them to feel a little embarrassed to bring up their faith around me. I want them to be as private in their beliefs as they want the Scientologists to be– for pretty much the same reasons.

              Oh, and the the advice and criticism you have for others here, might be better aimed at yourself. Instead of telling us how respectful you are to theists, why don’t you try showing us. (‘Just handing out a little advice like you were doing…)

  82. GeorgeG
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    “Well, Dr. Shook, show me some new evidence for God, for the divinity of Jesus and Mohamed, for the existence of the Hindu pantheon and the afterlife, for the intercession of a celestial being in the world, and I’ll start paying attention to the finer points of theology.”

    You’re asking a lot if you want proof for ALL of those things. Please tell me you meant to say “OR”.

    • John Griffith
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      The “or” is implied; or at least I took it to be on my first and second readings.

    • Notagod
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Even with an ‘and’ it should be simple for someone that has knowledge and/or feelings from a perfect thingy.

      • GeorgeG
        Posted September 27, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        It CAN’T be an “and” if you think about it.

        • Notagod
          Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:31 am | Permalink

          I don’t know, Dog works in mistereous ways.

  83. Michael Kingsford Gray
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I predicted this very eventuality ages ago.
    The CFI has finally finished flushing itself down the fetid sewer.
    The cloaca that is shared by all all those who prostitute their members hard-won integrity.
    It started when Paul Kurtz was apparently either going senile or desperate for a job/income.
    I predict that the same change will occur with Joe Nickell.
    They, to me, are self-employed one-trick-ponies, who must either follow the dollar, or learn new tricks, in order to survive.

    I predicted this very eventuality.
    Look it up.

  84. Posted September 27, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    WTF?! “Nonbelievers reveling in their ignorance”?! A CFI rep thinks it helpful to coin yet another namecalling phrase that will no doubt be used to further discredit disbelief — “no-nothing atheists” — to sell his damn book on HuffPo?

    I’ve supported CFI for many years, but have HAD it.

  85. Rieux
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I agree with the lion’s share of criticisms of Shook and CFI above, but one small thing in Shook’s article that I did like was his treatment of “the discipline of atheology” as a cognizable and worthwhile thing. Which is to say that I think atheology is a valuable concept.

    It begs to be added to Shook’s treatment of atheology, though, that there’s much more to it than point-by-point rebuttals to the continually sillier forms of modern theology. “Ignorant” or not (I’d say not), numerous works produced by Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, and Myers (and Coyne, Benson, Christina… this is not an exhaustive list!) are in fact good, important, and valuable contributions to atheology.

    Indeed, I’d say that, for example, Myers’ “Courtier’s Reply” and Harris’ argument that moderate religion does not deserve total absolution for the damage that religion does are a lot more important than the reasons that Anselm’s Ontological Argument is fallacious.

    I think atheology is a tremendously important endeavor, and it appears Shook might even agree. But I think he’s got the priority exactly backwards: atheology directed specifically at the ornate castles in the sky erected by abstruse theologians is considerably less important than atheology directed at the religious ideas held with, and acted upon, by hundreds of millions of people in the real world.

  86. palefury
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I have to say that generally I find the average atheist to be more knowledgeable about theology than the average theist. I think this is because we look at it with a more critical eye. We read things about what other people believe, then we ask why and how do they believe it? Theists tend not to question, and take certain religious texts as fact, and often ignore the beliefs of other theists that believe in different theology.

    It’s often not that athiests don’t know what other people believe. The problem we generally have is WHY other people believe it, in the face of no evidence and often contradictory evidence. I fail to see how this could be considered ignorance.

  87. Paul W.
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I’m very skeptical that CFI employees and contractors have the equivalent of academic freedom in what they say.

    From personal discussions with D.J. Grothe and other CFI honchos, years back, I got quite a different impression.

    Traditionally, CFI has exercised a significant amount of message discipline for anything said with their imprimatur, e.g., by hosts on any show with the CFI name anywhere on it—even if there is a prominent disclaimer saying that the opinions expressed are the speakers’ only, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CFI.

    I was told that hosts of shows, as a public face of CFI, *would* inevitably be seen as representing CFI, and that CFI *was* quite concerned with the image they project.

    Maybe that’s changed, but I suspect it’s still something of an issue. I find it hard to believe that CFI doesn’t enforce any sort of message discipline at all.

    I suspect that for staffers and contractors, the idea is that they vet who they pick, and then give them considerable latitude—within certain unwritten bounds—but would still rebuke them if they went too far, and eventually dismiss them if they kept at it.

    (How could that not be true? There has to be some behavior that is beyond the pale for people who may be perceived as representing the organization.)

    I suspect that P.Z. Myers would not be allowed to blog at CFI as he does at Pharyngula, because CFI doesn’t want to be associated with things like Crackergate. Am I mistaken?

    And I have to wonder about Mooney not covering Gnu Atheism on his episodes of POI. That seems odd, since one of his main messages in his supposed area of expertise—science communication—is that the Gnu Atheists are doing huge damage to the cause.

    Is there perhaps some message discipline going on there, in our favor? Has Chris been told, informally, that he doesn’t have to have Gnu Atheists on his show, but shouldn’t explicitly bash Gnu Atheists too much, either? (Although he did have Elaine Howard Ecklund on to spout her accommodationist BS.)

    As for the issue of whether Gnu-bashing stuff by others at CFI has primed Gnu Atheists to react badly to Shook’s piece, well, of course it has.

    One anti-Gnu Atheist might be an outlier; two might be a coincidence.

    Three anti-Gnu Atheists looks like a pattern.

    Perhaps it’s an unintentional pattern, but it’s surely an apparent pattern, and it needs to be addressed—appearances do matter, and failure to deal with such appearances is itself a pattern.

    I certainly will not support CFI anymore, if that pattern isn’t addressed. Not that I don’t like and appreciate CFI—I always have and still do—but if this apparent pattern continues, I can find other organizations to support which aren’t havens for people who call my ilk ignorant in very public places, reinforcing popular negative stereotypes, even as they praise my ilk in other terms in much less widely-read fora.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that CFI should not have accommodationists in its employ, or among its public faces. I think the Gnu vs. Accommodationist discussion is one worth having.

    I just don’t think it’s appropriate for CFI’s public faces to be bashing Gnu Atheists as publicly and prominently as possible, for mostly hostile *religious* audiences.

    That’s one of the things that scabs my ass about Chris Mooney. He’s clearly not trying to convince Gnu Atheists to change their strategy, with serious arguments that address serious arguments—he’s trying to marginalize them by ignoring or distorting what they actually say, for a broader audience.

    John Shook has now followed in his footsteps. As with Phil Plait’s “don’t be a dick” talk, it was inevitable that his criticism of vaguely described ignorant, ill-behaved atheists would be widely interpreted as referring to prominent Gnu Atheists such as Dawkins et al., and most of their followers.

    I actually agree with some interpretations of some of the things Shook says—there are *some* atheists who are ignorant and get in over their heads in an embarrassing way by trying to discuss theology or whatever, without proper background. Duh.

    I’ll even go so far as to defend Shook by saying that isn’t actually inconsistent with what Shook says—at the CFI website—about belief in a god failing basic “8th grader” rationality.

    Both things are true.

    But which should you say for which audiences?

    Shook, like Mooney, gets it exactly backwards. He agrees with us in private, more or less—on the CFI website, not read by many religious people—and then bashes us in public, on the freaking Huffman Post.

    That’s not how it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to tell the public the most important thing they don’t know—e.g., that atheists aren’t stupid for being atheists—and criticize your friends constructively, in appropriate forums not populated mostly by outsiders who already despise you.

    Imagine if the Director of Education and Senior Research Fellow for the NAACP, under that byline, wrote something similar about black people, playing to negative popular stereotypes. The opening three sentences would go something like this:

    “Black people are getting a reputation for being a bunch of good-for-nothings. They know nothing of ambition, and not much more about responsibility, and they seem proud of their shiftlessness.”

    “That reputation is a little unfair…”

    Can you imagine how that would go over?

    I *can* imagine an NAACP staffer saying something similar in private—acknowledging that *some* black people are in fact shiftless (like *some* white people) and that they are in fact an image problem for responsible black people.

    I can’t imagine an NAACP staffer saying that in a major publication, read mostly by whites, or saying it in such an incendiary way—starting with the negative stereotype, and then reinforcing it with a faint caveat that it’s “a little unfair.”

    I don’t know whether Shook meant to be so inflammatory, but he was, and it was at best incredibly *stupid* thing to say, *especially* in that kind of forum.

    Anybody that stupid about framing should not be a public face of CFI.

    (That goes for double for Mooney and his Gnu-bashing book, newspaper op-eds, etc.)

    These masters of education and framing don’t appear to have learned the first rules of communication or framing—e.g., the one about not starting with the downside, or the utterly obvious one about airing dirty laundry in public.

    They may sincerely think the Gnu Atheists are a problem for the broader skeptic/rationalist/humanist movement, and they’re welcome to air and debate their views, but dissing your allies to an audience of mostly hostile outsiders by playing to their negative prejudices is really not okay.

  88. Posted September 27, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    To the supposedly humanistic critics of “new atheism”: You have utterly lost all perspective. The world is utterly saturated with the voices of the religious 24/7. Our voices are few. The only reason we’re beginning to be heard is because we’ve become stronger AND MORE EFFECTIVE in tone. At this stage, nearly every voice is precious.

    This is no idle philosophical debate. It means life or death, peace or agony, for countless people, and halting irreversible harm to our planet, to embrace reason over faith. It’s urgent, it’s happening now, and these criticisms of gnu atheists come straight from the ivory tower. Get off your computer and see what’s happening in the real world!

    We will, and always be, diverse, and this harping on silencing all those who don’t sound just like you is narcissistic, oppressive, and polarizing. We are a peaceful, nonviolent group, and this incessant nagging and nitpicking is vain, ego-driven, destructive and discouraging.

    These attacks are blatant, typical attempts at ingratiation and appeasement seen historically in the least successful movement leaders, when they begin to think more of their personal advancement than the success of their movement.

    No social justice movement ever succeeded that did not value solidarity. And make no mistake, ours is a social justice movement.

    Stop it, now.

    • Posted September 27, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      This is no idle philosophical debate. It means life or death, peace or agony, for countless people, and halting irreversible harm to our planet, to embrace reason over faith. It’s urgent, it’s happening now, and these criticisms of gnu atheists come straight from the ivory tower.

      I cannot emphasize that strongly enough. The world is not a seminar room, and it is not a benign environment for atheists or theists of the wrong local stripe. Treating the issue as a matter of sophisticated debate in the journals of learned societies trivializes the oppression and even death that religion visits on tens of millions of people.

  89. stvs
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    the divinity of … Mohamed

    Late to the party to ask you to avoid making that rookie theological mistake!

  90. JJ
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    How very sad.

    Shook at one time defended naturalism as the rational, evidence based way of knowing. A way way of knowing based on making testable, falsifiable predictions. He now somehow wants to hold himself in the testable prediction group while at the same time claim that non-testable prediction groups are equally likely to make accurate testable predictions. Or we should change the rules of evidence for groups that don’t believe in the rules of evidence, or some other philosophy that can only be determined by what he is writing at the moment.

    Whatever John Shook may have been, he can no longer call himself a naturalist. If naturalism can be called anything, it must be based on evidence from nature.

    I respect his change in direction. I would just hope, that his intellectual honesty would require him to give up his claim as a naturalist.

  91. Kevin
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    If atheists are going to produce a rational worldview capable of replacing religion, they must take religion and theology more seriously.

    No.

    • GeorgeG
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      By “seriously”, it means that they have to understand it exceedingly well, and not caricaturize it according to their weak understanding of it.

    • Paul W., OM
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      I didn’t take that statement the way some people here did, but I still think it’s worth objecting.

      I didn’t take it to mean that we have to understand religion and theology particularly well in order to have a better worldview—only that in order to actually DISPLACE religion, i.e., convince the people who need convincing, we have to understand those things better than we do. We have to know our enemy.

      That’s a reasonable sentiment, but I think there’s less truth to it than it appears.

      Movements *don’t* generally succeed by beating their opponents on their own turf. That is one of the central lessons of framing.

      Consider the success of right wing radio, and the religious right’s rise to power—the most dramatic (U.S.) political development in my lifetime. How well do you think the people who buy into that stuff actually understand liberalism and secularism? (Hint: many confuse them with communism and satanism.)

      The right has not gained the power it has by treating us and our ideas with respect. You often catch more flies with vinegar or shit than with honey, and you often win a public debate by steamrollering your opposition.

      Likewise, consider the success of the gay rights movement in the U.S. in the last very few decades. How did they manage such a dramatic shift in political opinion, even despite the aforementioned rise of the religious right?

      They didn’t do it with abstruse theological arguments about what the Bible really means, or deep philosophical arguments about how to infer God’s attitudes toward homosexuality.

      And interestingly, what they were challenging was grounded in traditional religion and specifically in religious “morality.”

      You *can* win a war against religion, even though religious think they have the moral high ground. It’s been done, recently, in many countries.

      And you don’t do it by kowtowing to religion, or treating it as a subject worthy of deep intellectual respect.

      That said, I think it is a good thing, on average, to know thine enemy. Of course it would be nice if more atheists knew more theology, and how to counter it.

      That does not justify the anti-Gnu atheists rhetoric about how the supposedly uncivil and unsophisticated New Atheists are doing it wrong.

      If we’re doing it wrong in that way, so did the religoius right, and so did the gay rights movement.

      Funny, that.

      Clearly a more nuanced and evenhanded discussion of tactics is needed.

  92. Posted September 28, 2010 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    Pew Forum just released a poll today showing Atheists to be the most knowledgeable about some basic facts on religions.

    http://pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx

    • Notagod
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      Nice find, thanks!

    • Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      I’ve summarized the results to make more clear how nontheists came out on top of this survey: Pew Survey of Religious Knowledge: Nontheists Score Highest.

      Hah!

      Is all I have to say.

      • articulett
        Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        *does victory dance while wondering when Shook will be apologizing…*

    • Tuco
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      Any predictions regarding how Shook will respond to evidence contradicting the claims that he made without any supporting evidence?

      This is not a surprising finding – not by the longest shot. What is a little bit surprising (at least to me) is how poorly Christians performed and the margin by which atheists and agnostics outperformed them.

      By far the biggest surprise was the ignorance of Protestants and Catholics, respectively regarding the principal salient historical fact on the origin of Protestantism, and one of the fundamental tenets of Catholic doctrine:

      Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

      More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation.

      I didn’t think the lack of credibility of religious arguments could go beyond the intrinsic fallacy of the wholly groundless and unsubstantiated claims upon which they are predicated.

      I was wrong.

      • Diane G.
        Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Any predictions regarding how Shook will respond to evidence contradicting the claims that he made without any supporting evidence?

        Sure. He’ll say that the questions asked in the Pew Survey have nothing to do with the “intellectual defenses of religion”–theology–to which he was refering. And unfortunately, that’s probably true.

        • Tuco
          Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

          That’s a good point. I’m not sure the Pew data released today necessarily speaks directly to the “strident,” “dogmatic,” “know-nothing wing” of the vague, shadowy atheist “leadership” Shook refers to, or relative knowledge or ignorance of these (still unidentified) atheists and theologians, but it certainly doesn’t lend any support to the general tone of his piece. I guess that’s part of the “beauty” of his piece: vague, unsubstantiated assertions (along with unidentified parties) are difficult to refute. Kind of like…what?
          Oh: Religion.

          • Diane G.
            Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

            :-)

            (Can I get partial credit if I answered “philosophy?”)

  93. Posted September 28, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I met John Shook at the RDFRS Reception at Howard University yesterday. I suggested that he had bee going for sensationalism by putting his notorious remark about atheists getting a reputation as know nothings right at the very beginning of his Huffpo article. He denied that it was the first sentence. I immediately apologized, presuming that it was only the first sentence of Jerry’s quote, not the first sentence of the original article. But now, on looking again at Shook’s original Huffpo article, I find that it IS indeed the opening sentence. I am now completely baffled. Was Shook deliberately lying to me?

    • Tyro
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      He denied that it was the first sentence.

      Reminds me of some Futurama quotes.

      Amy: How does this bikini make me look?
      Professor: Like a French harlot.
      Amy: French?

      I feel like a decent response to your question isn’t to quibble over whether it was the first sentence or not but rather to deal with whether he was attacking atheist allies for sensationalism. That his diversionary quibble appears to be false to boot is just bitter icing on an already rotten cake.

      • Posted September 28, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        Professor: Like a French harlot.
        Amy: French?

        Touche’ !

    • Posted September 28, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      Ah, always the gentleman, Dr. Dawkins. You were more polite than Shook deserved, because he was either lying, or you had him so flustered he blurted out a defense before thinking.

      I do believe, in light of the Pew study and the sense of shock and betrayal felt by so many of us long-term CFI supporters and humanists, Shook should be called upon for a mea culpa at HuffPo. Should someone suggest this to him… such as yourself?

      Not only do I feel these erroneous criticisms are glibly setting back a movement vital to the health of humanity and the planet, it hurts me personally. My undergrad was from a Jesuit university with substantial theology and philosophy. I’ve worked decades on humanist causes. So many of us have similar backgrounds; it’s so wrong for our representatives to turn on us this way.

    • Posted September 28, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      It it possible that Shook had a different first line in the version he submitted, but it was changed in editing?

      Yes, I’m bending over backwards to be generous here. Even as I write the question, it seems far-fetched.

      Even if that’s unreasonable, I’d prefer to go with a failure of memory over intentional deception. Failed memory is a really, really easy cognitive flaw. I can easily see how when prompted by Dawkins, anyone could think to themselves “No, I wouldn’t have done that!” only to have their memory obligingly re-organize itself to support the emotional reaction to Dawkin’s question.

      I find memory-error far more likely than that John would have intentionally lied about something that is so downright trivial to verify. Intentional deception requires the evaluation of what benefits the liar, and I can’t see how such a lie would benefit Shook at all. It’s not in his interest to tell that particular lie. So without even calling his honesty into question, I’m comfortable rejecting the notion of intentional deceit.

      Lapse in memory brought on by an emotional reaction of being gently needled by Richard Dawkins seems more likely.

      • PickWick
        Posted September 29, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        I think it actually is in his interest to lie at that precise moment so as to avoid being challenged by Dawkins (who appears to have been gracious and not combative at all). Much easier to be found out later online and have people pillory him then than be embarrassed in person for such foolishness, just a guess.

    • Paul W., OM
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Good question.

      Did the conversation go any further? I’m curious what else Shook had to say for himself.

      Notice that it wasn’t just the opening sentence. The rest of the first paragraph was an elaboration of the idea, apparently confirming that it was the topic sentence of the whole piece.

      As if that wasn’t enough, the opening sentence of the next paragraph implicitly confirms the stereotype he’s playing to, by saying it’s (only) “a little unfair.”

      Anybody who understands framing will tell you that’s exactly what you want to do if you want to play good cop and throw other atheists under the bus, for a hostile audience.

      If it wasn’t intentional, it’s an stellar display of incompetence.

      • Andy
        Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        Notice that it wasn’t just the opening sentence. The rest of the first paragraph was an elaboration of the idea, apparently confirming that it was the topic sentence of the whole piece.

        As if that wasn’t enough, the opening sentence of the next paragraph implicitly confirms the stereotype he’s playing to, by saying it’s (only) “a little unfair.”

        That’s quite a good observation. It’s not just a single sentence. It’s part of the premise at the beginning of the piece.

    • Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      Oh lordy – that’s embarrassing.

    • tomh
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps he got confused, since he wrote a similar article on CFI.

      As a commenter on HuffPo put it,

      “Dr Shook, It’s interesting that you rewrote the intro to this article to make it more aggressive towards atheists than the original post at the Center for Inquiry site, which made it seem that you have a sympathy for the atheistic POV. Obviously you’re hoping to piss off a few of those “stupid” atheists enough to drive up the comments here and thus your public profile. That’s good marketing, but not necessarily good for the type of intellectual argument you’re calling for.”

      I assume that this is the article referred to, since it covers much of the same ground and also flogs his book.

      • Diane G.
        Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        Ah, and that link (thanks!) led to this, a post of his from today about the latest Pew Survey:

        http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/atheist_pride_in_understanding_religion/

        Seems to be back pedaling & tap dancing like crazy, if you ask me. Makes a particular point to mention Dawkins as one of atheism’s “intellectual leaders.”

        But will he ever answer to the brouhaha he raised with the HuffPo piece? I say no. (Shall we start a pool?)

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

          Oh, yes, let’s definitely start a pool. Not just to bet on whether John Shook will own up to his bullshit, but on whether anyone – even ONE executive – at the Center for Inquiry will acknowledge that anyone did anything just even a little bit wrong.

          I ain’t buying that lottery ticket.

        • Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

          To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if it’s really that big a brouhaha.

          That’s not to say there aren’t problems with the article – there are. And that’s not to say they shouldn’t be addressed – they should.

          But while we have gotten all riled up and aware of this issue – I don’t know that it’s made that big of an impact with anyone else.

          The reaction here to that article has a bit of a storm in a teacup feel to it.

          To put it another way: I totally despise it when the Conservapedia crowd get all caught up within the fury of their own echo chamber. When every voice coming at you is telling you how wrong evolution plainly is, that’s when you start getting idiots turning around and saying things like “Evolution is a theory in tattters” with all evidence of sincerity and seriousness.

          I just wanted to point out that I think we’ve rocking a little echo chamber of our own here. Which isn’t a problem, mind you – so long as we’re self-aware.

          So yes – I think the article was terrible. But in the grand scheme of things I don’t think it was nearly as important as the general tone here seems to imply.

          • Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

            Damnit! Missed the perfect Pratchett reference!

            “To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if it’s really that big a brouhaha. More of a brouha. Maybe even just a brouheh, or a brousmirk.”

            • articulett
              Posted September 28, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, a brouheh. But still it would be nice if Shook apologized for being a dick.

              Of course the Richard Dawkins confrontation and the new Pew survey are almost as delicious.

              But an apology would make Shook so much more… likable.

              ‘Love your posts by the way.

            • Posted September 28, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

              @articulett

              Nono, stoking my intellectual vanity is a bad thing, it’s bad enough as it is.

              Seriously though, thanks muchly. I have my moments. ^_^

          • Diane G.
            Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

            I hope you’re right; and perfect Pratchett!

        • Michael Kingsford Gray
          Posted September 29, 2010 at 1:52 am | Permalink

          “(Shall we start a pool?)”

          Yes.
          A shark pool.

    • Tuco
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      @Richard Dawkins: Shook wasn’t lying to you; you simply aren’t sufficiently knowledgable: Many kinds of first sentences have emerged, replacing a handful of traditional understandings of the words “first” and “sentence” with robust methods of defending alternative definitions.
      If atheists are going to produce a rational worldview capable of defining what constitutes a First Sentence, they must take different definitions of “first” and “sentence” more seriously.

      As it happens, I expand on these observations from the front lines of the First Sentence debates in my new book, The Sentence Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Writers of Sentences, Readers of Sentences, and Everyone in Between, available now on bookshelves ($34.99, Center for New Sentence Inquiry Press).

      • articulett
        Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

        *giggles*

      • Diane G.
        Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

        Do you take PayPal?

        (Well done!)

      • windy
        Posted September 29, 2010 at 3:10 am | Permalink

        Science can only take us as far as the first sentence, it can never explain how the Article was conceived.

      • Posted September 29, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        V good!

  94. Andy
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    He was either lying deliberately, or he genuinely didn’t recall the lead sentence of a piece he wrote fairly recently, which received tons of feedback. If I were forced to bet one way or the other, I’d lay my money on the former.

  95. Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Fuck I love Greta Christina:

    You haven’t studied modern theology” is a terrible argument against atheism. Many atheists have studied modern theology… and found it very much wanting. It either dresses up the same old bad arguments in prettier language, or it defines God so abstractly it’s indistinguishable from atheism. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2010/09/atheist-meme-of-the-day-modern-theology-is-bunk.html

  96. Tuco
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Anyone notice Shook’s abrupt but highly conditional about-face on the heels of the Pew survey over at CfI?

    Atheist Pride in Understanding Religion (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/atheist_pride_in_understanding_religion/)

    Note the qualifier in the following excerpt (emphasis mine):

    Atheists who have some comprehension of religion and how its ideological system works should rightfully be proud, as proud as atheists satisfied with knowing naturalism alone.

    Some atheists? You mean, like the ones who outperformed believers on the Pew survey? Uh, gee, thanks…I guess.

    And the squirming “Don’t-blame-me-I-was-just-trying-to-help” tone of this little gem:

    As I repeatedly urge, atheists do have the superior worldview and our intellectual leadership from Richard Dawkins to Daniel Dennett and many more, too numerous to name, should be our role models. Recommending some familiarity with religious thinking is no treacherous betrayal, but wise counsel.

    I love it! “As I repeatedly sometimes urge…”

    Whatever happened to “I’m sorry, I was wrong?”

    It brings to mind the oafish embarrassment one feels right after accidentally insulting an acquaintance:

    “I can’t stand people who went to Harvard. They’re such pompous jerks.”
    “I went to Harvard.”
    (painfully awkward pause)
    “Oh! Well, I didn’t mean you…”

    • Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      Ahem… Present company excluded…

      • Tuco
        Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

        Oh! Well, I didn’t mean you!

        • Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

          Okay – now we’re getting repetitive and redundant!

          ^_^

          • Diane G.
            Posted September 28, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

            And here I’d thought Daniel was referring to Jerry…

          • Michael Kingsford Gray
            Posted September 29, 2010 at 1:59 am | Permalink

            Not to mention repetitive and redundant.

  97. articulett
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    :)

    I wonder if Shook is going to scold the Hispanic Catholics for being ignorant “know nothings” since they scored the lowest?

    • articulett
      Posted September 29, 2010 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      Shook responds on CFI’s website and blames atheists for not reading carefully. http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/atheist_pride_in_understanding_religion/ (Post #14)

      He is apparently unaware of the first rule of holes.

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted September 29, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        With his Huff piece and now this comment, Shook plays right into the hands of those who sometimes wonder what’s the point of philosophers. Intellectually careless, equivocating, evasive, and now smugly condescending—now that’s an interesting mix for someone involved with CfI. To help it all go down, he also waves his credentials as “a philosopher and professor” in our face. As if anyone was going to be impressed by that after his sad excuse for a philosophically informed article.

        In his comment, he now trots out the most banal platitutes about communication, implying that his audience didn’t already know all that, and of course blames everybody else for being unwilling to read carefully and “approaching slander”. Yeah, blaming your readers for misinterpreting a stupid article is so not a dick move. John Shook needs to watch more Jon Stewart.

        Actually, for one especially egregious bit of bullshit—the accusation (unspecified, again) of “demonizing [people] as sub-human”—he deserves to have it spelt out for him: Go fuck yourself!

      • Posted September 29, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        Oh dear – it’s barely literate. Plus it’s truculent and non-responsive. Other than that…

    • Josh Slocum
      Posted September 29, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      He has a new post up which is significantly less of a not-pology, and in which he takes some responsibility. Not perfect, but a damned sight better. I suspect someone who knows him shook him by the shoulders and talked some sense into him.

      http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/of_reputations_and_harsh_words/

      • mordacious1
        Posted September 29, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

        Once you burn your house down, painting it blue won’t help.

      • Andy
        Posted September 29, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        Yes, it is better. Not to pick nits, but I don’t believe him when he says this:

        I never intended to repeat such slander against the New Atheism.

        Come now. You wrote what you wrote. You can say you regret writing it; you can retract it; you can even apologize and say you’ve changed your mind. But saying that you didn’t “intend” to perpetuate such slander is to shirk responsibility. I’ve read everything carefully now, and I believe “repeat[ing] such slander” is precisely what he intended to do.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted September 29, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, you may be right Andy. I’m trying (just a little) to give the benefit of the doubt, but it is difficult.

          I wish everyone who cares about this would actuallystart leaving comments on CFI’s own page Make Shook have to deal with these issues on his own turf, where his CFI colleagues have to watch, too.

          • Andy
            Posted September 29, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

            No, no, I agree. My comment wasn’t meant to undermine yours (as Shook might say, I didn’t “intend” it that way…). There’s that thing people do where they pretend to “take responsibility,” but the semantics they employ suggest anything but. Shook embodies this.

            I’m drafting my comment for the CFI website right now, and I hope others are too.

            • Josh Slocum
              Posted September 29, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

              Oh – sorry I sounded so peremptory Andy. I didn’t mean to:)

  98. Paul W., OM
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I left the following comment on Shook’s blog post today at CFI, in which he says he wasn’t referring to New Atheists:

    I have no idea who you’re talking about. I could make some guesses, but if I have to do that, it’s a serious problem—-it means that anybody less sympathetic to atheists could assume that you mean most of the people “cheering on” the “many prominent atheists” who “disparage theology.”

    I can only think of a few prominent atheists who generally known for disparaging theology, even among people here, much less by people at HuffPo.

    Obviously you meant Richard Dawkins and his ardent fans.

    That may not be true, as you say it’s not, but that’s not really the point—-Dawkins and maybe his very most prominent ilk are the obvious candidates.

    It seems to me that they’re the only plausible candidates—-how many prominent atheist leaders are there anyway, in any sense of “prominent” meaningful at HuffPo?

    Not ten, I’m quite certain; the list is shorter than that, probably more like three to five. (If not just one—-Richard Dawkins.)

    Relatively few HuffPo readers could name any of Dawkins’ ilk, but for those who could, as for many here, people are likely to guess Hitchens, Myers, Dennett, and/or maybe Vic Stenger. (And Vic mostly because he publishes at HuffPo).

    Few people would guess, say, Greta Christina or Ophelia Benson, or even Jerry Coyne, because while they’re suitably negative toward theology, they’re just not “prominent.”

    If you’re not talking about the usual list of New Atheist suspects, e.g., the Four Horsemen and P.Z., and a very few others like Vic and Jerry, I honestly have no idea what prominent atheist leaders you could possibly have been talking about.

    Nobody else fits your description.

    It’s rather like saying “the president” in a discussion of U.S. politics for a U.S. audience, and then saying you were not referring to Barak Obama. Maybe that wasn’t who you meant to refer to, but it’s who you did in fact refer to, and you need to address that issue.

    What gives? Did you forget you were writing for HuffPo rather than blogging at CFI?

    Even so, who could you have meant that’s “prominent” even by the standards here? I can’t think of many people I haven’t already listed, or any better candidates, given that Madalyn Murray O’Hair is dead.

    If you can’t either, you need to give a more serious retraction and apology.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 29, 2010 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      Agreed! And what a Shuffle-off-to-Buffalo this latest “explantion” is. (Tap, tap, tappity-tap tap tap…)

      The very best one could make of it is that he’s flat-out admitting he can’t write worth a damn.

      From “Of reputations and harsh words” (weaselly title or what?!):

      By the third paragraph of my [HuffPo] post, I isolate any genuine “know nothings” to a small crowd.

      Third graf of HuffPo post:

      Astonished that intellectual defenses of religion are still maintained, many prominent atheists disparage theology. They either dismiss the subject as irrelevant, or, if they do bother to acknowledge it, slim refutations of outdated arguments for a medieval God seem enough. Atheists cheer on such bold leadership, but what is really being learned? Challenging religion’s immunity from criticism is one thing; perpetuating contempt for religion’s intellectual side is another. Too many followers only mimic the contempt, forgetting that you won’t effectively criticize what you would not understand. The “know-nothing” wing of the so-called New Atheism really lives up to that label. Nonbelievers reveling in their ignorance are an embarrassing betrayal of the freethought legacy.

      Huh? Someone tell me how to get “small crowd” out of that…(“many prominent atheists”; “Atheists [no subset qualifier] cheer on”; “Too many followers”…I suppose he’d claim “the know-nothing wing” as his subset, but the entire thrust of the post implies he thinks it’s actually a very large one.

      • Tuco
        Posted September 30, 2010 at 12:36 am | Permalink

        Perhaps by “small crowd” he means “some proportion less than the total number of all atheists in the known universe.”

        Now, a few words on looking for things. When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you’re only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you’re sure to find some of them.
        – Daryl Zero

    • Ichthyic
      Posted September 30, 2010 at 12:13 am | Permalink

      I have no idea who you’re talking about. I could make some guesses, but if I have to do that, it’s a serious problem—-it means that anybody less sympathetic to atheists could assume that you mean most of the people “cheering on” the “many prominent atheists” who “disparage theology.”

      I wonder if Hector Avalos was mentioned as someone who studied to be a theologist, and now rejects it utterly?

      Theology is on its last legs.

  99. Adam Leon
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    The title of Shook’s book says it all;

    “The God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists, Believers, and Everyone in Between”

    There is no one “In Between.” Either
    you believe in God, or you do not.
    It’s that simple.

  100. Tuco
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    The whoppers come on comin':

    …[M]y blog defines my intended target in a later paragraph. …[M]y definition excludes Richard himself (and excludes the eloquent leadership in the New Atheism — don’t ask me to “name names” since I could not in good conscience call out by name any people who might fit the profile but they aren’t trying to be part of any leadership).

    Wait…what?

    1) Where exactly is this “definition” that excludes Dawkins specifically and the “eloquent leadership in the New Atheism” by implication? I guess it’s too much to ask that he clearly identify the “later paragraph.” Or maybe by “later paragraph” he means a paragraph he will write later.

    2) Apparently he can in good conscience not name any people and leave it to the reader to make the obvious inferences. This “good conscience” cop-out strikes me as very much like one of Shook’s “slim refutations of outdated arguments.”

    3) Um, what the fuck?*

    *Clearly my most compelling point.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 29, 2010 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

      *Clearly my most compelling point.

      I can’t think of anything more apt.

      And far more lucid than anything from Shook so far.

      • Tuco
        Posted September 30, 2010 at 12:37 am | Permalink

        Thanks! I’m quite proud of that. Suitable for framing.

  101. Richard Thomas
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    Many theologians approach or reach atheism, but obscure this fact. Martin Gardner pointed out that Paul Tillich, with his ground-of-all-being god was essentially an atheist. Daniel Dennett in his lecture The Evolution of Confusion has noted the same thing for Karen Armstrong (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_9w8JougLQ)and others. Dennett’s acerbic take on theology generally is worth hearing.

    • Steve P.
      Posted October 26, 2010 at 4:29 am | Permalink

      any theologian that ends up atheist was never a theologian to begin with.

      force and information as cognizant entities is not a hard concept to grasp.

  102. Steve P.
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    The greatest evidence for God is in personal experience.

    That’s why no one here can find Him. You(pl) won’t take the time to make The Call.

    So yeah, a lazy mind can effortlessly conclude there is aaaaaabsoluuuuuutely no evidence for God.

    “Out of sight is not out of Mind”.

    • Posted October 26, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      Err… Poe? Troll? Not sure what’s going on there.

      Personal experience tells out about what’s going on inside of your own head.

      It doesn’t tell you anything about what’s going on outside of it.

      Personal experience is not evidence.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted October 26, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      Your gods appear to be indistinguishable from schizophrenia.


8 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] comment by “Rob” on Jerry Coyne’s blog, discussing the merits of theology. Religion: All [...]

  2. [...] old BS The Huffington Post carries “faith” articles; this is one of them: Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, [...]

  3. [...] are irritated at yet another bucketful of crap being thrown at them by another atheist.In turn, Ron Lindsay is irritated that Jerry criticized the Center for Inquiry (where Shook works) because Shook wrote what he [...]

  4. [...] CfI declares war on atheists UPDATE: Josh Slocum has unearthed this quote from Dr. Shook, which may be relevant to our discussion: Belief in a god [...] [...]

  5. [...] heard that both Jerry Coyne and I were named in a recent talk as bad for the movement. Both Coyne and Benson have already taken John Shook to task for his poor HuffPo article, which [...]

  6. [...] drew a pretty caustic response from Jerry Coyne, which was seconded by P.Z. Myers and Larry Moran. They all read the article as an [...]

  7. [...] the debate, which is mostly pretty mundane, but the fact that the argument rages so hard (take this recent example from Jerry Coyne or this, from Casper Melville standing in the other trench).Click for larger version.Anyway, [...]

  8. [...] September I wrote about how John Shook, Vice President and Senior Research Fellow at the CFI, was going after Gnu Atheists on PuffHo for their abysmal theological ignorance, an accusation he repeated on his CFI blog.  But because Shook has reasonable bona fides, I tried [...]

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