Blackford: What is New Atheism?

Over at Metamagician, Russell Blackford has a nice two-part post on what he sees as the defining traits of New Atheism, as well as his perceived reasons for its success (part 1 is here, part two here).  I won’t repeat his analysis, for his pieces are short (for Russell!) and you should read them. I’ll offer only two tiny dissents.  Brother Blackford claims that “there are some books published every year advocating one or another form of traditional religious belief. These far outnumber books by the New Atheist writers and some of them outsell even Richard Dawkins.”  I’m not sure about that; which such books outsell The God Delusion, for instance? Is he thinking of The Purpose Driven Life?

More important is Blackford’s argument that one reason religion is bad is because (in the case of Christians), they “[want] to get governments to impose their ideas on others who may not be Christians.”  I think that’s not so much an objection to religion itself as to the fact that religions engender bad political and moral ideas.  After all, we have no objection to those who have nonreligious moral views “trying to get governments to impose their ideas on others who may not agree with them.” Think of opponents to abortion, the death penalty, and so on.  This is what we all do, using the political process to foist our morality on others.  The reason why I object to religion is not so much because religious people try to enact their morality per se, but because religiously inspired morality is much worse than secular morality.

Beyond this, I’d like to touch on two issues.  The first is why there’s such strong opposition to New Atheism among fellow atheists.  Blackford appears somewhat puzzled by this, but actually offers what I see as correct explanation:

Again, I can understand people wanting to disagree with specific New Atheist thinkers about specific points—such as my disagreement with Sam Harris about certain issues in moral theory. What I don’t understand is all the resentment. Apart from the unattractive emotions of envy, jealousy, and spite, the only explanation is that some of these folk who had established philosophical and historical theories are disappointed that what they see as incorrect theories are gaining greater popularity with the public.

. . . I haven’t descended to naming names here – the specific names are pretty obvious, but not all that relevant to the point I want to make. He (and it usually is a “he”) that hath an ear, let him hear.

But by all means let us name names, since I always think that if we’re singling out a group for disapprobation, it’s incumbent on us to give examples.  After all, we’re not McCarthyites with a secret “list”.  Here are some professed atheists who have been unusually (and I’d add unreasonably) critical of Gnu Atheists: Julian Baggini, Jacques Berlinerblau, Andrew Brown, R. Joseph Hoffmann, Jean Kazez, Chris Mooney, Massimo Pigliucci, Josh Rosenau, Michael Ruse, and Jeremy Stangroom.  Several of these have admitted, explicitly or implicitly, that they’re jealous of Gnu Atheist success. (This animus often comes, as in the case of Hoffman and Pigliucci, from those who feel that they’re smarter and more sophisticated—or have more Ph.Ds—than the rest of us, and that we simply refuse to bow to their superior wisdom.)

And of course there are reasonable disagreements about whether some Gnu Atheist tactics are productive, or make us seem “strident”.  But to me those arguments don’t explain the unusual vitriol heaped upon the Gnus by people like the above.  There’s something in there beyond simply disagreement about tactics. And as for tone, well, check out the “tone” of Hoffmann, Rosenau, or Ruse.  It’s often as strident as the tone they decry in New Atheists.

Finally, one thing that really peeves me about the anti-atheist atheists is their pose of Weltschmerz: “Oh this debate really wearies me; it’s just so boring!”  Just this week I’ve seen it twice. Here’s Rosenau, for example:

While I was somewhat incommunicado, Templeton gave its award to Martin Rees, the gnu atheists pitched six sorts of fits, and various other inane things happened in the world. The tremendous opportunities for science outreach and education that I saw last week made all the petty BS that goes on between gnus and “accommodationists” (whatever that term means) look especially silly, so blogging has taken a back seat.

And Jean Kazez:

In the atheosphere, I notice much tussling these days, but it’s all pretty much putting me to sleep.  Have there ever been martyrs to atheism….(see here and elsewhere)?  Quick, someone tell me why it matters?  All the inter-atheist warfare reminds me of Spy vs. Spy from Mad Magazine.

Ophelia Benson has translated this into regular English:  “May I just say that I am better than these Gnu Atheists, so much better that I simply can’t stoop to mention them, except of course to point out that I’m too good to mention them, except of course to—wait—help. . . ”  It’s curious that although New Atheists seem to bore these people immensely (Rosenau has made a cottage industry out of repeatedly saying he is too bored to mention them), they keep coming back to the issues over and over again, like a dog returning to his vomit (Proverbs 26:11).

Well, I don’t consider these differences trivial. Contra Kazez, I think they do matter, for they speak to the very things that have made New Atheism a success: our willingness to speak openly and honestly to the public about the evils of faith, and our unwillingness to pretend that we “respect” religion.  And clearly, as Brother Blackford shows, the public is hungry for that kind of discourse.  It’s also about whether we lie or dissimulate to the public, or cozy up to a faith that we don’t hold, to achieve aims like selling evolution to school children.

In short, the disagreement is about whether to speak a necessary truth.

106 Comments

  1. s. wallerstein
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    I think that it’s become a game, a pastime, on both sides: you bash us and we bash you.

    I don’t know who started it, the New Atheists or the Aged Ones, but everyone has more fun than they admit.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Well, you’ve definitely found a way to feel superior to both camps.

      • Rieux
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        XKCD alert.

      • Posted April 17, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        “Bash bash; yawn; this is so boring.”

        “Bash bash; giggle; this is so much fun.”

        Repeat.

      • s.wallerstein
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        No, I don’t feel superior, just distant.

        • Ophelia Benson
          Posted April 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

          Distant? You feel distant, yet you think it’s worthwhile to drop in to say so. That’s a funny kind of distant.

          You want to have it both ways, that’s what you want. You want to pat yourself on the back for having a “better” attitude, but you also want to get right in there and throw mud. Not convincing, amos.

    • Posted April 17, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      I think it is quite obvious who didn’t start it. I still remember the carefree days on Pharyngula when we were just atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and a few religious folk. Then one day out of nowhere we were all branded “New”. Why would we do that to ourselves?

      • s.wallerstein
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        Aratina:

        I think that small differences get magnified into big differences.

        I doubt that anyone “started it” consciously or willfully.

        • Posted April 17, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

          Seriously?

          The “debate” is about how the Gnus are obscenely strident know-nothings who’re hurting the cause of rationality and should just shut the hell up, already, before we make things even worse.

          “Shirley” you don’t think it was the Gnus who “started it” by…doing what, exactly?

          The Accommodationists don’t like our rhetorical style. Fine. Don’t use it. Y’all have great potential to further the cause of enlightenment doing things your own way. But what on Earth is there to be gained by attacking people who share a core philosophy but who choose to articulate said philosophy in a manner you don’t care for?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Ophelia Benson
            Posted April 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

            No, not seriously. amos is just playing games; he said so in his first comment.

            • Posted April 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

              In that case, his humor motor is in need of a tune-up. He’s probably got a crack in the sarcasm generator. The good news is, Penn & Teller have a 30% sale going on right now….

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted April 17, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                It would help if he stopped trying to outdo Michael Ruse in sheer absurdity.

      • Posted April 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        “Then one day out of nowhere we were all branded “New”. Why would we do that to ourselves?”

        Did we? Who actually coined the term “New atheist” and which were they? (My guess it was a theist.)

        • Posted April 17, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

          I was kind of joking about the good old days, but the term itself did sort of pop up abruptly and seems to have been first applied to three of the Four Horsemen (Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett) by Gary Wolf writing for Wired on October 22, 2006. Wolf does not deny being an atheist, and history shows that the term has been used before even though it never quite caught on as it did after Wolf’s usage of it.

          You can read the initial reaction to Wolf’s article and labeling at Richard Dawkins’ website by searching there for: “Battle of the New Atheism”, and you can read the reaction at PZ’s place by searching there for: “For the wishy-washy, the apologists, the appeasers…rejoice!”

          If you want anti-Gnu-isms, Wolf’s article has got it all. It even opens with a reference to “the intellectual martyrdom of Galileo” to show you how long that topic has been bouncing around in the heads of accommodationists like Hoffmann and Berlinerblau.

          Anyway, after Wolf’s article, I guess more people found it a useful distinction than not, including the the critics of the Gnus, the Gnus themselves (grudgingly, however), and journalists (for example, see Ronald Aronson’s June 7, 2007 article in The Nation titled “The New Atheists”).

        • Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

          Searching around, I did find an even earlier reference to “the new atheism” by Bishop Edward K. Braxton as reported on April 20, 2006 by Mark Pattinson in the Catholic News Service. It is linked to in comment #1 by wamba under PZ’s post titled “Carnivalia, and an open thread” of the same day. Here is a quote from the report that hilariously fits Gnu Atheism pretty well:

          Catholic teenagers in cyberspace could come across authors’ negative descriptions of the bread and wine of the Eucharist as “a cracker” and “faded burgundy” and other mischaracterizations of Catholic teaching, Bishop Braxton said.

          So perhaps it was a theist who coined it after all and Wolf picked it up somehow from their whines about how disrespected religion is on the Internet.

          • Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

            Name misspelling: It should be “Mark Pattison”.

          • Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

            I love, too, how Bishop Braxton wishes to counter Gnu Atheism with “New Apologetics”. LOL!

          • Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

            And indeed, a transcript of Bishop Braxton’s talk shows that he was responding to excerpts from Sam Harris’s book:

            The key point here is not whether you or I agree with Mr. Harris’s thesis. The point is that the Catholic college senior who sent me the excerpts received them in an e-mail from her impressionable, fifteen-year-old younger brother, a sophomore at a Catholic high school. He and his friends had found the book on the Internet. They thought the author’s claims that central Catholic beliefs are absurd were very convincing.

            Link: http://www.bellevillemessenger.org/bishop/ncea.aspx

            • Hamilton Jacobi
              Posted April 18, 2011 at 1:17 am | Permalink

              That Bishop Braxton seems to be a pretty sharp fellow. I wonder if he is not an atheist, just continuing to play the Catholic game because it’s the only way he knows how to make a living.

              • Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:44 am | Permalink

                Would it be cynical to say “typical clergyman”?

                OK, I said it anyway.

  2. Posted April 17, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    In short, the disagreement is about whether to speak a necessary truth.

    Ain’t that the truth?

    I mean, really. You, Dawkins, PZ, Hitchens, even me — the constant refrain, the rallying cry, is ever, “Yes, but is it true?

    Make all the claims, stake out all the positions you want. Just be prepared to defend them with observations and sound logic — or, at least, be honest enough to admit you don’t have any and are just expressing your feelings.

    But if you feel you don’t like us very much, don’t be surprised if we hurt your feelings by telling you the feeling is mutual.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Marella
      Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      QFT.

      This, this and a million times this!

      I am so sick of all the bullshit I hear and read all the while screaming inside, “IS IT TRUE?”. That is what matters, the rest is merely commentary, to paraphrase an ancient rabbi.

  3. Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Well, I don’t consider these differences trivial. Contra Kazez, I think they do matter, for they speak to the very things that have made New Atheism a success: our willingness to speak openly and honestly to the public about the evils of faith, and our unwillingness to pretend that we “respect” religion.

    They also speak to the very reason we need to speak openly and honestly on the subject, which is that it’s taboo, and it’s taboo for bad stupid illiberal reasons. The backlash itself shows that day in and day out. The reason-free fuming of other atheists makes it stand out like a red nose.

    • Kirth Gersen
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Exactly! We don’t properly revere the sacred cows. And that’s an unforgivable sin — even among accommodationists who claim not to believe in sin, but who nonetheless insist that we hold the cows as sacred.

      • Posted April 17, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        Quite – and this is the whole point, it’s the gnu bit of gnu atheism. The whole dispute is:

        Gnus: We must end the taboo on frank discussion of religion.

        Anti-gnus: The gnus are discussing religion frankly!! Oh noes!!!! That’s taboo!!!!!!

        Repeat.

        • Pete Moulton
          Posted April 18, 2011 at 1:41 am | Permalink

          Strident, too.

          • Posted April 19, 2011 at 12:20 am | Permalink

            Gnus pooh-pooh taboos!

            • Posted April 20, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

              News: anti-Gnu crews boo Gnus who pooh-pooh taboos used to excuse rubes whose untruths abuse youths.

              Beat that!

  4. Friend of Icelos
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    The full quote from Blackford is

    “Apart from these opportunistic or reactive works, there are many other books published every year advocating one or another form of traditional religious belief. These far outnumber books by the New Atheist writers and some of them outsell even Richard Dawkins.”

    It seems to me that he’s talking about popular religious books in general, perhaps like Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      Agreed, I misread and have rewritten the above to reflect that.

    • Jack van Beverningk
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      I tend to agree, but then the word ‘even’ in “some of them outsell even Richard Dawkins” doesn’t make much sense, since, unfortunate as it may be, compared to the big best-sellers, Dawkins doesn’t sell that much! The English version of the God Delusion sold a little over 2 million copies. That pales in comparison to Warren’s 30 million of the ‘Purpose Drivel Life’.
      Dawkins isn’t even on this list (especially sad when compared to some of the folks who are!): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

        I wouldn’t worry too much about being unable to compete with Who Moved My Cheese? (26 million)

      • Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

        I was thinking specifically of Rick Warren’s book, but I’m sure we could find other good examples of Christian books that outsell works by even the biggest-selling Gnu Atheist author (whom I take to be Dawkins). It’s not that they sell “even more copies”, it’s that they sell more copies (in Warren’s case many times more) than “even the biggest selling books by the Gnus”.

  5. Jeanine
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    The increasing animosity by the “Aged Ones” (I like that, I’m using it!)greatly saddens me. I think what it boils down to is a lack of balls. We have no problem with approaching the ridiculous and often dangerous claims of the faithful with the sarcasm and anger it DESERVES. How DARE you tell me to grovel and bow to a being who lets 6 year old girls get starved, raped, and beaten to death on a daily basis. FUCK YOU. You deserve none of my respect, nor gentleness. However, The Aged Ones prefer we not step on any toes of the faithful, how dare we criticize their beliefs. Well you know what? There IS no middle ground when it comes to reconciling modern secular agendas with those of the sacrificial desert cults and others. I agree with Sam Harris, we are running out of time to play nice. We need to unflinchingly, firmly, and proudly call a spade a spade, no matter how uncomfortable everyone gets. Some may prefer to cower under the cover of politeness and “respect”, but it is not getting us anywhere.

    • eheffa
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Jeanine,

      I think you have explained the intense reaction of the ‘Old Guard’ to the Gnu Atheists.

      They see the Gnu’s as unforgivably IMPOLITE.

      -evan

  6. yesmyliege
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    As I just posted at Eric’s blog:

    antallan:

    “Where is the need for that erudition when the gnu atheist can say, simply: My nonbelief is justified by the nonexistence of evidence for God? Is that not rational enough?”

    This is what truly chafes Hoffman et al.

    New Atheists have little appetite for addressing The Courtly Arguments, but prefer to clamp down like terriers on the necks of our opponents on this issue, the basic premise, and Achilles’ heel, of all religion. By keeping the feet of religious apologists to the fire on this single issue, New Atheists are reaping Joy, Win, and Enormously Titanic book sales.

    Hoffman et al are not only envious of our successes, but are most likely chagrined to the point of introspective despair that the New Atheists still retain intellectual bona fides, despite employing the pedestrian arguments they either eschewed or neglected. Hence, their understandable and deplorable psychological need to belittle the movement.

    I think they really don’t understand that, unlike themselves, we are not ‘Salon Atheists’ eager to expound on the historical ramifications of noble 17th-century atheist martyrs, but rather, as New Atheists, we have a political agenda which measures success by the increasing numbers of empty pews in churches, and by the decreasing influence of the religious mindset on our culture.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      Salon Atheists…I like it.

      But it probably misrepresents the position of the first Salon Atheists — those of the Enlightenment.

      They were just as full of vitriol against religion. The difference is that there was very real peril of imprisonment, impoverishment, and even death for openly espousing those views.

      So Holbach, Diderot and others published their more-Gnu-sounding positions anonymously, carefully skirting the official censors. And nibbling around the edges otherwise.

      And still they put themselves at enormous risk. I’m not sure I would have had the courage to do what they did. I’m very glad I don’t have to test myself in that way.

    • Wowbagger
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Hoffman and co. are like the last experts in a field that’s suddenly been rendered obsolete – think of them as the best armoured knights in the world at the point where firearms started becoming common.

      Because instead of allowing the religious to dictate the terms of the debate (i.e. long, complex philosophical arguments), the gnus are instead saying ‘No, no more of this abstract stuff; show us the evidence and then we’ll talk philosophy’.

      This, of course, makes the Hoffmans of the world redundant and all their years of study a whole lot less useful in the discussions. And – as we’re seeing – they’re very, very bitter about being put to one side.

      • Posted April 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

        Indeed– they are the Cavalry, spurred heels clanging proudly, to the Gnu’s First Armored Tank Division…

        • Posted April 19, 2011 at 12:44 am | Permalink

          So the Four Horsemen should really be the Four Tank Commanders… ?

      • gillt
        Posted April 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        So the persuasions of science are what separate theists and “The Old Ones” from Gnus. No wonder Gnus are branded as the bad guys; in those terms, the advantage is so great it’s almost like they’re cheating.

    • Posted April 18, 2011 at 12:20 am | Permalink

      Thank you!

  7. stvs
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I like that Blackford talks about Gnu books prior to the emergence of the popular expression “New Atheist”. In addition to Jacoby, I’d also include the titles:

    • Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian (Perseus 2001), “Only a humorless tyrant could want a perpetual chanting of praises that, one has no choice but to assume, would be the innate virtues and splendors furnished him by his creator, infinite regression, drowned in praise!”

    • Wood, The Book Against God (Macmillan 2004), “I denied my father three times, twice before he died, once afterwards.”

    But I’m disappointed not to read the word “science” in his account for the emergence of a more visible, outspoken movement. What is new is the intellectual environment created by the spectacular confirmation of the material origin of human beings and the universe itself. I no longer must ward off the superstitious with a copy of Hume—I can just give them a web link to WMAP or the human genome, with all that that implies, and ask what their counter-evidence is. Hume is wonderful, but a picture of the Big Bang is a LOT more powerful. This is new. And obviously terrifying to religious leaders.

    • Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      One of the foundational pre-Gnu books was Carl Sagan’s Demon-haunted World. That book nudged me into being more explicit about my atheism – as did an interview with Dawkins on the local NPR station when he was here promoting Climbing Mount Improbable. I noticed the blandly censorious tone of the interviewer when Richard said something non-theist, and……………I realized some things.

      • Posted April 17, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

        I was rather impressed recently when I realized that Natalie Angier published her Confessions of a Lonely Atheist in 2001– in January.

        “There is something to be said for a revival of pagan peevishness and outspokenness.”

        Always well said when Natalie says it:-)) <a href"http://www.natalieangier.com/main.php?id=other_writings"Here is the link to a list of lots of her other articles.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 19, 2011 at 12:29 am | Permalink

          Thank you! A file & a link promptly saved for future reference.

      • Sajanas
        Posted April 18, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

        In my general view, Gnu Atheism derives a lot more of its punch from science than from philosophy. As philosophically inconsistent as religion is, as garbled and arbitrary as theology is, pointing out all of that lacks the power of the alternative explanation. And science really comes at you sideways, explaining so much, without the hint of the shiny happy world religion promises. Once one has that, you don’t need to really concern yourself with the ontological argument, or any of the other apologetic nonsense that has been built up when the only contender to religion was other religions. The whole infrastructure becomes just some nonsense built on nonsense, not really worthy of extensive analysis when the whole universe is so much worthier of analysis, and *true*!

        And boy, that must piss off the religious historians and philosophers that have continued making their arguments against apologists.

      • gillt
        Posted April 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        2nd “Demon-Haunted World.”

    • Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian (Perseus 2001), “Only a humorless tyrant could want a perpetual chanting of praises that, one has no choice but to assume, would be the innate virtues and splendors furnished him by his creator, infinite regression, drowned in praise!”

      Hitch was hardly the first to make that observation, even popularly in recent times:

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted April 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        “POPE STARS IN SEX AND DRUGS DRAMA” Well, that was prophetic. When are we going to hear about the drugs?

      • Posted April 17, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

        HA! Hilarious–love Peter Cook.

      • stvs
        Posted April 19, 2011 at 2:46 am | Permalink

        Ha-ha! From Milton to the tv, even the pope joke:

        The works of God, thereby to glorifie
        The great Work-Maister, leads to no excess
        That reaches blame, but rather merits praise
        The more it seems excess

  8. Joe
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Dude, with all due respect, just stop linking to Rosenau and stop talking about him. He is a troll and in no way interesting or noteworthy outside of the science blogosphere (where he made himself noteworthy via his milquetoastiness.) His act is old and boring, just ignore it ffs. Thanks and keep up the good work! -Joe

  9. epistememe
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    There is a related discussion going on at less wrong, definitely worth a read.

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/59i/offense_versus_harm_minimization/

  10. Garnetstar
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I think that there’s a lot more jealousy, envy, and spite than the faitheists admit, even to themselves (Mooney comes to mind). Not just of money and fame, but that the Gnu’s strategy is succeeding.

    And, I have always suspected that many of these “atheists” are also much more (subconsciously) attached to religion than they know (Ruse). Hence the outrage at our daring to not respect it.

  11. Kevin
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    In my more conciliatory moments, I see the two pathways as a good cop-bad cop routine.

    Bad cop: Religion is poison; gods are ridiculously simplistic fabulous (as in fable) characters; everyone needs to grow up, stand up, and stop bowing down to imaginary creatures.

    Good cop: Tsk tsk. My apologies for such blunt language. Of course, if you might discuss what evidence you might wish to bring to the table in favor of the existence of god, I’m sure we’d all be more-than willing to listen. And if you buy my book, I’ll borrow yours at the library.

    And then in my less conciliatory moments, I’m fuming mad at the the apparent willingness of alleged atheists to betray their fellow-travelers merely in the name of comity.

    • Posted April 17, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      That would be a perfectly valid – and effective! – tactic if the “good” atheists weren’t devoting the majority of their time to telling us “bad” atheists to shut up.

      The whole point of that strategy is that the good-cop and bad-cop strategies are most effective when used together, not when one is deployed to the exclusion of the other. That’s what the accommodationists don’t grasp – assuming, of course, that they have the same end in mind as us, which is highly debatable.

  12. Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I was just catching up on the headlines…and the local news here in Tempe is all about the overwhelming success of this year’s Pat’s Run.

    Tens of thousands of people came here from all across the country to celebrate the life and mourn the death of an archetypal American hero — star linebacker and martyred soldier…who was as Gnu as Gnu Atheists come.

    Granted, the media makes little mention of his godlessness, but neither he nor his family shy away from it.

    The next time an Accommodationist whines about the impotence of the Gnu Atheist movement, ask if Tillman would have been a hero or a goat before the rise of Gnu Atheism.

    The next time a Fathiest points to the lack of atheist martyrs as symbolic of something incomprehensible, suggest that maybe, just perhaps, Tillman might meet whatever criteria it is they think is supposed to mean something.

    And the next time you hear anybody whine about atheists in foxholes, point to Tillman.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • stvs
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      From Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory:

      Kauzlarich explained that shortly before the Second Ranger Battalion sent Pat’s remains home from Afghanistan, he was arranging a repatriation ceremony when a sergeant approached him and said, “Hey, sir. Kevin Tillman doesn’t want a chaplain involved in his repatriation ceremony.” When Kauzlarich, an evangelical Christian, asked why, the sergeant replied, “Well, evidently he and his brother are atheists. That’s the way they were raised.”
      To which Kauzlarich angrily declaimed, “Well, you can tell Specialist Tillman that this ceremony ain’t about him, it is about everybody in the Joint Task Force bidding farewell to his brother, so there will be a chaplain and there will be prayers.”
      Pat had in fact made his wishes known quite explicitly in this regard, and had clearly stated his views on religion, life, and death on several occasions as well. …
      Before deploying to Iraq, Pat had filled out a standard Army document noting his preferences for funeral arrangements in the event of his death, in which he unequivocally declared that he did not want either a chaplain or a civilian minister to officiate at any memorial services that might be held, and that all arrangements pertaining to his death or funeral should be made by Marie. On the final line of the document, which asked if he had “any special instructions,” Pat scrawled in block letters, “I do not want the military to have any direct involvement with my funeral.” …
      he fact that neither Pat, nor Marie, nor any of the other Tillmans wanted a military chaplain to formally offer prayers at a memorial service for Pat was incomprehensible to Kauzlarich. “Those that are Christians can come to terms with faith and the fact there is an afterlife, heaven, or whatnot,” he testified to Jones. “I’m not really sure what they believe or how they can get their head around death. So, in my personal opinion, sir, that is why I don’t think they’ll ever be satisfied.”
      Kauzlarich speculated further on the relationship between the Tillmans’ religious views and their dissatisfaction with the investigations during a subsequent interview with the journalist Mike Fish, published online at ESPN.com:
      On May 16, 2007, Representatives Henry Waxman (Democrat) and Tom Davis (Republican) of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform declared, in a letter to Kauzlarich’s commanding officer, “We believe these statements were crass, insulting to the Tillman family, and completely inappropriate for an Army officer and an official representative of the U.S. military speaking to the press.”
      For her part, Dannie Tillman told Waxman that she was “appalled” by Lieutenant Colonel Kauzlarich’s comments, which revealed his utter failure to grasp why the Tillman family was angry.

      Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven also falls into the Gnu category.

  13. Tim Martin
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    This is what we all do, using the political process to foist our morality on others.

    Thank you for pointing this out! Often people talk about the separation of church and state as if the two could really be completely separate. But they can’t, for this very reason. We are going to foist our morality on others. If that morality comes from church, the separation is not so cut-and-dry.

    • Posted April 17, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      I think the point is that laws affecting all people have to be made on the basis of reasons and evidence which all people can examine. “My god told me so” is an undemocratic justification for a law because it’s impossible for me to verify that for myself.

    • Posted April 18, 2011 at 3:02 am | Permalink

      I don’t try to enforce my morality on others through the political process. There are many things that I regard as morally contraindicated that I think the state should keep right out of. The state has a relative narrow remit: to protect what Locke called our “civil interests”. It is not there to decide what is morally good, all things considered, and then make people conform.

  14. Posted April 17, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    From my vantage point, there were no atheists before there were gnu atheists–just a bunch of isolated groups of people who didn’t believe in gods.

    Whoopee.

  15. Josh Slocum
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    (subscribing)

  16. RFW
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    It strikes me that the rise of the New Atheism (atheism not afraid to speak out, even to attack theism) is due to the politico-religious establishment’s intensified attack on science, notably (but not exclusively) evolution.

    Biblical support for this reaction: “As you sow so shall you reap”.

    Bishop Wilberforce, you have a lot to atone for!

    • Posted April 17, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      I think that the intensification of fundamentalist political attacks on education, science, and, in fact, democracy is very pertinent. Kitzmiller v. Dover was decided on December 20, 2005, for instance.

  17. Posted April 17, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    “The reason why I object to religion is not so much because religious people try to enact their morality per se, but because religiously inspired morality is much worse than secular morality.”

    Thanks for pointing this out. Too many critics will say “you atheists are as much a fundamentalist as any Christian!” What they fail to notice is the self-evident reasonableness of secular ethics compared with religiously inspired ones. For example, the Humanist Manifesto III declares, “We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.” Whereas religiously based ethics employs the idea of chosen people and revealed truth to special people, which cannot possibly serve as a template for a just society. Secular ethics embraces personal responsibility, whereas Biblical ethics allows for punishment of sins to the third and fourth generation, and beyond. Christian schools have a ‘Pledge to the Christian Flag’ that children in their schools recite daily.. it says this: “I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe.” Hmm.. they affirm life and liberty, but only to those who believe.

    It’s difficult to fathom how someone who wants to bless THE WHOLE WORLD with recognition of equal liberties and rights, and who does not want to kill or discriminate against anyone, can be labeled a fundamentalist. It seems to be the antithesis of fundamentalism.

    • Jeanine
      Posted April 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Yes…that “fundamentalist” ignorance bristles me too. “Whereas religiously based ethics employs the idea of chosen people and revealed truth to special people, which cannot possibly serve as a template for a just society. ” Very well said, and very very true.

  18. Posted April 17, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Even some of us yoctometrically lesser-known bloggers have had a tussle or two with our fellow atheist “control-trolls”. And it’s always the same story, almost word for word.

  19. Egbert
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    The newer atheists did something that older atheists failed to achieve: raise atheist consciousness to recognise our own identity.

    But it’s an odd identity when you define yourself to what you are not (i.e., a-theist) and so we’re a bit beyond atheism too, into new pastures.

    That is why the miscreants oppose us in such a bitter and hateful way. Because they cling to the past, while we have a new identity, we’re no longer willing to co-exist with irrationality, supernaturalism and the special status that religion holds above us. We have equal status.

    Our identity is so new, that we don’t know exactly what we are yet. And this is why self-conscious articles such as that above are helping us all find our way along the path to somewhere else.

  20. Posted April 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Is it really about Gnu vs Accommodationist? Isn’t the big change, the rise of teh Interwebz? Atheists are now online and finding each other (like autists in Silicon Valley) and Coming Out.

  21. gruebait
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    The accommodationist mindset reminds me a bit of the ’60s, when occasionally some well-situated black person would complain that it was counter-productive to be too damned uppity.

  22. Hamilton Jacobi
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    There is an amusing new contribution from Ruse. He spends most of the introductory paragraph complaining about how people misspell his name, then proceeds to misspell “Berlinerbau.”

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted April 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Excellent follow-up to what gruebait just said, because one thing those folks never tired of pointing out was that militants were playing into the hands of the segregationists. Ruse’s playbook exactly.

    • Posted April 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      I left a very harsh comment on that post…I wonder if it will remain there.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted April 17, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

        What? You don’t think he wants to count comments?

      • Posted April 18, 2011 at 4:07 am | Permalink

        It’s still there as of 13:06 pm Italian Standard Time.

        • Posted April 18, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

          And now; clearly it’s staying. Ruse won’t be inviting me to tea any time soon! :- )

    • Don
      Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:43 am | Permalink

      “He spends most of the introductory paragraph complaining about how people misspell his name, then proceeds to misspell ‘Berlinerbau.'”

      So how would you like him to spell “Berlinerblau”?

      http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/author/jberlinerblau

      • Posted April 18, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        With the lowercase “L” perhaps?

      • Hamilton Jacobi
        Posted April 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        He should have spelled it “Berlinerblau.” He succeeded once, but he stumbled at the second hurdle.

  23. Diane G.
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    (subscribing)

  24. Wowbagger
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Sigh. Ruse, in his article, once again points out that Dawkins didn’t enage with the ‘good arguments’ for the existence of God in TGD.

    How many times does it have to be pointed out that he wasn’t attempting to engage any of the so-called ‘good arguments’ (though I would dispute such a thing exists, but that’s another issue) but with the reasons the overwhelming majority of religious people claim when justifying their faith?

    • Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      “Good” arguments for God. *sigh*

      It never ceases to amaze me how closely accomodationists resemble theologians; it equally never ceases to amaze how many of TGD’s critics appear to have never read it.

  25. Posted April 17, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Simple fact check: where, exactly, am I supposed to have “professed” to be an “atheist”?

    • J.J.E.
      Posted April 18, 2011 at 1:37 am | Permalink

      For the record:

      A) Are you a theist?

      B) If not, do you prefer the label, atheist or agnostic out perhaps other label?

      • Posted April 18, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        My position is well-established, and I don’t think it’s necessary to restate it here. The post above makes a strong assertion and I’d like to see it either backed up by evidence or corrected. The issue at hand is not my what I do or don’t believe, but why Jerry persists in mischaracterizing what I’ve professed (which he’s done almost from the start of our online interactions).

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted April 18, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

          Okay Josh, I correct myself. You’re not an atheist, but an “apathist agnostic.” I will call you that from now on.

          Happy now? Although under my definition of atheism I’d consider your stance “atheism,” I won’t quarrel about semantics. You have the right to be called anything you want, although I suspect that your adopting that pretentious label is simply a way to make your nonbelief look presentable to the public, and to duck the question about whether you believe in god.

          • Posted April 18, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

            Jerry,

            Thanks for agreeing, after less than two years of effort, to represent me accurately on at least one point. The post above doesn’t reflect the correction yet, but I’m sure it will eventually.

            I find it interesting that you have your own private definition of atheism. Is it published somewhere for others to review and respond to?

            Also, when did it become “pretentious” to think words matter and to use them accurately? When did you decide that accuracy wasn’t important, or that we’re each allowed – like Humpty Dumpty – to make words mean whatever we like?

            Your attempted mindreading notwithstanding, my issue here is not whether my views are “presentable,” it’s about the importance of being accurate, honest, and clear in describing myself and others.

            I qualify my agnosticism as “apathist” because I don’t think the question “do you believe in god” is that important. It’s not that I’m dodging the issue of whether I believe in god(s), it’s that I think the question is as relevant as whether I prefer basketball or baseball, and I’d rather people would ask about things that really matter. I’d rather society were focused on things that really matter, too.

            You, clearly, think this is a question that really matters. I find your arguments uncompelling (more on that anon). And that’s where things stand.

            • Posted April 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

              Josh, what do you think “really matters”?

            • Jeanine
              Posted April 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

              “I don’t think the question “do you believe in god” is that important. It’s not that I’m dodging the issue of whether I believe in god(s), it’s that I think the question is as relevant as whether I prefer basketball or baseball, and I’d rather people would ask about things that really matter. ” I beg to differ. I think it is one of the most important questions of our times. When Sam Harris says we are dealing with 14th century Christians with 21st century weapons, it is time to take note…and I for one am curious as to where we stand as a society with this sort of “roll taking”. If there are more of our mindsets out there than not, perhaps we have a chance to defend our children’s educations…to defend our personal rights…to defend and demand reason in all political discourse. Whether or not you play basketball has a much different effect on society than if you were to vote against abortion or gay marriage based on what your bible tells you.

            • Posted April 18, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

              It’s not that I’m dodging the issue of whether I believe in god(s), it’s that I think the question is as relevant as whether I prefer basketball or baseball…

              That’s odd, because if you did believe, you would be believing in someone who might torture you for eternity for some trivial action or involuntary belief. Basketball and baseball don’t have consequences of that kind.

            • Hamilton Jacobi
              Posted April 18, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

              Josh, you’re playing word games. If you think the question of whether the putative omnipotent ruler of the universe exists or not is as important and relevant as whether you prefer basketball or baseball, you’ve already made your decision. You’re an atheist — you just don’t want to admit it.

              • Posted April 18, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

                Hamilton, while I wait for a comment to clear moderation:

                I don’t know, and don’t care, whether you have a 1976 bicentennial quarter in your pocket. You might, you might not. Saying I don’t know and don’t care does not imply that I think you haven’t got one.

                For the same reasons, saying I don’t know and don’t care whether god(s) exist doesn’t mean I think gods(s) don’t exist.

                Ultimately, claims about whether a god exists are untestable. The universe is as it is. The parts that are measurable and observable and about which claims can be tested are as they are. If certain other, untestable claims are also true, that doesn’t change any of the observable, testable parts. A deity might have created a world of the sort we see around us (omnipotent beings can, after all, do anything, including make a universe exactly like ours). But I gain nothing by tacking on assumptions about whether or not various untestable things are or aren’t there, and I don’t think anyone else really gains much by tacking those assumptions on, either.

                If people like making those assumptions, they’re naturally free to do so, as long as in doing so they don’t infringe on the rights of other people to assume other things, or to ignore the question entirely.

                When y’all folks insist that I have to have some opinion, I feel like you cross that line, and I object. Not as much as I object when some jagoff knocks on my door and asks if I’ve found Jesus, but the important thing is that everyone, even you, stop crossing the line.

              • Egbert
                Posted April 19, 2011 at 2:23 am | Permalink

                Apparently, Mr Rosenau, you’ve already crossed the line by telling the rest of us not to cross the line.

              • Hamilton Jacobi
                Posted April 19, 2011 at 3:32 am | Permalink

                If you say that “claims about whether a god exists are untestable”, you’ve already decided that the personal God most believers believe in — one who intervenes and makes a difference in human lives — does not exist.

            • Matt Penfold
              Posted April 19, 2011 at 1:45 am | Permalink

              Josh,

              Can you please cut the pretence.

              You do not care about representing people accurately. If you did you would not be so dishonest in your blog.

              Tell me, is it your intention to come across as a pretentious dishonest wanker, or do you simply not care ?

        • Rob
          Posted April 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

          So should we not call Dawkins an atheist? Even he admits the possibility of god.

          It’s down to semantics.

      • Dan L.
        Posted April 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        Please don’t feed the trolls.

  26. Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Miranda: I think what really matters is how people behave. Do they, as Jeanine puts it, “vote against abortion or gay marriage”? Do they stand up for honest science education? Do they look out for their neighbors and raise their children to care for those around them? Do they vote, and take the franchise seriously?

    Contra Jeanine, I don’t think it’s important whether someone “were to vote against abortion or gay marriage based on what your bible tells you.” I don’t think it’s worse that one votes against gay marriage because of a religious motive than that one votes that way from some other source of anti-gay bigotry. Nor would I condemn someone for voting for gay marriage because of their religion’s teachings (as some people do).

    Voting against gay marriage or abortion is bad for the same reason that voting to ban particular items of clothing (e.g., the French ban on the niqab) is bad. These are acts that restrict another person’s rights. They are illiberal impositions of one person’s untestable metaphysical beliefs on another. And that authoritarianism is a problem regardless of whether it originates in religion or in some other force. Some religions do feed into authoritarianism, but others drive their followers to oppose such authoritarian acts, to oppose torture and war, to fight for civil rights of members of other religious groups. Why treat the (untestable) religious belief as the problem (even though it isn’t always problematic), rather than focus on the definitely problematic authoritarianism?

    Ophelia: If I were to believe, I wouldn’t worship that particular god. Even if such a god exists (which is not a testable claim, so not interesting to me), it wouldn’t strike me as worthy of worship. There are significant numbers of Christians who reject the doctrine of hell, too: http://www.gallup.com/poll/27877/americans-more-likely-believe-god-than-devil-heaven-more-than-hell.aspx

    But here’s the issue: would I behave differently if I believed in hell? I don’t think so. I don’t need that particular stick to force me towards good behavior. I try to be a good person now, and if I believed in hell, (I hope) I’d still be a good person. Which is why I say it doesn’t matter.

    See also: http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2006/10/scary_scary_people.php

    • Deepak Shetty
      Posted April 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      Contra Jeanine, I don’t think it’s important whether someone “were to vote against abortion or gay marriage based on what your bible tells you.”

      What a silly thing to say. It’s important because unless you know the cause you don’t know what needs to/can be done to fix it.

      I don’t think it’s worse that one votes against gay marriage because of a religious motive than that one votes that way from some other source of anti-gay bigotry

      Who makes the claim that it is worse? But the way you deal with a religious motive is not the same as you would deal with non religious bigotry , is it not?

  27. Wowbagger
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    Josh Rosenau wrote:Ultimately, claims about whether a god exists are untestable.

    Are they? Why, exactly? I know this is asserted by the religious (and their sympathisers), but I’ve never heard any particularly good explanation – as opposed to it being as a rather transparent goalpost-shifting tactic to justify why they’ve never found any evidence to support the existence of any gods – for why that’s the case.

    • Posted April 19, 2011 at 1:17 am | Permalink

      Of course, the existence of a deistic god is clearly untestable.

      The same maybe true of a theistic god in and of himself, but — and this is a very important “but” — if he intercedes in the world, as many religions claim, that intercession must have testable results.

      Unless that god’s intercessions are so subtle that they’re indistinguishable from chance…

      (Jerry pointed this out a while ago, of course, in “Whaddya got?”)

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted April 19, 2011 at 1:49 am | Permalink

      Josh is not a stupid man, although he does his best to act like one sometimes. He must know that in many cases claims about the existence of god are testable, have been tested and have fail those tests.

      The only conclusion as to why he refuses to admit this I find convincing is that he has become so wrapped up in the politics of the evolution/creationism debate in the US that he no longer care what is actually true, but rather what he thinks will be effective.

      And that is why I despise him.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Coyne, on Blackford: What is New Atheism?: Russell Blackford has a good two-part post on what he sees as a defining traits of New Atheism, as […]

  2. […] from Australia – picked up and intensified (especially in the nastiness towards Jacques and me) elsewhere.  Why it is asked plaintively, do we who profess atheism or non-belief of some kind or another […]

  3. […] Good mix of self-importance, anger, vanity, and surrealism, isn’t it. The latest outcry is by one of the junior New Atheists (in other words, not one of the big four of Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) writing from Australia – picked up and intensified (especially in the nastiness towards Jacques and me) elsewhere.  […]

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