Atheist squabble update

The latest in the Big Kerfuffle about whether Gnu Athesists are mean, and whether we should STFU about the palpable incompatibility between science and faith:

Jason Streitfeld, Ophelia Benson, and Russell Blackford take issue with the notion that the science/faith conflict is too complicated to discuss in the “public square. ”

Jason Rosenhouse agrees with them.

So does Eric Macdonald, who also posted a picture of the “Look at Her” girl!

Over at his website, Jeremy “Look At Her” Stangroom has started a Big Project: he’s trawling through Gnu Atheist blogs, looking desperately for any signs of incivility.  The latest is his earth-shaking discovery that Richard Dawkins once referred to a woman as having a “stupid face.”  That remark was certainly ill-advised, but does it outweigh the reams of perfectly civil writing that Dawkins has done on atheism?  Who among us is free from never having made an uncivil or mocking remark?  (Indeed, Stangroom himself seems to be mocking my penchant for boots.) The issue at hand is whether Gnu Atheists are guilty of continuous, frequent, and visible incivility of a sort that impedes our message—not whether any of us have occasionally mocked someone else or their views.

I hope this isn’t also seen as uncivil, but I fear that Stangroom, in his monomaniacal quest for incivility of even a trivial sort, has lost it.


  1. Sajanas
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    There is no way to tell someone that you think their God is a myth that they would consider civil (though Dan Dennett certainly does give it a good try).

    While I certainly applaud at trying to prove that Gnus are assholes through actual examples, I think most of the accusations of ‘militancy’, ‘fanaticism’ and ‘stridency’ derive far, far more from the above than from anything to do with tone, name calling, or what not.

    And its also important to consider the circumstance. Dawkins gets regular hate mail (and I presume death threats) from these people. His experience of the religiously minded is likely to be about the very worst one could possibly have. So when he calls out the religious, people need to stop assuming that he is necessarily targeting their innocent, never-hurt-a-fly religious grandma. He’d tell her that he didn’t think she was right, but the most civil and English way possible.

    • articulett
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s just a lot of squawking to keep from having to acknowledge that neuroscience reveals “souls” to be an illusion of the brain.

      When people get the gist that there are no such things as “immortal “souls, then gods will become irrelevant. Why make excuses for the “ineffable” unless you believe your eternity is at stake?

      As far as I’m concerned, invisible magical beings are even more unlikely than the invisible magical fabric of the proverbial emperor.

      If people kept their magical beliefs private, the faitheists wouldn’t have to worry about us pointing out the silliness of such beliefs. I think it’s “uncivil” to expect rational people to prop up or defer to belief in invisible magical beings that are indistinguishable from nonexistent beings!

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted March 1, 2011 at 1:07 am | Permalink

        If people kept their magical beliefs private, the faitheists wouldn’t have to worry about us pointing out the silliness of such beliefs.

        Hear here! 😉

  2. Posted February 28, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    I will give Stangroom some credit for attempting to put his money where his mouth is and actually cite examples of gnu inciviility. And as far as it goes, the one example he has cited so far is a pretty good one. Certainly an “unguarded” moment for Dawkins that was not flattering to him.

    As you say, of course, the fact that Dawkins once said something rude and inappropriate in an interview some years ago proves nothing. But in Stangroom’s defense, he has to start somewhere. So I can’t rip into him too hard about it… Unless this is the only example he ever cites 🙂 Really, it ought to be easy to come up with a couple dozen examples like this. Gnus are people too, and people of all kinds are occasionally rude and incivil and make inappropriate or even patently offensive comments.

    If he intends to prove anything, he should be able to post five examples like this per day on a sustained basis. Then I would be convinced there was a systemic problem with incivility in the Gnu movement.

    (FWIW, I think I could probably give one a day, from people I agree with, without even trying very hard.)

    • Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      I see that he’s also compiled some alleged incivilities from Russell Blackford. However, with the exception of the “You disgusting traitor” remark (which seems strangely uncharacteristic of Blackford, but whatever) none of the examples he cites from Blackford are an more incivil than the comment about the alligator boots that opened the Dawkins post.

      So we have Dawkins making an inappropriate comment in a moment of exasperation, and Blackford letting a bit too much spittle fly when he saw that Mooney had taken Templeton money. *shrug* Sounds like human beings…

      • articulett
        Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

        I think it pales in comparison to theist rudeness and faithiest STFU/DBAD rudeness.

        But I guess rudeness is in the eye of the beholder.

      • Posted March 1, 2011 at 2:36 am | Permalink

        I’ve never claimed to be immune to getting angry now and then. Nor do I deny making the occasional snarky comment on the internet. The record will show that I do the latter with all-too-human frequency. All of which goes no way at all to proving Jeremy Snark-Hunter’s point. Anyone who hangs around at Metamagician and the Hellfire Club can see the general tone of the place.

        Frankly, that particular comment was not my best moment, though it had a context. In any event, trawling back not just through blog posts but blog comments to try to cherry-pick bits of gnastiness here and there seems pretty desperate.

    • Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      I would also add to what you said that for the sake of objectivity Stangroom should also search and cite some examples of cases of incivility coming from accommodationist species. I am quite trusting that he can find something interesting here. Seeing such comparison in numbers would be really interesting story. Otherwise it is still anecdotal evidence.

    • Grania
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Nope, if Stangroom wants to “start somewhere” to prove that rude uncivil atheists are a problem now in 2011 then he ought to be able to reel off a list of contemporary examples. Coming up with one clearly off-guarded remark from 2006 actually shows that he doesn’t have many – if any – particularly shocking examples to hand.

      If he has to search that hard then he has scuppered his own argument.

  3. daveau
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    “Jerry Coyne, a man who can’t pass an alligator in the street without mistaking it for a pair of shoes,…”

    I think that is decidedly uncivil, therefore I will ignore anything that Stangroom ever has, or ever will say. Not really, of course. You need to look at the body of work and not just cherry pick the one or two things that may have been indiscreet. Dawkins has always seemed to be far more civil than I would be.

    • Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      It’s a strange example. I grew up in rural Louisiana, and I’ve only passed an alligator on the street once.

      • daveau
        Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        There aren’t many in Chicago. Especially not this time of year.

        • Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          You’re not in the right neighborhood, apparently.

          • daveau
            Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

            Yeah, Hyde Park is on the south side. You never know what you’ll see.

  4. Ray Thaw
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…that’s a quote from someone/somewhere…can’t recall…seems about right though…

  5. Somite
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    They do realize the Gnu Atheists could be uncivil and correct, right? Their civility fetish has no bearing on the truth.

  6. Sigmund
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Unless he can come up with a heck of a lot of examples all he will have succeeded in doing is proving that gnu atheists are rarely uncivil.

  7. Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Here, let me be less than civil: Jeremy Stangroom is a whiny, petty, sanctimonious busybody who should really learn to keep his holier-than-thou nose out of other people’s business. Also, he’s prone to near-constant incivility himself, which makes him a hypocrite.

    • Ryan Cunningham
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      Ooh! I want to try:

      Stangroom is also an uninteresting buffoon who desperately wants approval for the ludicrous ideas he constantly pollutes the internet with. The most inane post on 4chan is worth ten blog posts from Stangroom. The only value in his ramblings is that you could probably train natural language processing software on it to auto-generate pretentious dialogue for a soap opera villain.

      • Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        You left out the “also”. Try “Also, he approves of statutory rape as long as the rapist is ‘hot'” and see how that works for you.

  8. Anony Mous
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I’d like to see someone dig up some of Stangroom’s inevitable slip-ups, just to remind him that he, too, is human.

  9. Aratina Cage
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Dawkins has said things seemingly much worse than that someone had a “stupid face”, but AFAIK he has always apologized when it was due or taken the time to explain why he said what he said. (I note that Jeremy found this true of the “stupid face” comment, too.)

    Not to mention, Dawkins’ is a mere human as are all gnus, despite our shared ability to slay gods (though few do it as righteously, as merrily, and as thoroughly as Dawkins and still end up with a clean blade).

    At any rate, none of that makes gods pop into existence now, does it? Neither does the slip of the tongue sink scientific knowledge to the level of faith (aka wishful thinking).

    • phil
      Posted March 2, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

      I would have thought you’d always end up with a clean blade after slaying something nonexistent.

  10. Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    If I may?

    I couldn’t give a flying fuck whether or not the Gnus are more proper than the Queen or more vulgar than a dockyard’s motorcycle gang.

    Are they honest? Are they more right than worng? Do they admit and strive to correct their errors? Are they good judges of the limits of their abilities?

    That is the ruler by which I measure a person’s character. And, by my reckoning, the Gnus are far nobler than the accommodationists who are more concerned with winning people to their team than with helping give people tools that are well suited to thriving in the universe — not to mention, of course, the religionists who value “faith” <spit /> as a virtue.



    • bric
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Quite so.

      Boswell: Life of Dr Samuel Johnson –
      I censured the coarse invectives which were become fashionable in the House of Commons, and said that if members of parliament must attack each other personally in the heat of debate, it should be done more genteely. Johnson: “No, Sir, that would be much worse. Abuse is not so dangerous when there is no vehicle of wit or delicacy, no subtle conveyance. The difference between coarse and refined abuse is as the difference between being bruised by a club, and wounded by a poisoned arrow.”

    • Marella
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

      I do love you Ben.

  11. Dr. I. Needtob Athe
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I feel that religion is compatible with science in the same way that rats are compatible with people: So long as the rats stay in the sewers out of sight and feed off of what the people produce, they’re really not much of a problem. It’s when they venture out into the open and interfere with peoples’ lives by biting them and spreading disease that the conflict arises.

    Similarly, religion can be compatible with science so long as the religious stay out of science and avoid interfering with it by spreading their toxic misinformation and fabrications, while continuing to feed off its many benefits. As long as this policy is followed, the two can successfully coexist!

    How’s that for a nice, civil, inoffensive compromise that should satisfy everyone?

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      Substitute “rats” with “cholera”, and you might have something there…

  12. Andy Dufresne
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    The Dawkins example, in particular, is so wildly out of character that I can only imagine he must have been drunk or something. It was rude of him to be so insulting to that woman, but the idea that such rudeness is characteristic of the man is preposterous.

    • Jeremy Nel
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      To be fair, though, Dawkins’ bit of facial reading was amply backed up with every syllable she exhaled.

      • Rieux
        Posted February 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        Meh. I see my grandmother.

        It was a really stupid thing for Dawkins to say.

        I agree with Andy’s “the idea that such rudeness is characteristic” line, but it was a blameworthy misstep by Dawkins. As I think he recognizes. If Stangroom can come up with a significant number of equivalent examples, I will agree that Gnus have an actual “don’t be a dick” problem.

        The remainder of the examples in Stangroom’s series (vols. 1-4), though, don’t exactly prompt confidence that he’s got anything more that’s real. (Russell Blackford treating Chris Mooney’s acceptance of Templeton money with the contempt it deserves is not going to cut it.)

  13. Josh Slocum
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink


    • Diane G.
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      same here

  14. Posted February 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Over in the comments on Jeremy’s blog, Jean Kazes writes

    “I don’t think it would be so important to point out incivility if it weren’t for the need to counteract new-atheist-incivility denialism. If it weren’t for that, the incivility would just be obvious, and pointing it out over and over again would give it too much importance. But there is this denialism.”

    So we’re going to get lots and lots of specific examples of the incivility. Can’t wait!

    • Badger3k
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

      Who’s denying anything? Hell, as pointed out, just by existing we are offensive to some, and if that isn’t being incivil, I don’t know what is. Of course we can be incivil, ya’ fecking feckers! Does that work?

      The point seems to be that we Gnus are completely incivil all the time…or what? Is there an argument there or are they tilting at strawmen?

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted March 1, 2011 at 1:04 am | Permalink

        The latter.
        In big lumps.
        Big, ugly, lumps.

        Lumps that insult both sides with the righteously smug accomodationists’ holier-than-thou brow-beating condescensions to both sides.
        One of which they consider to be beneath them intellectually, the other that they consider to be beneath them tactically.

        I shall let the gentle reader discern which side is which, but they should be in no doubt as to who is the slimiest, the most willing to lie & dissemble for short-term gains.

        Hint: It starts with an “A”, but it is not “Atheist”.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 1, 2011 at 3:32 am | Permalink

        Who’s denying anything?

        Kazes, that is who. We have asked for examples, not denied that it could happen.

        • phil
          Posted March 2, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

          Point. Still, maybe we’re at an impasse, they think our worst offence is that we won’t admit to being un/incivil at times, and we think they’re wrong about faith and the need to butter it up. Like we also think believers believe in twaddle, and we could accept them more easily if they just admitted it, but they can’t, so they call us uncivil. (Let’s not forget that it isn’t only accomodationists who call us uncivil.)

    • Posted March 2, 2011 at 3:15 am | Permalink

      Oh, that’s brilliant. The real crux of the problem is not whether god(s) exist(s), or the appropriate role of religion in society, or the arguments used; it’s not even the tone of the speakers.

      The really important thing is the denial of the description of the tone of the speaker of the arguments.

  15. Rieux
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that we Gnus aren’t in a position to complain about or mock Stangroom’s decision to try to catalogue Gnu Atheist incivility: when Mooney and Plait and company have made the blanket statements they have about dickishness, we have challenged them to cite examples, to put up or shut up. Stangroom is now trying to meet that challenge, and to that extent it seems to me entirely fair.

    Then, I think criticizing the Dawkins “ugly face” crack is entirely a fair cop. It’s not at all clear that Dawkins’ oeuvre deserves to be tainted with the antipathy and ugliness of that slur—but he said it, and he certainly shouldn’t have. Fair enough.

    Now it’s up to Stangroom to show, as Jerry put it, that there really is a “continuous, frequent, and visible incivility of a sort that impedes our message” at hand. If he can show that, I for one will concede that Gnus have a “don’t be a dick” problem.

    It’s worth noting, then, that the remainder of Stangroom’s offerings (vols. 1-4) fall far short of any such concern. Russell Blackford, of all people, tweaking “Colgate twins” (ye gods!) and harshly criticizing the acceptance of Templeton pieces of silver is not in fact dickish at all.

    “Stupid face” is a real misstep. But if it’s the only one Stangroom has, he doesn’t really have anything.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink


    • Francis Boyle
      Posted March 1, 2011 at 3:08 am | Permalink

      I disagree. If that’s the best he can do I think we are fully entitled to mock.

      • Rieux
        Posted March 1, 2011 at 3:39 am | Permalink

        Only after he stops rolling out his evidence. If he gets done and “stupid face” is still the only worthy element on the list, mock away; chances are I’ll be right there with you.

        • Francis Boyle
          Posted March 1, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

          In that case you’re rather more patient than me. I just don’t see why the presentation of evidence should model itself on the art of striptease.

          • Rieux
            Posted March 2, 2011 at 12:24 am | Permalink

            Fair (and amusing) enough. I imagine Jerry would appreciate seeing Stangroom’s efforts set to the strains of the David Rose Orchestra’s “The Stripper.”

          • Michael Kingsford Gray
            Posted March 2, 2011 at 1:07 am | Permalink

            Golf clap!

            • phil
              Posted March 2, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

              Is that a sort of unpleasant medical condition you get from ill-advised daliances with, I dunno, golfing equipment?

              • Michael Kingsford Gray
                Posted March 3, 2011 at 12:20 am | Permalink

                One wood indeed.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 1, 2011 at 3:26 am | Permalink

      My own take on the claim:

      First, the “don’t be a dick” claimists didn’t want to test their hypothesis. Or they used, willingly or not, “Tom Johnson” scams to prop themselves. Or they used cold reading like the “skeptic” Plait to try to find a pattern out of thin air. In all cases they behaved like dicks themselves, and the natural question of showing *one* example didn’t get answered.

      Now Stangroom have deviated from the pattern and actually dug up examples. However misguided Stangroom seems to be in everything else, kudos for acting like an actual skeptic!

      I am not going to argue a few cases, and in fact it would be very peculiar if some actual cases didn’t exist. It is an example of a possible behavior, as we all realize. Instead of pondering outliers we can now turn to the actual hypothesis, as I interpret it: Are atheists behaving like dicks, and if so does it hurt their cause?

      To test that claim accommodationists would have to: 1. Identify a group of atheists that have a behavior of ““continuous, frequent, and visible incivility”. 2. That group’s behavior should be frequent and visible enough to have some societal effect. 3. The effect would be to impede the outcome of the strategy of the group it belongs to. I.e. if some subset of gnus harm accommodationists strategies is unfortunate but not a concern among societal groups and their behavior. This isn’t only allowed but expected if groups should be able to express ideas and move opinion! In other words, if some gnus harm accommodationism, why should gnus care? It may even be a bonus for gnu strategy.

      I want to be very clear on why we want to test the actual claim of accommodationists now that they have showed an interest in actually doing so. We have to do this in order to assess the factual claim and its consequences if verified. This is not because we would want to “move goalposts” in a harmless philosophical discussion, which undoubtedly will be the reaction if accommodationists only ponder the question if we can find examples at all.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 1, 2011 at 3:34 am | Permalink

      Also, as Stan Pak reminded me above, accommodationists would need to survey a suitable reference to test against, preferably accommodationists themselves.

  16. Posted February 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Looking for examples of uncivil behavior by atheists? Yawn.
    When he finds something as uncivil as telling people that they are going to be tortured for all eternity, with all the good people watching and laughing from heaven through a hole in the clouds, wake me up.

    • Badger3k
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

      Ah, but they are saying it with the utmost respect and concern, and they often end it with “I’ll pray for you”. What can be any more civil than that?


      • articulett
        Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

        I think the appropriate response to “I’ll pray for you”

        is “And I’ll THINK for you.”


  17. Posted February 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    The issue at hand is whether Gnu Atheists are guilty of continuous, frequent, and visible incivility of a sort that impedes our message…
    Hmm. My ‘incivility’ could be described as ‘continuous/frequent/visible, but its got jack to do with ‘atheism’. Its how I, personally, deal with rank stupidity that harms other humans/organisms/this planet.

    For instance, while I love vampire lit, even the trashiest kind, I think ‘Twilight’ is stupid. I might poke fun at it a bit on ERV, but I dont focus much negative energy on Twi-hards because they arent hurting anyone, and I just dont give a shit.

    Contrast that to how I address the unvaccinated woman spreading measles about the US, or scientists saying HIV/AIDS is a lie, or even Michael Vick. They are a target of my ‘incivility’ because they are dangerous, ignorant people.

    Its not atheists fault religion is full of dangerous, ignorant people. If they just did their own shit without bothering anyone else (ie Twi-hards), they might have an easier time.

    • Marella
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

      Have you read “A Discovery of Witches”?

      I don’t usually read this sort of stuff but it was recommended by friends. It’s a bit slow for me.

  18. Posted February 28, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    The whole tone of Dawkins’s comment — “Of course Christians are sodding well allowed to work for BA” — suggests that he was thoroughly exasperated when he made those remarks: His slip can certainly be understood.

    And maybe he was too arch when another interviewer took him to task. But that isn’t an uncommon failing among British intellectuals or peculiar to Gnu Atheists.

    Now, Stangroom cites this comment as an example of incivility from this blog:

    Jean: Let me clue you into something.

    You’ve failed.

    You will never win.

    You cannot put the genie back in the bottle.

    Live with failure every single minute of every single hour of every single day of the rest of your life.

    I have no use for someone of your “intellect” telling me what I can or cannot say or learn.

    And you will have to live with that abject failure forever.

    Now, that’s clearly robust, but is it “uncivil”? There‘s no attack on Jean personally, only on her failure.

    What am I missing?

    • Tea
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      Of course it’s an attack on Jean, and it’s horrible, far beyond uncivil. But that’s not the point. The point is that such behavior is allegedly *characteristic* of gnus – however, one comment made by some random bystander hardly counts as evidence of a group’s characteristic behavior.

      If this random commenter is supposed to be a representative of the new atheists’ behavior, then the person who called OB a useless putrid twat is a representative of accommodationists, such as Jean, Mooney, Plait etc. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

      • Posted February 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        Well, I concur withe what you say from, “The point is…” on.

        But I don’t think there’s any “of course” about that comment. How is it “horrible”? It’s certainly not as if Jean is being called a “useless putrid twat”, is it?

        • ckitching
          Posted February 28, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

          Well, putting intellect in quotations does squarely fall into ad hominem. It is pretty pale compared to to the slur used against Ophelia Benson.

          • Posted February 28, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

            Hmm… Is it squarely ad hominem? Surely, ad hom. refers to attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering their argument. Is calling out a genuine character defect in and of itself ad hom.?

            • Badger3k
              Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

              It is often confused with such. I suppose if all you do is call someone a poopy-head, without saying anything about their argument…that may be one. But in general, insults themselves are not arguments.

              • Posted March 1, 2011 at 4:36 am | Permalink

                still, not, even that is an ad hom.

                ad hom is NOT attacking someone’s character it is using it as an argument.

                “[to] link the validity of a premise[!] to a characteristic or belief of the opponent advocating the premise”

          • Posted February 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

            … and was this attacking Jean’s character in any case?

            • Posted March 1, 2011 at 2:54 am | Permalink

              In any event, it’s a blog comment for Zeus’s sake. Of course there are going to be some robust comments on the gnasty intergnet. I don’t really like the particular comment we’re talking about, but citing blog comments is, once again, just desperate.

              Meanwhile, Jeremy Snark-Hunter is saying much less civil things in that he’s actually saying, in so many words, that some of us are of bad moral character. That’s not an expression of anger or exasperation, written in the heat of the moment; it’s outright character assassination.

              As our host says, he seems to have lost it.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted February 28, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

        Horrible? I’m not even sure it’s uncivil, much less beyond it. The only questionable part to me was putting intellect in quotation marks.

        • Posted February 28, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

          Thanks. I thought I was out on a limb there.

          I hand’t thought to question “‘intellect’” — I took it to be hesitancy about word choice. But, yes, that could be mocking. Not terribly rude, though.

          I think sometimes people confuse civility with cordiality…

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted March 1, 2011 at 3:40 am | Permalink


    • Kevin
      Posted March 1, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Of course it’s an attack on Jean.

      I know it’s an attack on Jean because it’s MY attack on Jean.

      Whether it’s an ad hom or not is open to debate. I didn’t claim that her argument was bad because her “intellect” is in question. I believe that her “intellect” is in question because she would even think such an argument is coherent.

      The statement also happens to be 100% accurate. She is arguing that we should shut up — that we are not “worthy” to enter to the debate.

      I am pointing out that she lost that argument before it even began. And each and every day I am intellectually and physically capable of doing so, I will continue to prove to her that she has lost.

      How it must gall her that I won’t shut up. I’m not even a philosopher!

      • Posted March 2, 2011 at 3:45 am | Permalink

        Of course it’s an attack on Jean – but it seemed to me you’re attacking only her failure, not attacking her personally, not attacking her character.

        If you’d said, say, “You’ve failed, you stupid bitch,” that would have been uncivil. But as it stands, I don’t think so.

        Did you think you were being uncivil when you wrote it? (Did you even think about [in]civility?)

        (In any case, I don’t disagree with anything you said!)

  19. RichieP
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    When Dawkins talked about Nadia Eweida’s “stupid face” I am pretty sure he meant the ‘stupid expression on her face’.
    If interpretated this way- it is not such a good example of incivility.

  20. onkelbob
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I hope this isn’t also seen as uncivil, but I fear that Stangroom, in his monomaniacal quest for incivility of even a trivial sort, has lost it.

    I will often reply to those who exclaim “This is driving me crazy,” that nothing drives me crazy, I’ve been there for years. When you arrive, I will be at the choice campsite across the river. I’ll wave to you.
    “Look at her” has nothing to lose, it was never in his possession.

  21. Kevin
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Dearest Jeremy:

    I have never once threatened someone with everlasting torture for not believing in my position. I have never stated that someone who does not believe in my position is somehow a second class citizen, or not a citizen at all. I consider this far more spiteful insults; among the many others than have been hurled at me by “well meaning” theists.

    Therefore, please be so kind as to fuck off.

    Kindest regards,


    • Rob
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Some interesting phrasing there.

      You have never stated. That doesn’t say squat about your belief.

      • Marella
        Posted February 28, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        What, so we aren’t allowed to have uncivil beliefs now? Even we keep them to ourselves? This looks like thought crime to me.

      • Kevin
        Posted March 1, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink

        I cannot say what someone believes or does not believe. I can only demonstrate what they have stated.

        That’s the difference between evidence and no-evidence.

        And your point would be?

  22. Michael Kingsford Gray
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes incivility is exactly what is required to vigorously shake some sense into lazy confabulists.

  23. Posted February 28, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I think the “that impedes our message” is the most important part. Let Stangroom find as many examples of uncivil atheists as he can. Let him prove “continuous, frequent, and visible incivility”. But that’s all stuff and nonsense if it’s not actually a barrier to the propagation of a rational, naturalistic worldview and the rejection of irrational belief in supernatural deities. Who’s going to say, “Well, you’d almost convinced me that my religion is a load of baloney, but you’re uncouth, so I’ll carry on believing, thank you very much. PS. Jebus still loves you.”?

  24. Posted February 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Richard Dawkins being civil:

    Was this cruel, as the caption asserts?

    • Marella
      Posted February 28, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see how a truthful reply could have been less unpleasant for the questioner. He asked for Dawkins’ opinion, he got it. Don’t ask questions you don’t want to hear the answer to would be my advice. Dawkins was quite civil however.

  25. Posted February 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Can “we” be “uncivil”? Sure, there’s never been (contra Jean) any assertion to the contrary! We object to 2 claims: one, that we’re any less civil than, a, religious people, or b, accomodationists. Two, that civility is a goal in and of itself. Civility is, at best, a method of achieving goals that is only good for some situations; Jerry’s discussions with the Methodists in Chicago is a case in point.

    “Civility”, in the sense of “I want to treat people I’m having discussions with fairly”, is a good value to have. So is “Honesty”. Knowing when to ditch one for the other is important.

  26. Posted March 1, 2011 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    My meta-take on the debate, FWIW !

  27. Sigmund
    Posted March 1, 2011 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    I see that Jeremy Stangroom’s current position is that he is disproving the claim from gnu atheists that they are never uncivil!
    Perhaps I’m mistaken here but has that particular claim ever been made by the gnu atheists?
    It seems like a wild shift of the goalposts to me, particularly as he simultaneously absolves himself of any similar necessity of perpetual piety.
    And apparently, according to Jeremy, we are all morally repugnant!
    It’s a bit like being accused of being a bit of a drama queen by Lady Gaga.

    • Dave Ricks
      Posted March 1, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      Yes, and for his new goalposts this week, he needs to search the Internet for examples of gnu-incivility-denialism. He knew they were doing something bad — now he’s really going to get them with this!

      My meta-meter melted. Way to avoid the arguments.

    • Posted March 1, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      Sigmund: Are you channeling Sam Harris?

      • Sigmund
        Posted March 1, 2011 at 7:51 am | Permalink

        Ah yes! I knew someone had made a similar Lady Gaga joke before but couldn’t quite remember the wording or the originator. Sam’s version is definitely better (and still fits ‘Look at her! Stangroom’)

    • Posted March 1, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      In the mean time, I predict Stangroom in turn is going to accuse the atheists of moving the goal posts when they point out he’s merely collecting anecdotes, not data (and that he has to dig pretty deeply for them too). Or for pointing out that New Atheists never claimed they were always perfectly civil.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted March 1, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        Well, we DID all ask for examples of people being “dicks,” and Stangroom is providing them. So I’m not gonna say that his data are useless. But now we get to scrutinize the examples to see 1) if they really are cases of obvious incivility, 2) if that incivility is pervasive in the writings of certain atheists, and 3) whether that incivility actually impedes our message.

        We already know that there are no data bearing on point 3), but now we get to see what accommodationists consider “uncivil.” Stangroom’s examples so far demonstrate that atheists can occasionally make uncharitable remarks (as do we all, including Dr. Stangroom!), but that they are pretty mild ones, and that because he has to trawl deeply for them, they’re not all over the place in the writings of people like Dawkins and Blackford. For crying out loud, Russell is pretty much a gentleman by anyone’s lights!

        And let’s not forget that this kerfuffle, started by accommodationists, is merely a distraction from the real point, which is whether our arguments against religion are convincing. The emphasis on “tone” irritates me no end. The fact that the accommodationists have chosen to concentate on “civility” shows that they have nothing in their intellectual armamentarium.

  28. Bruce Gorton
    Posted March 1, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I like how Stangroom’s last response on that – it illustrates exactly what everyone’s problem with him is.

    I would respond over there – but then Strangroom doesn’t like being contradicted and has thus closed comments.

    1. I’ve made no claim to civility;

    2. I haven’t complained that my critics aren’t giving examples of my incivility;

    3. I’m not a mob;

    4. I haven’t engaged in the systematic, unjustified vilification and bullying of the people with whom I disagree.

    1 – 3 could all equally well be said by his opponents. Blackford claimed Gnu atheists aren’t especially incivil – not that Gnu atheists are devoid of incivility.

    4, well what would you call his current behaviour?

  29. Posted March 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to depart from the subject of discussion slightly here, but look at the nature of these comments. By a vast majority, the post and comments are reasoning, thoughtful, and above all, fair and objective.

    “Should Dawkins have said that?” “No, probably not, and it’s a valid example, just not indicative of pervasive

    How many other places can you see such a collection of cogent, careful responses, without abject defensiveness and blatant redirection? No sniping, no whining, and even the bashing is directed and specific to a target.

    Damn, I love hanging out here! You guys rock!

  30. Posted March 1, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    I just can’t take Jeremy Stangroom seriously on the subject of civility. Jeremy is paying money to keep Ophelia from using the old domain she’d been using for around eight years, and refuses to respond to my attempts to contact him and get the domain transferred. I’ve offered him money, time, technical assistance, recognition, apologies, and he just ignores me. So when I see him talking about civility and ethics, I remember that he’s someone who, given the technical means to silence someone with whom he disagrees, took the opportunity to do so. The few days of downtime at B&W during the redesign, and the error message you get if you try to visit now? That’s courtesy of Jeremy. I don’t call that particularly civil.

  31. Deepak Shetty
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Stangroom’s posts remind me of the tom johnson days when the sock puppets would trawl through Pharyngula hoping to find comments dealing with some sexual act and some sharp object.

  32. Peter Beattie
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    The Great Philosopher has found another juicy bit: “Fuck off, you clueless gobshites”.

    Jesus, somebody really needs to get laid…

    • TheBear
      Posted March 3, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      And the comment section on his site was swiftly closed…

      What a pathetic coward.

      • Posted March 3, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        PZ picked up on it… I suspect Jeremy’s next post will be from the comments over at Pharyngula 😉

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Blackford’s Metamagician blog, Jason Rosenhouse on his science blog, Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True, and even Jeremy  — “Look at her!” – Stangrooom is getting in on the […]

  2. […] take a break from following the “new atheists are the rudest people in the history of the universe” discussion, to take a sad and pitying look at Ronald Conte, a Catholic theologian. (Professional? […]

  3. […] come to my attention that you've recently devoted your blog to the purpose of highlighting uncivil statements […]

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