Dawkins’s book gets a brickbat-filled bouquet from NPR. Also, I’m giving away tickets.

There’s yet more accommodationism from National Public Radio (NPR):

Over at NPR’s cosmos & culture section, a site that seems to be turning into Accommodationism Central, Barbara King reviews Richard Dawkins’s new autobiography, An Appetite for Wonder.  It’s a positive review, with this summary:

So, I approached An Appetite for Wonder with some trepidation. Indeed, the book was lampooned in The Guardian‘s “digested read” feature as boastful and arrogant. But what I discovered was something quite different. It’s a memoir that is funny and modest, absorbing and playful. Dawkins has written a marvelous love letter to science.

Indeed, that Guardian “digested read” was unfair and mean-spirited, and I know because I’ve read the book.

There’s one problem, though. King calls her review “Richard Dawkins’ delightful memoir dilutes the poison.”

What’s the “poison”? You can guess. King refers to a 23-minute radio interview she had with Dawkins last year, which you can hear on another NPR post, “Richard Dawkins celebrates reason, ridicules faith.” (King, by the way, is an anthropology professor at my own alma mater, The College of William and Mary.)

In much of the interview, King takes out after Dawkins for insulting people as well as their faith.  She really is like a dog with her teeth in the postman’s leg, and clearly has the agenda of defending faith against not only accusations of falsity, but against any criticism at all.

She summarizes the interview in a small essay on the post, which includes this (my emphases):

On his blog last year, Dawkins called a person named Minor Vidal a “fool” for his expression of thanks to God after surviving a deadly plane crash. (To be fair, Dawkins called “billions” of other people fools, too, in the same post.)

Dawkins told me that if he insulted any person, he regrets it. But this example shows how hard it is, in practice rather than theory, to aim harsh language only at a person’s belief, and not at the person.

Another example comes from Saturday’s rally. There, Dawkins noted his incredulity when meeting people who believe a Communion wafer turns into the body of Christ during the Eucharist. He then urged his followers to “mock” and “ridicule” that. (He says this 13 minutes into the video, though it’s best to watch the whole thing.) His exact words after describing the Catholic ritual, were “Mock them. Ridicule them.” So by “them” did he intend to refer to Catholic beliefs, not Catholic people? In context, it doesn’t seem so to me.

How much does that distinction matter? When it comes to religion, does demeaning a person’s belief not also demean the person?

Why use demeaning terms, and urge others to use them, for either the belief or the person? Surely it’s not adequate justification that some religious people are guilty of the same sin, or worse. Doesn’t the embrace of reason compel a person to rise above a grade school calculus of that sort?

. . . My steadfast disagreement with Dawkins emerges from his refusal to see that the expression of faith isn’t inevitably a simple-minded approach to living. I’m a big fan of reason. I’m just no fan of the stereotype, embodied by Dawkins, that we atheists equate others’ religious faith with a lack of intelligence or courage, or both.

Well, we can disagree about how often faith is “sophisticated” and “not simple-minded.”  I’d bet that King, an academic, rubs elbows with religious people who are extremely liberal—almost atheists. Nevertheless, I’d also bet that they aver belief in things like a divine being who came to earth as his own son, was executed, and then was resurrected.

But since King claims to be a “big fan of reason,” doesn’t she agree that faith based on revelation and dogma, but not on evidence and reason, attest to some lack of rationality, or to unreflective “wish thinking”?  (Of course King says nothing about the palpable harms of faith.) But to argue, as King does, that demeaning beliefs is the same as demeaning persons, is simply a tactic to make atheists shut up.

In truth, criticizing religious beliefs is often taken as a personal attack. My response to that is, “Too bad!” Religion doesn’t get a pass over any other form of belief because discussing it hurts people’s feelings. As someone once said in reference to such criticism, “Nobody has a right not to be offended.”

Do listen to the interview and see if you detect any “poison” in Dawkins’s responses. I know I’m biased, but I found his responses temperate and—given King’s animus—respectful.

Oh, and has King (who admits she’s an atheist) spent any time criticizing those believers who denigrate atheists? That all starts in the Bible with Psalm 53:1:

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.
Maybe someone can explain to me why people like King, who are atheists, spend far more time criticizing and tone-trolling other atheists than in criticizing the follies of faith and the viciousness of many who promulgate religion. Nor do they suggest ways to criticize faith without hurting people’s feelings. Ask yourself this as an atheist: what is more harmful in this world: religious belief or the perceived offensiveness of those who criticize it?
It will be a cold day in July when, for instance, we hear a critique of Islam on NPR.
******
CONTEST:  I have four extra tickets (free) for the Dawkins book-tour event at Northwestern University next Thursday, which involves my 45-minute conversation with Richard, an equally long Dawkins Q&A with the audience, and then his book signing (I’ll be signing mine, too). If you’re in the Chicago area and want to come, please add a short (no more than two-sentence) request in the comments, explaining why you deserve a ticket.  The judgment of Professor Ceiling Cat, which will be rendered by Monday a.m., is final.

97 Comments

  1. Dominic
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    …”no, not one.”

    I would be the last to claim I am beyond being an idiot, but I reserve the right to mock others for being idiotic. Which IS what religion IS!

  2. Barry Lyons
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    “I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.” — Daniel Dennett

    • matt
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      i am woefully behind on my Dennett reading, but i think i’ll remedy that this weekend. great quote.

  3. LS
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    So they can say everyone but them is going to hell, and that’s not a personal insult?

    • Andrew B.
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      I agree with your point. Many people seem to believe that tone is all that matters. This allows the religious to repeat their insulting beliefs with FEELING that they’re being insulting, when it’s the ideas themselves which are insulting.

    • gluonspring
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      It’s more than an insult if you have to grow up with it, it’s terrorizing abuse.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 28, 2013 at 5:39 am | Permalink

      So they can say everyone but them is going to hell, and that’s not a personal insult

      No, it’s a threat.
      As I headed away from the taxi rank for the bus stop last night (much quieter and safer), one man was using insulting (and anatomically impossible, without major surgical intervention) language to describe another’s sexual organs, while the target of the description was making threats about the sunshine-deficient place where a beer bottle was going to be shoved ; the police understood the distinction quite clearly and knew who to knock down with the pepper spray.
      No, I don’t take threats of eternal hellfire as being metaphors. They may be ineffectual, but absolutely they are threats of personal harm.

  4. freethinkinfranklin
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    I agree with Mr. Dawkins, we must ridicule the ridiculous. Not doing so is the same as condoning it and I in no way will ever condone religion or its indoctrination of children. A fool is a fool is a fool, as a turtle is a turtle, what should Mr. Dawkins call a turtle, a lion ??? NPR is appeasing those who hold the purse strings, namely our congress.

  5. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    Maybe someone can explain to me why people like King, who are atheists, spend far more time criticizing and tone-trolling other atheists than in criticizing the follies of faith and the viciousness of many who promulgate religion.

    Because they are afraid to be associated with anything that has even the slightest hint of intolerance. So they tolerate the intolerable and by doing so involuntarily gives the religionists a free-pas.

    For an atheist to make the headline it only requires words of disagreement. For a religionist to make the headline it requires violence or a call for violence.

    • Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      Is a “free-pas” anything like a “faux-pas?”

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

        Probably not. How come I suddenly feel like I made one, though? 😉

      • Cliff Melick
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        No, it’s more like a “faux-pass”.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      I think it’s one of two things:

      1) It’s kind of like a mundane pascal’s wager with the reward being universal adoration (yes I know it is not possible but I think it’s their goal) and/or financial payoffs. They are trying to please everyone.

      2) They are offended by confrontation and conflict and don’t recognize the benefit of conflict (and see it only as offensive) so they try to distance themselves from those atheists who engage in conflict.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        Agreed, and it could be a mix of those things.

        Though I’m not especially proud of it, I remember back from my agnostic years that the fear of being associated with anyone who said anything that appeared emotionally insensitive to a large group of people would automatically be labelled as “intolerant” and “unreasonable”. It was all about emotions and not so much about facts.

        I never thought about money, but now that you mention it…I really hope it isn’t just about that though.

  6. Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Better rude than deadly.

    Religions and their followers have no right to be spared the criticism they have fairly earned by thousands of years of inquisition, persecution, war, burnings, imprisonment, dictatorship, intrigue, imperialism, anti science, and lies. Dawkins has never indulged himself in or defended the tactics of the world’s religions.

    King has forgotten the little ditty: “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.”

    • Willard Bolinger
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I have an student renting a bedroom who is from Saudi Arabia and attending the university near me. He is Islamic, 25, with a business degree from Saudi Arabia. He is a “true believer” and says everything in the Koran is accurate including all scietific claims. My reading finds it to accepts much of the Bible claims while changing some claims. Flat earth, stars can fall to the ground because they are lights in the sky, the moon gives off its on light instead of reflecting the sun’s light. I did a seach under “scientific inaccuracies in the Koran” and came up with a huge page. People might check it out. Reading the first two chapers of the Koran was amazing at how amazingly simple minded it is!! If you think the Bible is really ridiculous try reading the Koran.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted September 28, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

        Your true-believer lodger should, if he were a true true-believer, have sought out and destroyed your non-Arabic copy of the Koran.

  7. Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    I deserve a ticket to the event at NWU as I’m a British ex-pat atheist living in a sea of stupid in Indiana (but working in Chicago). To witness 45 minutes of reason would be restorative, to say the least.

  8. Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    //

  9. Brad
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Jerry, what if it could be shown that accomodationism might actually reduce faith and increase the mainstreaming of science over the next twenty? Would you change your stance? Don’t you ever get the sense that opposing faith strengthens it, gives it something to sharpen itself against?

    • Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Well, if it were shown definitively I’d rethink my strategy. But right now I simply can’t see how leaving religion alone, or saying it’s okay to be religious and accept science at the same time, will help reduce religion. It hasn’t worked for BioLogos, for instance, which has devolved from accommodationism to pure apologetics as they’ve seen their attempts fail to engage in scientific outreach with evangelical Christians.

      I simply can’t envision a psychological mechanism whereby accommodationism rids the world of faith. Dawkins has a well-filled Converts Corner testifying to the efficacy of his so-called “stridency”, but there is no Converts Corner at BioLogos.

      • Greg Esres
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

        I simply can’t envision a psychological mechanism whereby accommodationism rids the world of faith.

        Well, I can. It’s been shown that validating someone’s worldview makes them more open to scientific evidence, whereas threatening their worldview makes them more closed to it.

        It might be that telling them that evolution doesn’t threaten their religious views would make them more open to accepting evolution. This would be a bit of a Trojan horse, because we know that evolution is the Universal Acid.

        It’s unconvincing to suggest that lack of a converts corner on Biologos is evidence that this doesn’t happen. Even if it did, you wouldn’t see it there, would you? I certainly accepted evolution long before I lost my religious beliefs and it probably took some degree of rationalization to maintain this state as the Universal Acid went slowly to work.

        • Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

          Your question was twofold: would going easy on faith help get rid of faith, and, second, would it promote the spread of science. Your “evidence” doesn’t address the first assertion, and I still can’t see how going easy on faith (i.e. NOT criticizing it) will make people abandon it. As for accommodationism impeding science, I prefer the testimony of people (more than just one anecdote) over psychological studies, which don’t say anything about the real-world efficacy of accommodationism.

          Look, there are hundreds of letters from former religious people—and some to me—saying that the combination of evolution and atheism has helped dispel their faith. I am aware of NOBODY who has said, “You know, if Dawkins would just shut up, I’d accept evolution.” I guess you think that Dawkins would have made even more converts to evolution than he already has (and there are thousands) if he hadn’t written the God Delusion.

          We all do what we can, and I’m sorry, but I am unable to take the accommodationist line because I don’t believe it, and I’d be lying if I espoused it. And I won’t keep quiet about religion because I think it’s harmful. Nor will I stop trying to educate people about evolution, though I don’t mix it much with atheism–I don’t teach that in my classes and it’s not in my book.

          So are you suggesting that I a. lie and espouse accommodationism, or b. keep quiet about my critiques of religion?

          • Greg Esres
            Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

            So are you suggesting that I a. lie and espouse accommodationism, or b. keep quiet about my critiques of religion?

            Nope, I like your pugnaciousness. 🙂 If I were a billionaire, I would pay you to quit your day job and engage in full-time activism.

            You simply said you couldn’t envision a mechanism and I proposed one. I have no idea of what is statistically effective in the real world, nor does anyone, unfortunately. While we can say that accommodationism doesn’t work, we really don’t know that, because we don’t know how things would be if we didn’t have the accommodationists at work in the world.

            The real truth appears to be that nothing is working very well.

            • Timothy Hughbanks
              Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

              If I were a billionaire, I would pay you to quit your day job and engage in full-time activism.

              Well, we’re still not sure whether Jerry is the AntiChrist, but I think we’ve found the AntiTempleton.

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 28, 2013 at 12:33 am | Permalink

              Previous discussions of this topic have generally arrived at the conclusion that different people respond best to different tactics. I’ve no doubt that certain personality types respond best to accomodationist approaches, others to more confrontational ones. Some need the proverbial whack to side of the head with a clue-by-four.

    • steve oberski
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      One way to test this hypothesis would be to look at the historical record: can a case be made that accomodationism help initiate and catalyse the enlightenment ?

      Is accomodationism helping in the preservation of enlightenment values or is it acting to their detriment ?

      Specifically the development of (nominally) secular democracies, say in western Europe, Canada, the U.S. and Australia could be examined to determine whether accomodationism helped or impeded their development and what it’s current role is in their preservation and growth.

    • Sastra
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      … what if it could be shown that accomodationism might actually reduce faith and increase the mainstreaming of science over the next twenty? Would you change your stance?

      Not necessarily. We can’t eliminate the possibility that accomodationism only reduces faith BECAUSE there are also people out there promoting a clear-headed and consistent stance on science all the way down (and into religion.) If there is an Overton Window effect, then gnu atheists changing their stance would be counterproductive.

      There’s also a moral problem here: the benevolent lie. “The ends justifies the means” can be a rather dangerous guiding principle. I’d personally be more comfortable dealing with any unfortunate down side of honesty than discovering there are new problems cropping up because I’ve been dishonest-for-good-reasons.

      Don’t you ever get the sense that opposing faith strengthens it, gives it something to sharpen itself against?

      Heh, this is what atheists are told all the time by the religious. “The more you oppose my faith, the more I believe.” So of course we’ve — I’ve — considered it.

      But I don’t buy it. At least, I’m very suspicious of a side with a bad argument telling the side with a good argument that debate and discussion and argument are all “counterproductive.” If we just hold back on a passionate advocacy for truth, set aside our excellent, solid, intellectual reasons for atheism, and stop challenging folks with ideas then the faithful are all just going to naturally drift away from faith. They’ll start to agree with us on their own if only we shut up.

      Frankly, I get the sense that it doesn’t really work that way. But I can understand too well why the other side might assure me that no, it does work that way.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

        Yes! The benevolent lie is just trouble – I completely agree that I’d rather the truth even if there was a downside. This is why I’d be a crummy politician.

  10. Bruce S Springsteen
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Twit doesn’t know what stridency is. Here’s a sample of the real deal:

    NPR has become insufferably smug and mawkish. Hour after hour of comfy leftish hand-wringing, interlarded with lint diddling navel-gazing. My only interest in their drowsing audience and canned perspective is to unsettle its coffee klatch pseudo-intellectualism, easy-peazy outrage, and knee-jerk soft-boiled sanctimony. I’m a liberal, you see, and that’s not so easy as NPR wants to make it look.

    There. That’s how you do strident.

    • Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      Sums it up rather nicely I think. If the color beige were a radio network, it would be NPR.

  11. Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    But to argue, as King does, that demeaning beliefs is the same as demeaning persons, is simply a tactic to make atheists shut up.

    I’m not altogether sure it’s counterproductive to call people idiots when they’re doing idiotic things. It would certainly be counterproductive if it were the only argument being offered, but it’s far from that.

    Just as some people who’re behaving misguidedly will respond to sweet reason and most will continue behaving misguidedly whatever the argument offered, there are some (me, for instance) who can be jolted out of their complacent misguidedness by being told they’re being an idiot. (It’s what friends are for, after all.)

    A related point is that many misguided people will, as I know from personal experience of science deniers, respond to any contrary argument offered to them with accusations that they’re being insulted. Inventing an insult is a great way of avoiding having to deal with the substance of the criticism.

    • Romuald.
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      That.

      Calling people “fools” will not convince them. I will not call my wife, my father in law, or my colleague as “fools” or “stupid” because they believe in the sacred books(Bible for the first 2, Quran for the last one).

      As Scott Adams(Dilbert) says, we are all fools. Most of the time. People make mistakes all the time. Believeing in the letter of those old books is a mistake. Many clever people make this mistake, or another one. It happens. People are not perfect. But if you want to free them from those writings, calling them “fools” is highly counterproductive.

      Most people accept insults only from themselves. You lose if you say them they’re stupid. You win if THEY say “Im stupid”.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      there are some (me, for instance) who can be jolted out of their complacent misguidedness by being told they’re being an idiot. (It’s what friends are for, after all.)

      There is also a human tendency to rationalize things that make us feel good, and it feels good to call someone an idiot. That’s why I’m a bit suspicious of arguments that justify it.

      And it’s different to have the accusation come from a friend; you already have a trust relationship with that person, so the accusation tends to skirt the defensiveness that would occur if an enemy did the same thing.

      • Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        There is also a human tendency to rationalize things that make us feel good, and it feels good to call someone an idiot. That’s why I’m a bit suspicious of arguments that justify it.

        Oh, I do very much agree with you on that. That’s why my comment was so cautiously expressed.

        What I’m concerned with is whether the technique is effective or not. If used on its own it obviously isn’t: both sides are soon in a feces-hurling contest. But, used as one in a spectrum of techniques that includes education, rational argument and even — gasp! — accommodationism, it seems it could have a place.

        • Greg Esres
          Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

          “it seems it could have a place.”

          And it may. Lord knows, I use it. But I justify it by its possible effect on the indecisive, rather than the fools themselves.

          Still, I have a friend who is a former fundamentalist that was “jolted” out of his beliefs by the ridicule against the faithful. He said he’d always viewed himself as a smart person and being thought of as a fool hurt his pride, so he started reading. He’s still a theist, although he grants me the truth of any claim I wish to make, so he’s really an atheist in all but name.

  12. Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    sub

  13. ladyatheist
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    I call people who thank god for surviving some disaster that killed other people selfish jerks at the very least. Dawkins is too kind to them by calling them “fools.”

    • gluonspring
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      I call them “narcissistic” which sometimes gives me a chance to slip away before the blow lands.

      • Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        I call them “narcissistic” which sometimes gives me a chance to slip away before the blow lands.

        It can be effective to suggest that their proselytizing is arrogant, and that they should remember the Good Lord recommended humility.

    • Posted September 27, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      I agree. I think it’s one of the most disgusting things a person can say. Imagine how the relatives and friends of the unlucky ones feel when they hear that. It’s basically, “thanks god, for causing this horrible tragedy and killing these innocent people and giving me a front row seat.”

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

        Yes, in this regard I call them misguided when I’m feeling generous & arrogant when I’m not.

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    In his BBC documentary “The God Delusion” (previously titled “The Root of All Evil”) Dawkins is fairly deferential to the Archbishop of Canterbury while scornful of Ted Haggard. In his 2012 documentary “Sex Death and the Meaning of Life” (not listed on the Internet MOvie Database) he is extremely deferential to a grieving Catholic couple who are clients of a place that does funerals for fetuses and stillborn children. He’s been on BBC talk shows where the panel is a rabbi, a priest, a minister, and Richard Dawkins (for real- I know it sounds like a joke set up) and in that format he’s always deferential.

    The half-truth in Barbara King is that it is difficult when writing about religion to figure out how to put a human face on religion without buying into any of its beliefs or claims, though NPR tries hard. But when faith turns malignant I say mock and ridicule boldly.

    I can understand the urge to tone-troll. I myself have two sets of friends, liberal Christians and atheists, who very much dislike each other. As I primarily self-identify as a Buddhist (albeit an atheist one), I’m more or less non-threatening to both groups. And I have tone-trolled! But I certainly hope I’m not doing it, as Jerry C put it, “more than criticizing the follies of faith” (which to me are most painful when even liberal religious folks slip into post-modernist attacks on science- more than any other time that is when I think liberal religion is on a slippery slope into some really bad thinking.)

    Note to tone-trollers. If tone bothers you, than why not at least also pay some high complements to Carl Sagan, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Shermer if you feel compelled to diss Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins??? Critics of new atheism Vincent Bugliosi and Frank Schaeffer have done just that!! I wish more would.

  15. Greg Esres
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    It must be said, though, that Dawkins does insult people explicitly and I’ve also heard him deny that he does so.

    I don’t have a problem with his calling people fools, because they are, but it does look bad when he’s caught denying the fact.

  16. peltonrandy
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    A fool is as a fool says. When a person makes foolish statements then they deserve to be called a fool in that instance. In this instance King has made foolish remarks. In this instance she too is a fool.

  17. Sastra
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    When it comes to religion, does demeaning a person’s belief not also demean the person?

    But that’s precisely the problem. When people add the element of “faith” to their conclusions they insert themselves and their values into the mix.

    When you get right down to it, a faith belief is supposed to be based on evidence which is insufficient for the cold-hearted, the narrow-minded, the self-important, and those who are closed to the wonders of the spirit — but it’s sufficient enough for people with depth, sensitivity, and the capacity for hope: the humble believer.

    Think about this. Even though the religious emphasis is usually placed on that second part the first part is always implicit. It has to be because it logically follows. If you CHOOSE to believe through an act of faith and such a choice is a virtuous one, then the flip side is just as true. The lack of faith is a vice, a defect, a failure of character and heart. Because this isn’t a case of reason, where the people who get it wrong are making errors in judgement, knowledge, or background. It’s been shoved into the identity category. Your conclusion reflects what you are. You’re either on the side of the entire damn Purpose of Existence … or you’re not.

    So who the hell is demeaning whom here?

    Theists are not stupid, no. But neither are the atheists. We are noticing this … and we are noticing that when it comes to respecting each other as equals this is going to matter.

    Why use demeaning terms, and urge others to use them, for either the belief or the person? Surely it’s not adequate justification that some religious people are guilty of the same sin, or worse. Doesn’t the embrace of reason compel a person to rise above a grade school calculus of that sort?

    It’s not “some religious people.” It goes well beyond that. The entire SYSTEM of faith is a giant offensive “demeaning term.” The existence of God is a hypothesis — and a bad one, too. People connecting their conclusions on these issues to the basic part of their identity is a problem to be solved, not a special circumstance to be acknowledged and respected.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      But that’s precisely the problem. When people add the element of “faith” to their conclusions they insert themselves and their values into the mix.

      True. It’s like a game of chicken where they jump in front of the bus and dare you to keep on coming. And if you do, then who looks like the bad guy?

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      What Sastra said. In an article in this week’s New Scientist Adam Corner laments that the world won’t listen to facts (about climate change) because the arguments are not about facts but politics and values. People work backwards from their values filtering facts according to their pre-existing beliefs.

      So if your pre-existing beliefs (faith, values) include some notion of a god you can’t hear any contrary evidence. It’s not that people are fools for believing foolish things, it’s that they are blinded by the foolish things they believe.

      Far better then to argue that, as good people, they could be more effective doing good works (or setting examples for the young, or saving the world etc) if they understood the sciences behind human motivations. I’d try and persuade them that being better evangelists wasn’t worthy though…

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

        Your brain gives you a little bit of a chemical punishment when the things you believe in are challenged & it gives you a little reward when you “solve” something so we all know what that feels like.

        The difference is often that those who are religious (like many others with deeply held beliefs) are not willing to confront the painful brain chemical punishment and reason through it (because it’s way too painful) where others who are challenged about their beliefs (scientific or otherwise), if they happen to be logical will consider why they are experiencing that pain and will endure it if evidence shows them otherwise (and get the chemical reward at the end for solving something).

    • Greg Esres
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      One thing I’ve noticed, too, is that while you can criticize someone’s facts without offending them (sometimes), when you criticize their thinking processes, it’s a different ballgame.

      And it’s really in the thinking processes where people go awry; their incorrect facts are merely a symptom of that.

    • gluonspring
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      +1

      Credulity is not a virtue.

      It’s strange, but if you grow up in a very religious environment such an obvious fact has to be learned. It’s made harder to learn because it saturates culture. Even the most religion-free movies, for example, often have some element of faith as the key virtue of the protagonist.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      “You’re either on the side of the entire damn Purpose of Existence … or you’re not.”

      Nicely said.

      And of course implicit in that is that it is grossly immoral, severly lacking in character, to be against “the entire damn Purpose of Existence”.

      Luckily in modern times believers are much more likely to just pretend to feel sorry for such repugnant lost souls instead of persecuting or killing them.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      The lack of faith is a vice, a defect, a failure of character and heart…

      …or, a mental illness,

      Which makes Richard Dawkins the intellectual equivalent of an amputee, furiously waving his stumps in the air, boasting that he has no hands.

      Sean Thomas is very much on board with your analysis. The essential difference between him and other faith-heads was that he revels in the ugly bigotry your conclusion reveals, with most other “people of faith” are more polite – at least in print.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 28, 2013 at 6:02 am | Permalink

      If you CHOOSE to believe through an act of faith and such a choice is a virtuous one, then the flip side is just as true. The lack of faith is a vice, a defect, a failure of character and heart.

      Which explains why, for example, when getting official permission to do stuff in the UAE in the 1990s, I was told that I couldn’t submit my forms with “Atheist” in the “religion & sept” box, but that I’d be better to put myself down as a Jew. Fortunately, at that time I don’t think they had the death penalty for atheism (well, “apostasy” technically), though I gather that it is spreading with the “Arab Spring.”

  18. WC
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    FOR THE CONTEST!

    I am an Iraqi-American woman atheist (a minority wrapped in minority wrapped in a minotiry) – your and Richard Dawkins’ books changed my worldview and helped me understand the science behind everything we are.

    I would be crazy, nerdily excited to see you two speak and sign my copies of your books, please and thank you!

    • ladyatheist
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      + and *like*

    • Marta
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      You’re a ticket winner for sure, in my book.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      + 2

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      +1 for the “nerdily excited” part alone 😀

  19. nurnord
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    JERRY !!! Here is potentially even more material for you to discuss with Richard at that meet. Latest article over at RDFRS…

    “Atheism to be taught to Irish schoolchildren” (including mention of RD’s books to be used as teaching material !).

    NOTE: I put a space between .net & / to stop the whole thing coming up, remember to close it up…

    http://www.richarddawkins.net /news_articles/2013/9/26/-atheism-to-be-taught-to-irish-schoolchildren#

  20. Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    The religious texts are unquestionably the best “evidence” to be had for the historical truth claims of religions, and they don’t even pretend to be anything other than childish faery tales — and particularly nasty ones at that.

    Just as there’s no “polite” way to address an adult who sincerely thinks clapping will save Tinkerbell’s life, there’s no “polite” way to address an adult who sincerely thinks a robed witch doctor can chant an incantation to transmogrify a stale cracker into ancient zombie flesh. Even if “Tinkerbell” is presented as some sort of metaphor meaning the personification childish impish spiritedness, or the zombie flesh is supposed to represent the fortitude gained from simple sustenance. Or whatever.

    The religious want to enjoy the dubious benefits of soiling the bed without the consequences of being known as bed-wetters, that’s all. It’s every bit as immature a desire as the fantasies they profess belief in.

    If it makes them feel bad, tough shit. All they have to do is grow up — something they should have done loooooooong ago.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • gluonspring
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      I think feeling bad is an inevitable and unavoidable part of the process of losing faith. It’s inherently painful to see something you identify with collapse and be swept away. The hypo is going to sting a little, but we should administer the cure nonetheless.

      • Posted September 27, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        Indeed, there is no coming to consciousness without pain.

        b&

      • Cliff Melick
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        Do it early in life and they will heal more rapidly, and forget about the pain.

    • Posted September 27, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      I love the word “transmogrify.” It’s right up there with “transverberate.” I wonder if one can transverberate like St. Theresa with the body of JC, after the transmogrification is complete. Thank goodness we have professional theologians to answer these kinds of deep and important questions.

      • Gordon
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        I had to google transverberate which was unhelpful until a song called Both Crosses came up with the lines “You catholic girls you start much too late/Baby let’s transverberate.” Must be a good day, new word with two useful meanings and also the dictionary one (which on googling at least didn’t mention the two useful ones.

        • pacopicopiedra
          Posted September 27, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

          Yes, if it weren’t for The Hold Steady, I wouldn’t have known the word either. They are a great band. Songs filled with sex, drugs, and Catholic imagery.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted September 28, 2013 at 6:09 am | Permalink

          I cannot read or hear the phrase “Catholic Girls” without reaching for about 20% of my music collection which is by Frank Zappa.
          Time for the MP3 player!

  21. Richard Olson
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    sub

  22. Aaron S.
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    My wife and I have our tickets already and our Dawkins books ready to be signed, but I’m hesitant to buy yours. You see, I already have the audiobook from Audible, so I don’t want to pay again, but I would if I could be guaranteed I’d get a cat drawing. So, how ’bout it?

    • Marta
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Pretty sure that, if you tucked a check payable to Doctors Without Borders into WEIT when you asked Jerry to sign, you’d get your cat picture (but I’d try to be at the front of the line. Or the end of it, for that matter, so you weren’t holding everyone up.)

      But I could be wrong.

      • Posted September 27, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        Well, a check to DWB would be nice, and would get you a cat, but this is almost tantamount to selling cat drawings, so I’ll provide an alternative secret phrase which, if you say it, will get you a cat in your book (I will personalize them,too, as I won’t sell nearly as many as Richard). The secret words are:

        “94 MILLION YEARS”

        Anybody know what that represents?

        • Posted September 27, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

          Anybody know what that represents?

          How long it would take Ken Ham to read WEIT?

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

            Ha! Nice one!

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted September 28, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

          I guess the origin of the feline genus/ family/ order/ … “taxon” is a good word, unlikely to actually be wrong.
          Oh, hang on, I see Ben’s answer below. Yeah, that makes sense, “molecular clocks, caveat, caveat!”
          The mammalian fossil record isn’t inconsistent with that number, but it is terribly sparse. And it’s mostly teeth. I’m pretty sure that tricuspid teeth were around by then, in otherwise undistinguished little shrew-like insectivores scurrying around between the dinosaur coprolites.

    • Posted September 27, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Yeah just say “94 million years” and you’ll get your cat.

      • Aaron S.
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Thanks! I will do that. And, “94 million years” doesn’t ring a bell, but Google tells me there was a mass extinction 94 MYA. Something to do with that?

        • Aaron S.
          Posted October 4, 2013 at 4:10 am | Permalink

          I gotta say, I was pretty disappointed. I bought a second copy of WEIT, this one made out of a dead tree, just to have it signed, only to find that you had seemingly vanished before I had a chance to say “94 million years.”

  23. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I admit that I’ve been told that I have the type of personality where I don’t really notice if someone is “offensive” to others.

    However, I have never found Dawkins as rude or harsh and if he offends accidentally, he apologizes (which I don’t see from his criticizers). I listened to the interview, and I think Richard was quite lovely and not at all offensive.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      In his public appearances, Dawkins unfailingly exhibits the refined manners of an Oxford don. In his books and articles, as well, he comes off as considered and considerate.

      It is, in general, only when a comment of his is wrenched from its context that he sounds shrill or ill-tempered (though he seems sometimes to use especially sharp passages to grab the attention of believers in his audience, the way one might employ a brisk face-slap to re-focus a person in the grips of a babbling fit). This is why Twitter is not his métier; he does himself no favors, provides instead ammo for his opponents, by wrenching his own thoughts of their context. He should kick The Twit. (Isn’t there a 12-step app for that?)

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted September 28, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

        He should kick The Twit. (Isn’t there a 12-step app for that?)

        It’s that much more complex than kicking alcoholism that it needs an additional couple of steps?
        (Do I need to go and revise what I know about AA? and … isn’t AA infamous for requiring people to believe in god before it’ll help them get dry, or something equally stupid?)

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted September 28, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

          They want you to believe in something bigger than yourself. I almost want to become an alcoholic so I can make my witty remark about how important sponges are to humans. 🙂

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted September 28, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

          I think AA was the original “12-step” program; the rest are modeled on it and, AFAIK, all require an even dozen steps. One of the AA steps involves a “higher power,” a deliberately ambiguous reference to the god of one’s choosing. I understand that AA now offers meetings that modify that step for atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers.

          Anyway, I didn’t mean to be literal with that 12-step suggestion, only to point out that, for its hardcore addicts, riding the Twit seems an especially noxious drug-of-choice.

  24. Kevin
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    People who thank god for good outcomes are not only misguided they are selfish and ignore the reasonable causes for such outcomes.

    The bitterness that humans have when they feel offended by what others say is often unfounded. People often have trouble distinguishing between 1) I hate you and 2) You are actually just another human but I dislike what you have said or done in this one instance. A good example is the case of aesthetics, like music. I may dislike a piece of music that someone else cherishes and I may tell them that I dislike that music, but why should that cause offense? It is almost always the case that there is significant overlap of the music that this person and I like together (like > two sigma (95%) of all common aesthetic judgements).

    Tolerance or intolerance should also not be confused with offense. The human race needs to have some understanding about how epistemologically rotten religion is. If pointing out how illogical it is to thank god for arbitrarily guiding a plane to safety for random people, then there is little hope to guide a person to reason through their manufactured, irrational offense.

  25. Posted September 27, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t call someone like Minor Vidal a fool. I’d call them, arrogant, narcissistic, and selfish.

  26. Michael Collin
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Jerry should give me one (1) ticket because I have a good question, which fits with a memoir book tour.

    “Professor Dawkins, you have many claims to fame. What one thing do you most hope to be remembered for 200 years from now? Inventor and promulgator of concepts like “selfish gene”, “extended phenotype”, “meme”? Original contributor to biology? Widely read popularizer of biology? Advocate of reason? Converts’ Corner?”

    I live in Waukegan (three churches on every street corner). I have ten Dawkins books and WEIT on my bookshelves. I really have to get out of here for one awesome evening in Evanston with two giants. (boom, sympathy and flattery! come on Professor C, cough it up).

  27. Diane G.
    Posted September 28, 2013 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    OT: When I clicked on my email notification Subscribe button for a newer post, the WordPress subscription management page gave me this notice:

    Your subscription could not be activated, it may have expired.

    WTH?

    I did try re-subscribing, only to get the same message. Anyone have any idea what’s going on?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 29, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      It’s happening to me to, Diane. Maybe WordPress doesn’t like anyone who starts their first name with “Dian”. 🙂

  28. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 29, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    “too” – crap not “to”. That was a total Muphry’s because of my smart joke about our names.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 29, 2013 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t even notice the missing ‘o’ till you pointed it out…

      Hmmm, interesting hypothesis….;)

      Have you tried lately?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 30, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        WordPress now says I’m reactivated. Guess they fixed the glitch.

        • Diane G.
          Posted September 30, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

          Same here. I think there were some posts I was unable to follow, though. Guess they’ll have to get along without my scintillating comments…


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