PZ Gets It

I much appreciated PZ’s post yesterday on different kinds of constructive atheists, including in particular the acknowledgment of the role we philosophical atheists play:

Give credit where it is due — philosophical atheists are the original atheists, and while they are a bit swamped by the rising numbers of scientific atheists, they’re still a major intellectual contributor to how we think. Philosophical atheists aren’t as focused on empiricism; instead they address the logic and assumptions of claims about gods. They may also have a deeper appreciation of history, and consider the causes leading to atheist conclusions.

ExamplesJohn WilkinsCamels With HammersAtheist ExperienceThe Uncredible Hallq.

StrengthsRigor. Asking hard questions. Of all the atheists, philosophical atheists are the most likely to turn on their fellow atheists and demand that they back up their assumptions. This is the team that keeps the rest of us honest, and is essential to the integrity of the movement.

Weaknesses: Long-winded, and to the rest of us, fussy and annoying. These are also probably the least charismatic of the atheists: it’s really hard to rally around a detailed discussion of modus ponens. Unless you’re a philosopher.

Common phrase: Phrase? These are philosophers. You’re more likely to get a treatise out of them.

He does a really good job summing up the strengths and weaknesses of Scientific Atheists, Humanist Atheists, and Political Atheists, and then of discussing the problems when the different camps engage in internecine warfare by refusing to appreciate each other. In this regard he specifically mentioned Scientific Atheists’ occasional hostility to philosophers as a weakness and specifically called out Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking for that. Again, much appreciated.

I think the only group that is missing is the atheists who seek to build alternative constructive institutions to the religious ones. They want to proactively help build communities and networks among irreligious people. They take an active interest in meeting the various needs that people presently turn to religion for. They encourage important discussions about values and institutions for binding people together in common values. They motivate and coordinate atheist volunteerism that helps rehabilitate our maligned public image.

Examples: Some Unitarian Universalists, Atheistic PagansHarvard HumanistsThe Secular Student Alliance, Foundation Beyond Belief, Parenting Beyond Belief, Grief Beyond Belief.

Strengths: They are forward thinking. They keep atheism from over-correcting in its rejection of faith-based, authoritarian theism such that it throws the baby out with the bathwater. They take a psychologically and sociologically realistic perspective on people and recognize that a lot of people desire, and could benefit from, institutions and communal practices that help them work out their views on important philosophical and values issues. They do not just expect atheism either to grow or to stick with the majority of people as something that is purely negative, intellectual, or a matter of only reactionary politics. They are willing to be visionary and pragmatic about meeting peoples’s religious needs through robust alternatives to faith, irrationalism, partriarchy, and authoritarianism.

Weaknesses: By trying to serve the functions religious groups do, they risk replicating the same sorts of mistakes that make religions harmful. In focusing on the positive image of atheism they sometimes shirk excessively from confrontational atheism. They sometimes fail to appreciate, and will outright denounce, atheists who are focused on anti-theist philosophy, science, or politics as counter-productive troublemakers. Wanting acceptance and recognition as positive and constructive, they will show an excessive, principle-compromising willingness to participate in joint endeavors with the religious that overly downplay points of disagreement.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • ecchymosis

    They need a name. Community atheists?

  • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    I really hope that you’re not inviting Alain de Botton to join! ;-)

  • leftwingfox

    I think this is mixing “cause” and “effect” categories.

    The four branches of thoughtful atheism PZ points out are elements of what brings people intellectually to Atheism: Science, Philosophy, Politics and Humanism.

    I don’t see community building atheists as a category in the way the above are: something that brings people into atheism. I see this more of the first entry into a completely separate category list of atheist actions (Community builders, structure builders, anti-religious activists, individualists, etc)

  • http://ms-daisy-cutter.dreamwidth.org/ Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

    In the case of Harvard Humanists, they consider at least some of the “mistakes” they risk replicating to be features and not bugs. They want to be the new “popes” of atheism, and damn, does it ever grind their gears that the rest of us aren’t interested in genuflecting to them.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Citation needed.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      In the meantime, here’s what a Harvard Humanist said in reply to this accusation when I asked him about it:

      Daniel Fincke: So, I hear that in addition to being a philosophy doctoral candidate you are also a cult leader. Care to comment on that allegation?

      James Croft: It is absolutely true: my grand design, hitherto unrevealed (and how you worked it out is beyond me) is to fuse Humanism with Scientology to create a cult of personality around myself. Fair cop.

      I always kind of laugh and facepalm at the same time when people say I’m interested in starting a cult, because cults are absolutely antithetical to my worldview and to my ethics. I actually detest them. They fill me with a powerful rage, and that level of anger is very rare for me. I am generally very emotionally upbeat, but cults make me MAD. I am writing my dissertation of Free Thinking precisely because I think intellectual autonomy, freedom of the mind, is a primary value, a sine que non of the good life. And cults directly traduce that value, they besmirch it, and I truly hate them for it. Honestly, cults are one of the few things I thoroughly and utterly detest.

      I am the sort of person who has stood for HOURS on the sidewalk arguing with and protesting Scientologists. As far as I know I am actually responsible for getting the Scientologists out of Harvard Square. And there is this Korean cult called Dahn Yoga also in Harvard which I have protested before. I actually got the mayor of Cambridge to stop declaring a certain day “Brain Education Day” in honor of this cult because I hate it so much. I called the mayor’s office and made sure they stopped doing that. And now Harvard won’t let them do events in our buildings.

      So I hate cults, I hate what they stand for. I think the attempt to control another person’s mind is on of the few things I would call truly evil.

      What I do want to do is create an emotionally compelling, morally intense Humanism. And I think you can do that without remotely becoming a cult. I think a lot of religious communities are emotionally compelling and morally intense without being cultish. But I do recognize, and this is why those comments sting a little, that some forms of social pressure are on a spectrum, and at one end you have the sort of atomized individual and at the other you have the cult member. And I want to push a model of Humanism which is a bit to close to the cult side for some people’s liking (though still very far away). But I understand and respect that concern. I just wish the people who say that would give some consideration to what is actually being proposed instead of jumping to wild conclusions.

      Daniel Fincke: So what you’re saying is you proactively shut down the competing cults to make room for your own. You learned from the Scientologists, with their lawsuits. I get it now.

      James Croft: Yes, correct. I want to clear the market so mine will be more successful. It’s a strategic move. And if anyone wants to take issue with that, my lawyers are watching closely.

      Daniel Fincke: But seriously, how do we protect against authoritarianism? When you say morally intense, people are going to ask, whose values? Emotions are dangerous. Every one of the rotten institutions that plague us today started out with noble intentions and beautiful words about the “brain education” or loving thy neighbor.

      So how are you going to build something that does not follow the logic of power and emotion and manipulation to corruption?

      James Croft: Yes emotions are dangerous. But so is reason unmoored from compassion. I think we have to recognize that reason is one foundational value of Humanism, but only one. And we have to find a way to engage Humanists in the great moral issues of our time. The fact is secular people are simply less engaged in society: they give less money, volunteer less time, donate less blood, vote less often, run for office less (in America, at least). And that has severe political consequences when it comes to gay rights, reproductive rights, trans rights, economic issues. The religious right out-organizes and outspends progressives all the time. And part of the reason, I believe, is that they have a clearer set of values and a more emotionally compelling narrative, alongside local community groups (churches basically) which serve as hubs for organization and spurs to action.

      So you ask “whose values”, I say the time-honored values of reason, compassion and hope which Humanists have been committed to since Humanist Manifesto 1. Seriously, if you can’t get on board with those basic ideas – that reason is the best way to solve human problems, that all human beings should be afforded equal dignity and considered as having equal moral worth, and that we can work together for a better future for our species – then you have no business calling yourself a Humanist. Those values should be non-controversial within the Humanist community.

      Then, how to guard against authoritarianism? You investigate religious (and other) communities to see what they do right and wrong. You research cults to see what not to do. You research social psychology and developmental psychology to get an understanding of how people work in groups and alone. And then you design the community with intentional safeguards against authoritarianism.

      I think you can never be sure that any organization won’t become corrupt. But the response which says “because of the possibility this community might degenerate we should never try to build it” is a defeatist one. I mean, it’s a hopeless stance. It will lead to more of the same of what we’ve got now – energized, organized, right wing religious communities repeatedly defeating a disorganized progressive secular ‘movement’ which will not ‘move’ anywhere. And we have, in my firm conviction, a moral imperative not to let that happen, particularly at a time of great disenchantment with the church – this is exactly the time to strike!

      Read our entire discussion.

    • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

      Wow – I didn’t even have to reply myself! Much kudos to you, sir. Your a real gent =D

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

      I have little to say about Harvard Humanists except that they extended a “Humanist of the Year” award to Seth MacFarlane – purveyor of one of the most vile displays of misogyny, racism, transphobia, and homophobia I’ve seen in some time.

    • http://ms-daisy-cutter.dreamwidth.org/ Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

      “Citation needed”? Like, what kind of “citation” am I supposed to provide in order to demonstrate what imperious, self-important asses they’ve typically acted like, presuming to speak for all of us and smacking us down for our tone when we’re not sufficiently deferential to the powers that be?

      BTW, I’d take anything they told you about their ambitions with a massive grain of salt.

      Oh, and yeah, what Katherine Lorraine said.

    • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

      Ms. Daisy wrote:
      >Like, what kind of “citation” am I supposed to provide in order to demonstrate what imperious, self-important asses they’ve typically acted like, presuming to speak for all of us and smacking us down for our tone when we’re not sufficiently deferential to the powers that be?

      Ever visited Harvard? I did, a couple of months ago. In the course of the day, we did manage to find one nice human being.

      My kid brother went to Harvard: Wow, what they did for his self-esteem! They did nothing for his earning potential, though – best he could do for quite a while was clerk in a video store.

      Harvard – where we boost your self-esteem and teach you nothing of value in the real world!

      Dave Miller in Sacramento

      P.S. I did my Ph.D. at Stanford, marginally less arrogant than Harvard (California cool, y’know).

    • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

      Katherine Lorraine:

      I think it unlikely that we will agree on the matter of Seth Macfarlane. I will say I sent you an email a while back explaining the decision, the discussions it provoked in our community, students’ role in the decision making etc. and never received a reply. I am happy to discuss this issue, and I’ve made a good-faith effort to do so. Suffice to say that I simply do not accept your reading of his work, and that we made the decision conscious of the fact that some people would disagree. It was a somewhat controversial decision, but I don’t think such an obviously wrong one as you seem to think it is.

      If you do want to hear our side of the story, just read the email I sent and respond to it. I do value the push back, because it’s certainly possible that we made a mistake, and if you want to present a fuller argument as to why it was a mistake (which would help us avoid such mistakes in the future) then you know how to reach me.

      Ms. Daisy Cutter:

      Again, I doubt we’re going to reach agreement. I don’t recognize our organization in your characterization, and I don’t think anyone who has worked closely with us would accept it as accurate either. As for PZ’s silly little tantrum, I explained at length over on our website why I think our take is entirely justified, and no one was able to come up with any reason why we should not have made the announcement we did. If you have new arguments, come on over and share them, but at the moment I consider it simply a case of sour grapes. I note, too, that the next time PZ debated one of our staff he refused even to post a link to the video. I can only assume he was just as embarrassed by his execrable performance in that debate as he was by the one you reference.

      PhysicistDave:

      There’s a very unpleasant undertone to your comment (and to a lot of the criticism we receive at the Humanist Community at Harvard) which seems to me to be quite anti-educational. It may be the case that there are a lot of self-important people at Harvard, as at any university. But there are also a lot of extremely talented, hard-working individuals who do a lot to advance the state of knowledge in a particular field. In my view the freethinking movement should be supportive of a proud of such people, who often sacrifice significant portions of their lives to advance human understanding, and who work as hard as anyone I know.

      In the case of the HCH itself, it’s staffed by very talented, dedicated people who could be spending their time doing many other things, but who choose to work to promote Humanism, skepticism, atheism and freethought because they believe passionately in the importance of those ideas. I think we deserve a little more consideration than your comment gives us.

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

      @James:

      I just answered your email.

    • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

      James Croft wrote to me:
      > There’s a very unpleasant undertone to your comment (and to a lot of the criticism we receive at the Humanist Community at Harvard) which seems to me to be quite anti-educational.
      [snip]
      > In the case of the HCH itself, it’s staffed by very talented, dedicated people who could be spending their time doing many other things, but who choose to work to promote Humanism, skepticism, atheism and freethought because they believe passionately in the importance of those ideas. I think we deserve a little more consideration than your comment gives us.

      Typical Harvard response! Simple Harvard pomposity.

      I did not say even a word about the “HCH itself,” which I know and care nothing about.

      I just related my family’s recent experience on your campus (by the way, the folks at MIT were dramatically different – extremely helpful and friendly) and my brother’s experience as a Harvard grad.

      You need to reduce your self-importance a little, college kid.

      By the way, your claim on your blog that “we, the Humanist community, have failed her” is also overly self-important and pompous: can’t you grasp that the young woman simply made a decision you and I happen to disagree with?

      Frankly, I strongly suspect Leah converted mainly to get away from the self-important, pompous busybodies that inhabit this section of the atheist blogosphere. If I had thought of guys like you as my comrades, I too would’ve been tempted to become Catholic!

    • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

      Thanks for the response Katherine – I’ve sent an email back.

      PhysicstDave:

      You mean to tell me your whole anecdote, which began with a quote referencing the group I work for, had nothing to do with us at all, and was merely an irrelevant aside? Pull the other one. You must think me stupid as well as arrogant. At least when you make a dig have the backbone to stand by it.

    • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

      Jimmy Croft wrote to me:
      >You mean to tell me your whole anecdote, which began with a quote referencing the group I work for, had nothing to do with us at all, and was merely an irrelevant aside?

      Oh, this is really incredibly funny! You really, really cannot believe I had never heard of you or your group until you posted an angry message directed to me?

      Oh, no!

      This is the perfect, absolutely, positively perfect proof of Harvard arrogance.

      Look, college kid, I saw Daisy Cutter’s post that had something to do with Harvard, and, yeah, since I was just there a couple months ago and since my kid brother is a Harvard graduate, I decided to have some fun at Harvard’s expense. I assure you that I have other personal anecdotes about Harvard arrogance, none of which have anything to do with you or your little club either.

      Until seeing you pop up in this thread, I had never heard of you. And, as hard as you may find it to believe, most people in this country, even most atheists in this country, have never heard of you, either.

      Even after a bit of googling, I am still not real clear on what you did that seems to make you so widely disliked: Was it that thing giving the award to some TV show guy? Or was it saying your guy bested PZ? I do not know, nor do I really care.

      It is not the case that everyone is out to get you (though maybe almost everyone would like to puncture Harvard pomposity and arrogance a bit). Most human beings do not care about you.

      At all.

      Jimmy also asked:
      >You must think me stupid as well as arrogant.

      Well, now that you raise the point…..

      Dave

    • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

      PhysicistDave: if that’s the case, I was wrong and I apologize.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      There’s nothing arrogant about Croft’s assumption while in this blog’s comments section that you knew who he was and was targeting him on that account. There is no need to be so obnoxious to him.

  • http://www.thomaslawsonbooks.com Thomas Lawson

    I think those groups would fall under the Humanist category. After all, PZ says that is the category for the bleeding hearts. But I’ve got a better name if they are indeed a different stripe:

    Trojan Horse Atheists

    Not that they’re deceptive! Just that they are so difficult for theists to dislike, and have a better chance of changing the hearts of people that might not take to harsher approaches. People that find themselves agreeing with Dale McGowan constantly and eventually realize they’ve been convinced. Then Dale pops out in his tunic and hands them a copy of “Atheism for Dummies!” (Coming March 2013)

  • HP

    Well, to borrow a term from the better class of Forteans, there’s a group I call “Debunkers.” Debunkers love nothing more than to point out motes in others eyes, but they tend to get very defensive about their own planks.

    Examples: Houdini, Randi, Penn Jillette, Martin Gardiner

    Strengths: Very powerful popularizers; for most people debunkers are their first exposure to heretical freethought. Often brilliant entertainers and engaging personalities. Probably served a role in the 20th c. of restricting Spiritualism, Theosophy, and UFO cults to the fringe.

    Weaknesses: Unable to self-examine critically. Prone to rationalizing institutionalized social norms. Unwilling to acknowledge privilege. Libertarianism/deism.

    Common Phrase: All this talk of [pervasive social problem] is divisive! We should be discussing [bizarre fringe belief].

    Of course, maybe you and PZ don’t include Debunkers in the category of thoughtful atheists, but if so, that’s news to me, and it should probably be spelled out somewhere. AFAICT, Debunkers still play an active role in the community.

    • jerthebarbarian

      The “Debunkers” you describe actually seem to be a subgroup of “Scientific Atheists” to me. The entire “skeptic movement” as personified by your examples is based firmly in the scientific/rationalist camp in the same way that other scientific inquiries are, it’s just that instead of investigating evolutionary biology they’re using the same toolkit to show why Bigfoot isn’t roaming the Canadian woods and why the Mothman isn’t lurking in Point Pleasant.

      The inability of people to see their own biases – especially when it comes to questions of privilege – is not unique to this group either. It is something that cuts across all the groups that PZ lumped together (though possibly not as obviously among the Humanists).

  • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    I liked PZ’s article a lot, and I liked your addition too. There’s a lot of value in recognizing that we have different constitutions and different core commitments. I also felt PZ’s post showed a self-awareness and humility that does him great credit. I’d tell him so, but I’m banned ;P.

    • consciousness razor

      I’d tell him so, but I’m banned

      I don’t see you listed in the dungeon, unless you were using a pseudonym. Were you banned at Scienceblogs?

    • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

      No, over here. He hasn’t updated the ‘dungeon’ for a while as far as I can tell. People are just ‘disappeared’ now ;)

    • consciousness razor

      He hasn’t updated the ‘dungeon’ for a while as far as I can tell.

      jamesmacdonald, scifi and porco dio (the last three listed) were all in the past week or two.

      People are just ‘disappeared’ now

      I don’t know who you’d be referring to besides yourself, but I guess it could be you’re just not listed in the dungeon. Have you tried commenting there?

    • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

      I have – my account is banned and I cannot log in. I know at least one other person in the same situation. But to be honest it’s done wonders for my mental health not to think I need to respond there any more. ;)

    • J. J. Ramsey

      Fascinating. Maybe it’s because Croft is a public person. If he listed Croft and a purported reason for banning him, there’s a good chance that there’d be pushback and scrutiny of whether his purported reason was true. It’s not like he can just make up some vague libel (e.g., “he’s a little too solicitous of my family”) and not worry about Croft fighting back.

      (FWIW, once upon a time, before FtB existed, PZ did have an understandable reason for banning me, since I quoted his daughter making an ableist slur against some theists as an example of so-called “strident atheism.” However, he lost whatever moral high ground he had by lying, and eventually got caught contradicting himself pretty badly. It is sort of curious how he can “remember” for two years that he supposedly deleted lewd comments from me about his daughter, only to forget a year later and say that I had only made one comment on his own blog. Given his history, what PZ says about me–or anyone else, for that matter–should be taken with a boulder of salt.)

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      James, you’re not banned from Pharyngula. If you’re logged in at Camels, you’re logged in at Pharyngula; it’s the same login system.

      PZ has confirmed that you are not banned (we’re using that as a social word). It is possible that you are experiencing a block (using that as a technology word). If you are experiencing a block it’s probably because you share an IP address with someone who was banned and blocked.

      If you’re sure you’re logged in there but your comments don’t appear, first thing I’d do if I were you is just make a second account. If that doesn’t work then it looks like you’ve got an IP which is blocked. In that case you should go to one of those “what is my IP” websites (google it), and email your IP to PZ, see if he can fix it.

    • http://fathergriggs.wordpress.com Lord Griggs [Also, Fr.Griggs & Rabbi Griggs]

      James, I had that problem with WEIT,but with a new e-address, it went away.
      Daneil and others, can you follow easily enough my comments?
      My agenda is to get teleology seen as stupid when mechanism rules by ever noting the Coyne-Mayr-Lamberth teleonomic [mechanistic] argument that no divine intent appears so God is a no there there!
      I detail the argument in earlier posts.

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      Also, James, you’re hardly the first person in the world to jump to a conclusion like that over a technical issue, but the stuff you’re saying is unbecoming of you. I know you’re usually better than that. Don’t be paranoid, man, just email PZ and get it worked out.

      — strange gods before me (that’s the nym you’ll remember me by, if you do at all)

    • http://purl.org/NET/JesseW/SundryStuff/ JesseW, the Juggling Janitor

      James — apparently, your difficulty logging in was not due to you being banned from Pharyngula, as PZ has now confirmed that you are “not banned.”

      If you choose not to read or comment there, that’s up to you — but please don’t continue to spread around the claim that you’ve been banned, as it is apparently not true.

    • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

      Thank you to everyone who has looked into this for me – I’m not sure what the problem is, and it’s always possible I’ve made a mistake. If PZ says I’m not banned in happy to take him at his word and will stop saying so.

      All I know is that when I try to comment there it tells me that I need to be logged in to do so, even if I’m logged in on other sites in the network at the time. When I try to log in I get an error saying my username is invalid (even though it is the same as the one I use on the other blogs in the network). This never happened before PZ made a comment in a thread which seemed to suggest he was banning me. I guess I could email him and sort it out, but to be honest it doesn’t seem a huge deal to me – I only mentioned it here because someone asked, and I don’t have the sort of relationship with PZ where I feel that an email like that will be well received. I didn’t want to make a second account because, funny though it may seem, I wanted to respect the fact that PZ can choose who he likes when it comes to commenting privileges on his blog.

      I’m kind of impressed people were willing to ask – thanks again for that.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      All I know is that when I try to comment there it tells me that I need to be logged in to do so, even if I’m logged in on other sites in the network at the time.

      Maybe Pharyngula has a different kind of log-in for everyone than just your normal default one. I am pretty sure that a while back, PZ reluctantly made some sort of log-in necessary for everyone because of the extent of the spamming and trolling he had to block off. I don’t know if that was permanent but when I accidentally required a log-in like that for commenting for a few weeks, one of my long time commenters couldn’t use his standard gravatar and made a new log-in. I really don’t understand these log-in systems at all.

    • J. J. Ramsey

      Fascinating. Maybe it’s because Croft is a public person. If he listed Croft and a purported reason for banning him, there’s a good chance that there’d be pushback and scrutiny of whether his purported reason was true.

      For obvious reasons, I take back this accusation.

      However, I can’t take back the accusation that Myers lied about me. His contradictory stories about me speak volumes.

    • http://irenedelse.wordpress.com irenedelse, qui aussi veut massacrer la française langue, ah mais

      @ Daniel Fincke #10:

      The only difference between other FtB blogs and Pharyngula is that, due to the number of comments and the volume of spam, PZ made it necessary to be logged into FtB to comment, that’s all. For instance, if I come here first and log in, I’m able to go on posting at Pharyngula without logging in again.

    • Cipher, OM

      Hi James!

      Could you do me a favor and point me toward the thread in which PZ made the comment that suggested to you that you were banned? It’s not relevant to anything and won’t probably help resolve the problem for you; I just am frustrated by the apparent miscommunication leading to unnecessary ill will and would like to understand how it came about.

      [Sorry, Daniel. I know this is off-topic. If it contributes too much to derailment, let me know.]

  • Leo

    I’m thinking this group has a lot of overlap with PZ’s Humanist group that these people would just fit best there instead of trying to put them in a separate group. The weakness, for example, seems pretty much the same, differing primarily in approach. PZ said his group would ditch atheism if atheism didn’t meet their needs. Your group seems to still be ditching atheism as it’s weakness, though perhaps more as an accident as opposed to intentionally doing so as implied in PZ’s example.

    Furthermore, PZ recognizes that many atheists may fit in more than one group. What you seem to be describing are atheists that fit near completely in the Humanist group. (IOW, little to no overlap with the other 3 groups.)

    • jerthebarbarian

      I agree with this – I was going to post nearly the same thing, Daniel. Your group sounds like very activist Humanists rather than a completely separate group entirely.

      Also I like how you go on to give an example of what PZ considers the weakness of the Philosophical Atheists by making your discussions of Strengths and Weaknesses about twice as long as the ones he provides. :)

  • F

    I’d like some evidence that there is a baby in there.

    • http://ms-daisy-cutter.dreamwidth.org/ Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

      Stop that, F. You’re being so divisive and impolite. You’re going to cause deep rifts, you know.

    • F

      I know. I apologize. In fact, I apologize for asking the same sort of questions in the past. I’m just an ass.

  • h

    I think those atheists would be a subtype of political or humanist atheists.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    I don’t know that religious humanism (in the terms of Humanist Manifesto I (1933)) is best defined in terms of social function. I’d say instead that religious humanists believe that even if you strip away supernaturalism from religious thought, you’re still left with ideals and a reality that still have value, and are worthy of supporting with a psychological and ethical praxis.

    So for example, a traditional Mahayana Buddhist might say that one should engage in the discipline of cultivating compassion as part of a multi-lifetime progression toward enlightenment. (Mahayana Buddhism has it’s own version of Pascal’s Wager.) A Secular Buddhist might say that one should engage in the discipline of cultivating compassion because compassion as a value does not depend on reincarnation.

    I’d say one weakness of this approach is that it tends to emphasize commonalities of practice over fundamentals. Speaking just for myself, I’ve become more and more radically non-cognitivist when it comes to “god does (not) exist.”

  • John W. Loftus

    It probably feels really good that PZ recommended you. But surely you would be the first person to suggest a long list of published philosophers who should have been included such that you would never even be on a long list of them, correct? It reveals that he either doesn’t know many philosophers to recommend or he’s just being nice to you.

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      Feeling left out?

    • Artor

      A little whiny today? Get over it man, really. It’s embarrassing.

    • yemangycoyote

      Wow. If that wasn’t an ugly, embittered little comment…

    • Suido

      P
      E
      TT
      Y

      You ain’t got no alibi. You petty.

    • Midnight Rambler

      Let me guess – you think a prominent philosopher who should have been included (ahead of Daniel, at least) is one John Loftus?

  • http://carneades.posterous.com Carneades of Ga.

    Daniel,I partake of all those groups.
    I recommend this and other skeptic blogs, besides my own.
    For why Yahweh in particular can’t cut it and God in general, then read my 24th May article in http://ignosticmorgansblog.wordpress.com and the other ones there!

  • Suido

    I think your description of community atheists seems like a subset of PZ’s political atheists.

    Both groups are about action, all you’ve done is replace PZ’s use of the word ‘compromise’ with ‘not throw the baby out with the bath water’ and take it out of the weakness column (although he already acknowledges isn’t necessarily a weakness).

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    The list is far from comprehensive, as PZ said in his comments, but covers most of the good reasons. There are also the hipster types, who talk a good game about skepticism, but mainly like feeling like they are more clever than the religious types. They tend to dismiss social activism as a religion, spread memes without regard to have much sense they make and engage in obstructive hyper-skepticism. They also tend to gravitate toward extreme philosophical positions because nuance is for wimps.

  • Michael R

    Wow! This is the first interesting thing I’ve read from PZ Myers:

    … It’s fine to say we’re atheists because we believe in the truth, but it’s the humanists who give us a reason to think the truth matters…

    If we want the atheist movement to grow, we must adopt wider goals than pure science and philosophy. We must embrace humanity and culture…

    … the only way for this movement to grow and take over the world is for us to develop an appreciation of a synthesis of all of these motivations…

    Finally some prominent atheists are seeing that a synthesis of atheism and humanism is necessary if our movement is to grow. Bravo.

    Grab your staple gun and nail this article to every atheist’s forehead. Show them we need to do more than criticise religion if our movement is to grow.

    • John Morales

      I’m an atheist, and I’m not in your movement.

      (Staple that to your forehead!)

    • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

      John Morales wrote:
      >I’m an atheist, and I’m not in your movement.
      >(Staple that to your forehead!)

      Hi, John!

      The last movement that I joined that had any value was the Mickey Mouse Club circa 1958.

      Cool mouse ears.

      Dave Miller in Sacramento

  • http://www.secularcafe.org/index.php davidb

    I liked PZ’s post.

    On my usual discussion board he is something of a controversial figure, much disliked by some, supported by others.

    With that post he should have taken some ammunition away from the PZ haters, I’d have thought.

    I’ve always seen many more strengths than weaknesses in what he is doing, despite the arguments of the nay-sayers, and this raises his stock still further with me.

    David B

  • ctcss

    Dan

    Thanks for pointing out PZ’s forthright blog entry. However, I found it rather interesting that he notes that “I see four major categories of thoughtful atheists: scientific atheists, philosophical atheists, political atheists, and humanists.” Since the most useful indicator of what underlies a deeper consideration of a specific mental standpoint is the kind of thinking expressed by its most thoughtful proponents, I would be very interested to see an intellectually honest view and categorization of thoughtful theists as well. (And if anyone says there is no such thing, then I guess we can also dismiss the assertion that atheists give thoughtful regard to the world they share with everyone else. ;) )

    I also found this comment in your entry rather interesting.

    “… meeting peoples’s religious needs through robust alternatives to faith, irrationalism, partriarchy, and authoritarianism.”

    Although I have read a number of your blog entries and I admire and respect your efforts to try to look carefully and fairly at the full spectrum of human thought, I have never read anything that you have written that makes me feel like there is a secular alternative to serious, well-considered religious thought and practice. Whatever it is that you think might work would, to me, be missing the whole point of religion and instead, regard it as something “clubby” that humans can do for themselves. Personally, I can’t imagine humans viewing themselves as possessing solutions to all problems that may come up. That strikes me as nothing more than human hubris. The point of having God to turn to is (among other things) an honest admittance of a person’s need for help when human understanding, ability, power, etc. are found to be totally inadequate. The 23rd or 91st Psalm, for instance, do not describe situations where a person’s human ability and power are capable of bringing about safety. And to say that more human help would change such situations for the better is making the naive assumption that adequate and competent human resources are always ready at hand.

    And also, for the record, my Christian faith (admittedly, a non-mainstream Christian sect), doesn’t subscribe to irrationalism, patriarchy, and authoritarianism. And your (often-cited) dumbing down of the term “faith” to simply mean “blind faith” I find to be rather lacking and hardly an accurate description of what a serious religious person might engage in. Basically, I would think that any deep and thoughtful approach to religion would find such characteristics to be unhelpful in sober and serious religious practice.

    The point being, as long as both believers and non-believers insist on regarding each other’s serious, thoughtful proponents as being equivalent to, or no better than, the shallowest and/or worst examples in each camp, we are never going to make progress at establishing good working relationships with one another. And to admit that we can never find common ground in consideration and good will is tantamount to condemning humanity to an endless stream of skirmishes and battles laid out along tribalistic lines.

    • John Morales

      ctcss:

      And also, for the record, my Christian faith (admittedly, a non-mainstream Christian sect), doesn’t subscribe to irrationalism, patriarchy, and authoritarianism.

      Does your sect have both priests and priestesses?

      And your (often-cited) dumbing down of the term “faith” to simply mean “blind faith” I find to be rather lacking and hardly an accurate description of what a serious religious person might engage in.

      Faith is definitionally blind; if it’s justified, it ain’t ‘faith’, it’s ‘knowledge’.

      The point being, as long as both believers and non-believers insist on regarding each other’s serious, thoughtful proponents as being equivalent to, or no better than, the shallowest and/or worst examples in each camp, we are never going to make progress at establishing good working relationships with one another.

      Such a false equivalence!

      (Your best are no better than our worst!)

      And to admit that we can never find common ground in consideration and good will is tantamount to condemning humanity to an endless stream of skirmishes and battles laid out along tribalistic lines.

      We can find common ground in specifics, but your entire epistemology is based on spurious grounds, O faithful one.

      (bah)

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      It seems to me that serious, well-considered religious thought is also deeply skeptical of the idea of a supernatural “help” when human ability and understanding are inadequate. But I simply don’t see the “hubris” you describe as central to non-theistic thought. Anyone who’s dealt with the sausage-making of creating/discovering knowledge in the 20th century has quickly realized that there are probably some hard limits out there on what we can understand. A key difference is whether those limits justify the use of gods as a wild-card explanation for mystery.

      When my grandfather died last year, I spent a good day pondering the possibility of an afterlife. I came to the conclusion that if the greatest minds of recorded history couldn’t come to a consensus, I can’t claim to know either. This admission of doubt that I can’t know, can’t be expected to know, and therefore, can’t be reasonably blamed for not knowing was quite liberating. Traditional religion strikes me as attaching a great deal of unnecessary existential baggage to “I don’t know.”

    • yemangycoyote

      “Whatever it is that you think might work would, to me, be missing the whole point of religion and instead, regard it as something “clubby” that humans can do for themselves.”

      The point (or, at least, one of the points) of organizing movements and communities is make things happen. An individual with a cause can only do so much by themselves. Add in a hoard of like-minded people, however, and suddenly you have a pool of resources that can actually be effective in advancing a cause. Sure, some organizations may have a clubbiness aspect, but that’s probably inevitable in these situations and there’s generally nothing wrong with it.

      “Personally, I can’t imagine humans viewing themselves as possessing solutions to all problems that may come up…And to say that more human help would change such situations for the better is making the naive assumption that adequate and competent human resources are always ready at hand.”

      Neither can I. Humanists (or at least the humanists I know) don’t claim to have the solutions to all the world’s problems. And yes, it would be naïve to assume that adequate human resources will always be on hand. They already aren’t. They never have been, and they probably never will be. We’re not going to make the world “perfect”, but we can try to make it a better place than it is now.

      “The point of having God to turn to is (among other things) an honest admittance of a person’s need for help when human understanding, ability, power, etc. are found to be totally inadequate.”

      I don’t need a god to realize or admit my shortcomings, and I see no possibility for help outside of other people. That will not always be enough. Sometimes there is no adequate help. All we can do is help as much as we can (while honestly admitting that no, we’re not always going to be successful).

      “And to admit that we can never find common ground in consideration and good will is tantamount to condemning humanity to an endless stream of skirmishes and battles laid out along tribalistic lines.”

      In terms of my practical worldview, I (and probably most others that would identify as a atheistic humanist) have a lot more in common with a progressive, liberal believer than with certain other strains of atheist philosophy (like objectivism or nihilism). Granted, I won’t concede that I find anybody’s supernatural beliefs the least bit credible, and I maintain that, more often than not, religious beliefs carry harmful baggage. But in practical matters of doing good, I can and do put aside differences to make things happen.

  • J

    John M – you’re actaully making his case for him.

    • John Morales

      Whose case am I supposedly making, and how?

  • drbunsen le savant en colère dans une robe d’été belle (la robe est aussi en colère)
    • J. J. Ramsey

      Suppose that what you said were true. How would that make Myers’ claims about me any less contradictory?

  • Rebecca Hensler

    Hi, Rebecca from Grief Beyond Belief here.

    I liked PZ’s piece and I like your additional classification and I particularly like that you included Grief Beyond Belief in it. I’ve been referring to Grief Beyond Belief, Parenting Beyond Belief, the Secular Therapist Project, etcetera as the secular support movement, but I don’t care all that much what we are called as long as that list keeps growing. (And it is growing, with new little support groups forming all the time.) When you add in Secular Student Alliance and Foundation Beyond Belief, I start to think that perhaps we are the Practical Atheists. We just want to do stuff, to make stuff, to get sh*t done.

    What I do want to correct is the perception many have that we are simply trying to replicate the support and resources that have historically been provided through religion. We are not. We are creating something new, communities of rational compassion.

    Although no one told me I could be Pope. Do I get to wear a funny hat?


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