Becky Garrison’s Responses to Your Questions

***UPDATE***: A few more responses to your questions are below. As for Christopher Hitchens’ publisher’s non-use of materials, BG says this:

Thomas Nelson [BG's publishers] required that writers must obtain permission for anything over 25 words. Christopher Hitchens’ publisher sent me a letter denying me permission to use any material from “God is Not Great.”

After I posted the interview with Becky Garrison (BG) about her new book The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail: The Misguided Quest to Destroy Your Faith, you all had a lot of questions for her.

I posed your questions to BG. Her responses are below:

What did you specifically expect Dennett to get from N.T. Wright, Jürgen Moltmann, or Walter Bruggeman that would relate to what he was talking about?

BG: I listed these three men because they are three of the leading theological thinkers alive today – I would expect that someone who debates the existence of God to at least engage with the leading thinkers on this topic. After all, these are the same dudes who slam Christians (and rightly so) for using shoddy scientific research to launch, say, Creationism museums.

Why did she ignore the work of serious atheist scholars and philosophers instead?

BG: I did not engage the “serious” atheists because my task was critiquing the works of four authors – Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens.

What I would really like is an answer to a question that Hemant asked but didn’t get a real answer to, which is where Harris said anything like “an event such as 9/11 proves there is no God.”

How about a citation of the source, instead of criticizing him for the one part of an article that he didn’t write (the headline, as Karen pointed out)?

BG: I noticed someone asked me to cite Harris saying there is no God – this should suffice [link goes to print mode]. I have seen similar variants of this line of thinking.

[From Hemant: I pointed out that Harris never says there is no God in this article. BG's response was as follows:]

This statement which Harris quotes in numerous other publications could easily lead one to conclude that he believes there is no God. However, I find this to be a rather moot point – if any of these guys do believe in God, they have a very odd way of showing it.

What are some examples where you found the “New Atheists” to be just plain factually wrong?

BG: Throughout the book I note where I cited numerous instances where I feel they reach their conclusions based on erroneous information – here are a few examples:

  • using Medieval theological theories that have seen been refined (and in some cases disproved) by contemporary scholars
  • blaming religion for the cause of “all wars,” a blanket statement that ignores the violence done by secular extremists (yes, I agree Christians can be just as guilty of dismissing violence done in the name of “God.”)
  • labeling Martin Luther a nebulous humanist, noting that his beliefs are influenced by Janism and not Christianity. My late father was an Episcopal priest and a civil rights leader, and from all accounts of my childhood and stories I’ve heard since then, this was a movement largely influenced by the historic black churches.

Skim my endnotes and you’ll find a range of scholars who point out the illogic in their arguments. I admit in my book that these guys are brilliant in their respective disciplines — No question about it. But when they venture into the religious realm, they fail to apply their rigorous scholarship to the topic of religion. My favorite quote is from Terry Eagleton: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”

What are your thoughts on the “Courtier’s Reply“?

BG: Amusing. But not as funny as say Landover Baptist Church.

The question is: aren’t you amping up the rhetoric yourself? You sound shrill and unnuanced. Even more so than those you seem to deride. What good are you doing for your part of this conversation that you condemn?

BG: People tend not to like it when their sacred cow gets skewered. As some of your posters have demonstrated, they can moo very loudly. Does this mean they can dish it out but they can’t take it. Bear in mind, the majority of quotes I cite slamming Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens came from other atheists. What they are missing is that throughout the book I chide Christians for giving the New Atheists plenty of fodder. Also, I make suggestions for where we can try and seek common ground in our shared humanity.

I don’t understand why calling God an abortionist is offensive. “Abortion” as a medical term covers both elective abortions and miscarriages. If we are to believe that God has a hand in what happens in the world, the he would have a hand in the many, many miscarriages that happen every year, and over time has had a hand in way, way more abortions than any Planned Parenthood. Do you, Becky, care to elaborate on why this is offensive?

BG: Calling God an abortionist is indeed inflammatory when one considers how this term has been used by family values crowd to garner support and raise funds for their respective organizations. Also, saying that God has a controlling hand in the world to the point where He controls individual miscarriages is an overtly simplistic and childlike view of God that doesn’t reflect the fullness of the faith.

Name a name of a single atheist who truly believes Darwin to be anyone or anything other than a scientist who popularized evolution.

BG: I don’t know what is in anyone’s heart – I am responding to how their rhetoric comes across to someone on the outside looking in. This is similar to how I know many atheists depict (and at times misinterpret) the teachings of Christianity because of some inflammatory statements made by select Christians. I get the anger here on some level – the focus of my work has been on encouraging Christians to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ instead of the whims of the Republican Party, Dr. Dobson, Bishop Spong or whoever use people set up as their ultimate authority. Throughout my book I freely admit those places where Christians have given the New Atheists plenty of fodder. I also make suggestions for places where we can come to areas of mutual understanding.

I can buy that there are atheists who would prefer if we lived in a world that didn’t believe in the supernatural. I, for one, think it would be pretty awesome. However, I am curious how prefering a godless world (if indeed these four men would prefer one; I will trust your word, Becky) means they have anything in common with a group that probably would prefer if everyone believed in a god. Two groups may have similar ideas (everyone should believe what I do) but that does not mean they have identical means of attempting this, or, indeed, that they are both actually attempting mass conversion. So, I ask you, Becky, how is writing books and articles, and occasionally engaging in debates only viewable on YouTube, trying to remove your right to believe? Or is the stand you reference simply mean that you are annoyed they make their ideas and arguments public?

BG: Again, I am not criticizing all atheists (a point that seems lost on the majority of the posters) just four New Atheists – and as noted most of the commentary I used against came from fellow atheists not Christians. I find that their rhetoric and desire for a godless world mirrors the rumblings one heard during the mid-seventies that led to the formation of the Moral Majority and the rise of the Religious Right.


[tags]atheist, atheism, Christian, Christianity, Jesus[/tags]

  • Claire

    This statement which Harris quotes in numerous other publications could easily lead one to conclude that he believes there is no God.

    So, bottom line, he never actually said it, she made it up.

    What they are missing is that throughout the book I chide Christians for giving the New Atheists plenty of fodder.

    I don’t think we missed anything. Mostly we were commenting on responses to Hemant’s questions. I doubt any of us have read it, it was only released yesterday.

    Does this mean they can dish it out but they can’t take it.

    Once again, not an answer, just more of the shrill lack of nuance that she so deplores – in others.

    Ms. Garrison makes weasels jealous.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Does this mean they can dish it out but they can’t take it.

    Yeah, that’s kind of the impression I got from the comments on the previous thread too. This blog is continually filled with ridicule and gross stereotyping of religious people (and this is one of the “friendlier” blogs!), and yet when a little bit comes back your way, you all go ballistic.

    And frankly I’m surprised that so many “friendly atheists” here seem to identify so strongly with the “New Atheists” and are so quick to defend them. If anyone here is interested in a non-atheist perspective on this, let me just say: you can’t be both. If you want to be a “friendly atheist” you can’t act like the “Four Horsemen”. They are the definition of unfriendly atheists.

  • Claire

    And frankly I’m surprised that so many “friendly atheists” here seem to identify so strongly with the “New Atheists” and are so quick to defend them.

    For the record, she has not skewered any of my sacred cows, as I have never actually read any of these authors. Everything I said was based on her answers (and I use the term loosely) to Hemant’s questions.

    You don’t have to be a supporter of (or even acquainted with) those four people to object to an dishonest and uncivil attack like hers.

  • Rachel

    How is saying, “I’m annoyed she didn’t answer the questions” and “her logic is terrible” going ballistic? As a great philosopher once said, I do not think that word means what you think it means.

    She has every right to critique people she doesn’t agree with. We have the right to point out her critique is terrible. It’s the circle of life. :p

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    She has every right to critique people she doesn’t agree with. We have the right to point out her critique is terrible. It’s the circle of life. :p

    It strikes me that part of the problem here is that none of us here (with the exception of Hemant) have actually read much of her critique. All we really have in that initial post is Hemant’s questions about the parts he didn’t like about her book. In other words, all we’ve really been given is the bad stuff, the weak points, nothing else. So until the rest of us have a chance to read the book for ourselves, we really don’t have much basis to judge whether her overall critique is terrible or not.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    I identify very strongly with the Four Horsemen. I also don’t consider them to harbor many of the traits nominally attributed to the “New Atheists.” Specifically, I’m referring to individuals like Ms. Garrison deploring their supposed aggression and intolerance. When I read the Four Horsemen, I am thrilled by their honest and OBJECTIVE critique of religion. I’m sorry that the religious don’t understand that atheists consider their beliefs akin to fairy tale. Dawkins et al. do not engage in ad hominem attacks against their detractors and tend to be even keeled in the face of undeniable scrutiny. Their books are largely a civil discourse in a very touchy subject. I’ll switch around one of her comments. The only reason the Four Horsemen are considered so incredibly disrespectful is because they dare to question the religious’ “sacred cows.” Defining religious belief as a delusion, sure seems to fit from my perspective, and contending that the world would be a better place without religion is not a sensationalist claim. Rather, it’s an idea borne out of rational and honest contemplation regarding religion.

    I’ll end with an analogy: Let’s say man A’s wife is incredibly ugly, to the point where there’s simply no room for subjectivity. Everyone regards her as such, even her own parents. If person B approaches man A and informs of this tragic circumstance, assuming that person B’s statements are justifiably offered, then he’s not being disrespectful. It’s simply the truth. Of course, man A doesn’t want to hear it and is ineffably insulted by person B’s statements. Yet, person B is merely stating the unwanted truth.

    (This took me a long time to write. Please reply.)

  • http://blog.lib.umn.edu/fole0091/epistaxis/ Epistaxis

    BG: People tend not to like it when their sacred cow gets skewered.

    The whole point of atheism is that we don’t have sacred cows, even in the most figurative sense. Richard Dawkins isn’t my pastor, Dan Dennett isn’t my rabbi, and so forth; these people don’t pretend to speak for me any more than an apathetic nontheist off the street who hasn’t written a book, and I have no urge to defend them if they say stupid things. If she wants to attack their character directly, she’s welcome to do that (within legal bounds), but there’s no reason random atheists should come to their personal defense. However, that’s very different from attacking the way atheists in general see the world, and for that we are certainly entitled to a vigorous debate. The negative response was mostly along the lines of “this is sloppy criticism for the following reasons” rather than “but Christopher Hitchens is a sweetheart!” To add one bad metaphor to another, “taking it as well as dishing it out” doesn’t mean we have to take it lying down.

    I gave her the benefit of the doubt all the way until that last answer. She can’t have it both ways – she can’t accuse the authors in “shrill and unnuanced” terms of being shrill and unnuanced. From this extended interview, it sure doesn’t sound like her goal is to cool down the argument. I’m very interested in this particular issue of whether or not atheists should be allowed to talk about the existence of god without holding divinity degrees, but I’m not sure she’s the one with whom to have that discussion. It’s difficult to communicate with someone who just can’t accept the fact that science isn’t our religion, Darwin isn’t our God, and Dennett/Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens/Mehta aren’t his prophets, because we simply have none of the above. Let’s save our energy for someone who’s ready to call an atheist an atheist.

  • Agkistrodon, Ph.D.

    “And frankly I’m surprised that so many “friendly atheists” here seem to identify so strongly with the “New Atheists” and are so quick to defend them. If anyone here is interested in a non-atheist perspective on this, let me just say: you can’t be both. If you want to be a “friendly atheist” you can’t act like the “Four Horsemen”. They are the definition of unfriendly atheists.”

    We attempted “friendly atheism” years ago and it got us imprinsoned, burned at the stake, hanged, drawn and quartered, crucified, and killed in various nasty ways. The Christians have been in charge for over 1500 years and they have only established a Magisterium for control of the minds of men. Not a very good record for such along reign.

    As far as being nice is concerned, it is the religious whose hypersensitive thin skins are the problem. They are the ones who “can dish it out but not take it.” Why is it that they are exactly like the Muslims in their reaction to the Danish cartoons?

    Then again, how do you tell a person that what he has been educated by his parents, family, church, government, and general society to believe in something that is WRONG? Of course, he will take offense and defend his indoctrination!

    Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Stenger, and Dennett are not “shrill.” That word is used as disparagement rather that dealing with the issues. Every atheist, including the Five Horsemen and myself, would love for there to be meaningful dialogue but there cannot be any as long as the defense of religion is merely ad hominem.

    Dawkins says that he merely wants evidence and if you can supply it, he would change his mind and join the theistic crowd. How is that “shrill”?

  • Claire

    So until the rest of us have a chance to read the book for ourselves, we really don’t have much basis to judge whether her overall critique is terrible or not.

    Now that’s a legitimate point, although I’m not sure I can wade through that much vitriol.

    I used the Amazon online reader to check out five or six pages at random – which was still nothing like a fair sample of content, but the tone was unrelieved bile. I did see her taking christians to task, as she pointed out above that she did.

    I was especially taken with this quote about the why god won’t heal amputees site: “This slimy site oozed snark, but without the redemptive bite that makes for quality satire”. Say what? Can someone PLEASE tell this woman what satire is? And isn’t?

    Out of fairness, I also read five pages at random from works by Dawkins, Dennet, Harris and Hitchens (not for content, just for tone). The first three I found (in my admittedly small sample) to be free of venom. Hitchens not so much, but damn, the man is funny!

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    So until the rest of us have a chance to read the book for ourselves, we really don’t have much basis to judge whether her overall critique is terrible or not.

    What bothered me about BG was not her book (which I have not read) but her responses in the interviews. She dodges solid questions, hides behind her “satire”, and essentially admits she misquoted Harris (as Claire pointed out).

  • AJ

    BG: I listed these three men because they are three of the leading theological thinkers alive today – I would expect that someone who debates the existence of God to at least engage with the leading thinkers on this topic. After all, these are the same dudes who slam Christians (and rightly so) for using shoddy scientific research to launch, say, Creationism museums.

    They don’t seem to have come up with any arguments after the middle ages, and despite Garrison’s suggestion, Pascal’s wager and the argument from design are still in use by theologens. Theology is not a legitimate form of study. It’s like asking an astronomer to consult astrologers, chemists to consult alchemists, doctors to consult witchdoctors. Creationism isn’t science, theology isn’t philosophy.

    Richard Dawkins has responded to this criticism:

    Letters: Theology has no place in a university

    The Rev Mr Hall encourages me to engage with theology academics whose “intelligence is at least equal to Dawkins’ own”. Indeed I should enjoy engaging with my neighbour, the Principal of Wycliffe Hall, who said in The Independent (25 May), “We are committed to bringing the gospel message of Jesus Christ to those who don’t know. In this land, that’s 95 per cent of the people: 95 per cent of people facing hell unless the message of the gospel is brought to them.” Presumably he is one of the intelligent theologians with whom I should engage.

    We who doubt that “theology” is a subject at all, or who compare it with the study of leprechauns, are eagerly hoping to be proved wrong. Of course, university departments of theology house many excellent scholars of history, linguistics, literature, ecclesiastical art and music, archaeology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, iconology, and other worthwhile and important subjects. These academics would be welcomed into appropriate departments elsewhere in the university. But as for theology itself, defined as “the organised body of knowledge dealing with the nature, attributes, and governance of God”, a positive case now needs to be made that it has any real content at all, and that it has any place in today’s universities.

    The Emptiness of Theology

    http://richarddawkins.net/article,88,The-Emptiness-of-Theology,Richard-Dawkins

    What has theology ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has theology ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? I have listened to theologians, read them, debated against them. I have never heard any of them ever say anything of the smallest use, anything that was not either platitudinously obvious or downright false. If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming. If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference? Even the bad achievements of scientists, the bombs, and sonar-guided whaling vessels work! The achievements of theologians don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t mean anything. What makes anyone think that “theology” is a subject at all?

  • http://emergingdesign.blogspot.com Jim RL

    I really tried giving Ms. Garrison the benefit of the doubt while reading the first interview, but then I got to where she compared Sam Harris to Ann Coulter. There I realized that she wasn’t really interested in an open and honest discussion, but rather she wanted to profit off of the “New Atheist” backlash.

    She also seems to completely miss the point that the New Atheists are attacking everyday religion. That is why delving into hardcore theology is unnecessary. The average theist doesn’t know the latest theological musings, so why is it relavant? They generally attack the notion of a personal god that can persuaded to intervene in human affairs. This is the god that the vast majority of religious people believe in. This is where their attacks are aimed.

    Then she threw out the “Darwin is the God of New Atheists” argument and I realized that she wasn’t even interesting any more. That argument is as old as it is weak. It’s weak because Darwin’s theory has changed so much in a mere 150 odd years. Darwin would fail almost any modern evolutionary biology test. A modern biologist would learn nothing about evolution by speaking to Darwin. Darwin is no more a god to atheists than Newton or Einstein. The only difference is that Darwin needs more defending because he is constantly under attack.

    But, there I go, getting all ballistic again. I guess I just can’t take it when people dishonestly rehash tired old arguments.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    I’m disappointed in the answer that she gave to my question about N.T. Wright et al. She didn’t offer any specifics. I also which that she had been more clear in what she meant about “using Medieval theological theories that have seen been refined….” I know that Dawkins messed up his treatment of Aquinas’ Fourth Way argument to the point that he offered a strawman, but I’m not sure if that’s the sort of thing that she was talking about.

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    Aj,

    They don’t seem to have come up with any arguments after the middle ages, and despite Garrison’s suggestion, Pascal’s wager and the argument from design are still in use by theologens.

    Who specifically? Care for me to list the theologians who have clearly come up with often radically different arguments? Apologists rely on these arguments which is why most apologetics frankly sucks. This assumption is exactly why Eagleton’s comment is worth exploring. To say that someone like Barth “uses” these two lines of argument is as absurd as saying that Marion or Weil or Polkinghorne or Torrance do. Your comment is evidence of the perpetuation of a clear strawman argument given impetus by Dawkins and others.

    Also, I don’t even think that these folks need more sophisticated theology backgrounds or knowledge of theological discourse to make their arguments less fallacious. At least some sense of the sociological implications of what they argue would suffice. But the sociology of religion is something completely ignored as well. Rodney Stark is a better dialogue partner to begin with in this regard.

  • AJ

    Drew,

    Who specifically? Care for me to list the theologians who have clearly come up with often radically different arguments?

    List theologians who do something I say they don’t do? Quote them, or present their arguments.

    This assumption is exactly why Eagleton’s comment is worth exploring. To say that someone like Barth “uses” these two lines of argument is as absurd as saying that Marion or Weil or Polkinghorne or Torrance do.

    Who is saying that?

    Your comment is evidence of the perpetuation of a clear strawman argument given impetus by Dawkins and others

    I think people should note the absence of any evidence from your response.

    Also, I don’t even think that these folks need more sophisticated theology backgrounds or knowledge of theological discourse to make their arguments less fallacious. At least some sense of the sociological implications of what they argue would suffice. But the sociology of religion is something completely ignored as well. Rodney Stark is a better dialogue partner to begin with in this regard.

    Because they can’t possible disagree with the divine authority that is Rodney Stark?

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    Unbrainwahsed,

    When I read the Four Horsemen, I am thrilled by their honest and OBJECTIVE critique of religion.

    You seem to have a very unrigorous understanding of objectivity then. That they write their tomes with a clear agenda governing the suspect data or lack thereof that they present is quite clear. Find me a scholar of religion (not even a theologian) who would agree with the hypothesis presented that they are presenting an objective and accurate view of either religion or religious patterns of behavior. That they present some religious patterns of behavior well enough is clear. The problem is that they do not and refuse to make any distinctions at all between this or that kind of religious behavior. That is where the presentation is usurped by unhelpful rhetoric that no longer has any true factual basis. Thus, it is a strawman argument at the point where on distinctions between this or that religious pattern of behavior ought to be made even though scholars, philosophers and sociologists of religions do make important distinctions that Dawkins and others not only gloss over, but intentionally ignore.

    I have heard this kind of analogy which reveals the fallacy.

    If you have a 50 caliber bullet and a .22 bullet, they are both different but they both kill and were designed to kill. It is the same way with religious belief. The fact is that with religious belief, some beliefs out there are indeed designed to kill and/or spread hate (Al Quaeda, Westboro Baptist Church), some do this unintentionally (a church that welcomes but will not affirm a homosexual), and others simply do neither (see Bishop Gene Robinson as an testimony of overcoming non-affirmation). So in fact we are not even dealing with two bullets, but two different objects altogether. To say that Osama bin Ladin and Mother Theresa are both culpable for spreading religious hatred is an absurd statement and a strawman argument.

  • grazatt

    BG said using Medieval theological theories that have seen been refined (and in some cases disproved) by contemporary scholars
    I was wondering if she (or any of the other nice Christians who post here) could explain how Theological theries are revised, or even developed in the first place. What criteria are used for evaluation?
    Note: I am not mooing, oinking maybe, but never mooing.

  • Siamang

    Look at this exchange:

    What I would really like is an answer to a question that Hemant asked but didn’t get a real answer to, which is where Harris said anything like “an event such as 9/11 proves there is no God.”

    This statement which Harris quotes in numerous other publications could easily lead one to conclude that he believes there is no God. However, I find this to be a rather moot point – if any of these guys do believe in God, they have a very odd way of showing it.

    That’s beside the point. The statement made and supposedly attributed to Harris is ’9/11 PROVES there is no God’. Not “I don’t believe in a God” not “There is no God” but ’9/11 proves there is no God.’

    If Harris does not say that 9/11 is a disproof of the existence of God, then Garrison invented the quote. So we ask, quite correctly, for a cite of this claim. Instead Garrison would rather answer a different question: does Sam Harris believe there’s a God or not, or does Sam Harris assert that there is definitely not a God. And sorry, Hemant, but you let her off the hook on this one by asking her if Harris makes a positive assertion about the existence of God. That’s beside the point. She claims Harris asserts that 9/11 is a disproof of the existence of God. Does he?

    BG: I did not engage the “serious” atheists because my task was critiquing the works of four authors – Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens.

    Then couldn’t it equally be said that these authors didn’t engage the “serious” theologians because they were critiquing religion as it is most widely practiced?

    using Medieval theological theories that have seen been refined (and in some cases disproved) by contemporary scholars

    I’ll chime in with Grazatt.

    I don’t expect to get a straight answer from Garrison but I would like it from other Christians here:

    How does one go about “disproving” a theological theory? I myself am quite interested if there is a method in theology for telling a false theory from a true one. What is the standard for this “proof”? What is the methodology? Who decides what is “disproven”? By what method can two disinterested parties from different belief systems or cultures come to the agreed conclusion that a theological theory has been solidly shown as false?

  • Steven Carr

    ‘“Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”’

    Dawkins has read the Bible.

    Eagleton claims that listening to somebody talk on Christianity after reading the Bible is painful.

    What an idiot he is!

    How can reading the Bible disqualify you from commentating on Christianity?

    And, of course, Dawkins has read far more than just the Bible.

    Why, Dawkins gets emails and letters literally every day from Christians telling him about Christianity.

    Yet Eagleton thinks that having 15 years of Christians daily sending you letters and emails explaining Christianity disqualifies you from talking about Christianity.

    I guess that is because Christians just can’t make sensible arguments, so reading emails and letters every day from Christians for the last 10 to 15 years is not going to teach you anything.

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    Aj,

    List theologians who do something I say they don’t do? Quote them, or present their arguments.

    Issue is that theology does not simply rely on medieval arguments or the Wager. I mentioned a few who would not simply do that. Barth does not (see his doctrine of election), Weil does not (see her argument for God’s self-elected limitation in order to account for the presence of radical evil), or Torrance’s arguments that discuss multiple levels of reality, etc. The issue that I was raising is that you oversimplified an entire discipline by boiling it down to two arguments which are not the foundation of a lot of theological arguments.

    Who is saying that?

    You did not “say” it but it is what you did by oversimplifying a discipline in order to make your argument work.

    I think people should note the absence of any evidence from your response.

    I cited references (there and above) that run counter to your proposition that:

    They don’t seem to have come up with any arguments after the middle ages, and despite Garrison’s suggestion, Pascal’s wager and the argument from design are still in use by theologens.

    What more evidence do you want? A petri dish or a statistically significant regression model?

    Because they can’t possible disagree with the divine authority that is Rodney Stark?

    Did I mention that he is “a divine authority”? Stop making stuff up. I said he is a better dialogue partner. Throw Robert Bellah, Robert Wuthnow, Martin Marty and Peter Berger in there too. Happy now or still care to miss the point of my contention which you have clearly done here.

    Point: while some theologians may do so, on balance many if not most do not simply use medieval arguments or Pascal’s wager any more than a scientist relies on a Baconian method of taxonomy to conduct scientific experimentation. Even disciplines like theology and art advance.

    Cheers.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    How does one go about “disproving” a theological theory? I myself am quite interested if there is a method in theology for telling a false theory from a true one. What is the standard for this “proof”? What is the methodology? Who decides what is “disproven”? By what method can two disinterested parties from different belief systems or cultures come to the agreed conclusion that a theological theory has been solidly shown as false?

    You can show a lack of coherence with the rest of the system of beliefs (the same as we disprove pretty much any kind of belief within any discipline actually). If a theological theory doesn’t fit with the rest of what is believed by the person proposing the theory or by the community of belief that person identifies with, then that theory is disproven within that system of belief.

    In the context Becky was talking about – i.e. medieval arguments for God’s existence – the “system” is more philosophical than theological however. Therefore the arguments are disproven if they don’t cohere with the philosophical assumptions shared by the debate partners – or if the foundational assumptions themselves are undermined. Without knowing which arguments she was specifically referring to, I couldn’t say how exactly they’ve been disproven – though I could take a few guesses. The ontological argument for instance doesn’t really work unless one buys into Greek/Medieval philosophical assumptions about the nature of “being” and “greatness”.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Siamang:

    Then couldn’t it equally be said that these authors didn’t engage the “serious” theologians because they were critiquing religion as it is most widely practiced?

    No. If the four “horsemen” were merely out to show that various religious practices were harmful, that would be a valid point. However, Dawkins at least has attacked the classical arguments for God and dealt with Aquinas and Anselm, so at least in his case, he is dealing with more than just the popular level of religion, and is open to criticisms of how well he does this.

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    Steven,

    Reading the bible and getting emails does not equate with having the training to critically engage sophisticated arguments.

    Yet Eagleton thinks that having 15 years of Christians daily sending you letters and emails explaining Christianity disqualifies you from talking about Christianity.

    Eagleton is not making an argumentum ad verecundiam here as it seems you have interpreted it. His point is that Dawkins over-generalizes Christian thought in order to make his argument work better. He presents a definition of faith, for example, that seems to rely solely on the passage from Hebrews regarding evidence without taking into account alternative theories for what faith actually is. His definition of faith is belief in that for which there is no evidence. But do theologians argue this? Not exactly (see Migliore’s text or McGrath’s text introducing theology for only two). Moreover, Dawkins takes this further by asserting in TGD that as faith has no evidence as such (and note that Dawkins is a scientist and so evidence is that which is physical and can be disproven through empirical hypothetical constructs) it cannot be critiqued in its form or content.

    Eagleton’s point is that this misses the arguments within religious discourse, for instance, over the nature of faith itself (Barth’s arguments for adult versus infant baptism are one important example in this regard). If faith is a description of a trust relationship to something with evidence conceived differently then Dawkins’ offers one definition of faith among many others that should be equally critiqued. That Dawkins gives such a condensed argument of the issues (and I would say totally glosses over the arguments) surrounding the terms and settles on his own concept without arguing it from other conflicting concepts is one problem among many others where Dawkins’ understanding of religion in general seems misinformed.

    This is also a point that McGrath and van Huyssteen among others have made.

  • Steven Carr

    So theological theories can be disproven if they don’t fit?

    So Muslims can disprove Christian theories that Jesus was God, and Christians can disprove Muslims theories that Jesus was not God?

    Basically theology is whatever each person decides to believe, and he simply rejects all contrary opinions as wrong and disproved, sorry, what does not fit with the rest of what he believes.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    BTW, for all the dislike of Garrison here (and I will agree that many of her responses here and attempts at satire have been rather sloppy and unhelpful), I hope folks here can appreciate that as the editor of the Wittenburg Door, she spends 90% of her time lampooning other Christians. She is far more critical of her own than she ever has been of atheists, and I suspect that if you give her half a chance most of you would find that you agree with a lot of her opinions about the negative state of Christianity in America. For instance one of her previous books, Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church, is all about criticizing the church for getting hijacked by political involvement.

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    To Mike’s point we cannot “disprove” systems of value, economics, law, ethics, etc. But we can argue for more probable and reasonable conclusions based on well defined and supported foundations. Clearly there are more soundly reasoned arguments than others in theological discourse or in any of the other kinds of discourses that fall outside of scientific hypothesis testing processes. If this were not true there would be no difference between Rowan Williams’ and Fred Phelps arguments concerning the status of the homosexual person. We clearly cannot “prove” these positions, but we can say that one or the other is more soundly reasoned. This goes for biblical scholarship and its relationship to philosophical theology as well.

    Now if the statement “God exists” must meet the test of an empirically verifiable process then you are out of luck. But there are clearly more reasoned understandings of this statements than others. But you also may insist that any argument that therefore tries to make such an assertion that cannot be disproven as such is fundamentally irrational. At least, that is what these so-called “Four Horsemen” have asserted. But is all rationality a function of empiricism? It does not seem that is the way we live our lives in terms of what we value does it?

    If you disagree with this, offer an empirical proof that love does not exist, or offer a similar proof that it does. Should be a yes or no question on the same lines of argument made by Dawkins against the statement “God exists” no?

  • AJ

    Drew,

    I mentioned a few who would not simply do that. Barth does not (see his doctrine of election), Weil does not (see her argument for God’s self-elected limitation in order to account for the presence of radical evil), or Torrance’s arguments that discuss multiple levels of reality, etc.

    None of your examples seem to address the existence of God.

    The issue that I was raising is that you oversimplified an entire discipline by boiling it down to two arguments which are not the foundation of a lot of theological arguments.

    I did not present the two arguments as the entirety of all arguments from theology, but that doesn’t seem to have been the issue when you first responded to me.

    You did not “say” it but it is what you did by oversimplifying a discipline in order to make your argument work.

    Indeed I did not. Is it an implication? No, they could be using other old arguments, or not addressing the existence of God at all.

    What more evidence do you want? A petri dish or a statistically significant regression model?

    Some new arguments…

    Did I mention that he is “a divine authority”? Stop making stuff up. I said he is a better dialogue partner. Throw Robert Bellah, Robert Wuthnow, Martin Marty and Peter Berger in there too. Happy now or still care to miss the point of my contention which you have clearly done here.

    No, here’s what you said:

    At least some sense of the sociological implications of what they argue would suffice. But the sociology of religion is something completely ignored as well. Rodney Stark is a better dialogue partner to begin with in this regard.

  • Steven Carr

    I shall ignore Drew’s rationalisation that reading the Bible and then talking about Christianity, really is like reading ‘The British Book of Birds’ and then talking about biology.

    Of course faith is belief without evidence.

    Where is the evidence for Catholic faith in Mary’s bodily assumption into Heaven?

    McGrath recites the Nicene Creed.

    ‘We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.’

    McGrath claims he has evidence-backed faith for what he recites.

    Where is the evidence for Heaven?

    When Dawkins says faith is belief without evidence, he is speaking the cold, sober truth, even if McGrath claims he can produce evidence for Heaven.

  • Steven Carr

    DREW
    If you disagree with this, offer an empirical proof that love does not exist, or offer a similar proof that it does.

    CARR
    The number of clergymen who have thought to themselves ‘They will never be able to produce proof that I love 11 year old boys….’.

    You would think religious people would stop using the meme that there is no empirical proof that love exists.

  • Siamang

    Mike C,

    While Becky Garrison’s (non)responses don’t lead me to believe I should expect respectful dialogue from her, I expected better from you than this:

    Yeah, that’s kind of the impression I got from the comments on the previous thread too. This blog is continually filled with ridicule and gross stereotyping of religious people (and this is one of the “friendlier” blogs!), and yet when a little bit comes back your way, you all go ballistic.

    Okay, first off, the lumping of the commenters on the previous thread with “ridicule and gross stereotyping.” Go back and read the previous thread, please. The vast majority of the comments, including some of the most pointed critical ones were by JT Ramsey, me, Rachel, Karen, Claire and Jen. Are these the same people who fill this blog with “ridicule and gross stereotyping of religious people?” Not at all. Or are we guilty by association with this site? If so, aren’t you more guilty than us, dear contributing writer?

    Second off, if you think this blog is filled with ridicule and gross stereotyping of religious people, take it up with those writers at that time. Don’t lump Karen and Claire and Jen and Rachel and JT Ramsey and me with them in a thread where this is not occurring.

    Third, are we really “going ballistic”? I just thought were were getting as good as we were being given (I was giving it better, but that’s just because I’m a better writer than Garrison, and more modest and charming as well.). We were being told that ‘some atheists’ are “Darwinians” who worship Charles Darwin as a God, and they should act more like their God, who was nice, and not mean, and their tactics are indistinguishable from Focus on the Family (presumably without the 9-figure annual budget, veto power on the Republican Platform Committee and the hotline to the Oval Office). Oh, and we need to dial down our rhetoric. Because we’re the ones causing all this ruckus.

    So we call her on her prevarications, poor quote attribution and outright falsehoods about atheists and our beliefs, as well as the fact that she uses the exact same tone she criticizes, and we’re going ballistic?

    And frankly I’m surprised that so many “friendly atheists” here seem to identify so strongly with the “New Atheists” and are so quick to defend them.

    Well, if you want “New Atheists” to respond, crosspost this to the RRS boards and see their reaction. You won’t like their responses, but perhaps you’d have a better comparison between how “friendly atheists” respond. Perhaps you wouldn’t be so quick to call our well-argued, (mostly)profanity free and puckish and witty responses “ballistic” after that. ;-)

    If anyone here is interested in a non-atheist perspective on this, let me just say: you can’t be both. If you want to be a “friendly atheist” you can’t act like the “Four Horsemen”. They are the definition of unfriendly atheists.

    I disagree somewhat. I’d put Sam Harris and Hitchens almost over with the RRS, Dawkins I’d put just to the poor side of Shermer and the Skeptics society, and Dennett I’d put pretty close to Hemant.

    But beside that, the rest of your post makes me feel like you’re not a good objective judge of our behavior. You seem quick to attack us for defending the new atheists. But I have to say, you’re the one lumping some very reasonable posters here with the worse posters to this site, in an attempt to defend Becky Garrison somehow.

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    Drew,

    None of your examples seem to address the existence of God.

    Proofs of the existence of God have shrunk since they fail. God’s existence cannot be proven or disproven and a smart theologian (or person) should be aware of this. But one can work with more or less probable outcomes in one’s propositions – i.e. more reasoned arguments. Very few I read would follow Aquinas’ argument of a prime mover as a proof for instance.

    By the way, the Wager is not a proof for the existence of God either. It is a statement arguing that it is more reasonable to believe in God than not to believe in God. Clearly there are issues with this, but that should be clarified.

    Indeed I did not. Is it an implication? No, they could be using other old arguments, or not addressing the existence of God at all.

    Certainly was implied. Why must they be using other old arguments? You seem to have a view that theology as a discipline cannot progress beyond the shackles of pre-modernity.

    Some new arguments…

    Did I mention that he is “a divine authority”? Stop making stuff up. I said he is a better dialogue partner. Throw Robert Bellah, Robert Wuthnow, Martin Marty and Peter Berger in there too. Happy now or still care to miss the point of my contention which you have clearly done here.

    No, here’s what you said:

    At least some sense of the sociological implications of what they argue would suffice. But the sociology of religion is something completely ignored as well. Rodney Stark is a better dialogue partner to begin with in this regard.

    Hardly new, just a few more names to drop in my bag of “divine authorities” – I did mention dialogue partner again didn’t I? And I did not mention that Stark is any divine authority. That is what you made up. I am addressing the point that Dawkins in particular needs to dialogue with other theories of religion. Sociology seems to be a nice foundation for this since it deals with behaviors and how those behaviors are related to beliefs. This reveals the flaw that Dawkins view is over-simplified in order to support his argument rhetorically, but does not do so substantially based on evidence that different ways of believing lead to different behaviors. He essentially flattens faith to a monolithic category and then draws conclusions from that flawed foundation. Hence the need for other dialogue partners rather than his strawman.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    You would think religious people would stop using the meme that there is no empirical proof that love exists.

    Merely labeling something a “meme” is the not the same as making an actual argument.

    No wonder so few philosophers, sociologists and scientists actually take this ridiculous idea of “memes” seriously. Carr’s comment demonstrates that it is intended less as a useful concept and more as a dysphemistic label intended to mock and marginalize religious arguments.

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    DREW
    If you disagree with this, offer an empirical proof that love does not exist, or offer a similar proof that it does.

    CARR
    The number of clergymen who have thought to themselves ‘They will never be able to produce proof that I love 11 year old boys….’.

    You would think religious people would stop using the meme that there is no empirical proof that love exists.

    So Steven cannot answer the hypothesis then. How about any other “good” then? Or any other value in general? Or are they all just memes that you do not care to articulate or validate? Are we all products of that much of a deterministic existence? Clearly there is ample disagreement in the social sciences about this. Or, are the social sciences just a meaningless set of disciplines that study these “memes” without even considering “meme” as a very functional variable to assess behavioral phenomena? Are they just ignorant?

    Do we just assume that it’s a good and unknowingly transmit it? Are we that slavish to determinism?

    IOW by just saying that it is just a “meme” you do nothing but offer an unsupported claim.

    Sure cultures “transmit” their idea of the good from one generation to the next and it develops over time, but this does not address the question of scientific proof that love indeed exists.

  • grazatt

    MikeClawson, what does BG have to say about her fellow Christians. What in particular does she take issue with?

  • AJ

    Drew,

    Proofs of the existence of God have shrunk since they fail. God’s existence cannot be proven or disproven and a smart theologian (or person) should be aware of this.

    Which was my original point.

    But one can work with more or less probable outcomes in one’s propositions – i.e. more reasoned arguments. Very few I read would follow Aquinas’ argument of a prime mover as a proof for instance.

    As far as I’m aware it’s either old arguments like Aquinas’s, or they don’t address it at all, also my original point.

    Certainly was implied. Why must they be using other old arguments?

    Because as far as I’m aware they haven’t got any new arguments.

  • Siamang

    Thomas Nelson [BG’s publishers] required that writers must obtain permission for anything over 25 words. Christopher Hitchens’ publisher sent me a letter denying me permission to use any material from “God is Not Great.”

    Well that’s unhelpful. I guess if Thomas Nelson were my publisher, I wouldn’t be able to quote the passage at the top of this post.

    Sounds like a shared ignorance of the concept of fair use between Garrison’s and Hitchens’ publishers.

    Both Hitchens and Garrison should consider schooling their publishers in the First Amendment. Hitchens himself is most likely unaware of the situation, however. Anyone bring this to his personal attention?

  • Siamang

    AJ wrote:

    Because as far as I’m aware they haven’t got any new arguments.

    Somebody hasn’t seen the Banana video.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Okay, first off, the lumping of the commenters on the previous thread with “ridicule and gross stereotyping.” Go back and read the previous thread, please. The vast majority of the comments, including some of the most pointed critical ones were by JT Ramsey, me, Rachel, Karen, Claire and Jen. Are these the same people who fill this blog with “ridicule and gross stereotyping of religious people?” Not at all. Or are we guilty by association with this site? If so, aren’t you more guilty than us, dear contributing writer?

    I wasn’t referring specifically to the comments on the previous post (though I could point to a few that would fit the description of “ridicule and gross stereotyping”). However, you can’t tell me that you haven’t also noticed the tendency on this site for many (certainly not all) of the atheist posters to post very unfriendly and mocking diatribes against religious people. If you haven’t then let me just fill you in, as a Christian hanging out at an atheist website, that despite the name, this is not a very “friendly” site much of the time. (Though admittedly, it is far, far better than most.) I wouldn’t point fingers at most of the people you listed – there are many of you here that do make a genuine attempt at “friendliness” – but I could name dozens of other names of commenters whose constant MO is ridicule and stereotyping. I’m really surprised if you don’t see it too.

    The point i was making is that Becky’s critique (and I’ve repeatedly said that I agree with you that it was very poorly done) is hardly any worse than the standard level of ridicule aimed at religious people at this blog on a regular basis. And yes, most of her comments here were just as unfair, inaccurate and unfunny as those of the religion-bashers here. I appreciated how you (and a few others) spoke up and said “that ain’t us”. But on the other hand at least now the shoe is on the other foot. Some of you here are getting a taste of what it’s like to have your side falsely caricatured and mocked, and what it’s like to be lumped in with the extremists.

    Though again, I agree that this is not ultimately helpful. I don’t think tit-for-tat is really going to get us very far and I would not have written the kind of book Becky did. I don’t think treating the New Atheists the same way they treat religious people is ultimately going to help anything.

  • grazatt

    well said MC now on to MY question.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com NYCatheist

    Moo!

    (I was just going to post that so I can subscribe to the boiling comment thread here. Is there a way to do that without commenting?)

    But I will make a minor response to what Siamang wrote,

    I’d put Sam Harris and Hitchens almost over with the RRS, Dawkins I’d put just to the poor side of Shermer and the Skeptics society, and Dennett I’d put pretty close to Hemant.

    I’d agree that Hitchens is towards that end of the “atheist scale of politeness”, but do you really think Harris is there too? I always found Sam Harris to be very calm and polite in his talks and debates. Maybe he is even more polite than Dawkins who has used terms like “faithheads” and so on.

    Besides that I have to say I agree with almost everything else you (Siamang) wrote. That’s why I hardly ever post comments here, so many of you not only take all the words out of my mouth, but express them better than I could have, and so rapidly. Bravo!

  • http://www.thearizonasingularity.blogspot.com Fumui

    Well it seems that Ms Garrison has a lot of you riled up. Its seems some of you are basing your opinions of her views based purely on these two blog entries, and have yet to read her book which probably better represents her position. As an ardent atheist, and a man of reason, I am now obligated to read her book to better understand the argument against the unholy 4.

    I would like to thank BG for taking the time to engage in dialogue with this blog.

    It seems I have a book to read now.

  • Siamang

    I’d agree that Hitchens is towards that end of the “atheist scale of politeness”, but do you really think Harris is there too?

    You know, I honestly haven’t read enough Harris to make a supportable case for why I put him there. It was more of an impression based on some things I’ve read online. I withdraw the assertion if you’ve got a better grounding in reading them.

  • Claire

    Drew said:

    Reading the bible and getting emails does not equate with having the training to critically engage sophisticated arguments.

    It is astonishing to me that people are still discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin – no, sorry, its updated, non-medieval equivalent.

    All those sophisticated arguments, that enormous edifice of thought and rationale that Drew quotes so readily, however modernized(?), is all based on something that doesn’t exist.

    Why should Dawkins, or anyone, spend years training themselves on something equivalent to astrology just to refute it, when the simple fact that there is no evidence is enough?

    PS – ‘Love’ is a function built into the brains of all animals that raise their young, and even more strongly into the brains of social animals. It is not unique to humans, and I see no relevance to the question of whether a god exists.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    MikeClawson, what does BG have to say about her fellow Christians. What in particular does she take issue with?

    Too much to list here, but in general she takes on the conservative Religious Right, both in doctrine and politics, as well as the rampant consumerism of the American church. For a sampling of her critiques, just browse the articles over at the Wittenburg Door.

  • grazatt

    Thank you, I was starting to feel like a ghost around here!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    All those ’sophisticated arguments’, that enormous edifice of thought and rationale that Drew quotes so readily, is all based on something that doesn’t exist.

    Why should Dawkins, or anyone, spend years training themselves on something equivalent to astrology just to refute it, when the simple fact that there is no evidence is enough?

    I think they call that “begging the question” Claire.

  • Claire

    I think they call that “begging the question” Claire.

    No, it’s simply putting the burden of proof where it belongs.

    Oh, and also commenting on the absurd ways people find to spend massive amounts of time and energy, such as football, video games, or theology.

  • Peter

    Is there a difference between leprechaunology and theology?

    I would give a theologian a chance if I had a firm place to start from. But since there are more likely unicorns (beasts given probability based on the existence of horses) than god, why should I even crack a theology book?

    Why haven’t pro-theologians carefully studied books about the sasquatch, or the eternal Elvis? Their reason is the same as my reason not to read theology books.

    I am interested in reading about religion’s role in society, to which I will listen to sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and others who perform experiments with sound methods.

    Since god probably doesn’t exist, then theologians study non-existence. I think mathematicians offer deeper insights into the concept of zero.

  • Claire

    Does this mean they can dish it out but they can’t take it.

    The more I think about this, the more I think our tone was reflective of the opportunity for those of us who do go easy on the nicer, more open-minded, liberal, and sincere christians, to take on someone who made herself an easy mark.

    Rather than an argument that those on this blog are nasty to all christians, I see our responses to this author as evidence that many of us choose our targets with a certain level of discernment.

  • Karen

    Too much to list here, but in general she takes on the conservative Religious Right, both in doctrine and politics, as well as the rampant consumerism of the American church.

    Here’s my .2 cents: Good satire comes from a place of being extraordinarily well-informed of the subject which is being satirized. A good satirist knows the subject backwards and forwards, and is able to skewer the weaknesses and foibles and embarrassments of the subject from an insider position.

    This is why the Wittenburg Door is – or at least was, back when I used to get a print version in the mail – really, really good at satirizing conservative Christianity. The founders (I’m thinking of Mike Yaconelli, whom I met once) were raised as fundamentalists and came at their critique of conservative evangelicalism as those who really knew the subject intimately and could raise the problems inherent it in without being mean-spirited or stupid.

    This is what’s missing from Becky’s attempt: She clearly doesn’t know much about atheism and she didn’t do the research necessary to understand it well enough to satirize it effectively. The Door would have been much better served if it had hired an actual atheist to write a satire of atheism, much as The Onion hires really smart, informed writers who know the stuff they are skewering.

  • Karen

    Third, are we really “going ballistic”? I just thought were were getting as good as we were being given (I was giving it better, but that’s just because I’m a better writer than Garrison, and more modest and charming as well.).

    C’mon, Siamang, give yourself a little credit here! ;-)

    You know, I honestly haven’t read enough Harris to make a supportable case for why I put him there. It was more of an impression based on some things I’ve read online. I withdraw the assertion if you’ve got a better grounding in reading them.

    I’d say that on a friendliness scale, Dennett is about as sweet as Santa Claus and he looks like him, too. ;-) Harris is unfailingly polite and kind, though forthright about his viewpoint. He is quite respectful of spirituality and spiritual experiences, as well – he just thinks they shouldn’t be interpreted through a supernatural paradigm. Dawkins is more critical and will actively say that he hopes religion disappears (which neither Dennett nor Harris would say). Hitchens is just an a**hole, frankly. Though Claire’s right, he’s something of a guilty pleasure for me because he’s incredibly funny and his wit is razor sharp.

  • Richard Wade

    Mike Clawson,
    In response to Siamang’s question (way back) about how does one go about “disproving” a theological theory, you said:

    You can show a lack of coherence with the rest of the system of beliefs (the same as we disprove pretty much any kind of belief within any discipline actually). If a theological theory doesn’t fit with the rest of what is believed by the person proposing the theory or by the community of belief that person identifies with, then that theory is disproven within that system of belief.

    I usually stay out of these theological debates because I’m such a lightweight, but I’d like a clarification if you could. It sounds like you are saying that if I claim that a woman in my village is a witch because she turned me into a newt (I got better) and most of the other villagers agree with me, then I have proven that she is a witch and I have disproven any claim that she is not. It even sounds as if you are saying that my thought about her being a witch is proven true if most of my other thoughts concur with that thought. In other words the village of thoughts in my head agreeing is sufficient for proof.

    In a personal, custom made universe where actual, solid, physical, empirical evidence is not only considered unnecessary it is even eschewed, it seems that truth is determined by consensus, whether within a village or within a single brain.

    Mike, you are a witch because you turned me into a newt. (I got better.)

  • Siamang

    but I could name dozens of other names of commenters whose constant MO is ridicule and stereotyping. I’m really surprised if you don’t see it too.

    I choose not to post on many of the subjects here when I feel that there’s cheap shots being taken and piling on. Yes, I do see it. Often I feel the posts starting it are Hemant’s “This one is REALLY going to offend people!” humor posts. But I give the man some latitude as it’s his site and if I don’t like it, I’ve got my own site to retreat to.

    But on the other hand at least now the shoe is on the other foot. Some of you here are getting a taste of what it’s like to have your side falsely caricatured and mocked, and what it’s like to be lumped in with the extremists.

    I find it no insult at all to be lumped with “extremists” like Dennett. However I do understand how insulting it would be to be associated with the more extreme members of the world of believers.

    I am not offended to be lumped with Dennett, nor Dawkins nor Harris or even Hitchens except to the extent that it means that I cannot have a productive conversation with you and other Christians, Mike. The Horsemen are not murderers, they are not violent. They are merely slightly emphatic writers of books with some good arguments, some bad ones and some wildly off the mark. If this conversation went away, and all Christians lumped me with them, it wouldn’t bother me in the least.

    What WOULD bother me is if within this conversation I was lumped with them, and in so lumping my participation and contribution was dismissed by Christians as yet another atheist crusader for an unholy cause. That lumping is what I argue against for the sake of this conversation, and to continue to have a constructive dialogue with Christians.

    Here we have Garrison saying she wants the things we are actually doing: IE a constructive dialogue, and yet standing for the exact opposite with her actions. And yet standing up for constructive dialogue is seen by you as “going ballistic” and ‘dishing it out but not being able to take it.’

    Sorry, but she’s getting in the way of the dialogue, and I think the positive dialogue is worth fighting for. If she’d rather be a “satirist” who likes a one-way conversation, she’s free to lump me with those “Darwinians” who worship an old dead guy. I just don’t want her tarbrush to interfere with a positive conversation.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    The unbrainwashed said:

    I’ll end with an analogy: Let’s say man A’s wife is incredibly ugly, to the point where there’s simply no room for subjectivity. Everyone regards her as such, even her own parents. If person B approaches man A and informs of this tragic circumstance, assuming that person B’s statements are justifiably offered, then he’s not being disrespectful. It’s simply the truth. Of course, man A doesn’t want to hear it and is ineffably insulted by person B’s statements. Yet, person B is merely stating the unwanted truth.

    And no one replied to this. C’mon, it had me in stiches! Unbrainwashed, you outdid yourself! :-)

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Mike,
    I know you would like us all to rebuke the four horsemen. Well, here are some places I disagree with them (keeping in mind that I have not read a single atheist book):

    Dawkins – “Child abuse”, “The Jewish Lobby“, “eugenics may not be bad”, the “Brights”, and various other places where Dawkins just doesn’t seem to listen to himself.
    Dennett – In a word, “Memes”
    Harris – “Moderates enabling extremists”, and his attitude towards parapsychology.
    Hitchens – everything

    Is that enough?

  • Steven Carr

    On page 274 of the God Delusion, Dawkins talks about ‘child abuse’ – taking your child, tying up on an altar, and producing a knife in front of him , ready to kill him.

    You can see why theists are ready to fight to the death to stop people calling that ‘child abuse’.

    That was way over the top by Dawkins. How dare he call tying your child down and producing a knife as the first step to sacrificing him ‘child abuse’? The man is hysterically overblown. ‘Child abuse’ – that’s just laughable.

    And in chapter 9, he talks about teaching children that they will burn in Hell for all eternity.

    ‘Child abuse’? Warning children about the dangers of Hell-fire and teaching them important things like if the 5 year old child does not repent of her sin, she will be burned alive for all eternity?

    Who in their right mind would call that ‘child abuse’?

    It is that sort of hysterical nonsense about ‘child abuse’ that has left Dawkins a figure of fun.

    And Dawkins goes on to give a story about how Catholics and Protestant schoolchildren were pelted with bottles and stones in sectarian violence on their way to their respective Popish or Proddy schools.

    He called that ‘child abuse’ as well! A few bottles and stones , and suddenly we have ‘child abuse’. I begin to lose patience with the man.

  • Steven Carr

    Mind you, Dawkins does state in The God Delusion ‘A good case can be made for the educational benefits of teaching comparative religion’

    Naturally, people like Becky Garrison are not going to quote Dawkins say that children should be taught about religion.

    How are they going to sell their books if they can’t spread slanders about Dawkins saying that teaching children about religion is the same as child abuse?

    Get real folks! You are no more going to get an honest assessment of Dawkins by Becky Garrision than Osama Bin Laden is going to say that alcohol can sometimes be used for relaxtion without any harm being done.

  • AJ

    MikeClawson,

    Merely labeling something a “meme” is the not the same as making an actual argument.

    That’s true, whether it was intended as one is up to intrepretation.

    No wonder so few philosophers, sociologists and scientists actually take this ridiculous idea of “memes” seriously.

    Appealing to majority isn’t an actual argument, or was this not meant as an argument? How foolish of me to think it was an actual argument, stupid me. Breaking your “no mock” rule, I apologize.

    Carr’s comment demonstrates that it is intended less as a useful concept and more as a dysphemistic label intended to mock and marginalize religious arguments.

    Your level of ignorance is astounding. Does Carr’s comment demostrate Dawkin’s intention in coining the term, or Dennett’s and anyone elses intention? I guess you assume people don’t think it’s a useful term, so that must be the intention. So the books they write using the term, some dedicated to “memetics” must be just a façade. You don’t seem to care to know what you’re arguing against most of the time.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Your level of ignorance is astounding.

    Can I call a foul? :-(

  • Steven Carr

    Mike can just scan , looking for words like ‘meme’ and then automatically dismiss what is said. ‘Hey the atheist said meme, so he must be wrong.’

    Which is why I put it in, because I knew he would just just dismiss the comment in a kneejerk manner. Gosh, I was right!

    My comment refuted that theists often trot out that ‘Love cannot be proved’, ignoring the fact that courts have to evaluate evidence about which parent loves their child and can offer the child a loving home after the divorce.

    If you can prove love by giving evidence to a court, then why do theists tell each other the ‘meme’ that love cannot be proved, and think it is a really good point?

    Because , like Mike, they program themselves to ignore what is being really said, because the prescence of keywords like ‘meme’ kicks off the automatic ‘atheists are silly’ arguments??

  • monkeymind

    Steven, AJ what is a meme exactly?

  • Steven Carr

    I don’t think there is an ‘exactly’ about what a ‘meme’ is.

    That is part of the problem – defining memes.

    The idea is that a meme is an idea which spreads from mind to mind – perhaps a childhood play song, or an old saying, or a rumour, or a new word, or the way people started wearing baseball caps back to front.

    This sounds like a useful concept, and perhaps the way memes spread could be studied.

    But as far as I know, nobody has managed to make a proper science of ‘memes’ , as it is all a bit nebulous.

  • monkeymind

    So is there any reason to use the word “meme” instead of a more specific word? Does it convey anything that other words already in use don’t convey?

  • AJ

    I think Dennett, who I’ve read the most on “memetics” says they are information that spread from person to person. The word “meme” isn’t important because of what it means, it’s used when discussing the spread of information. I don’t think it’s implied that the information is justified or unjustified, true or false beliefs, or has beneficial or detrimental effects.

  • Steven Carr

    What’s in a word? ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.

    Which word would you prefer? I am happy with whatever you want to call it.

    I only used ‘meme’ to tease Mike….

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    Mike, the “New Atheists” are harsh in their criticisms. Get over it, and respond to what they say: they aren’t gods, they are writers with good points and bad, failings and strengths. But saying that Garrison’s air-headed inaccuracies are fair game compared to them demeans the debate, and disappoints me in your judgment. She isn’t even close to being as substantive as these writers.

    We can take it just fine. And we are taking it, and responding to it, and calling it what it is: pathetic and shallow. The fact that she turns this shallowness on other Christians most of the time does not make it better or excusable.

    What I see here is not Garrison and others giving back what they get. Agree or disagree with them, the New Atheists (aside from Hitchens) develop substantive arguments at length. Garrison isn’t really grappling with any of those arguments. She’s just tossing around misleading emotionalisms like “Dawkins says religion is child abuse” or “Harris thinks 9/11 proves there is no God” that lazily play off common atheist stereotypes. I compared it to how Ann Coulter writes, and I think that is quite accurate in a way her own Coulter characterization is way off base. It’s about sustained reason, vs. snappy comebacks that don’t really make much sense when you think about them too much.

    Garrison’s work on atheists is no better than me walking into a comedy club, doing a Dave Chapelle routine about black people, and then at the end, saying “by the way, I’m mostly serious: black people really are all like that.”

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Mike,
    I know you would like us all to rebuke the four horsemen. Well, here are some places I disagree with them (keeping in mind that I have not read a single atheist book):

    Dawkins – “Child abuse”, “The Jewish Lobby“, “eugenics may not be bad”, the “Brights”, and various other places where Dawkins just doesn’t seem to listen to himself.
    Dennett – In a word, “Memes”
    Harris – “Moderates enabling extremists”, and his attitude towards parapsychology.
    Hitchens – everything

    Is that enough?

    Yes miller, thank you. That is exactly what I mean.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl

    Is there a difference between leprechaunology and theology?

    Oh dear, still defending Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris. Has Harris been forgiven for his oh-so-mild apostasy of last year?

    And memes, still. Has anyone ever seen a meme? Has anyone come up with a definition of just what a meme is or how it behaves or how it’s transmitted, etc? Where’s the evidence, if you’ll pardon me applying your standards to this part of your catechism. If you’re going to believe in memes why not in phlogiston? You will notice that just about everything mentioned here in defense of this dogma of neo-atheism, references not science but authority, which of the heroes of neo-atheism said what, not physical evidence. That would be because there is no physical evidence (without which there can be no science) but there is a smattering of authority from Dawkins and the ruins of philosophy from Dawkin’s attach schizu, Dennett. If you want to see the quality of his thinking as opposed to what a real scientist makes of what he says about memes, I would also recommend Orr’s reviews of Dennett as well as Gould’s reviews of Dawkins and Dennett as well as the excanges between Dennett and these scientists. Many of those are online. Notice Orr’s list of ways in which Dennett says that memes are just like genes except that they’re really nothing like genes. It’s pretty hilarious, if you understand that it pretty much means that memes are exposed as bunkum by their principle defender’s bumbling.

    With the exception of Miller above, it looks to me that Mike Clawson got it right. I stopped believing that the large majority of neo-atheists are interested in honest, never mind friendly, discussion a while ago.

  • Steven Carr

    OLVLZL
    which of the heroes of neo-atheism said what

    CARR
    I see.

    So if somebody says Dawkins equates teaching children about religion with child abuse, and then we quote Dawkins saying there are benefits to teaching children about religion, then we are immediately accused of just bowing down to neo-atheist authority, and not interested in honest discussion.

    Wow! You have to admire the chutzpah of these people.

    If you defend against their lies, then you are no longer interested in honest discussion.

    And if you throw in a word like ‘meme’, they will rant about memes, ignoring the fact that I only threw in the word to show that they don’t actually read what you say, and discuss the substance of what was said.

    They just have their key phrases ‘You can’t prove love’ , ‘memes are bad’. ‘Dawkins says teaching children about religion is child abuse’, and they trot them out as and when necessary, to drown out what atheists actually write in their books.

  • AJ

    olvlzl,

    You will notice that just about everything mentioned here in defense of this dogma of neo-atheism, references not science but authority, which of the heroes of neo-atheism said what, not physical evidence.

    I think you’re refering to me but you’re too cowardly to quote me. Please explain to me how my comment was appealing to authority or was a defense of memetics as science. I’m pretty sure I haven’t weighed in on the subject, but hell, you don’t give a shit about what people actually write, and you’re not alone here in this regard.

  • monkeymind

    The word “meme” isn’t important because of what it means, it’s used when discussing the spread of information.

    But if doesn’t convey anything meaningful, why use it?
    The Trouble With Memes
    The way I see it used most often, the other guy is infected with memes, whereas the speaker has thoughts and ideas.

    Sorry if this is off-topic, but I can’t find much to say about the interview with Ms. Garrison, other than I don’t think she’s ready for prime time. I agree with what Miller said. I also criticize Harris for saying “we’re at war with Islam,” flirting with torture, and his ludicrous belief that fundamentalists are the ones who really believe in their Holy Book, when what they do is pick and choose different bits than liberals.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Mike, the “New Atheists” are harsh in their criticisms. Get over it, and respond to what they say: they aren’t gods, they are writers with good points and bad, failings and strengths.

    Trust me, I’m well “over it”. Frankly, I don’t give a damn what the New Atheists think. They’re welcome to say whatever they like. It frustrates me less that they are saying the things they are saying, and more that they are the ones getting all the attention from the media, other atheists, etc. It’s the same reason I get fed up when CNN only ever interviews the worst examples of Christians too. I don’t want to have to respond to these guys because they don’t give me much that’s worth interacting with. I know atheists are capable of much better. I’d rather interact with those people.

    What I see here is not Garrison and others giving back what they get. Agree or disagree with them, the New Atheists (aside from Hitchens) develop substantive arguments at length. Garrison isn’t really grappling with any of those arguments. She’s just tossing around misleading emotionalisms like “Dawkins says religion is child abuse” or “Harris thinks 9/11 proves there is no God” that lazily play off common atheist stereotypes.

    How do you know? As I pointed out, Hemant’s the only one here who’s actually read her book.

    Also, the impression I got was that her point wasn’t to grapple with all their arguments, but was in fact to deal with precisely those kind of inflammatory “emotionalisms” that Dawkins, et al. do in fact throw around. It seemed to me that her point was not that “atheists are wrong because the New Atheists are mean” but rather “the New Atheists are mean and it’s hurting their cause”.

    Anyhow, I’m not trying to defend Garrison’s approach. Like I’ve said, I don’t think it’s ultimately helpful. But Becky is right about one thing: the New Atheists are mean and they’re not helping either. I just want to see atheists get better representation out there than those guys.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    The way I see it used most often, the other guy is infected with memes, whereas the speaker has thoughts and ideas.

    Yep, that exactly how I see it used most of the time too. It’s a way of implying that the other person’s arguments are not actually valid rational ideas that he has given a lot of thought to, that he is instead just parroting back some “meme” he picked up somewhere. It then becomes just a lazy way of not having to actually engage with someone’s arguments.

  • Steven Carr

    New Atheists could be silenced pretty quickly by producing these amazingly sophisticated arguments for the existence of God that they haven’t bothered to find out about.

    Somehow or other, it never occurs to critics of New Atheists to do that.

    Certainly it never occured to Becky…..

    It is much easier just to attack Hitchens for being a mean drunk, which he is, and to attack Harris for his silly comments about a war with Islam, and to attack Dennett for having a less than brilliant idea once in a while.

    I think the logic goes ‘Memes don’t exist, therefore God does.’

  • Claire

    intended less as a useful concept and more as a dysphemistic label

    I don’t agree with this, I think memes are an interesting concept rather than a pejorative, but I do love “dysphemistic”. Thanks for the new word, Mike!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I am not offended to be lumped with Dennett, nor Dawkins nor Harris or even Hitchens except to the extent that it means that I cannot have a productive conversation with you and other Christians, Mike. The Horsemen are not murderers, they are not violent. They are merely slightly emphatic writers of books with some good arguments, some bad ones and some wildly off the mark. If this conversation went away, and all Christians lumped me with them, it wouldn’t bother me in the least.

    What WOULD bother me is if within this conversation I was lumped with them, and in so lumping my participation and contribution was dismissed by Christians as yet another atheist crusader for an unholy cause. That lumping is what I argue against for the sake of this conversation, and to continue to have a constructive dialogue with Christians.

    I understand. All I’m saying is that if atheists don’t want to be lumped in with them, then they ought to do more to distance themselves from them – in the same way you guys are always insisting that progressive Christians like myself need to do more to distance ourselves from the fundamentalists.

    Here we have Garrison saying she wants the things we are actually doing: IE a constructive dialogue, and yet standing for the exact opposite with her actions. And yet standing up for constructive dialogue is seen by you as “going ballistic” and ‘dishing it out but not being able to take it.’

    Sorry, but she’s getting in the way of the dialogue, and I think the positive dialogue is worth fighting for. If she’d rather be a “satirist” who likes a one-way conversation, she’s free to lump me with those “Darwinians” who worship an old dead guy. I just don’t want her tarbrush to interfere with a positive conversation.

    Fair enough, I agree. Garrison’s satire is just as inflammatory as that which she is critiquing, and I admit that I cringed when I first saw the title of her book several months ago. I was afraid of exactly what you describe here – that it would get in the way of real dialogue.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Really, that was enough? Cool.

    But I still have trouble thinking that the four horsemen have an overall negative effect. I think there are two main atheist stereotypes: the angry atheist, and the evil/lost atheist. The four horsemen have done a lot to destroy the latter stereotype if not the former. Frankly, I think destroying the latter stereotype should take precedence. Atheists are no longer some mysterious, faceless minority, but a movement.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I don’t agree with this, I think memes are an interesting concept rather than a pejorative, but I do love “dysphemistic”. Thanks for the new word, Mike!

    They could be an interesting concept, but I’ve never heard them discussed as such. I’ve only ever seen it used in a pejorative way. I’m open to a more nuanced discussion of memes, but I’m not interested in a concept that’s primarily used to imply that people’s arguments aren’t worth considering because they’re “just a meme”.

    And you’re welcome for the word. I was hesitant to use it since I didn’t know if most people would know what it means (it’s the opposite of euphemism), but I couldn’t think of any other word that better expressed what I wanted to say.

  • Claire

    An actual question for Ms. Garrison, if she’s still taking them: who is her intended audience?

    It doesn’t seem like it could be christians, because she’s just repeating the tired old stereotypes that they already know and (some of them) have completely embraced, and why preach to the choir?

    I don’t think it could be atheists, because she didn’t do her research well enough to make anything but a bad impression.

    I’m not sure who else would care, so I’m puzzled about her intended audience and what new thing she was intending to offer with this book.

    Unless it’s just that preaching to the choir tends to be profitable, there is that, but there are easier ways to make money than by writing a book.

  • Serra

    After all, these are the same dudes who slam Christians (and rightly so) for using shoddy scientific research to launch, say, Creationism museums.

    Shoddy scientific research? From all that I’ve seen and heard about the Creationist museum, what’s it in bears no resemblance to any scientific research. Not shoddy. None.

    Although I hate to say it, I feel that the initial criticisms of Becky Garrison as dismissing any and all problems with her work with the phrase “I’m a satirist,” are too true. Also, from the couple of pages I was able to read from her book on amazon, she seems more involved in creating a glib phrase then doing the actual thinking and research required to make a good argument.

  • Steven Carr

    BECKY
    Also, saying that God has a controlling hand in the world to the point where He controls individual miscarriages is an overtly simplistic and childlike view of God that doesn’t reflect the fullness of the faith.

    CARR
    Hey, God isn’t going to lift a finger to prevent miscarriages (let alone a controlling hand)

    That’s because there is so such thing as a God.

    Why did God design human beings so that they miscarry so often?

    Sorry, why did God *guide evolution* to produce human beings so that they miscarry so often (got to get the liberal Christian jargon correct)

    God sustains all things in the viewpoint of Christians, except bad things , of course.

    All bad things are just jolly bad luck, which God can’t be bothered to do anything about.

    And if you don’t exist, how can you be expected to have a controlling hand in the lives of people who pray to you daily for their babies to be born healthy and well?

  • Steven Carr

    BECKY
    the focus of my work has been on encouraging Christians to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ

    CARR
    Is that the guy who claimed that his god would behave just like somebody who would forgive people the greatest debt in the world and then hand them over to be tortured if they asked for the money back that was owed to them?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    But I still have trouble thinking that the four horsemen have an overall negative effect. I think there are two main atheist stereotypes: the angry atheist, and the evil/lost atheist. The four horsemen have done a lot to destroy the latter stereotype if not the former. Frankly, I think destroying the latter stereotype should take precedence. Atheists are no longer some mysterious, faceless minority, but a movement.

    Sorry, I don’t follow you. How do the New Atheists destroy the stereotype of atheists as evil or lost? For those Christians inclined to think in these terms (which of course is just reprehensible in the first place), the Four Horsemen would probably be exactly what they mean by “evil” and “lost”. IMHO, a much better way of destroying both these stereotypes is through respectful conversations and personal relationships. A movement can be just as scary to some as a faceless minority, but a friend, a neighbor, or even an online conversation partner is not. Hemant, Siamang, Helen, Richard Wade, etc. have done more to improve my overall impression of atheists than any of the New Atheists ever could.

  • Steven Carr

    And the figure of Jesus in the Gospels has done more to destroy my impression of Christians as good people than Mike could ever do (unless he too started calling people of other tribes ‘dogs’)

  • Claire

    Mike said:

    I’ve only ever seen it used in a pejorative way.

    And I’ve only seen it used as a shorter way to describe “stuff that gets passed around so much that you are amazed when somebody hasn’t heard of it/seen it/done it/etc”. Its use in reference to religion or as a pejorative was new to me.

    And as far as uncommon words go, think of it this way – if anyone is online reading it, they are only about 3 seconds away from dictionary.com, so please use all you like. I do love a new word…

  • Steven Carr

    BECKY (in her book)
    ‘You know, I just wonder what kind of data sheets they are handing out to their potential converts to prove God does not exist…’

    DAWKINS (page 54) of TGD
    ‘That you cannot prove God’s non-existence is accepted and trivial….’

    CARR
    The problem with attacking New Atheists is that you actually have to read their books.

    Otherwise you get caught out blatantly making them say the exact opposite of what they do say.

    And then atheists realise you are just trying to make a quick buck, by preaching to the choir.

    Dawkins says that Yahweh almost certainly does not exist, much like Zeus almost certainly does not exist.

    But he never claims a disproof of Yahweh.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Here’s my .2 cents: Good satire comes from a place of being extraordinarily well-informed of the subject which is being satirized. A good satirist knows the subject backwards and forwards, and is able to skewer the weaknesses and foibles and embarrassments of the subject from an insider position….

    This is what’s missing from Becky’s attempt: She clearly doesn’t know much about atheism and she didn’t do the research necessary to understand it well enough to satirize it effectively. The Door would have been much better served if it had hired an actual atheist to write a satire of atheism, much as The Onion hires really smart, informed writers who know the stuff they are skewering.

    I think that’s a valid criticism. I did sort of get that impression too. Although I have heard Becky say that her family are atheists, so she may have some experience with it. Of course, she said this in an article in The Door, so there’s no guarantee of its accuracy.

  • Siamang

    All I’m saying is that if atheists don’t want to be lumped in with them, then they ought to do more to distance themselves from them – in the same way you guys are always insisting that progressive Christians like myself need to do more to distance ourselves from the fundamentalists.

    What gets tiresome is having to play the distancing dance over and over and over and over everytime someone chants “The Horsemen are mean“. You are acting like a concern troll, and maybe I just need a standard disclaimer about how I hate and eschew the negativity of Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens that I can copy and paste every time you ring a little bell. Perhaps it can be Miller’s post, with his permission. Can I sign that as a statement? If I do, can we be done with the “I can’t believe so many people are lining up to defend these guys/I can’t believe nobody’s condemned Hitchens for something his publisher did/everyone step right up and condemn someone I don’t like before I accuse you of a double-standard or bias or something.”

    GOOD DAY SIR!

    ;-)

    You know I love you, mike, buddy, right? BUT MAN YOU CHAFE MY BUTT!

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl

    OLVLZL
    which of the heroes of neo-atheism said what

    What does this have to do with what I said? Having gone down the route of quoting them directly here, with citations and even links, only to have you folks abruptly change the subject, that’s an unprofitable waste of time. I’ve found if someone pursues a line of argument with moderate rigor, insisting on staying on topic instead of accepting the typical dodges and weavings, you folks run complaining that the nasty old theist is being mean.

    Isn’t it funny how neo-atheists feel they have to pretend that the writings of their foremost heroes don’t mean what they mean as a defense of them? A person looking at this situation could be forgiven for believing that you’re ashamed of them and need to invent an idealized version of them. Sort of like how the Catholic far-right in New York deals with the late Francis Cardinal Spelman. William Donohue, in short. No, if people spout bigotry they are responsible for what they said. Note the discussion of James Watson here last fall in the weeks before he proved me right by spouting the racist pseudo-science which finally got him fired.

    New Atheists could be silenced pretty quickly by producing these amazingly sophisticated arguments for the existence of God that they haven’t bothered to find out about.

    No, I suspect they couldn’t. The four heroes of neo-atheism will only be silenced by one thing, the fad passing and people ignoring them. It will pass, being a fad, then we will find out if this is true. Actually, I kind of like the old style atheists, they had style and tended to know what they were talking about. The intellectual tradition of a bygone age.

    I think you’re refering to me but you’re too cowardly to quote me. Please explain to me how my comment was appealing to authority or was a defense of memetics as science. I’m pretty sure I haven’t weighed in on the subject, but hell, you don’t give a shit about what people actually write, and you’re not alone here in this regard.

    Well, that’s the trouble, AJ, you think it’s always about you.

    If you are pretty sure you haven’t weighed in on the subject, why would you think I was referencing your blather? Are you offering to produce citations leading to the published, peer-reviewed science confirming the existence of memes and an explanation of them? That might prove rather difficult because unless you are innocent enough to believe that what Susan Blackmore gets published at Prometheus – the neo-atheist Regnery – is science, it doesn’t exist. If not, why not do what you said you were going to the last time you talked to me, ignore me? Please. It’s doing me so much good.

  • AJ

    olvlzl,

    If you are pretty sure you haven’t weighed in on the subject, why would you think I was referencing your blather?

    Because you stated that someone mentioned what a “neo-atheist” said, i.e. Dennett, about memes, and I was the only person to do so. I think this is suitable evidence of your dishonesty for the moment.

  • Russ

    Garrison seems not to understand that anyone desiring to do so can concoct their own “Christianity-with-a-twist;” that is, they can just make one up. Joseph Smith did just that with Mormonism. Mary Baker Eddy did the same with Christian Science. David Koresh carried on the tradition in making up the Branch Davidians. There is no “True Christianity Clearinghouse” which enforces a set of doctrines. So, if you can’t find a Christianity that will tell you what you want to hear, roll your own. What could that mean for Christian theology?

    Today there are more than 34000 Christianities worldwide, with hundreds more being added each year, propounding such a vast assortment of beliefs that one could conclude that there is no ‘Christianity,’ per se, but rather many distinct religions having only a name common among them. Not all Christianities are theistic; not all Christianities accept miracles; not all Christianities believe in Hell; not all Christianities believe in the divinity of Jesus; not all Christianities believe in the trinity. Realize that this suggests that embracing one particiular Christianity, brings down the damnation from thousands of others. Christianity, as such, constitutes neither a religion, nor a coherent theology of any sort.

    So, I ask what would it mean for a Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris or Stenger to analyze or otherwise decrypt arguments from the brightest lights of Christian theology? Which Christianity’s theology? How large a book would it take to simply mention the doctrinal differences among the myriad Christianities that are significant enough to land oneself in some other Christianity’s Hell? Note that regardless of which Christianity you choose, you are hellbound according to the teachings of some different Christianity. Just last July, for instance, the pope stated emphatically that Roman Catholicism is the one, the only, the unique path whereby salvation can be had. Even the sincerest of believers by simply not being Roman Catholic are bound for an eternity of torture. Evidently, not all Christianities are created equal and the pope wants this known. Though they might call themselves Christian, the pope says non-Roman Catholics are of the wrong Christian pedigree to make it to a cozy eternity. Clearly, some Christians recognize that being Christian is not enough. You must be the right species of Christian. To be sure, turn about is fair play, and lots of non-Roman Catholics would say the same thing about the pope’s long term prospects.

    I wonder which Christianity Becky Garrison believes is the right one, and, for that matter, is it the right one? How would she know?

    The mere notion of there being a “Christian Theology” is an absurdity. For an educated person like Garrison to make the demand that a critic engage with only the best in theology, suggests, of course, that there would be a consensus amongst Christians as to who should speak for all of Christianity. Does anyone honestly think there exists any one person on this planet who has so internalized the numerous Christianities that they could actually represent them all? Given that the variability in Christianities knows no bounds, to be sure, there exists no such spokesperson. In fact pick fifty elite Christian spokepersons, who will, of course, not agree among themselves, and still the vast diversity in Christianities will go unrepresented.

    Beyond the difficulties in finding spokepersons that all Christians would want to have represent their beliefs in a debate — realize that contenders would no doubt be sought among those currently denigrated, at least by many US Christians, as the arrogant, elitist university faculty — there is the gnarly problem that the man in the pew, for the most part, doesn’t care one iota about the musings and ponderings of theologians. Theology, daily life, and religious practice are by no means tightly coupled.

    For example, Catholics by doctrine are forbidden to have abortions, and yet among US Christians, Catholics have the highest abortion rate. In general, the layman lives his life as he sees fit: doctrine does not dictate practice. So, if a public intellectual like a Dennett, a Harris, a Stenger, a Dawkins or a Hitchens wants to appeal to the man on the street, why would he couch his arguments in terms that his target audience wouldn’t recognize. If you want to appeal to millions of people, you choose language, arguments and rhetoric that will be accessible to those same millions, not, I repeat, NOT, language, arguments and rhetoric that will be grasped only by ivory tower academics. The likes of Alister McGrath, John Polkinghorne, Dinesh D’Souza, Alvin Plantinga, and Becky Garrison do not, in general, speak for the religious layman.

    The atheist authors mentioned here are making appeals to the common man for the application of reason in their lives. That’s the same common man who will in November of this year cast ballots for the President of the United States, a political position that impacts every person on the planet. If this same appeal for reason had come in the late 90′s, perhaps living on this planet would have a very different feel to it these days. If these atheist authors had the prominence then that they do now, perhaps, just perhaps, some voters would have been less influenced by those religious frauds we call clergy, and, again, perhaps, just perhaps, the fortunes of tens of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children, and tens of thousands of US servicemen and woman would have been rather different. For all those innocent Iraqi victims, their fates were sealed, not by the god they put their undying faith in, but instead by religiously-influenced US voters: remember, Christian Fundamentalists gloating that their God had finally put their long-dreamed-of man into the Presidency? If reason, instead of religion, prevails this November, we may all rest a whole lot easier, and these few atheist authors may well have played a significant role.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl

    AJ, first you tell me you didn’t weigh in on the subject and now you are telling me you are the only one who did. Would you please make up your mind which it is?

    Actually, if someone wants to ridicule memes, Dennett is pretty much the whole ball game because as he sees himself as the Thomas Huxley to Dawkins’ Darwin – something I suspect neither of these long dead men would welcome if they were alive to witness the spectacle – Dennett is about the last person of any repute who still bothers with memes. They are so 70s.

    I was actually doing something you might not understand, responding to the substance of the post. Especially notice “substance”.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Mike, I agree with Sean Carroll on this matter. He probably explains it better than me.

    Siamang, you have permission.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    You know I love you, mike, buddy, right? BUT MAN YOU CHAFE MY BUTT!

    Fair enough. Sorry, I’ll stop harping on it now.

  • Allison

    I’ve been staying out of the conversation for the most part because (a) I’m a lightweight on theology (grew up atheist, never saw any reason to start believing, since I don’t think there’s a deity I don’t see much reason to read that stuff other than for sociological purposes, and then what really concerns me is more what the specific person I’m talking to or about believes) and (b) I haven’t read the four horsemen’s stuff and don’t really have any intention of doing so. I’m not that interested in the “God exists/no, there’s no such thing” debate at this point in my life.

    Mike, that said, I think the horsemen do have a potential benefit, but it does not lie in converting people from Christianity, opening a dialogue, or anything like that. Most of the reactions I’ve seen from Christians of any sort have been ones of anger, so if they’re trying to persuade the average Christian to use reason rather than faith to decide things, I don’t think it’s working that well. The primary benefit I’ve seen is that closeted agnostics and atheists who read them or see them in the press are getting braver and “coming out” more than I’ve seen previously. I think that could have a real positive benefit not only in helping atheists form more of a presence but also ultimately in terms of more atheists being “out” eventually leading to more views being represented within the atheist community and the country as a whole. I live in the South and I’ve often heard people saying things like that they’ve never met an atheist or agnostic. Even having someone say “You know, I don’t believe…..” is progress in a lot of places. I’m not convinced that destroying stereotypes is the goal.. Of course, I could be completely wrong as I read here a while ago that Harris said we shouldn’t even label ourselves as atheists. See? Me = lightweight!

    I certainly don’t agree with the proposition I’ve heard represented as being Harris’ that moderate/liberal/progressive religious people are simply apologetics for the fundamentalists (who just seem to choose different bits of scripture as being important) and therefore shouldn’t be worked with. But then, I’m married to a Christian, so my marriage wouldn’t survive very long if I held that sort of view! I think it’s more productive to acknowledge our differences, yes, but to work together on common goals where they exist.

  • grazatt

    You know I love you, mike, buddy, right? BUT MAN YOU CHAFE MY BUTT!

    Fair enough. Sorry, I’ll stop harping on it now.

    Mike, you’ve been chafing his butt? Wow, you emergent Christians really are open minded!

  • Claire

    Miller, thanks for the link and the Overton Window concept. I always thought there was something like that going on but had no idea it had a name.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com NYCatheist

    Claire wrote,

    And as far as uncommon words go, think of it this way – if anyone is online reading it, they are only about 3 seconds away from dictionary.com, so please use all you like. I do love a new word…

    I must also thank Mike for that cool word. How did I miss that one after all these years of reading? For those of you using Firefox (most if not all, right, right??) it’s easy to highlight a word, right click on it, and select your quick search engine like Google or Wikipedia which then appears in another tab with the result. You don’t even need to touch the keyboard!

    Now to Olvlzl: Am I correct in assuming you are the resident contrarian non-theist? (Sorry if that’s wrong, I can’t remember if you described your beliefs or lack thereof before.) Since you don’t like the writings of the 4 horsemen, what books on atheism or related topics do you like? Do you have any favorite authors in these areas?

    And finally to go back on topic, I looked up “satire” in Wikipedia and one example given there of contemporary satire is The Colbert Report. I’m not sure what Becky is doing is actually satire in this case. From the few pages I read on the Amazon preview it seems more like shallow criticism phrased in a humorous or wacky tone.

    Maybe a useful exercise would be for some atheists here to create a real satire of the writings of the 4 horsemen. Can it be done? I am not much of a humor writer, but a spoof of Sam Harris I can imagine would use the phrase “mode of discourse” over and over again! ;-)

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    Trust me, I’m well “over it”. Frankly, I don’t give a damn what the New Atheists think.

    That doesn’t give me much reason to think that you’re really doing much different than what BG is doing then. If people writing books criticizing the role of faith and religion in culture is the “worst” of atheists, then we must be the absolute best people in the entire world (we’re not, but that’s what that over-the-top exaggeration gets you). I mean, comparing the 4 to Coulter? To fundamentalists? That’s such a reach that it really demeans the conversation as much as anything else.

    Also, the impression I got was that her point wasn’t to grapple with all their arguments, but was in fact to deal with precisely those kind of inflammatory “emotionalisms” that Dawkins, et al. do in fact throw around.

    Except, in my opinion, the charges that they do are largely overblown and exaggerated by use of classic anti-atheist stereotypes, all under cover of basically misrepresenting what they are saying.

    But Becky is right about one thing: the New Atheists are mean and they’re not helping either. I just want to see atheists get better representation out there than those guys.

    Your concern is touching and I’ll even give you the good faith of thinking it sincere. But I don’t see much reason to think that it’s accurate. I think any atheist that speaks up, including someone like Hemant, will get called mean no matter what they say. And I don’t think anyone but Hitchens is particularly mean (and for him, it’s as much a literary thing as anything else: he’s a jerk about the war as well and all sorts of things I don’t agree with him on), and so that criticism seems downright sloppy. And thus I think that charge is by and large used as a dodge to avoid having to directly discuss what they are saying. When you actually sit down and read Hitchens or Dawkins, or especially Dennet the claim that they are mean and nasty and evil starts to look very very ridiculous, and makes you really start to question those who insist that it’s true.

    I mean, I’m a pretty darn pro-religious non-believer. I can’t said Brian Sapient. But when you say things like this, and I don’t want this to come off the wrong way, but honestly, your “better representation” hopes sound to me a lot like when people used to complain about those civil rights troublemakers stirring up the nice friendly colored folks and making them all angry and activist. Not that atheists are anything close to what African Americans suffered: but it’s the same grating, and perhaps forgivably unintentional, condescension that rings out.

    How do you know? As I pointed out, Hemant’s the only one here who’s actually read her book.

    I’m responding to what she’s said. Unless her own words don’t represent her, then I think I’m in the clear on that.

  • Claire

    Did no one introduce you? NYCatheist, meet olvlzl. He throws around the word “neo-atheist” as though it’s a synonym for nazi or child-molester or some such, and has a bee in his bonnet about these four writers. Contrarian was a kind way to put it.

    That’s the second time Mike has tossed out a good new word, I do hope he continues.

  • Siamang

    Great points, Russ. I enjoyed reading that.

  • Richard Wade

    Yes Russ, that was remarkable.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “Trust me, I’m well “over it”. Frankly, I don’t give a damn what the New Atheists think.”

    That doesn’t give me much reason to think that you’re really doing much different than what BG is doing then. If people writing books criticizing the role of faith and religion in culture is the “worst” of atheists, then we must be the absolute best people in the entire world

    No what I mean is that besides being unnecessarily rude, their critiques are just poorly done. They rest far too much on bad philosophy and un-nuanced over-generalizations. They also display an appalling lack of familiarity with their subject matter. I have to believe there are better apologists for atheism out there than these guys. When I say I want better representation, I mean I want to hear from some atheists who can actually give me some good arguments, not the sloppy, amatuerish ones I find from these guys. I want conversation partners I can respect. I know they’re out there because I’ve encountered a few of them here. I just wish they got more attention than these other guys.

    I think any atheist that speaks up, including someone like Hemant, will get called mean no matter what they say.

    I disagree. There is a big difference between openly and confidently saying that one is an atheist and being assertive about giving ones reasons for it, and being a jerk about it in a way that tears down everyone who thinks differently. It is possible to affirm ones own views without having to denigrate the intelligence or character of all those who disagree with you – and that is exactly what the New Atheists don’t seem to understand. I don’t think the New Atheists are “mean” because they defend their atheism. I have absolutely no problem with that. I think they’re mean (and wrong) because they say that anyone who is not an atheist must therefore be delusional, irrational, immoral, etc…

    The bottom line is you all can do better. You don’t have to be like the New Atheists in order to get positive attention for atheism. You’re falling into the Brian Sapient trap again if you think that your only two options are “Aggressive, Jerky New Atheist” or “Passive, Neville Chamberlain, Appeaser Atheist”. There is a third way. And frankly, you all have much better arguments for atheism than these guys are trotting out, and which don’t actually require insulting people who disagree. I know, I’ve heard them. Let’s have more of that.

  • AJ

    MikeClawson,

    No what I mean is that besides being unnecessarily rude, their critiques are just poorly done. They rest far too much on bad philosophy and un-nuanced over-generalizations. They also display an appalling lack of familiarity with their subject matter. I have to believe there are better apologists for atheism out there than these guys. When I say I want better representation, I mean I want to hear from some atheists who can actually give me some good arguments, not the sloppy, amatuerish ones I find from these guys. I want conversation partners I can respect. I know they’re out there because I’ve encountered a few of them here. I just wish they got more attention than these other guys.

    You’re not going to get far with many atheists then. They would think you’re the one with bad philosophy, and who think that labelling the “four horseman” as “apologists for atheism” shows a lack of understanding and reason. We haven’t seen you give any good arguments, or good counters to the arguments of the “four horseman”.

    One would see this as you not wanting a conversation at all. You only seem to attack people without content like this because they say that faith is irrational, dangerous, and harmful. You are perfectly capable of doing this when you don’t even seem to have read or understood their arguments.

    It is possible to affirm ones own views without having to denigrate the intelligence or character of all those who disagree with you

    That’s what Dennett, Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens do? They say that all people with faith lack intelligence or character?

    I think they’re mean (and wrong) because they say that anyone who is not an atheist must therefore be delusional, irrational, immoral, etc…

    Have at least one delusion, in the general sense, not the psychiactric sense. Since you believe nothing can be a delusion I guess you would have a problem with this concept. Irrational, yes, obviously, it follows from their argument, mean and wrong? Perhaps you live your life by irrationalism as you seem to. Immoral? No, that’s not right.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl

    I have to believe there are better apologists for atheism out there than these guys.

    There are atheists who are informed and articulate and just as important have an abiding sense of fairness and honesty but in my experience they’re not especially interested in acting as apologists for atheism. So, what of the vast majority of the neo-atheists? What purpose do they serve? They could serve as a much needed source of critique of the beliefs and, much more importantly, the actions which stem from self-purported religious people. But they don’t since they are more interested in the high school clique style behavior that is just about their entire repertoire. It’s so much easier when you don’t have to do all that difficult reading and learning and practicing a single instead of a double standard. In that they are not much different from other fundamentalists and bigots who generally don’t hold themselves to even the most basic levels of knowledge, reasoning and morality. Perhaps this is why atheists who have integrity generally don’t bother.

    Liberals, both religious and non-religious who are willing to do what is necessary to being taken seriously by people with a sense of fairness do a far better job of trying of pointing out the problems with religion, many within their own congregations and sects.

  • Steven Carr

    More bluster and hot air from olvzl who cannot do anything other than insult, call names, call people bigots, and generally avoid all serious discussion.

    Here is a serious discussion point for olzvl. Do you agree with Dawkins that there are educational benefits to teaching children about religion?

  • Steven Carr

    OLZVL
    Liberals, both religious and non-religious who are willing to do what is necessary to being taken seriously by people with a sense of fairness do a far better job of trying of pointing out the problems with religion, many within their own congregations and sects.

    CARR
    Wow!

    Apparently religious liberal people do a far better job of pointing out there is no evidence for God than Dawkins does!

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl

    Steven Carr, did I strike a nerve? I hope some objective observer can appreciate the irony of your charge that I’m an old meanie.

    Apparently religious liberal people do a far better job of pointing out there is no evidence for God than Dawkins does!

    I’ve never had a discussion about religion with a religious liberal who wasn’t better informed, more objective and less arrogant than Dawkins. There is no evidence that there is not any god either, that’s why belief is called belief, at least by people honest enough to admit that their belief isn’t knowledge.

  • Steven Carr

    I asked OIvzl a serious discussion question, which was ignored with more name calling about people being ‘arrogant’.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com NYCatheist

    Olvlzl wrote:

    There are atheists who are informed and articulate and just as important have an abiding sense of fairness and honesty but in my experience they’re not especially interested in acting as apologists for atheism.

    Are you saying you can’t recommend any author who has written a positive essay or book about atheism? (ie. By writing about it, you automatically become an “atheist apologist” so you are disqualified.) I’m just curious if you admire any writers in this area.

    It sounds kind of like Fight Club. If you want to be in The Good Atheist™ club, the first rule is not to talk about it!

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl

    NYCatheist, not necessarily. Everyone who is a religious believer and writes about it isn’t automatically an apologist, a huge literature of criticism of religion by devout believers exists. As for an honest atheist, anyone who begins by acknowledging that their rejection of the existence of a god is a belief and not scientific knowledge would be a good place to start, though people like that tend towards being classified as agnostics. I kind of like atheists of the “I don’t believe there is a God” type. They’re telling a truth instead of asserting a falsehood and generally are more pleasant. Though they generally don’t make the best sellers list by hawking hate filled volumes of nonsense. Jonathan Miller strikes me as being like that, John Mortimer, certainly is one.

    Carr, there was a question in that? I see an assertion but no question. Which isn’t much of a surprise either. If you meant it as a question I provided a complete answer to it. The answer would be no, religious liberals would almost certainly know that the quest for evidence on the question either way is certain to not give any evidence that could honestly be called that. Dawkins is too arrogant to admit to the limits that make this true, replacing assertions of certainty or his hypocritical applications of pseudo-probability arguments for honesty in the matter.

  • valmorian

    Ozlvl, your posts about Dawkins’ “arrogance” just make it appear that you’ve never actually read his books or understand his position. Dawkins himself admits that it is possible there is a God, but that it’s just very unlikely. He’s also quite clear about what he means God in that context, as well.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com NYCatheist

    Olvlzl, I agree with you there. I love Jonathan Miller.

    I hope you also enjoy another atheist writer named Hemant Mehta. He’s pretty well known around these parts. ;-)

  • Karen

    Russ, that’s the best response on the topic I’ve read since The Courtier’s Reply. Thank you so much! And miller, my thanks also for the article on the Overton Window. Never heard of it before, but it’s an extremely useful concept.

    And frankly, you all have much better arguments for atheism than these guys are trotting out

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I could never come close to presenting the kinds of logical arguments that Harris, Dennett and Dawkins do. (Or Hitchens, for that matter, though I disagree with both his tone and many of his ideas.)

    And though we have some brilliant thinkers and writers here, I don’t think most of them could equal the Four Horsemen either. There’s a reason these guys are best-selling authors – you don’t generate much publicity or sell many intellectual books like these if your arguments are poor and weak, and you certainly don’t sell many books preaching to the “atheist choir” because there aren’t that many of us.

    If you think their arguments are really poor, I have to wonder if you’ve read a lot of their books, essays, etc. For instance, here’s Sam Harris politely but devastatingly debating Catholic Andrew Sullivan. It’s an amazing read, at least to my mind.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl

    valmorian, the automatic charge that someone who finds Dawkins arrogant hasn’t read him is hilarious, it is nearly universal that people who have read, heard and met Dawkins find him arrogant, even some of those who agree with him. If that’s true you wonder how he could have gotten on the best seller list.

    Having quoted him and addressed the two more absurd arguments in his God Delusion at length here before, you have no grounds for making that assertion.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “And frankly, you all have much better arguments for atheism than these guys are trotting out”

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I could never come close to presenting the kinds of logical arguments that Harris, Dennett and Dawkins do.

    Ironically Karen, when I wrote that, I originally considered listing some of the atheists here who have given me far more convincing arguments against God than anything I’ve seen from the Four Horsemen, and your name was at the top of the list, as was Siamang’s, Eliza’s and Helen’s. Of course, I was thinking more of the conversations we used to have over at the OTM boards and than anything debates we’ve had over here recently. Anyhow, don’t sell yourself short. The personal reasons that you all have given me for why you ended up rejecting faith are far more compelling than any of the philosophical arguments coming from the New Atheists.

    And though we have some brilliant thinkers and writers here, I don’t think most of them could equal the Four Horsemen either. There’s a reason these guys are best-selling authors – you don’t generate much publicity or sell many intellectual books like these if your arguments are poor and weak, and you certainly don’t sell many books preaching to the “atheist choir” because there aren’t that many of us.

    The reason these guys are best-sellers is because they are inflammatory, not because they necessarily have good arguments. You should know as well as I do that what sells in our society is not intelligence but entertainment. For proof, just turn on the cable news networks.

    If you think their arguments are really poor, I have to wonder if you’ve read a lot of their books, essays, etc.

    I’ve read a fair amount from them, and I have yet to come across anything that I found very impressive. Listen, I’m not the most brilliant philosopher or anything, so my criterion of a good argument is that you have to at least be able to stump me. If you can’t even do that, then it can’t be that good. And so far I haven’t read anything by the New Atheists that I didn’t have at least a half a dozen immediate replies for.

  • Steven Carr

    OLVZL
    The answer would be no, religious liberals would almost certainly know that the quest for evidence on the question either way is certain to not give any evidence that could honestly be called that.

    CARR
    So why is Dawkins ‘arrogant’ to point out that there is no evidence for any gods?

    And why are the ‘half a dozen immediate replies’ for what you and Dawkins agree on – that there is no evidence for any gods?

  • valmorian

    “the automatic charge that someone who finds Dawkins arrogant hasn’t read him is hilarious”

    It’s not an automatic charge. It’s a charge I make after having read and understood his arguments. I haven’t seen you post any arguments addressing his claims, since I don’t read every word on this site. If you have done so, please do point me at the relevant posts.

  • Russ

    MikeClawson,

    You said,

    No what I mean is that besides being unnecessarily rude, their critiques are just poorly done.

    Putting this together with some of the other comments you’ve made on this thread, I fully appreciate your call for civil discourse on this matter. However, it seems to me that, regarding the Four Horsemen, you might be confusing literary style for rudeness. As I think back to Mr. Mehta’s exchange with Garrison, I wonder how often she would be construed as “rude” instead of “satirical.” I truly do not see any of these authors as fundamentally rude, and that is especially so in the contents of their books.

    Dennett appears to me to have gone out of his way to be exceedingly cordial while making his appeal for the scientific study of religion. I see him as downright pleasant. Someone else on this thread noted that Harris is consistently congenial and I agree. Dawkins and Hitchens both can appear abrasive in person, but I see none of that in their writings. They do not mollycoddle the religious, that’s true, but, then, I’m sure that they see it like this: someone claiming an ally that is omniscient and omnipotent doesn’t need mollycoddling.

    All four of these authors work in areas where they and their colleagues are as blunt as a hammer blow and brutally honest when assessing each other’s ideas. Indeed, they would have no public standing at all if their ideas did not aggregate into a consistent whole. If their bluntness and honesty is rude or otherwise undesirable, shouldn’t we apply a similar set of standards to religious discourse wherein clergy can assign salvation-determining truth assessements to each others version of Christianity, like the pope’s statements last July claiming that only Roman Catholicism can clear the path to salvation. If you want rude, to me, that is as rude as it gets.

    Because it is a clergyman framing it in his religious terms, other religions choose not to denounce it, but he is telling all other Christians that their version of Christianity is wrong and it can only lead to hell. Maybe if he donned his magisterial garb, looked out over St. Peter’s Square and said, “Anyone who calls himself Christian but is not Roman Catholic is a rotten damned idiot, bound for the underworld,” it would dawn on other Christians how demeaning and cruel that truly is. Then, maybe they could more objectively confront their own version of the same harangue. Perhaps, you have a specific take on it, Mike: which Christianity is the one that assures us a path to heaven, and, thus, by default, damns all others?

    For me, Mike, the thousands of Christianties with mutually exclusive criteria for grabbing the golden ring of salvation constitute one enormous reductio ad absurdum: each is proof that the others is wrong. How can anyone justify believing any Christianity’s doctrine when, by the lights of a different Christianity it is wrong to the extent of being damnation-worthy? At the risk of being excessively blunt, honest or rude, I must ask, how does that make any sense whatsoever? Don’t Christians ask that amongst themselves?

    To me this seems so much like their God whispering different things in different people’s ears, that I must conclude that they have arrived at their conclusions, not through supernatural causation, as they claim, but instead through their own imaginings. I don’t see how, if they are all listening to a loving father who, at least according to the Bible demands that they “love thy neighbor,” they can reach such disparate ends. I don’t mean for anything I say here to be offensive, but to me, this is about as senseless, incomprehensible and incoherent as any idea can get. I don’t understand how people can defend it, and I don’t see why people deride those like the Four Horsemen who offer a reasoned hope that relying on human traits and faculties can actually direct us to see each other as fellow human beings as opposed to sect-labelled abstractions that are less than human and deserving of eternal hell-fire because they have not heard the correct whisperings from God.

    To me there truly is something bizarre about this situation. One man, notably a religious man, stands before the world and basically tells everyone who is not part of his religious mindset, “You’re all going to Hell, every last one of you,” and no one takes notice; no one cares; no one seems concerned about being lost forever. Somebody else, a non-religious man, with but the scantest fraction of the religious man’s billion-person following, tells his relatively miniscule audience, “That’s hogwash, you’re not going to hell, nor is anyone else,” for which that man gets vilified, demonized, berated or simply dismissed. It would be hard to match that kind of irony anywhere but religion.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    However, it seems to me that, regarding the Four Horsemen, you might be confusing literary style for rudeness.

    No, it’s not style, it’s what they say. Calling people who disagree with you about the existence of God “delusional”, “irrational”, “dangerous”, or “poisonous” is rude. They may honestly believe these statements and even be able to argue for them, but they are still offensive (and IMO, just plain wrong).

    Dennett appears to me to have gone out of his way to be exceedingly cordial while making his appeal for the scientific study of religion.

    I already mentioned that I am not at all familiar with Dennett, so I am not including him in my statements. Maybe he’s a nice guy. I don’t know.

    They do not mollycoddle the religious

    No one’s asking them to mollycoddle. I’m just asking them not to be offensive. Again we’re slipping into the Sapient fallacy of thinking there are only two extreme options here.

    If their bluntness and honesty is rude or otherwise undesirable

    It ought to be possible blunt and honest without being offensive.

    shouldn’t we apply a similar set of standards to religious discourse wherein clergy can assign salvation-determining truth assessements to each others version of Christianity, like the pope’s statements last July claiming that only Roman Catholicism can clear the path to salvation. If you want rude, to me, that is as rude as it gets.

    Yep, I agree. That’s pretty rude too.

    Because it is a clergyman framing it in his religious terms, other religions choose not to denounce it, but he is telling all other Christians that their version of Christianity is wrong and it can only lead to hell.

    Not so, plenty of Christians speak up and say that the Pope is wrong when he says shit like that.

    Perhaps, you have a specific take on it, Mike: which Christianity is the one that assures us a path to heaven, and, thus, by default, damns all others?

    Personally I don’t think “getting into heaven” or avoiding damnation is the point of Christianity in the first place anyway.

    For me, Mike, the thousands of Christianties with mutually exclusive criteria for grabbing the golden ring of salvation constitute one enormous reductio ad absurdum: each is proof that the others is wrong. How can anyone justify believing any Christianity’s doctrine when, by the lights of a different Christianity it is wrong to the extent of being damnation-worthy? At the risk of being excessively blunt, honest or rude, I must ask, how does that make any sense whatsoever? Don’t Christians ask that amongst themselves?

    Yep, all the time. You might be interested in a book that I’ve found helpful, entitled “A Generous Orthodoxy”. The subtitle is “Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN” and should give you an idea of what the author’s take is on the issue.

    I don’t see why people deride those like the Four Horsemen who offer a reasoned hope that relying on human traits and faculties can actually direct us to see each other as fellow human beings as opposed to sect-labelled abstractions that are less than human and deserving of eternal hell-fire because they have not heard the correct whisperings from God.

    I don’t really see the Four Horsemen as saying anything like that. What I see them doing is dividing humanity into one more set of opposing sects: the rational, moral atheists, and the delusional, irrational, immoral “faithheads”.

    Somebody else, a non-religious man, with but the scantest fraction of the religious man’s billion-person following, tells his relatively miniscule audience, “That’s hogwash, you’re not going to hell, nor is anyone else,” for which that man gets vilified, demonized, berated or simply dismissed.

    It’s not for that statement that Dawkins et al. are criticized.

  • AJ

    MikeClawson,

    And so far I haven’t read anything by the New Atheists that I didn’t have at least a half a dozen immediate replies for.

    And every time I’ve read one of your replies they’ve been meaningless nonsense. You consider this a good argument?

    Of course, the weakness of this particular argument is in point #3. Dawkins seems not to realize that classical theistic belief has always posited that God has eternally existed “outside” the natural order (i.e. apart from both space and, more importantly, time), so rules about how things work within nature (i.e. moving from simplicity to complexity) do not necessarily apply to God.

    That could explain anything as the explanation of anything else, it’s the very definition of meaningless. Your reply is to posit something that has always been and can do anything, yet there can be no evidence of?

    That’s the first argument of yours I could find, which I assume is one of the ones you often boast about, easily showing how silly the “Four Horseman’s” arguments are. Arguments you suggest are “sloppy, amatuerish”. Well, we can see what you can produce, I wonder what the atheists you praise think of it.

    It’s pretty hard to understand how the commonly touted attributes of this God would work outside of time or space, since the only clue we’ve ever had about how they work requires time and space.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    And every time I’ve read one of your replies they’ve been meaningless nonsense.

    Sorry Aj, I can’t do anything about your inability to understand simple philosophical arguments.

  • AJ

    MikeClawson,

    Sorry Aj, I can’t do anything about your inability to understand simple philosophical arguments.

    Do you think I wouldn’t expect this type of response from you? This is just like your previous ones in this thread, and elsewhere on this blog, it’s completely lacking content. Like you could explain these simple philosophical arguments in terms I could understand. I’d even accept an explanation of these simple philosophical arguments that I couldn’t, but a majority who read this blog could understand. In your next blog post on here, that would be great, show me how obviously unintelligent I am.

    No, it’s not style, it’s what they say. Calling people who disagree with you about the existence of God “delusional”, “irrational”, “dangerous”, or “poisonous” is rude. They may honestly believe these statements and even be able to argue for them, but they are still offensive (and IMO, just plain wrong).

    So what you’re saying is, if you think that believing in God is a delusion (not delusional, that’s incorrect), irrational, dangerous, or poisonous, out of politeness you must not say it. Read your comments back to yourself. I bet believers will find this offensive, I find most of what you write to be offensive, but I’m not calling for you to not post because of it. To say that we must not speak out against things because people will find it offensive is nonsense. There’s much of what is important, and probably to you to, that people would find offensive, that I feel would be immoral not to speak out about. I’ve seen generals and dictators feel offended by people just remarking that genocide, rape as a weapon of war, etc… is happening under their orders. You disagree with the “Four Horseman”, so what? You hardly care to argue against their points, but how is what they say rude?

    No one’s asking them to mollycoddle. I’m just asking them not to be offensive. Again we’re slipping into the Sapient fallacy of thinking there are only two extreme options here.

    And you define offensive as the implications of their arguments. I’m sorry that the fact that your shit stinks it important when I’m pointing out that I don’t want it near me. I’m sorry if you feel offended by that, I wish it wasn’t so, but I feel it necessary to state it so.

  • Karen

    Ironically Karen, when I wrote that, I originally considered listing some of the atheists here who have given me far more convincing arguments against God than anything I’ve seen from the Four Horsemen, and your name was at the top of the list, as was Siamang’s, Eliza’s and Helen’s.

    That’s very sweet of you (you’re a sweet fellow!) but I assure you I couldn’t construct a logical argument to save my life. The others you mention above are definitely more than capable of doing so, of course.

    The personal stories, yes, I do have that over the “professional” atheists, none of whom seem to have been religious believers as adults (not sure about Dennett).

    I’ve read a fair amount from them, and I have yet to come across anything that I found very impressive. Listen, I’m not the most brilliant philosopher or anything, so my criterion of a good argument is that you have to at least be able to stump me. If you can’t even do that, then it can’t be that good. And so far I haven’t read anything by the New Atheists that I didn’t have at least a half a dozen immediate replies for.

    Well, you aren’t familiar with Dennett (who is a philosopher) and it doesn’t seem that you’ve read Harris – at least you don’t seem familiar with the debate I linked to. Dawkins is a scientist, not a philosopher, and in The God Delusion he only addresses the the two dozen or so classical or standard arguments for god. This is because, as Russ points out, those are the arguments that rank and file Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims are likely to be at least somewhat familiar with. Harris, in The End of Faith, does address quite a bit more complicated philosophy that I think would interest you (I honestly couldn’t follow it).

    Anyway, I would encourage you to read that debate I linked to and then let us know if you find it weak or poorly argued on Harris’s (or Sullivan’s) part. I’d be fascinated by that. It’s long, but it’s broken up into small chunks so it isn’t overwhelming.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I have read more than a few articles by Harris, though I hadn’t read that one you linked to yet. I’ll read it when I get a chance and let you know what I think.

  • Russ

    Mike,

    Thanks for the reply.

    I suppose we can remain in disagreement about the politeness of the Four Horsemen’s use of language. The words “delusional”, “irrational”, “dangerous”, and “poisonous” have no inherent derogatory purpose. Dawkins used delusional in terms he correctly justified. You don’t agree with his use of the term, though it is a correct use of the term given his explanation. In a similar way Hitchens put poisonous to work. Whether one agrees with the use of terms is irrelevant with respect to the appropriateness of that use.

    One definition of delusional is “belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence” which is, of course, appropriately similar to the religious use of the word “faith.”

    Be that as it may, as I see it each of these terms hangs well on whole segments of Christianity. I see Mormons as completely delusional. There exists no evidence at all for their claims handed down from Joseph Smith. Can you think it correct to apply the term delusional to Mormons? Moroni? The Golden Plates? The advanced civilizations with millions of citizens that existed here in North America? Does none of this strike you as delusional?

    Irrational scarcely begins to cover all of Christian Science, a Christianity due to which several hundred children in the US are permitted to die from easily curable diseases. In Ohio by statute parents are permitted to simply watch a child die in agony from croup or other infection. Is that rational? Would it be rational outside a religious context?

    Using dangerous to describe Catholicism’s exacerbating of the AIDS tragedy in Africa tests out as tepid at best. The World Health Organization ships in millions of condoms, the use of which has been shown to reduce the likelihood of HIV transmission by a factor of ten thousand, and the Catholic aid workers burn the condoms while telling those vulnerable desperate people that condoms cause AIDS. The Catholics spew lies as families and communities are totally destroyed. Doesn’t that fit the definition of dangerous?

    Poisonous has “marked by apparent ill will” as one of its definitions. Are their any Christianities that are “marked by apparent ill will,” Mike? Lots of them, and much of their ill will is aimed directly at other Christians and sects.

    All of these adjectives seem to me to be justifiably appropriate for describing today’s Christianities, even though many are offended by their use. I’ve studied religion for more than forty years, and if there’s one thing religion is good at, it’s scrounging about for reasons to be offended. Swear words, boob shots, evolution or saying “I don’t think it’s rational to believe that anyone, ever has actually been dead and subsequently resurrected” can touch off their “take offense” mechanisms. No one has a “god(s)-given” right to not be offended. Many people I know personally are offended simply by my admitting that I am an atheist. Mike, I really think the most significant reason that most religious people take offense to such simple words is that they strike a loud chord of truth.

    As a moral, caring and compassionate person, I want to be told if I take a turn for the worse. If I’m irrational, tell me … please tell me. If I’m delusional let me know in no uncertain terms. If I become dangerous or poisonous to others, lock me away. I want to know that I’m a healthy contributing member of society and not someone to be avoided. To be sure the terms by themselves are not helpful as pejoratives, but these authors have plied them in their correct context, and I, for one, would use them in the same context.

    Mike, you said,

    Personally I don’t think “getting into heaven” or avoiding damnation is the point of Christianity in the first place anyway.

    If that’s the case, then as befits my first comment on this thread, you’ve concocted your own Christianity which is perfectly acceptable. In reality if you want to abide by some specific doctrine, find a Christianity to suit your desires and if there isn’t one, fabricate your own. If you’re like Joseph Smith, you can even divine your own holy book. I’m not poking fun; that is one of the simple truths about Christianity proliferation. One of the main purposes of Christian clergy is to motivate congregants to respond to God’s eternity incentives. A great many Christian theologians — no, I’m not suggesting that theologians have any better sense of Christianity as a whole than does the layman, but the religious oftentimes exalt them as authorities — have made it plain: if there ain’t no heaven, there ain’t no Christianity; if there ain’t no hell, there ain’t no Christianity.

    Mike, your reference to McLaren’s book underscores my point about rolling your own Christianity perfectly. His version of “Christianity-with-a-twist” is the more non-doctrinal, universalist kind. This is one more example of Christianity being whatever you want it to be.

    Let me share Harry Cook with you(www.harrytcook.com). Harry’s been an Episcopal minister for over forty years and he is an atheist. Yes, he calls himself a Christian, but he wrote in an e-mail to me(I have permission to share it) that

    “Supernaturalism is phony-baloney stuff. Nature is enough for human beings to deal with. I give it no thought whatsoever.”

    I asked for his views of Jesus. He said,

    “There are plenty of us in the clergy who, on the basis of evidence and its research, that ‘Jesus’ as he is variously depicted in the gospels is a fiction — ok, a ‘sacred’ fiction if you want,” and “It’s all summed up in the Jesus riff on Hillel’s summary of Torah: WHAT YOU HATE, DO NOT DO TO ANOTHER or ‘do unto others…’ The day that the critical mass of human beings adopt that wisdom and live by it is the day the world will be saved from itself. Maybe then I’ll be ready to talk about the divinity of whoever said that stuff in the first place.”

    Harry went on,

    “I do not consider morality or ethics to have a supernatural source. The celestial hand proffering the etched tablets to Charlton Heston (apparently unarmed at the time) is a metaphor representing the much longer and more difficult process the ancient Hebrews endured in figuring out how to keep people from killing each others. They figured out that if you made stealing taboo, fewer people would kill to get. And if you made envy taboo, few people would steal. Since it was the elders in the early tribes who figured out that stuff, it was necessary to mandate the honoring of father and mother, and after those early generations passed away, successor elders transferred the tribal honor to the spirits of the dead elders and, finally, to an unseen god whence the elders had come in the first place.”

    My guess is that most of today’s atheists, including the Four Horsemen, would concur with this Christian clergyman. Popes, other clergy and many laymen have voiced the same sentiments.

    Mike, besides the label, is their anything common among the numerous Christianities? If theism doesn’t define Christianity, surely you, Mike, as a clergyman yourself should be able to tell me what does? I know it’s extraordinarily difficult to be objective when you’re paid to defend the faith, but since you describe yourself as a theologian, I’ll ask anyway: without theism as a common thread exactly what does Christian theology consist of? Doesn’t theology have a god of some sort as a given? I draw no distinction between the pro theologians and the amateur theologians since neither provides us with usable result like getting their God to make good on its promise in the gospels to answer prayers, like the untold millions of daily prayers asking for peace.

    Answered prayer is an idea that would drive the atheist community to belief if it was shown that one was ever answered — ever. Mike, I’ve been actively looking at prayer for decades and I have yet to see one prayer that a believer considers to be answered which isn’t the product of religiously propped-up superstition. Coincidences, medical misdiagnoses, parents purposely fulfilling a child’s prayer(thus, creating the superstitional foundation), ignorance of the natural world, deeply inculcated belief in supernatural causation all add to the erroneous belief that prayers are being answered by some deity and significantly decrease the likelihood that the underlying natural phenomena — evolution, for instance — will ever be accepted as the true cause. Religion divorcing people from a better understanding of the natural phenomena that actually govern their lives is but one of my complaints about religion and most of the clergy that perpetuate it.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl

    Carr, if you are so foolish as to look for evidence in questions that can’t yield evidence, something that all the neo-atheists seem to be foolish enough to insist on, it’s not my fault.

    Having looked at the logic and knowledge of science among you adherents of the religion of scientism, that would seem to be the primary motive of neo-atheism, ignorance of logic and science and especially their inherent limits.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com NYCatheist

    Karen,

    I also thought the Harris vs. Sullivan blog debate was fascinating. I too am curious what a Christian’s reaction to it might be. The only thing that annoys me about that web site is some of the character encoding is screwed up. I have e-mailed them several times but there was never a reply. For example if you look on the second page after the link you put, in the 5th paragraph you find stuff like this:

    (“You mean the world isn’t 6000 years old? Yikes…”),

    Garbled text like that appears in a few other places too. I really wanted to print out the debate but not as it is.

    There’s also a part II to the debate, so don’t miss that!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Hey Russ,

    You sure write a lot don’t you? :) I will do my best to answer your questions but with Sunday coming up I honestly don’t have time to go point by point with you. Especially when several of your points seem only tangentially related to the original topic of this thread in the first place. I’m really very sorry but I didn’t sign up to do another “Ask a Christian Pastor” series.

    Regarding the New Atheist’s use of words like “delusional”, “irrational”, “dangerous”, and “poisonous”, one can of course come up with various examples of Christian behavior and beliefs that would fit that description. I would never argue otherwise. I myself am constantly pointing out harmful aspects of my own religion. What I object to is the way they use these terms as blanket statements about all religious people. Dawkins’ calls religious people “delusional” for simply believing in God, which would include the overwhelming majority of us. Hitchens says that all religion is poisonous and that it spoils everything. Likewise, Harris makes no distinctions between progressives and extremists in religion, saying that both are equally dangerous and irrational. Their claims are not simply regarding some individualized examples like the ones you dug up. Their claims are totalizing and universal.

    So here’s the question: do you think that I am delusional, irrational, poisonous and dangerous? If you agree with the New Atheists assessment then you have say that all religious people fit that description, including myself. Naturally that is what I object to and what I find offensive. Not all religion is the same and not all of it is delusional, irrational, poisonous or dangerous. By claiming that it is they are doing exactly what you have been arguing against – namely perpetuating the idea that there is only one type of Christianity or one type of religion in general.

    And more than that of course: I also think that they are just plain wrong, not because of my religious beliefs but based on my study of the history of philosophy. What they have done is taken two very controversial philosophical questions: one in metaphysics (the existence of God) and one in epistemology (how do we know what is true?) and declared that despite the centuries of intelligent discussion on these topics and the dozens of complex theories regarding both, their answers in the end are not just the only possible right answers, but that anyone who even dreams of disagreeing with them is “delusional, irrational, poisonous and dangerous”. I’m sorry, but as someone who has a degree in philosophy and seen the value in many diverse theories of epistemology and metaphysics, a claim like that just comes across as the height of arrogance and philosophical naivete.

    Anyhow, moving on to your other comments, I’m not really sure what your point is regarding the multiple versions of Christianity. Is this supposed to be a bad thing? Personally I think it’s a very good thing that religious people are thinking for themselves and reaching their own conclusions about their beliefs. That’s why we have so many different traditions. Your original question was about whether it was rude for the Pope to condemn other Christians to Hell for disagreeing with him. I agreed that it was. I have no problem with saying that Christians ought to be able to disagree about all kinds of things. So again, I’m not sure what your point is.

    Is there a common thread among the various Christian beliefs? I would say yes, your atheist priest notwithstanding, I would say that belief in God (however she is understood and defined) and a commitment to following the teachings of Jesus (however those are understood and defined) is basic to Christianity. That being the case, I probably wouldn’t say that Rev. Cook is still a Christian. However, I’m not condemning him to hell for that. He is welcome to reach whatever conclusions seem best to him and define Christianity however he wants. It’s none of my business.

    At any rate, yes, I have a broader definition of Christianity than most, and perhaps more restrictive than some. So what? It’s just my opinion, and I’m not condemning people to hell for disagreeing with me. Nor am I saying that they are necessarily delusional, irrational, poisonous or dangerous (the atheist version of condemning to hell) for disagreeing with me either.

  • AJ

    MikeClawson

    Dawkins’ calls religious people “delusional” for simply believing in God, which would include the overwhelming majority of us.

    After writing a book about how believing in God is a delusion. That’s his argument, there’s no “simply believing in God”. He does not use the word “delusional” in the same context of psychiatry, but in the general sense, and not as a description of someone who tends to have delusions. If they only believe in God, then that’s just one delusion. What does it matter that a majority of people have a delusion?

    Hitchens says that all religion is poisonous and that it spoils everything.

    And what does he specifically attribute to all religions that you object to? When he says that religion poisons everything, he doesn’t seem to be saying that all religions poison all things. Perhaps there are examples of things untouched by religion (I think Hitchens is being hyperbolic), but the amount of things spoiled by religion is quite a big list, Hitchens usually mentions food, drink, and sex but not only those.

    Likewise, Harris makes no distinctions between progressives and extremists in religion, saying that both are equally dangerous and irrational.

    If by that you mean moderates and extremists, then that is just blatantly false, he often distinguishes between them. He absolutely does not say that they are both equally dangerous, you know this, you have more than once referred to his argument contradicting your allegations. He does say they’re both irrational, but in the talk you recently claimed you listened to him, he makes a statement about them not being “equally” irrational. The more you irrationally believe, the more irrational you are.

    What they have done is taken two very controversial philosophical questions: one in metaphysics (the existence of God) and one in epistemology (how do we know what is true?) and declared that despite the centuries of intelligent discussion on these topics and the dozens of complex theories regarding both, their answers in the end are not just the only possible right answers, but that anyone who even dreams of disagreeing with them is “delusional, irrational, poisonous and dangerous”.

    They don’t believe God does not exist, to state this is to announce that you haven’t understood or read their arguments at all. They don’t make that metaphysical claim. You say there’s a controversy in their epistemology, like the creationists say there’s a controversy in biology, geology, etc… Like them you confuse legitimate study with nonsense, philosophy with theology. Faith is not compatible with rationalism, I don’t see how that’s controversial, some theologians have taken to calling faith “non-rational”.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Faith is not compatible with rationalism, I don’t see how that’s controversial,

    Oh, my. Who knew? Just think of the revision this is going to require, Well, from Gregor Mendel to Theodosius Dobzhansky, that pretty much calls into question genetics. Let’s see, Occam’s razor, from that faith-head William of Occam, don’t see how the neo-atheists are going to get along without it, but since it’s from a faith head it can’t be reliable. Pretty much classical logic, modern algebra, …. Now that we know the work of countless religious people is incompatible with rationalism looks like pretty much the whole modern world is going to have to get thrown on the junk heap.

    With just memes and his penchant for telling tall tails from the Pleistocene to back up his evolutionary psychology, looks like Dawkins is pretty much faith based too.

    Do you even stop to think, AJ? Or do you just repeat this nonsense automatically?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Aj, you pretty much just misunderstood the point of everything I just wrote. I don’t have anything to say in reply since nothing you wrote has anything to do with the arguments I was making. I’m not even going to bother clarifying for you since you’ve demonstrated repeatedly that you’re not really that interested in genuine conversation but simply in tearing down anything that I say.

    Oh, and btw, I’m losing track of how many times you’ve accused others here with something along the lines of:

    “…you haven’t understood or read their arguments at all.”

    You need to get a new line. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you or the authors you like, doesn’t mean they didn’t read or understand. Your rational brilliance is not so unassailable that if everyone simply understood what you were saying they would all fall at your feet and immediately declare their total agreement. Sometimes people hear and understand what you’re saying and yet simply think that you’re wrong.

  • AJ

    MikeClawson,

    Your attitude doesn’t allow for genuine conversation. If you make false claims about what people have argued, it’s not because of a disagreement that I am saying you haven’t read or understood them.

    Your claim is that the “Four Horseman” have answered the metaphysical question of the existence of God, “no”, goes along with you calling them “apologists for atheism” that wouldn’t make sense unless they held the position of “strong atheism”. This claim is wrong.

    When I point out this, you come out with a comment much like this one, in this case about “just because someone doesn’t agree with you or the authors you like, doesn’t mean they didn’t read or understand”. That’s not my freaking point, and you know it.

    Clearly whether the “Four Horseman” have this metaphysical belief or not isn’t affected by whether Mike Clawson disagrees with them. This is basically your claim, and it makes as much sense as most of your other comments, none at all. Whether you disagree with them or not, Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett do not say they have a metaphysical belief in the nonexistence of a God.

    This is a disagreement in your summary of the positions of the “Four Horseman”, as well as a few more of your claims. I can only assume that you haven’t understood them, haven’t read them, or what seems now more likely, are deliberately misrepresenting them because you’re an arsehole.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    AJ: “He does not use the word ‘delusional’ in the same context of psychiatry”

    Actually, in The God Delusion, Dawkins tap-dances on this point:

    As to whether it [religion] is a psychiatric disorder, I am inclined to follow Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence, when he said, “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called Religion.

    Dawkins is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, he is avoiding outright calling religion a mental problem, but on the other hand, he refuses to state outright that believers are not mentally ill, and instead offers a Kwai-Chang-Caineism.

    AJ: “When he says that religion poisons everything, he doesn’t seem to be saying that all religions poison all things.”

    And theologians are accused of meaningless hair splitting!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Your claim is that the “Four Horseman” have answered the metaphysical question of the existence of God, “no”

    That’s not what I said. You misread what I wrote. You quoted the following from my post:

    What they have done is taken two very controversial philosophical questions: one in metaphysics (the existence of God) and one in epistemology (how do we know what is true?) and declared that despite the centuries of intelligent discussion on these topics and the dozens of complex theories regarding both, their answers in the end are not just the only possible right answers, but that anyone who even dreams of disagreeing with them is “delusional, irrational, poisonous and dangerous”.

    Re-read it, and pay attention to the grammar this time. Nowhere in that quote do I claim that that the Four Horsemen “have a metaphysical belief in the nonexistence of a God.” In fact, I don’t elaborate on what their “answers” to those two questions are at all. That was besides the point.

    As I said before, your entire rant against my post is based on your own misreading of what I said.

  • AJ

    J. J. Ramsey,

    It’s nice to have an actual response. I think that’s a tongue in cheek comment that’s inline with some other comments in the book, and not to be taken literally.

    By using the word ‘delusion’, are you suggesting that believing in religion is like madness?

    I don’t wish to come across as saying everybody wearing a clerical collar is mad. Many of them are sane, intelligent, nice people but it is a delusion, in the same way any false belief is a delusion. It’s a mass delusion that is held by many people, which is why it doesn’t appear to be insane. If you confronted a religious person with the beliefs of a rival religion, they would think the other ideas were mad because the beliefs have no connection with the real world. They’re self-evidently dotty but, because each is brought up in their own religion, they don’t see their own beliefs as mad.

    *Added strength to font
    Richard dawkins, 60 SECONDS, Metro.co.uk

    This comment would as I read it, either support my conclusion (he’s using different definitions of “sane”) or Dawkins is severely contradicting himself in a short number of words.

    MikeClawson,

    In fact, I don’t elaborate on what their “answers” to those two questions are at all.

    And what would their answer to the metaphysical question of the existence of God be then?

    That was besides the point.

    When you say someone has answered a metaphysical question, specifically, the existence of God, then I think it’s not. I’m sure you won’t mind telling me what the answers you mention are, and what the other possible answers are you mention.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    AJ: “When he says that religion poisons everything, he doesn’t seem to be saying that all religions poison all things.”

    And theologians are accused of meaningless hair splitting!

    There is definitely a book to be written of the ways in which neo-atheists deny that their demi-gods and heroes have written what’s there to be seen in their own publications. It’s a clear phenomenon. My guess it’s due to the clear inconsistencies in reasoning due to their asserting their position is based in science when it can’t be. But I don’t have the time to research the issues necessary so someone else will need to do it.

    Some, such as AJ are quite able to say something AND its opposite with two posts and when you point it out respond by calling you a name.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “…in the same way any false belief is a delusion.”

    A “false belief” is not the same as a “delusion”, (it may occasionally carry that denotation, but obviously in common usage it has a far more negative connotation) and it precisely because of this kind of equivocation that Dawkins is considered inflammatory and offensive.

    And what would their answer to the metaphysical question of the existence of God be then?

    Why are you asking me when you clearly already know the answer?

    You need me to spell it out for you? They don’t believe in the existence of God, which, as you know, is different than believing in the non-existence of God. I’m not sure why you’re making such a big deal about this, unless you’re trying to avoid admitting that you misread me.

    I’m sure you won’t mind telling me what the answers you mention are, and what the other possible answers are you mention.

    You want me to rehearse the whole history of philosophy for you? Take a class or read a book, I don’t have the time.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    AJ: “I think that’s a tongue in cheek comment that’s inline with some other comments in the book, and not to be taken literally.”

    “Not to be taken literally”? Now where have I heard that before? :)

    AJ: “This comment would as I read it, either support my conclusion (he’s using different definitions of ‘sane’) or Dawkins is severely contradicting himself in a short number of words.”

    Actually, what Dawkins is doing is downright Machiavellian. He’d have to be a blithering idiot not to recognize that repeatedly using the word “delusion” in conjunction with religion will inevitably be read as communicating that religious people are insane, and he also would be a blithering idiot not to recognize that saying outright that religious people are insane would be recognized as ridiculous, even by fellow atheists. Dawkins is not obviously a blithering idiot. Instead, he repeatedly abuses the word “delusion” to imply what he knows he can’t get away with saying outright, and uses these half-hearted disclaimers to give himself an out so that he can’t be easily accused of saying outright that the religious are crazy. What do I mean by half-hearted? Notice that as he is saying that he doesn’t mean “delusion” that way, he nonetheless inserts synonyms like “mad” or “dotty” in his response. It’s not so different from the way garden-variety advertisers imply what they cannot say, or for an even crueler analogy, not so different from the way that Bush implied that Saddam was connected to 9/11 without outright saying so.

    If you think that this is a far too cynical way of describing what Dawkins is doing, then let me ask you this: why doesn’t the master communicator Dawkins phrase his words so that it is obvious that he isn’t calling religious people crazy?

  • AJ

    MikeClawson,

    A “false belief” is not the same as a “delusion”, (it may occasionally carry that denotation, but obviously in common usage it has a far more negative connotation) and it precisely because of this kind of equivocation that Dawkins is considered inflammatory and offensive.

    J. J. Ramsey,

    Instead, he repeatedly abuses the word “delusion” to imply what he knows he can’t get away with saying outright, and uses these half-hearted disclaimers to give himself an out so that he can’t be easily accused of saying outright that the religious are crazy.

    I don’t know about where you come from but delusion, and deluded are commonly used in English outside of mental health, as well as insane, dotty, and mad.

    MikeClawson,

    You need me to spell it out for you? They don’t believe in the existence of God, which, as you know, is different than believing in the non-existence of God.

    How is that an answer to a metaphysical question? You have clearly described not answering a metaphysical question. And how do you apologise for a lack of belief? Are you claiming there’s a reason to believe in God now? I’d really like to hear it, then we can announce your breakthrough.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    I don’t know about where you come from but delusion, and deluded are commonly used in English outside of mental health, as well as insane, dotty, and mad.

    Yet they still carry the baggage from their use as psychiatric terms. Their connotations are pretty clear.

  • nowoo

    According to the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), a delusion is defined as:

    A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture (for example, it is not an article of religious faith). When a false belief involves a value judgement, it is regarded as a delusion only when the judgement is so extreme as to defy credibility. Delusional conviction occurs on a continuum and can sometimes be inferred from an individual’s behaviour. It is often difficult to distinguish between a ‘delusion’ and an ‘overvalued idea’ in which the individual has an unreasonable belief or idea but does not hold it as firmly as is the case with a delusion (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

    The APA had to specifically exclude things like “article[s] of religious faith” from the psychiatric definition, which implies that religious beliefs are so similar to delusions that they would otherwise qualify as delusions if they hadn’t been explicitly excluded for being “ordinarily accepted.”

    This reminds me of something Sam Harris said:

    It’s worse than all religion being psychotic, because what religion enables people to do, it enables perfectly sane and psychologically healthy people to believe by the millions what only psychotics could believe on their own. If you wake up tomorrow morning believing that your breakfast cereal can be transformed into the body of Christ by saying a few apt words over it, you are psychotic. But if you believe that the Eucharist can be changed into the body of Christ at the mass, you’re not, because you’re surrounded by so many other subscribers who are supporting that belief.

    And I think this is one of the most perverse features of religion, that it really does allow healthy, educated people to believe what they shouldn’t be able to believe, and in many cases to be bound by the behavioural outcomes that truly psychotic belief, only psychotic beliefs can give you. And I think the idea that Jesus just might come down out of the clouds like a super hero, and rectify every problem we create for ourselves on earth, and just might do this in my lifetime, that is a psychotic idea and yet millions of perfectly healthy Christians believe this, and they really believe it. It’s not like they just pretend to believe it; I mean undoubtedly there are some who are just pretending, but there are some who really believe it, and these people have political power in my country, and many of them get elected to public office, and their decision-making one must imagine, is constrained by these beliefs.

    And so what I’m saying to moderates is, Let’s say you don’t believe any of these things, and you just think that the Bible is filled with inspiring poetry, you have to recognise that the status quo which you are supporting by your non-criticism, and by your indulgence of your tradition, the status quo in which generation after generation we raise our children to believe that there’s some important difference between them and other people on the basis of religion, on the basis of which book their ancestors worshipped as a magic book, that is perpetuating conflict in a world that is now brimming with destructive technology, and we have to just take an honest look at the ramifications of these beliefs.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    The guy who miscalls himself “nowoo” writes:

    The APA had to specifically exclude things like “article[s] of religious faith” from the psychiatric definition, which implies that religious beliefs are so similar to delusions that they would otherwise qualify as delusions if they hadn’t been explicitly excluded for being “ordinarily accepted.”

    You neglect an earlier part of the definition:

    A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary.

    First, there is the part about “what almost everyone else believes.” Considering that most people in a religion are born into it, they are surrounded by those who believe as they do. Second, there is the “obvious proof or evidence to the contrary” part. Just about no religion has obvious evidence against it. If one examines more closely, yes, there may be evidence against a particular religion if it isn’t totally unfalsifiable, but disproving a religion is not a trivial exercise. Given this, even if the APA hadn’t explicitly listed religion as a example of a false belief that is not a delusion, it would not be considered such.

    “nowoo” [sic] quoting Sam Harris:

    you have to recognise that the status quo which you are supporting by your non-criticism

    Do you realize how ridiculous it is to be talking about the religious not criticizing their fellow religious in a thread about someone who writes for The Wittenburg Door?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Thank you for deconstructing nowoo’s argument J.J. You said exactly what I was going to point out. This definition of “delusion” that nowoo quoted is actually a perfect example of how Dawkins is using the term inappropriately and offensively.

    Do you realize how ridiculous it is to be talking about the religious not criticizing their fellow religious in a thread about someone who writes for The Wittenburg Door?

    This is an excellent point too. Anyone who thinks religious moderates are just giving fundamentalists a pass has obviously never read The Door.

  • AJ

    APA and dictionaries may have definitions that are inconsistant with the way Dawkins appears to be using the word. There are dictionaries with definitions that would be consistant with his usage. In his book, and in the comment I quoted, Dawkins doesn’t seem to be using the term as you imply, at least not in his title and about supernatural gods.

    I don’t really understand the APA’s definition, and don’t accept that it has authority, or any other organisation, to define words. English doesn’t have an official language, with official words. I’m sure there are technical terms that we commonly use differently all the time that would not apply to official definitions according to organisations of professionals.

    Sometimes religious beliefs do have evidence contrary to them. Apparantly the APA defined a religious belief as a false belief, believed by the person’s culture or subculture. That the difference a belief being delusional according to psychology is whether the person with that belief belongs to one subculture or another is worrying.

    I am interested in knowing whether people who have delusions of grandeur, e.g. believe themselves to be Napolean, do so in a manner that is falsifiable. Whether they test the mind/body problem or not. Whether a psychiatrist or psychologist could know whether someone having delusional jealousy has a wife or husband that is cheating on them or not. Do they follow the spouse around?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    BTW, Karen, I wanted to let you know that my in-laws are in town for most of this week, so it may take me a bit longer to get back to you about that Harris-Sullivan article.

  • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com larryniven

    “‘The way I see it used most often, the other guy is infected with memes, whereas the speaker has thoughts and ideas.’

    Yep, that exactly how I see it used most of the time too. It’s a way of implying that the other person’s arguments are not actually valid rational ideas that he has given a lot of thought to, that he is instead just parroting back some “meme” he picked up somewhere. It then becomes just a lazy way of not having to actually engage with someone’s arguments.”

    Have either of you stopped to think about what’s actually going on? A smart memeticist will admit that all ideas are memes, even his own. The point is that many apologists make arguments along the lines of “the conscience implies the existence of God” or “moral beliefs cannot be explained naturally” or “my belief in God cannot have come from anything but God.” Memetics cannot, and should not, be used as a method of disproof for worldviews. That is, Dennett or whoever shouldn’t go around saying “Christianity is false because it’s a meme” – I don’t know if that’s what happens, and if it is, that’s unfortunate and it’s something I completely reject. But what memetics can and should be used as is a method of disproof for claims of necessary relation. For instance, with memetics, we can disprove the idea that God’s existence is a prerequisite for moral belief. The reason no “serious” philosophers have bothered to deal with memetics is because it can only disprove notions that no serious philosopher would consider in the first place (which doesn’t mean no philosopher has – Peter Kreeft, for instance, makes an argument from the conscience that can easily be disproved via memetics). This is just an atheist escalation in the PR war that theists have been waging for seemingly ever.

    Furthermore, whether you like it or not, memetics as a field has been in practice for a long time now. Marketing, for instance, is almost entirely a memetic exercise: how to control the spread of beliefs in a target population. The only reason I can see that it hasn’t been accepted by “higher” disciplines (science, philosophy, etc.) is that, as I said, it actually doesn’t matter much to them. Perhaps philosophy will start getting interested in it as experimental philosophy emerges, but I wouldn’t count on it.

    Finally, on a different topic, it’d be nice if theists (esp. Christians) actually played by the rules with respect to disproving abstract systems – accepting that a contradiction is bad, refraining from ad hoc or ad hominem arguments, etc. – but they don’t. Perhaps if the theological community were willing to open itself up to doubt more (i.e., play by the rules), the non-theological community would have less motivation to explode like they have done. I don’t think I could ever write something as impolite as what Dawkins, e.g., has written, but it’s hardly difficult to see why he would.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    But what memetics can and should be used as is a method of disproof for claims of necessary relation.

    How does memetics do this? Or rather, how does memetics do this in a way that isn’t more effectively and thoroughly done through simple, old-fashioned philosophical reasoning? Perhaps, as you say, memetics is irrelevant to philosophy because philosophers already have their own means of disproving such claims without having to reference sociological phenomenon like memetics that are extrinsic to the arguments themselves.

    At any rate, I’m not saying memetics has no merit. What monkeymind and I were both reacting to is the way memetics is commonly used in forums like this as merely a dismissive label.

    Finally, on a different topic, it’d be nice if theists (esp. Christians) actually played by the rules with respect to disproving abstract systems – accepting that a contradiction is bad, refraining from ad hoc or ad hominem arguments, etc. – but they don’t. Perhaps if the theological community were willing to open itself up to doubt more (i.e., play by the rules), the non-theological community would have less motivation to explode like they have done.

    The mainline, liberal theological community has been open to these things for decades – over a century now actually. One of my major complaints against New Atheists like Dawkins is they way they tend to equivocate on the attitudes and behaviors of vastly different religious groups, assuming that the beliefs and behaviors of fundamentalists are somehow representative of all religious people.

  • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com larryniven

    First off, I could probably find a quote of yours that disparages the very idea of memetics, because that’s how this discussion started off, but now that you’ve backed off that stance I’ll let it go.

    “Or rather, how does memetics do this in a way that isn’t more effectively and thoroughly done through simple, old-fashioned philosophical reasoning? Perhaps, as you say, memetics is irrelevant to philosophy because philosophers already have their own means of disproving such claims without having to reference sociological phenomenon like memetics that are extrinsic to the arguments themselves.”

    I don’t think it’s anything that can be done through “simple, old-fashioned reasoning,” since the original claims themselves weren’t based on anything. There wasn’t a theory in place that could either prove or disprove them: that’s what memetics is. It isn’t, even, that philosophers can disprove them, it’s that they don’t care – this entire memetics thing is largely taking place outside of serious philosophy. Like I said, it’s much more of an issue of how one side or the other is seen – of how the fundamental questions get represented in op-eds and bestsellers – than anything else. It just so happens that the loudest theists traditionally made arguments without any reference to verifiable reality, so that when a system was discovered that was able to cite evidence, they were pretty much doomed to bear the brunt of it. Now, as to why they did that, we come to my second point…

    “The mainline, liberal theological community has been open to these things for decades – over a century now actually. One of my major complaints against New Atheists like Dawkins is they way they tend to equivocate on the attitudes and behaviors of vastly different religious groups, assuming that the beliefs and behaviors of fundamentalists are somehow representative of all religious people.”

    I truly hope you’re right, and part of me even thinks you are. But then I look at the electoral results in this country (the U.S.) and I have to wonder: is this the result of people who are open to doubt? Theoretically, the U.S. being a democracy, the distribution of governmental power will represent the distribution of interests on the part of its citizens. So it seems like we’re left with two options: either, contrary to what you say, the majority are actually hardliners who aren’t willing to compromise; or the rest of you (here I assume you’re a member of the mainline, theological community) need to step it up. I notice, for instance, that at least a few times on this blog, atheists have stated clearly and without exception that they had issues with some or all of the New Atheists. I don’t see any similar criticisms of Christian extremists coming from you, though, even on your own blog. That’s hardly an equal compromise.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I truly hope you’re right, and part of me even thinks you are. But then I look at the electoral results in this country (the U.S.) and I have to wonder: is this the result of people who are open to doubt? Theoretically, the U.S. being a democracy, the distribution of governmental power will represent the distribution of interests on the part of its citizens. So it seems like we’re left with two options: either, contrary to what you say, the majority are actually hardliners who aren’t willing to compromise; or the rest of you (here I assume you’re a member of the mainline, theological community) need to step it up. I notice, for instance, that at least a few times on this blog, atheists have stated clearly and without exception that they had issues with some or all of the New Atheists. I don’t see any similar criticisms of Christian extremists coming from you, though, even on your own blog. That’s hardly an equal compromise.

    Larry, how long have you been reading this blog? I’ve been over this same ground here over and over and over again – have you missed those conversations, or have you not been here long enough to see them? Do we really need to have this conversation again? Do I really need list all the same websites and organizations of progressive Christian organizations who stand in opposition to the Religious Right that I’ve already listed numerous times before? Do I really need to rehearse once again how the history of Christianity in the last century has been a very well-documented battle between liberals and fundamentalists and how anyone who thinks the latter group is representative of all (or even most) is simply not paying attention? And do I need to point out one more time that, even if your reference to electoral politics is valid (which I don’t think it is – it’s too simplistic to think that religion alone is the sole determining factor in how most people vote), the fact is that conservative Christians only made up about 30% of George Bush’s support, and that even if every non-Christian in America voted against Bush, that still leaves tens of millions of Christians who also voted against him?

  • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com larryniven

    “Do I really need list all the same websites and organizations of progressive Christian organizations who stand in opposition to the Religious Right that I’ve already listed numerous times before?”

    Ah, but you see, that’s not the same. What you’re doing is passive: “here’s some work other people have done, I agree with them.” What we’re doing is active: “after having directly interacted with the texts, here’s what I think.” You had a perfect opportunity to criticize one of your own – that is, in fact, the premise of this whole situation – and you flatly refused. What you are doing is not the same as what we have been doing.

    “And do I need to point out one more time that, even if your reference to electoral politics is valid (which I don’t think it is – it’s too simplistic to think that religion alone is the sole determining factor in how most people vote), the fact is that conservative Christians only made up about 30% of George Bush’s support, and that even if every non-Christian in America voted against Bush, that still leaves tens of millions of Christians who also voted against him?”

    Not directly, of course, or else Romney’s candidacy would be a joke (although, as it is, he’s under considerable pressure because of his religion – you don’t think that’s worrying?). The funny thing about your argument is that, despite the remaining 70% of Bush’s support (all of whom are conservative, yes? and most of whom are Christian, yes? so how, again, does that not qualify them as conservative Christians?) and the tens of millions of Christians who voted against him, he won. The reason he won, arguably, is that you guys – the sane Christians – are given to keeping your big mouths shut when it comes to criticizing other Christians (even in a relatively benign context, like this conversation). This amounts to tacit support on your part, so it’s hard to see how you don’t share in the blame.

  • Karen

    Larry:

    You had a perfect opportunity to criticize one of your own – that is, in fact, the premise of this whole situation – and you flatly refused. What you are doing is not the same as what we have been doing.

    Actually, if we’re back to talking about Garrison, Mike did make several critical comments about her piece and agreed with some of us that her premise and research seemed to be flawed or inadequate. He did make the point that she is a friend of his, but did not “flatly refuse” to criticize her.

    Though he didn’t “go ballistic” like some of us angry atheists did. ;-)

    Mike C:

    BTW, Karen, I wanted to let you know that my in-laws are in town for most of this week, so it may take me a bit longer to get back to you about that Harris-Sullivan article.

    Oh goodness, take your time. It’s a loooong debate, and best read in small chunks and digested slowly, I think. Whenever you have a moment to post your thoughts, I’d be interested, but no rush.

  • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com larryniven

    Karen, you and I must be reading different posts. The only criticism that I see from Mike is related to tone. That’s a literary criticism, not a substantive one. That’s not good enough for the same reason it isn’t good enough to say, “I’m sorry that you feel bad about what I did.” This, too, is tacit acceptance and support of the misrepresentations that she (evidently) published and doesn’t see anything wrong with supporting. Maybe this is the sort of arrangement you’re willing to live with – i.e., one in which theists get to say whatever they want so long as they dress it up with the right tone, whereas atheists have to watch not only tone but also content – but I’d rather push for something a little more symmetrical.

  • Karen

    The only criticism that I see from Mike is related to tone. That’s a literary criticism, not a substantive one. That’s not good enough for the same reason it isn’t good enough to say, “I’m sorry that you feel bad about what I did.”

    Well, we can quibble about whether his criticism was “good enough” by your standards, but to say that he “flatly refused” to criticize Garrison is just inaccurate. He criticized both her premise (stirring up division rather than striving for better understanding) and her style, and when others of us found things we didn’t like (such as her poor attempt at satire), he agreed.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Karen’s right larry, I’ve already stated several times what I didn’t like about Becky’s interview (I can’t say much about her book since I haven’t read it yet). I’m not sure what else you want from me.

    Not to mention that Becky is hardly a conservative Christian. As I’ve pointed out already, she is one of those who is doing exactly what you are asking us to do in that she criticizes the Religious Right far more than she ever does atheists. You want to see Christians who speak up against their own? Look at Becky (and start with The Door).

    The reason he won, arguably, is that you guys – the sane Christians – are given to keeping your big mouths shut when it comes to criticizing other Christians (even in a relatively benign context, like this conversation). This amounts to tacit support on your part, so it’s hard to see how you don’t share in the blame.

    So let me get this straight: you actually want progressive Christians to start bringing their faith into politics? It’s not enough that we oppose Bush’s policies, speak out against him regularly, campaign against him, criticize the way he uses his faith to justify his policies, and vote against him in mass numbers? That’s somehow “tacit support”? That somehow amounts to “keeping our mouths shut”? I don’t mean to be rude, but you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. The last people who have been quiet in their opposition to the Religious Right are progressive Christians. We’ve been on the front lines of this fight for decades now, both theologically and politically. Again, anyone who claims otherwise simply hasn’t been paying attention.

    And you don’t think I’ve personally done it enough just because I didn’t trash Becky as harshly as the rest of you? Well frankly you don’t know me from Adam, and you have no idea what kinds of stands I’ve taken or what I’ve spoken out on. I suppose the fact that I got fired from a church for opposing the senior pastor’s pro-war, anti-homosexuality, anti-Separation of Church & State stances, for instance, means nothing? Is that still just “tacit support”?

  • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com larryniven

    “Karen’s right larry, I’ve already stated several times what I didn’t like about Becky’s interview (I can’t say much about her book since I haven’t read it yet). I’m not sure what else you want from me.”

    That’s right, and those things weren’t the false attitudes and opinions that she ascribed to her subjects, nor the apparently one-sided treatment of their work – it was her word choice. I don’t really care what you do, but it would be nice of you to at least try to think about the differing standards to which you hold atheists and theists.

    I also don’t recall criticizing the original author for those things – the only problem I had with her writing was that she drew a blatantly unfair picture of memetics. I fully believe that she spends lots of time criticizing (fairly or unfairly) hardline Christians, but this discussion doesn’t operate on some kind of credit system. I’m not going to overlook the ways in which she’s wrong just because she’s right sometimes (even often), and I’m not going to overlook the ways in which you’re wrong because you claim to be on my side. Equally, I’m not going to overlook the ways in which atheists (New or otherwise) are wrong just because they’re right sometimes – although, and here’s my problem, it sure looks like you’re willing to overlook the ways in which they’re right just because they’re wrong sometimes.

    Apparently, though, I need to be more clear in my use of the second-person plural pronoun. I thought including the word “guys,” which itself is plural, would have tipped it off, but evidently not. I obviously have very little knowledge of what you personally have done, nor have I ever cast aspersions against your effort generally. I appreciate that you’re standing up for what you believe. However, you guys – progressive Christians (plural!) – have very clearly not done enough. How could gay marriage have been a major issue of the ’04 elections if you guys (plural!) were “on the front lines” making your case? How can gay marriage now be a non-issue if you guys (plural!) are still there? What about the scads of other “value” issues that no longer get any play? Are you saying that the combined might of the progressive Christians in this country is insufficient to move this country’s policies on things like torture? We may see the results of your (plural) work in the upcoming election, but given what’s happened in the past few decades, I find it hard to believe that you (personally) are satisfied with the effort that you guys (plural) are putting out.

    Now, back to you as a person. It is not your refusal to “trash” her that I object to in and of itself, but rather that you turned (and continue to turn) a very specific blind eye to the places in which she is clearly wrong, and even to defend her in some of those places. Nor are these two mutually exclusive: you could clearly have offered a substantive criticism of the sections you saw presented in the other post but still have supported her. That you chose to do only one is tacit support for the bad behavior displayed by hardliners, and slight though it may seem, it underlies the kind of success the real fanatics have had. In fact, it’s exactly what I meant when I questioned whether you (personally or plurally) were really open to doubt. I don’t have the space here to go into this with you, although I’ll gladly do so elsewhere if you like. If you want to be the fair-minded person you obviously think you are, you’ve got more work to do.

  • monkeymind

    larryniven: I take it that you are not a right-wing Republican. So why haven’t “you guys” (moderate Republican, Democrat, 3rd party or affiliation of your choice) done more to stop the neo-conservative Republican juggernaut?
    Does it bother you when Sam Harris plays the neo-cons game with statements like “we are at war with Islam” and his winking at torture?

    Or here’s a thought, we could all stop pointing fingers and instead take responsibility for doing something about our collective body politic.

    Second: how did Becky present a “blatantly unfair” picture of memetics? I’m not going to defend anything else she has said, but I too am unclear about what a meme is and why this concept of learning and cultural dissemination provides any sort of unifying framework that would bring together or improve on insights from anthropology, linguistics, and cognitive psychology. It seems like most proponents of memetics are just unaware of work that has been done in those fields. I’ve never met a memetics proponent who was familiar with Stith Thompson, for example.

  • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com larryniven

    “So why haven’t “you guys” (moderate Republican, Democrat, 3rd party or affiliation of your choice) done more to stop the neo-conservative Republican juggernaut?”

    That’s absolutely a fair question: I obviously haven’t (democrat, btw). That’s a personal failure of mine, but I’m also not in a position to address the religious nature of the beast, being as I’m not Christian. I try to do what I can in other areas, but I think it’s fair of me to ask Christians to do more of the things that only they can do. And it absolutely bothers me when anybody makes ridiculous claims like that (you can’t even be at war with a religion in the first place), and like I said earlier, I’m not going to excuse him for being an atheist. It bothers me in the same way, though, when people say things like “freedom requires religion,” but most Christians – even progressive ones – apparently aren’t bothered by it all that much. Acting bothered, for instance, would be a good start. I realize that neither Mike nor anybody else here can control a group that large, but that doesn’t mean I’m not correct in pointing out the group’s failings.

    With respect to memetics, you’re making two different arguments, only one of which is accurate and only one of which I agree with – i.e., the one she didn’t present. One argument you make, and the one she made in the quoted text and in her answer, was that memetics as a field isn’t even legitimate. That it refers to nothing, it has no relevance to any part of the world at all, and that it’s at best a distraction. This is not true, and moreover it’s contradicted by your second argument, namely that memetics is simply a watered-down version of fields that already exist and therefore not terribly useful in and of itself. I said earlier, and I’ll say again, that memetics certainly is a valid field, but one that can only really be used in this context as, essentially, propaganda. That the propaganda is true doesn’t make it any less so propaganda, because it isn’t relevant to the underlying (philosophical) issues (of course, as I pointed out earlier, theists have not hesitated to use propaganda on their side, so in some sense this is fair play via turnabout). Her initial argument and her defense thereof were blatantly unfair because she ignored the support for memetics – including its relationship to other, better established fields. That is not satire, but rather propaganda in and of itself, and false, perhaps intentionally misleading propaganda at that. Even Mike eventually admitted that memetics makes sense, so I don’t think she has much of a defense in presenting it so uncharitably.

  • Richard Wade

    Memes are an interesting idea but until we have better understanding of whether they actually exist and whether they do what some folks say they do, we shouldn’t go over the top with them, shouldn’t take them to an extreme. The product of extreme applications of any new concept is almost always unfortunate.

    Now I finally understand what my high school algebra teacher meant when he said:

    “The product of the memes is equal to the product of the extremes.”

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Now, back to you as a person. It is not your refusal to “trash” her that I object to in and of itself, but rather that you turned (and continue to turn) a very specific blind eye to the places in which she is clearly wrong, and even to defend her in some of those places. Nor are these two mutually exclusive: you could clearly have offered a substantive criticism of the sections you saw presented in the other post but still have supported her.

    You’re right, I could have written a lengthy post detailing exactly where I agree and disagree with Becky, but I didn’t for a number of reasons:

    1) Plenty of others were already doing that. The points she got wrong were already pretty well covered, and I noted several times when I agreed with someone else’s assessment of those. I didn’t feel like I had anything else to add that hadn’t already been mentioned.

    2) There really wasn’t a whole lot of substance to interact with in these posts in the first place, and I have the suspicion that what was there was slightly skewed by Hemant’s presentation (like I said, he only gave us the worst parts of the book, and those mostly out of context). I have corresponded with Becky privately about this and she confirmed that the presentation was rather lopsided. So until I have a chance to read the book for myself I don’t want to pass judgment.

    3) The bottom line is, like it or not, I agree with a lot of Becky’s opinions of the New Atheists. They are offensive, most of them are pretty poor philosophers, and they consistently misrepresent or overgeneralize regarding Christians. I didn’t critique everything she had to say because frankly I don’t think she was wrong about all of it. Some of it, but not all.


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