17 December 2008

Supporting Atheists As Anti-Oppression Work

Greta Christina has recently posted on her blog a list with nine suggestions for traditionally religious folks who want to be supportive allies for atheists and other non-believers.

Greta has more details on her blog about this but I have copied the main points from her blog for your consideration:
1. Familiarize yourself with the common myths and misconceptions about atheists -- and don't perpetuate them.

2. Familiarize yourself with what it's like to be an atheist, both in the U.S. and in the rest of the world.

3. Find common ground.

4. Speak out against anti-atheist bigotry and other forms of religious intolerance.

5. Be inclusive of atheists.

6. Don't divide and conquer, and don't try to take away our anger.

7. If you're going to accuse an atheist or an atheist group of being intolerant -- be careful, and make sure that's really what they're being.

8. Do not -- repeat, DO NOT -- talk about "fundamentalist atheists."

9. Be aware of how religious belief gives you a place of mainstream and privilege.
You can read Greta's detailed exploration of each suggestion for allies on her blog here.

Greta's suggestions are related to the past suggestions that I have made on my blog about supporting non-Christian Unitarian Universalists in our congregations:
Note: by late Sunday night (21 December 2008), this blog post has 106 comments on it. The conversation has gone into a non-productive rut and I'm closing off comments on this thread.

Strangely enough, a similar thing happened on Greta's blog. She has closed off comments on the original post and has created a new post to comment on her list here. Greta does say that any attempts to use this thread to revive the original shut-down comment thread will result in being banned from her blog.

I'm ready to move on to a new subject like the recent news coverage on humanist and atheist Sunday Schools.

106 comments:

Chalicechick said...

So are you saying that "fundamentalist atheists" don't exist, or are we just not supposed to talk about the fact that they do?

I don't use the phrase personally because my impression is that few people outside of UUism and atheism know what I'm talking about when I do. But Logical Positivists have always struck me as fundamentalist in a sense.

That aside, the list you provide with a few changed words can be applied to just about any group.
I hope that you do all the things for Christians that you expect them to do for atheists.

Pretty much everyone feels oppressed (and is oppressed) someplace.

CC

Joel Monka said...

"Non-Christian" is not a synonym for "atheist", and believing in something does not automatically grant one mainstream privelege, either. I get ridiculed by both sides at times.

Steve Caldwell said...

Joel,

We don't have polling data for the question of American citizens voting for a Pagan political candidate.

But we do have that data for candidates with other religious affiliations:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/26611/Some-Americans-Reluctant-Vote-Mormon-72YearOld-Presidential-Candidates.aspx

According to this polling data, 53% of the US would not vote for a well-qualified atheist presidential candidate. This percentage not voting for a hypothetical candidate is higher than any other group polled.

I have no data about where a Pagan candidate would be in term of US attitudes -- my guess is about the same place as an atheist candidate.

That being said, the Protestant Christian majority in the US is more OK with a Catholic President, a Jewish President, or a Mormon President than they would be with a President who didn't believe anything about religion.

Finally, Greta's suggestion #4 would address your experience of receiving religious intolerance from all sides.

Steve Caldwell said...

CC,

Short answer -- if a person says he/she doesn't believe something about religion because the available evidence doesn't support it, that's not being a "fundamentalist atheist."

All one needs to do is find empirical support for the proposed belief and the empiricist will change his/her mind.

Unlike "fundamentalism," this isn't a strict and literal following of certain principles or texts.

Finally, someone saying that he/she disagrees with another person due to logic issues or a lack of evidence should not be considered intolerance.

I would recommend that both CC and Joel check out the expanded list on Greta's blog and the commments about it -- I suspect Greta's explanations would answer your concerns better than I have done.

Chalicechick said...

So one cannot be a fundamentalist about empiricism in your view?

The dictionary I have says that fundamentalism is about a belief in an strict adherance to a set of basic principles. It says nothing about religious texts.

Indeed, most folks I know who are really into Ayn Rand match the discription better than most Christians I know.

IMHO, Logical Positivists, who believe that all knowledge is based on logical inference from simple "protocol sentences" grounded in observable facts, certainly qualify.

Indeed, to take your example, I would say that anyone who says "Empiracism is the only method of acquiring knowledge I accept. If something can't be proved empirically to me, then I automatically don't believe in it." well fits the discription.

Why wouldn't they?

CC
who considers anyone who uses the seven principles as evidence of why other people suck and seeks about violations of the seven principles to be a UU fundamentalist of the most annoying kind.

Anonymous said...

Hi

I am confused by this issue.

Is it not true that the largest category of UU is humanist?

Is not UU a truly non-theistic religion, having seven principles that do not mention a deity? (The purposes that follow the principles acknowledge that U and U have a historic link to theistic religions in the distant past.)

The Unitarian war between theists and humanists was won by the humanists a hundred years ago.

There are many Unitarian institutions all over the world that are strongly theistic, but the UUA is not one of them.

I personally am a non-atheist, and tend to respect theistic religions when I encounter them.

best wishes

Dudley Jones
jonesdudley@hotmail.com

Steve Caldwell said...

CC,

A fundamentalist will follow a set of principles even when they don't work and they contradict what we know about the world (e.g. a young-earth creationist who ignores the abundant evidence of evolutionary descent with modification).

A person who is using reason and empirical observation in a community with others will have some built-in safeguards against self-deception and other things that lead a person like our hypothetical young-earth creationist astray.

These tools are pretty useful for keeping folks honest.

For example, we have no example of a natural explanation being replaced by a supernatural explanation.

But we have plenty of examples of supernatural explanations being replaced by natural explanations.

Given this successful track record, is it unreasonable to apply naturalistic methods to religion as well?

First, calling a person who thinks that reason and empirical observation are useful methods for exploring the world a "fundamentalist atheist," you much more likely to engage in name-calling and this doesn't promote honest dialog between persons.

Second, there's a descriptive adage similar to "Godwin's Law" (the one that used to discourage Nazi analogies).

The adage is called "Blake's Law" and can be summarized as follows:

"In any discussion of atheism (skepticism, etc.), the probability that someone will compare a vocal atheist to religious fundamentalists increases to 100%."

This adage was coined because the "fundamentalist atheist" label is about as useful as the "Nazi" label in online discussions.

But it's very useful if one wants to engage in name-calling.

Robin Edgar said...

"8. Do not -- repeat, DO NOT -- talk about "fundamentalist atheists."

If the shoe fits, "fundamentalist atheists" can wear it. . .

OTOH Atheist Supremacist makes a fine alternative to the term "fundamentalist atheist", possibly even a *superior* and more fitting one. ;-)

FWIW The word verification code for this comment is - inhalor

Steve Caldwell said...

Dudley,

Yes -- there's a strong humanist and atheist presence in many Unitarian Universalist congregations.

However, there are some UU congregations where folks like me are blamed for all the growth and developmental problems in Unitarian Universalism today and are made to feel unwelcome (if you like, I can send you some examples via email that I've seen in my congregation of this).

UUs are only a small fraction of the population and folks are in UU congregations just a few hours a week.

The rest of our lives are not lived in humanist-friendly and atheist-friendly congregations but rather in a world that assumes some level of theism.

Greta's suggestions may not be needed in some UU congregations -- but they are needed in the wider non-UU world.

Robin Edgar said...

BTW Atheists who really would like to find common ground with theists should follow the following slightly modified "guidelines" -

1. Familiarize yourself with the common myths and misconceptions about theists -- and don't perpetuate them like "fundamentalist atheists" aka Atheist Supremacists do. . .

2. Familiarize yourself with what it's like to be a theist, both in the U.S. and in the rest of the world.

3. Find common ground.

4. Speak out against anti-theist bigotry and other forms of anti-religious intolerance.

5. Be inclusive of theists.

6. Don't divide and conquer, and don't try to take away our anger at "fundamentalist atheists" aka Atheist Supremacists perpetuating common myths and misconceptions about theists

7. If you're going to accuse a theist or an theist group of being intolerant -- be careful, and make sure that's really what they're being.

8. Do not -- repeat, DO NOT -- Deny, Ignore or Minimize the existence of "fundamentalist atheists" aka Atheist Supremacists.

9. Be aware of how religious belief gives has had a place in mainstream society for several millennia. Show a modicum of respect for that.

Steve Caldwell said...

Robin,

Expressing honest doubt or an honest difference of opinion isn't intolerance.

Saying that one finds evidence to be lacking for some religious opinion isn't intolerance.

Suggesting that there may be logical inconsistencies in a religious opinion isn't intolerance.

However -- calling someone a "fundamentalist atheist" is an example of name-calling and that is intolerant.

It also does nothing to promote civil discussion.

Robin Edgar said...

"I get ridiculed by both sides at times."

Stuck in the middle with U*Us Joel? ;-)

Robin Edgar said...

"Expressing honest doubt or an honest difference of opinion isn't intolerance."

Don't be so sure of that Steve. . . "Fundamentalist atheist" "Humanist" U*U minister Rev. Ray Drennan repeatedly insisted that he was "just be honest" when he belittled and maligned my montheistic religious beliefs as nothing but "silliness and fantasy", contemptuously dismissed my revelatory religious experience as "your psychotic experience" and Creation Day as "your cult". No doubt he was "just being honest" when he preached a Sunday sermon proclaiming God to be a "non-existent being" and belief in God as "primitive". I am sure he was being very honest when he expressed his difference of opinion about former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau's Roman Catholic state funeral in a very opinionated Opinion Editorial piece in the Montreal Gazette that expressed his "uneasiness", "irritation" and even "anger" that the state funeral was a Roman Catholic rite. The Gazette received approximately fifty letters to the editor from "shocked and appalled" readers, including one "devout atheist" who ALL condemned Rev. Ray Drennan's anti-Catholic, anti-Christian and more broadly anti-religious intolerance and bigotry. You don't think bigots are being honest, as in *sincere* or *frank* when they express their "difference of opinion"?

"Saying that one finds evidence to be lacking for some religious opinion isn't intolerance."

That depends on how one expresses their difference of opinion Steve. Need I remind you how Rev. Ray Drennan expressed his opinion that he found evidence to be lacking for my religious opinions?

"Suggesting that there may be logical inconsistencies in a religious opinion isn't intolerance."

Again, that depends very much on how one goes about "suggesting" that there may be logical inconsistencies in a religious opinion.

"However -- calling someone a "fundamentalist atheist" is an example of name-calling and that is intolerant. It also does nothing to promote civil discussion."

Please allow me to express my honest doubt, and my honest difference of opinion, about that Steve. Describing that subset of militant aka extreme atheists whose rigid and dogmatic atheism, if not outright anti-theism. . . fits the dictionary definition of the words "fundamentalist" or "fundamentalism" is no more "name-calling", intolerant, or uncivil than describing rigid and dogmatic Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims as "fundamentalists".

To plagiarize aka paraphrase the honest opinion of "fundamentalist atheist" aka Atheist Supremacist Richard Dawkins -

If it's true that it causes atheists to feel uncomfortable, that's tough. It's still the truth. The universe doesn't owe atheists condolence or consolation; it doesn't owe atheists a nice warm feeling inside. If it's true, it's true, and atheists better live with it.

Robin Edgar said...

Typo correction - "just be honest" should have read "just being honest"

Robin Edgar said...

Is it uncivil and/or intolerant "name-calling" to use the term "White Supremacist" Steve?

Just asking. . .

Chalicechick said...

Steve--

If you want to invent new meanings for the word "fundamentalist" for your own use, fine. But you can't tell me that I can't use the old meaning of the word that is dictionary supported.

I checked three dictionaries and NONE of them say that fundamentalism inherently involves contradicting things we know about the world.

But even if I give you your wacky definition and say it did, accpeting only empiracism is still within it.

1. We know now that there are lots of microscopic organisms.

2. Before we had really powerful microscopes, we might have had a theory that there were microscopic organisms, but we didn't have any empirical evidence that couldn't be explained by a bunch of other theories.

3. Microscopic organisms existed long before the invention of the microscope. We simply had no way to percieve them with our limited senses.

4. Ergo, anyone who says "Prove it to me empirically, or I refuse to recognize that it exists" is ignoring the reality that sometimes things exist that cannot be empirically proven.

Again, how does this differ from any other kind of fundamentalism?

CC

Anonymous said...

Steve

Why do you think people are having such a visceral response to your original post? Could it possibly be related to their experiences with UU humanists?

Why do so many people believe in the caricature "atheist = militant atheist"?

best wishes

Dudley
jonesdudley@hotmail.com

J. J. Ramsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. J. Ramsey said...

Chalicechick, most empiricists will recognize that, as you put it, sometimes things exist that cannot be empirically proven. However, if you cannot provide even partial evidence for a claim, then how can you have any confidence that it is true, or even have any reason for forming the claim in the first place?

Furthermore, when it comes to deities, the problem is not that there is a lack of purported evidence, but that this evidence shows itself to be more and more flawed the more it is examined. You can hardly fault someone for concluding from this that there is no "there" there.

I'm probably more willing than most to refer to certain atheists as "fundamentalist," but I'll tend to do this for atheists who fail to be good empiricists (or more to the point, good skeptics), and instead repeat the errors of genuine religious fundamentalists. Using dismissive ridicule that doesn't stand up to scrutiny? Overgeneralizing about the opposition and treat it as a cartoon adversary? That's all too reminiscent of fundamentalists. Bluntly stating criticism? Not so much.

I'd also add that it is somewhat better to treat "fundamentalist atheist" as an intentional oxymoron, one used to highlight the hypocrisy of certain atheists who are lousy at practicing the rationality that they preach, than as a phrase that really makes sense in its own right.

Joel Monka said...

J.J.Ramsey- in your first paragraph, you put your finger on the entire debate: "However, if you cannot provide even partial evidence for a claim,..." There is actually plenty of evidence.

What evidence? Personal experience. I know the Earth exists; I feel its presence. I know the Divine exists; I have felt her presence. So have tens of millions of others. but the "fundamentalist atheist" reserves to himself the right to define what evidence is, and says that this is not evidence. Or rather, that it is evidence, but evidence of mental illness rather than the Divine. I can't tell you exactly how many times I've been told that the proper label for such an experience is "psychotic break", but it's in the double digits. "Irrational" is the single most common atheist term for theists.

I'll tell you what irrational is: telling someone he's mentally ill, erecting a sign next to a religious display reading "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds”, saying that raising your kids Catholic does more harm than sexually molesting them- and then asking them to find common cause with you. Fundamentalist atheists seem to have a poor grasp of human psychology if they think that's going to work.

Bruce Gorton said...

To those arguing that atheists are fundementalists, I know precisely why you do it.

It is because you are wrong, you know you are wrong, but you don't like to be reminded of it.

I mean, we come can up with any evidence and it will never change your minds because you don't want your minds to be changed.

We on the other hand will even change our minds about what constitutes evidence if the argument is good enough.

But, because you are comfortable painting us in the same colours as people who bomb abortion clinics, or people who deny other people their rights, or people who sentence women to 200 lashes for getting raped, we are your comfortable target.

So when we practice the same rights we fought for you to have, when we speak freely or buy advertising space, or publish books, you whine and cry about how oppressed you are being.

We aren't telling you to shut up, we might not agree with what you say, but champion your right to say it. We are told to tolerate your bullshit, but when we dare to speak up, suddenly we are fundementalists.

So we are no longer playing nice because you never played nice. You always treated us like dirt, you actually frequently claim we are incapable of being moral or generous, and frankly, it isn't like getting vocal has made our situation any worse.

You were whining this much about us back when simply being an atheist was a criminal offence.

You lie about us, you pretend to be victims of oppression when all you are getting is someone vocally disagreeing with you.

And you do all of this, because you know deep down that we are right. You know your imaginary friend doesn't give you any special claim on morality, that the universe is essentially meaningless, that in the end what you do governs who you are, what you believe is kind of incidental.

You know this, but you don't want to face it, so rather than stand up and say "You know, I might disagree with XYZ person, but they have the right to disagree with me" you play games by calling fundementalists, when there is nothing fundementally there that isn't present in anybody who isn't entirely gullible.

If you call us fundementalists for wanting evidence, well then I want that $30,000 you owe me, but don't expect me to prove that you owe it me, that would make you a fundementalist.

Chalicechick said...

I don't by any means see all atheists as fundamentalist ones. I just want to reserve the right to call a spade a spade as far as the ones that are.

If anything, this reaction more from a dislike of people using language to boss one another around unreasonably than anything about atheists at all.

(And that bossing includes saying "I would never call you politically incorrect, but someone who WAS into political correctness would certainly find what you just said objectionable" which is just passive-agressive bossing.)

What evidence is required to support a claim depends a lot on the nature of the claim itself. To use an example Marcus Borg likes to use, if a Christian tells me he likes to walk with Jesus in the evening, no, I don't literally think Jesus materializes on the man's doorstep at seven wearing walking shoes. But I would never deny that as the Christian takes a contemplative walk and thinks about his faith he is walking with Jesus in a very real sense to him.

I don't believe in a personal God. I do believe that there is a reason that people write symphonies and build skyscrapers and go to the moon and try to cure cancer. I think we, as awful as we can be, have a transcendent force pulling us onward and upward and toward greater things. If you want to call it "the human spirit," fine. Other people's terminology is not that interesting to me as long as I'm allowed mine.

CC

Chalicechick said...

Bruce--

I may be all those things you said, but at least I read posts before I respond to them.

No one on this thread has said that all atheists are fundamentalists.

I have said that any atheist who refuses to accept anything other than empiracism is, but that actually describes very few atheists. Actually, I'm hard pressed to think that it literally describes anyone at all, but it was the example Steve gave so I went with it.


CC

Bruce Gorton said...

Joel Monka

Okay, if you object to the sign, why don't you object to the nativity scene?

What makes the sign objectionable, but the nativity scene, not?

Both are expressions of religious viewpoints, both are in a public setting, so surely if atheists can't put up a sign, surely theists should not be allowed to put up their nativity scene?

Or is there a double standard here?

You seem to want a special license to silence people who disagree with you.

As to personal experience, the reason it is not accepted is because it is highly subjective, people can lie, frequently things are seen as miracles when they have other explanations (Whether we know them or not) or they can be a matter of temporary insanity.

A personal experience can convince you, but your personal experience doesn't hold the same weight for me, and I go on weight of evidence.

You can proclaim that evolution is a crock because of your personal experiences, but I can look at the fossil records, look at how animals are bred for certain traits, look at modern examples of evolution in diseases and insects and point out that I think you are wrong.

And chances are, I am the one who is right, because I am not going on my gut, but on the evidence that anybody can look at.

Bruce Gorton said...

Chalicechick

I read your post. I stand by mine.

Here is Wikipedia's first line of Empirical Research, what it actually means

Empirical research is any research that bases its findings on direct or indirect observation as its test of reality.

Now, there are limits to it, things may exist outside of our perceptions, but that doesn't make it so that if it exists outside of our ability to percieve it, it automatically exists.

Atheists who demand empirical evidence aren't being unreasonable here. If I told you that you owed me $30,000 you would ask me for some evidence, that wouldn't make you a fundementalist, that would make you sensible.

Now, theists come to us, with a wide variety of different ideas that they want us to adopt, which are big life changing ideas. Now, you call me a fundementalist for asking for some evidence?

How can I make such a huge decision, when the evidence is so shoddy? When there is actually evidence against it in some cases?

Because that demand for evidence is what you are calling fundementalist.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Joel Monka: "There is actually plenty of evidence.

What evidence? Personal experience."

I know the Earth exists; I feel its presence. I know the Divine exists; I have felt her presence."

The catch is that if you want to show others how you experience part of the Earth, you can show them the spot where you felt it, and they can feel the dirt between their own toes. Even more to the point, just about all of us have experiences of what our various corners of the Earth are like, and we can share them and find that they are pretty similar. Not only that, but we can plant buildings on various parts of the Earth, dig into it, even photograph it. By comparison, evidence for the "Divine" is far more fleeting, and reports of its various supposed manifestations, i.e. gods, are widely varying.

"So have tens of millions of others. but the 'fundamentalist atheist' reserves to himself the right to define what evidence is, and says that this is not evidence."

It has nothing to do with reserving any rights and everything to do with recognizing that human beings are fallible. You, I'm sure, do know that people misunderstand and misperceive things, and in more extreme cases see and hear things that just flat out aren't there. Taking a step back and examining evidence to check if it really is solid is no vice.

Bruce Gorton said...

that if it exists outside of our ability to percieve it

Should read

that if it is outside of our ability to percieve it

J. J. Ramsey said...

Bruce Gorton: "You were whining this much about us back when simply being an atheist was a criminal offence."

Last time I checked, being an atheist hasn't been a "criminal offence" for a few centuries. I doubt that any of the commenters are that old. Of course, you could be using "you" in a generic sense, lumping Chalicechick and Joel Monka as part of a vaguely defined multi-generational religious adversary. That puts you at risk of seeing as homogeneous those who are outside your in-group--which is something that extreme partisans tend to do.

Bruce Gorton: "And you do all of this, because you know deep down that we are right. You know your imaginary friend doesn't give you any special claim on morality, that the universe is essentially meaningless, that in the end what you do governs who you are, what you believe is kind of incidental."

So you are a mind reader now? Color me skeptical. Worse, you are reminding me of similar arguments from a fundygelical.

If you are trying to dissuade anyone from the idea that fundie atheists don't exist, you aren't doing that good a job.

Bruce Gorton said...

J. J. Ramsey

You want to call me a fundementalist, well the thing is, I think you are a wuss. It has about the level of meaning if we are going to resort to that.

I paint with broad brush strokes, because the religious have always whined about the non-religious, whether we are quiet, noisy, violent, peaceful whatever. It never changes.

The focus of many a religious lefty is not on how bad the Elizabeth Dole's of the world are, or how objectionable it is to write off people's citizenship for the lack of faith, or how Specialist Jeremy Hall had a right to meet with other atheists, it is on Richard Dawkins - a man who wrote a book. He, and other people who dared write their views down are somehow equal and opposite to all of this.

You are trying to make nice, and I see no point it.

We are painted along with a Catholic who got protestants to murder Jews, while invoking God in every second speech. Gott Mit Uns, real atheists there. That is what happened because we were nice.

In time we can be sure to be blamed for the Spannish inquisition, it makes about as much sense.

So yeah, I paint with a broad brush as my rhetorical style, my aim is to be offensive, this is because this is the style that seems to work.

I mean, shit, the fact is the religious fundementalists get right up everybody's noses, and they are winning. A bunch of Islamic nutcases blow up Mumbai, and here we hear about the UN entertaining a proposition against heresy.

What has being nice actually gained us? I mean, atheists start advertising the way religions do. A religion can buy advertising space and nobody really cares, not even atheists, but it suddenly becomes a scandal if atheists do that.

Quite simply, the signs get stolen, massive protests are launched, and death threats follow.

So I guess I am a militant atheist, and I guess I am prejudiced against the religious, but I am also at the point where I don't actually see it as being wrong anymore.

Recently the Pope blamed all the world's ills on "Godless culture." That is us. He is hardly alone in blaming us for everything wrong with the world.

If this is what it takes to bring about a world where I am not blamed for all of the evil in it, then I am going to look a lot like the monsters I am facing.

fausto said...

As is the case in many other belief systems, there are some atheists who are especially militant about their views and hostile to a diversity of opinion. They tend to be a minority of all atheists. As is the case in other belief systems, they tend to be the ones who give the entire belief system a bad reputation in the eyes of outsiders. It is valid for both atheists and non-atheists to note that the difference exists and to discuss whether it and the impressions it creates are justified.

Likewise, as is the case with some members of many other belief communities, especially minority ones, there are some atheists who feel angry and oppressed. Some of them may have experiences that justify such feelings and others may not. It is valid for both atheists and non-atheists not only to acknowledge that such feelings exist but also to discuss whether they are justified. Not all perceived oppression is true oppression, not all who see themselves as victims ought to be validated in their self-image, and not all majorities are inherently oppressive to the minority. (Which also points to a conceptual flaw in much other UU AR/AO "work", but that's a different discussion.)

Moreover, there seems to be a high correlation between members of the two groups. That too is a worthy subject of inquiry.

Since this is the case, I would quibble with Christina's points 6 and 8. She seems more interested in demanding validation of attitudes that may actually be destructive to atheists' personal happiness and atheism's potential influence in society than to encourage honest talk about why such attitudes exist, whether they are problematic, and if so whether the problems can be addressed.

Other than points 6 and 8, it seems like a reasonable list to me.

Bruce Gorton said...

Fausto, I would suggest you read Greta's posts on atheists and anger, to see what she means there.

Robin Edgar said...

:Empirical research is any research that bases its findings on direct or indirect observation as its test of reality.

Well my empirical research that bases its findings on direct observation of the dictionary definitions of the words "fundamentalist" and "fundamentalism", to say nothing of what Wikipedia has to say about fundamentalism and direct observation of the "deep and totalistic commitment" to a belief in the non-existence of God and harmfulness of religion, and strict adherence to a set of basic principles, of extreme aka militant atheists as its test of reality determines that "fundamentalist atheist(s)" is a perfectly acceptable English language description of what might otherwise be called Atheist Supremacists.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Bruce Gorton: "So I guess I am a militant atheist, and I guess I am prejudiced against the religious, but I am also at the point where I don't actually see it as being wrong anymore."

If you've stopped seeing being prejudiced as wrong, then you are in danger of being intellectually bankrupt.

Bruce Gorton: "What has being nice actually gained us? I mean, atheists start advertising the way religions do. A religion can buy advertising space and nobody really cares, not even atheists, but it suddenly becomes a scandal if atheists do that."

This is perverse. Atheist ads that spark protest in spite of having gentle messages like "Why believe in a god? Be good for goodness' sake," and the lesson that you take from this is that atheists need to be meaner? The lesson should be just the opposite: Simply presenting atheism to the public, even without presenting religion in an unfair light, is sufficient to bring tensions to the surface. Meaner and louder aren't the same thing.

fausto said...

Bruce, did you mean posts other than on the page Steve linked? I read those, and I stand by what I said.

She has a valid point in the first part #6 about not trying to divide and conquer, but that's because conquest is a wrong way to frame the issue in the first place. Presumably non-atheists who are trying to be supportive toward atheists are not motivated by a desire to conquer.

As to anger, though, I think that's something that always deserves to be examined critically rather than presumptively validated. There is much anger and resentment (in this context as in many others) that is unjustified, and even anger that might be justifiable is nevertheless often counterproductive anyway, at least in the ways that it is expressed or channeled.

Bruce Gorton said...

J. J.

Here is what your approach achieved, a member of a major political party in her bid to KEEP her senate seat ran an ad with the following:

http://friendlyatheist.com/4229/elizabeth-dole-attacks-senate-opponent-for-meeting-with-atheists/

Oh, and what was the response? Was it "American Atheists are Americans too"?

At their core, Americans aren't Democrat or Republican, red or blue – they're Americans, plain and simple. We ALL love our country, and we all value the role of faith in American life.

Shame on anyone who says differently


It was to say shame on those of us who do not have faith.

So tell me again how nice we should be being.

Bruce Gorton said...

fausto

On the contrary, it is productive. If we don't get angry we continue to get stepped on.

I mean, lets be honest here: What have atheists actually done to deserve the whinging we get from the religious? Wrote some books, argued on some forums, maybe paid for a few adverts.

And yet, we are the villains who are overly "angry." We are told to be sensitive, yet the more sensitive we get, the worse treatment we get.

Anger, works. It unifies us, it gets us together to fight injustice, and it gets us to demand equal treatment.

I mean, one of the things Greta raised on her post before this one, was a speech by leaders of the LGBT movement against Proposition 8.

They thanked the religious who go to Church, the religious who don't, and kind of forgot about the atheists who mobilised en masse to help support the fight against Proposition 8.

The religious, who mobilised en masse in support of Proposition 8 got more credit for opposing it, than atheists who actually opposed it.

That is where we are because we didn't angry enough soon enough.

Gays didn't get where they are today, by remaining placid. They got pissed off and mobilised. Blacks? Got pissed off, and mobilised.

Every civil rights movement is based on people getting pissed off and doing something about it.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Bruce Gorton: "Here is what your approach achieved ..."

My approach? To the extent that I have an approach, it is to be fair and to try to avoid saying untrue things about religion (or anything else for that matter). Of course, doing this makes it hard to paint religionists in general as a dreaded faceless enemy rather than as human beings.

There is also a severe disconnect between your purported evidence and its conclusion. Elizabeth Dole played on the negative stereotypes that the people in her state have about atheists, and your proposal is, what, that we should have fought against those stereotypes by foaming at the mouth? What would this have accomplished?

Bruce Gorton: "I mean, lets be honest here: What have atheists actually done to deserve the whinging we get from the religious?"

Depends. In a number of cases, nothing. In other cases, however, atheists have been willing to be cavalier with facts and logic to advance their causes. We have Hitchens doing a "reverse David Barton," so to speak, trying to argue that Jefferson could have been an atheist, not just a heretic. Taner Edis has pointed out that Sam Harris has been sloppy in his treatment of Islam. Dawkins pulled a Godwin, likening the NCSE to Neville Chamberlain. And then there the woo-woo crapfest from the "Jebus didn't exist" crowd. Do I think that this accounts for most of the "whinging"? Probably not, but it's a swamp that needs draining, anyway.

Now if you are talking about abuse rather than whinging, the answer is clearly nothing, period. Not even Frank Zindler's attempts to force-fit the 12 disciples into the twelve signs of the zodiac merits that.

Bruce Gorton: "Every civil rights movement is based on people getting pissed off and doing something about it."

Yup, but being pissed off and half-cocked aren't the same thing.

fausto said...

"Every civil rights movement is based on people getting pissed off and doing something about it."

So is every domestic violence arrest, but that doesn't prove anything either.

Chalicechick said...

First of all,

(((Now, there are limits to it, things may exist outside of our perceptions, but that doesn't make it so that if it exists outside of our ability to percieve it, it automatically exists. ))

Duh.

Now that we've established that neither of us believe in the tooth fairy, it doesn't seem reasonable to assume that something that by definition exists outside our perception automatically doesn't exist eiher.

For what it's worth, this religious person doesn't give a damn what you believe and she wrote about the Dole's crappy ad and has written about the way that atheists are screwed by some laws on her blog and has never bothered to bitch about Richard Dawkins.

As far as I'm concerned, the problem with anger is that it causes you to lose all perspective and become ridiculous to anyone who hasn't drunk your exact specific flavor of Kool Aid.

For example:

We are painted along with a Catholic who got protestants to murder Jews, while invoking God in every second speech. Gott Mit Uns, real atheists there. That is what happened because we were nice.

Yeah, atheists sure got screwed in that whole Holocaust thing because they were nice.

I mean, when I think of what groups I feel sorry for, holocaust-wise, the poor atheists are top of the list.

CC

Chalicechick said...

(((So is every domestic violence arrest, but that doesn't prove anything either.)))

The versatility of that statement is the best part.

CC

J. J. Ramsey said...

ChaliceChick: "it doesn't seem reasonable to assume that something that by definition exists outside our perception automatically doesn't exist eiher."

Let me assume that when we here are speaking of something that exists outside our perception, we are discussing something that would leave no discernible trace, since such a trace would be perceived. (I'm including genuine signs of "intelligent design" as a kind of trace, which might be used to infer the existence of a Deist god.) In such a case, how can we speak of such a thing, except as a hypothetical? For all practical purposes, it might as well not exist, and since there's no trace of it, one cannot make a positive case for its existence.

Let me relax the constraint that this imperceptible something would leave no trace. This something, then, would be something that wouldn't register on our senses, but if it existed, it could be inferred from indirect evidence. If we look at the purported indirect evidence and find that it is rumor, stories with known errors, and so on, why find the existence of this something plausible?

ChaliceChick: "the problem with anger is that it causes you to lose all perspective"

It can do that, but it doesn't have to. Martin Luther King, Jr. was angry, too. It's just that he channeled his anger toward racial injustice itself, not against white people.

Steve Caldwell said...

Honestly -- I go to work where I cannot see what is happening on this blog.

I get home something like 30 posts happened during the day.

CC wrote:
-snip-
"If you want to invent new meanings for the word 'fundamentalist' for your own use, fine. But you can't tell me that I can't use the old meaning of the word that is dictionary supported.

I checked three dictionaries and NONE of them say that fundamentalism inherently involves contradicting things we know about the world."


CC -- ignoring reality in favor of one's ideology isn't part of the definition of "fundamentalism" but it's a logical outcome of holding a fundamentalist view of scripture.

If a fundamentalist believes that young-earth creationism is true because he/she believes the Bible is literally true because it's the "word of God," then no amount of evidence (geographic, genetic, fossil, etc) will convince this person.

Contrast that attitude with the person that you're describing as a "fundamentalist atheist" - who relies heavily on reason and evidence.

How do you think your hypothetical "fundamentalist atheist" person will respond when presented with conclusive evidence?

Do you think it will be different than the young-earth creationist fundamentalist?

Steve Caldwell said...

CC wrote:
-snip-
"Ergo, anyone who says 'Prove it to me empirically, or I refuse to recognize that it exists' is ignoring the reality that sometimes things exist that cannot be empirically proven."

Uh ... no, that's not how this works.

If one is making an exceptional claim (and many religions do) that god or gods have in the past and continue to interact with universe, the burden of proof is on the person making the claim.

The burden of proof is not on the person saying "hey -- show me the evidence."

I never said there is no god or gods. I just said that objective evidence is lacking.

Before anyone brings up subjective evidence of the divine, keep in mind that there are plenty of folks who do not feel this subjective evidence.

Steve Caldwell said...

Dudley wrote
-snip-
"Why do you think people are having such a visceral response to your original post? Could it possibly be related to their experiences with UU humanists?"

Dudley,

I really don't know -- I'm not a mind-reader (and if I claimed I was, I'm sure that James Randi would debunk the claim).

I've had a member of my congregation say it was rude of me to suggest in an adult RE class that one way around the "how can a loving god allow bad things to happen to good people" question (a big question in theodicy or theology dealing with the problem of evil) was to question the assumption that god exists.

I didn't raise this in class in a mocking tone. But this honest expression of doubt was viewed as rudeness.

Then Dudley asked"
-snip-
"Why do so many people believe in the caricature 'atheist = militant atheist'?"

Probably for the same reason folks talked about "militant homosexuals" back in the 1970s.

Just the act of coming out of the closet appears "militant" because it does question cherished assumptions.

It's entirely possible that being "out" will be perceived as less militant in 30 to 50 years.

Steve Caldwell said...

JJ Ramsey wrote:
-snip-
"Last time I checked, being an atheist hasn't been a 'criminal offense' for a few centuries."

Actually, blasphemy laws are still on the books in many US states. The last US conviction under blasphemy laws happened in 1928.

In the 1952 Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson decision, the US Supreme Court overturned laws banning "sacrilegious" content in films.

However, the Massachusetts blasphemy law is still on the books and it reads as follows:

Whoever willfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, His creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Steve Caldwell: "Actually, blasphemy laws are still on the books in many US states."

Strictly speaking, being a blasphemer and being and atheist aren't the same. That said, point taken.

Steve Caldwell: "Contrast that attitude with the person that you're describing as a 'fundamentalist atheist' - who relies heavily on reason and evidence."

I'm not CC, but when I see the phrase "fundamentalist atheist," I tend to think of someone who doesn't do a good job of relying on reason and evidence, and that seems to be the gist I get from others who use it. They may have other things in mind as well, and they may have bad warrant for deciding that said someone doesn't do a good job of employing reason, but that gist seems to be consistent across all the variant working definitions of the phrase "fundamentalist atheist." To call an atheist a "fundamentalist" is to implicitly accuse said atheist of hypocrisy, of laziness in applying the very reason that he/she claims to value.

fausto said...

When I hear the term "fundamentalist atheist", I think of a rigidly doctrinaire mindset, and a hostile unwillingness to accommodate anyone with contrasting views, but not necessarily hypocrisy. Like other religious fundamentalists, such fundamentalist atheists are a minority within their community, but they are an especially vocal and strident minority, and by being so visible they cast the entire community in an undeservedly unflattering light. Thus, I think they are a legitimate topic of discussion among both atheists and non-atheists -- especially if the genuine goal is to promote greater understanding and acceptance between atheists and non-atheists, and not merely to discourage valid criticism.

Steve Caldwell said...

JJ Ramsey wrote:
-snip-
"Strictly speaking, being a blasphemer and being and atheist aren't the same. That said, point taken."

Remember the Mass. law that is still on the books:

Whoever willfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying ... God"

I'm pretty sure that not believing in God would qualify as "blasphemes the holy name of God by denying ... God."

Joel Monka said...

Bruce Gorton- "Okay, if you object to the sign, why don't you object to the nativity scene? What makes the sign objectionable, but the nativity scene, not?" Easy answer, with no double standard: one is simply a depiction of their central unifying myth; the other is an insulting attack upon the first. Yes, they have the right to speak... I have the "right" to call a bride a fat, ugly cow on her wedding day, too- but if I did, I wouldn't try to pretend I didn't understand why her feelings were hurt.

"You seem to want a special license to silence people who disagree with you." You seem to believe I am a Christian. Had you read my earlier comment upthread, you would have known I was a Pagan; I complained of taking ridicule from Christians and atheists alike. But as long as they're being positive about themselves rather than negative about others, I have no beef with Christians- the only religious expression I object to is a contemptuous one.

By the way, one word of warning in reference to your complaints about Elizabeth Dole, etc. : don't play the "Pity me, I get no respect from Christians" game with a Pagan; he'll laugh in your face.

J.J. Ramsey- When I spoke of evidence, I hadn't made myself clear. I know well that my experience isn't evidence to convince you, or anyone else; that was not my intent. I was trying to show that despite the claims of aggressive atheists, believers DO have reason and evidence for believing. Indeed, it wouldn't be rational to deny the clear evidence of your senses without very good reason to doubt them. It wouldn't even be scientific to do so.

Steve- Those blasphemy laws apply against Pagans as much as atheists, and Pagans have other religious laws to counter that you don't. In this calendar year there have been Wiccans prosecuted under laws against fortune telling, for example.

Bruce Gorton said...

Joel

Here is what it said:

"At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."


So, what you are saying is a double standard. The one is a depiction of what the religious think to be true - the birth of Jesus, their saviour.

The other is what the non-religious think is true - that it is all myths. Because the one was set up by an acceptable target, however, you get to claim that atheists are being horrible people.

This is the season when we get inundated with religious imagery, where not being someone "Filled with the Christmas spirit" gets you painted as a villain.

Are we asking the religious to not express themselves? No, we are just expressing ourselves. If you don't like plaque? don't read it.

Bruce Gorton said...

J. J. Ramsey

No, your approach is, suck up to the religious, stifle your objections to what they have to say, and hope that they "Calm down" and act nicer.

It is essentially "Keep your mouth shut." Your attack on Dawkins has nothing to do with what he has to say, it is that he dares say it.

And that approach has not worked. That approach has failed dismally. Thirty years ago, it would not have been political suicide to admit atheists are citizens or that atheists are people too - back then we had Madelyne O'Hair.

In the period between her death in 1995 and the rise of the new Atheist movement in the 2000's it became political suicide for a politician to be seen as listening to atheists.

One of the issues around Obama, was whether or not his mother was an atheist. Simply being related to one of us is now a political weakness. That is what your approach of "Try not to offend people" has achieved.

You are in effect no different to Thabo Mbeki, who was universally lambasted for "Quiet diplomacy" that has only seen Robert Mugabe maintain his dictatorship in Zimbabwe.

Chalicechick

Lets put it this way: I am not taking anything away from what the Jews suffered during the holocaust, ultimately what the Germans did to them was evil.

The Germans were not atheists. Yet atheists, and atheism is somehow blamed for the holocaust. It is meme we will never get rid of now, 2000 years from now it will still be a meme, and why?

Because when the religious first trotted it out, atheists were very nice and ignored it.

After all, the central tragedy was that the holocaust happened, now the irony of the holocaust is that the holocaust is being used to demonise another minority that is noted for its high level of education, higher incomes and "acceptable target" status.

Joel Monka said...

Bruce- I guess you still don't understand the difference, so let me spell it out. "At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world." is fine, perfect. It is a statement of your religious beliefs. I have no complaint whatsoever. "Religion is but myth and superstition" is confrontational, but still OK; it is a reiteration of the basic opinion. "that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." is over the line. It is not demonstrably factual- religion has the opposite effect on many. It is merely an insult. A certain type of atheist seems to be constitutional incapable of simply stating their opinion without adding a sneer at someone else.

fausto said...

In a state that was founded almost 400 years ago, and whose ruling hierarchy has been dominated ever since by either Puritans or Irish Catholics, you're inevitably going to find a lot of obsolete morality legislation still on the books that nobody ever bothers to enforce because it is unconstitutional, but that no court decision has ever struck down because it's never enforced.

With regard to atheism specifically, the blasphemy law may never have been formally repealed, but it was effectively annulled by the 106th Amendment (that's how old our Constitution is), which amended and restated the introductory Article I of Part the First (our declaration of fundamental rights) as follows: "All people are born free and equal and have certain natural, essential and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness. Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin." So it's disingenuous and misleading for Steve to imply that the blasphemy law remains effective, or that Massachusetts legally discriminates against atheists.

Moreover, our museum-quality statute book doesn't single out atheists for oppression. For example, in addition to blasphemy (which religiously oriented types, especially doctrinally disfavored ones, are just as likely to commit as nonbelievers, btw), we still have laws against spitting on the sidewalk and practicing birth control without a wedding ring, too.

NPR did a funny piece recently on some of Massachusetts' more arcane and obsolete laws and the effort to repeal them -- which is going nowhere because, really, who cares? But in the rare instance when some twerp actually does try to enforce one of these obsolete laws and the courts don't strike it down -- as when, for example, Mitt Romney tried to dust off an old anti-miscegenation law to invalidate same sex marriages for out-of-state couples -- we do repeal them. (In that case, it should be noted, atheism was not at issue.)

Bruce Gorton said...

Joel Monka

Funny thing, religion.

Religious people disowning their atheist children is all too common for me to think that religion does anything but harden hearts.

And minds? Well lets look at creationism: Religion there has hardened people's minds to the point that they ignore objective reality in favour of fairy tales.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Bruce Gorton [to me]: "No, your approach is, suck up to the religious, stifle your objections to what they have to say"

Which of course explains my criticisms of ChaliceChick and Joel Monka. Speaking of which ...

Joel Monka [to me]: "I was trying to show that despite the claims of aggressive atheists, believers DO have reason and evidence for believing."

First off, watch that bit about "aggressive" atheists. There is a huge distinction between being a jerk and being someone who fisks bad thinking.

Now yes, I get a bit annoyed at atheists who say that there is no evidence for gods, because the religious often cite their reasons and evidence when pushed to it. The problem is that these just don't stand up to scrutiny.

"Indeed, it wouldn't be rational to deny the clear evidence of your senses without very good reason to doubt them. It wouldn't even be scientific to do so."

But we do have good reasons to doubt the senses sometimes, for example, when other people can't see or hear what someone else sees and hears. We know that hallucinations exist. We know that pareidolia, the tendency to read non-existent patterns into what we sense, also exists.

And it's not just problems with senses that are the issue. Human beings make mistakes and have all sorts of biases--which is why there is such insistence on repeatability, control groups, and so on. Science is inherently fallibilist. It is all about try to minimize the effects of everyday human frailties that, if left to run amok, lead to all sorts of false beliefs.

Chalicechick said...

(((How do you think your hypothetical "fundamentalist atheist" person will respond when presented with conclusive evidence?)))

Come up with an alternate explanation or other reason not to accept it if it's too far from what they believed in the first place.

CC

Chalicechick said...

((((But we do have good reasons to doubt the senses sometimes, for example, when other people can't see or hear what someone else sees and hears. We know that hallucinations exist. We know that pareidolia, the tendency to read non-existent patterns into what we sense, also exists.))))

To say nothing of the unreliability of eyewitness testing and the easy suggestibility of many witnesses. They make us law students do a lot of reading on that stuff, and justly so. It's a sobering concept.

CC

J. J. Ramsey said...

Bruce Gorton: "The Germans were not atheists. Yet atheists, and atheism is somehow blamed for the holocaust. It is meme we will never get rid of now, 2000 years from now it will still be a meme, and why?

"Because when the religious first trotted it out, atheists were very nice and ignored it."

And where is your evidence for this?

Chalicechick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel Monka said...

J.J.- Suppose someone has a transcendental experience of some sort. Suppose this person, either through their job- athelete, say, or astronaut- or for other reasons, has had extensive medical screening, and has no neurological or biochemical conditions outside of norm. This person has also had extensive psychological screening, and appears to be functioning normally. This person has an education that includes the study of logic and rhetoric, and knows the fallacies one can fall into. And yet there's that experience. Now, one could invent all kinds of explanations; "a blot of mustard, a bit of underdone beef" as Scrooge said, but a taint that has no other physical effects at all? A new mental illness that doesn't affect any other function, before, during, or after? A cosmic ray that just happens to strike a specific nerve cluster within the brain to produce the effect? The accidental ingestion of an experimental drug that affects the mind in a specific way for a limited time with no other effects? One could imagine a lot of things... but at what point does least hypothesis enter? Never?

Chalicechick said...

(((The Germans were not atheists. Yet atheists, and atheism is somehow blamed for the holocaust. It is meme we will never get rid of now, 2000 years from now it will still be a meme, and why?)))

I realize the Pope blames atheism for the holocaust, but I don't think anybody reasonably educated about the incident who isn't an obviously biased source does.

I mean, I learned in high school that the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles and the resentment the ensuing poverty of Germany fostered among the German people was the primary reason for it. I've pretty much stuck with that explanation.

And honestly, I think that in 2000 years, people will be talking about different stuff. I mean, unless you and your buddies regaularly get together for a rousing discussion of the collapse of the Han dynasty or the Romans' Conquest of Egypt, both of which killed millions and both of which happened circa 2000 years before right now*.

CC

* And anybody who does talk to their buddies about that sort of thing is a history buff who is no doubt more interested in real causes than Catholic propaganda.

Chalicechick said...

Honestly, I'm of two minds on obsolete laws about atheists, or any other group for that matter.

1. I think if anybody tried to enforce them, they would instantly be struck down at this point. So their mere continued existance is a sign in itself that nobody enforces them. So who cares and why bother wasting legislative time getting rid of them?

2. At the same time, a lot of the southern states have removed Jim Crow laws, even the ones that weren't being enforced, because their mere existence was embarassing and offensive.

So I can certainly understand why people would want them removed and not see their removal as a waste of time.

CC

Chalicechick said...

((And minds? Well lets look at creationism: Religion there has hardened people's minds to the point that they ignore objective reality in favour of fairy tales)))

I'm a long way from a creationist, but in all fairness, it's not like it's objective reality that they can really see or experience for themselves, unless you count dinosaur bones and even that's sort of a stretch. And intelligent design and God having a hand in eveolution makes both intuitive sense given the complexity of the world and no doubt a great deal of practical sense to those who see God's presence in their daily lives.

Mainstream scientists* tell them one thing, the scientists who are Christians like them tell them another, and I can assure you it doesn't sound like a fairly tale when the Intelligent Design folks write academic papers about it.

That said, I still think Intelligent Design is bunk, but I don't think that anyone who disagrees with me necessarily has their brain off.

CC

*Whom Intelligent design believers may well be thinking of as "The people who said Trans fats were a great and healthy thing ten years ago, and now are calling for the banning of trans fats because they are actually much worse for you than the saturated fats that ten years ago we encouraged you to replace with them."

Bruce Gorton said...

Chalicechick

It is not the reasonably educated we are worried about. It is the guys who watch Fox News.

It is the true believers, who frequently haven't even read their own holy books.

I mean, amongst the examples of reasons for the holocaust if you are going to go with the real motives?

Versailes caused WWII, but what led to the Jews being blamed for Versailes and for everything else was older.

The Jews were a major part of the finance industry, which just post the Great Depression wasn't exactly top of anyone's list of favourite professional groups.

Add to this that they had been cast as the "Killers of Christ" for centuries, were the centre of many a conspiracy theory, and had stuff that could be looted.

They were in a position where all it took was one trully evil man to light the match.

It is part of why it was so terrifying to atheists that Elizebeth Dole actually gained in the polls after her attack ad.

It is why it is so worrying to us, that politicians cannot actually acknowledge us as people right now.

Bruce Gorton said...

As to whether you can see the evidence for yourself: You can actually.

Museums are set up with fossil displays, farmers use evolution when breeding animals or plants.

The evidence for evolution is frequently very practical, sometimes so simple that one doesn't see it, the proverbial "Wood for the trees" situation.

What is needed is a return to something that was present the century before last, the popularisation of knowledge.

There is a need for lectures, not to get a degree but as a form of entertainment. Knowledge, needs to be seen as fun.

People need to see that this applies in their everyday lives, that ahh, this makes sense, there needs to be a push towards actually seeing the beauty to the universe around us.

Just like when you start taking photos you start seeing colour like you have never seen it before, you have not really seen red, or blue or green until you start looking at it.

And you do not see the awe in the universe until you look at it. It is, beyond words.

Which isn't helped by the constant repetition one gets on National Geographic (Seriously, try BBC documentaries to see the contrast.)

But that is a different subject entirely.

Chalicechick said...

Not to say something obvious, but if your real concern is that "true believers" might have enough hate in their hearts to someday do something to you, then probably being dicks to them and calling them stupid is a bad start.

If you think they're wrong, you do. They think you're wrong. Shrug.

I don't see how anyone benefits from more anger being injected into the debate.

FWIW, Civil-rights-wise, I know a grad student who was pondering writing a thesis that the single most important act of the civil rights area was CBS putting the southern cops beating on the peaceful protestors on the news where northern white people could see the actual violence. (No other networks showed that footage, they just talked about it.)

I'm not going to fight his fight today, but I will say that his idea feeds into my general impression that anger is almost always more destructive than helpful to any given cause.

CC

Chalicechick said...

Of course, not all of us are farmers, and ID folks have their own museums at this point.

That said, I agree with you totally on the rest of your post about the fun of knowledge.

CC

fausto said...

Bruce says:

"It is not the reasonably educated we are worried about. It is the guys who watch Fox News."

In contrast, Steve's opening post stipulates that there are "traditionally religious folks who want to be supportive allies for atheists and other non-believers".

If Steve is right (and he's the one framing the discussion, after all) that dialogue and mutual respect and support is a desirable result, it needs to be a two-way street. Atheists shouldn't feel free to insult and condescend to the very people whose sympathy and support they seek to enlist. "Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind" may be an aphorism found in the Bible, but if God doesn't exist, it is still sound human wisdom. The ethic of reciprocity is as strong in non-theistic cultures as it is in theistic ones.

Bruce Gorton said...

fausto

Oh, certainly it needs to be a two way street.

But, you know, demanding we shut up about being atheists?

That's not respect. Nor is expecting to never contradict you.

Nor is claiming that your God, which we don't believe in, is the source of all morality and "good" because you know, that kind of implies that atheists can't be good people.

If we try honest respect and get none, and have this constant demand from the religious of "respect" which amounts to us keeping silent, then we aren't going to show respect.

Sometimes to get respect you have to stop being a doormat.

fausto said...

CC says:

"Honestly, I'm of two minds on obsolete laws about atheists, or any other group for that matter."

Point well taken about laws that are as offensive and oppressive as Jim Crow. In Massachusetts, however, the law in question is a general prohibition of blasphemy, not a specific infringement of the rights of atheists in particular. The law recites a whole laundry list of prohibited forms of blasphemy, only one of which is "denying ... God".

Moreover, except for an occasional wry observation, this particular law has been utterly ignored for a very, very long time now. As many of us on this thread are undoubtedly aware, Massachsetts after all is the birthplace of Unitarianism as an organized movement in North America just about 200 years ago, and remains its denominational headquarters today, yet over all that time there has never been any suggestion that the blasphemy law has inhibited us from promoting our always evolving, but always radically heterodox, religious opinions in any way or at any time.

fausto said...

Bruce says, "If we try honest respect," as if it were presumptively true that he does so, but judging at least from how he expresses himself to fellow atheists and other sympathetic participants in this dicussion, it is a reasonable empirical conclusion that he does so only rarely if ever.

Anonymous said...

fausto

Oh, I used to be very respectful. I was a nice-guy atheist.

And I learned my lesson, I learned it very well.

And I learned, not so much from the religious right, I learned it from the religious left.

Being a nice atheist is not appreciated so I gave up on it a long time ago.

Bruce Gorton said...

Anon is me

fausto said...

Two more ethical aphorisms that don't depend on the existence of a God for their validity are, "Two wrongs don't make a right," and, "An eye for an eye, and soon the whole world is blind".

Chalicechick said...

Yeah, this religious leftist is thinking to herself:

"there are dozens if not hundreds of different sorts of oppressed groups in this world, many if not most of them facing worse things than what atheists face in the U.S., and probably all of them deserving of my limited time and attention. Why on earth would I bother with a group that takes a 'You have to treat me well and not insult me, I don't have to treat you well and not insult you until I've decided that you're treating me well enough. Oh, and I'm right and you're wrong because you're stupid' attitude? Because it's the right thing to do? Well, sure, but working for justice for oppressed groups who are beyond those kindergarten tactics is also the right thing to do, and would be a damn sight more satisfying."


So as far as I'm concerned, that's where being the angry guy gets you.

By contrast, J.J. Ramsey is the only person on this thread who has actually made me more sympathetic to the atheist cause and want to know how else I can help.

CC

Chalicechick said...

(((But, you know, demanding we shut up about being atheists?

That's not respect. Nor is expecting to never contradict you.

Nor is claiming that your God, which we don't believe in, is the source of all morality and "good" because you know, that kind of implies that atheists can't be good people.)))

Of course, nobody here has claimed any of those things.

CC

Bruce Gorton said...

CC

Now, your first post on this argument, after it was made clear that the term fundementalist atheist is a particular sour point - particularly given its connotations to terrorism and the religious right - was to defend the use of the word.

Militant is better, angry is actually better. Both are more accurate, though you will get shouted at the same if you use them.

But that said, when I wrote that first post you saw as directed at you, I was more thinking Robin, who is trying to paint atheists in with the KKK.

You just sort of fit in there too.

Now, there are many oppressed people's around the world. There are countries which still sentence atheists to death for being atheists. There are places where religious people are not free to worship as they choose.

But, arguing that way, is kind of like arguing that so long as there is a even worse example, anything you do is okay.

By that standard, well Bush torturing people is fine, because there are countries have far worse human rights records.

And I am sure you don't believe that. You are a better person than that and you know it.

Now, the main aim to me posting angrily is to get you to the point where you post something that is honest, that is you, not shielded behind anything, but where you respond angrily, and reveal that sort of reasoning.

Once you calm down, you think about it.

Now atheism gets pushed. It gets pushed hard, in ways that the religious just do not understand.

We apparently don't have a sense of humour (Evidently Carlin just wasn't funny), we can't be generous (So much for Bob Geldof), we can't be artistic (Sorry Gao Xingjian) and we aren't capable of being happy.

We would be the new black, but apparently we probably don't have a sense of rhythm either.

In some small towns in America, being an atheist can get you beaten up. I know people who came out as atheists, who lost their jobs and their families.

Soldiers in America's army, well do you know the effect of "No atheists in foxholes"?

And this is in America, guiding light of civilisation, the country other countries aspire to being - even if they don't admit it.

Now the big thing is, when you get right down to what the arguement is, it isn't that we want to convert you.

Atheists aren't seeking converts, we are seeking legitimacy, the right to speak our minds, even if it is unpleasant.

The point to the Christmas plaque was to bring up the debate over this. With a message like that, it wasn't going to convert anybody, but it was going to get people talking.

Atheists support secularism, which isn't "Ban religion", that is actually a form of theocracy the way I look at it, but "Government does not champion a religion, and does not ban religion, it keeps out of religion."

What I strive to provide is a balance. As bitter and angry as my pose sounds, it is what my world as an atheist is like.

I mean one of the things you raised, is that I am sounding like a chronic victim, now think about the "culture-wars."

And in all seriousness, I don't actually blame you for it. It is a product of your beliefs taken to the extreme, of unreasoning faith rather than honest doubt. The intellectual equivelant of a mob.

The thing is, there needs to be a sense from atheists that the religious left are on our side, and we haven't gotten that.

It wasn't so much Dole that made the whole affair so bad, it was Hagan, saying shame on us for not seeing the value in faith.

And the left does that a lot. It is unconscious, it is unthinking, and it hurts because, on every other issue, we have your back.

On gay rights, the left will march with gays even if we don't get thanked. On education, we march with the left because we are passionately in favour of education.

Even minority religions, we will fight for your rights not because we think it will make us better allies, but because we believe in your right to disagree with us.

We generally agree with so much that the left offers, yet when we show our support we get treated like the left wished we supported the other side.

And you are going to call this more whining or playing the victim. The truth is, that's fine. It is how you see me, because that is how I portrayed myself.

Atheists get treated like we are one solid mass, well, that isn't true, even in the more militant atheist movements.

The Rational Response squad had a fued going on with the Richard Dawkins boards, over whether a poseur in his 20's managed to translate the Bible from the original Greek.

And you can guess which side I am on in the Rook Hawkins debate.

The kids are not fundementalists, they aren't particularly rational, they do not produce brilliant responses, they are people who are trying to do something beyond their abilities, and trying to cheat to make up the difference.

That cheating, has robbed them of their legitimacy in the atheist world. And that is good.

By and large we do not stand together if we think the other atheist in the argument is wrong. J. J. as rough as I was on him, is basically right.

We just wish there was a greater movement within the religious, to divide against the sort of people, who say things like "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."

And the man who said that, got elected president. He isn't even considered the bad Bush.

Chalicechick said...

My first post wasn't so much to defend a term that in it I said I didn't use, but to question whether the term might not be totally inaccurate and by extension question the untility of declaring a possibly accurate term to be a slur.

In the UU blogosphere, we once had a big fight over whether the term "brown bag lunch" was racist essentially because an anti-oppression activist said it was. IMHO, the anti-opression folks got their feelings hurt and a lot of regular people admitted that it was harder to support the anti-oppression cause when people picked such hills to die on. It did nobody any good.

Particularly given that "fundamentalist"
a. Arguably applies to some atheists
and
b. Is frequently used metaphorically about people strident about any belief an atheism has no lack of strident people,
it just seems like another bad hill.

((But, arguing that way, is kind of like arguing that so long as there is a even worse example, anything you do is okay. )))

I said nothing of the kind. I said that in a world where the sheer number of battles to be fought means that people will be forced to choose which ones to fight, chosing to fight with childish logic "He hit me, so I should be able to hit him" is going to encourage me, and I think a lot of people, to fight for the rights of some other group who is approaching their battle more reasonably.

(((Now, the main aim to me posting angrily is to get you to the point where you post something that is honest, that is you, not shielded behind anything, but where you respond angrily, and reveal that sort of reasoning.)))

Of course, that didn't work. I've kept my cool, so the thread reflects you making some rather strange points and me responding in a pretty straightforward and thoughful way that you're not doing yourself or your cause any favors.

It's possible that I'm just really, really good at arguing reasonably and hiding the darkness of my religious little soul and the deep bias against atheism that you think must be in there someplace.

Or maybe I'm just a relatively thoughtful and straightforward person who isn't an atheist but likes them just fine and is curious about why people make the points they have made.

(((Now atheism gets pushed. It gets pushed hard, in ways that the religious just do not understand. )))

Yeah, I'm sure those Catholic child molesters, Stingy Jews, Crazy bible-thumpers, violent muslims and even, gasp, flaky and clueless Unitarians have no idea whatsoever what that's like.

(((We would be the new black, but apparently we probably don't have a sense of rhythm either.)))

Here, it's tempting to list all of the cultural things Black people have against them and making their lives harder even today to point out again that this whole "comparing oneself to an ethnic group that people feel sorry for" tactic doesn't make people feel sorry for your group, but whatevs.

FWIW, I had a job in the bible belt once where my employer didn't want me telling people I was a UU. I do get that.

The problem is that in the same town there was a bar that didn't allow black people. In 2002.

Kinda hard to feel too sorry for myself at that point.


I couldn't be less interested in converting you either.

My point is that making people swear at you is not the optimal way of getting people talking.

(((On gay rights, the left will march with gays even if we don't get thanked. On education, we march with the left because we are passionately in favour of education.)))

And the kid who refused to stand with his class and recite the Lord's Prayer, getting him suspended, then suing the school board and getting Lord's Prayer recitals deemed unconstitutional in the public schools was a Unitarian kid in the 1950's who felt bad for a Jewish friend.

You're welcome, I guess, since you seem to think that people's entire groups should be thanked when somebody does the obvious.

But as a Unitarian I don't expect a cookie for someone in my faith doing the right thing. I didn't expect to hear Unitarians thanked for voting for gay marriage either. We don't have a leader we respect telling us not to. Voting for something that you don't have any reason to vote against isn't particularly impressive.

The few Mormons who stood up to their families and the rest of the church and said they were voting for civil rights? That impresses me. I can see why they got thanked by the movement. Their stance cost them something.

(((Atheists get treated like we are one solid mass, well, that isn't true, even in the more militant atheist movements. )))

So why is it so hard to admit that some atheists do take a more fundamentalist approach?

I don't like that Bush said that and have said as much on my blog. I've certainly divided with the man in every concievable way.

I just didn't do so to plead for your approval so I hadn't seen why I needed to bring it up.

CC

Bruce Gorton said...

CC, it was Madelyne O'Hair that got rid of prayer in schools.

She wasn't a unitarian, she was the founder of "American Atheists."

Now, if you say some atheists behave like fundementalists that is fair enough, but to claim they are fundementalists ignores the very basic differences between the atheist world-view and the religious fundementalist world-view - such as the option of change that isn't present in the latter.

Further it is a loaded term. You think fundementalist you think guys blowing things up.

As to ignoring how atheists are prejudiced against, hey it is your right to do so. It is kind of horrifying though that you claim to have been sane and sober when arguing that because things are worse elsewhere we shouldn't do anything about how bad things are here.

As to whether I was asking for a pat on the back, actually I was asking for you guys to reciprocate a bit. I mean, take CNN as an example. Serious, not Fox News, they ran a story.

In this story, two atheist families were highlighted. One had had their child more or less forced out of school because she wouldn't pray during basketball games. This was the open atheist family, their faces weren't blotted out.

The other had been driven out of a town, because the wife let slip that she was an atheist. They were somewhat more reticent about their identities.

Nothing unusual in oppression, many another group has gotten this treatment.

CNN followed it up with a debate, which was between a black pastor, a Jewish conservative pundit and a Christian conservative pundit.

No atheists invited.

The chief phrase was "Atheists should shut the hell up."

If your brand of paganism got the same treatment, there wouldn't be a question of inviting a representative of your community to the debate, it would just happen, and you wouldn't get told to "shut the hell up."

And while you talk about that bar, that bar is not socially acceptable in America at large. If there was a story on it, the black guys who got treated badly wouldn't get told to "shut the hell up," a sentiment you personally echo when it comes to atheists.

So yeah, you don't understand how atheists are being pushed.

Bruce Gorton said...

As to black guys and rythm, that was actually a joke about stereotypes.

Chalicechick said...

FWIW, it's been like two hours since I read your post and the logic of

""Now, the main aim to me posting angrily is to get you to the point where you post something that is honest, that is you, not shielded behind anything, but where you respond angrily, and reveal that sort of reasoning.""

is still boggling my mind.


Mostly, I'm glad I'm not giving you marital counseling:

"The only reason I fucked that cocktail waittress was to get my wife Frances to say something about me that was honest. So she could respond to me in a way that wasn't shielded in any way and would reveal to me how she really felt.

And she hit me with a skillet.

Just like my last five wives.

She must not have loved me.

It's too bad I had to get herpes just to find out that she didn't love me any more than Anne, Brandi, Cindi, Danielle and Evelyn did.

My fiancee Gracie gives me hope than some day a woman might love me, but it's so hard to tell how she really feels. If only there were a way to find out..."

Seriously, the way people feel when you deliberately piss them off is not "the way they really feel about you."

CC

Chalicechick said...

O'Hair's case (Murray v. Curlett) was combined into the Unitarian boy's case (Abingdon School District v. Schempp).

CC

Bruce Gorton said...

CC

Oh? You ended up claiming, that because other groups in other countries face worse, atheist should just be happy with the shit treatment they get in America.

And that is how you feel about the issue. Not "Their complaints are illegitimate" but "Well, I don't care, someone is suffering more, lets take up their cause and that one? Well those people can just shut up and be happy they aren't in Saudi Arabia."

And now you get to think about it. To defend it if you can, claim that is not what you meant, even though it clearly is, maybe change it if you can't.

You see the difference between atheist opression and just about every other group, is we aren't allowed to complain about it.

Black guys fought for years, before they could complain about it, it is true, but they can now.

Gays? Hey for years their closet was crowded, and they weren't allowed to complain, but now they can, and be seen as noble for doing it. They are standing up for themselves.

Minority religious groups? Same thing.

And how did they get to this point? Where they can actually air their grievances? They complained about them whether they were socially allowed to or not.

The heroically protested ill treatment, when they weren't a popular cause, they fought for themselves and over time people gravitated to their cause.

And now they are on their way.

Hopefully, by the time ten years is up, gay marriage will be legalised, and in thirty years, taken for granted. Hopefully, Obama marks the final nail in racism's coffin.

But atheism is still at that point where we are not socially allowed to complain. And your argument, was to that effect.

Well done.

Steve Caldwell said...

CC wrote
-snip-
"I'm a long way from a creationist, but in all fairness, it's not like it's objective reality that they can really see or experience for themselves, unless you count dinosaur bones and even that's sort of a stretch. And intelligent design and God having a hand in evolution makes both intuitive sense given the complexity of the world and no doubt a great deal of practical sense to those who see God's presence in their daily lives."

CC,

I would recommend reading Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin%27s_Dangerous_Idea

I'm going to borrow from the Wikipedia description of the "skyhooks vs. cranes" metaphor in Dennett's book:

Dennett used the term "skyhook" to describe a source of design complexity that did not build on lower, simpler layers - in simple terms, a miracle.

In philosophical arguments concerning the reducibility (or otherwise) of the human mind, Dennett's concept pokes fun at the idea of intelligent design emanating from on high, either originating from God, or providing its own grounds in an absurd, M√ľnchhausen-like bootstrapping manner.

Dennett also accuses various competing neo-Darwinian ideas of making use of such supposedly unscientific skyhooks in explaining evolution, coming down particularly hard on the ideas of Stephen Jay Gould.

Dennett contrasts theories of complexity which require such miracles with those based on "cranes", structures which permit the construction of entities of greater complexity but which are themselves founded solidly "on the ground" of physical science.


Or -- in simple terms, one may be able to find a naturalistic explanation for the complexity we have in the world today including the human mind without resorting to miraculous "skyhooks."

Steve Caldwell said...

Regarding evidence for evolution, has anyone looked at the blog post just prior to this one:

"Tiktaalik (Your Inner Fish)" Music Video
http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/2008/12/tiktaalik-your-inner-fish-music-video.html

Tiktaalik is an amazing fossil find -- chronologically, it falls in the time gap between aquatic lobe-finned fishes and tetrapods.

It has a mixture of fish, tetrapod, and "fishapod" traits:

Fish (gills, scales)

"Fishapod" (half-fish, half-tetrapod limb bones and joints, including a functional wrist joint and radiating, fish-like fins instead of toes, half-fish, half-tetrapod ear region)

Tetrapod (ribs, mobile neck allowing head movement, lungs)

This is an example of science in action -- a theory being used to make predictions and having those predictions confirmed through observation.

The really cool thing about this is we can find all sorts of evolutionary fingerprints from our past in the human body.

And the music video is cute -- I would love to see a Tiktaalik plush toy -- even though I'm not a kid, I would buy one.

The interesting thing about our fishy past is the strange things in the human body that reflect history and not intelligent design. The convoluted routing of the vas deferens in the human body reflects our fishy past.

If an intelligent designer were creating warm-blooded mammals from scratch, there would be a better design.

And this "bottom-up" complexity that created us is (in my humble opinion) a lot cooler than any hypothetical supernatural miracles.

Anonymous said...

Hi

I understand how some thoughtful people might become atheists. I understand how such people might be attracted to philosophy. I do not understand them going to a seminary. Why do seminary instead of straight-up philosophy?

Please explain.

Thanks

Dudley M. Jones, non-atheist
jonesdudley@hotmail.com
(meditation fundamentalist)

Steve Caldwell said...

Dudley wrote:
-snip-
"I understand how some thoughtful people might become atheists. I understand how such people might be attracted to philosophy. I do not understand them going to a seminary. Why do seminary instead of straight-up philosophy?"

I'm guessing that some atheists might attend seminary because they are Unitarian Universalists and our faith is a non-creedal "god optional" faith. Even with the current Article II revision process, I'd be surprised to see us become less non-creedal than we are now.

And some atheists may have a calling to be a minister for a Unitarian Universalist community without believing in god or gods. Under the current MFC process for becoming a minister, one must get the M.Div degree to be a UU minister.

And some atheists might attend seminary in order to better understand religion as a phenomenon.

Personally, I'm not planning to attend seminary any time soon (daughter in 3rd year of college with son in 3rd year of high school). The tuition payments and other expenses for my two kids will be where our money is going for the next several years.

Do you know of anyone who is an atheist or agnostic UU ministerial candidate currently enrolled in seminary?

Chalicechick said...

(((
Oh? You ended up claiming, that because other groups in other countries face worse, atheist should just be happy with the shit treatment they get in America.
)))

Ok, Bruce, I'm not sure what the problem is because I think I've been clear.

But fine, I'm going to take you through my logic again, slowly and in numbered steps. You just tell me which premises you disagree with rather than reading my logic and assuming I'm being irrational and meaning something totally different than what I'm saying because you've made me angry.

I'm even going to put the "some groups are treated worse than American atheists" argument totally aside. Don't need it to make my point. Pretend I didn't make it at all if you like. I could defend it just fine, but I can make my point without going there, so I'm not going to.

1. There are many groups in this world that face oppression*.

And

2. Helping oppressed people is the right thing to do

So...

3. Pretty much any group that faces oppression deserves help because it is the right thing to do.

So...

4. There are lots of groups that deserve help.

And...

5. People have been known to give their entire lives and/or all their money over to helping one group or another.

And...

6. People's time and money are finite.

So...

7. No one can commit sufficient resources to every single group that is oppressed because resources are finite.

So...

8. Obviously people use some selection criteria to determine which groups to support and help.

and

9. People may devote their time and spend their money on/to causes as they choose.


Now,

10. It is satisfying to help people who actually achieve something.

and

11. The utility of any given tactic toward achieving something is a matter of opinion.

but...

12. That some are better than others is obvious enough.

And

13. Pissing people off on purpose to "get them talking" and talking about them in an intolerant snotty way is a tactic that many people, CC included, are likely to judge as not being a good and productive one.

So...

14. Whether you think a group is using tactics that will help or hurt them in achieving what they want is a perfectly reasonable criteria for choosing which groups to help.

And

15. The tactics you are advocating your group using will likely discourage some people who might otherwise help.

So let's put all that together.

If you accept that (4) there are lots of groups that need and deserve help and (6) people's resources are finite, so they must
(8) choose a few groups rather than helping everybody.

Now, it is (10) satisfying to support a group that achieves something. Some groups (12) use better tactics than others in their attempts to achieve things, even though, which tactic is "better" is a matter of opinion.

So...

When a person (14) looks at a group's tactics and says to himself/herself "those guys have a perfectly valid complaint against society. But they are going about things in a way that's going to hurt their cause. I think that I'm going to go find one of the many other deserving groups (4) since I'd like to see what I give actually achieve something. (15)

As I assume you do not see "pissing people off on purpose" and "never saying anything at all" as the only options, I think you can now see that a person can find your cause perfectly legitimate and still not chose to support it for reasons entirely unrelated to disliking atheists.

And all this without:

-Saying that other people have it worse

0r

-Saying that atheists should "be happy"


The two groups you cite, African Americans and gays, did voice their complaints, which is fine.

What they did not do is take every available opportunity to mouth off about how much smarter and more reasonable they were than straights and whites.

They kept the focus on what was morally right and even if they felt that they were superior, they kept that from becoming a point in the debate because they could see that it would only hurt them.

Getting back to this discussion, the second sentence of your FIRST POST to a thread about ANTI-OPPRESSION was "It is because you are wrong, you know you are wrong, but you don't like to be reminded of it."

And that's pretty much the self-satisfied and rude tone you've used about anyone who believes anything that you don't believe for the entire discussion. I have seen the same tone come out over and over in other discussions of this type.

A large group of atheists are so very convinced of their own correctness that they don't think anyone who disagrees deserves any respect, but then they expect support from those same people.

(Which is, ironically enough, Robin Edgar's approach as well. Indeed, just about everything I've written here could be applied to him as well.)

And I really don't think that this approach is going to do you favors in trying to get what you want**.

Have I been clear?

CC

*I assume there that the word "oppression" connotes that the treatment the group is receiving is unfair.

** One more example of what I see as the (at best) pointlessness in being rude in this sort of argument. Let's think about John McCain for a second.

Did him referring to Obama as "THAT ONE" in the second debate get people talking? Yes, it did.

It got people saying,

"Wow, John McCain is an asshole."

"McCain sure sounds desperate. Too bad he couldn't make an actual argument and had to resort to just being a jerk."

"Maybe he really is a racist? I mean I didn't believe that before, but who talks to their debate opponent in such a disrespectful, nasty way? Would McCain have called a white guy 'that one?' I don't think he's ever talked to a white opponent is such a dismissive way"

"THIS ONE is voting for THAT ONE."

Judging by the polls after the debate, the nastiness won over exactly nobody and alienated at least some potential voters.

Rudeness and anger? Pretty much always destructive to what you're trying to do.

fausto said...

Actually, it seems to me that CC is conscientiously following Greta Christina's seventh principle in her remarks here.

In doing so, she is also illustrating why I think Greta's principles 6 and 8 need to be adjusted. Just as a minority of proud, grandiose, doctrinally intolerant, hostile, angry, rude, defensive, "fundamentalist" Christians or Muslims or Jews wrongly claim to represent their entire faith communities, and provoke an undeserved revulsion among outsiders toward the entire community, so do a similar minority of atheists. Just as some religious "fundamentalists" nurture unhealthy feelings of resentment based in faulty perceptions of victimization or persecution, so do a minority of atheists. Atheists and non-atheists who sincerely seek common ground should not be discouraged from acknowledging that such atheists do exist, and do resemble the "fundamentalists" of other beleif systems, but in spite of their claims are no more representative of the majority than any other kind of "fundamentalist". Rather than furthering divisiveness and resentment, that sort of honesty and objectivity is a necessary step in achieving the mutual respect and co-operation that Steve and Greta advocate.

fausto said...

[slightly off topic] In his comment about Tiktaalik, Steve argues that the vestiges of biological evolution disprove the premises of intelligent design.

Now, I'm not persuaded by the partisans of Intelligent Design either, but I can't see how evolutionary biology disproves it. In fact, many Intelligent Design partisans make the equally unpersuasive claim that evolutionary biology proves it!

Anonymous said...

"Do you know of anyone who is an atheist or agnostic UU ministerial candidate currently enrolled in seminary?"

Sorry, I do not know anyone enrolled in any seminaries. I unscientifically assumed that since the one of the largest categories of UU is humanist, we probably have lots of atheists in seminary and in pulpits. This is a blog, not a graduate seminar in social science, so I have no data to support the original question. Maybe it is wrong. In olden times UU atheists were rare, possible non-existent.

"(Which is, ironically enough, Robin Edgar's approach as well. Indeed, just about everything I've written here could be applied to him as well.)"

Robin Edgar does get people's attention. Maybe he has a point about the way many UUs relate to theistic expressions of religion.

Dudley Jones
jonesdudley@hotmail.com

Chalicechick said...

(((Robin Edgar does get people's attention. Maybe he has a point about the way many UUs relate to theistic expressions of religion. ))))

Robin Edgar does get people's attention, but mostly does it by using tactics similar to Bruce's that I think are destined to be ineffective.

I told Robin for years that I basically believe him about what happened to him, but as long as he uses nastiness as his main tactic I've got other causes that seem more deserving. As far as I know, he pretty much respects that this is my position and we haven't discussed it in several years.

He maintains that he is merely making UUs eat their own words and doing to UUs what he percieves was done to him.

My guess is that neither he nor Bruce will ever get what they want, and they will always say they didn't get it because people were unsympathetic to their causes, when in both cases it's more a matter of people not seeing the point in fighting for people who won't even treat others decently.

As for theists in the UU church, my position is that yes, there are some crappy little churches in the boonies that are REALLY bad, and there are some jerks in every church, but on the whole the big UU churches are pretty decent to everybody and they are the ones that really matter because they are the ones really setting the course for our movement.

(I figured out once that the 15 largest UU churches serve more people than the 200 smallest.)

My church is not one of the 15 biggest, though it is quite large. We had a sermon on Jesus last week and a Christian interim associate minister for all of last year. Aside from comments aout politics, literally the only time I have heard anti-Christian sentiment at this church in a non-politics discussion has been a YRUU youth who was angry at some Christians at school who were giving him crap for being UU, and the entire group talked about ways to greet obnoxiousness with decency.

We have a pagan group and a buddhist group. For the record, I've never heard anything against atheists at the church either.

We're all pretty decent to one another.

I tend to think my church is pretty representative of the direction our movement is going.

CC

Chalicechick said...

Steve--

If somebody has to do a bunch of reading to fully appreciate your side of the evolution debate, then that fact in itself proves that the other side is not so obviously bunk that anyone who accepts it can be safely assumed to have thier minds closed.

And that's all I was saying.

CC

Chalicechick said...

Good point, Fausto.

That's one thing I don't get about this entire discussion.

Most reasonable people accept that there are some fundamentalist Christians, and Fundamentalist Muslims who are jerks and destructive and are not representative of their groups as a whole.

Indeed, most reasonable people accept that political parties and any other philisophical group is going to have extremists. I'm not sure why atheists would think that they don't have them, or why they would think that denying that they do have them is a good thing.

I guess my friends who pick their battles are the atheist versions of "Uncle Toms," but I would say they do a lot more for atheism than the people who fight every battle and always seems to be telling everyone else how stupid they are.

CC

J. J. Ramsey said...

ChaliceChick: "Indeed, most reasonable people accept that political parties and any other philisophical group is going to have extremists. I'm not sure why atheists would think that they don't have them, or why they would think that denying that they do have them is a good thing."

I don't think that it's so much an attempt to deny that there are atheists who are extremist as it is an attempt to fight back against atheists being labeled as "extremist" or "fundamentalist" for the wrong reasons.

Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"In his comment about Tiktaalik, Steve argues that the vestiges of biological evolution disprove the premises of intelligent design."

Fausto,

The imperfections, traces of history, and other aspects of evolutionary biology are all points in favor of "cranes" (bottom-up natural development of complexity) over "skyhooks" (miracles).

The vas deferens is one example of this. So is the thumb on a panda that actually isn't a thumb but rather an enlarged wrist bone.

These examples of poorly thought out "unintelligent" design result from the imperfect process of evolution.

-snip-
"Now, I'm not persuaded by the partisans of Intelligent Design either, but I can't see how evolutionary biology disproves it. In fact, many Intelligent Design partisans make the equally unpersuasive claim that evolutionary biology proves it!"

Evolutionary biology doesn't have to "disprove" intelligent design.

All it has to do to be a valid theory is:

(1) provide an explanatory framework for facts currently known.

(2) make predictions about where and when one should explore in the future.

Intelligent design doesn't do a better job at explaining known facts (in fact, the imperfections in natural world argue against intelligence).

Secondly, intelligent design has yet to make any predictions that can be tested which makes it less useful as a theory.

Finally, the current Darwinian theory does a good job at explaining the natural world with fewer assumptions than the Intelligent Design theory.

The principle of "parsimony" or "Occam's Razor" argues in favor of the least complex theory that fits the facts. And the least complex theory would not be the one that assumes a unseen creator that occassionally steps in to make miracles happen.

Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"In his comment about Tiktaalik, Steve argues that the vestiges of biological evolution disprove the premises of intelligent design."

Fausto,

The imperfections, traces of history, and other aspects of evolutionary biology are all points in favor of "cranes" (bottom-up natural development of complexity) over "skyhooks" (miracles).

The vas deferens is one example of this. So is the thumb on a panda that actually isn't a thumb but rather an enlarged wrist bone.

These examples of poorly thought out "unintelligent" design result from the imperfect process of evolution.

-snip-
"Now, I'm not persuaded by the partisans of Intelligent Design either, but I can't see how evolutionary biology disproves it. In fact, many Intelligent Design partisans make the equally unpersuasive claim that evolutionary biology proves it!"

Evolutionary biology doesn't have to "disprove" intelligent design.

All it has to do to be a valid theory is:

(1) provide an explanatory framework for facts currently known.

(2) make predictions about where and when one should explore in the future.

Intelligent design doesn't do a better job at explaining known facts (in fact, the imperfections in natural world argue against intelligence).

Secondly, intelligent design has yet to make any predictions that can be tested which makes it less useful as a theory.

Finally, the current Darwinian theory does a good job at explaining the natural world with fewer assumptions than the Intelligent Design theory.

The principle of "parsimony" or "Occam's Razor" argues in favor of the least complex theory that fits the facts. And the least complex theory would not be the one that assumes a unseen creator that occassionally steps in to make miracles happen.

Steve Caldwell said...

CC wrote:
-snip-
"If somebody has to do a bunch of reading to fully appreciate your side of the evolution debate, then that fact in itself proves that the other side is not so obviously bunk that anyone who accepts it can be safely assumed to have their minds closed."

CC,

I took freshman biology in college back in 1978. Since you're younger than I am, I'm guessing that you took college biology much more recently than I did.

The creationist and so-called "creation science" arguments were bunk in 1978.

The same is true for the more-recent intelligent design arguments that came later.

This isn't PhD-level science that we're talking about.

The recent intelligent design arguments from the late 1980s were not based on new scientific work but rather a legal response to fine-tune creationist school curricula in an attempt to get past First Amendment issues related to church-state separation after losing in court.

Bruce Gorton said...

CC

I am not swallowing the poisoned honey you offer. You basically want me to be an Uncle Tom.

Now I am not saying you should devote all of your time to helping everyone rather than just one group, but rather that you should get out of the way of that group trying to help itself.

You shouldn't preach about how angry we shouldn't be, or how "Other groups have it worse." Your rhetoric from the start was about how objectionable it is for atheists to speak out.

That is what lies beneath defending "Fundementalist atheist" as a term. You think we should just shut the hell up.

Getting you to admit it, took pissing you off, but you did it in the end. That is what your argument where you raise how others are treated worse amounts to.

And that argument, echoes arguments used against other groups. Gays got told that other people had it worse, don't complain. Blacks got sung exactly the same tune.

They didn't buy it, because it is just another way to stop people standing up for themselves.

Now a gay guy protesting the ill treatment of gays, I am not going to tell him to shut up because other people get treated badly, and hey at least he isn't in a country where his lifestyle is entirely illegal.

A black person protesting the ill treatment of blacks? I am not going to tell them to shut up because others are treated worse.

But you will tell atheists to shut up - because other people may have it worse.

It is the language of oppression, it is the way you avoid dealing with the uncomfortable feelings you get when people speak up against injustices they have suffered.

And it is something you need to recognise in yourself.

Joel Monka said...

CC- Now do you begin to see? It doesn't take many who think like that to make a congregation unbearable to a theist. Especially in congregations smaller than yours- which, outside of a few major cities, most are.

Chalicechick said...

Bruce, I feel I made my point pretty decently, without saying any of the things you are saying I am saying.

If you're going to read my ordinary English and decide that you know what I *really* mean, despite the fact that it doesn't have much to do with what I've written, and yell at me for what you think I really feel, I'm really not necessary to the conversation.

But don't tell me that your rely on empiricism, because at this point you're just plain making stuff up and fully believing it because you want to. I laid out my logic and rather than having a rational argument with me, you'd rather just make up fairy tales about what I believe.

Whether you believe it or not, I don't see being an asshole or shutting up as the only options.

I don't know why you think I think that. The shades of gray are pretty obvious and I haven't a clue why you think I can't see them, except maybe that you can't argue with the real points I'm making.

As for "fundamentalism," calling a spade a spade is not bigotry when it's your group's spade. I can with increasing degrees of metaphor refer to Christian fundamentalists, "the fundamentalism of extreme liberals" or people who take Ayn Rand as "gospel" and follow every word, without hating those groups.

The fact that folks like Bruce seem to fully believe they can say whatever nasty things they want about believers without being haters, and it's justified because they are right, yet think they can dictate how believers use and ordinary English word that they might use, literally and metaphorically, about lots of other groups says it all.

JJ, I agree that sometimes people use the word unfairly. (I don't know a negative term where this isn't the case.) But that means the logical place for the argument is "Is this particular usage unfair?" rather than "Should atheists have to answer to that charge ever?"

Every other negative stereotype about every other group allows for this distinction. Seems safest to use what applies to me and mine, so I will say that as a southerner, I do not demand that you never refer to any southerner as culturally backward and stupid ever, because I know full well that some of them are. I simply ask that you not assume an individual southerner is culturally backward and stupid without getting to know that person, and I am happy to have the debate about what constitutes "culturally backward and stupid."

But yeah, I'm not trying to say that people should never use "culturally backward and stupid" ever.

Ironically, at this point I don't really think of Bruce as a fundamentalist atheist at all. I don't agree with them, but every atheist I've ever met whom I thought of as a fundamentalist was very strict about arguing the points people were actually making and had a mental discipline about such things that I envied.
(My guess is that Richard Von Mises' 'Positivism,' a book beloved my logical positivists and me, has something to do with this as it does quite a bit about analyzing language.)

Anyway, the folks I think of as fundamentalist atheists would have no patience with the "You made a well-reasoned argument, so I'm going to ignore it and make the same points I've been making for days over again about what I've decided you *REALLY* believe" routine.

The "Chewbacca defense" doesn't fly in those circles.

CC

Chalicechick said...

Joel,

You probably recall that when we first "met" seven or eight years ago, I was not a big fan of pagans.

Indeed, I went to two churches in a row where there were services where a pagan said, essentially, "we pagans want a national organization, so we're planning to recruit and persuade until we take yours since your polity allows for that and all this reason stuff hasn't caught on."

In the second church, it was a UU minister making this point.

Around the time I joined B-net, I was pretty convinced that paganism was going to kill the church that I loved.

A. Joining a big church where they didn't dominate, but did add valuable stuff to the mix

and

B. You

Changed my mind about pagans, and now I welcome them as an influence in my church and life, though I still primarily see myself as a theist humanist.

What changes people's minds, or at least mine, is reasonable arguments made in a non-insulting manner.

The people at your church who preach tolerance for their own beliefs while being intolerant of other people are not doing their beliefs any favors.

I'd like to think I would find such people easy to ignore in my church, whatever belief they happened to be espousing.

But it does suck to have to be around that.

CC

fausto said...

Steve says:

The imperfections, traces of history, and other aspects of evolutionary biology are all points in favor of "cranes" (bottom-up natural development of complexity) over "skyhooks" (miracles).

The vas deferens is one example of this. So is the thumb on a panda that actually isn't a thumb but rather an enlarged wrist bone.

These examples of poorly thought out "unintelligent" design result from the imperfect process of evolution.


Now, once again, I'm not one who promotes or defends intelligent design. But I will also say again, this does absolutely nothing to refute it.

Steve, you start by imagining out of thin air what an intelligent result should look like, and then find in an alternative outcome proof of the original absence of intelligence.

You could just as easily, and just as erroneously from the point of view of rigorous logic, find proof of intelligence in the success of the outcome, as intelligent design advocates tend to do.

All your argument proves is that the result we observe in reality does not match what your imagined intelligent being hypothetically would have done. It does not prove that every imaginable form of intelligence would in fact have made exactly the same choices that you hypothetically suppose, or that an intelligent creator could not have intelligently intended precisely the result that we do observe.

Anonymous said...

"But you will tell atheists to shut up - because other people may have it worse."

My goodness, was someone that rude to you?

In the UU world I live in, atheists are not at all shy, and sell the Dawkins / Harris books during the coffee hour.

Recall that our current UU president became a UU because his own vigorous atheism was warmly welcomed in a UU church he visited. He later started to talk about "language of reverence", but I do not know that he is referring to anything theistic. Apparently it is possible to be a reverent humanist. I am personally ignorant of such phenomenon, but I think they do exist.

Centuries ago many humanists were non-atheists.

best wishes

Dudley Jones
jonesdudley@hotmail.com

Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"Now, once again, I'm not one who promotes or defends intelligent design. But I will also say again, this does absolutely nothing to refute it."

Fausto,

I'm not saying that the evidence currently available to us "refutes" intelligent design.

For example, it's entirely possible that a deist creator created the universe and what we see today - imperfections in natural organisms - would fit with this deist or other theories with a "hands-off" creator.

But there's no need to have a deist theory if a simpler theory fits the same facts (principle of parsimony or Occam's Razor).

Then Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"You could just as easily, and just as erroneously from the point of view of rigorous logic, find proof of intelligence in the success of the outcome, as intelligent design advocates tend to do."

Actually, the intelligent advocates have not produced any research that requires the acceptance of an intelligent design theory over the existing Darwinian theories.

Furthermore, intelligent design is being advanced into schools not through peer-reviewed research like other sciences but rather through the political process through lobbying legislators and school boards.

Then Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"All your argument proves is that the result we observe in reality does not match what your imagined intelligent being hypothetically would have done. It does not prove that every imaginable form of intelligence would in fact have made exactly the same choices that you hypothetically suppose, or that an intelligent creator could not have intelligently intended precisely the result that we do observe."

Again -- you're missing the point here Fausto.

It's not the job of scientists support non-theistic creation theories to disprove every possible hypothetical intelligent creator hypothesis.

All the non-theistic scientists have to do is do the science that supports their theory.

It's the job of those minority of scientists who support competing intelligent creator theories to do the scientific work that supports their theories.

So far, the intelligent design theorists haven't done this scientific work yet.

Until intelligent design and other intelligent creator theorists figure out how to rigorously test and verify their theories, there is no reason for the scientific community to accept them. The intelligent design folks haven't done the required scientific work.

If I were cynical, I would suggest that it's easier to lobby and litigate for acceptance of intelligent design than it is to do the real work of science.

This isn't me being a jerk about intelligent design theories.

Nor is the scientific community being a jerk about intelligent design theories -- this is just how science works.

Here's what the National Academy of Sciences says about intelligent design theories:

"Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science. These claims subordinate observed data to statements based on authority, revelation, or religious belief. Documentation offered in support of these claims is typically limited to the special publications of their advocates. These publications do not offer hypotheses subject to change in light of new data, new interpretations, or demonstration of error. This contrasts with science, where any hypothesis or theory always remains subject to the possibility of rejection or modification in the light of new knowledge."

fausto said...

Steve, I didn't miss the point; you changed it. You were previously trying to argue from the physical structure of body parts like the human vas deferens or a panda's "thumb" that they could only have resulted from random evolutionary variation rather than intelligently guided change. For example, on this issue you first said:

The interesting thing about our fishy past is the strange things in the human body that reflect history and not intelligent design. The convoluted routing of the vas deferens in the human body reflects our fishy past.

If an intelligent designer were creating warm-blooded mammals from scratch, there would be a better design.
[my emphasis added]

That's why I said that you found proof of the absence of intelligence in the fact that the body structures were not arranged in a way that you deemed sufficiently intelligent. It's certainly what you first seemed to be saying. If what you now say is only that there isn't enough evidence to prove intelligent design, then it appears to me that you have changed your argument.

(I would agree 100% with your restated argument, btw. As I tried to say before, I don't find the attempts to prove intelligent design any more conclusive than you do.)

All this still seems a distraction from your main topic, which I understand to be how and under what conditions atheists and non-atheists might find ways to express their mutual respect and support if they are sincerely motivated to do so. To return to that topic, I said previously that, except for a couple of minor reservations as to Greta Christina's points #6 and #8, I thought her sugggestions were generally reasonable and constructive. Since most of the 100+ (wow!) comments to your thread seem to turn on the same two points, the fact that those points can generate so much heated controversy even in a friendly forum such as this one, both among atheists themselves as well as between atheists and non-atheists, suggests even more strongly to me that those are important issues that do need to be engaged (rather than avoided as Greta advises).