Packbat's Journal - A Challenge to Theists and Theist-Friendly Persons
Tuesday, Sep. 28th, 2010
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A Challenge to Theists and Theist-Friendly Persons
Post edited ~5:20p EDT - thanks, zwol !

Well, I'm coming back into blogging with a fury, aren't I? First politics, and now religion!

Those of you who do not follow the atheist blogosphere may not be aware of the long, boring back-and-forths between the "New Atheists" and the "accommodationists". To summarize: the latter frequently accuse the former of being mean to theists (people who believe that one or more gods exist) and the former retort that the latter are being intellectually dishonest. What's annoying about it is that the argument never actually connects to the essential disagreement, edit: rarely gets back to actual questions of fact. The latest brouhaha, for example, relates to a question which "New Atheists" answer in the negative and many "accommodationists" answer in the positive: do any people have sufficient intellectual justification to believe that a god is real?

And for that reason, I want to congratulate Larry Moran, who is addressing this question.

This brings me to my challenge. I challenge all theists and all their accommodationist friends to post their very best 21st century, sophisticated (or not), arguments for the existence of God. They can put them in the comments section of this posting, or on any of the other atheist blogs, or on their own blogs and websites. Just send me the link.


(Link via pharyngula.)

If anyone in the audience believes that there are good reasons to believe that a god exists (or has a friend who so believes), please contact Prof. Moran (or have your friend do so) by Saturday, October 2.

As a footnote, though: I realize that there are a subset of people who would answer in the affirmative to the question above without answering Moran's challenge: some people believe that they possess evidence good enough to convince themselves, but that their evidence cannot be communicated to anyone else. Whether this is true is a philosophical question, and one which I would be glad to discuss ... but unrelated to the announcement.

Remember: if you believe that a God exists and you can prove it, or if you know someone who so believes, tell Larry Moran by Saturday, October 2.

Thanks!

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From:zwol
Date:2010/09/28 2000 (UTC)
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I dispute this characterization of the break point between "new atheists" and "accommodationists." It seems to me that both groups agree that there is no intellectually justified argument for the existence of [a] god, but "new atheists" think it is appropriate and constructive to directly confront people who assert that [a] god does exist with the absence of any such argument, whereas "accommodationists" think it is inappropriate and counterproductive to do so.

The argument for accommodationism is an argument from human psychology, and has nothing to do with philosophy of religion: accommodationists claim that people are unlikely to change their minds — especially about a topic where their position is one of belief rather than reason — in response to a direct confrontation. I find this claim quite compelling, personally (the more so since some of the "new atheists" seem to revel in being assholes on the internets).
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From:packbat
Date:2010/09/28 2116 (UTC)
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I tend to think of that argument as a false dichotomy. The number of people who send letters to Matt Dillahunty (of The Atheist Experience), Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and other such affirmative atheists suggests that some people do change their minds because of criticism, and stories like that of "Magoo" suggest the value of the soft-sell.

But you're right - that's not the primary argument. I will edit the post accordingly.
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From:zwol
Date:2010/09/28 2227 (UTC)
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I actually mostly agree with Greta! Except that I know several people who insist that their particular immaterial world is confirmed by material events that they personally experienced. She seems to presuppose that all such people must be delusional, whereas I think that one should never presuppose the delusionality of someone else's subjective experience. Or your own, for that matter.

That's back to philosophy of religion (or perhaps just metaphysics), though. Greta also personally demonstrates that it's possible to be an "affirmative atheist" but not be an asshole about it. The "don't be a dick" line of argument, which as far as I can tell is the one that gets tarred as "accommodationism", is not aimed at her, it's aimed at the PZ Myerses of the world. (Dawkins is harder to put in a box.) Maybe some people do change their minds on this stuff in response to such, hrm, aggressive tactics, but I do think it is counterproductive overall. To put it another way: I would give Greta better odds than Myers of convincing a randomly chosen spherical Christian fundamentalist of the nonexistence of Jesus-son-of-God.

Independently of all that, I do think Mr. Moran's challenge is an interesting one, and I'll be curious to see what people come up with. (The people I mentioned up top are not a response to his challenge; they're in your "possess evidence sufficient to convince themselves but that cannot be communicated to anyone else" category, and would say so if asked.)
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From:packbat
Date:2010/09/29 0125 (UTC)
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(Apologies for the deleted - I lost editing powers with my subscription.)

Quick note: I believe I linked the wrong essay ("Atheism and Diversity") above - I meant to link Good Cop, Bad Cop: Atheist Activism. I'm sorry about that - it must have made my point seem less obvious.

Except that I know several people who insist that their particular immaterial world is confirmed by material events that they personally experienced. She seems to presuppose that all such people must be delusional, whereas I think that one should never presuppose the delusionality of someone else's subjective experience. Or your own, for that matter.

I don't think that she presupposes such people are delusional. The claim personal experience is to support involves an immaterial world, and given that there's never been really definitive evidence of any, delusion is a priori less unlikely. The data have to falsify the naturalistic explanation before the supernatural is justified merely because the naturalistic explanation is already well-supported.<

To put it another way: I would give Greta better odds than Myers of convincing a randomly chosen spherical Christian fundamentalist of the nonexistence of Jesus-son-of-God.

I'm not sure. If we put our spherical fundamentalist in a room with Christina or Myers and then waited to see if they would change their minds, you might be right (although I get the impression that Myers is more conciliatory in person); but if you had them merely spectating the odds may change. It's a very different thing to be the target of a rebuttal than to be a witness of a rebuttal.
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From:zwol
Date:2010/09/29 1732 (UTC)
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I meant to link ...

Ah, yes, that would be a rather different point. I find it hard to argue with -- it's been well demonstrated that that is how you move the Overton window -- but I don't especially like it. I would rather live in a society where the "bad cop" tactics were not necessary to moving said window. But there probably has never been such a society and it might not be possible to get there with human psychology, so I will cope.

The data have to falsify the naturalistic explanation before the supernatural is justified merely because the naturalistic explanation is already well-supported.

I do not subscribe to some of the logical consequences of this position: specifically I think telling people that their own subjective experience is delusional is ethically wrong even if you are yourself convinced of the fact.

Perhaps an example will help: some years ago I read in an Umberto Eco essay that Aleister Crowley claimed to have turned one of his friends into a camel, and said friend backed him up. However, nobody else witnessed the event. Also we have good a priori reason to think that (a) it is not possible to turn a human into a camel, in general; (b) Crowley is very good at inducing false beliefs in people. So we doubt the story. But I would not dream of telling the friend that he was deluded.

This is particularly on point because downthread you mention that it might be bad policy to let people persist in false beliefs. Why am I letting my hypothetical acquaintance who hangs around with Aleister Crowley continue to be taken in, when at the very least he runs the risk of being cheated out of large sums of money? Well, probably I'm not; this hypothetical is pretty out there but I have, in fact, had to try to persuade people that they should stop being friends with other people. My experience is that only the indirect approach works.

If we put our spherical fundamentalist in a room with Christina or Myers and then waited to see if they would change their minds, you might be right ...

Yeah, the hypothetical was meant to be that Christina or Myers was actively trying to persuade.
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From:packbat
Date:2010/09/29 1910 (UTC)
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This is particularly on point because downthread you mention that it might be bad policy to let people persist in false beliefs. Why am I letting my hypothetical acquaintance who hangs around with Aleister Crowley continue to be taken in, when at the very least he runs the risk of being cheated out of large sums of money? Well, probably I'm not; this hypothetical is pretty out there but I have, in fact, had to try to persuade people that they should stop being friends with other people. My experience is that only the indirect approach works.

That I will agree with. I really don't know what to do in such a situation, but the point is valid.
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From:alchemi
Date:2010/09/28 2019 (UTC)
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You know, I have problems with the premise. I am not aware, for example, of any reason why "sufficient intellectual justification to believe" something is necessary. I am, for example, scared of spiders. It is not a particularly rational fear - the great majority of the spiders I encounter are harmless - but the irrationality or rationality of it is, on some level, immaterial.

Ultimately, I have no problem embracing the idea that human beings are often irrational (Nor am I convinced that rationality in all things is either a useful or achievable goal). In part because we all have irrational beliefs, I question the value of exporting my rationality on their irrationality (just as I doubt the value of their exporting their irrationality on me). I feel no need to evangelize on the topic at all (and thus, to an extent, I mirror zwol 's reasoning).

I don't quite know what that makes me in this debate.
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From:packbat
Date:2010/09/28 2143 (UTC)
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First: there's a difference between "I am scared of spiders" and "Spiders are dangerous". Claims like "God exists" are of the latter sort.

Second: it strikes me as bad policy to allow yourself to exempt these latter claims from rationality. What if you're wrong and the question comes up in some important manner? Say: you believe that the breath is the soul, and the death-rattle is the sound of the soul leaving the body ... and then someone invents mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? Or, to be less fair: and then someone stops breathing? No-one would invent CPR if they did not allow once-traditional beliefs to be subject to examination.

(I have edited the post, though - zwol 's point was correct.)
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From:nationelectric
Date:2010/09/28 2148 (UTC)
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if you believe that a God exists and you can prove it...

This is a nit-pick, but I think there's quite a bit of difference between "sufficient intellectual justification" and "proof." If the case for god(s) was reasonably plausible yet still unsettled -- much like many debates in science, philosophy, history, etc. -- I think we would be having a much different debate.
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From:packbat
Date:2010/09/29 0002 (UTC)
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As someone who favors a many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, I believe I know what you mean.
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From:roaminrob
Date:2010/09/30 0715 (UTC)
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There are several issues here. Before I tackle them, though, I want to point out that I would probably have been most closely described as "atheist" for most of my life, long before this "New Atheism" started to make its noise -- and I do not care for it.

First: to tackle the request at hand directly, I seriously doubt that anyone will present anything even remotely resembling rational evidence for the existence of a God, gods, or other supernatural beings ... and I doubt that anyone actually expects any such evidence to be presented. So, I regard the entire thing as more autoerotic pseudo-intellectualism.

Second: to tackle the question, "do any people have sufficient intellectual justification to believe that a god is real?" -- well, no. That is sort of the point of religion and belief, regardless of what your beliefs are. A much better question, and one that seems to be carefully avoided, is, "do any people have sufficient intellectual justification for the belief that a god is real?" i.e., if we accept that there's no rational, evidential cause to believe that "a god is real", then is there any rational cause that can justify the belief regardless? You have had one of the most convincing counter-arguments here on your LJ in the past, but it really avoided the psychological and sociological implications of abolishing belief in the supernatural. I posted a question about the same thing to my LJ even further back, where I wondered if religious belief wasn't best explained as a neurochemical feedback. It can make people's lives better. Arguing against religious belief in the context of rationality is rather a lot like arguing that people with clinical depression merely need to realize that they're being irrational, rather than taking drugs to mitigate it.

Third: "accomodationists" is idiotic and extremely disappointing as a label -- as is "New Atheists". If people are going to insist upon devolving this argument into puerile name-calling, then I think that there are only two appropriate labels: "atheists" and "evangelical atheists", along with all of the negative connotations that one of those would carry. For a group of self-described atheists to label others as "accomodationists" smacks of fundamentalism, and I would not entertain a conversation with any of them. I do not respect PZ Myers (who recently made an ass of himself in misinterpreting Ray Kurzweil's statements on the complexity of the human brain), Daniel Dennett, Chris Hitchens, Sam Harris, or their other cohorts. I have a marginal amount of respect for Richard Dawkins. I have much greater respect for Carl Sagan, Bertrand Russell, and Richard Feynman -- incredibly intelligent people who managed to approach the topic of religion from positions of respect and curiosity, and not evangelism. PZ Myers is by far the worst of the lot.

Fourth: While you point out elsethread that evangelical atheists have managed to convert a few, you happily don't mention the amount of hate mail that is also sent towards these people, or the great amount of harm that is being done to less evangelical atheists. I, for example, am not interested in converting anyone else to my beliefs, nor am I interested in arguing them to others. I regard religion -- all religion -- as a personal matter, and attempting to convince others that your personal matter is better than their personal matter is a stupid waste of time.

I am not opposed to fighting loudly for the sake of education, sane governance, and the like, however. "Liberty University" is an embarrassment, as are creationist museums, creationism in textbooks, and inane laws bound by religion. But, these things should not be argued from a stance of atheism; tying the two together is folly. If you say that the answer to these things is to work harder to further the spread of atheism, then you turn their existence into a religious argument, rather than a rational one.

All in all, I do not think that any atheist that participates in this nonsense really understands atheism, or religion.
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From:packbat
Date:2010/09/30 1443 (UTC)
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First: to tackle the request at hand directly, I seriously doubt that anyone will present anything even remotely resembling rational evidence for the existence of a God, gods, or other supernatural beings ... and I doubt that anyone actually expects any such evidence to be presented. So, I regard the entire thing as more autoerotic pseudo-intellectualism.

I see it the way I see the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge the JREF issued - James Randi does not expect anyone to win, but:
  1. If anyone did, it would be an extremely important discovery, one that should be widely publicized, and
  2. If no-one does, it would be some evidence - not definitive evidence, but some - that there aren't any good reasons to believe.


Second: to tackle the question, "do any people have sufficient intellectual justification to believe that a god is real?" -- well, no. That is sort of the point of religion and belief, regardless of what your beliefs are. A much better question, and one that seems to be carefully avoided, is, "do any people have sufficient intellectual justification for the belief that a god is real?" i.e., if we accept that there's no rational, evidential cause to believe that "a god is real", then is there any rational cause that can justify the belief regardless?

It's a pity you couldn't see me recoiling in horror at this point - it may have been amusing to watch. I will respond at the end of the paragraph.

You have had one of the most convincing counter-arguments here on your LJ in the past, [...]

...I have? ...do you remember where?

[...] but it really avoided the psychological and sociological implications of abolishing belief in the supernatural. I posted a question about the same thing to my LJ even further back, where I wondered if religious belief wasn't best explained as a neurochemical feedback. It can make people's lives better. Arguing against religious belief in the context of rationality is rather a lot like arguing that people with clinical depression merely need to realize that they're being irrational, rather than taking drugs to mitigate it.

I'll agree that any "merely" claim is likely to be shortsighted, yeah. But, like I said to alchemi , there's a difference between "I am scared of spiders" and "Spiders are dangerous" - and I haven't seen much sign that factually erroneous religious beliefs are the only alternative that provides the desired benefit. I would need an awfully solid proof of that before I endorsed false beliefs and false methodologies of belief to support them.

Third: "accomodationists" is idiotic and extremely disappointing as a label -- as is "New Atheists". If people are going to insist upon devolving this argument into puerile name-calling, then I think that there are only two appropriate labels: "atheists" and "evangelical atheists", along with all of the negative connotations that one of those would carry.

You can't use the class label to label a subset - I would suggest instead "ecumenical atheists" and "evangelical atheists". That satisfactory to you?
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From:roaminrob
Date:2010/09/30 1944 (UTC)
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> I see it the way I see the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge the JREF issued...

I'm somewhat fond of Randi and that challenge, too, but let's not pretend that it's anything more than grandstanding. It's marginally good grandstanding, in that it has helped to debunk some actual frauds, but it's grandstanding. It's primary purpose is to draw attention towards JREF.

> ...I have? ...do you remember where?

http://packbat.livejournal.com/297603.html

> ... I haven't seen much sign that factually erroneous religious beliefs are the only alternative that provides the desired benefit.

Meanwhile, I see (and hear) evidence for it weekly, at least. I have to conclude that we're looking for different things. For one trivial example, there's the probably 90% of the massage industry that's staffed by amazingly friendly people who have a strong statistical tendency to believe in things like angels and the powers of crystals and symbols and so on. It works for them. And, frankly, I think that comparing that sort of belief to believing in Santa Claus (via your link) is demeaning and unjustifiably arrogant. Are you really wanting to preach atheism to these people? What about all of the self-described therianthropes? What about the huge, huge numbers of people that describe themselves as, "spiritual, but not religious" ... you're really going to claim that there's a better way for all of these people, in all of these cultures, worldwide, to get the happiness and comfort that their beliefs provide them?

I'm not speaking hypothetically here, either. I'm arguing from a position of biology and psychology. If you're going to stick with this "factually erroneous religious beliefs are bad for people" stance, then you should know that the very next thing I'm going to do is compare your argument to "homosexuality is bad, and there's no way it's the only alternative that provides the desired benefit". Religious belief -- and homosexuality -- simply would not exist if it did not provide some form of benefit to those that practice it, as well as their society. I've read the papers that have found the social benefits of homosexuals in societies, and I know that you understand the principles of evolution well enough to know that I'm right here. Just because you or I don't get the same benefit from it, and just because we may not understand the benefit of it, does not mean that there is no benefit, or that there is some other more beneficial option.

And, by the way, that Santa Claus example did a rather nice job of illustrating what's wrong with deciding what should make other people happy. You or I, and others, might enjoy space shuttle launches and science fiction novels, but there are a rather much larger number of people that don't get the same benefit of enjoyment from them; they instead enjoy fantasies, or gifts, or spirituality.

What would your reaction be to someone who told you to stop reading science fiction novels because they corrupt your brain with erroneous information and half-truths? They'd have a point -- the nearly ubiquitous magical presence of artificial gravity in the starships of sci-fi novels makes it a lot harder for us to imagine getting along in space without it.

> You can't use the class label to label a subset - I would suggest instead "ecumenical atheists" and "evangelical atheists". That satisfactory to you?

No, not unless you habitually call them "ecumenical christians". Let's not establish different rules for ourselves than we demand of others. I think my distinction was exactly as clear as the commonly-understood distinction between "christians" and "evengelical christians".
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From:packbat
Date:2010/10/06 1624 (UTC)
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I apologize for the really long delay - returning to your points:

I'm somewhat fond of Randi and that challenge, too, but let's not pretend that it's anything more than grandstanding.

I'll give you that it is a publicity measure, but like the Nobel Prizes, it only works because it is more than that.

Meanwhile, I see (and hear) evidence for it weekly, at least.

None of the evidence you have presented is convincing to me. I only see two relevant assertions in this section: first, that these beliefs work for the believers, which does not address my claim, and second, that the pattern of religious adherence resembles other patterns for which alternatives fail, which is the precise point being disputed. Judging by the anecdotal evidence of people who switched from religious to not, there are ways to make things work without these beliefs. There are even atheist spirituality books! (That particular one annoyed me quite a bit, but I'm the kind of person who gets hives from the Unitarian Universalists</a> - that is a matter of taste, not a matter of factual complaint.)

No, not unless you habitually call them "ecumenical christians". Let's not establish different rules for ourselves than we demand of others. I think my distinction was exactly as clear as the commonly-understood distinction between "christians" and "evengelical christians".

I commonly call them "liberal Christians". Do you want me to call people who denigrate evangelical atheists "liberal atheists"? Because that might be confusing.
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From:packbat
Date:2010/09/30 1530 (UTC)
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Replying to the second half separately:

Fourth: While you point out elsethread that evangelical atheists have managed to convert a few, you happily don't mention the amount of hate mail that is also sent towards these people, or the great amount of harm that is being done to less evangelical atheists. I, for example, am not interested in converting anyone else to my beliefs, nor am I interested in arguing them to others. I regard religion -- all religion -- as a personal matter, and attempting to convince others that your personal matter is better than their personal matter is a stupid waste of time.

"Or the great amount of harm that is being done to less evangelical atheists"? Can you demonstrate that PZ Myers et al. are doing great harm to less evangelical atheists? Where is your data for that accusation?

You absolutely have the right to treat religion as a personal matter, but you do not have the right to make accusations without evidence.

I am not opposed to fighting loudly for the sake of education, sane governance, and the like, however. "Liberty University" is an embarrassment, as are creationist museums, creationism in textbooks, and inane laws bound by religion. But, these things should not be argued from a stance of atheism; tying the two together is folly. If you say that the answer to these things is to work harder to further the spread of atheism, then you turn their existence into a religious argument, rather than a rational one.

Few evangelical atheists will disagree with you on any point in this paragraph. Even PZ Myers is an avid supporter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the National Center for Science Education, both organizations that avoid arguing from atheism.

All in all, I do not think that any atheist that participates in this nonsense really understands atheism, or religion.

I believe this is the point where I say, "fuck you".

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini does not get to define who is a Muslim. Nor does Zuhdi Jasser. Fred Phelps does not get to define who is a Christian. Nor does Fred Clark. PZ Myers does not get to define who is an atheist. Nor do you.

You don't like these sarcasm-quotes "New Atheists"? Fine. In the case of Sam Harris, I might even agree with you. But if you're going to say that they are harming their compatriots, that they are harming their causes, and that they don't understand what they are pretending to be authorities on? Either you're being an asshole or you're sitting on some damn solid proof you aren't sharing with the rest of the class. Show me I'm wrong.
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From:roaminrob
Date:2010/09/30 2047 (UTC)
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> Can you demonstrate that PZ Myers et al. are doing great harm to less evangelical atheists? Where is your data for that accusation?

Reddit.com is a rather large online community with a huge number of varied interests. Subjects are divided into "subreddits", and the atheism subreddit currently has 90,000 subscribers. It has that many in large part because new accounts were subscribed to it by default. (I think this is no longer the case.)

That subreddit tends to feature the kind of evangelical atheism that many people find irritating, including other atheists:



...and so on. That particular subreddit has alienated a rather sizable number of people in the community at large, many of them atheists even. As this begins to turn into a "movement" -- and it already is -- there will be more and more people who will associate "atheism" with "evangelical atheism", which means I'm more likely to deal with the joys of someone getting defensive if I tell them I'm an atheist. The "atheists are assholes" meme will become more widespread every time someone has to deal with a preachy atheist.

> You absolutely have the right to treat religion as a personal matter ...

Yeah, about that: it's kinda hard to do when people make it their mission to confront your beliefs.

> I believe this is the point where I say, "fuck you".

Well, good, now that we've gotten the "fuck yous" out of the way, we can have a civilized conversation.

> Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini does not get to define who is a Muslim. Nor does Zuhdi Jasser. Fred Phelps does not get to define who is a Christian. Nor does Fred Clark. PZ Myers does not get to define who is an atheist. Nor do you.

So, first of all, are you really going to try to tell me that extremists of any particular belief don't share responsibility for changing the way that mainstream people view that belief? Are you really really going to try to argue that Islam didn't get a bad rep after the act of terrorism in New York? I'm not arguing here over whether it's right or wrong or correct or incorrect that extremists affect others' opinions of their beliefs, I'm asking whether or not you realize that it happens.

And secondly: you trotted out a handful of individuals. This is about a movement. If PZ Myers was just some asshole with a blog, I wouldn't care; I wouldn't need to. I have better things to do with my time than argue about whether or not there's a bearded white dude in the sky.

This is about people going around and doing foolish things like labeling each other "New Atheists" and "accomodationists" (which, by the way, earned a "fuck you" from me way before I wrote my first word of response); this is about a new movement in atheism that is preaching the conversion of others' beliefs on the principles that their beliefs are wrong.

How is that not religious fanaticism?
[User Picture]
From:packbat
Date:2010/10/06 1646 (UTC)
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As this begins to turn into a "movement" -- and it already is -- there will be more and more people who will associate "atheism" with "evangelical atheism", which means I'm more likely to deal with the joys of someone getting defensive if I tell them I'm an atheist. The "atheists are assholes" meme will become more widespread every time someone has to deal with a preachy atheist.

...you call that a great amount of harm? Bad brand management? In a world with blasphemy laws, apostate laws, and religious membership tests, you think "being thought of as annoying" is severe? I'm sorry, but that's just misleading wording.

How is that not religious fanaticism?

No-one is getting murdered.

If you want to draw a fair analogy, talk about feminism, libertarianism, and other such intellectual movements widely associated with over-the-top assholish preaching. If you want to fix the problem, offer policy suggestions which don't amount to yelling "Shut up!" at firebrands. But your rhetoric is only "civilized" in the most Bowdlerian sense of not giving sensitive shut-ins excuses to get the vapors, not in the sense of honestly addressing the issue.
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From:roaminrob
Date:2010/09/30 2048 (UTC)
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Dammit, atheists could, as a group, be pushing for better education (and I acknowledge that they do), greater understanding of other cultures, the exploration of the cosmos by the human race -- all of these things would move human society forward, and religion would take care of itself. Instead, so many of the loudest atheists are deciding to pick a damned fight and tell people that they are ignorant, naive, or stupid to believe what they do, and it's creating more animosity than anything else. It's setting things back.

As an atheist, it is my duty to confront extremism in my "community" as much as it is any Christian's duty to do so, or any Muslim's, and that's what I'm doing here.

Or, to illustrate this yet another way: there are a large, large number of people for whom religion and even spiritual belief simply aren't important elements of their lives. A decade ago, they could look at a choice between religions led mostly by fanatical leaders, or atheism, led mostly by quiet, self-assured people like Sagan and Russell, who were comfortable with answers like "I don't know". For those moderates, religiousness appeared less palatable; now atheism is becoming as extremist as any religion. Do you think that's really going to increase its appeal for those people? I don't think so.

Or, if supposed groups of large people aren't your thing, then I can try something more specific instead: my girlfriend, Leslie, who has generally regarded you as a pretty interesting, cool guy, found all of this nonsense pretty offensive. She's "spiritual but not religious"; where you might have had an opportunity to open a dialogue with her, instead you only accomplished alienation.

This is so clear to me that it's really tough for me to imagine that you can't see it, too.
[User Picture]
From:packbat
Date:2010/10/06 1814 (UTC)
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Dammit, atheists could, as a group, be pushing for better education (and I acknowledge that they do), greater understanding of other cultures, the exploration of the cosmos by the human race -- all of these things would move human society forward, and religion would take care of itself.

I believe that point is under dispute. Many atheists - and, possibly, many of the atheists who are ticking you off - believe religion won't take care of itself, and believe that it is causing harms which require that it be countered.

Or, if supposed groups of large people aren't your thing, then I can try something more specific instead: my girlfriend, Leslie, who has generally regarded you as a pretty interesting, cool guy, found all of this nonsense pretty offensive. She's "spiritual but not religious"; where you might have had an opportunity to open a dialogue with her, instead you only accomplished alienation.

I don't think Leslie is a jerk, I don't think Leslie is a fool, and I don't think Leslie should be lumped in with the Jack Chicks of the world. But if Leslie has good reasons to believe that there is such a thing as a god, I want to know, because I would rather know the truth. What am I supposed to say to Leslie if that is what I care about?
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