Tag Archives: Atheism

#PseudoLiberals Go After New Atheists

I’d describe #PseudoLiberals as liberals that have something of the Post Modern Relativism about them. They are individuals that form a loose collective that think they are being particularly good lefty liberals by giving unbounded respect to those playing the offence game in the face of criticism – common with regard to the offended religious.

Their genuine concern for the oppressed and persecuted fogs their view of the very oppressive and persecutory practices of some the people they seek to support or the belief systems that they hold to, and will even blame valid criticisms of the minorities’ beliefs and label the critics as persecutors.

Nothing should prevent reasonable people objecting to any immoral practices that any group engage in, and there should not be a problem with criticising their ideas – especially when those ideas are going to govern their actions towards others.

From honour killings and FGM, to illegal attempts to implement Sharia law, and even to many of the tenets of Islam that are essentially terror tactics: apostasy, blasphemy, heresy, takfir, stoning adulterers, there is much that a western democratic liberal has reason to object to in Islamic belief and practice – no matter what the race, skin colour, origins or religion of both parties to the dispute, believer in the dogma or critic of it, might be.

For the record, because one just has to spell it out, repeatedly …

NOT ALL MUSLIMS! MOST MUSLIMS ARE GOOD, EVEN IF THEIR RELIGION CONTAINS BAD IDEAS.

and, even though I will argue with them on philosophy, science and religion, THIS IS MY TYPE OF MUSLIM!

But take this, from the Quran, 24:2

The [unmarried] woman or [unmarried] man found guilty of sexual intercourse – lash each one of them with a hundred lashes, and do not be taken by pity for them in the religion of Allah, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a group of the believers witness their punishment.

If this is acceptable to you, as a Muslim, or even if you want to come up with some stupid theological scholarly (LOL!) reason for why it might be acceptable in some context (there’s always that slippery context), then you are an anti-humanist I have strong issues with. If your holy book is so inerrant that this cannot be seen as an error, then we have issues. If you are a Muslim that manages to disown this and all the other hateful crap, then I marvel at your cognitive contortions, but we’re OK, at least from my perspective. Still think your religion is daft.

While #PseudoLiberals generally agree with the criticisms levelled against the practices mentioned above, and the many atrocities carried out in the name of Islam, they are often reluctant to express that publicly, and they make a lot of noise when someone does – shooting the messenger, albeit metaphorically, which isn’t always the case with disgruntled Islamists, sadly, and that’s sort of the point, isn’t it.

A lot of the hand waving seems to be linked to the western guilt of the #PseudoLiberals – quite valid in itself often enough, but there’s an all too easy move they make from one unconnected thing to another. So, no, New Atheists are not promoting or excusing western state sponsored terrorism, as one #PseudoLiberal implied, just because that’s not the area of expertise or main interest of New Atheists. The clue is in the name, New Atheism focuses on theism and a-theism, and politics in that context. As I said above, many of the New Atheists are humanists, and in other contexts will also criticise or agree with the #PseudoLiberal criticism of our western governments’ state policies and practices. But that this isn’t central to their work doesn’t mean they are denying such criticism.

#PseudoLiberals aren’t immune to their own pride contributing to the false representations of New Atheists. The way this often goes is that the #PseudoLiberal will jump on some bandwagon of criticism of New Atheists, and when shown to be mistaken they are more likely to keep digging that hole rather than weigh up the arguments fairly. It’s unbelievable how often they’ll misrepresent, be corrected, and then go on to misrepresent with the same factually incorrect material. Contrast this with both Dawkins and Harris, who often correct or explain, and are quite humble in saying, well, yes, I could have said that better, or I retract that. Rare from #PseudoLiberals.

In the case of New Atheist criticism of Islam, the #PseudoLiberals have heard the duplicitous cries of Muslims being offended and they work themselves up into such a frenzy that they would rather propagate lies about New Atheist critics of religion than actually take the trouble to face the many dilemmas that arise from good people believing truly awful things. They are able, often in a single statement, to condemn the violence of the religious, claim it’s nothing to do with religion, and blame New Atheist for that violence by the explicit use of misrepresentation.

Being offended is the heads up public victimhood side of the manipulative coin, with the terror tactics of apostasy, blasphemy, heresy and Takfir emblazoned on the tails side. The #PseudoLiberals are cheats playing with a double headed coin.

#PseudoLiberals engage in the limp logic that manages to accuse New Atheists of beliefs they don’t actually hold, while denouncing the violent actions of Muslims, and yet excusing the horrendous beliefs inherent in religion, particularly in Islam, under the banner of tolerance and respect.

Some Examples of the Problem

These are the arguments made against New Atheists follwoing events like #CharleiHebdo and #ChapelHillShooting.

New Atheists Criticise Islam

#PseudoLiberals assert that New Atheists hate all Muslims. And despite the explicit explanation of why this is not so the #PseudoLiberals continue to spread this lie.

Lone Atheist Hicks Kills Muslims

Hicks had been in some dispute with the victims, over what seems a trivial (compared to death) matter of parking, and it has also been reported by a resident of his condominium that he has expressed “equal opportunity” anger, but the full story hasn’t come out yet. Although there’s a macho element to his Facebook page, and a single (as far as I know) picture of a gun, his page is mostly full of the humanist arguments against religion generally – and it’s hardly what could be called hatred, and in fact is full of quotes expressing very liberal and humanist views. The only intolerance that’s obvious is the intolerance of intolerant religions.

The reason for the shooting remains a mystery for now as the police investigation continues. And desipite his wife saying that in her opinion it really wasn’t a hate crime of religion or race, that hasn’t stopped the #PseudoLiberals making their own uniformed minds up.

#PseudoLiberals have decided that the very humanistic aspects of New Atheism, and Harris and Dawkins in particular, are not sufficient reason to believe they are anything but pedallers of hatred and the direct or indirect cause of this act by Hicks. New Atheists incited this violence.

The New Atheists very clearly criticise Islam, but are explicitly not racist or persecuting of Muslims, and not even claiming all Muslims follow all tenets of the Islam as criticised. But none of that matters to #PseudoLiberals .

Some Muslims Kill Lots of People, Citing Islam

Some Muslims kill people for criticising Islam in terms that upset them. Some critics of Islam draw cartoons, and some Muslims kill them for it, or attempt to kill them for it, or claim they should be killed for it. Some Muslims kill other Muslims for not being the right type of Muslim.

#PseudoLiberals are sure to condemn the killing. But here’s where the logic gets scarily bizarre, because according to #PseudoLiberals:

  1. The culprits are not true Muslims and were not doing it in the name of Islam.
  2. Much of this killing is the fault of New Atheists like Dawkins and Harris. Why? Because they excessively criticise a beloved prophet which offends the Muslims; and worse, these New Atheists blame all Muslims for the killing, and in fact the New Atheists claim all Muslims are terrorists.

Lies, but no matter, the #PseudoLiberals have made up their minds.

Now it seems to me that (1) and (2) just don’t sit right. If the killers are not true Muslims and didn’t do it in the name of Islam, then in what way are critics of Islam responsible for those killings? How have they even contributed to it?

Imagine these scenarios.

Glenn Greenwald makes a career living off the revelations of Snowden on the spying activities of the NSA. Fair enough; it’s to our benefit that he does that, right?

But then some guy reads Greenwald, and agrees with him on how bad the NSA is. He’s a #Greenwaldian. But this guy then learns some spying techniques and uses them against innocent citizens. And then people that don’t like Greenwald claim it’s Greenwald’s fault for inciting the spying of the #Greenwaldian. Would that wash?

And then some NSA agents kill some liberals that have also published some of the Snowden material, by presenting it in cartoon form. And people that don’t like Greenwald claim 1) The killing was nothing to do with the NSA, and 2) It was Greenwald’s fault for revealing the NSA antics in the first place. Would that wash?

The Culprits

Who would make such dumb fucking arguments? Here’s a list of some of the #Greenwaldian characters.

Glenn Greenwald

The man himself. Just follow him and he’ll cough up phlegm soon enough. Here’s an example where he’s more interested in having a dig at Harris than looking at what Harris and Maajid Nawaz are trying to do. Nawaz is an inconvenience in the #Greenwaldian narrative.

Greenwald has so convinced that himself that Harris is a racist that Greenwald thinks Harris can be friends with ‘brown people’, like Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali only for self serving purposes. Opportunist Greenwald judges others by his own standards, or at least by his own biased expectations.

Reza Aslan

Simply denies anyone actually believes any of the literal religious stuff anyway, and blames New Atheists, and Harris in particular, for stirring up nonsense about religiously motivated violence. In denying religion does much motivating it makes you wonder what Aslan thinks it’s good for. Does it not motivate people to do good? Not sure how you can have one without the other if the religious texts contain both incitement to do good and to do violence. But that’s the logic of #PseudoLiberals for you.

Never slow to hop on TV and smugly and authoritatively denounce Sam Harris with a bunch of repeated misrepresentations. Comes across as a nice guy, but he’s pretty sly.

In the case of #CharlieHebdo, he did condemn the killings, and made a wider point about the problems within Islamist groups, informed by Wahhabism. And that’s exactly the kind of criticism New Atheists make, but then he says this:

“What really I think puts an obstacle in the way is opinions like Ayaan [Hirsi Ali]‘s and so many others in the political and the media mainstream who continue to say that 1.7 billion people are responsible for the actions of these extremists.”

Which is the fucking problem. Who the fuck in the New Atheists has said 1.7 billion Muslims are responsible for these actions? Where he continues to fail is not accepting that it’s these extremists that are following the texts, having accused Harris elsewhere of reading the Quran literally.

Well, yes, Harris is listens to extremists say they are following the texts, looks at the texts and says, yes, I can see how they get that, so the text is the source of their understanding of Islam – the text is Islam because that’s how the texts define Islam.

It’s all well and good Aslan saying most Muslims don’t follow the text, when even many ‘moderates’ agree with it in principle, because it’s inerrant. There’s a double speak that goes on in Islam and its interface with the western world, and Aslan contributes to it.

Too few Muslims are facing up to this duplicity, but thankfully some are, and for the record, here’s a couple of groups that are:

On the whole I’d say Aslan’s self serving mixed messages are part of the problem.

Some have called out Reza Aslan’s duplicity.

Robert Wright

Not in the same league as Greenwald and Aslan, but takes the opportunity to have a pop at Harris when he can.

Here he uses an interview with Michael Shermer, on Shermer’s book, to demonise Harris and New Atheists for offending people. And in the same interview says there are times when straight talking is needed. What you find with these #PseudoLiberals is that they are good on criticism of New Atheists while still holding to much of the atheist criticism of religion, but they don’t offer any solution that goes beyond shutting up so as not to offend.

Rebecca Watson

Didn’t expect to have this critic of religion on the list? But on Chapel Hill:

“But on the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine what would drive someone to murder three people over something so stupid, unless the murderer for some reason did not see his victims as full humans deserving of the right to life.”

Well, people do kill each other over really silly things. You live in the USA, Rebecca. Do you not watch the news? Is his general attitude to his neighbours not a clue that it could well have been over a stupid parking lot? Personal space boundaries have been known to be a point of dispute that incites violence.

“And if you have paid any attention to the current state of capital-A-Atheism, you would have to see the growing problem with the continued dehumanization of Muslims, women, and other marginalized groups by community leaders like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Lawrence Krauss, the organizations that support them with awards and speaking engagements, and the mass of young and angry atheists on sites like Reddit.”

This is just fucking bullshit. The real story here is #ElevatorGate payback, with some #GamerGate thrown in.

Basically FtB and Skepchick and others don’t like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, and anyone who might complain about the excessive abuse they get – so now Michael Nugent is a target at FtB (when they aren’t pretending to ignore him – count the ‘Not Listening’ posts. Lawrence Krauss has upset them in the past, and being a buddy of Dawkins that puts him in the same pile. Jerry Coyne is sometimes a target, but the Coyne/Myers non-exchanges often have a biology/evolution twist. It’s a long story.

“That’s how the “men’s rights movement” led to …”

Oh, yeah, there’s that too.

And this:

“Knowing what we know about the end result of dehumanization combined with violent rhetoric, maybe it’s time that atheists as a group decide to retire this cartoon, which may have been true once but hasn’t been relevant at least since Dawkins started Tweeting about why women who don’t abort fetuses with Downs Syndrome are immoral:”

NewAtheistExtremist

This is disgraceful opportunism from Rebecca Watson.

The cartoon is still true, because of course what Dawkins was saying was nothing to do with New Atheist criticism of Islam, and much less to do with Chapel Hill.

Dawkins was not saying women who don’t abort foetuses with Downs Syndrome are immoral. His point on Downs Syndrome was that the decision to abort is a difficult one, and that we shouldn’t be judgemental about anyone choosing to abort a Downs Syndrome foetus, and that one can even argue there’s some moral argument for not putting the mother or the child through the inevitable tough life ahead. Pointing out a morally positive reason one might want to abort is not declaring that people that don’t abort are immoral, but rather pointing out the moral dilemma that has no easy solution because there are arguments either way.

The crazy thing, and the reason you can tell it’s an old vendetta at work here, is that Watson is pro-choice too. If you’re pro-choice the woman doesn’t even need an additional justification for aborting a foetus. Dawkins was simply making a case that would help those struggling with the choice of aborting in some cases. It’s a bit like when Krauss questioned the moral objection to incest – Yuk! Some topics are beyond the pale for #PseudoLiberals.

The hypocrisy here is unbelievable. So quick to denounce Dawkins for tweets that can be maliciously interpreted, when they have done the malicious interpretation. And then Watson has a whole post in which to be clear, and the only clear reading of her post is that it has nothing to do with Chapel Hill or atheism.

Chapel Hill? An opportunity not to be missed.

Cal Colgan

Cal Colgan is a #Greenwaldian that thinks along the same lines.

He tweeted,

““New Atheist” idiots are turning nonbelief into the very violent fanaticism they oppose. We atheists shd condemn this [link]”.

Colgan is a researcher for Media Matters, according to his Twitter bio. And Media Matters is about …

“to systematically monitor a cross section of print, broadcast, cable, radio, and Internet media outlets for conservative misinformation – news or commentary that is not accurate, reliable, or credible and that forwards the conservative agenda.”

Guess it must have been Cal’s day off doing research challenging misinformation, unreliability, inaccuracy. Great job Cal.

You can see more of that conversation here.

Mehdi Hasan

An old time Muslim #Greenwaldian. A democratic liberal secular Muslim that raises many good social issues, but in his defence of his Islam isn’t above coming out with the same old incorrect stuff about New Atheist.

Here’s a post based on his Facebook page, where he wrote along side a link to a piece on the Chapel Hill shooting:

“Will we now see lots of pieces calling for ‘reform’ of New Atheism and a search for ‘moderate’ New Atheists? ‪#‎justasking‬”. As if there is any doctrine to reform – unlike Islam.

Cenk Uygur

I didn’t expect this. Maybe I haven’t been paying attention to Cenk because I’ve focused on the TYT general political issues.

I saw Cenk engaged in a studio shake down of Sam Harris, with some of the usual crew and some other guy I can’t recall. Then I saw him let Reza Aslan have an easy time telling his lies. And, in a return interview with Harris, Cenk really grilled Harris.

My complaint isn’t about the grilling of Harris. Cenk sorta did his job that day, though by then it was obvious the interview was loaded with Cenk’s preconceptions about Harris, confirmed for him, I’m sure, in the Aslan interview. But he let Aslan take him on a stroll through the anti-Harris park with barely a quizzical glance.

Cenk made the point somewhere, about his uncle being a Muslim and how he’s just an ordinary nice guy, and I thought, yeah, emotion is in control there. Of course you love your Muslim family, and yeah, they are living a ‘normal’ life of not engaging in the crazy shit that’s in the Quran and the Hadith – but that doesn’t get Islam, which is the Quran and Hadith, off the hook; and it’s the Quran and Hadith that Harris is criticising, not your deal old uncle and all the other ordinary people that happen to have been indoctrinated into Islam. Cenk, you numbskull, you criticise conservatism politics, but you know damned well not all conservatives are total dicks. Don’t you think Harris understands this distinction between Islam and most Muslims?

Apparently you don’t:

Another point Cenk made was he hadn’t read much of Harris; and yet he could tell us what he thought Harris thought and said, based then on what some other people had to say about Harris – hearsay passes for research then on TYT?

Harris is not the Muslim hating bigot Aslan (and Greenwald) make out – far from it, it’s his humanism that sparks his criticism of Islam because Islam contains the dogma so easily turned to hate and violence. But Cenk bought into the Aslan message.

Rabah Kherbane

Not someone I’d class as a liberal, though he’s into human rights. Deserves an honorary mention for the headline:

Chapel Hill Shooting: How Many More Until We Realise This Is A Trend?

I don’t know. Hicks is one, so will two do it for you Rabah? No doubt you’ll wait in hope for the next martyrs. If not two, then how about as many as this: Islamic Terrorist Attacks. Let me know when we evil New Atheists are close.

Cal Colgan Blames New Atheists for Chapel Hill Shooting

Here’s an idiotic tweet from @calcolgan, ironically calling out his imagined idiocy of others:

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/565909458736672768
4:25 PM – 12 Feb 2015
“New Atheist” idiots are turning nonbelief into the very violent fanaticism they oppose. We atheists shd condemn this http://nyti.ms/1FyYOqN

From a twitter exchange this is what he thinks about the #ChapelHillShooting:

  • Colgan says New Atheists idiots have turned non-belief into violent fanatcism.
  • Colgan claims there’ve been numerous violent atheists – and is asked which ones.
  • Colgan responds with: What about state sponsored terrorism.
  • Colgan complains that New Atheists focus on Islam.
  • Colgan accuses Hitchens of supporting the war in Iraq because he and other New Atheists want to kill off Islam.
  • Colgan implies that Harris and Dawkins think all religious people are terrorists, “Doesn’t mean all religious ppl are potential terrorists.”

Nowehere does he actually back up his claims that:

  • New Atheists are turning non-belief into violent fanaticism
  • That Dawkins and Harris are somehow at fault for focusing on religion and Islam specifically
  • That Hitchens backed the war in Iraq because he wanted to kill off Islam
  • That any New Atheist has remotely suggested that all religious people are terrorists.

The New Atheists I’ve come across have been humanists, and some are subscribing Humanists through various national and international organisations.

I don’t know of any atheists, new or otherwise, that have committed violence in the name of atheism or New Atheism; and in fact violence is antithetical to their humanist beliefs. I can understand why Colgan would be dismayed at such people turning non-belief into violent fanaticism, if only they had. But of course they haven’t. It’s all in Colgan’s head. And remember, this Colgan calamity came out of the #ChapelHillShooting, and the investigation has yet to reveal the actual motivation of Hicks the shooter – unlike the many terrorist attacks by Muslims (NOT ALL MUSLIMS!) where we know the motivation, done explicitly in the name of Islam, often with quotes from Islamic texts to justify the attacks.

He’s right on state sponsored terrorism of course, in that the US and allies have done some atrocious things. And New Atheist humanists object to them as much as anyone, even if much of their public writing has other targets. So why is Colgan providing state sponsored terrorism as an example of the numerous atheists (or New Atheists) performing terror acts in response to the works of Dawkins and Harris – I don’t recall any reports from Wikileaks of clandestine activities quoting Dawkins or Harris.

And though Dawkins and Harris do focus on Islam rather than state sponsored terrorism, why does that mean that they should not criticise religion, or Islam specifically, when the religious doctrines advocate anti-humanist, anti-liberal, anti-democratic presscriptions, and in the case of Islam, actual violence, oppression and terror. If Dawkins and Harris have their specific concerns about religion, and feel that great journalists like Glenn Greenwald, and of course Cal Colgan, have state sponsored terrorism covered, what exactly is Colgan’s beef?

I mean, it’s not as if Islam is not a source of terror. If Colgan thinks state actions constitute terror, then why not religious rules that prescribe (and in some Islamic states result in) death for apostasy – how is that not a tool of terror. How are blasphemy laws not a tool of terror when laced with the threat of death? Why does Colgan think Islam gets a pass on these and many other tenets that are explicitly part of the religion? Why do Hadith that prescribe tossing homosexuals off buildings not count as terror threats?

Why single out Islam? Islam isn’t singled out. All religions are criticised. But, in Colgan’s words, let’s be real: the following were done directly in the name of Islam or its prophet in order to inflict terror, suppress criticism, avenge Allah or Mohammed for the insults inflicted upon them:

You wonder why Dawkins and Harris make it all about Islam? because so many Muslims are making terror all about Islam. Of course there are other factors that should be addressed. There are many people around the world with real and legitimate grievances against someone or other, but few do it in such a monolithic manner using the texts of a religion to justify attacking and killing innocent people. I don’t see many Christians rushing to fight for the latest Crusade in defence of Christians persecuted by Muslims.

And here’s Harris, having to spell out how he has spelt it out already,

“Although I clearly stated that I wasn’t claiming that all Muslims adhere to the dogmas I was criticizing; distinguished between jihadists, Islamists, conservatives, and the rest of the Muslim community; and explicitly exempted hundreds of millions of Muslims who don’t take the doctrines about blasphemy, apostasy, jihad, and martyrdom seriously, Affleck and Kristof both insisted that I was disparaging all Muslims as a group.”

It is totally dishonest of Colgan to even imply it as he did.

Another significant point that Colgan misses is that state sponsored terrorism has always been done against the spirit, and usually (though becoming less so) against the law, of the constitutions and principles of all western democracies – and of course Colgan is targeting the US and allies here, but neglects to mention Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and of course Saudi Arabia, and other Islamic states where the doctrine and politics of Islam dictates such terror sponsorship. He also seems to miss the fact that much of the state sponsored terror carried out by the US is in the capable hands of right thinking Christians – ‘In God We Trust’ and all that. Atheists are a minority in the US, and New Atheists an even smaller minority, and none of them, as far as I know, are engaged in or support state sponsored terrorism. Why the fuck does the stupid Colgan associate his claim that New Atheists are inciting violence, with state sponsored terror? He’s deluded himself. Good job. To be honest, I don’t suppose he does think they are associated. It’s more likely he was busy backtracking after a gratuitous opportunistic dig at New Atheists – welcome on board the Greenwaldian bandwagon Cal.

The only belief system providing an explanation for British born, Pakistani heritage, youth travelling into Syria and Iraq is because they have been called to do so by fellow Muslims, to defend and/or spread the Muslim faith, to join the long anticipated Caliphate. It doesn’t matter one holy fuck that the majority of Muslims choose not to follow suit. It matters not a jot that so many Muslims ignore the terror incitement contained in their holy texts, or make pathetic excuses for it in the name of ‘context’, because the incitement remains for the crazy and the gullible to follow, and that’s the nature of the specific problem with Islam, right now, today. The problem with Islam isn’t most Muslims, it’s Islam.

Colgan, your original tweet and follow up is a complete fucking joke. You are making a damned fool of yourself buying into this crazy Greenwaldian double speak. The New Atheists are not inciting violence in any way whatsoever, while the inerrant Quran itself does, along with the Hadith. It is fucking dishonest to try and make the false equivalences you do, between New Atheists and Islamic terrorists, or between New Atheists and state sponsored terror.

As a final appeal to common sense, let me spell out a few of the points again:

  • New Atheist coverage of Islam at the omission of coverage of state sponsored terror is no more an endorsement of state sponsored terror than Glenn Greenwald’s focus on state sponsored terror at the expense of his possible focus on Islamic terror is an implication of his endorsement of Islamic terror.
  • The humanism of the New Atheists’ and their criticism of the anti-humanism of Islam has fuck all to do with some atheist going off on one and killing three Muslims, for whatever reason. Even if it turns out Hicks thinks it was inspired by New Atheism.
  • Blaming New Atheism for Hicks is as as dumb as claiming that someone reading Glenn Greenwald criticism of NSA spying on its citizens was incited to spy on US citizens, and it’s Greenwald’s fault, for criticising spying on US citizens.
  • Is in no way equivalent to the Islamic terrorism that has actual Muslims (SOME MUSLIMS, NOT ALL MUSLIMS! FUCK, HAVE YOU GOT THAT?) declaring they are performing the acts of terror in the name of Islam, using the actual texts of Islam to justify their actions. Because the former has zero incitement to violence but actually opposes it, and while the latter actually incites violence, , as many engage in violence, and while many of its adherents are duplicitous in their denial of it.

Earlier I asked, “Why does Colgan think Islam gets a pass…” I’m sure he doesn’t give Islam a pass really. My guess is he opposes many aspects of Islamic doctrine, just as New Atheists do. So, what’s his problem with New Atheists? Because that’s what his tweet is all about, and precious little to do with Chapel Hill, which is only a convenient outlet for his opinions. I’m not suggesting his sorrow at the event is any less than that of Dawkins or Harris.

The thing is, what you find with many like Colgan, is that they are great on criticism but short on solution. Colgan may think Islam has problems (I doubt he thinks it totally benign in all regards) but he opposes attempts to do anything about it, or interprets the words of the New Atheists in calling for reform in Islam (and note the work of Maajid Nawaz here and his collaboration with Harris) as New Atheist terrorism, racism, bigotry. He’d rather hope the problem goes away than risk offending Muslims. He has no problem offending fellow atheists though. Not that I object to him offending fellow atheists, but I do object to his double standards

Below is a collection of tweets that were used as a source for this post. If any significant ones are missing, or if I’ve misrepresented Colgan’s views as portrayed in his tweets, then I’d be glad to make corrections. If Cal Colgan wants to comment I’d be glad to hear from him.

Hide tweets

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/565909458736672768
4:25 PM – 12 Feb 2015
“New Atheist” idiots are turning nonbelief into the very violent fanaticism they oppose. We atheists shd condemn this http://nyti.ms/1FyYOqN

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566027677510139904
12:14 AM – 13 Feb 2015
One violent atheist and “idiots are turning non belief into the very violent …” Get some proportion.

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566315517838114816
7:18 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Let’s be real: There’ve been numerous “violent atheists.” Atheists are only united in our nonbelief.

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566317218305441793
7:25 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Really? Numerous? Violent against the religious because of their atheism? Which ones? Compared to theists violent FOR religion?

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566320771879153664
7:39 PM – 13 Feb 2015
I’m not going to get into a tired debate abt how Islam is the chief perveyor of terrorism in the world.

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566320995620118528
7:40 PM – 13 Feb 2015
If you define terrorism as killing of innocents for political gain, state terrorism by Western govts has higher death toll.

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566321149609791488
7:40 PM – 13 Feb 2015
But Dawkins, Maher, Harris, et al only seem concerned about Islam, b/c it’s easier to criticize outspoken fanatics than govts.

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566322451345575936
7:46 PM – 13 Feb 2015
So what? They do do other things of course, but so what? Dawkins is anti-religion because of evo education.

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566322902359105536
7:47 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Terrorism is intentional killing of innocents, for terror – clue in name. With gvt. it’s usually a fuck up and not primary intent

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566328939535417344
8:11 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Sigh. I’m not saying theists haven’t committed more violence. But state atheism has lead to millions of deaths as well.

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566329036629352449
8:12 PM – 13 Feb 2015
The problem isn’t necessarily religion. The problem is the authoritarian manipulation of religion.

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566329195819962368
8:12 PM – 13 Feb 2015
For every MLK & Malcolm X, there’s a Jon Tiller or Osama bin Laden. Doesn’t mean all religious ppl are potential terrorists.

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566329346798133251
8:13 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Also, way to downplay the killing of innocent people by govts. Christopher Hitchens would be proud.

https://twitter.com/nalathekoala/status/566338641518399488
8:50 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Actually, he’s right. You made a moral-equivalency argument between ISIS and the US. And what about Hitchens, exactly?

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566345579832561664
9:18 PM – 13 Feb 2015
I don’t downplay gvt., of US, UK, oh and Islamic Saudi, Islamic Iran. Compare US Constitution with Sharia

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566346004342276096
9:19 PM – 13 Feb 2015
But go on, give examples of 9/11, 7/7, Madrid, embassies, …, by US/UK

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566346444597387265
9:21 PM – 13 Feb 2015
1.) US has been around longer than ISIS. Not saying savagery is the same. Proportionality of violence different.

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566346614080806913
9:22 PM – 13 Feb 2015
2.) Hitchens famously defended the Iraq War, and other New Atheists defended it b/c “Islam needs to die.”

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566346936715075586
9:23 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Sure. 9/11/73: CIA-funded military coup of Chile resulted in fascist dictatorship. Thousands died ovr next 10 yrs.

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566346994885873664
9:23 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Proportional to capability. You think ISIS wouldn’t do more if it could?

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566347199693729793
9:24 PM – 13 Feb 2015
30,000 ppl slaughtered in Argentina’s Dirty War. CIA trained right wing gov’t.

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566347404082163712
9:25 PM – 13 Feb 2015
So nothing to do with Chilean get. And Mid East nothing to do with Iraq,Iran,Saudi,… All down to US?

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566347449024151554
9:25 PM – 13 Feb 2015
1982 — priests were killed & nuns were raped & killed by CIA-funded AUC death squad in Colombia.

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566347719900676097
9:26 PM – 13 Feb 2015
You’re mincing words. Didn’t say Mid-East has nothing to do with it, but US, Britain, France played big part in chaos

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566347723507793923
9:26 PM – 13 Feb 2015
All states meddle where they can. Just that some have more power. Not excusing it, but not all down to US

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566347877749116928
9:27 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Never said it’s all down to US. Funny how you make blanket criticisms of Islam & then defend US state terrorism

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566347884233502720
9:27 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Supporting Taliban, then opposing them? Yeah, got’ fuck up.

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566348162362015744
9:28 PM – 13 Feb 2015
But still, where in Constitution is that justified. Quran/Hadith EXPLCITLY incite violence and oppression.

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566348358928072706
9:29 PM – 13 Feb 2015
All states play part in chaos. So, your point then is what?

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566348591137304576
9:30 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Again, where in US constitution, UK law, is justification for control of belief (apostasy) criticism (blasphemy)

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566348889612382208
9:31 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Quran is claimed to be inerrant. So ISIS has good claim to be following it. More so than moderates.

https://twitter.com/calcolgan/status/566349362209759232
9:33 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Nowhere, but Founders also went through with 1798 Alien & Sedition Acts — 7 yrs after Bill of Rights passed.

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566350124583223296
9:36 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Where have I defended it?

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566350673424687105
9:38 PM – 13 Feb 2015
And the blanket criticism of Islam is because this is in all versions of Quran: http://quran.com/24/2 So, yes.

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566350872792539136
9:39 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Like I said, US ‘terror’ is failure to comply with own constitution. ISIS is complying with Islam.

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566351807572881410
9:42 PM – 13 Feb 2015
U twist my blanket crit of Islam for “all relig ppl terrorists” Where’ve I seen that misrep. before. Reza Aslan, Glenn Greenwald?

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566352978685485056
9:47 PM – 13 Feb 2015
Sigh. I’m not saying state action doesn’t. So we agree then. Islam bad. Not all Muslims bad. Some state acts bad.

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566353375063982080
9:49 PM – 13 Feb 2015
“The problem isn’t necessarily religion.” Yes it is. Read violence in Quran.

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566353691578359808
9:50 PM – 13 Feb 2015
“Authoritarian manipulation”? LOL. Religon IS authoritarian. Apostasy. Blasphemy. Lashes. Stoning. What are they?

https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/566353920998789120
9:51 PM – 13 Feb 2015
“School of Americas, and the Contras didn’t intentionally kill innocents?” Where did I say that?

https://twitter.com/nalathekoala/status/566365195531194368
10:35 PM – 13 Feb 2015
And Hitchens spent his life trying to get the parties responsible to face accountability–he made a movie about it!

https://twitter.com/nalathekoala/status/566366305377607680
10:40 PM – 13 Feb 2015
The Founders? Hm, I guess Jefferson and Madison (who greatly opposed the A&S Acts) weren’t “Founders”.

View tweets

New Atheism

New Atheism is being subjected to attacks, and it’s clear from those attacks, from what the critics say, that many really don’t understand New Atheism, and in many cases haven’t read what new Atheists actually say, but rather rely on what other opponents say New Atheists say. There are descriptions of New Atheism around the internet, but many of them don’t really explain what is being missed. So, here’s my take.

I’m focusing on New Atheism here, rather than atheism generally, or humanism, or Atheism Plus (A+), because it is so often attacked by these other atheist groups, by #LimpLogicLiberals as well as by theists.

New Atheism is the label assigned to atheists that are more vocal in their criticism of religion. In most respects they are not saying anything new that all atheists say, when it comes to belief in God; and they are all that more critical of religion that many earlier atheists. What seems to get peoples backs up about them is their ‘stridency’, and the fact that they have it in for Islam. Now all this has arisen since 9/11 in 2001, which was a turning point.

The current two New Atheists that get most stick are Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Hitchens is dead, and Dennett is rather mild mannered by comparison. Jerry Coyne has taken up the mantle to some extent. He, like Dawkins, leans towards the educational aspect as well as the wider social implications of religion – he, like Dawkins, oppose the Creationism and its rejection of Evolution. Both criticise the Christian Creationism in the US; and Dawkins also covers Islamic Creationism in the UK, particularly in relation to the move towards religiously controlled schools that sneak creationism in, or blatantly push it while rejecting Evolution.

Then there are many less prominent but public figures who could be called New Atheists – so Stephen Pinker is one that finds himself grouped with the New Atheists, whether he likes it or not, because he writes stuff that often includes a science based criticism of irrational belief; and Michael Shermer is another, more in the Skeptical community, though he has critics in the self-styled A+, Feminist, Skeptical community; and Michael Nugent, who focuses on religion in Ireland, but expresses many of the same views as the New Atheists, and also might be lumped in with them for also being attacked by the A+ crowed.

And then there are the many nobodies such as myself, that haunt the internet putting theist straight in their foolish ways.

One problem for anyone trying to get a handle on New Atheism is that, despite the common claim by opponents, it is not a religion or a singular political belief system. It is the amalgamation of a number of beliefs, or more realistically, a number of adaptive processes for coming to beliefs, and as such it is comfortable with allowing for difference of belief and changes to belief.

One way of describing New Atheism is to observe its relationship to other strands of thought:

Humanism – While many New Atheists are Humanists, in that they subscribed to Humanist organisations, national or international (Dawkins is a member of the BHA), all of them that I have come across are at least humanists, small ‘m’, in that they support humanist beliefs.

Humanist organisations tend to spell out their beliefs, in something like a Humanist Manifesto: proposals or agreed tenets of behaviour worked out using some of the principles above, but they are not tenets of absolute belief, the way tenets of a religion might be. That’s not to say that some humanists don’t hold to them as if they are absolute. You will find some humanists declaring Human Rights to be absolute, but I’d argue with that. They are contingent upon our feelings as evolved and culturally developed humans, and as such can vary with culture, and could have varied further had we humans arrived here with different evolved feelings.

If you look at this list, on Humanist Manifesto III, you’ll see that it pretty much covers the rest of the items below. Humanist organisations tend to be more politically active, while the prominent New Atheists may be included in that activism, they are better known for their own unaffiliated works.

Science – Typically there is an agreement that science can reveal much more about the world, and about humans, than mere navel gazing or inventing magical entities that reveal knowledge ready made. There is much confusion here, caused by humanists, and some Humanists, that while not anti-science intentionally, do a great disservice to humanism by crying about ‘scientism’. No current New Atheist I know claims that science actually has the answer to all our problems. They simply don’t – ask them.

What they will tend to say is that science, now, or in the future, is a set of methodologies that do or will offer the best way to come to understand the world and humans. None of them I know of deny totally the value of the arts of various kinds – and in fact many, maybe most, value the arts greatly. And on balance I’d say that scientifically educated and professional scientist New Atheists appreciate the arts far more than many of their non-science critics appreciate science. In fact many of their critics are quite ignorant of many aspects of science, especially its general nature. This is a bone of contention with theists and philosophers typically, but also with some non-sciency liberal journalists.

Science is the result of humans using their natural evolved faculties of the senses and reason, and applying those more rigorously, often with the aid of instruments and mathematics, in order to enhance the range data gathered and analysis of data that comes from being more rigorous. Science is not some extra-human realm of magic. All humans are in principle capable of learning and challenging any claim made in science. New Atheists tend to expand the use of the term ‘science’, certainly to include many of the social sciences, but also to include straight forward observation and common sense – with the caveat that the raw unrigorous faculties can be so fallible that where possible the methods of science should be used to test our hypotheses.

It’s such a broad and inclusive description that one wonders why anyone would object to it. But some do, for the expedient purpose of objecting to New Atheist criticism of their religion or their philosophy.

This broad science approach is in contrast to religion, where all its significant claims about knowledge are based on the imagination of some magical entity revealing knowledge to humans, often particular humans.

This also contrasts with pure reason of philosophy, where the mind is the only tool of significance. Of course even the most Rationalist or Idealist philosopher bases all he knows on empirical observation. And the most supernaturalist Christian or Muslim theist relies on the empirical observation of the content of a book (for all they take too much from it). But that’s not always appreciated. The most extreme critics of the sciency approach, those that cry ‘scientism’, use the same approach too, but badly, and in such a way they think they are engaging in ‘other ways of knowing’. This seems somewhat delusional, for there is zero evidence of other ways of knowing beyond the use of our senses and reasoning about what we observe.

But back to science and its influence on New Atheism. So, what science does, even in its most basic form of observing the world and reasoning about it, is it reveals something very significant: science is hard work, and the results are not always easy to interpret, and ideas may change over time as new data comes in.

And this is a foundational appreciation of the nature of reality and the human condition. We are learning as we go.

On that basis, and on where science is now, no human has any knowledge about how the universe came into being, despite a few centuries of trying to figure that out, and a few millennia of the religious claiming they already found out. There is zero data to support any notion of some supernatural being; and while there is no evidence to exclude one there is also no evidence to exclude multiple supernatural beings, a hierarchy, of hypernatural, superhypernatural, or any other source of beings. There is zero evidence that the intelligence ascribed to such imaginary beings exists in any form, other than the form we experience in ourselves.

But, despite this overwhelming lack of any data about gods of any kind, the contingent nature of knowledge on future developments is such a compelling idea that New Atheists informed by science are pretty much compelled to hold that no human has all the answers to all the questions we ask, and therefore it is reasonable to accept, even encourage, a variety of thought, even if that leads to mistaken beliefs sometimes.

Freedom of Belief – The above idea alone, of the contingency and fluidity of accurate knowledge, is sufficient for New Atheists to support the freedom of belief. But add to that the general humanist principle that all humans are valuable, then all together New Atheists have nothing that would lead them to persecute people for any of the varieties of form that humans come in – skin colour, place of and parentage of origin on earth (race), sexual orientation.

Religion is set of belief systems that New Atheists do not hold with, and based on the above, New Atheists find religions to be loaded with bad ideas. But from a humanist and observational perspective it is clear that most believers are indoctrinated into their religious beliefs from being children. Additionally there are many charismatic con men out there that can easily turn the unwary to pretty much any religious belief, so even adulthood is not protection from erroneous belief. And even New Atheists acknowledge many natural cultural human biases that can deflect their own thinking from the best reasoned path. So, it would seem at least cruel, to blame all theists for their beliefs, or to blame anyone entirely for whatever they come to believe.

So all-in-all New Atheists have every reason to support the freedom of belief.

The humanism, contingency of knowledge and the freedom of belief lead New Atheists to another principle:

Secularism – Secularism isn’t atheism, though it is often passed off as such. Secularism is the disassociation of power from belief, particularly political power. In specifically that leads to the separation of church and state, the most common expression of secularism and that which is included in some Humanist ‘manifestos’

Secularism allows people of varying beliefs to engage in any requirements their belief systems have, without favour or privilege and without persecution. Keeping belief systems as far away from state power as possible prevents the persecution of non-state-validated belief systems.

This is difficult of course, because states use powers, and some of those powers will inevitably align with some belief system and not with others, while at the same time some other powers might align with different belief systems. It’s difficult not to restrict state power to the lowest common denominator, which means no power, without enabling chaos and violence in the name of belief systems to proceed unchecked. Some degree of state power and policing is necessary in order to then allow as much individual freedom as possible. While the Golden Rule is the most commonly acknowledge lowest common denominator it isn’t universal agreed upon, particularly by religions that profess that their God insists they should interfere in the lives of non-believers. But this latter case is a very good reason for endorsing secularism, unless you follow the religion in power.

There are many believers that appreciate this dilemma, of balancing freedom of belief with the freedom to impose your beliefs on others, and so there are many religious believers that subscribe to secularism as the separation of church and state – though of course confusion ensues because some of those same theists use the term secularism to refer to atheism and the loss of religious privilege that exists for their religion.

All this isn’t to say that New Atheists are the sole torch bearers for atheism, humanism, secularism, science and scepticism. There are members of the liberal elite that support all those but are also engaged in a diatribe of abuse and misrepresentation of New Atheists. But more on those another time. For now, that’s my summary of New Atheism – or how I see New Atheism, in myself and in the expressed views of people like Dawkins and Harris.

Scepticism
This is presented as a separate thing, and is discussed and engaged in in terms of the ‘Sceptical Community’ (Skeptical in the US). It too is a bit of an amalgamation of approaches, but emphasises scepticism and often targets religion, but is also critical of the paranormal – so JREF and CFI are typical of this wider focus. But of course, scepticism is a natural feature of a good science based approach to knowledge, and a feature of New Atheist thinking.

Clarifying Some Points

The prominent New Atheists are even somewhat reluctant to call themselves New Atheists, though some accept the label for want of a better one.

Opponents of New Atheism make various claims about New Atheism or New atheists that are simply untrue. In an attempt to clarify some specific points I present the following.

Is New Atheism a belief system? Not as such, in that it has no beliefs set in stone. But it does look for evidence to inform and support beliefs. But then those beliefs are contingent and subject to improvement. They are contingent conclusions of a method of thinking and observing the world, and are not something that we start out with. Having said that it’s quite possible that the same beliefs were arrived at by other means, along with many mistaken beliefs, and that New Atheism methods have trimmed our beliefs down to some set that we think most reliable, for now.

Is New Atheism a political movement? Not explicitly, and the most prominent New Atheists are generally scientists and philosophers rather than politicians. But in other capacities they engage in social and political change – for example, by being members of organisations like the British Humanist Association, which does lobby politicians for social change, or objecting to the neglect and abuse of science in education.

It is fair to say New Atheists are anti-religion. Though they generally acknowledge that many people can use religion for entirely good purposes, the method of belief, using faith and relying on presuppositions declared in ancient texts, is such an unreliable guide to knowledge that it can be so easily turned to hate, oppression and terror – and much of the effort of New Atheists is engaged in pointing out these faults. This is the extent to which they are anti-religion.

It is fair to say that New Atheists are anti-theists. This is somewhat less of a social and political position that being anti-religion – more of a science and philosophy take on the absence for any evidence to support the beliefs of the dominant religions, or any religions for that matter. The New Atheist approach also includes explanations on what is clearly the poor reasoning of many of the religious. Some philosophers object because they think they see some presuppositions at work – but generally those presuppositions are both reasonable, and can be backed up with yet more argument from observations about the world.

Are New Atheists racists? No. While not wishing to make any absolute statement, this is about as close as we might get to one. There is the positive belief, as a conclusion of contemplating humanism, evolution, biology, that race is a rather poor distinguishing factor. Race is often interpreted through the visual appearances of skin colour and cultural identity, but given that those alone make no significant distinction between humans, New Atheists are thorough anti-racists. Of course any human can have racist tendencies that the hide or suppress, so it’s not beyond doubt that all New Atheists are not racists – but then this applies to all humans, including the critics of New Atheists.

All the charges of racism I’ve seen aimed at new Atheists have been just actual lies, or lies by conflating religion with race. The latter is actually a racist move in itself, for it is explicitly these opponents that are identifying people of a religion with race, while the New Atheists make the distinction. And of course New Atheists have many anti-religious atheist allies that would be from the same genetic background as the supposed targets of New Atheist racism, but let’s not mention that in the presence of the hypocrites.

There have been and continue to be some despicable claims made that the criticism of Islam by New Atheists is racist. This is at best understandable coming from people of different cultures that have been subject to racism because of their culture, religion or skin colour – it’s easy to be consumed by the anti-western rhetoric and a complete misunderstanding of New Atheism. It’s understandable that Muslims will object to their faith being criticised, though there are many examples of Muslims lying boldly about what atheists say, and about New Atheists like Dawkins and Harris. But the most heinous lies come from fellow atheists, and those of the A+ agenda, or the #LimpLogicLiberals that have a factional axe to grind. Most commonly this lie is perpetuated by the likes of Glenn Greenwald, and is even bought into by otherwise rational people like Cenk Uygur, at the behest of the lying Reza Aslan. It may seem extreme to call out such people as purveyors of lies, but there’s plenty of evidence for such a claim.

Some Sources

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
I disagree with a few things here, but overall it’s a fair description. I disagree particularly with the section 5, on Secular Morality. I disagree with its take on morality, and to some extent disagree with its take on what New Atheists think about morality. But I can go into that again some time. Section 8, on criticisms, gives the impression that most of it is epistemological and philosophical generally, but it fails to engage with the criticism from other liberal atheists that might have much the same philosophical perspective that the New Atheists have, where criticism is directed firmly, if unjustifiably in my view, at the approach New Atheists take to the criticism of religion, and of Islam in particular.

Good old Wikipedia
A common complaint is that New Atheists present too literal a vie of religion – a point made by, who else, but the more sophisticated theologian that doesn’t buy the literalist take on the Bible and Quran. But the real issue here is that it is they, the sophisticates, that are in the minority in religious belief, in that sufficient Christians and Muslims hold to enough of the bad ideas in their holy texts to make the New Atheist criticism currently salient to the social effects of religion. And then there’s that totally fucked up opinion from Noam Chomsky. In what sense is writing a few books and appearing at speaking events or on TV ‘bludgeoning’ anyone? Its exactly the sort of freedom of expression that Chomsky engages in when he publishes his views. It is precisely not the ‘bludgeoning’ act of imposing apostasy, blasphemy, heresy rulings and punishments on people that religions engage in. The New Atheist rhetoric may be blunt, to the point, and direct, unlike the slimy slippery language of the religious, but that is one of its great features – the clarity of thought and reasoning from New Atheists outshines the fluff and magic of religion, and much of the philosophical hang wringing of people like Chomsky. And of course we can rely on the usual unsubstantiated claims of New Atheist bigotry, often from supporters of religious bigotry – it’s always a good move to convince your fellow theists that the atheist opposition is exactly what has been aimed at your religion, so much so that in Islam there’s a term for this common method: Takfir. Look it up.

Rational Wiki
This is a mixed site, with some good stuff, but also with an agenda in the mind of its creator. And it can get a little dated. For example, as well as listing the four horsmen, it also adds PC Myers as a ‘partner in crime’. Well, that ship has sailed. PZ Myers is one of the A+ members most critical of Dawkins and Harris, and the followers of Myers are about as anti-Dawkins and anti-Harris as you can get. But these guys are a whole other story.

Yes Mehdi Hasan, I Condem Those Atheists Texts Calling for Lashes, Stoning, Death

Mehdi Hasan is up to his usual rhetorical tricks.

On his Facebook page he links to the Richard Dawkins comments in the Huffington Post piece: Atheist Richard Dawkins Condemns Chapel Hill Shootings Of Three Muslim Students.

His comment accompanying the post:

Will we now see lots of pieces calling for ‘reform’ of New Atheism and a search for ‘moderate’ New Atheists? ‪#‎justasking‬

So, Mehdi, if you think New Atheism is in need of reform, can you point to the New Atheist scriptures that Craig Hicks might have followed in order to justify the killing?

Can you point to New Atheist scripture that demands lashes for sex outside marriage, or stoning of adulterers? Can you point to any New Atheist scriptures that denounce atheists for apostasy, for those converting to Islam or Christianity?

Islam needs reforming so that the barbaric tenets contained in the Quran and Hadith cannot be used as an excuse to commit violence in the name of Islam.

What exactly do you think there is in New Atheism that needs reforming? You want ‘moderate’ New Atheists? New Atheism is already moderate: free speech, freedom of belief, no special privilege for any belief systems, secular government (not Christian, not Islamic, not atheist, …). There are no ‘apostasy’ rules trying to prevent atheists becoming believers. There are no ‘blasphemy’ rules denouncing anti-atheist rhetoric. There’s no lashing for sex outside marriage; no stoning of adulterers.

Exactly what reforms would you like, Mehdi?

I think I get it, you’re just whining because your precious prophet is lampooned? You don’t like to see outsiders criticise your faith?

#justasking

Mehdi Hasan, like many Muslims commenting on criticisms of Islam, or on the association of self-declared Muslims doing violence in the name of their prophet, isn’t happy that Islam gets the blame when so many self-declared Muslims join ISIS and other organisations. He’s not convinced that Islam is the problem, even when they quote the passages that inspire their violence.

Look, Mehdi isn’t a violent Jihadist, so how can anyone blame Islam?

Well, it’s quite easy to explain. Mehdi and all moderate Muslims that still believe that the Quran is the inerrant word of God are stuck in denial. They have to start making up bullshit excuses about ‘context’ to explain when it’s reasonable to stone a woman to death.

And, as Coel Hellier pointed out in a recent post Mainstream Islam is not moderate.

Can we blame Richard Dawkins for this act by Craig Hicks?

This is one of the most ridiculous posts I’ve seen today:

RichardDawkinsCraigHicks

Adeel Ahmed, you’re misguided.

There are currently many people pointing out that Craig Hicks did this in the name of atheism, that he’s an Atheist terrorist.

I think it quite legitimate to call Hicks a terrorist. It’s quite legitimate to call him an Atheist terrorist, if the reports are confirmed that Craig Hicks did this in the name of Atheism.

But that doesn’t suddenly present some parallel with the case made that Islam is a significant component of the terror committed in the name of Islam. Islam has texts that can be used to justify terrorist acts. Atheism does not. Atheism has very little in the way of doctrine. It is merely the lack of belief in gods. The ‘strident’ New Atheists are merely more outspoken about this and more willing to point out the faults of religions. That doesn’t make atheism amenable to the justification of terrorism. What Hicks has done is not only not justifiable by Atheism, New Atheism, Humanist, Scepticism, it is totally antithetical to everything that Atheists, New Atheists, Humanists and Sceptics tend to believe in.

Does that then mean Muslims have a case too, in denouncing violence in the name of Islam as antithetical to Islam, the religion of peace? No, because the claim that Islam is the religion of peace only applies when Muslims ignore the violent and warlike aspects of Islam.

If you’re an atheist bent on violence you have to depart from the values usually subscribed to by Atheists, New Atheists, Humanists and Sceptics.

If you’re a Muslim bent on violence you can find justification for it in your holy texts.

Do you see the difference? #‎justasking‬.

Here’s a more rational assessment, from Maajid Nawaz. A lesson for Mehdi Hasan.

MaajidNawazOnChapelHill

Ophelia Benson’s Medicine

There’s some serious hypocrisy flying around some quarters of the Free Thought Blogs. Ophelia Benson, PZ Myers and others are fighters for social justice, the feminist cause and the battle against sexual abuse and rape, which can only be applauded, and would be, were it not for their methods.

Michael Nugent has posted another clarification of his position on these matters. He has become the target for their rhetoric and misrepresentation, because he has objected to their rhetoric and misrepresentation when it has been directed at others, such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Michael Shermer. It seems ‘any critic of mine is a friend of my enemies and therefore an enemy of mine’.

[UPDATE – while writing this I see that Nugent has another post up covering the fact that Myers has not responded to Nugent’s call for an apology, after Myers said Nugent defends rapists.]

I’ve covered some of this before, specifically about how Dawkins is being misrepresented, and on the hypocrisy of Myers complaining about the ill-considered rhetoric of Dawkins and yet engaging in similar ill-consideration himself that resulted in misrepresentations of Dawkins. There I also pointed to Michael Nugent’s response to it all as one of the only sane assessments on the matter. And it’s as a result of Nugent’s criticisms there that Ophelia Benson continued her attack on Nugent, and had Adam Lee jumping in with both feet – firmly in his mouth. And Nugent responds again, with restraint and calm reason.

And it goes around some more, and Nugent finds he has to make yet another clarification of the misrepresentations of him.

You’ll notice that Nugent’s posts are very specific in addressing his attackers, very calm and considered, and necessarily spell out, repeatedly, in great detail, where they are going wrong. Some comments on his posts have suggested he give up and ignore the attacks, rather than give them air time. There’s always the danger that he’ll suffer the TL;DR short attention span response. But others, I think rightly, are supportive of Nugent’s efforts as being worth the trouble. The smears and misrepresentations should be documented in this manner, for the record.

The hypocrisy of Benson, Myers and others of the #FTBullies extends to their unwillingness to criticise the many viscous followers they have on their blogs. There are some clearly false accusations flying around about Dawkins and Harris, and latterly Nugent, such as calling them misogynists, or even supporters of rapists. In Nugent’s case Myers seems to have been pretty clear that he considers Nuget a defender of rapists that comment on Nugent’s blog, and holds Nugent responsible for that in some way; were it true in any case – and Myers offers no evidence of this claim.

Maybe I’ve missed it, but I haven’t seen Myers or Benson comment on their own blogs with something like, “OK guys, I’m criticising Dawkins and Harris for careless or even harmful rhetoric. Let’s not get into that ourselves.” Instead, they continue with the misrepresentations, and allow the more extreme of their followers to jump to the nastier conclusions on their behalf [UPDATE: except in the latest Twitter outburst Myers is responsible for all his own work].

I thought it might be helpful to Myers, Benson and Lee and others engaged in these campaigns against Dawkins, Harris and Nugent, if I quoted from a book a read some time ago. It was aimed at the sloppy thinking and failure to search for the truth, in favour of one’s emotive commitments, and directed generally against the religious, New Agers and post-modern relativists and other pedallers of flim-flam [h/t Pinker]. I’ve inserted and emphasised where I think Benson and co. might not get the message from the original.

Confusion and obfuscation are arguably the best way to go. Obfuscation is legal, it’s easy, there’s always an abundant supply and it often does the trick. The more unclear it is exactly what one is arguing, the more trouble one’s opponents will have in refuting one’s claims.

And this is why Nugent’s posts are increasingly detailed in refuting the charges from Myers et al.

Asking unanswerable questions is an inconclusive but useful tactic. … The fact that no one can answer such questions is taken by the pure of heart and limpid of mind to entail divine [self-appointed] explanation. The fact that such explanation allows the questions to be asked all over again seems not to trouble the divinely [self-appointedly] inclined.

In fact, the contortions are a giveaway not only that the explanation is not the right one, but that something is badly wrong with the method of generating the explanation, that things are back to front [mirroring the Vatican?], that the enquirer has started, not with a desire to produce an explanation, but with the desire to produce a particular explanation, or a particular kind of explanation.

What should trump what? Should rational enquiry, sound evidence, norms of accuracy, logical inference trump human needs, desires, fears, hopes? Or should our wishes and beliefs, politics and morality, dreams and visions be allowed to shape our decisions about what constitutes good evidence, what criteria determine whether an explanation is supported by evidence or not, what is admissible and what isn’t?

The truth is important to us, but so are our needs and desires and hopes and fears. Without them we wouldn’t even recognise ourselves. Without them, we think, we would merely be something like an adding machine. An adding machine can get at the truth, given the right input, but it doesn’t care. We want the truth but we also want to care – wanting the truth is indeed inseparable from caring. We want it, we care about it, it matters, and so do various other things we want and care about, some of which are threatened by the truth. … But we have to choose. … If we’ve never bothered to decide that truth matters, and that it shouldn’t be subject to our wishes – that, in short, wishful thinking [that everyone should agree with our gross characterisations] is bad thinking – then we are likely to be far less aware of the tension. We simply allow ourselves, without much worry or reflection, to assume that the way humans want the world to be is the way the world is [populated by privileged old white male misogynists, as we see it], more or less by definition – and endemic confusion and muddle [and the need for endless clarification] is the result.

Religion and related modes of thinking such as New Age, Wicca, paganism, the vaguely named ‘spirituality’, [and the social justice wars?] are where this outcome is most obvious. Public discourse features talk of [god stuff, or charges of rape] … without apparently stopping to notice that there may be reasons to prefer true beliefs rather than false ones.

What reasons? There are many. One is truth is something of an all-or-nothing proposition. It is intimately related to concepts such as consistency, thoroughness, universal applicability, and the like. If one decides that truth doesn’t matter in one area what is to prevent one deciding it doesn’t matter in any, in all?

Our internal private thoughts might not matter at all. … But how we influence each other, how we teach – by writing, by journalism, by talking on the radio, on platforms, in churches, in mosques, in classrooms, [how we use blogs to espouse rape claims rather than official channels] – it does matter. If we are going to influence people, it’s important we get it right.

If we minimize true facts that we dislike too often, we may lose sight of the fact that it is our reaction and degree of attention that is subject to our wills, and start to think that the facts themselves are subject to our wills. But on the whole they’re not.

But then this …

There are fields where indifference to truth is no handicap – advertising, PR, …, lobbying, marketing, In fact there are whole large, well paid, high status areas of the economy where truth-scepticism, wishful thinking, fantasy, suspension of disbelief, deletion of the boundary between dreams and reality, are not only not a handicap, but essential to the enterprise. … We need our dreams and stories, our imaginaries. They are good for us. We need the cognitive rest from confronting reality all day, we need to be able to imagine alternatives, we need the pleasure of fantasy. But we also need to hang on to our awareness of the difference between dreams and reality.

No! Some of these, advertising, PR, lobbying, marketing – and blogging unsubstantiated rape claims and naming as perpetrators people who have had no recourse to justice – are precisely the areas where we are seeing no handicap to the perpetrators of lies, but where the wider social handicap is far greater.

There is a profound irony in the situation [super fucking irony in this case] – in postmodernist epistemic relativism. It is thought to be, and often touted as, emancipatory. It is supposed to set us all free: free from all those coercive repressive restrictive hegemonic totalizing old ideas. From white male western reason and science, from the requirement to heed the boundary between science and pseudo science, from the need to offer genuine evidence for our versions of history, from scholars who point out we have our facts wrong. … Take away reasoned argument and the requirement for reference to evidence – by discrediting them via deconstruction and rhetoric, via scare quotes and mocking capital letters, and what can be left other than force of one kind or another? … This is emancipatory? Not in our view. It is not emancipatory because it helps emotive rhetoric to prevail over reason and evidence, which means it helps falsehood prevail over truth.

The book? “Why Truth Matters” – Ophelia Benson, Jeremy Stangroom.

Super fucking irony.

Dawkins v Myers: The Slurs Continue

Rape is bad. In similar circumstances the a similar event might be worse for some victims than others. And depending on how it affects the victim what looks superficially like a worse rape, such as by a stranger at knife point, than another rape, such as by a friend on a date, may in fact not be what we expect. One victim might find the date rape far more traumatic than the attack by a stranger, because perhaps the failure of trust between them and the trusted friend might completely fuck up the victim’s capacity to trust and interact with people generally. The victim of a stranger rape might be able to put that into a box, a dreadful box not to be opened again, so that they can get on with their lives.

Dawkins makes a point that there are degrees of hurt, and points out that comparing them does not diminish them. This is complex stuff and one might expect that someone like Dawkins gets that. I’m sure he does, and that his recent Twitter set was simply a poorly made point. [See links in the Michael Nugent post for details – link to Nugent towards the end]

It’s not as if Dawkins was actually making much of a point about rape itself, but was using it to make a more general logical point:

X is bad. Y is worse. This is not an endorsement of X.

We can see why he used rape in one example, and paedophilia in another: he’s received criticism for his comments on these issues and thinks that some of the commenters missed this logical point, by concluding that saying Y was worse amounted to endorsing X. And some commenters really did do that. Fucking moronic.

But additionally PZ Myers on his blog took strips off Dawkins. And his commenters jumped on board. Some simply saw it as a crass use of rape to make the logical point, but many already had the knives thoroughly into the back of Dawkins and were in no mood to let him off with further explanation. Many who have made their minds up about Dawkins denied all possibility of even the slightest generous reading of his Tweets or his follow up explanations.

Well, the next phase in this pile of crap going on among sects of atheists has taken us in another direction. Robin Williams died today and got lots of public sympathy. But an unknown teenager is killed by the cops of Ferguson and receives far less sympathy.

PZ Myers used the death of Williams to make a point. And PZ is getting some push back for pointing out this discrepancy in public attention. The post by PZ does itself seem a bit over the top; almost conspiratorial in its rhetoric. Was there no better way of making the point? Well, maybe. But some will not leave it at that.

On that post by PZ a number of commenters weren’t at all happy.

“Disappointing, that’s quite a cheap shot.”

“Cheap shot is a perfect word for this piece.”

“[starts with a comment on Williams…] Meanwhile, yes, this piece appears to be entirely cynical. A well-liked famous person dies, but of course this is the perfect segue into racial politics!”

PZ comes back, “You are sad that Williams is dead? Good. I think it’s terrible that he suffered from depression and died. I am not saying that he was a bad person or that his death is not cause for grief. But what I’m seeing, what prompts your whining about cynicism, is that the media have lost all sense of proportion — that the death of a popular entertainer is bigger news than our loss of freedom and our slow steady drift into a police state.”

Paraphrase: Williams’s death is bad. But wider racist social injustice and decline into a police state is worse and deserves greater public attention. This is not an endorsement of being dismissive of Williams’s suffering. X is bad. Y is worse. This is not an endorsement of X.

Well, as was pointed out to Dawkins and his crass point making episode: did he really need to point this out in such a callous way, as if we didn’t know that already? Don’t we know already that police in some states are highly likely to pick on black teens and occasionally kill them? This is bad. Really bad. There are many issues in the US that deserve far more publicity than they do, and celebrities get a lot more than they need, deserve, and often more than they bargained for or want. But should PZ have used the death of Williams to make this point?

Personally I think his point is fair enough. But I’m more interested in what others think, particularly commenters that inhabit atheist blogs.

But I’d like to address one specific aspect of the point PZ is making: did he have to use the convenient and timely death of Williams to make a political point? Wasn’t this precisely what Myers was making a fuss about in the first place? Isn’t this hypocritical of Myers to tell us how politicians are using the death of Williams to deflect attention form other matters, while he uses it to direct attention to those matters?

PZ, like Dawkins, doesn’t help his case with suspect rhetoric, when he sees it this way: “thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people”

What the fuck? One could say that the disproportionate attention paid to Williams is down to the celebrity angle rather than a white supremacist police state racist angle. What difference would one suppose there would be if some famous and loved black celebrity died while at the same time the police somewhere killed some unknown poor white guy?

But really, the PZ post, like the Tweets from Dawkins, deserve little more than a face palm. Not everyone sees it that way.

Elsewhere PZ gets even more stick. On Jerry Coyne’s post comparing the lovely tribute to Williams from Stephen Fry with the post by PZ …

“Wow, I knew Myers could be a you-know-what, but this is terrible. How can someone post something like this? There’s something very cold and mean about that guy. I don’t understand it.”

“I hate to say this but, based on this obscene commentary and his anti-Israel fulminations, Prof. Myers is turning into a schmuck of the first order.”

“Great letter from Fry. And PZ really should be ashamed. As if Williams chose this moment for the purpose to serve government interests. Really, really awful.”

You’ll notice how in this last one the comment by PZ about the convenience of the death of Williams for politicians has been totally misunderstood. PZ wasn’t suggesting in the slightest that Williams made the choice but that the convenience, however coincidental, fell in favour of politicians. If you can’t connect the dots here one wonders how visitors to Coyne’s blog grasp the undirected aspects of evolution.

Perhaps the critics of PZ, on his site and on Jerry’s, could learn from Dawkins:

X is bad. Y is worse. This is not an endorsement of X.

The death of Williams is bad and the public response may be deserved, but it is a worse state of public interest and of political diversion that the Ferguson killer cop issue has received less publicity. Pointing out the latter about the Ferguson case is not an endorsement of less publicity and less expression of feelings for Williams. What PZ said takes nothing away from the sentiments expressed by Fry.

It seems the divisiveness continues. And the exaggeration of the polarization stands out a mile with all the stupid comments.

It was enough to say that Dawkins made a misjudgement in each of his Tweets, and to leave it at that. He wasn’t endorsing rape of any kind and wasn’t enabling rapists. To suggest that was just plain stupid when you follow everything else the man says. And some of the comments on Jerry’s post about PZ are just as bad and just as stupid. It wasn’t enough to say simply that they thought PZ was a little too cynical in his expression of his point?

The only sane comment on the Dawkins stuff comes from Michael Nugent. His main point that’s worth taking away from this is not that Dawkins made mistakes, though Nugent thought he had, but that comment on Dawkins from people that should know better have escalated the whole thing into a personal slurfest. It is astonishing how what should be a straight forward criticism about a point of disagreement can turn into a wild dogmatic hatred. There really are extremes of rhetoric and irrationality at work that would put some of the dumbest theists in a good light.

Nugent has defended Myers before too, as he points out. Perhaps it will require the sanity of Nugent to point out the stupidity raging on this little post by Myers.

I can’t figure out why the likes of PZ takes shots of Dawkins for crass language when PZ himself has a pretty sharp tongue. But there you go, nobody’s perfect. You’d think atheists would know that from engaging with theists.

What’s Up Doc? Heaven, Apparently

In this piece, Heaven Is Real: A Doctor’s Experience With the Afterlife, Neurosurgeon Eban Alexander gives his account of a brain event that made him see the light. (h/t @SkepticViews)

This is the dumbest piece of God promotion I’ve seen for some time. I wouldn’t have this neuroscientist anywhere near my brain. He says how much he wants to believe, has a specific brain experience that matches reports of experiences by other people, and that’s it – job done, God exists.

1) Auditory hallucinations can be auto-generated in the brain without sound input through the ears, so it’s possible for someone with a brain to ‘hear voices'; and some people who ‘hear voices’ attribute them to God or Jesus. He should know this. Humans hallucinate.

2) The brain perceptions experienced (bright light, vast space, God, etc.), and the reality of the things supposedly conceived (heaven, God), are quite distinct. The experience of the perceptions is no guide to the reality of the thing perceived. That’s why we call them hallucinations. Near-death is a rare experience for a human brain (except for those with a one way ticket, but then they don’t come back to report), so it is difficult to say what we would expect to experience. Novel brain experiences are not a sufficient guide to reality.

3) People will have similar experiences because, duh, they have brains too. We should expect that experiences of near death will be similar, so the similarity of the reports should not be taken as mounting evidence for the thing claimed of the experience.

4) As others have pointed out in the article’s comment stream, similar experiences can be achieved by using drugs. And by stimulation of the brain in the lab or operating theatre. There is no reason to suppose that the perceptions contained during these experiences represent a reality, and plenty of evidence that they don’t.

5) On what grounds does Alexander suppose that his perceived experiences occurred in real-time while he was unconscious? He has no way of knowing, because he was unconscious! Only later, when his consciousness returns, is he able to report on his experiences. For all he knows his brain might be constructing a completely false memory, as if it had occurred, as part of the process of recovering consciousness. Perhaps this is what it’s like when a brain is ‘turned on’ again. Being a neuroscientist he should know of this and many other rational possibilities.

There’s a problem here that theologians, many philosophers, and it appears some scientists, have with the nature of the brain and its relation to our inner thoughts and experiences. Lurking behind views expressed by those like Alexander is a presupposition that the mind is distinct from the brain and that what we experience in the mind has some distinct reality. I call this the primacy of thought problem, where we suppose that the mind and our thoughts, through our Rationalism, is the primary source of knowledge. To some extent this is understandable, since as physical animals we have to wait until our brains achieve a certain degree of complexity and experience before they become self-aware enough to do any reasoned thinking. It’s then as if our ‘mind’ has been switched on, and then is perceived to exist as if it is something independent of the brain. Contributing to this feeling is the fact that our self-awareness, our introspection, can only go so deep. We cannot, for example, perceive the individual neurons firing away as we think. We only perceive the thoughts, not the cause of the thoughts. We have no physical sensation in the brain, like touch or pain, that tells us what is actually going on inside our heads as we think. So, we feel detached, as free-floating consciousness.

In the context of this post Alexander is in no position to say what caused his experience. All he ends up with is a perception of an experience – a brain experience.

What a dumb-ass. He was lost to religion before he started on his unconscious journey; he wanted it; he says as much. Confirmation bias?

Not just the medical impossibility that I had been conscious during my coma…

Is this guy really a neuroscientist? It’s difficult to say to what extent a brain is ‘inactive’ during a coma, or other states where external appearances imply unconsciousness. It’s not even fully understood to what extent there is a real barrier between consciousness and un-conscious activity.

What happened to me demands explanation.

There are plenty answers to choose from. You can go with the simple functioning of a brain under stress and bad health that is capable of inducing perceptual experiences that are not associated with any reality; or you can go for your God explanation, because you want to.

Today they are realities. Not only is the universe defined by unity, it is also-I now know-defined by love.

Of course this statement tells us more about Alexander’s understanding of ‘knowing’, his views on epistemology and what it is for an animal brain to ‘know’ something, his commitment to Rationalism, than it does about any actuality.

The universe as I experienced it in my coma is – I have come to see with both shock and joy – the same one that both Einstein and Jesus were speaking of in their (very) different ways.

It’s hard for this statement to be wrong, because of course it is a fatuous profundity – a deepity, as Dennett would say. Quite meaningless in that it could be taken to mean anything. A straight forward physical interpretations is that yes, the physical brain has physical behaviours that under some conditions give the impression of a spiritual experience while at the same time the very same brain is governed entirely by the natural laws of science as we discover them.

But that belief, that theory [of the brain], now lies broken at our feet.

No, just at his feet, as he perceives it to be broken; as perceived by his broken brain that has had a perceptual experience that has left him with the impression that the imagined content of that experience is real.

When the castle of an old scientific theory begins to show fault lines…

The fault lines are as imagined as the content of his dreams.

… no one wants to pay attention at first … The looks of polite disbelief, especially among my medical friends, soon made me realize what a task I would have getting people to understand the enormity of what I had seen …

Oh dear. The plight of the unbelieved prophet. Everyone else is blind. Why can’t they see?

One of the few places I didn’t have trouble getting my story across was a place I’d seen fairly little of before my experience: church.

No fucking kidding!

I’m still a doctor, and still a man of science every bit as much as I was before I had my experience.

Well, I’d say not. Unless we take this to mean that he was already lost to science in his desire to believe.

I only hope he doesn’t turn into one of these evangelical doctors that you get from time to time. My mother is a believer in God of sorts, but she decided that enough was enough when at her local GP practice (an evangelical husband and wife team) her doctor suggested at the end of a consultation that they should hold hands and pray together for her recovery and well being. Preying on the sick by praying for them. But you can see this coming with Alexander.


Update: Sam Harris has chipped in:  This Must Be Heaven covers more detail, including comment by Mark Cohen. As well as going to town on Alexander, he also dishes it out to Newsweek. Harris is as eloquent as usual, so it really is worth a read. Pleas do.

It’s True!

Great Jesus & Mo cartoon again.

The best bit, and the most crucial bit that applies to all religious books is number 1:

1. This is true

This is the one and only necessary assumption in any religion to make it worthy of the name. It must declare its own truth. Of course (snigger :) (more smugness to come) we all know this is pure bollocks don’t we.

I get regular visits from Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are really nice people (at least to ones who visit me are). I think they like me and return often for the following reasons:

(a) I don’t slam the door in their faces;
(b) they haven’t converted me yet, so I suspect, like a lottery rollover, my cache goes up with each rejection;
(c) the religious are masochists (why else invent sin and then admit to bing up to the neck in it).

Anyway, I keep two things handy for when they call.

The first is a copy of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. They always quote from it incorrectly and it’s an easy book to show them they’ve been misled. They do go through some other topics, such as DNA, irreducible complexity, but I usually wing it once we get past Darwin, because it would take too long to go through any book to convince them (“Let’s start with basic chemistry…”). I know, it’s wrong of me, but I argue from authority of knowing just a bit more about this stuff than they do. As much as I can make points against Behe’s arguments generally, if they brought him along as a guest doorstepper I might be screwed on the biology, because I’m not a biologist.

But I digress, again. The second, and most important thing I keep nearby is a piece of paper, oh and a pen – so that’s three things I keep near by, but you know what I mean.

And on that piece of paper I write words to this effect:

This paper contains the word of God as revealed to Ron Murphy. If you’re here while he’s writing this you too must bear witness to this miracle. Now, as your God I command you to ignore the Bible, Koran, gold tablets and any other bollocks you may have come across telling absolute crap about me. I can swear by the way. I am God after all. Though the atheists got it wrong, they got it wrong for the right reasons – they don’t believe any old crap in a document claiming to be the revealed truth. What sort of fucking argument is that?! Anyway, on this occasion it happens to be the truth. However, I’ll forgive you not believing it if you throw it in the bin. On one condition: you throw your crappy book in the bin too and start thinking for yourself.

No, I don’t really write all that, I just feel as though I want to. A sentence or two is usually enough to make the point.

But, miracle of miracles, their faith survives even this cutting blow. What the fuck can I do?

I thought perhaps I should show them the fabulous Morwenna Banks, from that brilliant series Absolutely.

This for me says everything about religious imaginative invention. It encapsulates millenia of theology as Little Girl rationalises uncertainties and contradictions in what pops into her head.

And her punch line:

It’s true! I know because I do!

And Little Girl here provides us with the best accommodationism I’ve ever come across: Genesis plus Evolution! It’s true!

 


And this is what you get when It’s true! is put into practice. Enjoy!

Stephen Law to debate William Lane Craig

Stephen Law is to debate William Lane Craig on “Does God Exist?”.

Some time ago Richard Carrier was lured into a debate with Muslim theists which was supposed to propose something like “We can prove God exists”, but at the last minute was changed to “We cannot prove God exists” (can’t remember the details). Carrier went from looking at an easy ride to being knocked out by a sucker punch because he played their game. His opener at the actual event should have been, “I concede we cannot prove God exists, so my opponents win the debate. Now, let’s get down to some interesting points about philosophy and science: this is why I don’t believe in God.”

The title of this debate pretty neutral, but I’d recommend a similar tactic with WLC: that SL doesn’t get into playing WLC’s game, or even necessarily trying to rebut his points. He should simply present his own case, pretty much ignore WLC, and just dismiss his argument totally with fundamental philosophy.

One of WLC’s moves is to concentrate on the ‘failure’ of science to disprove God’s existence, as though atheists think that possible or necessary.

The key points for me are as follows…

We humans have found ourselves to be thinking beings, and this awareness appears to have been sprung upon us some few thousand years ago, at least as far back as we can tell from philosophical and religious writings and artifacts. And with the hindsight of evolution this thinking capacity appears to be a recent acquisition, and we’re not as good at it as WLC likes to think he is, particularly with regard to the metaphysics of things outside our common experience.

The only tools we find provide knowledge consistent over wide areas of our understanding of reality are all tools of science. And science can demonstrate many instances where introspective thinking and the invention of fanciful theistic explanations of events are woefully incorrect and often incoherent. Whatever we think reality might be our only route to it is through science. That someone believes there is a God has no bearing whatsoever on the actual existence of a God, no matter how inventive their logic, because there logic will always come back to the dependence on the presupposition that there is a God – to do the revealing, to inspire or command the authoring of religious texts.

If there’s any proving to be done, or any evidence required, the responsibility is entirely on the theist to provide it. Everything we do come to know about this universe shouts out at us that there is some causal universe that conforms to various patterns, which we understand as the laws of physics. If theists like WLC want to take a pop the limitations of science, then he has to accept that these very limitations apply to him too – he cannot demonstrate a superior capacity to know stuff.

These laws are so pervasive, so in-your-face, every moment of every day conforms to them – except, supposedly, with respect to God, astrology, ESP and a few other unsubstantiated ideas. These latter beliefs are the exceptions – but where is the evidence to support them?

Because they are the exceptions the null hypothesis is that everything conforms to the laws of physics, just as we find, evidentially, empirically. Even our own existence, according to evolution, conforms to these laws; and what’s more, shows us that our predecessors were empirical sensory animals. Our cognitive abilities appear to lie on the same continuum that our physical attributes do, from our evolutionary past. Our particular self-aware introspective cognition is such a late addition we should be very wary of supposing it to be the pinnacle of creation, the precise and acute tool that WLC thinks his mind is, rather than a fallible tool, a temporary blip in an evolutionary history of one particular species. Our intellect appears to be just one more product of evolution, with a primary purpose of helping us survive. There’s no reason to believe that it has any greater capacity than that, no particular reason that it should give us access to some metaphysical supernatural – except to the extent that this very limited intellect mistakenly thinks we can.

These other ideas, these metaphysical speculations, constitute the alternative hypotheses. They have never been demonstrated, with either rationally sound argument or substantial evidence. They remain unsupportable, though irrationally believed to be true. The null hypothesis, that everything conforms to whatever our understanding of physics is, or comes to be, remains intact.

WLC can dress up his arguments all he likes. He can complain that atheists cannot disprove God as long as he likes to hear his own voice profess it – but that’s irrelevant. He misses the point of science entirely. He doesn’t get that science shows us the limitations of our brains to reason about the inaccessible without supporting evidence; and in doing so overestimates his own capacity to know things he claims are true. WLC is just pissing against the wind – and his followers haven’t noticed this because they are too busy admiring his rhetorical big dick.

I do hope (against the odds) that SL doesn’t get bogged down in his favourite ‘problem of evil’ argument. It’s unlikely to survive the irrationality of WLC. Though the problem of evil as dealt with by SL’s ‘God of Eth’ may be convincing to rational minds, it won’t make a dent on the minds of believers if they don’t want it to.

SL should stick to basic philosophy and our current understanding of science. He should call WLC out on the presuppositions that underpin WLC’s otherwise persuasive rhetoric (persuasive to the gullible at least). SL should be thorough in his philsophy and should not try to debate theology. He should just ignore any temptation to try to win the debate and be content with letting his rational arguments land on a few theistic yet open ears.

Fingers crossed.


Update: coincidentally appropriate Jesus and Mo cartoon. WLC thinks he knows more than he can, as do many theists. But to be fair, I’m not a professional philosopher either, so who am I to judge WLC, or my own philosophical capabilities. We have to remain sceptical about our own ability to know stuff – not something WLC seems to suffer from.