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Hemant Mehta Misses the Point: Atheism is Full of Assholes

Hemant Mehta—“The Friendly Atheist”—has one of those holier-than-Salon articles on his blog where he goes after Jeff Sparrow for his opinion piece in The Guardian advocating for movement atheism to find new leaders besides Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. I’m not usually one to wade into movement atheism shit-flinging contests; atheism is not one of the facets around which I construct my identity, and I’ve been nothing but annoyed and disappointed by movement atheism in general. But Hemant Mehta’s post was so obnoxious in its hubris that I just can’t help myself from commenting on it.

Kennedy Davenport shakes head.

This is my relationship with movement atheism.

Mehta’s post begins with a somewhat simplistic summary of Sparrow’s article, pointing out how Sparrow “goes after” (notice the framing—it’s not that Sparrow is critical or disagrees, it’s that he’s “going after” them) Dawkins, Harris, and Christopher Hitchens for various absurd things they’ve said or done. Mehta’s response:

Anyone who actually reads their books knows that’s not at all what they’re doing.

Since Sparrow can’t bring himself to admit it, I will: Those atheists he criticizes are all well aware that religion provides comfort to billions of people, many of whom have little else to turn to. As Daniel Dennett has written, you can have a “belief in belief” — acknowledging that religion helps a lot of people — without admitting that it’s true.

Wait, what?

Alyssa Edwards confused

Who said anything about Daniel Dennett? How does Daniel Dennett’s belief-in-belief model contradict Sparrow’s claim that movement atheism—and New Atheism in particular—is often represented by some of the biggest assholes in the world who talk about destroying religion because it is harmful? Mehta’s claim that all the New Atheists are interested in is “the truth” is complete bullshit. They have been very vocal about advocating for the erasure of religion based on it being harmful and having no redeeming qualities. For example, Richard Dawkins has said that raising children as religious is “child abuse.” That doesn’t sound like someone who’s just interested in what’s true or not—that sounds like someone who is taking a Manichean view on religion and then accusing religious parents of abusing their children for enculturating them into their religious tradition.

That’s just a shitty thing to say to people who genuinely love their children. Saying that makes you an asshole, not a truth-seeker.

Mehta says:

There’s no way to tell people their most deeply held beliefs are wrong without coming across as a dick.

Why do you need to “tell” people their most deeply held beliefs are wrong? Why do you care what others believe? It matters what people do. If someone’s religious beliefs give them comfort and they’re not trying to make public policy based on those beliefs, why do you feel it is your responsibility to tell them their beliefs are wrong? And not only that, what makes you think they give a shit about what you think about their beliefs?

Also the fact that Mehta says he thinks Dawkins “misses the bigger picture of anti-Muslim bigotry” is laughable considering he gives space on his blog to such bigotry.

Mehta continues:

But Sparrow really loses me with his underlying assumption that those two guys basically represent the totality of atheism.

There are plenty of atheists who are women, people of color, not former Christians, etc. So why do those guys get so much attention? Because they wrote a couple of bestselling books, creating a platform for themselves, and journalists keep referring back to them instead of all the other atheists who have sprung up over the past decade. It’s a positive feedback loop that ignores what so many other atheists have been saying for years now. To them, a random tweet by Dawkins or an off-the-cuff comment by Harris is worth much more than, say, an organization started by ex-Muslims.

Speaking of missing the point!

Missing the point.

Movement atheism is full of assholes. It is about more than just Dawkins or Harris or the media constantly referencing them (convenient narrative—blame the media!). It is also about all of the asshole atheists who agree with them and vocalize it, creating a hostile environment in movement atheism. I mean, one only need look so far as the comments on Sparrow’s article to see it. For example:

Salon dig

Hmm, that Salon dig looks awfully familiar—I feel like I have seen that somewhere recently. Where could it have been? Oh, right. In Mehta’s post:

You’d think [Sparrow is] writing for Salon the way he throws everything about atheism under the bus because he finds reason to critique its most popular cheerleaders.

Anyway, behold the majesty that is a comment complaining that an article gives the reader “ZERO knowledge” of Dawkins’ views while simultaneously giving ZERO knowledge about Sparrow’s views. All the while doing nothing but insulting Sparrow and impugning his honesty rather than addressing the actual problems Sparrow brings up.

Divine - you stand convicted of assholism

Speaking of honesty (and convictions), how about this gem from the eminently honest Brian Dunning:

Dunning comment

Thank you to GeoffreyB, whoever and wherever you are, for your incisive reply to Dunning. I would just add that saying Dawkins is “probably wrong” for comparing a teenage tinkerer to a teenage terrorist pictured beheading someone is, well, probably an assholish position to take. It wasn’t probably wrong. It was absolutely wrong and disgusting and bigoted. To dismiss that as “Dawkins said something stupid” diminishes the terribleness of what Dawkins did. Not to mention that movement atheism hasn’t exactly been on board with social justice causes (and that’s putting it extremely mildly—you know, reading charitably and all that horseshit). To say that’s where the focus should be makes me laugh because when many people have tried to make things such as social justice a focus of movement atheism, they’ve been shit all over and told that the only thing atheism should be concerned with is atheism.

The end of Mehta’s post is pure hypocrisy:

If Sparrow really wanted to “save atheism,” he could focus less on a handful of popular atheists’ tweets and podcasts (which, let’s face it, draw a fraction of the audience and attention that their books received) and spend more time highlighting the work that other atheist activists are doing. He would realize that we don’t need him to be a savior of anything.

So let me get this right. Your critique is that Sparrow should spend his time highlighting atheist activists rather than critiquing big names in atheism for their stupid ideas. In a post that critiques someone for their allegedly stupid ideas.

miss j looks confused

Also, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are atheist activists. This fact makes it difficult for less-well-known activists to get much notice, and this is not only because of the media, but also because Dawkins and Harris have huge followings who use their ideas to do their own kinds of atheist activism. To make it seem as if the only reason Dawkins and Harris get attention is because the media is obsessed with them ignores the fact that there’s assloads of atheists who follow and agree with their appalling views.

Look, I’m indifferent at best about atheism. I could really not give less of a shit if someone believes in gods or whatever. I don’t see religion as an inherently good or bad thing, I see it as having benefits and drawbacks, just like any other human activity including science. Fetishizing science over religion, as Dawkins and Harris do, doesn’t do us any favors either in the pursuit of truth and knowledge or in mobilizing activists. I will gladly clasp hands with any who want to fight for social justice, and I don’t feel the egotistical need to pontificate to them about what I think about their beliefs. When it comes down to it, I would rather fight side-by-side for social justice with a religious person who fights for social justice than with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or Hemant Mehta. Any fucking day.

I look forward to Hemant Mehta’s reply in the form of a post with a bunch of links to various atheist activists who aren’t rich old white straight men who say bigoted things on social media.

bye felicia

Will

Will

Will is the admin of Queereka, part of the Skepchick network. They are a cultural/medical anthropologist who works at the intersections of sex/gender, sexuality, health, and education. Their other interests include politics, science studies, popular culture, and public perceptions and understandings of anthropology. Follow them on Twitter at @anthrowill and Facebook at facebook.com/anthrowill.

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95 Comments

  1. December 1, 2015 at 8:16 pm —

    Your article is a good read, but would you consider using fewer animated gifs next time. The second to last made reading the final part kinda hard as my eyes involuntarily moved every time it recycled.

    • December 4, 2015 at 5:09 pm —

      +1 I find the animated-gif-heavy articles really hard to read.

  2. December 1, 2015 at 8:46 pm —

    I expected to agree with this article since, as you described, Sam Harris and Dawkins are bigots – Harris with his toxic intellectual Islamophobia and Dawkins with his grumpy Twitter rants.

    But then in the “Why do you need to “tell” people their most deeply held beliefs are wrong?” paragraph you claim that anyone who cares about the truth is an asshole?? Engaging in a public dialog about how religion is false and faith is harmful is a good thing. This doesn’t mean yelling at religious folks, but just engaging with the public with things like a blog about skepticism. Of course it is fine if that isn’t your cup of tea.

    • December 1, 2015 at 8:57 pm —

      Sorry, what? In that paragraph I said anyone who cares about the truth is an asshole? Here’s the paragraph:

      Why do you need to “tell” people their most deeply held beliefs are wrong? Why do you care what others believe? It matters what people do. If someone’s religious beliefs give them comfort and they’re not trying to make public policy based on those beliefs, why do you feel it is your responsibility to tell them their beliefs are wrong? And not only that, what makes you think they give a shit about what you think about their beliefs?

      The words “truth” and “asshole” aren’t even in that paragraph. And where I talked about those things elsewhere, I never made the argument that people who care about truth are assholes. I said that saying all movement atheists care about is the truth is a patently false claim. Their activism is not simply an epistemological exercise: they actively advocate for the abolition of religion. This shouldn’t be a controversial claim, I don’t know why you would take issue with it.

      Besides all that, why is it important to “engage in a public dialog about how religion is false and faith is harmful”? Why is that the angle you think is best to take? Not to mention that religion is not false (I don’t know what that means?), it is a real thing in human social life, and faith itself is not harmful or helpful, it’s what people do with or on the basis of faith that can be harmful or helpful. You are advocating exactly the Manichean view that I criticized in the post.

      • December 2, 2015 at 7:36 am —

        Do you think beliefs inform action? That is, we act in accordance with our beliefs? I do. Which is why I care what people believe.

        • December 2, 2015 at 9:16 am —

          Sure, but why is that necessarily a problem?

          If someone’s religious belief is kept as personal how is it any different than their favorite sports team, their personal diet, or what brand of car they drive?

          Actions are what matter, what influences those actions is all semantics.

        • December 2, 2015 at 10:46 am —

          Do you think beliefs inform action? That is, we act in accordance with our beliefs? I do. Which is why I care what people believe.

          I think beliefs can inform action but do not necessarily do so. People act against their professed or deeply held beliefs all the time. There is not a 1-to-1 correlation between belief and action. I’m more interested in what people do than what they believe. I’d rather critique actions than beliefs. But that’s really not even getting to the point I’m trying to make, which is that doing something like telling a religious person who raises a religious child that they’re engaging in child abuse is not criticizing their belief, it’s being an asshole. That’s about feeling superior, not about having a conversation about truth.

          • December 2, 2015 at 5:55 pm

            Sure, I can see that. I don’t care for Dawkins, and it’s charitable to say he over simplifies things. Sam Harris is atrocious. And I have really -really- dialed back the amount of “actually that’s not true” comments I hand out over on Facebook.

            I kind of like how Matt Dillahunty puts it, “Religion isn’t all one thing.” There are aspects that are abusive. And I think it’s possible to abuse without thinking you’re doing anything wrong (Adrian Peterson any Vikings fans?).

            When I see beliefs that I think can lead to harm (and I include voting poorly as harm), I am more likely to speak up. I also understand that I better be ready to back up my opinion on their beliefs, which is something I think these assholes you’re writing about are lacking in their rhetoric.

            Thanks for the exchange, Will.

      • December 3, 2015 at 2:01 am —

        Now with your reply I think I understand the issue is that you do fundamentally disagree with even the stated mission of capital-a Atheists. So I think you are either conflating two unrelated arguments or attacking a position’s weakest arguments.

        Re: faith (and I mean faith the virtue, not faith the simile to religion): Believing things without any reason, and holding that up as a virtue, is antithetical to skepticism. I mean you could’ve written perhaps an interesting article about that, that somehow threads that needle of how faith based thinking is a great thing or completely irrelevant. That would’ve been controversial for the right reasons. Regardless it doesn’t have anything to do with Islamophobia.

    • December 2, 2015 at 2:27 pm —

      Sam Harris is not a bigot.

      • December 2, 2015 at 2:28 pm —

        Oh. Thanks for the convincing argument. You’ve totally changed my mind.

      • December 2, 2015 at 2:53 pm —

        What would you say of someone who said they would rather vote for a dangerously deluded zealot over a well respected professor simply because that zealot (who this person believes is awful otherwise) agrees with this person on their view of Muslims?

        Would you call that person short-sighted, deluded, perhaps blinded by ideology?

        Because Harris recently said he would rather vote for Ben Carson over Noam Chomsky (who, as far as I know isn’t running for anything, but that’s beside the point) simply because Chomsky refuses to believe that we should treat all Muslims as the enemy.

        Well, either that or he is really, really stinging from the intellectual drubbing he took at hands a while back and didn’t know whether to kiss him or push him down and pull his hair.

        Either way he looks like a petulant child.

      • December 2, 2015 at 2:59 pm —

        Hey, look! We found something you’re certain about.

        • December 2, 2015 at 3:22 pm —

          To whom are you referring?

          • December 3, 2015 at 12:43 am

            I think this is a reference to Patricles, who seemed unsure that we could really KNOW anything in the Richard Dawkins vs clocks thread.

          • December 3, 2015 at 8:14 am

            I thought it probably was, but because of the threading I honestly wasn’t sure.

  3. December 1, 2015 at 8:52 pm —

    I don’t know who it was that named the Four Horsemen of Atheism, but I think we can say in retrospect that they successfully named three popular figures who, for better or for worse, represent and speak for the views and attitudes of a large number of people. (The fourth person, Daniel Dennett, turned out not to be very significant, so appropriately enough Sparrow didn’t mention him.) I would like if the media spent more time highlighting other atheist activists, but I certainly can’t fault the media for following the people who are most influential.

    • December 1, 2015 at 9:00 pm —

      Exactly. Blaming the media totally misses the point that there are tons of people who consume Dawkins’ and Harris’ work. It’s not as if the media just magically decided to elevate them. Movement atheism elevated them. And, frankly, movement atheism continues to elevate them.

    • December 2, 2015 at 3:19 pm —

      Besides “not being very important”, the fourth person is also the only one who hasn’t repeatedly shown himself to be an asshole. I would not bracket Dennett with Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins but only because I haven’t actually had reason to lose all respect for Dennet as I have for the other three.

      Sparrow says that nobody should point out that Dawkins is a bigot but doesn’t really give reasons. The reason appears to be because Dawkins is the atheist movement and to speak badly of him is damaging to the atheist movement.

      I don’t care about the atheist movement. I am not even that bothered about people trying to fill people’s head with religious or pseudo-religious nonsense. What worries me are exactly two things:

      1) When policy is based on or is likely to be changed on the basis of a religious doctrine.

      2) When anyone claims to be an intermediary to any form of supernatural being and claim special privileges as a result.

      You certainly don’t have to be an atheist to share those concerns. In fact I think you will find that many folk who consider themselves religious would share them.

  4. December 1, 2015 at 10:44 pm —

    I’m about three “Friendly Atheist misses the point” events past giving Hemant Mehta a pass. The reality as I see it is that Hemant Mehta is one of the biggest assholes, because he tries to maintain a false neutrality while shitting on good people to defend assholes.

  5. December 1, 2015 at 11:55 pm —

    “Look, I’m indifferent at best about atheism. I could really not give less of a shit if someone believes in gods or whatever. I don’t see religion as an inherently good or bad thing, I see it as having benefits and drawbacks, just like any other human activity including science.”
    Did you really have to make science and religion seem comparable? Did you also have to frame it in such a way that you superficially seem like a nice and tolerant person?

    • December 2, 2015 at 12:03 am —

      Ooh, looks like I struck a nerve. =(

      • December 2, 2015 at 2:58 pm —

        Really? That’s your response?

        You’re comparing a self-verifying corpus of knowledge with the myths of the ancient asserting that they’re of equal value, and you expect us to take it in stride like you didn’t spout nonsense?

        • December 2, 2015 at 3:02 pm —

          Yeah, I’m not going to give any serious consideration to comments that are insults veiled as questions. If you read what I wrote and you think I am giving science and religion “equal value,” I don’t know what to tell you. I very specifically said neither science nor religion are inherently good or bad. That is explicitly value-neutral. If you decide that you want to read beyond what I wrote, that’s your problem.

          • December 2, 2015 at 4:59 pm

            I think you however are being a fool. Science is about figuring out how things work – but it can be abused by those intent less on how things work, than personal ideology. Religion *is* ideology. It is it single only, and pure purpose. Not to try to work out how the world works, but to define how it should, or must, work. It is no more value neutral in any sense than there is something “value neutral” between faith healers and brain surgeons. One attempts, as much as they can, given what they know, to deal with reality, the other tries to make reality conform to delusion.

            The only “value neutral” aspect of religion is the fact that it has no inherent value, at all, which isn’t more or less the same as any other ideology, which is “lots” when it is right about something, and, “less than none”, when its wrong. It would be abuse to, for example, teach a child that “science” says that MRA thinking is sensible, but it would be abuse because a) such thinking hurts real people, b) its not scientifically valid, at all, and c) it represents a refusal to learn, or even acknowledge that one’s ideas are wrong. It would still be abuse if the same MRA thinking would be defended as, “It is as god made the sexes.”

            That there are people who use neither method to reach such stupid ideas is not relevant – the religious position is “valueless”, not of “equal value”, because its not refutable, within the framework of its own absurd notion of why you should believe it.

            So.. What does that say about Harris and Dawkins? Well, Harris obsesses over Muslims, and the conviction that its their religion making them do everything. He is an idiot. First, because, even if true for some of them, its not for most of them. Religion just supports, in the cases of the ones doing it for that reason, an excuse to not see they are wrong. Its a “valueless” cause to their bad thinking because the other 95%, or what ever the number is, *do not turn Jihadist* because of the silly BS in it. But, its all the more dangerous “because” it is so changeable. And, thus it is still *necessary* to challenge it as a non-refutable, source of even bad thinking, never mind good thinking. To excuse it when its the latter, doesn’t help anyone. But, it does require a “proportional” response, and Harris has no f-ing clue what “proportional” means when it comes to religion. Neither does Dawkins, but.. his is a different problem.

            With Dawkins you have the irony that, and I used MRA thinking above for a good reason, that one can reach, logically, unreasonable, inequitable, and stupid, ideas, and they should be exempt from challenge, but if you gain the same thing via religion, then, ‘It must be apposed.” This is the exact opposite of the usual position, and one you ironically echo, that, “Personal beliefs, like (or more commonly, especially) religion should never be attacked.” He is fine attack bad religious ideas. When the same bad ideas arise as misogyny, sexual harassment, etc., among “atheists”, its not either irrelevant to the cause, or not a problem, or isn’t actually happening.

            No, the problem as always, is “personal/institutional ideology”. There is no “equal value” between a system which attempts, even if humans get in the damn way of it all the time, and try, like Evo Psych people do, to impose human ideals (and worse, current human ideals, or their own cultural ones) on the facts, instead of just looking for the facts. But, it still has “more value”, for the attempt than ideologies which “exist” purely to represent the current status quo, or to try to shape the world into something it isn’t, or to excuse things one wishes to do, even when it harms other people, while *refusing to even see the facts*.

            Movement atheism, as you call it, has, unfortunately, becomes its leader’s “ideology”. They profess that it is only about the “danger of religion”, yet, when a problem arises in their own cis, white, blah, blah, blah, thinking comes up, it circles the wagons, like any good religion would, and rants about unfair everyone else is for, “challenging their beliefs”. That you think this makes sense to do for Dawkins and Harris, but not someone with “religion”… makes no damn sense at all. Its also the logic that led to so much stupid with respect to religion in the first place, and which allows Dawkins, and others, to circle the wagons, and whine about who unfair people are towards them.

            OF COURSE one should challenge personal beliefs. But, there are a lot of different ways to do this, and a lot of different situations in which to do it, and some probably are not worth becoming too obsessive over. But, they should not be above challenge, whether they be Harris’ personal conviction that ISIS members, who watched family die in a civil war are “religiously motivated”, and that fascist right wingers are “right” in how to deal with the problem, or some Christian proclaiming that God gave them the right, via the constitution, to carry an assault rifle. It doesn’t matter where the “personal belief comes from”, its how bloody insensible it is.

            And, again, there is no *equal value* between the pursuit of reality (science), and the invention of fictions, intended to describe how the would “should be” (religion). The very notion that there is so little difference between these things that they are “value neutral” is absurd, especially when you stop treating religion as a means to find “truth”, instead of what it really is – the same self serving, ideological, nonsense that Harris and Dawkins subscribe to, to avoid seeing their own errors: a story about how the world “should be”, not what it “is”. Lack of a god, or a holy book, or priests, does not change either the nature of the resulting fiction, nor grant it “more” value. And, it sure as heck doesn’t make it “value neutral” to an honest, however flawed, pursuit of knowledge.

          • December 2, 2015 at 5:15 pm

            Kagehi, the statement that religion is ideological and science is not is an ideological statement. The very claim that you are making that science is not ideological is an underlying ideology of science. It just absolutely boggles the mind that people continue to make such claims, criticizing “ideology” as something bad or terrible, and pushing the idea that science is free of ideology except for the “personal ideology” of scientists. It really demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of how science actually works.

          • December 2, 2015 at 5:20 pm

            Do a page search for the words “equal value”, you will find that they appeared only in the comments.

            Will never said that science and religion had equal value, just that there is good and bad in both.

            As such you are arguing with a ghost, a figment of your imagination.

            No thought, no matter how heinous, is dangerous unless acted upon. Can we agree on that?

            Because Will is just saying that there is no reason to attack others for the thoughts they are having if they don’t act on them.

            He is not even saying that one must not attack, just that if you do without provocation that you may warrant the label of asshole.

          • December 3, 2015 at 5:11 pm

            Snort.. So.. anything you want to be ideological is an ideological statement? Because your suggestion that claiming that something intended to seek knowledge, and which is quite successful at it, when described as such is an “ideological position”, while calling something that has never, by itself, directly, save by pure accident, ever expanded knowledge, is what.. And, yeah, I made an error in arguing against a statement of equal value, which you didn’t, but.. that’s just it. Claiming that neither is good or bad is nonsense too. It does place them in an “equal category”, which they don’t belong in. Religions is, at best, neutral, in the sense that it merely reflects the views of those that choose a particular cult. However, in its **worst** case it is absolutely not neutral. A thing cannot be neutral which presents non-neutral conclusions, or actively promotes harm.

            So, even if you want to make the absurd claim that saying science is different is “ideological”, they are still not equally value neutral, since one can abuse science, the same as one can stab someone with a screw driver, but there is a major difference between that screw driver being sold to turn screws, then being used to kill with, and a switch blade being made to “stab things”, and actually being marketed by someone as, “A good thing to stab people with.” Religion’s whole point is to tell people how to act, and why it somehow makes sense, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, to do so. That some of these people also “sell” it, if it where the knife, as, “An interesting collectors item, which can also be used to chop carrots.”, doesn’t change the original, nor the most common, use of it.

          • December 3, 2015 at 5:35 pm

            So.. anything you want to be ideological is an ideological statement?

            No. Maybe you need to go read up a bit on what “ideology” means? Here’s a basic definition from Wikipedia: “It can be described as a set of conscious and unconscious ideas which make up one’s goals, expectations, and motivations. An ideology is a comprehensive normative vision, meaning that it is a set of standards that are followed by people, government, or other groups that is considered by the majority to be the ideal way of looking at things, as argued in several philosophical tendencies (see political ideologies).”

            How does science not fit that definition?

            Because your suggestion that claiming that something intended to seek knowledge, and which is quite successful at it

            History is also quite successful at knowledge production, but it is not a science. Philosophy is also quite successful at knowledge production, but it is not a science. Literary analysis is also quite successful at knowledge production. There is not one single kind of knowledge. Religion produces a particular kind of knowledge, as does science.

            while calling something that has never, by itself, directly, save by pure accident, ever expanded knowledge

            This is lol-worthy. It sets it up such that your argument is irrefutable by use of caveats: if religion has ever produced knowledge, it’s “by pure accident,” so no example I give will be sufficient. You have already decided that any knowledge produced through religion is an accident, so you can explain away anything example I give. There is literally no way to refute the statement as you’ve set it up.

            Further, science does not “by itself” produce knowledge. It’s statements like that that make me think you really don’t understand how science works in the real world or have any background in the philosophy of science.

            I made an error in arguing against a statement of equal value, which you didn’t, but.. that’s just it. Claiming that neither is good or bad is nonsense too.

            I did not claim that neither is good or bad. I said that neither is inherently good or bad. People do good and bad things with science and religion all the time, which is what makes them good or bad. But they are not in-and-of themselves inherently good or bad.

            Religions is, at best, neutral, in the sense that it merely reflects the views of those that choose a particular cult. However, in its **worst** case it is absolutely not neutral.

            You don’t think scientists form factions (your use of cult here is absurd, by the way, and indicates you also do not understand the difference between religion and cults) based on their pet theories and get into major arguments and fights over them? You think that science is “in its worst case” somehow still better than religion?

            Religion’s whole point is to tell people how to act

            Really? It’s whole purpose is that? Religion has no other purpose whatsoever? You honestly think that’s a fair statement? To me, it comes across as extremely myopic–and ideological. And for someone who seems so against ideology, you sure do cling tightly to it.

          • December 4, 2015 at 8:22 am

            I would make the same argument that others do – science, even if the people in it sometimes form cliques, is supposed to have self correction mechanisms, and generally does. Religion has no such mechanism, or expectation of one, and if/when it changes is it *in spite* of the religion itself, not because of it.

          • December 4, 2015 at 8:31 am

            And myopic or not, in your view, yes, I do think it has a single purpose, more or less. That it is used for other things… well, who cares. A lot of thing get used for purposes they where never intended, and in the case of religion, this *generally* means ignoring parts of it, to cherry pick which things you want to believe, to get the results you want. When you do the same with science is generally no still called science, its call pseudo-science, and misinformation.

            But, in any case, the core fact remains – religions, and other ideologies, and in this case I mean, “Systems of belief formed not as a result of informed consideration of testable facts, but from personal bias.”, since that tends to be the colloquial definition used when someone is talking about “negative systems of ideas”, are not value neutral. They, fundamentally, get in the way of seeing reality, and more to the point, ones “own” errors.

          • December 4, 2015 at 11:11 am

            kagehi, in a previous comment, you “snorted” and then accused me of just making up my own definition of ideology. And now here you are, making up your own definition of ideology and disguising it as “colloquial” to suit the argument you want to make.

            Even if I were to grant you that colloquial definition (which I don’t), you have continued to argue against me even after I provided another definition that clearly states the position I’m taking. You simply ignore that and continue on with your own definition, applying it to me as if I have not explicitly stated my position, repeatedly I might add. You have spent all of your time in this thread arguing against a strawman. I have never claimed that science or religion are value-neutral. I have only claimed they are not inherently good or bad and that their value (or lack thereof) comes from what people do with them. It’s a very straightforward position. I have not made any claims that one is better than the other in the general, I have only advocated for a more nuanced view of how science and religion operate in the world, and the only thing you provide is a Manichean response. For you, the world is black and white, there are no shades of gray. Your position has required you to make all sorts of cognitive leaps and twists, changing definitions to suit your argument and providing claims in such a way that there is literally no way to refute them, all in an effort to preserve your belief in the purity of science.

            In essence, you have done exactly what I have critiqued all the other atheist assholes like Dawkins and Harris for. You got all offended at someone thinking you liked Harris and Dawkins, but it’s worse than that. You sound just like them. You are so bent on shitting on religion that you deny that it could have any positive value, and you put science on a pedestal and worship it as an idol. You are fetishizing science, and in the process you obscure the reality of how science works. Your simplistic understanding is disheartening but unfortunately par for the course among skeptics and atheists, who too often eschew philosophy and take no time to try to understand the underlying assumptions and operations behind science.

            I’m done having this argument with you. You are not having this discussion in good faith, you continue to attribute meaning to things I’ve written which I’ve explicitly stated are not there, and you keep ignoring my responses and just keep restating your argument against a strawman. Please do not bother to respond in this thread anymore unless you are going to stop trying to put words in my mouth.

          • December 5, 2015 at 9:37 pm

            “I very specifically said neither science nor religion are inherently good or bad. That is explicitly value-neutral.”

            Ok, I admit, I misread this and failed to explain what my real point is. Neither good nor bad is a value judgement. It does imply they are equal with respect to that. I don’t believe this is in fact that case. So.. Here is the thing. If one where to put, say, various things people claim to be “science” on a sliding scale, they would be, from worst to best:

            1. Pseudo-sciences – things like Christian science, creationism, etc.

            2. Misapplied science – I would place things like anti-oxidants in this. The facts simply where not out to suggest that this was actually beneficial. In recent years, additional research (and I mean real research, not the gibberish you get from people that sell the products), has torpedoed this theory. Sure, there may be a good reason the body needs them. My own theory is that high stress conditions, like running, etc. may produce more oxidation than the cellular repair system can easily handle, but we have inherited a version that can’t ramp up/down as needed, to handle the actual stresses, just produce a constant supply, which may, in some cases, be inadequate, but not often enough to matter in most cases. Removing them from the genes of animals in experiment seems to make them live longer. But, these are animals that are in labs, and not “stressed” in the sense that I think is needed.

            Point is though, its being misapplied, because there wasn’t enough information to leap to the conclusions that the public, and far too many of the next category of people did.

            3. Applied science – This is a love of the right wing. It is, when used right, an application of known facts, to solve real world problems. When used wrong is a declaration that we “already know enough”, and can just “use what we already know, to find solutions. So, we don’t need to go spending more money on things that don’t produce results, right?”

            4. Incremental science – This is most of it. Its applied in the sense that you are taking what is known, and trying to work out how to use that to do something, but with the “understanding” that you might not actually know enough. It still generates new results, because it is still about finding new things.

            5. Exploratory science – The one conservatives seem to hate. It costs money, often produces nothing obviously useful, is chock full of dead ends and failed ideas, but.. its necessary to generate the stuff that you need to do #3 and #4 *at all*.

            The one thing that #1 and #2 include, which the rest do not, is an assumption – than the results you want, are the result you can, will, or have already, found. If one where to place religion in this spectrum of concepts, it would land right smack in the middle of #2, with overlaps in to “pseudo science” and “applied”. Why? Because it sometimes gets things right, if only from the perspective of cultural parameters, but it also is invariably chock full of pseudo-science, pseudo-morals, and pseudo-knowledge.

            While its followers can sometimes, in specific categories of ideas, break away from the absurd, they fail to do so in others. And, they are not “encouraged” to do so either. Its why I hate the statement that religion is compatible with science, in “any” situation. Because, we already have people who, due to their own wishful thinking, are more than happy to dive head first into silly ideas, **outside their own field of expertise**, without adding, “This whole list of fables must contain, if not pure facts, then at least ‘keys’ to understanding the universe.”, to the mix. A physicist may make a complete bloody fool of themselves trying to explain something in biology. It takes a believer, however, in the supernatural, to do something as idiotic as trying to find coherent messages in flashes of light produced by cells, to determine how John Edwards is “reading the mind” of his victims, and thus seeming to “talk to the dead” (yeah, this was one joker’s theory. That what Mr. talking to the dead was doing was real, but it was some special power related to incidental light, naturally produced by cells, during energy consumption, which he was using to “read the other person’s mind”). It takes someone even more bent by his belief in the absurd to become William Dembski though, and actually get even their **own** field horribly horribly wrong.

            So.. not sure what your definition of “good” and “bad” are, but, while I agree that its people that screws up science, and leads them to some bloody stupid ideas. Religion is itself a bloody stupid idea. You can’t get “good” out of that. You can get people acting good, while ignoring the bad parts, or people who just haven’t found that one special things they will go off the rails over, because they believe.

            So, argue all you want about my definition of “ideology”, and if its right. I will even concede that I am maybe using the wrong word entirely. But, the flaws in science are all “people”. The flaws in religion… are all “assumptions”, made about how the world works, but doesn’t. You might argue that this is, most of the time harmless. Sort of like a child believing in the physics of Wille Coyote is “harmless”, at least until they try to draw a tunnel on the wall, and run through it, or something. But, when you have billions of people saying, “Oh, well, obviously you can’t walk through the drawing of a tunnel on the wall, but just last week I saw my cat stop in mid air, before falling, just like the coyote does in the show…”, its a bit hard to say that its, “neither good nor bad”. Its plain bad.

            That its bad in the same sense that, for most of the people I know, its no worse than thinking they look good in that sweeter, or, maybe, just barely bad enough to be in the same category of, “You know, you really need to stop smoking.”, but its not some quaint and endearing personality quirk. If religion “was” relegated to such, or like.. a hobby, as was suggested by someone a while back, well then, I would only be worried about the same sort of people involved in it as probably try to mind trick other people into giving them free coffee, while dressed as a Jedi. But, that isn’t the reality of the sort of nonsense out there. What we have is the equivalent of everything from the guy trying a fake mind trick, to plotting to one day build a death star. And.. it might be the same guy, but all we see is him waving his hand and going, “Need not to have me pay you do.” Or, maybe he is just that guy, but the other guy.. he is looking at a billion people who try to get free coffee while talking like Yoda, and thinking, “All these people believe, so, of course I will one day build a death star!”

            This is my argument – that, all things being equal, people with a few silly ideas are not a problem. Billions of people with the whole entire spectrum of insane ideas, all based on the silly one… might just be a “bad thing”.

            But, I would still, as I said, in most cases, just shake my head and roll my eyes at the Yoda dude, but only up to a point. He starts a blog, or such, where he starts gaining people who believe his tales of free coffee… well then, that starts to be a tad more troubling, and maybe worth escalating to, “Maybe you should stop doing that.” But, in no case is this stuff “neither good or bad”, which is the claim you make that I object to.

          • December 5, 2015 at 9:50 pm

            kagehi, I didn’t even read past your first paragraph because you’re still not getting it.

            You said:

            “I very specifically said neither science nor religion are inherently good or bad. That is explicitly value-neutral.”

            Ok, I admit, I misread this and failed to explain what my real point is. Neither good nor bad is a value judgement. It does imply they are equal with respect to that. I don’t believe this is in fact that case.

            You keep ignoring the key word “inherently” in what I have written. Once again, I have not argued that science or religion are not good or bad. I have argued that they are not inherently good or bad. They can be good and/or bad depending on what people do with them, but neither is good or bad on their own without humans doing something with them. This does not imply that they are equal. You keep inferring that, but that’s not what I’m arguing.

            I am not going to bother reading the rest of your comment because at this point all you’re doing is pissing me off by creating straw arguments and attributing them to me. I am asking you right now to stop commenting in this thread because, frankly, this whole line of argument from you and others has focused on one minor point in the post, twisted it into something else, and made that the focus. Just fucking stop.

          • December 5, 2015 at 10:27 pm

            Well great. Because the rest of my freaking post was me explaining why I do think there is inherent “bad” in religion. That you won’t read my attempt to explain this, and just assume that didn’t back away from my, admittedly, misguided attack on what you didn’t say.. well, that kind of pisses me off.

          • December 5, 2015 at 10:33 pm

            In fact, I will make it even easier for you, since you won’t read a long explanation – science can be screwed up by people misusing is, usually as a result of harboring “bad ideas”. Religion *is* a bad idea. That it can sometimes be right about something is purely “incidental”, and only often also only the case for a specific culture/time in history.

        • December 2, 2015 at 3:13 pm —

          Where exactly did he say they had equal value?

          He said there was good and bad in each, nothing more.

          Harris’ fanboys seem to need a course in reading comprehension.

          • December 3, 2015 at 5:19 pm

            A) I made a mistake in my wording. But, I still think saying they equal in the sense he did mean is still bullshit.

            B) Where the !$@#$@#%$@# hell do you get the idea that I am a fan of Harris? I pretty much say, more than once, that he is an ass, and a useless to atheism. No, that isn’t quite harsh enough.. He is the freaking Sarah Palin of atheism, at least in terms of his views on Islam – not only clueless about the real facts, delusional about the solution to the problem, and blind to the lunatics he is siding with (I mean, seriously, where did Trump get some of his recent speeches, out of a box marked 1940, Germany?), he, like Dawkins, seems to be fundamentally incapable of comprehending how far off the rails he is going.

            Next your will be calling me a f-ing Republican…

          • December 3, 2015 at 5:30 pm

            @kegehi
            This particular comment was a response to @richieadler above who showed up out of nowhere all butt-hurt that his boy was being badmouthed.

            My reply to you just pointed out that @Will never said they were equal and that you were arguing with a ghost, you have said you misinterpreted that yourself, so we cool. :)

            I still think you are misunderstanding what @Will is saying, but I do not believe that you like Sam Harris.

          • December 3, 2015 at 5:43 pm

            For the last fucking time: I never said they are equal. I did not even use the word “equal” in my post. This is what I said in my post that you people keep interpreting through some fucked up scientistic lens:

            I don’t see religion as an inherently good or bad thing, I see it as having benefits and drawbacks, just like any other human activity including science.

            I said absolutely nothing about whether one has more or less benefits. I did not say that science and religion have the same kinds and amounts of benefits or drawbacks. All I said was that neither is inherently good or bad, but that like other human activities they can be both/either beneficial and/or detrimental.

            That’s all. Anything else that you are putting on that statement is your own creation.

      • December 2, 2015 at 9:58 pm —

        Rereading your quote makes me feel that I overreacted. What you said about science, and religion is right in the same way it’s right about chocolate. I also just inferred the suggestion that caring about other people’s religious preferences is shameful; you only said that’s it’s something you don’t do. I’m different than you in that I care about other people’s belief not just because it’s loosely connected to what they’ll do, but also because I’m a social being. If that makes me an asshole, then I guess I just have to care less. :P

        • December 2, 2015 at 10:17 pm —

          Rereading your quote makes me feel that I overreacted. What you said about science, and religion is right in the same way it’s right about chocolate. I also just inferred the suggestion that caring about other people’s religious preferences is shameful; you only said that’s it’s something you don’t do. I’m different than you in that I care about other people’s belief not just because it’s loosely connected to what they’ll do, but also because I’m a social being. If that makes me an asshole, then I guess I just have to care less. :P

          By the way, just in case it isn’t obvious, I agree 100% with your other points. I don’t want to be associated with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or Hemant Mehta either. I’m also pretty tame. Just because I care about people’s religious beliefs doesn’t mean I want to bother people about it. The only time I bother people about it is when they are really asking for it and I’m in the mood. Now that I think about it more, I think I’m so tame about it that I ask for consent before sharing my religious beliefs.

          • December 2, 2015 at 10:33 pm

            I take it back. I don’t ask for consent. I just don’t like being the one to broach the topic.

          • December 3, 2015 at 8:57 am

            Of course you are worried about what others think, and when necessary you can try to inform or even persuade, but this part here is what keeps you from being an asshole about it.

            The only time I bother people about it is when they are really asking for it and I’m in the mood. Now that I think about it more, I think I’m so tame about it that I ask for consent before sharing my religious beliefs.

  6. December 2, 2015 at 7:20 am —

    I’m not Hemant Mehta, but here’s a “bunch of links to various atheist activists who aren’t rich old white straight men who say bigoted things on social media.”

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/category/atheist-leaders-series/

    There are a lot of unpleasantly sexist leaders and followers in the skeptic movement, but I suspect you don’t take that to invalidate the movement as a whole. Why do you apply a different standard to the atheist movement?

    The skeptic movement is pretty much entirely predicated on the idea that we should tell people when their beliefs are wrong. Why do you think we should set that aside in the special case of religious beliefs?

    • December 2, 2015 at 10:59 am —

      Yep, I’m glad Greta is highlighting people in that series. And yep, Sparrow could have linked to it in his article, and so could have Hemant, though he chose instead to only complain about someone complaining.

      There are a lot of unpleasantly sexist leaders and followers in the skeptic movement, but I suspect you don’t take that to invalidate the movement as a whole. Why do you apply a different standard to the atheist movement?

      You suspect wrong. I do not identify as a skeptic either. I see the skeptic and atheist movements as deeply intertwined, and I pretty much stay away from both of them. Really the only involvement I have is with Skepchick, and I stay involved here mostly because I love the people here and as an organization we are interested in social justice, feminism, and social critique. If I wasn’t involved with Skepchick, I would have left the skeptic-atheist movement completely a long long time ago.

      The skeptic movement is pretty much entirely predicated on the idea that we should tell people when their beliefs are wrong. Why do you think we should set that aside in the special case of religious beliefs?

      Is it? I thought it was predicated on fostering critical thinking skills? The earlier skeptic movement was about debunking claims and demonstrating when people were doing deceptive things like producing fake images of bigfoot or videos of UFOs. My understanding was that it was about learning and teaching how to evaluate evidence in a more rigorous way. How do you go about scientifically disproving beliefs? All you can disprove are claims about the material world, which sometimes arise from beliefs but not always or necessarily. I don’t have a problem with people pointing out that a statue of Mary is not crying tears or that the Pope’s policies are harmful. And it’s not that I necessarily have a problem with people arguing or debating beliefs, but I do have a problem with people who take it upon themselves to go around telling every religious person they’re stupid and gullible and delusional. That last part is what makes someone an asshole.

      • December 2, 2015 at 3:01 pm —

        It’s alright that you don’t identify as a skeptic, because you’re not acting like one. And I don’t mean a “movement skeptic”. I mean you’re not acting skeptic at all.

        “All you can disprove are claims about the material world”

        You say that like that’s a bad thing.

        You definitely need a big dose of Matt Dillahunty. Maybe that way you’ll get your head set straight.

        • December 2, 2015 at 3:05 pm —

          It’s alright that you don’t identify as a skeptic, because you’re not acting like one. And I don’t mean a “movement skeptic”. I mean you’re not acting skeptic at all.

          =(

          “All you can disprove are claims about the material world”

          You say that like that’s a bad thing.

          Oh, do I?

          You definitely need a big dose of Matt Dillahunty. Maybe that way you’ll get your head set straight.

          There will never be anything straight about me. *Z snap*

          • December 2, 2015 at 3:09 pm

            Ah, I see. You’re acting like an idiot on purpose. Good to know. I’ll avoid you in the future.

          • December 2, 2015 at 3:10 pm

            Promises, promises!

        • December 2, 2015 at 3:28 pm —

          “You definitely need a big dose of Matt Dillahunty.”

          No thanks, it makes me gassy and bloated.

          • December 2, 2015 at 3:45 pm

            The below remark was aimed up-thread, sorry.

            :)

        • December 2, 2015 at 3:44 pm —

          That’s funny, cause I think Matt Dillahunty would tell you to stop being a jackass.

  7. December 2, 2015 at 9:02 am —

    Will, this is pretty much what I have been thinking about the great rifts in movement atheism for some time.

    Fuck that noise, I would much rather raise and own the banner of Social Justice Warrior. It’s far from perfect but I figure if Reddit hates everything I stand for I must be doing something right.

    Also, Brian Dunning’s comment especially this part…

    Too often, when we like or dislike someone, we try to frame everything they say or do as either completely good or completely bad.

    BWWAAA-HA-HA-HAAAA!!!! Holy shit!

    I’m sure he was trying to reference how “the community” (at least those not dazzled by his bullshit) have unfairly turned their backs on him since his completely deserved unjust federal vacation. But given how his Libertarianism has a tendency to make his gloss over inconvenient facts, I would say that is a stunning display of Olympic gold-medal winning lack of self awareness.

  8. December 2, 2015 at 1:07 pm —

    Will,

    I’ve come across some really obnoxious atheists as well. Clearly atheism doesn’t make one a nice person. There’s this guy on youtube who goes by the name “Atheism is Unstoppable” and boy is he a racist.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjGCzGjBj7o

    Not to mention the fact that he doc dropped Creationist Cat.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKE3OENUPIQ

    Would Hemant Mehta defend him? I would hope not.

    He’s far from the worst youtube atheist racist I’ve come across by the way.

  9. December 2, 2015 at 1:29 pm —

    “I look forward to Hemant Mehta’s reply in the form of a post with a bunch of links to various atheist activists who aren’t rich old white straight men who say bigoted things on social media.”

    If he don’t, I will!

  10. December 2, 2015 at 1:48 pm —

    “Why do you care what others believe? It matters what people do.”

    Beliefs inform actions. What people do is a function of what they believe.

    • December 2, 2015 at 1:58 pm —

      Sure, but if a parent is wary of vaccines but vaccinates their children it doesn’t matter what they believe.

      It is perfectly reasonable to believe that people can have personal faith without it clouding their judgement any more that any other belief.

    • December 2, 2015 at 2:00 pm —

      As I explained above in response to another comment, there is not a 1:1 correlation between beliefs and actions. People act against their beliefs all the time. Further, the simplistic view that “beliefs inform actions” takes beliefs as simplistic, but people often have dissonance in their beliefs.

      Skeptics and atheists talk about this all the time. It’s called dissonance theory. Here’s a really simple example: Someone can believe smoking is bad and causes lung cancer and continue to smoke. Their action in that case is not a function of their belief. I don’t know why so many self-identified skeptics and atheists have such trouble with nuanced views of human life. The urge to simplify everything into neat and easy explanations is baffling.

      • December 2, 2015 at 3:04 pm —

        “I don’t know why so many self-identified skeptics and atheists have such trouble with nuanced views of human life. The urge to simplify everything into neat and easy explanations is baffling.”

        Maybe because that attitude is mostly in your head.

        What most atheists and skeptics are about is to believe as little false things and as much true things as possible. But you’re not a skeptic, so you don’t care about little things like curating your ideas and expurgating the false ones. I guess that’s an “urge to simplyfy everything into neat and easy explanations”, and you prefer a universe that’s misterious by the expedient of trying as strongly as possible to avoid learning how it works.

        • December 2, 2015 at 3:09 pm —

          Yep, I definitely struck a nerve.

          I think it’s funny that you think saying “you’re not a skeptic” to me is going to make me feel bad after I already said I don’t identify as a skeptic. It’s not a part of my identity.

          Also, thanks for the horoscope telling me about my beliefs.

          • December 2, 2015 at 3:13 pm

            I just commented because I happen to despise people that aren’t skeptics, don’t use their reason and critical sense, and expect that their opinions are considered valid, valuable or sensible.

            Also, you seem to enjoy “striking nerves”. Do you plan to graduate from kindergarten at some point in your life, or is your life so fun pissing off other people that you’ve renounced altogether the possibility of doing something useful with your life?

          • December 2, 2015 at 3:16 pm

            Gosh, you’re right. I definitely need to do something more useful with my life, like call people names in comments sections of blog posts. Thank you for helping me wake up and have this revelation.

            And also thank you for proving the point of the post. <3

          • December 2, 2015 at 3:19 pm

            Hey Richie, when you develop the techniques to change people’s opinions and beliefs in a reliable way let us know.

            Until then, wishing other people would stop thinking in ways you don’t like just adds you to the big pile of assholes.

          • December 3, 2015 at 12:04 am

            You can’t have a conversation with someone who despises anyone who thinks differently.
            “I think people have souls and there is a God”
            “I don’t”

            ^^ I mean, that’s all there is to that conversation. It’s a non starter unless you’re getting personal with someone. If you have nothing but contempt for the person you disagree with for that disagreement, the only personal direction is nasty and hateful.

            Some people get off on nasty, hateful smug superiority. I guess I should try to muster some sympathy for their unfortunate fetish.

  11. December 2, 2015 at 10:45 pm —

    I’m betting that you didn’t grow up in in a highly religious area, and have had little contact with highly religious people either.

    Yes, a lot of people live with the cognitive dissonance between their beliefs and their actions, but not a lot of people will keep that up when their peers (i.e. other religious people) keep telling them that they’re bad people for acting against their beliefs.

    To give you a concrete example, it’s the primary reason the Catholic church is losing so many members (I’m an ex-Catholic that knows first hand). The Catholic church constantly tells its members that they are immoral for voting for politicians that support things like gay rights or abortion, and that they can be excommunicated from the church for having an abortion. Somewhat ironically, my sister-in-law is banned from the church (not sure if she was fully excommunicated) for using in vitro fertilization to get pregnant.

    With that in mind, there are a lot of “bad” Catholics out there who vote for pro-choice/pro-gay rights politicians, but I’ve found most of them just don’t have a very deep understanding of Catholic theology. When they do take the time to learn about their organization, one of two things typically happens–either they turn to the right in their belief systems, and begin to act in accordance, or, like me, they walk away from it all, and vow to fight against such a poisonous organization.

    Yes, personal belief and actions can be orthogonal to each other, but they rarely are. People in conservative churches are rather quick to turn on fellow church members when they act in discordance with what they believe to be “right and true,” and on top of that, they’ll gladly use the more awful verses and stories from their religious texts to badger and shame more liberal churches and their members.

    • December 2, 2015 at 11:25 pm —

      It never ceases to amaze me how so-called skeptics think they can divine information about people’s lives, backgrounds, and inner thoughts and motivations based on a such little information about a person. And in the process throw out claims without any empirical basis as if they are self-evident facts, such as:

      Yes, personal belief and actions can be orthogonal to each other, but they rarely are.

      • December 3, 2015 at 11:42 am —

        I wasn’t stating that as though it were an empirical claim.

        Do I need to explicitly state that this is based on personal experience?

        • December 3, 2015 at 11:50 am —

          You have literally just made up a conclusion about my background, and then disguised empirical claims as “personal experience,” and you think that somehow will contradict any of the claims I’ve made in my post or in the comments? Nice cop-out!

          • December 3, 2015 at 9:15 pm

            The only issue I have with your post or your comments is the point about how people behave versus their personal beliefs.

            You’re right, I shouldn’t have made a conclusion about your background.

            I don’t talk about things from personal experience with the intent that they’re to be taken as empirical claims, unless I explicitly make it clear that I’m making what I believe to be an empirical claim. Badly worded perhaps, and fine, if you want to call it cop-out.

          • December 4, 2015 at 8:12 am

            And to be clear here, I do apologize for making an unfounded claim about your background.

  12. December 3, 2015 at 7:13 am —

    Wow…..
    The more I hear about this drama makes me nauseas. Remember the days back in 2008-12 when it was a collective effort? With all this drama, I can’t keep up with all the beefs.

    If you’re feeling the need for a little activism, shoot me a message. The Satanic Temple has been a very welcoming community, getting stuff done.

  13. December 3, 2015 at 8:56 am —

    Mixed thoughts. I totally agree skepto-athism is full of assholes. I was not ever a conference attender but I think I might have been if not for being really disappointed by the big tent organizations over the last years. I find Hemant’s defending Dawkins for saying stupid, racist shit kind of mystifying and annoying to the point of not reading him.
    On the other hand. Everyone gets called an asshole in this space pretty regularly. 5 years ago I myself was calling Myers an asshole for going out of his way to fuck with communion wafers and Rebecca was telling me I was being too sensitive.
    This site posts cult of dusty every so often in the quickies and I kind of think he’s an asshole.
    Plenty of people think I’m an asshole.
    Anyway, I think sometimes everyone gets so used to being called an asshole they find it hard to find the signal in the noise.

    • December 3, 2015 at 9:13 am —

      The thing is, everyone of us can be an asshole at times. Outside of Mr. Rogers I can not think of a single person where that doesn’t apply.

      What brands you as an asshole is not never making errors or going overboard, it’s learning from those missteps and apologizing in a genuine way more often then not.

      A great example is how ‘Weird” Al Yankovic apologized for using the word spastic in a song. In a tweet, Al said…

      If you thought I didn’t know that “spastic” is considered a highly offensive slur by some people… you’re right, I didn’t. Deeply sorry.

      Short, sweet, and to the point with not excuses made. That is how you avoid being seen as an asshole.

      I think Harris and Dawkins do fairly well at explaining themselves in long-form i.e. books. Where they tend to have issues is in interviews and on blogs and twitter where it is easy to mistakenly say the wrong thing, unfortunately they also are very prideful and loathe to be wrong (plus they believe a lot of the shit they let slip) so they don’t, and would never deign to apologize.

      Do that more often then not and that is what makes you be seen as an asshole. I’m looking at you Penn Jillette.

      • December 3, 2015 at 9:33 am —

        You are not wrong that it’s good to learn. But I think it can be hard to figure out when people have a valid criticism when you are the target of a lot of criticism. I have a (very) hard time and spend a lot of emotional energy on it and I’m not a public persona.
        I mean the problem with being an asshole is you probably are insensitive to the things that are making you an asshole.
        Anyway I don’t know if that explains Dawkins, Hemant, or anyone else other than me , but that’s where I find the empathy in the situation.

  14. December 3, 2015 at 12:29 pm —

    What’s so alarming? All groups contain a subset of that group. I’m sure there are asshole bowlers, asshole feminists, asshole banjo players, asshole bloggers, asshole cats. And within the asshole subset there are probably smaller factions: gay asshole atheists, genius asshole atheists, funny asshole dentist atheists, and so on. Can I stop now? Whether they speak for the group or not is of no consequence except to the people who call them assholes in the first place. Do you see how childish this seems? So if the loudest voice in a group is not an asshole, what then? Do we leave that group alone? Is it being an asshole that sucks or an atheist asshole? Who decides that they are assholes? If I’M an asshole, am I immediately wrong? Is being an asshole the same as being wrong, or could I be right and an asshole. Some people are charming and dead wrong so I guess so. And furthermore, did they just become assholes overnight? Seems like it. We were happy to read and agree with their work for a dozen years. And who are we again? Who are you? Oh, a dude with a blog.

    • December 3, 2015 at 12:55 pm —

      Okay, I’ll play your game!

      What’s so alarming?

      Who’s alarmed? I’m not.

      Whether they speak for the group or not is of no consequence except to the people who call them assholes in the first place.

      Don’t agree. When only assholes are the face of a movement and they gain a bunch of followers who are also assholes, that movement has trouble getting things done and becomes a hostile environment.

      Do you see how childish this seems?

      Yes, I do see how childish your comment seems.

      So if the loudest voice in a group is not an asshole, what then?

      It’s not just about the loudest voices. That was kind of the whole point of my post. You really don’t even have to read past the title to get that point.

      We were happy to read and agree with their work for a dozen years.

      Some people were, yes. I was not one of them.

      Who are you? Oh, a dude with a blog.

      Hey, no one forced you to read or comment. If you don’t care about my thoughts or opinion, that’s fine. I don’t know why you feel that you need to comment about it then, other than because you’re trying to be an asshole? ;)

      • December 4, 2015 at 12:25 am —

        So you’ll play my game? You decided to write an article, man. No one forced you. That’s a social transaction YOU have created. Don’t like comments? Don’t write an article. You see how that works? I’m not being a dick, seriously, just pointing out the error in reasoning. I subscribe to Skepchick and I’ve read some Queereka pieces – you and I are probably not so different – so I felt I could say something of relevance without little hostile jabs. That’s why I commented. Which leads me to… yes! you sound alarmed! Even now . Next. I made a comment about the assignation of assholes ONLY keeping awake those crying “asshole” in the first place. Sorry you don’t agree, but “..when only assholes are the face of a movement and they gain a bunch of followers who are also assholes..” is just incendiary nonsense. You are smarter than that Will; you’ve pounced on commenters all day for not supporting their points. That’s not fair ;) Next! Are my comments childish? Or were you just a little tiny bit worked up? I guess I’ll have to take your word for it. Next. Loudest voice blah blah blah. Not about the loudest voices? It’s not in the title of your article, no, but you’re defending a piece that refers to Harris and Dawkins as the leaders of [insert what he’s mad about]. Next. Okay, you weren’t happy to read those books. That’s a fair point; I shouldn’t have assumed that; it was a declarative “we” in the sense of most agnostics/atheists but you’re right, it was directed at you. Sorry. Finally your last jab I addressed at the top: I’m a subscriber, Will. I subscribe to YOUR page. That’s an important transaction wouldn’t you say? I commented because I read these articles and pay attention to what you and your fellow writers have to say NOT because I’m an asshole. I do see the winky face of invulnerability though so I have to grant you a pass there I suppose. But give people some credit sometimes; it’s a great feeling. MC

        • December 4, 2015 at 12:31 am —

          I felt I could say something of relevance without little hostile jabs

          Are you kidding me with this shit? You ended your comment by staying, “Who are you? Oh, a dude with a blog.” You don’t think that’s a “little hostile jab”?

          I’m a subscriber, Will. I subscribe to YOUR page. That’s an important transaction wouldn’t you say?

          I could not give less of a shit if you were a subscriber or not. Whether or not you personally subscribe is not important to me. If you want to have a respectful dialog, the way to go about doing that is not to open up a comment making little jabs at me, asking me why I’m alarmed (I’m not), calling me/my post childish, and being dismissive because I’m “a dude with a blog.” Don’t try to gaslight me as if your hostility is all in my head and I’m the one who was hostile first as if you were just asking questions in a totally innocent manner. That definitely makes you an asshole.

    • December 3, 2015 at 2:10 pm —

      You stopped to comment on a post, called the writer childish, then made like you didn’t care what he thought while doing the comment section equivalent of waving your hands around and repeating “look at me”.

      Conflicted much?

  15. December 4, 2015 at 12:17 am —

    People need to apply more skeptic reading to what Will writes. Will is very careful and precise in their writing, and almost all the commenters who came here to argue with Will are creating straw men in their heads which they disagree with.

    I like Will pieces, because they always make me think, and you have to be as careful reading them as Will is writing them.

    • December 4, 2015 at 12:25 am —

      Thank you, that is very kind. I appreciate it! =)

    • December 4, 2015 at 9:50 am —

      Precisely, I don’t always agree with Will but when I don’t it is because I disagree about a point he is making (or I’m wrong) not because of poor communication.

      Will, is one of the most open writers on this blog. If you disagree with him because of a point you think he is making implicitly, I can assure you there is no implicit point, it is all inference on your end.

      If anyone doesn’t know the difference between imply and infer they should look it up, it’s one of those things everybody should know before wading into an argument.

      • December 4, 2015 at 11:14 am —

        Thanks! I don’t expect people to always agree with me, and I’m certainly not always right. But I do expect when people disagree with me they disagree with what I actually say or write rather than what they imagine is some hidden meaning in what I say or write. I definitely do not try to hide arguments implicitly in my writing, I make it a point to be as clear and explicit as possible.

  16. December 6, 2015 at 10:58 am —

    I do have one other issue with this post, though I wouldn’t necessarily call it a disagreement.

    Firstly, I’m not defending Hemant or Dawkins, or any of that. For the most part, I agree. There are a lot of assholes in movement atheism.

    Your points about not wanting to identify as an atheist or a skeptic leaves me with the impression that you’re being dismissive of anyone that’s grown up in a heavily religious place where religious people get preferential treatment, and there’s heavy pressure to convert. I’m not saying that you wouldn’t be sympathetic, but there isn’t really much else that brings attention to this issue beyond movement atheism.

    Do I wish we had better people for representation? Absolutely. Unfortunately, it’s what we have.

    • December 6, 2015 at 1:14 pm —

      We “allow” then to claim to be our representation. Why? Because they are the ones the media babbles all over about, and because they have far too many fans, who refuse to toss them aside as a liability (or, worse, don’t think they are liabilities). But, there are plenty of people to choose from that are not the four horses-asses. One blogger runs a series on pointing out the other people out there:

      https://www.google.com/search?q=greta+christina&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=greta+christina+not+dawkins

    • December 6, 2015 at 3:47 pm —

      Your points about not wanting to identify as an atheist or a skeptic leaves me with the impression that you’re being dismissive of anyone that’s grown up in a heavily religious place where religious people get preferential treatment, and there’s heavy pressure to convert. I’m not saying that you wouldn’t be sympathetic, but there isn’t really much else that brings attention to this issue beyond movement atheism.

      How does the way I identify have any bearing on people’s experiences growing up? This makes no sense at all. You are making an argument that because people grew up in heavily religious environments and faced pressure or were forced to identify in particular ways that I have to identify in a particular way. You are literally doing exactly what you are complaining about.

      Plus it’s just a bad argument. Watch this:

      Your points about not wanting to identify as queer leaves me with the impression that you’re being dismissive of anyone that’s grown up in a heavily heteronormative place where heteronormative people get preferential treatment, and there’s heavy pressure to be straight.

      Do you make this argument, too? Do you insist that all people identify as queer or else there’s no other way to fight against heteronormativity or straight privilege?

      The fact that you can’t think of anything beyond movement atheism to address issues of religious privilege only demonstrates your lack of imagination or attention to the secular movement more broadly, which has organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which is run by an ordained minister.

  17. December 6, 2015 at 11:33 am —

    If someone’s religious beliefs give them comfort and they’re not trying to make public policy based on those beliefs, why do you feel it is your responsibility to tell them their beliefs are wrong?

    Are you serious? I’m sorry, but I get really, really annoyed by people who put qualifiers on this, and that is largely because these qualifiers are so poorly thought through. For starters, how do I know they’re not “trying to make public policy based on those beliefs”? Am I supposed to be spying on all these religious people 24/7 to be sure they’re not doing that? Second, what does it mean to do this? Does voting count??? That again goes right back to the spying thing…am I supposed to somehow be verifying who they vote for? (Isn’t that illegal?)

    In short, the problem with putting qualifiers on belief is I really don’t have a way to ensure that the qualifiers are being met, which makes them worthless.

    • December 6, 2015 at 12:02 pm —

      Well, you have to pay attention to politics and educate yourself on what’s going on rather than just issuing blanket “religious belief is delusional and religious parents are child abusers” statements as if those do anything useful.

      Let me flip this around on you. How do you propose to get rid of religious belief? How do you get inside someone’s head and make sure you have eradicated their belief in God? How can you ever know what their beliefs are outside of their words and actions, which are only ever partial glimpses?

      Okay, so you’ve pointed out that someone’s belief is “wrong” and “delusional.” Now what? Do they care what you think of their beliefs? What kind of social change does that actually bring about?

      Your questions are nonsensical. You see how people are trying to make public policy based on religious beliefs by paying attention to how public policy is shaped and what it seeks to do. Sure, maybe there’s some policies that are made based on people’s religious beliefs that aren’t explicitly religious, but if you don’t object to what those policies are aiming to do then why do you care what belief they’re based on? And if you do object to them, then can’t you object to them on other grounds regardless of the belief that generated them?

      In short, the problem with putting qualifiers on belief is I really don’t have a way to ensure that the qualifiers are being met, which makes them worthless.

      So what is the alternative then? If it is impossible to ever know when religious people are doing something based on belief, how do you overcome that?

      I have proposed that the alternative is to pay attention to what people do. You have argued that that does not get us away from belief. So, what’s your solution?

      • December 6, 2015 at 2:23 pm —

        “Sure, maybe there’s some policies that are made based on people’s religious beliefs that aren’t explicitly religious, but if you don’t object to what those policies are aiming to do then why do you care what belief they’re based on? And if you do object to them, then can’t you object to them on other grounds regardless of the belief that generated them?”

        This is an interesting question. The answer would be, yes, and no. You can’t ignore “where the idea came from”, but its equally worthless to do what, for example Dawkins does, and claim that, “All this other stuff is a distraction, we need to be totally focused on attacking the religion.” No, you attack the religion, by attacking the function/viability of the practice/policy. If the policy doesn’t work and one that contradicts the religion does, then the religion looses hold, because it cannot change, and it cannot stand, if the results of implementing its “ideas” fail to actually accomplish what religion says it will, if followed.

        The problem, of course, is that this works OK some place where religion has no strong hold. Its almost useless in some place like the US, though, where even if someone is working, it can be sabotaged by the people that don’t want it to work. It also fails in places where one wants “immediate” solutions, and the cultural assumptions are deeply tied, even if the nation in question refuses to recognize this, to religious ideals. In such cases the effort needed to make the new idea work, never mind the time needed to allow for things to change may be both sabotaged, because the solution isn’t “fast enough”, and people will revert back to some form of the prior, ineffective, solutions. Its damn hard to give up a belief, and even harder to do so when its so ingrained in society that even those who no longer believe in the religion it came form still hold it to be true about themselves.

        The only viable solution is, “Challenge it anyway, and keep doing so.” Religion… can’t stand, when you take out its foundation, and most of its foundation is built on this deeply ingrained, and almost impossible to dislodge, ideas. After all, it was religion, and its proponents that cemented them in the first place.

        So, wrong question, really. Religious people are always doing things based on belief, so is everyone else. The problem is – not recognizing where the belief came from, or how to challenge it. So, attacking their religion may not be the most effective way to challenge a bad idea, which is no longer “dependent” on religion to support (but rather, has taken on the opposite role – as support for the religion).

        The should be attacked the same way as all bad ideas – does it actually work as advertised, and would something else work better? Its not enough to simply recognize that someone is defending an idea as religious. You still attack it from that angle **if** its the core of their argument, but it still has to include, “It doesn’t really work, and here is something that might work better.” So, so, so many atheists.. do not get this.

    • December 6, 2015 at 2:04 pm —

      Yep, agree 100% with you Buzz Saw.

      Someone else made my argument far better than me (as usually is the case, since I am no where near as careful as people say Will is about how I express things). Sadly, they couldn’t find the youtube video that went with the description. But, it, apparently, went like this:

      Get a group of Christians in a room. Tell them about this horrible ex employee, describing all sorts of horrible things they guy did, etc., based on modern versions of the same sort of crap “god” did to people in the Bible. They all happily agree that the guy was a total jerk, they are glad he doesn’t work there any more, and hope he got arrested. Tell them that, no, in fact, this fictional guy being described is actually god and…. everyone immediately starts making excuses for why he did it, why it was necessary, why it no longer matters what he did, etc.

      Now, this is also reflected the blog, and the video that this was posted in reply to. Someone took a bible, highlighted some of the worst idiocies in it, then covered it with a book sleeve, which implied that the book they are reading from was the “Koran”. The people talked to on the street where horrified that anyone would believe in it, follow anything in it, or just not flat out ban, or burn it. Then, they get told, “Well, actually, here, let me take the sleeve of. See, its really the Bible.”, and, again… there is this sort of 180 for some of the people (it was done in Germany, so I wouldn’t bet on most of them being big believers to start with).

      The rallying around and circling the wagons, when Dawkins and others get challenged is similar. People can’t freaking see the problems in their own back yard. Muslims are crazy, but Christians, even when some do the same thing, for the same reasons, are not. Those people over there in the MRA camp are assholes for saying the things they do, and defending people who abuse women, but.. we atheists don’t have that problem, even though some of our “leaders” say things that don’t just mirror the MRA, in many cases, ignore problems, denounce them as meaningless things, or, above all the other stupid statements, claim that, “All these social justice issues are a distraction!” A distraction from what, I just don’t get. Its like watching some twit argue that plugging a whole in the bottom of a boat will “fix” the problem that its a) either sinking, or b) already 500 feet under water, then claiming that, “Its a waste of time to a) figure out how the hole happened, or b) remove the water”.

      So, yeah.. no one who is trying to, for example, stop rapes is aiming themselves at finding and stopping Schrodinger’s Rapist. They are working on getting rid of the stupid ideas, misogynistic thinking, and institutional sexism that “allows” those rapists to exist. The whole point of Schrodinger’s Rapist is that, “You can’t know which one it is, by just looking at them.” But, we also, sadly, have Schrodinger’s Terrorist, Schrodinger’s Serial killer, Schrodinger’s mass murderer, and yeah, even Schrodinger’s Religious Fanatic, to contend with. And, the scariest thing is, they might all be the same freak, and everyone one of them is hiding behind, “He’s a nice guy”, or, “No one imagined he would do that from it attendance at church”, or, “He is a responsible gun owner.” And, the argument, invariably, is, “We need to instead be looking for the people who commit crimes, or should be in mental institutions, not **normal** people who would never do such things.” But, like Schrodinger’s rapist – how do you bloody figure out which ones they are, until they act?

      Oh, but the one thing we absolutely can *never ever* do is offend their beliefs. And, according to the clowns people call atheist “leaders”, going after the structure of cultural errors, bad thinking, and stupid ideas, which persist even after religion has become mostly irrelevant (just look at Europe and how many of those places are like 90% atheist, but still keep passing laws that defend assholes, and harm victims – I am looking at, specifically the ones that decided its easier to “end demand”, than police sex work, as one glaring example).

      But, we also have the other nasty mistake. If you live some place where religion doesn’t have very sharp fangs, its automatically underestimated how bad ignoring it is, and what kind of people hide behind it. When you live with it though, and see it all the time, you have the opposite problem – its familiar, so you only see the “worst” atrocities, not the minor ones, which are *just as bad, for being nearly universal*. Some of us.. recognize that this is a massive mistake. The familiarity breeds apathy, and that its not enough to only appose the glaringly obvious absurdities, on the theory that the lesser ones have no impact.

      Because they do. They allow Schrodinger’s _____ to hide in plain sight, and not be seen coming, because, sure, there are a thousands people who are annoying, pushing, clueless, ignorant, or prone to nit pick over “silly” things, which their beliefs tell them are super important, but.. which one is the one that will, when the universe refuses to conform, actually snap and go postal over it. And, sadly, they are not the real danger. Its the sort that, do to the conviction that they are one the “right side” and the “wrong side is out to get them”, even when they share 99.9% of all the same beliefs, would do something stupid, like.. say, voting Trump into office, while seeing “salvation”, instead of a demagogue and proto-fascist.

      Its the mild mannered people, who beliefs it would be really bad taste to offend, who “elect” the crazy people to office, or defend them as “not being as bad as those other people, I am sure its just a misunderstanding”, who did the same thing, but “isn’t one of them”, etc.

      Its why I say that religion isn’t people with bad ideas, using it to justify them, and thus doing bad things – its a bad idea itself, which has, does,and always will, lend itself to defending other bad ideas. Will, and maybe I really don’t understand his argument, seems to claim that, say, a Bible is the same as a pocket reference, because some joker and read the Bible and decide it justifies/inspires building a bomb, and for a specific purpose, but someone with a pocket reference (i.e., science) can… what, become inspired, via wiring diagrams, to build the same bomb? Somehow.. there seems to me to be some sort of.. qualitative difference between these situations, even if they where both otherwise plausible….

      • December 6, 2015 at 2:19 pm —

        Get a group of Christians in a room. Tell them about this horrible ex employee, describing all sorts of horrible things they guy did, etc., based on modern versions of the same sort of crap “god” did to people in the Bible. They all happily agree that the guy was a total jerk, they are glad he doesn’t work there any more, and hope he got arrested. Tell them that, no, in fact, this fictional guy being described is actually god and…. everyone immediately starts making excuses for why he did it, why it was necessary, why it no longer matters what he did, etc.

        See, kagehi, this is the problem. This is an unsupported empirical claim. You have made up a thought experiment based on your prejudice against religion and have presented it as if it is evidence for how people behave in the world. In essence, you want me to take this example on faith that that is how all religious people do or would behave.

        I cannot take anything you say seriously because you have continually posed such things as if they are real but they are based on nothing empirical. I have advocated for empiricism–going on what people actually do–and you have advocated for going on what you think people believe or how you think they would act. You must realize how hypocritical that is.

        I have asked you repeatedly to stop posting in this thread, and you are blatantly ignoring that request. This is the last time I will ask you to stop posting here. Not only have you been disrespectful towards me by calling me a fool in your first comment and continuing to put words in my mouth after I’ve repeatedly explained to you why the things you’re attributing to me are not my positions, but now you have also decided to ignore my requests that you stop posting in this thread. And you want to prattle on about religious people being assholes while acting this way?

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